A look at some past experiences and memories, part nine

October 2, 2015

By Avi Green

We now arrive at the ninth installment in this little scrutiny we’re doing of the leftism and other embarrassments at the onetime Captain Comics website (see here for part eight). Here’s some mailbag entries from April 4, 2001:

Say, Cap: One point I think has been missing from the debate over whether comics should go back to the simpler stories of yesteryear: Yes, stories that were complete in one issue and didn't require much knowledge of what had gone before help hook readers who have never followed comics before, as in the old Marvel saying "Every comic is someone's first comic." But those stories have trouble building the deep, serious love of the medium that keeps readers coming back into adulthood.
I myself read comics as a kid, gave 'em up as other things caught my attention, but came back in the late '80s because of the Byrne/Claremont X-Men and Frank Miller's Daredevil run. Those, it seems to me, hit a middle course modern comics could do well to follow: Stories reached a resolution in one, or at most two, issues, but there were also significant subplots running through them which made the story much richer if you came back every month. In the '90s, I think we abandoned the idea that every comic is someone's first, and therefore in concentrating on the soap-opera aspects that appealed to older readers, lost the idea that subplots have to END sometime! How long did the Legacy Virus go on, for example? There's no reason the end of that storyline would have been any less satisfying 10 years ago.
Grant Morrison says he's going to clean house at the X-Men and tie up some of the loose ends from the Claremont/Lobdell/Nicieza years. More power to him. But his JLA, much as I love it as a lifelong fan, showed some of the same problems as the X-Men: Very few issues could be picked up in isolation and make any sense. JLA was not, in fact, a series of short 24-page stories, but one long, continuous three-year saga, and unless you read it that way, it lost a lot. (And of course, the loose, muddy, inaccessible art didn't help.)
Joe Quesada is on record as saying his Marvel is going to put the creators first. Well and good. But let's not abandon all creative discipline, as both big companies did during the last decade, and just let writers spin their wheels for years without going anywhere, or allow artists to turn in work that, unless they're illustrating world-class prose, is actively difficult to puzzle out. Quesada's record at Marvel Knights suggests he knows how to strike that balance; the balance may be toward longer, five- or six-issue arcs, but each individual issue at least had something going on that a new reader could latch onto.
DC doesn't seem to worry much about letting newbies in, with the endless convoluted storylines in Batman, Superman and The Flash. But one of their acquisitions, The Authority, stands out structurally because it's packaged in four-issue arcs. Furthermore, each issue seriously advances the plot; it raises the tension to lead into the next one; and even though three of the four issues end on a cliffhanger, each issue still has a beginning, middle and end. DC could apply this model quite widely, and I think the result would be better comics, not just for the new reader, but for us old salts as well.
You make some excellent points, […] -- mainly, of course, because I agree with all of them!
I don't think anybody's suggesting a return to the simplified, non-continuity-conscious days of, say, Mort Weisinger's Superman comics. After all, they were left in the dust by the Lee/Kirby Marvel Age of Comics in sales.
And, clearly, the day of the Claremontian Neverending Saga has staggered to its nadir, as even long-term fans such as myself -- I've been reading X-Men continuously since 1963 -- are being turned off by the impenetrable plotting.
So, certainly, a middle ground of some sort is called for. I hate to sound like a fuddy-duddy, but the Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four and the Lee/Ditko Amazing Spider-Man are terrific examples of exactly that. Stories had beginnings, middles and ends; subplots reached their natural resolution; the characters actually progressed while a recognizable status quo was maintained -- and most importantly, they appealed to newbies and old hands alike. Any individual issue was accessibly to a new reader, whereas at the same time, the implication of a larger backstory whetted the appetite for those who wanted more. It was those stories, in fact, that developed a college-age audience for comics, and created the "lifelong fan" category that you and I find ourselves in. Prior to the Marvel Age, readership turnover was believed to be every three years.
But no, I'm not advocating a return to the "Marvel Age of Comics." Times do change, and perhaps The Authority is a better example of a writing style for the 21st century. Content aside -- you certainly wouldn't give an issue of The Authority to anyone under 18 -- the stories have natural arcs, are given to being packaged as TPBs, and will likely stand the test of time in bookstores (a venue comics must break into to survive).
I also agree with your point about not giving creators complete freedom. In fact, most of the ills attributed to today's comics could and should be handled by a strong editorial hand. In our race to give creators greater say, we sometimes forget why editors are deemed necessary in every avenue of publishing. I can't enumerate the number of times I've put down a comic book and thought, "Geez, if I was the editor on that one, I'd have changed that." And I won't blame that so much on the recent X-problems; I think it stems at least as far back as the writer/editor experiment at Marvel (and later DC), where fairly decent writers became terrible writers -- because they were also their own editors, which allowed minor eccentricities to become major problems.
European comics have often been touted because creators are given such freedom. But can anybody really "read" something by Enki Bilal and tell me it makes sense? Is Jean "Moebius" Girard anybody's idea of a good writer? Is it just me, or shouldn't somebody find something for Milo Manara to illustrate other than his own masturbation fantasies?
And if anyone thinks that it's not happening here, I think all I have to say is "Image Comics." That company was founded on the idea that artists don't need writers or editors. Now Image is scrambling to hire the best of both.
Here are some more thoughts on the subject:

Before we get to that, let’s ponder how Morrison’s take on X-Men has come and gone, and his only idea for how to houseclean was to write a technical sequel to the “Mutant Massacre” from the mid-80s, which saw tons of Morlocks wiped out by Mr. Sinister, among other terrible incidents. And Quesada put writers first alright…based on their popularity with specific segments of audience, not according to how talented they are, or how well they understood the material, or even what ideas they could bring to the table. I’d even argue Morrison’s take on JLA was overrated, because acted as though a specific group – Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Aquaman, Flash, Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter must be the only true team at nearly all times, and very few others mattered. Or, as though Superman must be present and leading the team in each and every tale. Actually, maybe worse is that he was pretty much okay with Hal Jordan’s desecration at the hands of Kevin Dooley, and he gave a telling hint when he wrote in a scene where Batman tells Kyle Rayner he likes him more than Hal because unlike Hal, Kyle knows the meaning of fear! Sigh. How did we ever get to the point where people think a non-existent human literally doesn’t blench, and won’t fault the past writers for failing to meet their expectations? Or, how is it we’re not willing to acknowledge those faults logically? Now about that other letter:

Hi, Captain! You have an excellent Web site; I've been spending many hours surfing through it, and I am overwhelmed by the amount of information contained within. I started reading comic books in 1978 after watching a TV newsmagazine called Special Edition do a feature on Marvel Comics. I quit reading and collecting comic books after I moved to the Philippines in 1984, but a former editor of mine piqued my curiosity about DC's New Wave of British authors in 1989. In a year's time I finally caught up with the rest of comicdom on Alan Moore, and I discovered the iconoclastic genius of Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman and Jamie Delano. I started writing for Amazing Heroes in 1989, but when they folded in the early '90s, I started to become disillusioned with the art form. The Image explosion of the early '90s, to me, was the worst trend in comic-book history; storytelling in mainstream superhero books was tossed to the lions, and pin-up pages infected comics like Ebola.
However, I've been noticing a change, a return to basics. Grant Morrison's makeover on the Justice League was a significant step in bringing back intelligence, creativity and a healthy respect for the past to mainstream comic books. I just picked up an issue of Christopher Priest's Black Panther, and I enjoyed it. I also like Joe Kelly's take on Clark Kent/Superman and Lois Lane.
What is STILL lacking in today's comics is a sense of wonder. Grant Morrison had it in JLA. I'm burned out on depressing, gloom-and-doom comics. Don't get me wrong -- I love dark comics a la Moore's Swamp Thing, Garth Ennis's Hellblazer and Gaiman's early Sandman. Unfortunately, it's become cliched; too many comic books have glum characters, bleak narratives and ominous art.
I was wondering: Have you read Rumiko Takahashi's Maison Ikkoku? This has become one of my all-time favorite series. Forget the anime; the manga, especially in its later books, have a warmth and wit that is rare in any entertainment media. If you haven't read any Maison Ikkoku, I highly recommend the series. It is the Strangers in Paradise of Japan. I've never seen a comic book handle romantic relationships so realistically. Whenever you're looking for a change of pace from the darkness of modern comics, brew a cup of coffee for Maison Ikkoku. You will love it.
Thanks for the recommendation, [name withheld] -- I'll have to give Maison Ikkoku a try.
And I agree with your assessment about gloom-and-doom, grim-and-gritty comics. I love Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, Marvels, The Golden Age, Preacher, Ennis's Hellblazer, Moore's Swamp Thing, Azzarello's 100 Bullets, etc., etc. -- but, geez, a steady diet of anything isn't good for you.
Particularly when it comes to superhero comics. If there's one thing that being a superhero ought to be, it's FUN. Even if you're a mope like Cyclops or Spider-Man, you can do things that nobody else can, and you experience things that nobody else does. Even when things are at their worst for Peter Parker, I still think it would be more fun to be Spider-Man than to be you or me.
And I wish the comics would show that more often. Superhero comics can be serious -- but let's not forget the underlying sensawunda that drew us to these four-color flights of fantasy to begin with. I mean, gee whiz, how awful can it be to Superman? That's one guy who ought to be pretty cheerful.

Smith’s long proven he doesn’t agree with the correspondent about anything. Did Identity Crisis, Avengers: Disassembled and Civil War have a sense of wonder? Nope, and yet he praised them anyway. If he really cared, he would’ve argued to that effect in his newspaper columns long, long ago. That he’s failed to do so speaks volumes about his dishonesty.

Dear Cap: I read my Uncanny X-Men #392 yesterday with glee and enthusiasm over new X-Men members including the oh-so-controversial Northstar. Little did I realize the thrilled-and-amazed quotient would multiply when -- lo and behold -- on the last page one of my favorite X-Men ever, Dazzler, returned! "THE DAZZ IS BACK! THE DAZZ IS BACK!" I shouted, jumping off my bed and dancing in circles. Once my elation died down a bit, it hit me: They're gonna kill her, aren't they? They just killed Colossus and Moira (MacTaggert) and are threatening more deaths with the upcoming X-Men overhaul. So it kind of looks like the Dazzler is going to get purged, especially since she's not with Longshot, who has been labeled "fan favorite." The Dazzler is more likely labeled "fan least favorite" all because of those darn roller skates.
So my question to you, good Captain, is do you think that Marvel is going to kill the Dazzler? And do you think that my beloved Allison Blaire really deserves death?
Okay, sure she spent a few too many years in the '80s wearing roller skates when everybody knew that disco was dead, but she redeemed herself with that snazzy blue costume and (what I thought was) a memorable stint in the X-Men.
The whole fame element is my main reason for keeping Dazzler. It was a fun twist on the mutant syndrome even if was barely written into her X-Men years (the graphic novel and the stalker issue during the Seige Perilous mess). Would you still hate mutants if one of your favorite stars turned out to be one?
The Australian year(s) may have been kind of hokey with the X-Men as living legends, but the team was rock solid, mixing the old faithful (Storm, Wolverine, Colossus and Rogue) with some fun second-stringers who needed more attention (the Dazz, Havok, Longshot and the pre-ninja makeover Psylocke). And Dazzler earned her X-Men stripes when Spiral knifed Destiny's mask to her face.
Dumping Dazzler and Longshot off into the Mojoverse was a cheap cop-out of writing around some fun (I keep using that word for a reason) and challenging characters. Though I'm trying and failing not to mention the whole baby/Shatterstar thing. I should be writing this to Marvel Comics but I have a feeling Mr. Quesada and his grim reapers have already waved their scythe. So instead I'm trying to keep Dazzler's spirit alive with (semi-)intelligent dialogue about her merits to the Marvel U. It looks like my dream for a second-string X-Men team of Banshee, Quicksilver, Angel, Polaris and Dazzler will remain a dream.
Next week I'm going to fret over my beloved New Mutants/Hellions/X-Force who I also fear are destined for death or, even worse, limbo.
Don't let the Dazzler die!
Gosh, [withheld], I dunno what to say. On the one hand, your naked enthusiasm for a comic-book character warms my palsied heart and I truly don't want you to be disappointed. On the other hand ... Dazzler? Yech!
OK, that's not exactly "semi-intelligent dialogue." But I confess, as I often have on this site, that a character's introduction, when poor, turns me off virtually forever. (You don't get a second chance to make a first impression.) And I'll never forgive Dazzler's wretched intro in The (Uncanny) X-Men #130 (Feb 80). It was a ham-handed effort to cash in on a fad (disco) that was already dead, using Marvel's most popular title. She was poorly conceived, it was poorly executed, and Dazzler was represented as a shallow nitwit with (yes) roller skates and a disco ball around her neck. Yech!
The character was made more palatable in later years, becoming less shallow and more superheroish, but I never forgot that her initial reaction to the X-Men was: "Who needs you?" Frankly, I had to agree with her, and -- despite her equally egregious ongoing series where she actually fought Galactus, for God's sake -- I always thought that she had no business in the X-Men, and should have been making inroads for mutant acceptance by maintaining her singing career. Wouldn't that have been ultimately more beneficial, than just being another Spandex-clad superdoer, hated and feared by the world she sought to protect? And she was uniquely positioned to do just that.
So, it won't grieve me if Dazzler goes to that big Studio 54 in the sky, as she has been a disappointment to me on every level. But I'm not a heartless man, to cast cold water on your heartfelt plea. If any other correspondents want to take up the defense of Dazzler and her contributions to the X-universe, I'll be happy to present their views.

Wow, more fascination galore as Mr. Smith writes an ambiguous critique of Dazzler, but at least he’s willing to admit his biggest flaw: dare to commit the thoughtcrime of making one mistake in writing, and he’ll declare a fictional character persona non grata for life! Besides, I don’t think disco was entirely dead by that time. And he’s making the mistake of implying he doesn’t like X-Men either, not based on story quality, you can be sure.

Dazzler didn’t die in the story by Scott Lobdell, but his tale in UXM from 2001 was still truly awful, and much like his earlier story in Alpha Flight, it hammered Northstar’s homosexuality over the readers’ heads. Lobdell only proved why he’s an otherwise terrible writer with that embarrassment.

Hi, Cap: It's been some time since I've written you and I intend to write more soon, but I thought I'd send a brief comment to you.
<<I find Harvey Pekar a boring and unpleasant person -- and, given the autobiographical nature of American Splendor, he probably is. American Splendor is like the movie American Beauty, but without Kevin Spacey's charm. But there's got to be some reason Pekar keeps getting invited on Letterman, so if you haven't tried it, you probably should and make up your own mind. -- Captain Comics>>
First, let me say that I agree with your assessment of Mr. Pekar. I always wondered why anyone would want to read stories about him. I wouldn't want to sit next to him on a bus, much less hear tales about his day-to-day life.
I don't think Harvey Pekar has been invited back on any David Letterman program since the 1980s. Harvey wore a shirt denouncing General Electric (then NBC's parent company) on NBC's Late Night with David Letterman and said some things about the company that made even Letterman nervous, and he's known to needle his bosses on his show. After this incident Harvey Pekar was not asked back on Late Night and I don't believe he's been on CBS's Late Show.
I just thought I'd fill you in on what I know about that tidbit.
Thanks, [withheld]! I'd sure like to know what Pekar could have said to discombobulate the acerbic Letterman!
Now let's return to the comics-as-magazines conversation ...

I’m skeptical Mr. Smtih really dislikes Pekar, given he sure doesn’t have many critiques to offer for other crummy people working in comicdom today, and sure doesn’t deliver any tour de force critiques in his paper colums. Also note his lenient take on American Beauty, which was one of the most disgusting movies filmed circa the end of the last century. It depicted a father engaging in a statutory tryst with an underage teen, and we're supposed to think that's art? The whole vision espoused there was crap.

So, where do comics go next? The magazine format isn't feasible due to lack of interest from advertisers who are looking for big circulation numbers. Supposedly the trade paperback business is solid, but you need the traditional format to generate the material in the first place. I still come back to the idea of fewer titles/fatter format; i.e., 100-Page Monsters/Super-Spectaculars. The equivalent of two current titles could be combined into one publication with the remaining pages filled out by reprints. Put on a cover price around 4 or 5 bucks and it will still seem like a good deal. Marvel and DC have enough in their archives to fill out these type of publications; the smaller publishers, however, could have a problem.
The other issue that could make or break the industry is how to bring in new readers. I have always felt that if you aren't into reading comic books by about age 10 or 11, you never will be. I can't see someone in their 20s or 30s with a job and family responsibilites taking up comics as a hobby. Although the direct market saved the comic book from oblivion in the '70s, it also cut off comics from anyone other than the hard-core fan. Short term it helped create the '90s boom; long term it may have only prolonged the inevitable. The comic book, as we know it, may have been living on borrowed time the past two decades.
Frankly, I don't know the answer to that, […] -- and clearly, neither do the comics publishers. I, too, would love to see lots of Big, Fat Monster comics, with perhaps one new 22-page story and another three or four full-length reprints. And I think kids would love it -- because I loved 80-Page Giants and Annuals as a kid. I also think a 100-page or 200-page all-reprint Bat-book or Super-book or Spider-book would sell extremely well also -- if you could find some way to market it outside of comic shops and get it to where kids could see it. That, as they say, is the rub, bub.

A bit of advice for the correspondent: don’t ask Mr. Smith how to turn around a long dire situation, because he’s never made the case in his columns, and he sure isn’t thinking big in his response. I would just note that smaller publishers do have more than enough material for trades, depending which ones we’re talking about, like Dark Horse and IDW. Now for another letter I’d written:

Dear Cap: You know, after three years already, I’m really starting to miss Betty Banner.
As the girlfriend and later wife of Bruce Banner/The Hulk, she gave him a reason to live. And without her, believe me, he’s nothing. Marvel’s writers may be able to go on for several more years without her, but trust me, they won’t be able to do so for long.
That’s why I’m definitely glad that they left the door open for her to be resurrected. Three years ago, her father, Thunderbolt Ross, hid her body in a glass coffin in the basement of his Army base. I remember when I read the issue in which Marlo Jones read a diary that Betty had given her and Rick, in which I also learned that they’d almost been able to have a child, but apparently miscarried. Which, if I’m right, is also a bad fate that even Mary Jane Watson had in 1995.
That’s pretty sad, isn’t it, when the protagonists fail to have kids? Reed Richards and Sue Storm were very lucky to have their son Franklin, but other than them, I can’t think at this moment of any others who’ve been able to have kids with the exception of Cyclops and Madelyne Pryor bearing Cable. I think it’s about time that Marvel started giving some characters a chance to be mommies and daddies, and I hope that in the future they’ll give some of their characters a chance.
Right now, though, I’m very happy that Mary Jane has returned, even though as I’ve read elsewhere on the web, she’s asked Peter Parker to let her take some time to recuperate in California. Marvel has said that they’ll be fully reunited in the 50th issue of Spider-Man, and I hope they keep their word on that.
I wonder if one of the reasons why characters like Gwen Stacy and Harry Osborn, for example, may never return from the dead is because, well ... they’re characters without any superpowers, and they’ve also got no fighting skills. A girl like Elektra was able to be resurrected because, although she’s got no superhuman powers, she does have fighting skills, and she has fought baddies before.
In Betty Banner’s case, although with the exception of the time that she was turned into a creature called Harpy, she doesn’t have any superpowers, she should be resurrected because she’s irreplaceable. She was also the only person who could stand between Thunderbolt Ross’s bias against the Hulk, and since she’d been with us for so long, there’s no way that she can be replaced.
And likewise, since Mary Jane’s been around for so long, having appeared as early as the mid-1960s, if I’m correct, she too has put her stamp on the Marvel Universe, and like Betty Banner is irreplaceable.
After all these years of the Gwen Stacy Syndrome, I’d rather that the girls not be killed, and I think that maybe it is time for more men to be done in, although I myself would rather only those who’re unappealing, like Gambit, be killed off.
While I’m at it, I’ve also got a link to a new article about Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez’s latest version of Love and Rockets that was published this week in the Philadelphia City Paper:
http://www.citypaper.net/articles/031501/bq.loveandrockets.shtml
And I was so glad to find it. All the book reviews these past few weeks in the City Paper were lousy, but this one was solid gold. Enjoy!
I agree that killing off Betty Ross-Banner was a misguided idea, Avi -- for the simple reason that it removes the only plausible reason (in my mind) that Bruce Banner doesn't simply put a bullet in his head. If I were capable -- no, likely -- to accidentally kill hundreds of people accidentally every day I drew breath, then continuing my existence would be the height of irresponsibility and selfishness. On the other hand, I would probably eagerly justify it to myself (however erroneously) if there was somebody depending on me -- a wife, for example, or a child. Without Betty in the picture, a lot of my sympathy for Banner -- and my suspension of disbelief -- drains out of the picture.
Strangely, this reminds me of a quote by Hulk writer Paul Jenkins (I think). He said writing the Hulk was boring, but Bruce Banner was infinitely fascinating, if for no other reason than to figure out why he hasn't killed himself yet. But since the Hulk is what people come to see, you've got to have a big green guy smashing things. I don't know why I brought that up, except that it's an interesting insight -- not only on the Hulk character and his writers, but on us, the audience.
Anyway, now that the deed is done vis-a-vis Betty Ross-Banner, I'd prefer it stay done. As little as I care for the Gwen Stacy Syndrome, I don't want Gwen -- or Betty -- making a comeback. For death to have any dramatic impact in comics, then gee whiz -- SOMEBODY'S got to stay dead!
Oh, and by the way, you've got it backwards -- Sue Storm suffered a miscarriage with her second child (and is leery of trying again), but Mary Jane Watson-Parker did indeed successfully bear a daughter, who was whisked away by the Green Goblin to Europe (last I heard), and Peter and MJ were TOLD there had been a miscarriage, while the latter was unconscious and the former was off fighting evil. The Parkers are unaware their daughter survived, but we aren't -- after all, she grows up to be Spider-Girl, doesn't she?
Anyway, I'm on record that I would have been pleased to see Marvel's characters continue to age, get married, have kids and settle down, retire and die -- and for a new generation to carry on the titles for the kids growing up today. Can you imagine a wizened, grandfatherly Reed Richards advising the Human Torch's kid on fighting supervillains? Wouldn't it be cool to have "wise elders" in the MU -- whom the kids would promptly ignore? Can you imagine a 50-year-old Peter Parker's impatience with a smartmouth young superhero? And wasn't that a great scene in the Fantastic Four/Fantastic 4 '99 Annual, where the long-lived heroes of the MU -- Thor, Dr. Strange, Vision, Wolverine -- were sitting around playing poker sometime in the future and reminiscing about old friends who'd died in battle, or in bed? ("Remember how Cap bought it?" "Yeah, I loved that man. And wasn't it a shame about Hawkeye?" "Yeah, that's not how he would have chosen to go." Brought a tear to my eye, it did.) What must it be like to be Thor, and know that everybody around you will die in -- what must seem to him -- the blink of an eye?
One thing that set Marvel apart in the '60s is that their characters DID age -- a process that stopped sometime in the early '70s -- and I enjoyed the idea that events MATTERED in the Marvel Universe. That when Peter Parker graduated from high school, it was never-to-repeated event -- his life would move on, like my own. Now, of course, the Marvel characters have joined their DC counterparts as unaging icons, so perforce we'll see only endless recycling -- and, like Archie Andrews, Peter Parker will never turn 30 and enjoy the rest of life's rich pageant. Too bad.

I may have gotten it backwards about Sue, but he got it backwards about Betty! How do we make clear that there are distinctions between deaths that were written well and those that were not? And, those that were written in poor taste, like many of the details involving Jean Grey? As somebody who’s not a fan of the Phoenix story – or wouldn’t have been if it remained as it was in 1980 – I found it horrific that a girl whom I thought we were meant to care for was turned into a murderess who wiped out a couple million beings in the Shi’ar galaxy. I remember the first time I read one of those particular lines – I felt sick and depressed.

That’s why I’m glad it was retconned in 1985 – no sane person wants a fictional character we were meant to root for turned into a monster. In fact, no sane person wants the kind of slaughter we have far too much of running rampant in real life littering adventure comics either.

As for aging? Well duh, it figures they wouldn’t want to age their heroes by too much. Being young is a form of wish fulfillment, especially for women, I’m sure. So if I ever said I’d wish they aged, I regret it now.

Dear Andrew: I just had to write and tell you how much I enjoyed your column in the latest CBG. I laughed my (butt) off!! Seriously, thank you so much for the write-up about Kang and your awesome youthful exuberance over figuring out this whole time-travel thing. "Huh!" Keep up the good work and do more humor bits in your columns. You're pretty good at it.

Thanks, [...]! Every once in a while I feel the need to run a letter like yours to remind me why I do this in the first place! Oh, and also to offset letters like the following, which takes me sternly to task:

Before getting to that, a respectable disagreement with the correspondent about Smith’s humor. He’s bad at it. Especially when he sensationalizes stories that make light of sexual abuse like Identity Crisis.

Dear Captain: In the March 15 Q& A ... you and a few letter writers ruminate on Batwoman's origin and training, and nitpick the flimsy explanation for her athletic abilities, her detective skills and for seeming to have fun on her adventures. The Captain complains about the "Alicia Silverstone Syndrome" -- that donning a costume, in and of itself, confers Olympic-level gymnastic skill. And Adam Benson pooh-poohs Batwoman's detective talents and writes, "The idea that crimefighting is fun is absurd -- just ask any policeman (even setting aside the tedious paperwork) how much 'fun' crimefighting is. There would have to be something greater motivating any rational person to tolerate the pain, injury, lack of sleep, loss of social life and financial incursion than just having 'fun'."
Fellows -- this is comics! Moreover, this is '50s Silver Age comics! If you want realism, read The Wall Street Journal! If you look at these stories through modern eyes, with modern sensibilities, expecting them to be "realistic," they'll all fall apart!
For example, look at the origin for the Silver Age Supergirl. In a way, she had it worse than Superman. He came to Earth as a baby and learned of the demise of Krypton only later; she grew up with her family on Argo City with full knowledge of that calamity, only to have them and their entire community die from radiation poisoning when the ground beneath their feet turned to kryptonite. Rocketed to Earth as an adolescent, she meets her long-lost cousin, Kal-El, her last living relative and the only other survivor of their civilization and planet -- and does he embrace her, throw a feast in her honor, welcome her into his home? No! He says, "Great Rao, I can't let anybody know you exist!" He sends her to an orphanage, changes her name, gives her a dopey disguise, and swears her to secrecy! Even when they spend time together, he insists that nobody must know who she is.
Put that way, it sounds awfully cruel, doesn't it?
Or consider: If Peter Parker had been bitten by a radioactive spider, he wouldn't have gained "the proportionate strength of a spider" and the ability to cling to walls; he'd have died of radiation poisoning. If Bruce Banner had been a few hundred yards from ground zero of a gamma bomb blast, he wouldn't have turned into a cross between Mr. Hyde and Frankenstein; he'd have died of radiation poisoning. If Reed Richards and company had stolen a rocket and encountered "cosmic rays," they wouldn't have turned into superheroes; when they returned, they'd have died of radiation poisoning after they were prosecuted for espionage. If Tony Stark had tripped a hidden land mine in the jungle, he wouldn't have jury-rigged a "transistor-powered" suit of armor to keep his heart beating; he wouldn't have lived long enough to try. (But at least he wouldn't have died of radiation poisoning -- just ordinary infection if he didn't bleed to death first.)
I know, nobody said they wanted or expected these stories to be realistic. But they are supposed to be fun, and that's what the creators of the old stories put first -- that and mechanical, pragmatic concerns (i.e., creating the Fantastic Four because the competition had a popular super-team; giving Batman a kid sidekick for the readers to identify with; giving half the other heroes kid sidekicks because Robin caught on so well; creating a Supergirl for female readers but not upsetting the status quo, etc.) Coming up with realistic motivations for these characters wasn't high on the list; these were adventure stories, not documentaries.
Certainly, today's writers would go farther to craft plausible (if not "realistic") explanations for how, and why, these characters do what they do, and today's stories are better for it -- to some degree. But I maintain that whenever people talk about making comics "realistic," they mean doing something that takes all the fun out of it.
Great Rao, […] -- you're right! These superheroes are ridiculous! Why am I wasting my time with this drivel? Back to Dostoevsky for this kid!
Seriously, we're just having fun. If we can't gig the characters we've devoted a lifetime to reading, who can we gig? Adam's love for Silver Age characters bleeds through every sentence he writes -- but that doesn't mean he's turned off all higher faculties, and doesn't see the inherent absurdity of some of the characters and situations. And I grew up on Silver Age characters, leaping over the gaps in logic with practiced ease, and still do. (Although, the Supergirl thing did bother me at the time -- poor kid, why didn't Supes do a little more to make her feel at home? She certainly was well-adjusted, given the emotional trauma she went through on Argo City and rejection from her own flesh and blood on Earth. Not to mention that Kal-El was probably the only person on Earth she could have non-fatal sex with.)
But I still set in my heels over the Alicia Silverstone Syndrome. Silver Age characters I readily forgive -- well, OK, maybe not Batwoman -- but modern creators I hold to a higher standard and I want a bit more help suspending my disbelief. I'm still looking for the "plausible explanation" you mention for Hellcat! On the flip side, it's one of my huge enthusiasms for the new Batgirl. Her origin goes way beyond plausible and makes her a valid character in her own right, not just a spinoff from a male character to secure the trademark. Or a dopey gimmick, like Batwoman. Oops! There I go again!
Thanks for writing in -- maybe we've started another debate!

Not sure whether it’s Batwoman or Batgirl we’re talking about, but honestly, it is petty to complain about characters supposedly getting combat skills out of nowhere. What should be criticized is if the writers failed to provide any clear explanations in a followup story.

Unfortunately, the correspondent may have been one who sided with Identity Crisis, so his argument doesn’t carry much weight here. They’ve started another debate alright, just not one they might’ve hoped for!

Dear Captain: First, you mention two comic adaptions of Beowulf. There is at least one more quite recent one by Girth Hinds and TheComic.com (you can see samples at www.thecomic.com) -- maybe that is the one the reader was thinking of.
Second, I was thinking about the comment two weeks ago by someone that we do not see much of Bruce Wayne as opposed to Clark Kent. It reminded me of an interview of some comics creator or other who talked about the difference of the Secret IDs of the two. He suggested that whereas Superman is kind of boring because of his incredible power leaving him in control of most situations, Clark Kent is interesting because he cannot use that power (to its fullest at least) and so there is more tension. On the other hand, Bruce Wayne is boring because he just hangs around cocktail parties and whatnot, but Batman is much more interesting because he is constantly testing his limits fighting against incredible odds with no superhuman powers. Well at least that is how I remember what he said -- it has been a while. That being said I think Bruce Wayne could do interesting and exciting stuff (like fight a corporate war with Lex) but I think it would be harder to write entertainingly than more traditional scenarios (i.e., fights).
Finally, even though I like the Rick Jones of the early days of the Avengers I can see how the name mascot applies. What I cannot understand is why you seem to say in your column on the JLA/Avengers that Rick Jones was not mascoting for the Avengers until #3, but he was their from the ground floor (#1) as The Hulk's "mascot" and indeed played an integral role in the Avengers origin (but then so did Loki :), as I am sure you know.
I am curious do I detect a certain dislike for honorary members (mascots) of superteams? I guess it is a bit ridiculous to have skilled or superpowered crimefighters to allow rank amateurs to run around with them risking life and limb, not to mention the often hackneyed attempts to portray youth culture. Still I like Rick Jones (I cannot speak for any other mascots) in those early Avengers; he is just easier to relate to than the other characters somehow. Also, you have to admit to face the kind of danger super-mascots do without training or powers is very brave (or is foolish the better term?).
Hope this will not prompt another visit by the Captain Comics of Earth-Three. :)
Unfortunately, the Captain Comics of Earth-Three has already escaped from the impenetrable bubble in the misty borderlands between worlds -- but he hasn't shown up in the Comics Cave lately. He's probably busy doing something nefarious elsewhere, like being a telephone sales representative or deliberately getting orders wrong at a fast-food restaurant. Yes, he is just that evil.
Anyway, I did have a certain disdain for the Robins, Snapper Carrs and Rick Joneses of comic-book land in the '60s and '70s, primarily for the reasons you cite: 1) It lowered my estimation of a Captain America or a Batman when they deliberately endangered minors, and 2) that egregious dialogue was really hard to swallow!
This applies especially to Snapper and Rick; when they were teenagers I was a teenager, and the bizarre lingo they spouted resembled nothing ever heard in my neighborhood. If I had begun babbling that pseudo-Beatnik patois at my junior high, I wouldn't have survived until lunchtime.
Either that, or it's sheer jealousy. :)
Anyway all three of the characters cited above -- Robin, Snapper and Rick -- have grown into more interesting, fully-fleshed and plausible characters in the last decade or so and I now enjoy reading about them.

Oh for crying out loud. It’s bad enough they’re raising heckles over the surreal idea that teenagers would take on vigilante crimefighting careers and that adults would supposedly endanger them. Now they’re whining over surreal dialogue that the writers came up with, not the characters themselves. So it doesn’t sound like anything you’ve ever heard? So what? Big deal. That’s a fictional universe we’re talking about, dummy, not real life. And if that’s how Mr. Smith feels, then how did he feel about Rick’s radio-surveying cohorts volunteering to work as scouts for the Avengers and keep tabs on the Hulk? I guess they should’ve all been arrested and thrown in a dungeon for being altruistic? Again, we see the face of a man who makes petty arguments over deliberately surreal settings, instead of just limiting his arguments to how specific real life issues like WW2 are depicted in a fictional setting. Now for another letter by me, and another I’m not so fond of today:

Dear Cap: For this letter, I thought of discussing how the Avengers & Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man & The X-Men live in situations, worlds and environments that are very far removed from each other. About how the Avengers and the Fantastic Four are almost, if not entirely, accepted by the world ... and even the universe, while Spider-Man and The X-Men by contrast are largely, and unjustly, despised. And I think what I’m also trying to contemplate here is how and what would the world think of both groups, the accepted and the despised, if they were to work together, and help each other’s causes.
That is precisely what can come as interesting, given that I can’t say that I’ve ever really seen them teaming up together for real in ... public. Or trying to help each other’s causes. And in the case of Spider-Man and The X-Men, their causes are certainly in need of assistance of others.
When the Fantastic Four first began way back in late 1961, they were accepted by the public when they presented themselves to it. Of course, that was about two years before J. Jonah Jameson, the publisher of the Daily Bugle, came along, and when he did, well, he proved himself to be quite an opponent and a journalistic challenge to almost every and any superbeing in the Marvel Universe, including the Four. And in 1993, he built a smear campaign against the Human Torch after the latter accidentally burned down a high school to rescue a ladyfriend of his, and got Johnny Storm briefly jailed for arson.
Okay, so of course, from that story description, we know that if someone like Jameson can really warm up the ground under our heroes feet, then even the FF aren’t totally accepted by society. But nevertheless, unlike Spidey and The X-Men, they’ve never been feared and hated as much as the aforementioned are.
But what really gets me curious is what would happen if say, the Avengers and the FF were to try and help Spidey and the mutants' causes. For characters like Captain America and Iron Man, among others, do care about what hostility mutants suffer through, don’t they? Of course. And even they wouldn’t want someone like Senator Kelly being elected president, because who knows? He could probably force them to turn against their best friends. And while the Fantastic Four may not have been born with their powers, the Richards’ son Franklin was, and so they’ve got a relative who’s a mutant, and though some of his more stronger powers have so far exhausted themselves, he’s still got plenty of them. And the Avengers have also got several members who’re mutants, most notably the Scarlet Witch.
What the Avengers and the FF have got to do, for example, is go after all those devilish foes who work both under and above the law to destroy the mutant race. Under the law, for example, are the Friends of Humanity. And above the law is J. Jonah Jameson of the Daily Bugle. I’m not sure just now, but if Daredevil is more accepted by society than Spider-Man is, then he too is a character who can battle such evil entities. And also, he’s a lawyer, so he’d know what to do both in and out of costume. As a lawyer, Matt Murdock could represent persecuted mutants who’ve been attacked by hateful (humans), and in costume, he could do battle with the crooks who’ve committed the crimes against his clients.
And on the mutants' side of the matter, you know, they too seem to be too “enclosed” in their battles against evil. Back in the late '70s, they did battle with Count Nefaria, but today it seems like too many of their foes are mutants, too. In an issue of Generation X from last year, they broke into a juvenile prison where a lot of teens were being unjustly held, and the warden turned out to be a mutant too. And in 1997, I’m not sure if I can remember correctly just now, but I think Bastion turned out to be a mutant as well (“ah, yes, there was a time when I was not unlike you.” he tells them after showing them his power of reversing power polarities). And in one of the last issues of Excalibur, there appeared a trio of aliens who were apparently mutants too! While it's always OK to depict a lot of their foes as mutants too, it’s still too self-enclosed, if that’s the fitting way to describe it, and the writers have really got to make an effort to start providing the X-Men with more villains who aren’t authentic mutants. And, they’ve got to take a shot at helping the Avengers on some of their causes too.
And on the Avengers’ side, well, even Captain America could try to help mutants fight the anti-mutant agenda. He, too, is someone who could try to help mutants, and one of the most fitting at that. What the writers could do, for example, is burst onto the scene when the FOH was menacing a young mutant, and say “Watch it, you Fiends of Humanity! Get your filthy hands off that poor mutant!” And he could whup them a good one with his shield and his superhuman strength.
I’d probably be going out on a limb to suggest this, but supposing the FOH was to try and menace Franklin Richards, since, as noted earlier, he is most certainly born a mutant. And even the other Foursome as well. That too could make for an interesting story.
It’s also interesting to wonder what the public would think of the FF and the Avengers if and whenever they were to work side by side with Spidey and the X-Men. Three years ago, Wolverine teamed up with Captain America to fight some crooks. And Thor teamed up with Spider-Man to fight an emissary of the Dark Gods who’d accidentally teleported to earth, and who spoke in rhymes, which of course led to Spidey doing some of his own amusing wisecracks. In fact, a pedestrian remarked that he knew that Thor saved lives, “but -- Spider-Man?!?” One of those many who bought J. Jonah Jameson’s baseless smears, of course.
And also in 1998, just an issue or two after Professor Xavier was reunited with The X-Men, they penetrated a burning hospital to rescue some endangered infants, and initially, the police threatened to shoot them, but Storm convinced them to stand down. I wonder what would happen if the Avengers or even the FF had been with them to help with the rescue mission? If any regular members of the public and the press had been there, what would they think? “Are they crazy? The Avengers are working with a bunch of criminals?!?” And of course, what would happen if any of the really bad bunch at the Daily Bugle got coverage of the whole incident? J. Jonah Jameson would no doubt want to do everything he could to smear them for that. The Bugle’s headlines could read: “Avengers collaborate with criminal mutant organization, The X-Men!” And then, what would the public think? Would they look upon the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes as double-crossing freaks? Or could it help them to realize that The X-Men are a trustworthy bunch and not crooks, as J. Jonah Jameson and Senator Kelly would like them to think?
Years ago, I read reprints of the first few issues of Spider-Man, and he tried to join the FF, who told him after a scuffle that they don’t take in new members, and that their base is not a sanctuary for wanted criminals, but later, they came to realize that all those claims made by the Bugle were untrue, and since then, they’ve teamed up with him many times.
And last year, after Psylocke and Archangel were attacked by the Twisted Sisters, so, you know what could’ve been a good response to the doctors and cops? “It’s hard to understand why you despise us so much and not the Avengers.” Admittedly, I suppose it may be going a bit far to suggest that Archangel give a response like that to the authorities, but it could give them something to think about.
To say the least, there’ve been many times when (worlds of ) the Fantastic Four & the Avengers, and Spider-Man & The X-Men, have been (or seemed) very far removed from each other. And that’s why Marvel has to start getting both sides involved in helping each other’s causes and agendas. It could lead to a lot of interesting possibilities.
I’ve also read all about the new JLA/Avengers crossover and I eagerly await it, but you know what could also be a good idea? If the JLA were to team up with The X-Men too. Now there’s another brilliant idea that Marvel and DC could take up. That too has some very good possibilities.
Oh, and I'm also delighted with the introduction of [name withheld] column. I may have heard of it a few years ago, but only vaguely. Now I'm beginning to find out a lot more about it. Keep up the good work.
Thanks for the thoughts, Avi.
I'm on record as agreeing that I find it increasingly hard to swallow, month after month, that the Marvel public adores some superheroes so much (FF, Avengers), while utterly despising others (Spider-Man, The X-Men). In a world where superheroes are a given, why is Iron Man so beloved but Cyclops so loathed? When a new hero appears -- say, Nova -- does the public withhold judgment until he or she passes some sort of collectively-agreed-upon "mutant" test? And, in any sort of rational analysis, would it matter if you were born super-strong or got that way from cosmic rays? Really, what difference would it make?
And, yes, I think it's very much in the interest of such groups as the FF and the Avengers to address the mutant hysteria -- it's only a matter of time until it spreads to all "enhanced" humans. Not to mention that these folks are heroes, and helping the unfortunate (read: mutants) is what they do. I loved it recently -- I can't remember where -- when Reed Richards was called upon by some subcommittee or other to testify about mutants, and he delivered a passionate speech equating his family with mutants, and demanding to be lumped together with them -- with tolerance for all. Richards and Tony Stark and Captain America ought to be stumping for civil rights for mutants at every opportunity.
Secondly, I'm also on record as believing that Professor X has got to be the clumsiest public-relations guy on Earth, or just plain crazy.
He's often compared with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. -- very well, let's compare them:
Martin Luther King perceived a pervasive, societal injustice that reduced some of his fellow men and women to second-class citizens. At the risk of his own life -- which he eventually forfeited -- he attacked this injustice by staging legal non-violent protests, waging court battles and constantly bringing this injustice to the forefront of public opinion so that (white) men and women of conscience could not turn away. His rallying cry was "I Am A Man!" -- saying, in effect, "We are equal!" In the end, men and women of conscience embraced his cause, the injustice became high-profile socially, and headway was made into the cancer eating away at the heart of American society -- to the betterment of all. The battle isn't won by any means, but the wheel of history has turned and America will never be the same.
This man is a hero.
Charles Xavier perceived a pervasive, societal injustice that reduced some of his fellow men and women to second-class citizens. At the risk of his own life -- which he's lost a couple of times, but he always comes back -- he dressed teenagers in masks and had them lurk in the shadows as vigilantes, fanning the flames of distrust and disdaining the very tools of a free society (the media, the courts, public opinion) that would most help his cause. His rallying cry is "Homo Superior!" -- in effect, "We are BETTER than you!" His battle is going so poorly his world is on the verge of a race war -- yet he hasn't changed his tactics.
This man is a nut.
Well, I had to get that off my chest. In short, I think that The X-Men ought to work with the FF and Avengers at every opportunity. In fact, I think they ought to sign up en masse with those groups, as well as SHIELD, the armed forces and the local police -- blending into the infrastructure of the society they've sworn to protect, instead of standing apart. It's probably too late for that, given how mistrusted The X-Men are now. But they surely need to come up with a new game plan -- the old one sure ain't working!

Say, wasn’t that Magneto’s rallying cry? After all, Xavier thought his bunch should be integral with the rest of society, whereas Magneto was the one who thought they should be isolationists or world conquerors. And it sure ain’t Xavier’s fault if he had lousy lines, but the scriptwriters.

In any case, he needs to find a new tack for his career – the current one sure ain’t working!

Hi Cap: You mention in this week's Q&A a number of comic-character girlfriends who have met their four-color end. I believe this site may have been covered on the decks of your ship before, but the fairly morbid "Women In Refrigerators" (just typing that was a bit unsettling) site presents an absurdly comprehensive list:
http://www.the-pantheon.net/wir/
Yup, that site has been mentioned before -- but I'll be glad to mention it again! It's by Gail Simone of the very funny You'll All Be Sorry online column, as well as a writer for The Simpsons comics. It's worth a look!

Maybe once, but no longer. Simone stopped being funny long ago, and while some of her writing efforts may be worth a look, her politics are a serious problem.

Hi, Captain: Thank you so much for running my letter about my favorite comic, Lucifer, in your latest CBG column. I'm very flattered that you thought highly enough of it to print it in its entirety.
Of course, it's always fun to see one's own name in print, but what I really hope is that my letter (and your printing of it) can inspire other readers to try Lucifer. Thanks for the help!
I like all sorts of literature, from Faulkner to Chandler to The American Scholar, and I can truly say that I find the writing in Lucifer to be as imaginative, as clever, as gripping, as anything I've read. Months after I read Issue #10, I'm still marveling over the scheme that Mike Carey developed to have Lucifer call the depressed man to come to him, and the way he told it: The wonderful images of thousands of doors descending into The Dreaming, Lucien's biting understanding of the situation ("I'd say that someone is sending out an invitation ... someone who doesn't care about incurring our lord's anger."), the clear and concise explanation of what was happening through one question by the Raven ("Know what a fish on a hook feels like, pal? You should.") and the device that Lucifer used to call him, the sound of the crying baby that for some reason that we don't know yet haunts the man. ("I didn't manufacture the sound. I found it in the abyss of things past and brought it here. So that you could hear it.")
What masterful storytelling! What imaginative plot devices! What refined and gripping dialogue! In every issue we have marvelous images, we have great supporting characters, we have Lucifer scheming, always scheming, always four steps ahead of everyone else in ways we just can't see through, we have suspense and conflict as a constant undercurrent; and all this is presented in such an understated way that the reader is left always wanting more. This is storytelling at its finest. I could write about a hundred other elements of the comic that I feel are positively inspired, but if I'm not quite preaching to the converted, I'm at least preaching to someone who knows my sermon, so I'll hold off.
But I do have one more possible bit of insight. In Mike Carey, I'm reminded of something I used to think about Neil Gaiman: For the entire time when The Sandman was being published, Neil Gaiman wrote only one comic (except for the two Death miniseries), and therefore could devote his entire month to writing one issue of one comic. I think the quality of the writing clearly reflected the time and devotion he was able to spend on it. I feel the same thing about Lucifer; this is the only comic that Mike Carey writes, and the complexity and polish of the writing shows this, I think. And, as Neil Gaiman once said about a writer who bragged about how much he could write while Neil only wrote one comic a month, everything Neil wrote is still in print 10 years later, and nothing of the other writer's is. I dearly hope we'll be able to say the same about Mike Carey.
Again, thanks for the chance to play up my favorite comic. I hope I can do it again sometime.
You just did!

While Mr. Smith never did. Over the years, I’ve come to view Gaiman as overrated, because of what he did with Lyta Hall in Sandman, writing her turning against Morpheus after she thought he was responsible for her son Daniel’s disappearance, and finally obliterating him with the Furies towards the end. I just don’t see how that helps her as a character.

Dear Cap: Some of your fans -- those with a quirky sense of humor, anyway -- might want to find a copy of How to Be a Superhero, by Mark Leigh and Mike Lepine. Mine is at home right now, otherwise I'd include an excerpt here. It's filled with classic comic-book schtick, including the pros and cons of a female vs. male sidekick. MUST read!
Thanks, […]! I'll have to check it out!

I’m skeptical the correspondent has a real sense of humor, because of his ultra-leftist politics. He was such a brainless dummy.

Dear Captain: I did an interview with Jim Starlin last summer and -- as anyone who knows anything about Starlin would -- I asked him about the Death of Captain Marvel graphic novel.
Some backstory before this even. I read this probably about three years after it came out. I'd heard about it and was told over and over to read it. For a character I didn't have a huge affection for, I was genuinely moved by the story. A man was dying and had no recourse. Its inevitability chilled me. It was also a time when dead when dead and the whole Jean Grey resurrection hadn't been broached yet (more on that later).
So fast forward to last summer, asking the man responsible about this seminal work. I ask him how it came about. He says (paraphrasing and condensing here) that it was a mix of three things:
His father had recently died of cancer and it was a form of therapy.
Marvel said they would let him do Dreadstar as an Epic comic if he did the Death of Captain Marvel.
Marvel was going to do it with or without him and he wanted this to be a special thing instead of some cheap death with no meaning.
Starlin went on to say that essentially they wanted to keep the Captain Marvel name (a la Monica Rambeau, a.k.a. Photon), but not Mar-vell. Starlin said that in what he did with the character during his tenure on the book and subsequent stories had made him far too "cosmic" and "complicated" for other writers to effectively use him. He wasn't just a Spandex-clad thug anymore. He was bigger than that. And no one knew how to handle that.
I view the death of Colossus in the same vein.
See, look at what Claremont did with Piotr Rasputin from the get-go. He made him a complicated character during a time when detente was at an all-time high.
He was Russian but he was not a rabid Communist. He was good-hearted and essentially devoid of politics. He was the perfect person to act as a grounding agent for those full of politics (Sunfire, Wolverine, Banshee, Cyclops).
He was the gentle giant, with the strength of 200 men, but the heart of an artist. He was a full, complicated character that was only realized by three writers that I can remember: Claremont, Fabian Nicieza (brief but true) and Ann Nocenti.
I always felt that Colossus was given the brush-off far too often. (Scott) Lobdell never got a feel for him because he couldn't understand how to write him properly. Mainly because Lobdell can't write consistent character treatments anyway, but look what happened when he saw he couldn't. He shipped him off to Asteroid M's Acolytes.
When they brought him back, he still was used as basically a steel-plated thug. I always wondered about what he thought about his country's political upheaval, why he never joined the Soviet Super Soldiers, what he really thought of them. It felt like the ball was dropped here. Peter became more like every American I know, who wasn't born in Russia during a heavy time of Communism. I'm not saying that we should start writing political comics (because that about as exciting as Bob Dole doing stand-up), but there has always been a history of popular media of inserting political/social commentary within a good story. It would have fleshed out his character more as well. For example, what is his religion?
Instead of the multi-ethnic, diverse group we started out with (a Kenyan, a Russian, an Irishman, a Canadian, a German, a Jewish-American, a South African), we have a homogenous group of superheroes with the trappings of ethnicity but no depth. The closest thing I've seen to Ororo going back to her roots is in Black Panther. Why does it have to be another book that writes her better? She needs to go walkabout in Kenya again (I know it's a term for Australians, but it's the closest equivalent I know of).
There was an exploration we could have had through Colossus, had someone with the chops taken the time to do it properly. Instead, he became a plot point and a casualty.
As a contrast, look at what Claremont did to anticipate the death of Phoenix. Over the course of 37 issues, we see the build-up of power and the struggle to contain that within the confines of human obsessions and passions. The final act was human and emotional. It was the cap to a long story in which the sacrifice was made apparent. It was either her death or the universe.
I just don't see the justification in Colossus's death.
Shame on you, Marvel, for bowing to some sort of pressure to kill off a character just because your writers aren't up to snuff. I expect better of you.
Thanks for letting me rant. I feel better and go burn a picture of Scott Lobdell in effigy.
Colossus? Which one was he, again?
Just kidding, [name withheld]. I have never felt much about the character one way or the other -- primarily for the reason you cited: He was never fully developed. They made him an artist -- oh, look, what an ironic contrast with his role as The X-Men's strongman! -- and left it at that. We didn't know his religion. We didn't know his politics. We didn't know what TV shows he liked. This supposedly sensitive artist-type was shipped off, implausibly, to join a bunch of terrorists when he became inconvenient to the storyline. He was a steel-plated straw man -- a cipher.
Which is not a slam on the character -- there are no bad characters, just bad writers. Personally, I feel that Colossus, Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Banshee, Bishop and virtually all the male X-Men outside of the outrageously popular Wolverine and the inexplicably popular Gambit have gotten short shrift. Cyclops, for example, has virtually no personality and has been written out half a dozen times. They keep trying to ship Nightcrawler off to a circus or a monastery or England. Banshee is an Irishman, so he talks funny. Bishop is -- well, who the heck is Bishop, anyway?
On the other hand, the X-Women have gotten tons of "air time." Psylocke's had three or four revamps, Storm's gone through about six personality changes and a half-dozen romances (mostly with villains), Jean Grey has had multiple storylines written around her, Rogue is every X-writer's favorite character and I know WAY more about Kitty Pryde than I ever wanted to.
This is not to say I don't want to see development of female characters -- just that I want to see development of ALL characters. Lazy, desperation writing -- if that's what the death of Colossus was -- is an evil I've railed against before. Killing a character because you can't figure out what to do with him (or her, as in the Gwen Stacy Syndrome) should be something that a writer avoids as a professional failure. I know when I read a clumsy, problem-solving death, I consider it a failure on the part of the writer -- and I bet I'm not alone.
But getting back to the original point, nothing was ever done with Colossus. And now nothing ever will. Alas, poor Pyotr -- I knew him, […].

Did he? He sure didn’t know Jean Loring and Sue Dibny. Come to think of it, he didn’t know Karen Page or Courtney Ross either.

And just because certain hobbies are left blank is no justification for killing him, or any of the other characters I’ve cited either. This is another example of his two-face hypocrisy on characters and writers. Nor do I buy his alleged dislike of Harvey Pekar’s time-wasting tripe seen on April 18, 2001:

Dear Captain, I love your column -- or columns I should say. It disappoints me that you don't like American Splendor. I'm not going to try to change your mind, and I agree that Pekar does sometimes tend to come off as unpleasant in his comics -- not boring, but unpleasant, like many of the most famous characters in literature, like most of the people I see in the course of the day, like we ourselves can be. I think that's what I like about Pekar and American Splendor, the man's honesty about what a petty and annoying person he can be. I find it refreshing. It is, I think you'll agree, unusual.
By the way, now that I've got you on the line, why is it that you don't like manga? I've never heard you come down on it or say you don't like it, but those little black squares tell me you don't read it. Why is that? There's some great stuff out there and you're missing it. Don't you ever get tired of superheroics?

I'm delighted by your letter, […], since it gives me the opportunity to discuss a couple of things.
For example, the fact that you and I have differing opinions is welcome; it should serve as fodder for others to offer their comments as well. The comics industry ought to be big enough to serve all interests, and I'm always interested in hearing from those who like things that I don't. It's what makes horse races, after all.
Speaking of things that don't interest me, I'm pleased to run your defense of American Splendor. It IS unique, it IS honest, it IS something that ought to be published. I simply don't care for it, for the same reason expressed by [name withheld] last week: Pekar doesn't seem like a guy I'd want to sit next to on a bus, much less read his life story. While I appreciate the intellectual honesty of American Splendor, it doesn't entertain or inform me -- and it often repels me.
Right or wrong, those are my criteria for anything I take the time to read: entertainment or information. American Splendor doesn't do it for me -- I don't find Pekar entertaining, and I'm not interested in being informed about his insights. I'm glad that American Splendor does it for you, and I encourage others who think they MIGHT be entertained or informed by American Splendor to take a peek. I don't consider my opinions to be the touchstone of what ought or ought not to be published (or Alan Davis would be drawing everything). What a boring world that would be for anybody not named Andrew Smith.
As to manga, I have to be careful here, because I've been taken to task by Japanese-comics fans before for sloppy writing. Manga, apparently, refers to a specific sub-genre of Japanese comics, the one involving big feet; big eyes; annoying secondary characters drawn in cartoon fashion; and cannibal teeth, crossed eyes and flushed cheeks drawn on someone who is angry.
Yes, those comics annoy me. When a character who heretofore has been drawn in realistic fashion, drawn in a realistic world, suddenly develops a "manga" face to tell me she/he is angry, it jolts me right out of the story. Not only is it something I don't care for esthetically, but I'm vaguely insulted as well. I don't HAVE to be told someone's angry in such a clumsy manner in a tale that's well told -- I'd have divined it myself. And those little cartoon sidekicks just irritate the snot out of me -- they are clearly there as story exposition (Greek chorus/comedy relief), and not "real" people at all. Phooey, I say -- I want the writer to give me a cohesive world view that tells a compelling, plausible story. The little sidekick just seems like a cheesy gimmick to cover up for inadequate storytelling skills.
OK, everybody push back from the keyboard. I'm not saying that Japanese storytelling tricks ARE evidence of poor storytelling skills, just that I INTERPRET them that way on some visceral, lizard-brain level.
I understand that these things are visual shorthand in Japanese comics, like speed lines, blurgits, or plewds in American comics. (Speed lines are parallel lines following characters to show motion; blurgits are repeated limbs to show swift, repetitive action; plewds are those little sweat beads that jump off Beetle Bailey's brow.) Every culture develops its own shorthand. Maybe I'm just too old and set in my ways, but I just don't like the Japanese ones ... and, frankly, I don't have to. I'm not remotely an ethnocentrist, I'm not even slightly anti-Japanese, I'm not condemning it, nor am I looking down my nose at those who do. It just doesn't appeal to me -- probably because I learned how to read comics at the metaphorical feet of Jack Kirby, and that's what I'm used to, and that's what I like. But for whatever reason, those visual tricks ruin the story for me, so I'm put off from reading the story.
As to OTHER Japanese comics, that my Nipponophile readers assure me are NOT manga, I like them just fine. Lone Wolf and Cub is so good I've run out of superlatives. Akira deserves every accolade it's received. Mai the Psychic Girl is outstanding, and I'd show it to every teacher, librarian and pubescent girl in America, except for the unfortunate Japanese fixation on pedophile cheesecake. (Darn those gratuitous shower scenes!) Yes, those series also fall back on Japanese visual shorthand here and there, but not often and not enough that I can't overlook it.
Again, I'm not faulting anyone else for what they like or don't like. I'm glad there are comics out there that I don't care for, as that means that there are comics with a customer base outside of me and my two friends. Diversity is in all ways healthy for an organism, be it a species or an industry. It fosters competition, it challenges the status quo, it pushes the envelope in how to tell a tale. It is in all ways a very healthy thing that you and I find different books intriguing.
But nobody has to like everything, and it all boils down to opinions. Now you know my opinions, which are no more valid or important than your own. And it's even better that you and I can have a pleasant chat about it.
Now, on to some letters about "What's wrong with the comics industry."

Those wrongs include him, I’m afraid. Before we get to the rest, I want to note I’ve never seen him actually being critical of Pekar’s leftism, which produced head-shakers like “Not the Israel my Parents Promised me”. And look who’s talking about pedophilia-style writing in manga! The same man who saw nothing wrong with Identity Crisis and making light of sexual assault. Hmm, why is it wrong when Japanese mangakas pull smutty stunts but okay when American writers do the same? The most nauseating thing about the rape page in the second IC issue was the 1st-person viewpoint panels, making it look almost like a video game (think Doom and Quake with hands shown in front). And he made absolutely no mention of that, vehemently refusing to stress why he thought it was worth defending. I sure wouldn’t want to sit next to somebody that dishonest on bus! Besides, he’s one of many people who’ve been throwing the best things about comics under it.

Dear Cap: This is wonderful. Busiek's work in Avengers and previously in Astro City show he is one of the best writers in the business for this project. Fans have wanted this JLA/Avengers for decades.
However, its too bad about the "Prestige Format." Nobody in the industry seems to get it. Although the Consumer Price Index has roughly quadrupled (four times the price) since 1967, a standard comic issue has gone up by roughly 20 times the price since then.
I certainly understand that some of this price increase was necessary to retain creative talent (artists, writers, etc., in a competitive labor market) and that the creative people deserved a larger share of the pie than they got in the '60s. I also understand price increases that were proportional to the number of pages included. My favorite memories of comics are diving into 100-Page Super-Spectaculars at roughly 2-to-2.5 times the price of the standard-size comic.
However, over the last 10 years or so, was it really necessary to print some of the best stories in various "prestige formats" for anywhere from $5-20? Not only was the price increase for "prestige" comics a bad thing, but it also seems to me that it cheapened the experience of the subscribers to the existing ongoing titles. For example, as much as I loved the Avengers Forever series (and it was great, too), I couldn't help feeling that there was a time that this would have appeared in the regular Avengers title as a running story or in the Annuals, etc. My case in point to this would be the classic Kree/Skrull War running story from around Avengers #85-95 (I'm going by memory, I may have the issues wrong). I can't help feeling that having these great one-shot or limited stories is at the expense of the quality of the stories in the existing running titles. I'm sure there is a time and a place for limited series or one-shots for stories that won't ever fit into existing titles, but this is not the case today. Any excuse for a one-shot or limited series title with "prestige" covers gets put out instead of running it in a regular title.
I remember as a kid thinking that some day, I'll simply subscribe to every title Marvel & DC put out when I make "real money" as an adult engineer. Now that can't be done, even if I were willing to shell out the bucks each week/month (anywhere from $2-20-plus a title), I am loathe to hunt down each and every one-shot and limited series that is the latest "hot title/flavor of the month."
I often read that the comics industry is in trouble. I can't help feeling that those who are in decision-making positions in the comic business just don't get it. It's not so much the demographics (there are more people being born every day) , it's not so much the aging fanboy population (they now make more money and can afford to but more issues), it's not so much the 50-plus years of teenage and young-adult life our "ageless" heroes have (we have to suspend belief to enjoy a good superhero yarn anyhow), it's not so much the other 100 excuses I've heard from those who don't get it.
The problem with the comics industry is:
More fluff and crappy, uninteresting stories than there has ever been before
Impossibility of keeping up with events surrounding our favorite characters due to difficulty keeping up with various titles, one-shots and limited series and "special" events in various "prestige formats."
Diluting existing titles with crappy stories, while the best writing and art goes to "prestige format" limited events.
And many other OBVIOUS marketing problems that I've lost patience to continue reciting in this e-mail.
Speaking of lost patience, I'm out of time, so I'll sign off by apolgizing for ranting and raving so much, but it's hard to see something that you love die because it's so mismanaged by people trying to make comics into something they are not and were never meant to be.
And a fine rant it is, […]!
I don't agree with all of your points, particularly the one about "more crappy stories." SF writer Theodore Sturgeon famously said, "Ninety percent of all published science fiction is crap." That quote has been extrapolated, and I believe accurately, to "90 percent of all entertainment media is crap." That includes TV, movies, novels, and, yes, comic books. I think that the first year of the 21st century has pretty much the same percentage of crap as any other year, given prevailing standards. And I really do believe that standards are higher now than ever before. Ye gods, y'all, have you ever actually tried to read a Golden Age anthology? Once past the lead feature, by current standards most Golden Age stories are virtually illiterate -- and let's not discuss the amateurish art on most of those titles! I buy DC's Golden Age Archives for the history, for nostalgia, for research purposes, for sociological perspective and because I'm a dyed-in-the-wool collector -- but not because I think they're anywhere near as well done as today's comics or those of the Silver Age. Compare, for example, the original Starman strip in Adventure (which was actually pretty good by '40s standards) with today's Starman series. The former was formulaic eyewash for children, the latter virtual literature for adults.
But that's a minor quibble, because your anecdote about "subscribing to everything when I make real money" really hit a chord. That is a youthful ambition, and an adult disappointment, that we share. (And since I started collecting in 1963-64 when Marvel was only two or three years old, I also expected to have complete runs of all Marvel Comics the minute I made enough money to buy those expensive back issues. Why, Fantastic Four #1 was going for $30 at the flea market in 1965! Good lord, who could afford THAT? Sadly, the price of those comics spiralled up faster than my income did, and I realize now I'll never own the 20-odd '60s Marvels I'm missing.)
But getting back to your point, I remember distinctly when I felt exactly as you did about characters being extrapolated out of their "home" comics: January, 1989. It was at that point that I made the decision that I could no longer afford to buy every Marvel comic, and dropped my first title: Marvel Comics Presents. I did this with the very depressing realization that things were going to happen -- sometimes big things -- to some of my favorite characters (like Hawkeye) that I simply would never know about. I remember thinking how unfair it was that I had slavishly followed Hawkeye through every issue of Avengers and Avengers West Coast all those years -- but that the advent of a third title was just too much for my wallet. Then came the floodtide of miniseries and one-shots, most of which I skipped. In fact, for the next five years (until my income jumped substantially), I was pretty choosy about what to buy. As a result, I'm now pretty spotty answering questions in my Q&A about events from 1989-1994 (even though I've gone back and filled in most of those issues), which is often embarrassing.
So I'm in full agreement with you about wanting such things as Avengers Forever to appear in the regular title. Sometimes the miniseries mania is absolutely infuriating -- like recently when TWO Daredevil miniseries came out simultaneously, while the "monthly" Daredevil title took a five-month hiatus! Those six miniseries issues could easily have been called Daredevil #14-19. Ditto for Iron Man: Bad Blood, which could easily have been shoehorned into the continuity of the regular title. And ditto for most of the pointless X-Men miniseries of recent years (excluding X-Men: Children of the Atom), that were not only crummy stories (X-Men: True Friends, anybody?) but, with 11 regular X-titles that those stories could have fit into, they were clearly just attempts to gouge the existing fan base.
On the other hand, I have no problem with JLA/Avengers or X-Men: Children of the Atom being prestige efforts; they wouldn't fit it into the "regular" books comfortably, they're special projects that might attract non-regular readers, and the higher profit margin might make it possible to sell them outside of comic-book specialty stores -- which would be a good thing.
I do understand the reasoning on such things as Avengers Forever, though -- a miniseries will sell better than the regular book because of the lower numbering, and more expensive packaging means a higher profit margin all the way around. And Marvel and DC are publishing companies, in it to make money. If they stop making money, they stop being in business.
Ah, well. So much for the dreams of childhood.
Oh, and some quick housekeeping stuff for those taking notes:
-- The Kree/Skrull War is generally considered to be Avengers #89-97.
-- Prestige Format is a specific printing term, indicating a book that is square-bound, glued instead of stiched, with glossy covers of a certain weight. For the purposes of […]'s argument, I left unedited his references to "prestige formats" to indicate any glossy, high-quality format.

If prestige formats cost too much, I’ll agree with the correspondent that’s bad. As for Mr. Smith’s take on Starman, I highly disagree with his comparison of the Golden Age Starman and its modern followup, because the latter was built on some of the worst ideas to plague the modern age, like killing off “minor” characters so casually, as happened in a 1998 Starman story where the Mist’s daughter Nash slaughtered 3 minor JLA members.

Hi, Cap!
RANT MODE ON
Comics today are NOT more complex than comics of the 'Sixties (DC in particular) or even comics of the '70s and the early '80s. More soap-opera-ish? To be sure (though the Marvel Age started the trend). More violent? Definitely. More confusing and contradictory? You betcha. Better written? Wake up and smell the Dr. Martin's dye. That is a misconception promulgated by modern readers who: A) haven't read them; B) think it's cool to raze something older than they are; or C) are jealous because they missed the glory days of comics and only have the sloppy leftovers of the medium's twelfth hour.
Thankfully, there is a growing minority of readers who didn't collect comics during the Silver Age (like us and people we know) but rather discovered these classics through reprints in the '70s, or in Marvel Masterworks and DC Archives. The industry would have kids today believe that they are better off reading Spider-Man version 10.2 than, say, a SA reprint of say "The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue!", but that's just not so. Just as alcohol and tobacco company aim their marketing strategies at kids to start the addiction early, so do the major comic book companies.
LOOK KIDS! ANECDOTES! Once, back in the early '90s, I remember a friend and I scanning disgustedly through a comics rack in a grocery store. We were in shock as we flipped through some of the goriest, most violent and insipid crap we had ever seen. A 10-year-old boy next to us looked up and said: "Really? This stuff is bad?" with the look of somebody struggling with the truth: That an adult-run business would actually feed the youth of the world anything less than the best. The boy put back his copy of Spawn and picked up a Jughead Jones digest instead with a relieved expression on his face.
Kids really do like kinder, appealing, fun things. Really. And that includes (and rightly so) superheroes. Why deprive kids (and adults) of a positive role model in a negative world? When I was a kid in the '70s, the world didn't seem grim and gray, but looking back I know it was. Kids today don't have the same "privilege" of innocence by reading escapism because today the escapism has more acts of violence than even their everyday world does. And they'll bring that desensitization with them into the adult world. Even their heroes are questionable: Punisher, Venom, Spawn ...
I grew up watching reruns of George Reeves's Superman. He showed you all the virtues of what it meant to be a hero. Who honestly wants to let their kids see Nicolas (Gone in 60 Seconds) Cage as the Man of Steel? Does anybody out there even think of the latest comic incarnation of Superman as hero? Or even a social rebel, like the GA Superman? Face it, he's a pop/movie star; an all-boy band without the band. Just because he can strut around in a big red "S" he thinks he's got it made. So does DC. Comic books may have shinier paper, but that's only because they have a greater clay content in them.
It is SOOOOOOOOOO easy to come up with plot events that drag on from one month to the next, without end. That's why soap operas do it. It's a sign of amateur writing. It is far more difficult to come up with one, self-contained story that stands on its own, takes the reader on a roller-coaster ride and challenges them to guess the outcome. For there should BE an outcome to any story in order for it to be called a story. The only thing that should continue from issue to issue is characterization. That's something that needs time to subtly change over a long period of time and due to events that happen to the characters. If a single story/theme/message can't be brought across in one or two issues, then there is no point in presenting it in comic-book format in the first place. Go write Mary Worth. If DC and Marvel are desperate for new readers, then they should ditch the soap-opera approach to writing and present kids with single-issue stories. Or better yet, reprint all the good stuff and save themselves some money paying all those hacks.
I remember once, back when I worked at a bookstore, asking a young boy who was buying a Captain Kirk bookmark which of the numerous Star Trek shows he preferred. Shyly, he admitted that he liked the original series the best because it was "more fun and action-packed." I told him that he had great taste and was obviously a lad of heightened intelligence and perception. And he left the store feeling better about not sharing the same opinion as his friends, Tommy and Timmy.
We sincerely believe that if DC and Marvel re-released all the Silver Age classics (like Spider-Man from Amazing Fantasy #15 and Superman from Action # 239) and reprinted them all over again, month to month at an AFFORDable price, we don't think they'd be "laughed off the shelves" as they say. In fact, they just might make the companies more money than they've made in a good long while. Kids are smart and appreciate quality. They'll understand why Clark Kent is using a typewriter instead of a computer keyboard. They'll "get" why Tony Stark is only a multi-millionaire and, therefore, not even as rich as Bill Gates's lawn-care specialist. They'll clue in to why Matt Murdock doesn't carry a cellular phone around when he's away from the office. They'll even figure out why the President is a womanizer named JFK and not, say, a womanizer named BC. They will understand ALL of these "topical references" because ultimately they don't matter a fetid pair of dingo's kidneys in the face of good storytelling. These are the comics that will be remembered and placed in museums 1,000 years from now. Modern comics, like back issues of the National Enquirer, will have long since been recycled into no-name brand papier hygienique (those with a smattering of French will know the meaning of that one).
Comics today aren't more advanced storywise (and they are downright Palaeolithic in the drawing department), they are simply more convoluted. The multi-issue crossover scheme of the late '80s was devised to take more money from consumers but eventually turned into the monster of chaos and lost them a loyal readership forever. Why did DC create the Crisis on Infinite Earths (BTW, there were barely a half-dozen) series when today they've only resurrected the multi-Earth concept as "Elseworlds"?
Recently, we skimmed through that new Superboy's Legion with an open mind. Sigh! It's sad how DC's trying so hard to "bring back" the feeling of the Silver Age when their material is so steeped in cyber-punk/manga of the '90s. Reading the Legion should NOT leave you feeling depressed; but that's exactly how we'd describe comics today. They are trying to be fun but the creators don't really know how to do that, since they never read that growing up. The comics come across as "quirky" at best, but with a feeling of despair permeating them. Just for once, couldn't DC bring back the real Legion in the form of reprints? Why must classics be redrawn and "updated"? During the '70s, Marvel Tales offered older stories of Spider-Man at the same time as the new ones were being produced (and I always preferred the classics, not even knowing that they WERE classics). What are the comic companies afraid of? Losing their fan base? HEL-LO-O! It's already happening, guys! YOU'VE GOT NOTHING TO LOSE AND EVERYTHING TO GAIN! They're sitting on a royalty-free gold mine and $50 Archives only caters to the older fans. They need to make these tales available to the general populace.
Ideas from better days and better people are hashed and re-hashed, baked at 400 degrees, deep-fried, served, scraped, given to the dog, scraped, then nuked in a microwave the following Thursday. And all in a pathetic attempt to re-create the joy and creativity of the Marvel of the Silver Age. Plots are combined and re-combined with others, totally out of the original context they were presented in. In that way, comics today are like a "movie adaptation," serving only to encapsulate the character/concept in one easy-to-swallow, product-placed, merchandised-to-the-hilt pill.
Take the Batman movies. By virtue of the medium, they compress into two hours events that originally took decades to tell and so create a warped version of the legend. Examples: The Joker being revealed as the murderer of the Waynes (how convenient!). Robin being substantially older than 10 years old when HIS parents are killed by Two-Face (of all villains). Throwing a psycho Catwoman and freakish Penguin into the mix for no other reason than misplaced "star power." That's bad enough, but this approach to "storytelling" eventually bled its way back into the comic medium it swiped from.
The upcoming Spider-Man movie is following suit (with a brand-new animated series to accompany this latest butchery of the anti-hero). Apparently, the vociferous fans DID make some dent on Raimi's ego, since he so "graciously" agreed to have the character use web-shooters after all ... BUT in conjunction with organic silk-spinning abilities! Now why in the name of naggin' Aunt May would Petey go and do that?!? If he needs devices to "control" his "power," then logically he shouldn't have that power in the first place. In the amount of time it would take to create, then get the hang of the shooters, he should've been able to practice his control anyway! If it's (Ripley's Believe it or Not-type) realism Raimi wants, then how the @#!*% could Petey whip up a latex rubber-moulded, textured, made-in-a-manufacturing-plant-type costume and then proceed to get in and out of it in time to stop any villain?!? Face it, the Sandman would be mixing it up with the beaches of Club Med and spending his retirement in tax-free splendor before Peter could even fuse the two halves of his "kewl" rubber mask together! Realism, he says! Sheesh!
AN ASIDE: Personally, I always harboured the theory/suspicion that Peter Parker's powers had nothing whatsoever to do with the spider, but only due to the dose of radiation that he (and half the crowd of onlookers, probably) received. The spider only served to give him an "Modus Operandi." I remember reading the first Handbook to the Marvel Universe decades ago that explained Peter's wall-crawling abilities as being (paraphrasing here from memory) "an exchange of electrostatic charge between his body and the object he is touching" and nothing whatsoever to do with "sticky fingers." I thought this was a really good idea. It explained why Peter doesn't have a spinneret gland in his butt, and, no matter how eerie a spider may act sometimes, Mr. Eight Legs sure doesn't have a "danger sense." No, sir ... not when the heel of my boot is a-comin' down and mushin' his body into pulp, he don't.
We haven't heard much else regarding this movie, but we wouldn't be surprised if ol' Doc Ock is next door getting fused to his mechanical arms when Peter's spider is putting the radioactive bite on him. We also wouldn't blink twice if the Green Goblin throws Mary Jane Watson off the Brooklyn Bridge instead of Gwen Stacy, if cigar-chompin' J.J.J. asks Miss Brant to come into his office and take dictation from under his desk, or even if ever-lovin' Aunt May is played by Judge Judy and is revealed to be the Black freakin' Cat ("Come and give Auntie another Frenchie, Petey")!
RANT MODE OFF (For now ... heh, heh, heh)
So what's your point, exactly? :)
Frankly, I have no intention of getting in the way of THAT rant! I will rise to the defense of the current writers of the Super-books -- Jeph Loeb, Joe Casey, Joe Kelly and Mark Schultz -- none of whom are "hacks." And I will allow that the current Superman is virtually a different character from the Silver Age version -- but he is still a hero, and embodies the same qualities of "truth, justice and the American way." I haven't a doubt that George Reeves would approve.
Housekeeping:
-- Gwen was thrown off the George Washington Bridge, not the Brooklyn Bridge.
-- Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 explained that Spidey's sticking power was due to tiny hooks in his fingers and toes, like on a spider. Hey, if Stan said it, it's so -- no matter what some Handbook-Writer-Come-Lately has to say.
-- J. Michael Straczynski's first issue of Amazing Spider-Man (#30, on sale now), raises the very issue about the irradiated spider and Spidey's powers that you do.
Oh, and I don't speak French, but I can readily guess what papier hygienique is! And speaking of French, did you have to include that Aunt May line? Ewwwwww!

Uh oh, I see England, I see France, I see Smith sugarcoating hacks with his underpants! Loeb just so happens to be a hack, and come to think of it, so is Casey. Kelly is – or was – okay, but even he had some sad faults. Guess that makes Schultz the only really talented writer on the list Smith gave. Say, and what did Smith really think of JMS’s lethargic debut on Spidey, which gave us a weak story where gun wielder turned out to be a bullied youngster? What a sigh-inducer that was.

Hi, Cap! Marvel Comics recently held a news conference that dealt with many things, including the un-cancellation of Spider-Girl and print runs.
The following is an e-mail that I wrote to Marvel Comics Editor-In-Chief, Joe Quesada. I present this as an open letter to the industry, as well. It addresses the no-overprint policy from Marvel ...
From the transcript from the recent MARVEL news conference:
Question: "How has the retailer reaction been to your no-overprint policy and do you regard it as a success?"
Jemas: "It was sort of an IQ test for comic retailers -- you can count the digits in their IQ based on their enthusiastic response to the no-overprint. The smart guys who like to make money are very happy with the increased overall consumer interest and with the just general increase in Marvel's quality that's really directly related to the additional dough that we have to spend on top creators. And then you have the other end of the spectrum, and they speak for themselves pretty constantly, so I'll just leave it at that."
Mr. Quesada:
Bill Jemas has shown himself to be impulsive, condescending and provocative in the past. Sadly, such traits are not good for public relations and are not very professional in the least.
There was no "IQ" test in regard to Marvel's "no-overprint" policy. Marvel decided to stop overprints because it was not in a financially-stable state to do so. Instead, Marvel chose to place the burden, risk and headache on the retailers and dress up the new policy as a method to acquire new readers. How does one acquire more readers if one cannot offer more issues of the comics the readers are interested in?
Mr. Quesada, you explained in several forums that Marvel's new policy on print runs was also based on the fact that Marvel had been destroying several thousand unsold comics. Peter David, when apprised of this on his AOL board, said this was "nonsense." Mr. David, a former sales representative for Marvel Comics in the 1980s, explained that such unsold comics were repackaged and sold as the three-packs that used to be distributed in department stores such as Wal-Mart. Others have suggested that Marvel could've donated the unsold product to charitable organizations and write the loss off. When this suggestion was made to Tom Brevoort on his board he did not respond. Regardless, there is a middle ground that Marvel refuses to meet retailers on.
The latest Comics Retailer has a market report, as well as an article by columnist Bill Hibbs, that shows that the majority of comics retailers must be ranking pretty low in IQ by Bill Jemas's estimate. The number of retailers that have been proven to be knowledgeable in comic book retailing history and therefore can see the flaws with Marvel's overprint policy is staggering. For Bill Jemas to knock these retailers for their valid concerns and criticisms is to show a lack of comprehension himself, and arrogance. Well, to borrow from Hans Christian Andersen, that Emperor is not wearing clothes.
You see, because many of us retailers have been involved in this industry since childhood, and because we have chosen to make it our livelihood, we are aware of many facets of the history and machinations of the comics industry. So when Mr. Jemas makes comments that comics retailers/historians cannot "see the forest before(sic) the trees," he is revealing more about his own lack of perspective than anyone else. The knowledge of many comics retailers on comics history extends to the history of the companies and the business as well as the characters. I know of the distribution problems of the 1950s that led to the industry's sorry state at that time as much as anything to do with the Senate Hearings and the Comics Code. I know of the state of the market in the 1970s that led to the DC implosion and made the formation of the Direct Market a necessity to keep the industry going. I know that a good part of our problem today is that Marvel, DC and others practically abandoned the newsstand market because the Direct Market's no-returns policy meant those companies made a clearer profit, never mind the fact that the newsstand cultivates and raises new readers/fans.
Bill Jemas knows speculation. He is a product of Ron Perlman's regime. He was a part of Fleer, a sports/trading card manufacturer. Fleer did not fare too well under his hand. Yet, he would publicly insult retailers who have a working knowledge and understanding of the market because they challenge his ideology and assertions that Marvel's overprint policy is sound.
Marvel, via Bill Jemas and possibly others, is hoping to control supply and demand in an effort to maximize profits at the expense of their business partners, the retailers. The policy has already affected the customers. I have had damaged comics that were not replaced due to Marvel's miscalculations. Marvel has lost money in the way of lost potential customers and it is either unaware, or apathetic.
As I said, there has to be a middle ground. I grant you, Marvel is in a bad position and has to make some tough choices. Still, cutting print runs to the bare bones is suicide, as surely as vast overprinting could be. Marvel has to share in the risk as well. Marvel is a company. It needs to buck up and accept some responsibility. Bill Jemas and others can continue to place their index fingers in their ears and spout, "Nyah, nyah, we can't hear you ..." to critical retailers, but soon they won't be able to block out the consequences.
If Marvel seriously thinks that a policy that keeps comics out of the hands of more potential readers is a good thing than it is the people that run Marvel who are in need of an IQ test.
Mr. Quesada, I understand that you believe a letter delivered "snail mail" is worth 30 e-mails, so I will be sending this letter out in that form, as well. I'd also like to know of a way in which I may e-mail Bill Jemas directly. As a retailer who buys from Marvel Comics and helps support that company, I think it is only right that I'd be allowed to contact Mr. Jemas with these concerns.
Thank you for your time. Sincerely,
[name withheld]
I didn't cover the Marvel conference call, [withheld], as […] handled that detail for his Bulletin. But I'm appalled that Mr. Jemas made the IQ remark. To paraphrase Peter David from a Marvel analysis in one of his "But I Digress" columns, "If Marvel hasn't offended every freelancer and retailer in America, it's not for lack of trying."
I understand that Marvel is swimming in red ink, that the beancounters are really in charge, and that there's enormous pressure on Jemas and Quesada to turn things around -- and quickly. I can only hope that Jemas's "IQ" comment and his earlier enthusiasm for "collectibility" are born of that pressure. These comments make no sense, as those policies have been tried in previous years and proven incalculably disastrous.

Oh sure he’s appalled Jemas made those remarks. He who failed to publicly criticize Jemas in his columns doesn’t do much to raise level of confidence in his courage and talent. And he wasn’t particularly critical of Quesada for the catalyzing mess he orchestrated called Civil War, which precipitated much of the crossover chaos now dominating superhero comics.

Dear Cap: While pondering the question "Why are less kids, and more adults, reading comics today?", I couldn't help but recall what made reading comics enjoyable when I was much younger.
Much to the disappointment of both our parents and teachers alike, my schoolmates were forever trading, and more importantly, reading comics. Picture three or four pre-teens carefully studying each panel on every page of a comic, offering commentary on every illustration. Then, when the page is page is turned ...WOW! (The new page reveals the hero or villain suffering a tremendous blow.) Three or four kids jump to their feet with excitement.
This was a typical day during recess once upon a time. Then the trading began. I can't tell you how many time I traded brand-new, glossy-cover comics for rags that featured my favorite characters. I can't say that I didn't know a kid that wouldn't say the same. This was long before comics were "valuable collectibles." We had never worried about whether our comics should be stored in polyurethane or mylar, and a back board was something we threw a basketball at. Just about every drug store and convenience store had a comic rack, and you could generally sample the merchandise before making your 20-cent "investment."
Today, each Wednesday I drive 15 minutes out of my way (finding a drug or convenience store with comics is a rarity) to a specialty shop. After reading my comics (although I've find myself buying more and more "investments" that are never read) I store them safely away (heaven forbid my kid should, gasp, wrinkle or crease one of them) where the light of day will never touch them.
I can't help but feel we older fans have taken away some of the wonder that comics once had, and replaced it with sterile antiques.
My childhood memories mirror yours, and I'm straining my brain to remember when it all changed. I, too, traded comics as a pre-teen, and even opened a "comics library" where I would loan comics to my friends for a week (in exchange for something of theirs I wanted to play with). I didn't worry overmuch about "damage" to my comics.
Still, I was always a bit more careful than my peers with my comics, but not because they were an investment. I just knew, almost instinctively, that I wanted to have them forever to read and re-read. And, sure enough, I re-read them so often that I can describe from memory cover and plot for just about any Marvel comic book from 1963 to 1967. (After '67 I became too busy with life, and had too many comics, to regularly re-read them.)
When boxes and bags became available, I eagerly availed myself of them -- but again, for my own reasons: I wanted an orderly system for my burgeoning collection where I could find things quickly. There was never a thought in my head about "investments."
And to this day, when kids are in the Comics Cave, I step aside and let them dive in like porpoises, damaging what they may. Comics are for reading and enjoying, not for putting in a museum. I wince when they damage something -- but then I think, "So what?" And when people ask me what my collection is worth, I respond honestly that it doesn't matter -- why put a price on something you never intend to sell?
No, I'm not going to take the blame for what's happened to comics, and I don't think you should, either. I place the blame on those who looked to comics as a source of Big Money instead of entertainment: Speculators and dealers, and those who joyously jumped on the bandwagon: Publishers. Greedheads, not readers.
Older fans at fault for the "investment" mentality? No, I don't think so. We may play along, because the market has decreed that we treat our comics with white gloves. We may even forbid our kids to read our comics, because we've been brainwashed. But older fans are the ones who've kept the industry alive through thick and thin, for decades. If there's an industry at all, it's because of die-hards like us, who buy Spider-Girl as readily as we do the latest "hot" book, just because we like it. Who buy Amazing Spider-Man even when it stinks, waiting for it to get better. Who guarantee retailers and distributors a certain profit margin, no matter how fickle the speculators and "investors" may be.
No, I don't think we older fans should take the blame. But I would encourage you to let your kids wrinkle or crease a few of your books. After the initial shock, I think you'll feel better for it.

I take no pleasure in saying this, but some older fans may have to shoulder the blame right along with the speculators per se in giving publishers the vibe they can get away with publishing some of the worst drivel to come down the pike since the 1990s and the market crash. That is, if they bought various comics that were badly written, and, in the case of Rob Liefeld, badly illustrated, then they have to shoulder some blame too. And no pseudo-fan – the perfect description of Mr. Smith – who acts as an enabler should be above criticism for doing so.

Dear Andrew Smith: I really enjoy your CBG column "Dear Captain" and have nearly written on several prior occasions to pan or praise, but what finally moved me was your comments on Ed Brubaker's Deadenders reaching a ... well, a dead end.
I can't recall ever reading a review (or a post-mortem ) which so closely reflected my own feelings regarding both the creator and the creation. I had also seen the announcement of Deadender's impending demise, I believe in Comic Shop News, but I'm not sure. I felt exactly as you wrote. What a nice-sounding guy, and what a thoroughly ugly and depressing comic. The only subject that you didn't touch on was the art, which left me numb. You are a better man than I, Cap'n, because I lasted only one issue! I took a moment to reflect immediately after finishing #1 and asked myself the simple question "Why would I want to pick up #2?" I even gave my copy back to my local comic-shop owner for one noble and one not-so-noble reason: to let some other person follow the story right from #1, and because I didn't want to have to load that one issue in my comic database.
So it was somewhat reaffirming to me (and my sense of taste ) to see someone else had a little problem getting into this series.
Keep up the good work!
Well, great minds think alike, […]! Actually, every time I stick my neck out with one of those Canceled Comics Cavalcade pieces, I half-expect someone whose favorite book I'm panning to chop it right off. It's always a relief to hear that others feel the same as I do. Thanks for writing!

I sure hope the correspondent feels startled today at Mr. Smith’s embrace of another ugly and depressing comic, Identity Crisis. As I may have mentioned before and will again, a poster on CBR once said that after the miniseries conclusion, he felt like he’d been raped along with Sue Dearbon-Dibny. And after Smith gave it his full approval, I felt sick to the stomach.

Dear Cap: I have yet to read one of their books, but I do have Crux #1 on order and am looking forward to exploring their universe a bit. A science fiction/fantasy-based comic-book universe is intriguing, with the opportunity for lots of colorful action and adventure, but without the same old, slam-bang superheroics.
It is obvious they aren't making this up as they go along. An awful lot of thought went into developing characters, plotting blueprints and backstory that allowed CrossGen to drop a full-blown comic-book line into stores in a brief period of time. So who is the master plotter at CrossGen? And do you think they have the guts to allow their characters to age in something akin to real time? I agree with your past observation that Marvel blew a tremendous opportunity by not continuing to age their heroes. Whatever course they follow, at least CrossGen has demonstrated that a publisher with the right plan storywise and marketwise can succeed. Hopefully the established guys are taking notes.
The master plotters, as I understand it, were Publisher and CEO Mark Alessi and COO Gina M. Villa, with assists by Barbara Kesel and Ron Marz (and subsequent kibitzing by the individual writers). I don't know if the characters will age, but I assume so -- at least to a degree.
As to your remark that "it is obvious they aren't making this up as they go along," that reminds me of an anecdote, and gives me the opportunity to expound beyond what the limited space I have in my columns allows:
Somebody at work -- who has started picking up some CrossGen titles thanks to one of my columns -- asked me if I "really" thought CrossGen was that good. (The implication being, I guess, that I was just sucking up or filling space.) The answer is an unqualified "Yes."
There are a number of reasons why, but they all blend into one: I'm impressed with CrossGen.
As you noted, they have plotted their whole "universe" out to the Nth degree. That's not all that unusual; Malibu, Tekno*Comix, Dark Horse's "World's Greatest Comics" line and Jim Shooter's various stabs at owning his own company (Valiant/Broadway/Defiant) all did the same thing -- and failed. The difference is that Mark Alessi has shown himself to be a realistic businessman as well as a comics fan: He didn't plan to make money for several years, and set up his company to absorb losses for an extended period of time.
That achieves a couple of things. For example, it gives his creators room to breathe, since they don't have to hook an audience immediately with an explosion on Page One of Issue One, nor do they have to fall back on villain-of-the-month plotting to assure an explosion on Page One of every issue. They can build their stories slowly. (Mystic, for example, is just now hitting its stride -- and I've enjoyed the low-key buildup.) Secondly, it gives those same employees job security. In an industry comprised almost entirely of freelancers living hand-to-mouth, that is a blessed relief and allows those same creators more time to focus on their work, since they're spending less time worrying about the car note and taking extraneous hack jobs to meet expenses. (Does anybody doubt that Ron Marz is doing the best work of his career?)
Secondly, those creators really are EMPLOYEES, not freelancers. Again, this achieves a couple of things. First, there's the financial security the creators enjoy of health insurance, retirement pay -- and this is important -- profit sharing. In addition to the increase in productivity and quality mentioned above, it's a far cry from the work-for-hire, plantation mentality prevalent elsewhere, and Ron Marz, for example, isn't hacking away at Green Lantern, a character he doesn't own. Instead, Marz has a stake in seeing CrossGen succeed -- he's got a piece of the pie, and added incentive to do his best work without feeling like he's being used. Secondly, it allows the creators to go to work daily in a professional environment, resulting in not only professional behavior (like meeting deadlines; Marvel & Image take note) but healthy professional competition and cross-pollination of ideas.
And as a working journalist, I'm here to tell you that CrossGen is a godsend. I've worked in newspapers for 20 years, done my comics column for 10, and I can't tell you how difficult it is to GIVE comic books publicity. The major publishers suffer from some sort of anal-cranial inversion where they FEAR the mainstream press and are generally reluctant to -- or don't know how to -- cooperate with non-fan-press reporters. CrossGen, by contrast, has an in-house PR department and acts like a professional publisher along the lines of Houghton-Mifflin or Random House. When I want something from PR pro Ian Feller, I get it -- instantly, so I can make my deadline. When I'm NOT looking for something, I find art and promo material and review copies in my mailboxes anyway. That gives me something handy to write about -- it's right on my desk -- when I'm up against a deadline or stuck for an idea. Which is how a normal publisher is supposed to act -- you know, like it's actually interested in getting its product mentioned in my newspaper. And when I call CrossGen's offices, and ask to speak to Mark Waid or Ron Marz or Barbara Kesel, I GET them -- because they're AT WORK, AT THE OFFICE, like normal professionals, and not esconced in some alleged "studio" somewhere, impossible to reach. You know, one good quote will prompt a journalist to file a story. Absent that quote, he'll write about something else.
Finally, CrossGen's books are just darn good. Strong stories, strong artwork. They're not necessarily going to pop your eyes out -- they're pretty low-key -- but I like that. Instead of the bombast and adolescent-male approach of Awesome or Chaos! or "parts" of Image, they're trying to tell good stories that will stand the test of time and appeal to all genders and ages -- cross-generational, you might say. And those stories are NOT SUPERHERO stories. For those who have been whining that comic books are too one-note to succeed, here's a company committed to reaching out to the mainstream with new genres and types of stories. And it's not the in-your-face, shock-for-shock's sake, perverse sex and gratuitous violence that I suspect those people ares talking about when they complain that comics are too "limited" in subject matter.
So, yes, I really do like CrossGen, and for reasons that extend far beyond the product itself. So enjoy Crux -- I've read the first issue, and it falls in line with what I've said above, and is an intelligent, fun read that I suspect will build over time for a full-blooded, satisfying experience.
Incidentally, I should note here my disappointment with the question posed me by the co-worker above. She's a brand-spanking-new comics reader, twentysomething, female -- the very definition of the hard-to-reach new reader -- who was drawn into the field by seeing my column. But she was thinking about dropping Meridian, which is why she buttonholed me about CrossGen. It seems she had read some negative comments on Slush Factory or some other peurile fanboy online site, and was feeling some buyer's remorse. I asked her, "Do you like Meridian?" She said, "Oh, yes, it's my favorite CrossGen title." So I asked her why on Earth she'd drop her favorite title. "Well, you know, all these other people who read a lot of comics say it's not any good ... "
Gah! So I said something like, "Do you really want to be guided in what you read or don't read by some 15-year-old who thinks Spawn is the greatest story ever told? Of course Slush Factory writers don't like Meridian -- they're all typical superhero fans, with not one female among 'em." She said, "Well, I figured they were the experts ... " And I said, "Well, by that standard, I'm an expert too, and I say you read what you like and ignore what other people say."
So she's going to keep reading Meridian "for a while, anyway." But what does that say about us, as fans? We rag the publishers for their failings, while we (Slush Factory and Wizard and whatnot) set up a wall between us "insiders" and new readers.
Food for thought, folks.

Not if it’s coming from him. Some of the CG products Marz worked on might’ve been his better efforts, mainly because they weren’t being done for DC and Marvel, where he went along in complete lockstep. But he seems to have long abandoned even that much by hinting sheer disinterest in what he’d worked on in the early 2000s. I sure haven’t seen signs he cares about it now.

As for critics, I would just point out that even rank-and-file readers can be right, more so than critics per se can, so while I’m not saying the lady had to listen to them, she should still have considered that critics aren’t always in the right.

Dear Captain: I've heard about Terry Moore's Strangers in Paradise for some time now. I think I did something unthinkable, however, in regards to my buying the title. I dismissed it as a "chick comic with lesbian overtones" without ever reading it. Don't ask where I got the impression; I couldn't tell you.
So I was perusing my local shop and was looking at the latest issue. It was pretty cool. There were spoofs abound of famous strips, inserting Moore's characters into the strips. It looked pretty good. So I set it down and figured I better start from the beginning. I grabbed the TPB of the first three issues (with extras) and went home to read it.
I was floored. The art and the writing were fabulous! It really kept me reading more. Moore really has a way of drawing you into just talking heads pages without resorting to superheroics. Really, it's why (Brian Michael) Bendis is so good and I see that Moore's come from the same school. Dialogue is key. Anybody can write a car chase, but to write clear characterization is truly a gift.
And I really can't say enough about the art. It's fluid and fun. Moore has a real knack for capturing subtler emotions (like the way Kevin Maguire does) in his faces. Also, his women are full-bodied women, like the ones I tend to meet in everyday life. Francine has curves and I can't remember the last time I saw someone in comicdom draw a full-bodied women who's sexy without her being green and muscled up to her eyeballs. All the rest of them tend to have knockers that would tip them over due to center-of-gravity problems and waists I could fit between my thumb and forefinger.
Can't wait to check out the continuing saga in the collected editions. Thought I'd share my joy (in) finding something new.
Thanks for the SIP summary/review, [withheld] -- perhaps it will induce others to try the series.
I, too, initially dismissed Strangers in Paradise as a "chick comic with lesbian overtones." After years of reading glowing reviews, though, I finally tried it two years back. And, y'know, it IS a chick comic with lesbian overtones! But as you say, Moore's facile skill makes it a fascinating read and I haven't missed an issue since.

I sure hope the correspondent thinks differently about Bendis ever since he showed his true face with Avengers: Disassembled and even his Civil War entries. Bendis’ work on X-Men has also been nothing short of horrific. His take on the women in the title is particularly atrocious.

Dear Cap:
<<Boy, Crisis just looks like a worse idea every day, doesn't it? -- Captain Comics>>
I have never had a big problem with the Crisis. My only complaint with it was what was done with the JSA afterward (the whole limbo thing), which has been corrected, and killing off the Huntress (Helena Wayne). I always thought they should've given her a different set of parents and kept her around, instead of re-creating her from scratch. I also think that if the writers had done a better job post-Crisis, a lot of this after-Crisis mess would never have been made.
My chief complaint about Crisis is the rationale DC kept trotting out to justify it. Their argument was that the multiple-Earths scenario was too difficult for fans to follow. Horse-pucky, I say. The comments by DC's writers and editors at the time readily revealed the actual impetus for Crisis: They were tired of having to explain it every time they had an Earth-Two guy meet an Earth-One guy. That struck me then, and still does, as sheer laziness -- or contempt for the audience. Did Alan Moore have any trouble with that in Watchmen? Or Frank Miller in Dark Knight Returns? Or Mark Waid in Kingdom Come? Alternate Earths are nothing new to comics (and science-fiction) fans, and we readily accept them. I personally never had any problem when, say, Bob Haney had Earth-Two's Wildcat guest with the Earth-One Batman in Brave and Bold with no explanation. I just accepted that the story took place on Earth-Haney or somewhere, and read it for enjoyment without breaking stride.
Of course, when Crisis became fait accompli, I cheerfully set about learning the "new rules." But then, as you noted, subsequent mishandling of the "new" DC Universe made things even more complicated than before, and story parameters became more and more restricted. (Witness the Hawkman debacle for examples of both.)
And doesn't the DCU post-Crisis seem ... a little smaller, somehow? A little less grand, less filled with sensawunda? I dunno -- maybe it's just me.

Ironically, even after DC went back to parallel dimensions post-New 52, they still trashed any sense of wonder that might’ve been left. But did Mr. Smith complain? Nope.

Dear Cap: First of all, I want to say thank you for recommending Starman. I just picked up the first trade and I'm now thoroughly hooked.
I also wanted to drop my two cents on a few things:
1) Trade Paperbacks: I think this is truly the way the comic industry will stay alive, although unlike some I think that there will always be a need for some monthly and bi-monthly titles simply to give DC, Marvel, and anyone else an idea of what to put out there.
The big frustration that I have -- and I will point the finger directly at DC here -- is why isn't there more advertising for the trades? I hear advertisements for books all the time on the radio and I see them on billboards and other static advertising media. So where's the ads for the latest Preacher trade, or the latest JLA trade, Superman trade, Batman trade, etc.? Heck, if that charlatan Mistress Cleo (my opinion) can advertise to such a great extent on cable television, I would hope that DC could at least afford a few short spots to try to reach the non-comics fan, or the lapsed fan that isn't even aware that trade paperbacks exist. Here's hoping that when Dark Knight II comes out that DC puts a few advertising dollars behind it.
2) Death of Colossus: I was a pretty big X-fan in the mid-to-late '80s, and I can honestly tell you that I won't miss him too much. I totally agree with you that his character was never really explored. In fact, there's only a couple of things I remember him for -- dumping Kitty Pryde, getting in a barroom brawl with Juggernaut while Wolverine and Nightcrawler looked on, and killing Riptide during the Fall of the Mutants storyline -- and I forgot the fastball special.
I always wondered why more was never done with him, particularly from a cultural standpoint. After all, he joined the X-men during a period when the Cold War was running quite strong, he did have a sensitive side that was really never explained well, his sister was a demon who ruled limbo -- plenty of good storytelling fodder. Still he came off like just another strong guy. R.I.P. Piotr, but don't come back until they figure out how to write you.
3) Movies: I briefly wanted to share my opinion about comic-book movies and why I generally don't like them. I'll use the upcoming Spider-Man movie as an example.
The first problem that I see is that these movies tend to have way too high an emphasis on special effects and established stars, and not enough emphasis put on developing a good script with good characterization. I realize that a lot of people are up in arms about the whole organic web-shooter issue. While I agree with most people that it's silly to change the character in that way, if Hollywood wants to do so they will. They put out the money for the film, and they think they know what will get people to plunk down $8-10.
Another problem is that comics are a static form of sequential storytelling, whereas movies are more kinetic in style and scope. Try taking almost any recent issue of any recent comic book, and try to turn it into a two-hour movie that most people can understand. It's very difficult to convert the form to live action and retain whatever it is that makes the comic work.
What I'd really love to see is more animated series like Spawn (not that I watched it or liked it) or The Maxx (outstanding), where the time exists to tell the story properly. If somehow a Dark Knight Returns or a Watchmen project finally gets made, this is the format I'd like to see it in.
4) Comic-book movie recommendations: Just one quick one. If you haven't seen the Iron Giant, go rent it now. It's worth the rental fee just for the exceptional animation.
Anyway, just wanted to share a few thoughts. Please keep up the good work, because checking out your site is one of the highlights of my day.
1) I agree that TPBs are the way to go, and I also agree that some form of serial form must continue, if only to provide the ongoing revenue to make the TPBs possible (as the industry is currently constituted). I can't honestly answer why comics publishers don't advertise outside of the comics themselves; that failure is pandemic across the board and there's no need to single out DC. Outside of a few TV commercials I remember during the G.I. Joe cartoon run, comics publishers seem content to preach to the choir (through house ads, Wizard, CBG, etc.). And I'm here to tell you that it's only in the last several years that I've gotten much cooperation from the major publishers vis-a-vis my newspaper column -- and I was TRYING to give them free publicity! But, boy howdy, did they sit up and take notice when I started the CBG column. Did you know that DC has one PR person handling "mainstream media," but almost half a dozen handling "fan press"? And that Marvel doesn't even have an internal PR department, and has only in recent years started using a PR firm? And don't get me started on Image! From a business standpoint, that is virtual suicide. It's inexplicable.
And I also agree that Mistress Cleo is a laughable fraud. What's that accent she's trying to affect? Caribbean by way of Scotland? I watch the commercials just for the humor value.
2) My main memories of Piotr are how whiney he got toward the end: Boo-hoo, my sister's dead; boo-hoo, I'm disillusioned so I'm joining the Acolytes; boo-hoo, Kitty's dating somebody else so I'm going to throw a tantrum. Gee whiz. It's almost like the X-writers decided that "sensitive artist" meant "big baby." Maybe it's from dealing with freelance artists. :)
Incidentally, I forgot about Colossus killing Riptide and wringing his hands about it. I also remember him killing Legion and wringing his hands about it. Come to think of it, I seem to remember several scenes of Colossus "reluctantly" killing somebody. I wonder how many people he actually killed? If some enterprising fan would like to assemble a list, perhaps we can make a case for Colossus: Hidden serial killer.
3) It's clear that Hollywood is dying to cash in on comic-book characters -- which bring an existing fan base and are custom-made for action movies -- but don't have a clue what makes them work. The first Batman movie was a tour de force, with exactly what you describe: a good plot and solid characterization. And it was enormously successful. But the powers that be drew the wrong conclusions about what worked, and started emphasizing "action" and supervillains and spectacle -- and the sequels rapidly deteriorated into tour de farce. Characterization was replaced by Joel Schumacher's rubber nipples and one-liners, and plot was buried under heaps of supervillains, purple lights and incomprehensible "action" scenes. Ditto the Superman franchise. And let's not get started on Captain America, Dr. Strange, Tank Girl, Doc Savage and all those other tongue-in-cheek clunkers.
4) Iron Giant brings tears to my eyes. Every time I see it. I kid you not.

Some of those scenes where Colossus may have killed people were probably from the 1990s when quality went down the drain, and led to the rock-bottom story where he was initially killed off. And the whiney tone was mostly Scott Lobdell’s fault, but once again Smith goes the double-talk route and leaves writers out of the picture.

As for serial formats, who says it can’t be done in TPBs proper? That’s just what they miss completely, and in the latter’s case, probably deliberately because he’s so jelly-spined. I may have said before, but today, I don’t care for the Tim Burton Bat-film. And I’m skeptical he really liked Iron Giant.

Dear Cap: You are very astute in your insight and observations besides being kind of clever. You can write in a pink tutu for all I care; keep up the good work.
Hmmm. You know, a tutu would be a lot more comfortable than this Ethel Merman outfit. And, I must admit, I've got the legs for it.
And I'm only "kind of" clever? Ouch.

The lady correspondent writing that one hopefully knows that he’s awful as can be today. He could write in a blue tuxedo and he’d still be truly awful.

Hey Cap (and […]): Thanks a lot for the recent review of The Avengers in "[...]" Like […], I've loved Alan Davis ever since his run on Excalibur and was fairly satisfied that he could follow my all-time favourite George Perez. However, when I first heard that he and Kurt Busiek were going to make the Avengers more pro-active, I became very nervous.
I remember other teams that have made the decision to be more proactive. And I remember that none of them pulled it off. The X-Men were one of the first teams to go pro-active. They moved to Australia in an attempt to isolate themselves. From there, they could strike the bad guys with impunity. They could act instead of always reacting. So what happened? They only entered conflicts after team members were abducted by Zaladane in the Savage Land and the Magistrates of Genosha. Then one of their own was corrupted by Sinister and N'Astirh and she became the Goblin Queen. Then they were attacked in their own base by Nanny. Then they were attacked in their own base by the Reavers. Finally, the team gave up and decided to start all over again.

A couple of years later, the X-Men again decided to be more pro-active. Cable, Cyclops, Jean Grey and Storm agreed that the X-Men had been reacting too much. It was time to monitor threats and deal with them before they become a problem. It was time to be proactive, and in Uncanny X-Men #273, they even put up a globe that listed The Shadow King, the Reavers and the Hand much like the Avengers' globe in issue 38.
So what happened? Nathan Christopher Summers was abducted and infested with a techno-virus by Apocalypse. The entire team of X-Men was kidnapped by Lila Cheney in order to help Deathbird defeat a Professor Xavier imposter. Upon their return to Earth, the X-Men went out of their way to free Muir Island where the Shadow King had only captured Moira MacTaggert, Polaris, Multiple Man, Strong Guy and Siryn. Once again, the pro-active X-Men weren't very pro-active.
Not that long ago, Howard Mackie decided that X-Factor needed to be more proactive. In a memorable storyline, the team of Forge, Polaris, Mystique, Sabretooth, Wild Child and Shard staged their own deaths in order to escape the restraint of Bowser and the government's Hound program. Then, posing as federal agents, they died a second time so that their former base would be officially quarantined and they could work in peace.
So what happened? In the very next storyline, Mystique blew her cover! The Mistress of Disguise who kept several identities active for years blew her cover!?! They let Multiple Man know they were alive so that they could use him to keep track of the Brotherhood. And then they got mixed up in a time -ravel story in which some of Shard's former allies in the XSE ended up inhabiting other people's bodies in the present. The pro-active X-Factor were never pro-active.
DC has also had its fair share of teams try to be pro-active. The second run of the Outsiders was supposed to feature a new, pro-active approach. Come to think of it, Batman started the first group of Outsiders because he felt that the Justice League wasn't being pro-active enough in the war against crime. Batman wasn't the last hero to tire of the JLA's reactionary approach. The Martian Manhunter founded Justice League Task Force in order to combat specific menaces. Captain Atom founded Extreme Justice because the regular team wasn't aggressive enough.
So what happened? Prince Brion's Markovia had no counter-espionage to speak of and was invaded in the first story arc of the new Outsiders. The Task Force was overhauled several times until it finally became a training ground for younger and inexperienced heroes instead of the task force it was meant to be. Extreme Justice devolved into a superhero soap opera and dealt with alien slave traders instead of alien invasions. None succeeded in being pro-active.
In all the years, and through all the teams (with the possible exception of Warren Ellis's Stormwatch/Authority), the superteam has never successfully been proactive. I'm reminded of a quote/paraphrase from The Last Avengers Story: "Superheroes just sit around waiting for something to happen. Superheroes may have virtue but supervillains have work ethic."
Now, I'm not sure why we've never had a successful pro-active team. Maybe they're not very interesting. Having advance warning of alien aggression would've spared us from DC's "Invasion!" and Marvel's "Maximum Security" crossovers. Pro-active teams would've seen the invaders coming and stopped them somewhere near Pluto. Not much of a story. Not much to write home about. Maybe we want our heroes to solve problems more than to prevent them.
Maybe we don't even want a successful pro-active team. We wouldn't like it if our heroes went about checking up on known criminals. We'd think they were pushy jerks. We'd think they were possibly trampling on inalienable civil rights. We like it when cops are around to help clean up a highway accident but we despise them for pulling us over for the reckless driving that is likely to cause such highway accidents. Would we react the same way to superheroes? Would we hold it against them for trying to save us from ourselves?
I don't know the answer. All I know is that supposedly pro-active teams were either never very pro-active or never very popular.
Of course, I thought that Avengers was in capable hands. Kurt Busiek had written some great character-driven stories in Astro City. Maybe he could figure out a way to make a pro-active team work. And to be fair, the last three issues weren't bad. But the team is still reacting to the threat of Diablo. A pro-active Avengers just might storm Latveria so that they could drag Dr. Doom before a War Crimes Tribunal. A pro-active Avengers just might try to track down the recently escaped War Toy. A pro-active Avengers just might try to take down The Taskmaster and The Punisher.
I was looking forward to a new approach to one of my favourite titles. Maybe, just maybe, Kurt Busiek and Alan Davis would be able to pull it off. But I was also just a little bit nervous.
I don't mind a team that reacts. Just like the fire department or the paramedics. I've really enjoyed the 37 issues of the Avengers (and the 415 issues that preceded it). But I'm not sure I want to see another "pro-active" team that isn't.
You raise some valid questions, […]. The one that piqued my interest most was the idea that a truly pro-active team would almost certainly be a bore, since they'd finesse most supervillain schemes before they came to fruition. And who wants to read a book about a bunch of super-powered working stiffs who take care of problems before they become dramatic? Food for thought.
And thanks for your overview of "pro-active" teams. I had forgotten there were so many, because, like you, my eyes glaze over when I hear the term.

Maybe we’ve never had a successful pro-active team because phonies like Mr. Smith are rejecting them, as he did with Outsiders back in the mid-80s. Next comes another of my letters:

Dear Cap: In the March 22 Q&A, you and [name withheld] certainly brought forward an interesting discussion as to why the comic-book companies didn’t try switching to a regular magazine format earlier. Well, while advertising is certainly a major stumbling block, they still should’ve tried converting at least six years ago.
If advertisers aren’t interested though, then that certainly is worrisome. But the companies shouldn’t give up trying to get a hold of them.
But nevertheless, you’re quite right that many comic-book readers don’t enjoy having ads in their comic books. Even I wish that there’d be more story and less advertisements. And don’t you just wish that comics were longer? I wish they could be as long as 100 pages. In fact, even if there’s only as many as 22 pages of story, it still takes quite awhile to finish, because there’s all these many panels and word/thought balloons to look over. Still, that’s what TPBs are for, because there you don’t have any ads to interfere with what you’re reading.
But comic-book companies should still give the magazine format a try, and in DC’s case, since they’re owned by Time Warner, they just might be able to get advertising, if necessary.
And there are just so many ways in which to form a magazine for many of their titles, and not just those that they own, but even for those that belong to Milestone, WildStorm and Vertigo! They could publish The Milestone Magazine, The WildStorm Magazine, The Vertigo Magazine, with maybe even special sections for miniserials that the companies publish all the time.
And not always are ads neccassary for publishing a magazine. MS magazine, for example, if I’m correct, has spent the last decade publishing without advertisements. Even the Jewish affairs monthly Midstream doesn’t rely on advertisements, and it’s almost entirely devoted to articles, reviews and essays. This, of course, is what’s known as non-profit publishing, I think, but the drawback is that it may not be so easy to sell to a regular bookstore.
But it could still be an example that some of the independent companies could try, such as Dark Horse. When they first opened in 1985, their first magazine was Dark Horse Presents, an anthology title. Who knows, maybe a company like them could try out a non-profit approach to publishing.
There are some possible drawbacks to publishing comics in a standard magazine format though: Supposing DC were to switch to only a format like that, then all four current Superman titles would probably have to be merged together into one single issue; ditto the four current Batman titles, because there’d be no need to go out and buy the other issues: They’d all be there for you in one magazine. Still, there is something good in doing that: if the comics have 22 or 24 panel pages, then in a magazine you could have close to 90 pages put together!
Then, they could print the editorials in ways that are similar to regular magazines. They could publish an “about this month” column similar to Wladyslaw Pleszcnski’s introductory section in the American Spectator. And, they could also put the editorials such as the Bullpen Bulletins and the Watch This Space at the beginning of the magazine. And, at the end of the magazine, they could publish an illustration page just like what the New Yorker’s currently got.
To say the least, there are many advantages and drawbacks in switching to magazine format. But when you look at some of the advantages, it could be worth a try.
Also no less important is how and where to advertise. If the companies are to maintain successful sales, then they’ve got to extend beyond just advertising in comics-related medium. They’ve got to advertise also in major newspapers. And here are a couple of marketing strategies that could be useful for the comics companies:
Advertise mainly in places that have the most comic-book stores. New York and Los Angeles are likely to have the most stores, and to make sure they can maintain a successful buisness, they’ve first got to make sure that they’re doing good business in the places that have the most stores.
Advertise in more than just the comics-related medium itself. Major newpapers like the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times are surely among the best places where it can be done. In fact, even videogame magazines are probably a good place to do so. And even the Village Voice, the New Yorker, and the LA Weekly are surely also good places to advertise.
Advertise in many different places across the Internet, not just the comics-related medium there either. Do it on Netscape, Lycos, AOL, Gannett, Scripps Howard, Newhouse News Service, McClatchy company Web sites and even PC Magazine’s Web site. Advertise where parents and kids alike are most likely to surf.
And most importantly, use ads where subscriptions are offered. And give discounts for parents who’re looking for some good stuff that their kids can enjoy.
Do you think that these are good marketing strategies that I’ve brought up here? Who knows, they just might work. And if the companies aren’t trying out such strategies for marketing, they could! It’s always worth a try.
I don't pretend to know how all the beans are counted in the comic-book biz, Avi, but it does seem like professional publishing firms (as Marvel, DC, et al, purport to be) would take any number of risks to get back into the newsstand market -- which is what magazines would do for them.
I am aware that Time Warner could offer "package" advertising in a multitude of its products, levering advertising from its magazines or books into the comics -- giving DC a crack at that elusive newsstand market and some extra revenue. Problem is, the way Time Warner is currently constituted there is no mechanism for such a "cross-company" effort. All the Time Warner branches are independent entities, and that will only get more complicated with Time Warner's merger to AOL.
Still, Marvel is making an effort with its Ultimate Marvel Magazine (all-reprint comics, with feature articles and games) and Image is attempting the same with its Tomb Raider Magazine. No doubt the whole industry is watching these experiments with intense interest.

Boy, I sure wish I could say I was impressed with this in retrospect…but I’m not. What I should really have done was say that mainstream comics should make a jump to trade paperbacks. It could help cut down on much of the crossover madness that devoured superhero comics in the past decade.

On a side note, AOL – a pretty crappy source themselves – later left its affilation with Time Warner, and it really doesn’t matter, because their management is truly awful. So too in fact is TW’s. And some of this following letter from April 25, 2001, is the same:

Dear Captain Comics: I'm glad I found your site because I was totally confused by the two Captain Marvels (among other things). I think it would be funny to pit Captain Marvel against Captain Marvel in a crossover, but is that asking too much? Too campy? I don't know anything about Marvel's Captain Marvel, but DC's Captain Marvel strikes me as being kind of silly.
Um, anyway, on the topic of sales being down, here's my take as someone new to comics.
(This turned out to be a much longer rant than I intended, so be forewarned)
DC is probably making more money today from WB cartoons than selling comic books. It doesn't hurt that the Batman cartoon of the mid-'90s was high quality (I though Batman/Superman Adventures sucked, though). The Batman cartoon is very accessible. I had seen old Batman live action reruns on UHF as a kid. The live-action Batman was campy (& I liked it), while the cartoon was cool. Of course the '90s Batman is darker, but it's still a cartoon show -- with, as I said, very good writing -- so it didn't delve into depressing, twisted psychological territory that critics and artistes love but I personally detest in my entertainment (sorry, but I've got enough depression in my own life to read about someone else's personal hell). So, what's the point, you're wondering.
Backing up a bit, before I started buying comics, I did pick up a Simpsons Comics collection (available in a regular bookstore), plus I used to read my friend's Life in Hell and Far Side collections. I also knew all about Peter Parker from the comic strip (I used to be an avid comic-strip reader, and I've read up on the history of funnies -- probably still know more about that than comic books). My grandparents had an extensive collection of Pogo collections (truly one of the masters). My sister bought some of the Animaniacs comics (we didn't have allowances, so she couldn't get all of them). And then there was manga (although I'll take an animated sub over manga any day). I liked all of this stuff. My friends in high school were into Sandman and I flipped through an issue once (but not too carefully because I was acutely aware that I did not have the money to buy Sandman every month). So I wasn't a comics tabula rasa.
Oh yeah, and I subscribed to MAD.
My sojourn into buying comics started in August of last year. I was bored, did not have reliable access to television, and for the first time in my life, I had money, so I decided to give comics a try. It has been both rewarding and frustrating. My first instinct was to go for heroes I recognized. BIG mistake. Spider-Man didn't seem much like the guy I remembered from the funny pages. The Superman title I picked up sucked. (Many, many months later I picked up Astro City and found what I was looking for when I bought that Superman ... of course I had neglected AC all that time because I was already burned by one book with a flying cape on the cover, and no one was around at the time to tell me any better). Batman was okay, but, I dunno, maybe it's Bat Fatigue or something. Batman and Detective Comics kind of confused me, plus there were various other spinoffs and one-shots -- I mean, which one is "the" Batman? Huh? I have picked up Batmans here and there when they were in, but I don't get it regularly.
But if Batman was bad, X-Men was impossible. There's Uncanny X-Men, Generation X, X-Man, Children of the Atom (the one I started collecting -- I don't know if it was a miniseries or what, but I can't find it now), et cetera. Now I hear they are paring it down. Thank heaven.
Quality in most of the Marvel titles stinks, as I soon found out (and as former comics fans warned me), and the only Marvel titles I get now are Black Widow (painted -- yes!), Black Panther (took a while to get into it, but it's starting to pay off) and old copies of Sensational She-Hulk from the bargain bin.
In fact, if I hadn't picked up The Secret History of the Authority #1 on my first trip to the comic-book store, I probably would not have been back.
DC and Marvel BLEW it. As I said before, I bought Simpsons Comics and my sister got Animaniacs and we got what we wanted -- the same characters, viewpoint and humor we knew from the TV shows. Okay, I know that sounds a little crass -- over the last nine months I've come to prefer comics with story arcs and (a little) history, et cetera, but if you want people who've seen your TV shows or your movie to buy the freaking comic then put out something that a non-comics-person can recognize, for crying out loud! Manga does not seem to have this problem, so I don't think it's anything inherent to comics or to a multi-media entertainment empire, or what have you. Batman was the only title that came CLOSE to meeting my expectations, although the more I found out about the DC Universe (more on that below) the less happy I was with Batman, too.
Anyway, as it turned out, I ended up absolutely hating The Secret History of the Authority, but that was AFTER buying Authority: Relentless (my very first
trade paperback purchase, excepting the Star Trek: Tests of Courage TPB I got used during my Trekkie days ... but that's another story) and then collecting a bunch of old StormWatch and basically launching my comics-collecting career.
I got sick of Warren Ellis's stuff, but that was after seeing that comics did not have to be the crappy stuff they had for the kids to read at the dentist's office (Spider-Man vs. Narcotics Man!). The next book I found that I actually liked (after StormWatch) was Static. I am white, by the way, but I identified more with Virgil than any other comic-book character I had met until then (or since!). I liked StormWatch (although my standards are getting higher now) and Static absolutely ROCKS. Too bad it came out in '93 or '94 or something. I managed to get a lot of issues at 33 cents a piece, which is kind of sad, but good for me. Then I found Shadow Cabinet, which was even BETTER.
I dunno, maybe it was the good writing and the fact that in both cases the universe was pretty new, so a newbie wouldn't get confused. Because when I started delving into DC, boy did I get confused.
I heard a lot about JLA. So I picked up an issue. Right away I didn't like it because I didn't like seeing Batman and Superman in the same comic. I thought the super-team concept was stupid, although I've since changed my mind. Anyway, I figured since Metropolis and Gotham are both ciphers for New York, the two don't really belong in the same universe. Oh, and Wonder Woman's costume sucks.
The universe -- man. Well, I didn't know anything about the universe problem then. I never imagined that DC had the sort of continuity problems that make Voyager's retcons seem trivial. But anyway, when you strip away the visceral reactions, the bottom line was, I didn't understand what was going on. In the first one I picked up, the JLA goes after "Bruce Wayne," who turns out to be a White Martian. I was very confused because no one in the JLA seemed to know that Bruce Wayne was Batman. This seemed strange, since I didn't know squat about the JLA, but I was vaguely aware that they had been around since the '60s or something and in all that time, the rest of the JLA didn't know his secret identity? Huh? Let me add that I didn't know anything about Crisis on Infinite
Earths, or that a lot of the characters were second generation, etc. I didn't really understand most of what happened in the book and I was pretty dismayed. I picked up another issue and it was full of characters I had never heard of, talking about events that I knew nothing about -- and no, there was no asterisk with a box explaining where any of that came from. So I gave up on JLA.
Well, then I picked up JSA. I was won over by the art and by Black Canary. I didn't care that I was totally confused. Some of the characters (the Flash and Sentinel) were clearly older -- finally, something made sense, because even I, a non-comics fan, knew that these characters had been around a LONG time. However, this led to me getting more curious about the DCU. I picked up a copy of JLA Secret Files and Origins #3. I figured it ought to explain what I was missing in JLA (at least). Well guess what -- it just confused me more. It had some completely retconned (I realize now) history of the JLA. I could look over into the bargain bins and see JLA with the big players from the mid-'80s, but the SFO was saying something entirely different. Plus Oracle claims the JLA is 12 years old (or at least that's what I THOUGHT she said -- it's ambiguous). That I KNEW wasn't true. DC's Web site is no help either. Finally I had a burst of Clue and looked up the Justice Society in Yahoo! and found a fan site about it.
Look, why can't DC tell the story of the character from, I dunno, the beginning? And what was the point of Crisis, anyway? It killed off tons of characters, invalidated lots of old stuff, and makes continuity almost impossible. I can't follow the continuity of any character! I personally think the Golden Age history is part of the appeal, not a hindrance to be chucked at the first opportunity. (I'm into quirky stuff and a certain amount of retro, and I guess I just prefer the whole "mystery men" idea to super-powered superheroes. I think superheroes have gotten too powerful, and that's part of the problem with the genre). The whole Crisis universe flattening, and the way DC handles it makes the DCU very, very confusing to a newbie, unless you stick to Bat-books.
Case in point: Harley Quinn. I practically jumped up and cheered when I saw it on the shelf. Harley is one of my favorite animated Batman characters, and I thought it was a cool idea. The comic was -- in drawing style, setting, mood, what-have-you -- just like the show, so it was immediately accessible. The writing was pretty good, and it's basically an all-around entertaining book. And there are no stupid continuity problems, no characters who walk on that you're supposed to recognize, but don't (there were some visitors in #2 or #3, I forget, but the writers did a decent job of letting you know who they were. Actually, I think they did expect too much of this reader, but it was a laudable attempt to bring together a bunch of female villains -- although I really don't see suit-wearing LexCorp employees hanging around with Harley, Poison Ivy and the like). This is one DC book I actually ENJOY without having to get confused and/or frustrated.
Another problem with JLA is the way there's always a world-shattering crisis (probably a consequence of making the super-team too powerful). It's overkill. Why should I care? I think the writing suffers. It's like on Star Trek -- the first time The Borg went after Earth, that was scary. In First Contact, though, it seemed a bit pat (especially the convenient out) and by Voyager it was like, Borg, Shmorg. Janeway and Tuvok got assimilated and now they're back. The same thing happens if JLA fights some apocalyptic force or other every month. You know nothing will change -- or maybe they will kill someone off, for stupid reasons, but them bring them back on some implausible pretense (in Trek that would be the Tasha Yar Effect -- although on Trek it happens a lot less often).
About the crises, now that I think about it, part of the problem is the fact that the heroes exist in another reality. Most other comics universes that I've seen put superheroes into our world. Harbinger, Shadow Cabinet and StormWatch come to mind. Of course there is usually some breaking point between the realities (besides super-powers), but you don't have to know a totally new geography, history, current events, physics, et cetera. Maybe what I'm getting at is that the DCU has become science fiction, while passing itself off as superheroes. I would say your average comics reader in the Golden Age could relate a lot better to The Spectre repelling a Nazi invasion of England, fictional though it was, than I can relate to Lex Luthor becoming president. (What's the subtext on THAT, anyway?).
I don't want to argue that anything that confuses the reader is BAD. Hey, I'm a Babylon 5 fan -- I can appreciate a little mystery. But watching Batman did not prepare me for finding out that Gotham had been laid waste. Come on! How is anyone who has not been reading comics supposed to know that?
DCU has great characters and DC has good writers and excellent artists (& they don't kill my eyes with excessive black, yellow and purple like the flatscans at Image, either). My DC pile is taller than any of my others. But DC is driving me crazy!
And that, I think, is why their books don't sell.
By the way, I think I'll take the chance to dump on Image -- underwhelming doesn't even begin to cut it. Oh yeah, and since I happen to be female -- gay, but still female -- I don't think much of gargantuan mammae. And ridiculous proportions. And the stupid scanty garments. Although the fact that there are losers buying Witchblade and Darkchylde makes me feel like less of one. Dark Minds is the one Image title that's well written, but why the hell does an android have boobs the size of bowling balls? Top Cow's no better: I think the art on Rising Stars sucks all around and the inker on Midnight Nation is almost doing a good job, except that cleavage and crap starts creeping onto Laurel every few issues (stop it ... please).
Well, this rant has gone on long enough, and I fear was not very coherent. I only hope you get some of the reasons why I found comics hard to get into. I'm not saying that every title should be marketed for the masses either (I absolutely love the current Spectre and the Ostrander/Mandrake version, and both require some background), and I'm certainly not suggesting more retconning to make things "simpler" (it doesn't). But I want something I recognize. You would think that a popular TV show would translate into comic-book sales. But the way things are now, I am not at all surprised that they don't (it's strange, because publishers never have trouble selling BOOKS after a hit movie -- stop blaming comics' troubles on the medium!). And DC has got to be more honest about the backstory. I don't want to read a (freaking) retcon. I'm not stupid -- I know Batman first appeared in the '30s, I know most of the time they pretend that superheroes don't age (it's entertainment, not real life!), and I realize there are going to be inconsistencies, so why can't they just run through the real history, connected to real world dates? Why do I have to find that on fan sites? This makes absolutely no sense to me.
Meanwhile, Marvel puts out a horrible array of total junk and good stuff, with no good way of picking between the two. Of course, what's most likely to be seen in the convenience store rack are the junky "kiddie" titles, which even kids find beneath them.
There's all sorts of wonderful comics out there, but the mainstream is not getting them. Maybe Rising Stars will pull in more sci-fi fans, although from what I hear, a lot of people are just going for the JMS books and not looking at anything else (burned too many times, I'd guess)
So, that's my take, as I said, on why comics don't sell. If DC and Marvel could only get a clue and market something for their TV/movie fans, then maybe they could draw people into comics in general. And DC has to be more open about character history. Maybe startrek.com can pretend to be in the Trek universe, but it doesn't have HALF of the problems of the DCU. Passing off sloppy retcons as "secret files and origins" is just frustrating for the reader -- which is the last thing they need.
I wish I could disseminate your letter to the Powers That Be in the industry, [...] -- but we'll have to settle for use in my various venues, starting with this Web site!
Whether I or publishers agree with your points -- and I do, for the most part, but can't speak for publishers -- they represent at least one person's view about why comics are so hard to get into, even for those who are trying. Doubtless you're not alone, and many others would probably have given up by now. So your letter is instructional.
Having said that, let me answer what questions you asked and add what information I can -- and then I expect others will have some comments:
<<DC is probably making more money today from WB cartoons than selling comic books.>>
That is unquestionably the case. Conventional wisdom has it that Time Warner gives DC more or less a free hand up to a point (even to losing money on various titles) in order to keep trademarks alive to market the characters in other media where they'll make oodles of cash. I don't have any hard statistics on this, but I'd bet the Tim Burton Batman movie made more money in 1989 than all of the Bat-titles did in the entire '80s.
On Sandman: Now that you're making more money, you might check out the Sandman trade paperbacks, which DC keeps perpetually in print. They might not be your cup of tea, but if they are -- oh, what fun you're in for!
On MAD: As I've said before, I think MAD ought to be required reading for all adolescents. It teaches disrespect for authority and general cynicism that those in charge have a clue what they're doing. Valuable lessons, I think!
<<Batman kind of confused me, plus there were various other spinoffs and one-shots -- I mean, which one is "the" Batman? Huh?>>
Since I read them all, that's a question I never thought about before. I guess there isn't one. But Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight tells stand-alone stories that aren't connected to ongoing continuity, so if you're looking to buy one Bat-title, that might the one to go for.
On X-Men: X-Men: Children of the Atom was indeed a six-issue miniseries, which attempted to give the five original X-Men a plausible and cohesive origin. (Their backstories had been told only in a "Origins of the X-Men" backup series in the '60s The X-Men title, and those stories were, frankly, stupid. They were never meant to stand the test of time, and CotA was much better.) You'll be pleased to know that the purpose of the May X-revamp is to bring the comics more in line with the movie -- which addresses your issue of the comics publishing what non-fans would expect to see when they pick up the books. There will also be some huge X-perimentation -- some of which will doubtless not work -- but at least they're dumping the convoluted, intimidating, overpopulated continuity of the Claremont/Lobdell years, which even most X-fans had tired of. Marvel was quite aware they had a problem there, and this is their solution. Incidentally, you might also want to check out Ultimate X-Men, which is CotA revisited, in that it starts the merry mutants at square one, beginning in the present day.
On Marvel: Most of Marvel's best comics are printed under the "Marvel Knights" imprint, including the two Black Widow miniseries (if you missed either, they're available in trade paperbacks and I highly recommend them) and Black Panther at one time. Since you're a J. Michael Straczynski fan, I suggest you check out the latest issue of Amazing Spider-Man -- JMS is picking up the writing reins, and ASM #30 was the first issue of that title I've really enjoyed since probably the '70s. Peter Parker: Spider-Man has also been on the uptick since Paul Jenkins began as writer. Ultimate Spider-Man is a terrific, stand-alone book also, and you might want to check it out. And I also recommend Captain Marvel, which isn't under the "Knights" imprint but is a very funny, very human book. Those are the Marvel titles that leap to mind as being worth your $2.99.
<<Oh, and Wonder Woman's costume sucks.>>
Heh. Check out Silly Super-Togs for another reader's tirade on that. Frankly, it always struck me as odd that a character that was originally meant as a role model for young girls dresses like a Victoria's Secret model. Of course, being a heterosexual male, I'd be hypocritical if I didn't note that I find Adam Hughes's covers an eyeful. So I guess we can readily identify WW's ACTUAL target market, eh?
<<I ended up absolutely hating The Secret History of The Authority.>>
As it happened, so did I. You didn't give your reasons, but mine were these: I was, in fact, a newbie to the WildStorm universe when The Authority began, and was looking forward to Secret History to clue me in on who half of these characters were. It did no such thing, and instead seemed largely a Warren Ellis in-joke to see how many sexual liaisons he could arrange for Jenny Sparks (and the odder, the better). I really liked the Sparks character in The Authority -- and enjoyed her sexual frankness -- but found her to be little more than a drunken slut in Secret History. Nothing wrong with sluts -- I've dated a few -- but if I wanted soft-core porn I could do better. (For the record, I'm happily married and not looking for porn at all -- I'm just speaking in general!)
<<Static absolutely ROCKS.>>
I absolutely agree. The fact that a white heterosexual male and a white gay female both identify with a black teenager says GOOD WRITING in all capital letters. Currently there's a four-issue Static Shock miniseries (which has come out, unfortunately, somewhat sporadically), testing the waters for a new series. I am, of course, supporting it, and I hope you are too.
<<I dunno, maybe it was the good writing and the fact that in both cases the universe was pretty new, so a newbie wouldn't get confused.>>
This is where I recommend CrossGeneration Comics, where you can get in on the ground floor of a "universe" that doesn't require you to buy more than one title to understand what's going on. My favorites are Mystic, Meridian and Scion -- your mileage may vary. But the writing is outstanding, and CrossGen doesn't even genuflect to the superhero genre -- it's all Dragonriders of Pern-style fantasy and/or hard science fiction.
<<This seemed strange, since I didn't know squat about the JLA, but I was vaguely aware that they had been around since the '60s or something and in all that time, the rest of the JLA didn't know his secret identity? Huh?>>
Pre-1986, all the JLAers knew each others' secret IDs -- it was a very friendly club. Post-Crisis, Batman didn't join the JLA until late in its run (under unrevealed circumstances) and the latest version of the team had everybody keeping their IDs private. You'll be pleased to note that a recent Mark Waid-written JLA storyline has corrected that (read JLA #50 for more), and now even Batman says "There are no secrets in the JLA" (to Lois Lane, Superman #168).
On Black Canary: I'm a BC fan too, so I have to recommend Birds of Prey. A caveat: The series has taken a serious turn toward superheroics, as opposed to earlier issues which focused on the peculiar (they had never met in person), multi-layer friendship between Canary and Oracle. I really enjoyed their interaction, so the recent emphasis on superheroics (probably necessary for sales) has left me cold. But the earlier issues are top-notch.
<<Some of the characters (the Flash and Sentinel) were clearly older -- finally, something made sense, because even I, a non-comics fan, knew that these characters had been around a LONG time.>>
I'm on record as finding the generations-long history of the DCU as being part of its appeal. I don't want to read comics where EVERYBODY is twentysomething. It loses any verisimilitude, and having older, grandfatherly superheroes dispensing (sometimes unwanted) advice is more in line with the real world. The Sentinel/Star-Spangled Kid story in JSA Secret Files #1 was a hoot -- Sentinel was all pompous and stuffed-shirt about the grand history of the JSA, and the Kid was -- well, a kid, all smart mouth and "who cares" and bored as hell. In the end, though, they found common ground, which made it heart-warming.
<<Oracle claims the JLA is 12 years old (or at least that's what I THOUGHT she said -- it's ambiguous).>>
The "modern" DCU is officially ALWAYS 12 years old -- that is, the Silver Age began 12 years ago (with the advent of Superman, Batman, Green Arrow, Hal Jordan, Barry Allen, et al). This is a post-Crisis conceit. Marvel has followed suit; Fantastic Four #1 happened 10 years ago, and always WILL have happened 10 years ago. It's their solution to the characters not aging -- and it wouldn't have been MY solution, but there it is.
<<And what was the point of Crisis, anyway? It killed off tons of characters, invalidated lots of old stuff, and makes continuity almost impossible. I can't follow the continuity of any character! I personally think the Golden Age history is part of the appeal, not a hindrance to be chucked at the first opportunity. >>
I couldn't agree with you more. The more I think about Crisis, the worse a decision it seems to me. It managed to retcon away DC's primary appeal -- its rich history. It made everything "smaller" and reduced the sensawunda that drew me to these four-color pamphlets in the first place. And the point, since you asked, was to make life easier for the writers -- not the readers, as they kept hypocritically maintaining. That's another complaint: I don't like being lied to, and I don't care for the insinuation that I'm too dumb to keep up with alternate worlds/characters. But we're stuck with it now, so I try to be realistic and enjoy things as they stand.
On Image: I'm in agreement. Even as a heterosexual male, I find the massive mammaries (and massive guns) stupid and insulting. The bent-at-the-waist, please-do-me-from-behind poses the women assume I find infuriating -- no woman would really stand like that in public, and as I said earlier, if I wanted porn I could do better. (Of course, you could make the argument that they stand like that because their breasts make them top-heavy!) I passed on Dark Minds at first glance for the very reason you cite: There's no reason for an artificial woman to have silicon injections, so I dismissed the book as one whose primary purpose was to appeal to sexually frustrated teenagers who aren't old enough to buy Playboy. That might be unfair, but Image has given me no reason to sample a title that looks like the Fathom Swimsuit Special.
On the other hand, the really egregious Image books seem to be largely the product of Top Cow, Todd McFarlane Productions and some of the smaller studios and I avoid them like the plague. Image Central is very deliberately moving away from that approach, and I highly recommend Age of Bronze, The Red Star and Powers. You've already discovered Joe's Comics (by Straczynski), which are strongly written -- although I agree that the art on Rising Stars leaves me cold (and sometimes confused as to who's who). I hadn't noticed the creeping breast enlargement on Laurel in Midnight Nation, and in fact was mildly pleased that she was -- for comics -- relatively flat-chested and realistically proportioned from the get-go. But I have noticed that a character that I assume is probably gay is inexplicably wearing a thong under her jeans. From my experience, thongs on women (gay or straight) is an invented male fantasy -- I haven't met a woman yet who wears them on a daily basis. (My wife disgustedly eschews them altogether, preferring to be naked, which gets no argument from me.) Either way, I accept Laurel's depiction (I imagine it's considered necessary to keep sales up), as I do Rising Stars' inadequate art, because the stories are so darn good.
On Star Trek: I also found Denise Crosby's return to Next Generation implausible, confusing and ridiculous. What was she supposed to be? The daughter of Tasha Yar and a Romulan rapist from a future timeline that didn't exist? Or something? Gah! Just an excuse for Crosby to get back on the show when her movie career tanked. And I, too, have tired of The Borg. Like Galactus, they were terrifying when introduced, since nobody had ever defeated them. Now Voyager defeats them on a weekly basis, and their threat, like Galactus's, has diminished to invisibility.
Whew! That was a workout! Thanks again for the letter!

But no thanks to him for his dishonesty of the weird kind. Funny why he’s weary of the Borg when he follows their MO almost to the letter in his daytime profession.

It’s kind of odd DC would keep the 1989-96 Sandman series, of all things, in print, because unlike some others, I don’t see what’s the big deal about a series that later depicted Lyta Hall going berserk and wiping out Morpheus because he said he wanted possession of her child, Daniel. And that too was annoying.

I’m also unimpressed with Mr. Smith’s stand on T&A, if not guns, at Image or elsewhere. He completely fails to grasp the concept of escapism, and besides, even from a visual perspective, that’s still peanuts compared to the questions whether the story is written interestingly and absorbingly. Personally, I don’t consider Top Cow’s creations in themselves to be the worst Image offers. I do think that Rob Liefeld’s productions overshadowed some of the better stuff, that’s for sure.

And, as for the correspondent, a real pity we have here an early example of a "social justice warrior" who must think that sexy costumes are shameful creations and the root cause of all evil. I guess that means even swimsuit models for Vogue and Women's Day are criminals? Sigh.

Dear Cap: Good point (in the 4/19 Mailbag). The old stories have a nostalgic and historical appeal that does make me more forgiving about the story. So yeah, I'll have to concede the point from you and […].
On the business argument, however, I still don't buy it. I totally agree that the comics are a business, and as such they are in business to make as much money as possible (heck in the case of publicly owned companies, the have an ethical OBLIGATION to make as much money as possible to increase shareholder value/wealth). The core of my argument is that the empty suits that have apparently taken over the industry have ruined the enterprise. They had a business that could have been a cash cow for many more decades. They had a business that had a customer base that was almost fanatical in their product loyalty and repeat business habits. That customer base included many "educated/highly employed" so the prospect was they would simply continue to have more money to spend and become more affluent.
Before they decided to raise prices to more than $2 an issue and have $20 "special event" comics, they took the ability away for new kid customers to enter the mix without getting major backing from their parents. I remember in my day, I could afford a couple of issues a week and still had more than half of my meager allowance remaining. Because new young readers could not pick the habit on their own (the high prices meant parents had to give consent, approval and financial support to a new comic reader/collector's hobby), the ability to continue restocking the customer base with new young readers was hindered/curtailed. The other events and ideas that were mentioned in my previous e-mail, have ultimately (it took some time) served to undermine the golden goose the comics industry had with the "fanatically loyal repeat business" cash cow they had.
Although the "special issue" ideas must have been more profitable in the short term. They have ultimately served to release more and more would-have-been lifetime subscribers/collectors from their hobby/obsession. If the comics industry wanted to make TV shows, statuettes and etc. for increased profit, no harm would have been done to their mature "cash cow" business. When they started to mess with the core, base, cash cow is when they began to kill the golden goose. Everything would have continued had they not tinkered with the core business (long-running comics series) with their special "quick buck" ideas. My argument is that in their short-term search for the quick buck, they have begun to destroy the long-term stream of business they could have enjoyed for many decades to come.
Many times when successful businesses try to become something they are not, they begin to fail. My core contention is that there are some empty suits in the world that ruin successful business by trying to make them something they are not (usually because they are driven by the belief that if they don't grow at some specified rate they are failing). As long as a business is profitable, it can endure and provide for its owners even if its growth rate is modest.
Some analogies I would make are what if corner hot-dog vendors tried to sell champagne and caviar? What if Major League Baseball tried to inject WWF-style entertainment (there would be a short-term increase in profits and growth, but they would ultimately kill the core "fanatic" loyal business). The "New Coke" campaign was another example of this failed business strategy. There are certainly some "grow or die" businesses (pyramid schemes for one, ha, ha!), but not all businesses are the same and will have the same results with the same business models applied.
The bottom line is that I'm sad that the hobby I love is slowly being killed by semi-competent, semi-clued empty suits in the decision-making roles for the industry.
Before I start agreeing with you all over the place, […], I think you're laboring under a misapprehension on a major point. Please bear with me here, as I'm not arguing with you so much as trying to inform:
Comic-book companies didn't "decide" to raise prices from 20 cents to $2. They -- honestly and truly -- had no choice. The publishers are making no greater a profit margin (adjusted for inflation) on the $2 version than they were making on the 20-cent copy -- and selling quite a bit fewer of them. Factors that didn't exist in the Silver Age account for that $2, including a huge increase in the amount paid creators (which nobody is saying is a bad thing, since creators were barely paid a living wage before the '80s) and an exponential rise in the cost of paper.
One of the major bottom-line problems in the industry is the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about: The 32-page, four-color pamphlet is no longer economically viable. Period. Due to spiralling production costs (primarily creator costs and paper costs) it costs more to make it than it's worth for the consumer to buy (i.e., the publishers have to charge more than the product is worth to us). In other words: Your complaint exactly, but not for the reasons you cite. Using the inflation chart, comic books shouldn't cost more than about a buck -- and I bet most of us wouldn't blink an eye at that. But comics have, perforce, had to raise their prices beyond the threshold that we're willing to comfortably pay. And believe me, publishers really, really, really didn't want to do that -- but had to, to achieve any kind of profit margin at all.
Secondly, per-unit sales are in the toilet, so the publishers are getting by with selling more titles at 100,000 copies each instead of fewer titles at 500,000 copies. Problem there is -- yup, you guessed it -- additional production costs. Marvel is swimming in red ink, and rumor has it that Time Warner accepts that DC will operate at a loss so as to keep the trademarks alive for use in movies, TV and books.
Thirdly, the per-unit sales aren't down solely due to fans turning away due to costs. There's also the fact that comic books, as a whole, were bodily TOSSED OUT of the newsstand market, cutting their access to new readers and reducing the outlets at which comics are available to some 1,300 specialty stores nationwide. That's all. Ninety percent of all Marvel comics sold are sold at one of those 1,300 stores (and it may be fewer as I write this).
The problem here is, again, that the 32-page pamphlet isn't economically viable. In the '70s distributors and retailers weren't clearing enough profit per copy of Superman (vs., say, Time Magazine) to make it worth their while to even pick the books up from the warehouse. True story: In the late '70s, distributors would often opt to leave comics they'd already paid for sitting on the docks if they were running short on time/resources. Since comics were returnable, it was no skin off their nose -- they'd just "return" them, and the publishers would eat the loss -- and have to find some way to redistribute them again. Finally, the newsstand distributors just told Marvel, DC, et al, to pack their bags -- they wouldn't handle them any more. Hence the rise of the comic-book specialty shop, which doesn't return unsold books, in return for a hefty upfront discount.
So what I'm saying here is that your implication that publishers raised prices 1,000 percent because they're evil, stupid or greedy is genuinely unfair. And your suggestion that Amazing Spider-Man would still have the same kind of sales in 2001 that it had in 1971 if publishers had only raised prices in pace with inflation is not only unfair, but impractical and unrealistic. Your assertion that the "suits" are killing a viable, profitable industry by Prestige Format gimmicks and the like is -- well, just wrong. Comic books are NOT a viable industry. They are NOT profitable. They are DYING, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with management decisions or Prestige Format projects or miniseries that make it hard to collect Captain Phlegm comfortably. If Marvel & DC had the identical product line today that they had in 1971, simply adjusted for inflation, they'd both be out of business.
That's the harsh reality for the industry as it stands now, and I thought I ought to apprise you of it so that our conversation can proceed. Because I DO agree with you that publishers are often evil, stupid and greedy -- just not for the reasons you cite!
My main problem is their short-sightedness. Nobody in the business was unaware of the looming problem in the '70s -- but nobody did anything. Nothing. Executives at Marvel & DC sat on their six-figure salaries and did NOTHING. They didn't try new formats. They didn't try to change their plantation, work-for-hire mentality into a traditional employer/employee relationship (like at CrossGen, which will make a profit by the end of the year even under 2001 conditions). They didn't reach out to new readers through TV or magazine advertising. They didn't do any promotions. They didn't hire PR people to get the word out, or marketing people to get the product out. They didn't try alternative distribution methods. They did NOTHING.
You know, if you or I showed that kind of stupidity and laziness in our jobs, we'd have been fired without a second thought.
Secondly, not only did they fail to expand the market, they tried to throttle the existing, shrinking market by strangling every penny out of it.
Marvel & DC both expanded their best-selling heroes into multiple-title "franchises" -- meaning that a guy who was buying Uncanny X-Men every month was suddenly faced with having to buy 11 different X-titles a month to keep up. And, as you bitterly note, pricey miniseries and one-shots abounded. Gimmicks like multiple covers and foil covers and whatnot became the norm. That didn't increase the number of readers; it just beggared the 100,000 they already had.
Plus, Marvel & DC both started monkeying around with the distribution system to specialty stores -- and virtually collapsed it. Now there's only one main distributor: Diamond.
The publishers have also put the screws to the retailers -- those valiant 1,300 store owners -- in too many ways to go into here. Marvel's decision to not overprint is just one recent example; this forces retailers to over-order (three months in advance, tying up their cash flow) to meet possible demand, or take the chance of under-ordering and losing potential sales (and new readers).
Marvel Publisher Bill Jemas says that Marvel's no-overprint policy is "an IQ test" for retailers, implying that they're stupid if they don't cheerfully slit their own throats. He also waxes enthusiastic about "collectibility," a phenomenon that was a huge disaster not only for comics in the early '90s but trading cards in the late '80s (when Jemas was head of Fleer). Good grief! He really, really, really ought to know better!
I don't mean to single out Jemas; other publishers say and do equally dumb things (witness Archie's PR disaster with Dan DeCarlo just before the Josie movie debut). Yup, pig-headed, short-sighted and greedy moves by "suits" really are a problem, so I agree with you whole-heartedly there. But none of that would make much difference in a healthy industry.
And comics are anything but healthy. Whew! Am I running off at the mouth this week, or what? Here's more:

He sure is running it way off. His whole MO as a reporter is anything but healthy. It’s hilarious how a guy arguing about the elephants in the room won’t even talk about them in his newspaper column for the most part. Indeed, I don’t think he ever has. In fact, I don’t think anyone’s ever spoken about it on TV!

And the 32-page pamphlet is still the norm, nearly 15 years after he wrote this, and not a single argument even in modern times. As for Crossgen, any profit they turned was obviously short-lived, because by 2004, they went under so badly, its chairman couldn’t even afford to pay their abandoning contributors properly.

Greetings, Cap! Reading in the letters this week about how bad things were in the '90s, I would agree that a lot of the things that went wrong with the industry were because of trying to pander to the lowest common denominator. That's not to blame any one person or group. I for one don't think Todd McFarlane is the Antichrist, but would there have been some of the more -- colourful -- comics if Spawn had not been such a massive hit? It's also unfair to blame comics like Wolverine and Lobo -- the Powers That Be were trying to pander to the market they believed was there.
The thing that really turned me off in the early '90s, however was the move to the other end of the sleaze market -- the so-called "Adult" comics that just seemed an excuse for bondage or even more grotesque combinations. Two things come to mind when I remember this: Eros Comics, which was started by Fantagraphics to bring European adult books over, and Penthouse Comix. At least Penthouse made no secret of what they were publishing. and they had some good people working with them, but Eros just seemed to bring over the worst of what could only be called porn. I even have a vague memory of them getting into trouble with US customs -- can you recall any of the details?
The sad thing is that there is that market for intelligent adult comics -- look at the success of From Hell.
As to how to get younger people interested in some of the classics, what I would love to see is a new version of that fanboy favourite from the '80s, Amazing Heroes. That was the magazine that got me interested in things like the Atlas/Seaboard line. The only difficulty is it would need to be something that could reach out to the general market place, rather than the specialist comic shops. What magazine publisher today is going to do that?
Maybe what we need is a list of books from our own past that we would use to show people that comics can be thought-provoking and fun at the same time. Some come immediately to mind -- Watchmen, Dark Knight, Swamp Thing -- would be on anyone's list. But what about some of the more obscure ones, such as: Doug Wildey's Rio western books that he did for Eclipse; Comico's Jonny Quest series; Larry Marder's BeanWorld (which I still don't fully understand 15 years on); the Zenith series by Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell from '80s 2000AD, and so on and so on. I'm sure others could come up with great suggestions as well.
No, I'm not going to put the blame on Marvel for Punisher, Wolverine, etc., on publishers -- there wouldn't have been four Punisher titles in the late '80s if we weren't BUYING them. That's not a perceived market for violent titles -- it's an actual one.
The same goes for porno comics. I've never bought a single Eros book or a Penthouse Comix -- but the market is certainly there. In fact, it's the porn books that keep Fantagraphics alive, so they can publish low sellers like Hate. That means a whole lot of somebodies are buying them, which isn't Fantagraphics' fault -- it's ours. They're just giving us what we want.
And I'll lay money down that no single issue of From Hell sold half as much a single issue of Penthouse Comix. And I miss Amazing Heroes as well, but it went out of business despite being embraced by the fan community -- there just aren't enough of us to support a real magazine. And Larry Marder, creator of BeanWorld, is now a high muckity-muck at Image, but you don't see them jumping to publish it ... there just ain't no market for it.
Alas -- what does that say about us?

Depending on one’s viewpoint, it is troubling that a market for violence could overwhelm the other end so badly. But that’s mainly the fault of the publishers/editors for putting so much energy into the violent products and diluting the pool of talent for those with less of a mayhem level. And now that I think of it, Mr. Smith’s also at fault for not complaining about said failure by publishers/editors. What does that say about people like him?

Dear Cap: I just finished reading the rant of […] about today's comics versus those of yesteryear. I'd like to offer a differing opinion on the subject. I'm a 26-year-old comic-book collector, and I didn't start reading until I was 16. I've read mostly comics that were published after I started reading, but I've also gone back and checked out older comics, either through the Marvel Masterworks, the DC Millenium editions, and other reprint options. While I enjoyed some of them, mostly the early Spider-Man stuff, in my eyes, most of it paled in comparison to what I buy today. I've now read the first appearances of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and most of Marvel's characters as well, and for many of them, my first reaction was "Why did this become so popular?"
My feeling is, in our eyes, the comics that first attracted us to the field will always be "The Best," whether that's Detective Comics #27, Fantastic Four #1, or even Spawn #1. My favorite comics of all time are the first run of New Warriors, by Fabian Nicieza with Mark Bagley and Darick Robertson providing the art. Although I recognize many comics that are better written (like Transmet, or Watchmen, or others) or better drawn, they don't give me that original thrill that re-reading the "Forever Yesterday" story does.
While I can understand […] wanting to reclaim their youth (something I like to try to do, even though it really wasn't all that far in the past), their claim that "If DC and Marvel re-released all the Silver Age classics ... and reprinted them all over again, month to month at an affordable price," they would sell well, seems to contradict the fact that every reprint series that I'm aware of, from Marvel Tales to the reprints of the Sandman series (issue by issue, not trade paperbacks), has been canceled due to lack of sales.
I'm all for having the full history of the comic industry available at a reasonable price, but the idea that the industry should "reprint all the good stuff and save themselves some money paying all those hacks" is shortsighted, to put it nicely. (That's not the word I first came up with, but I was taught to respect my elders.) Sorry guys, but the Silver Age is over, and never coming back. Neither is the original era that I got into comics ever going to return. But, I can accept that, and try to find the best material that's out there today, and trust me, there's a lot of it, if you know where to look.
Thanks for taking up the defense of the "modern age" […]. I also disagreed with most of […]'s rant. But they're entitled to their opinions, I feel obliged to run them, and I resist using my "power" of having the Last Word to jump in and go "Nyah, nyah, you're wrong, nanny-boo-boo." It just ain't cricket! I try to be more moderator than participant in the more subjective debates.
But, objectively, things are exactly as you state: Reprints -- particularly those 20 years older or more -- just don't sell. Even modern ones -- you cited the Essential Sandman monthly, and you can toss in Essential Swamp Thing and Marvel's Monster books also -- don't sell in a broad-based sense. Reprints that are targeted to a specific age group, like Marvel's Masterworks, DC's Archives, Archie's digests and Marvel's Essentials, do well enough -- but they aren't barn-burners.
But I don't fault […]'s viewpoint; it's actually one we all share in one way or another. To wit: The Golden Age of Comics is age 12. That's another way to phase what you said, in that whatever books first made us squeal with delight are always going to be "The Best." Fantastic Four #30-60, Green Lantern #30-89, Justice League of America #21-22 and Amazing Spider-Man #10-50 will always be "The Best" to me, even though intellectually I know they're horribly dated now and most kids turn their noses up at them. I LOVE those comics! But I do realize that the storytelling skills employed in their making are passe and wouldn't interest a modern audience, and content myself in reading and re-reading them for my own pleasure. (And I try to avoid proselytizing younger readers, who would think me mad -- or worse, a fuddy duddy!)
To put it another way, Spawn does nothing for me, and I was so bored with your beloved New Warriors that it's one of the few Marvels in the last 35 years I didn't bother to collect. But the Nicieza Warriors run is YOUR Golden Age, and I don't fault you for it -- far from it, I'm delighted that you have those warm memories, that no one can take away.
Just as every comic book is somebody's first, every comic book is somebody's favorite -- and I'm glad […] have found such pleasure in Mort Weisinger's Super-books. But they simply aren't going to turn the crank for everybody.
[…] had more to say on another subject:

We’ll get to that in a moment. This argument is oblivious to the paperback/hardcover reprints that have boosted up since the mid-80s. Iron Man’s Demon in a Bottle trade was an early reprint that went the right path for the whole idea. Of course pamphlet reprints wouldn’t sell well by contrast as time went by, because they were becoming outdated! This is especially evident today when you have so much in paperbacks.

Dear Cap: In your Silly Super-Togs section, you wrote:
<<Does anybody know why she's called MAGENTA instead of MAGNETA? I mean, she has magnetic powers, not color-based powers. Maybe in addition to being fashion-challenged, Fran's dyslexic!>>
Well, her power seems to have a pinkish-purple aura to it when activated, which some might describe as magenta, or close to it. But, I'm betting the real reason her nom de guerre didn't end up Magneta is because it's a little too close to another supervillain's name put out by another company ... And strangely, his power's visible affect is usually magenta as well.
Isn't it interesting that colorists lean toward pink/purple to illustrate magnetism? And isn't it equally interesting that the major magnetic-based characters -- Magenta, Magneto, Dr. Polaris and Cosmic Boy -- all favor pink/purple in their costumes? Is it some Jungian thing? Or is it just follow-the-leader?

It’s peanuts compared to Smith’s idea of follow-the-leader. That is, the establishment based mindset that destroyed comicdom, and even moviedom.

Dear Cap: I was re-reading your "Silly Moments" section when I suddenly remembered one from years ago. The story in question appreared somewhere between 1975 (when I first started reading comics) and 1985 (I'm fairly certain it was pre-Crisis). I'm a little sketchy on the details, but the story went something like this:
Lois Lane and Clark Kent are sent to a disco dance contest, either simply to cover it or actually to enter it, I don't recall. Clark somehow becomes aware that the dance floor has been rigged to explode (by terrorists or crooks or somebody). Clark cannot get away from Lois (I marvel once again at how weird the sexual politics of Silver Age comics were), and so hits upon the idea of entering the contest so as to get himself out onto the dance floor. Once there, he uses some fairly bizarre dance moves as cover while he delivers blows to the dance floor itself which will somehow disarm the bombs (don't ask me how), and ends up winning the contest and impressing Lois with his unique dance stylings. I presume he caught the mad bombers as well. The image stays with me of Our Hero in his patented blue "Clark Kent suit" busting moves never seen on any dance floor before or since. I particularly remember a panel wherein Clark slammed his knees down onto the dance floor. Very odd. The story was redolent of "Older Writer Good-Naturedly Joshing The Wacky Youth Culture and Merely Exposing His Own Unhipness Syndrome." It was obviously meant to be humorous but left one with a sneaking suspicion that this was someone's idea of what disco was really like, vaguely like the episodes of Gilligan's Island and The Flintstones in which they introduced rock bands that essentially chanted "Yeah, yeah, yeah" over and over again.
At any rate, the one thing I can't remember is what book it was in. Maybe you or one of your Legionnaires will remember what book it was in. I'm not sure, but I don't think it was in either Superman or Action. I was a more consistent reader of Superman Family (and Batman Family) in those days, so maybe it was in one of them.
As a side note, I miss the old "Family" books, I remember them fondly. With all the ancilliary characters Supes and Bats have acquired, maybe now's the time to bring them back. (Have you ever noticed that no matter how often they clean up a character's continuity, they still manage to collect all sorts of detritus fairly quickly?)
I have indeed, […] -- note how quickly the Super-books re-introduced the Phantom Zone, Bizarro, red kryptonite, The Prankster, Toyman, the Bottle City of Kandor, the Fortress of Solitude and Mr. Mzyzptlk after the post-Crisis Byrne revamp so painfully ditched them all!
And you'd think I'd remember something as bizarre as the "Disco Clark" story, but it doesn't ring a bell. Perhaps one of the Legionnaires can point me to it for addition to the Silly Super-Moments section!

And note how quickly the editors were determined to get rid of Cat Grant’s son – in a story where he was murdered by the Toyman in 1993 – and I shouldn’t have to point out how painful that was! I wonder why that doesn’t qualify for a panel discussion here?

Dear Cap: A while ago [name withheld] wrote about the philanthropist side of Bruce Wayne being ignored. Specifically:
<<When Bruce Wayne appeared in Gotham Knights #4 visiting a man on behalf of V.I.P., I was startled; I'd bet every Image title I own that it was the first time V.I.P. was mentioned in a Bat-title in 25 years. (Many thanks to writer Devin Grayson.)>>
This reminded me of something Max Allan Collins stated in an interview in Amazing Heroes #119. He noted "And I was trying to speak to the central dichotomy of the Batman character, which is, by day he is a liberal philanthropist and by night he is a right wing, Fascist vigilante. How do these two men exist in one skin? To me it was more interesting to see that this was one complex person who in the one persona of Bruce Wayne was trying to fight the symptoms -- illiteracy, poverty, funding free clinics in slums, trying to help education move forward -- while as Batman, he was dealing with those souls who are so torn by the disease that they are now lost like they were zombies in a George Romero movie."
Unfortuneately, Collins only did a few issues of Batman, wrote an annual story, wrote a prose Batman story for the prose collection The Further Adventures of Batman, and wrote the newspaper comic strip (those last two were pretty much tie-ins with the 1989 movie), so his work on the character was rather infrequent during the late 1980s/early 1990s. Of late his only Batman work was the Elseworlds Scar of the Bat (which, in an interiview at www.januarymagazine.com, he noted was "the most accurate story of Elliot Ness in Chicago (I) ever did ... except for having Batman in it"). Hence, he was never able to develop this characterization.
Thanks, [withheld]. It is an interesting dichotomy, and I'll be interested in hearing what others have to say.

An even more interesting dichotomy is why Mr. Smith sometimes says he finds sexual discrimination galling, then goes right along and embraces obscene stories like Identity Crisis soon after.

Dear Captain: While taking a break from the drawing board today, I had two things on my mind.
A few weeks back (sorry, can't remember specifically when) there was a discussion about sidekicks and such. Rick Jones was brought up, and there was mention about how he stuck it out with Bruce, largely through his guilt of helping aiding in the creation of the Hulk.
While that is true, and every time there's a retelling of the Hulk's origin, the panels that Kirby made famous are shown (Rick sitting in his jalopy, Banner running, arm outstretched, etc.) However, Rick isn't the MAIN reason why Banner found himself trapped in the Gamma blast.
What about Igor?
Igor was the typical '60s comic Commie stereotype, working under cover as Banner's assistant. As Bruce runs out of the lab, he specifically tells Igor to halt the countdown for the Gamma Bomb. Being a good little Commie spy, Igor ignores the instructions, and of course, the rest is history.
So sure, Rick should feel the guilt, but if it wasn't for Igor ...
My second thought, is a response to one of your responses. In answer to a letter talking about TPBs being the future of comics, in your answer was:
<<I agree that TPBs are the way to go, and I also agree that some form of serial form must continue, if only to provide the ongoing revenue to make the TPBs possible (as the industry is currently constituted). -- Captain Comics>>
In a way, I'm attempting to do just that. I've created and have begun running a daily (Mon-Fri) adventure comic strip on the Web. My aim is to offer my work, free on the Web, trying to build up a readership. Then, after 6-9 months, will package a collection of the strips (along with extra panels) in a TPB.
Obviously, I'll be making no money while the strip is on the Web (hence my freelance work to help pay bills) but I'm hoping that attracting the readers for free on the Web, will interest them to read the adventures collected in a book.
Will this work? Am I just kidding myself? (Will I drop dead from all this work??) Stay tuned.
Free plug; [link withheld]
Glad to provide the plug, [name withheld] -- in the era of new media, nobody really knows what's going to work and what isn't, and I applaud you blazing a trail into the unknown. Good luck with Charlie Kizmet -- and if it works, you'll be hailed as a visionary!
As to Igor, the John Byrne Hulk revamp downplayed Igor's involvement, and removed all references to his being a dastardly Commie. (It was published after the fall of the Berlin Wall, after all.) I don't know how much of Igor is still canon or not, and I doubt Marvel's going to go to any great lengths to dredge it up and explain it. They're probably just hoping we'll forget all about "The Reds" being involved in the Hulk's origin (and those of Iron Man and the Fantastic Four).

I think Peter David restored some of it by 1993, when he wrote a story where Igor (whose last name was now revealed as Drenkov) “relived” his past actions as a spy and then cracked up. But would they like us to forget about the past stories involving commie villains? More precisely, they’d rather not even use commies as villains today, any more than they would Islamofascists! If we take a look at how bad the creative horizon’s become under Joe Quesada, Tom Brevoort and Axel Alonso, we’ll get a very good idea why.

Hello Captain! I just today found your Web site, and while looking it over, I found the debates regarding Hal Jordan. I have the perfect solution to clear up all of the standing issues with the Hal Jordan murders and his current status as The Spectre. It can be summed up in two words, HECTOR HAMMOND. My idea is that just prior to the destruction of Coast City, Hector Hammond did a soul/mind swap with Hal Jordan, but he left a brainwave overlay of Hal's brain patterns in case he was scanned by any telepaths. He was so looking forward to assuming Hal's life that when everything went to crap as soon as the swap was made, he lost it and went into a destructive rage because all of his long years of plotting was for naught. In effect, he had traded his life as a living statue for the life of his most-hated enemy only to lose everything a second time. Sinestro recognised the mental/soul difference during his and Hal's final battle before Hammond-Hal slew him. I distinctly remember Sinestro saying something about the evil within Hal, though I no longer have that issue for reference. This would also explain the Parallax mentality that Hammond/Hal developed later, and it could also be part of the explanation for The Spectre taking possession of Hammond/Hal as a punishment for Hammond, whose soul essence is still locked within the Hal body. This means too that Hal's still "pure" soul essence is still trapped within the immortal, but paralyzed, form of Hammond and awaits the heroic plot twist that will free him from this hellish curse. Of course, this is all just wishful thinking on my part, but hey, we fans can do nothing but dream.
That's a pretty good one, [withheld]! Would that it would come true!
I have my own pet plotline to erase "Emerald Twilight" -- and it stars Sinestro. He was imprisoned in Hal's ring for a lengthy stay by the Guardians at one point. My "theory" is that Hal's powerful personality (all that will power, remember) impressed itself on Sinestro and after he was released it overpowered his own -- and Sinestro's own yellow power ring transformed him into Hal! However, Sinestro's one overriding obsession -- destroying the Corps -- still asserted itself even as he was acting like Hal (who he'd have imprisoned in the ring, 'natch) and he DID destroy the Corps, believing himself to be Hal Jordan all the while.
And Tony Isabella has a plan as well -- that Hal had been imprisoned on Apokalips by Darkseid before "Emerald Twlight", and Darkseid had dispatched an unliving Parademon to masquerade as Hal, who came to forget he was a Parademon and thought he was really Hal Jordan. Meanwhile, Jordan's long since escaped, and has been organizing an underground movement against Darkseid ...
I'd love to hear other "theories" about how "Emerald Twilight" could plausibly be undone. Consider that a challenge, Legionnaires!

Then consider mine: simply disavow the entire “event” from continuity and if Hal must have been missing in all this time, find an excuse for his absence. I just don’t understand how people who went through the making of Crisis on Infinite Earths can’t try similar ideas again if that’s what needs to be done either.

Dear Cap:
http://washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A29691-2001Apr17.html
Just in case you haven't been alerted to it, the above URL links to a lengthy feature article in today's Washington Post on the 60th anniversary of the creation of Wonder Women. Besides dealing with her various incarnations there is lots of interesting information on William Moulton Marston, her slightly crackpot creator, and on Phil Jimenez, her current illustrator.
Thanks, […]! [name withheld] and [also withheld] also clued me in to the article, which doesn't offer much new info on the Amazing Amazon but is pretty clever. Wish they'd asked me to write it!

As bad as the Wash. Post’s writers are, Smith would be no better. I’m sure he’d sugarcoat more than enough about DC history while he was at it, proving once again why many mainstream reporters aren’t fit for their jobs.

Dear Cap: I read your column on time travel in the April 6 Buyer's Guide (I am a little behind in my reading), and I have a possible answer to the quesion you raised about Mon-El existing in the 20th century. You mentioned that in the DC Universe, when ever anyone traveled back to a time where he already existed, that person became intangible (which answered your question on why Superboy couldn't try again to prevent Lincoln's assassination). Well, when Mon-El was in the 20th century, he was intangible as a part of the Phantom Zone. Therefore, he didn't really exist in the 20th century.
Now when you mention about Superboy's failure to prevent Lincoln's assassination, I should point out that Superman did prevent it -- sort of. I don't remember the issue number but it was in the '60s during the height of the Silver Age. Lori Lemaris, Superman's old mermaid girlfriend, was bemoaning the fact that Atlantis had sunk beneath the sea and although Superman said that it was impossible to change history, he decided to try another exercise in futility. He traveled back into time and prevented Atlantis from sinking!
This amazed him, and feeling better he also traveled through time and,
Prevented the Battle of Little Big Horn (Custer's Last Stand)
The execution of Nathan Hale
The assassination of Abraham Lincoln
And also Krypton from exploding.
Feeling proud and bewildered, the Man of Steel went back to the 20th century and checked out a history book in the local library. He found that none of the changes he caused ever took place. He then traveled back in time and then found himself sucked into a parallel universe where he found out that his changes WERE in the history books. Apparently, he traveled into a parallel universe were the natural laws could be transgressed and history could be changed.
Speaking of time travel, I also remember the movie Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, where they wreaked havoc with time travel, but since your field is comics, I won't go into it.
Thanks for the misty memories of the Silver Age, Thomas -- I remember that story, but don't remember where I read it either. Lord knows I'm not plowing through 20 years of Action, Superman, World's Finest or Superboy to find what was probably an eight-page backup story.
As to Mon-El being in the Phantom Zone in the 20th century, that's true enough, and I was playing fast and loose a little for the sake of the joke. But only a little. In Mon-El's origin in Superboy #89 (Jun 61) it was established that Lar Gand had been a space explorer in the 20th century for some length of time -- he even visited Krypton 16 years previously, through some weird circumstance, and met Superboy's parents! So Mon-El was in the Zone only for the latter part of the 20th century, and DC was only occasionally careful about establishing WHEN Mon-El visited Superboy's time -- he'd just show up with the Legion, and we had to assume it was AFTER Superboy #89 every single time. Pretty sloppy, you ask me! :)

Yet nowhere near as sloppy as Smith’s morale and rationale! Let’s continue to May 2, 2001:

Dear Captain: I read about the new debate and thought I'd throw in my two cents. I tried to wrap my head around the argument. And here's where I came down.
Darn right! Stick it to them. Why should they Ithe criminals) have money (and the power that comes with it) to use against the normal citizen? I'm on the side that by embezzling the money before it's used for illicit means that she has in essence prevented a crime from being committed (money equals paid to criminal equals criminal commits a criminal act). Ends justify the means in this case.
Within any given comic book, the comic-book "heroes" are making choices that are questionable at best. Batman commits about 15 felonies within any given comic-book issue and we don't condemn, do we? In the last issue of Green Arrow (I've only read #2 as of now), Ollie breaks several laws within one page. But we cheer him on, don't we? Is not Iron Man breaking several laws (fraud, FAA regulations, endangerment) any time he plays "hero?"
The point is, are Barbara's actions in line with what's going on in the community around her? No, but not completely out of bounds for the group in which she's playing. I think this is a "glass house" argument. All of these heroes have a skeleton or two in their closet (except maybe for Superman, but even he's killed in the name of justice).
She also serves as a information hub for the Bat-crew and the JLA Watchtower, and I think the Titans by relation. Are they going to cut off a major information source that's helping them quite a bit because of an unethical smudge? One which helps to fund something that continues their fight? No, I don't think so. Those that know (Nightwing, Batman, Robin, Black Canary) turn a blind eye because it helps their cause not to.
I think Barbara's place within the DCU is misplaced. I think that she would make more sense being an underground myth rather than so accessible to "heroes." See, now her association taints all of them, doesn't it?
Think about this. Shouldn't she be more like Gary Sinise in Forrest Gump? I mean bitter, disillusioned. Even moreso because the source of her "power" (her legs) have been taken away from her by a man who should've been put away permanently years ago. I know that it makes her seem much more noble to not look back in anger, but I don't think we got to see Barbara's angry period. Which means, of course, that it's just displaced or repressed and it's ready to come out. Stealing from a criminal like Blockbuster would seem like pretty passive/aggressive way of venting that anger, wouldn't it?
OK, what I'm doing is building a case for Barbara Gordon to go "bad." I think it would be easy to do so, but that's neither here nor there. It hasn't been explained within current continuity and so far she's in the good-guy column.
In the crowd in which she's running, she really should be funded by Wayne Industries or Max Lord or something with clean cash. The dirty money is dirtying the business of justice in the DCU.
But, what do I think? Is theft a heroic act? No, on its face, of course not. I had a stereo stolen from my truck about a year ago and all sorts of fantasies about catching the little (creep) and getting my Dwight Yoakam CD back. No, theft is bad in this case.
But what if the stereo I had was stolen and I had done the bad deed? Do I have a right to be angry in that case? What if it's stolen back by the guy from whom I stole it? Muddies the waters a little doesn't it?
Are "unethical" or "immoral" or "unlawful" acts unjustified?
I was looking at the word to make sure I had a grasp on what we were talking about when we use "ethical" and "moral." They get swapped around a lot. "Ethical" tends to deal with a profession and the right or wrong of conduct in it, in this case heroes. "Moral" tends to deal more with personal character and behavior, in this case the actions a heroes employs to pursue the cause of justice. And we've already discussed how "lawful" most heroes' actions are.
Within the confines of ethics, Barbara's falls flat. She's unethical. Which means, she needs to change the venue and stop hanging around the Spandex crowd. But I think her actions are moral; she's doing it for the right reason (in the name of justice).
I'm going to separate what I think from what should happen to her. I think if you can use money like that to undermine its own industry, I believe in that. Let's put it this way, if there was a chance to tap into the Department of Defense's black budget and take enough in order to fund schools so that every child gets a quality education for the next 10 generations, I'm for it. I wouldn't lose a bit of sleep over it. There are problems with that simplistic assessment (government funding to schools, sheltering the money in off-shore accounts, not coming under IRS scrutiny, etc.), but I don't see the moral quagmire that some see from Oracle's fictional account.
Her embezzlement makes sense to me. Use the criminal's resources against them. Punisher's been doing it for years. I think it's mostly because Barbara used to be an upstanding hero that we have a problem.
But you know what? Lose the use of half your body and see what kind of outlets you use to satisfy the needs you still have, but not the abilities to match them.
Fight the power!
I like your distinction that Barbara's actions are both moral AND unethical. That may seem like splitting hairs, but that's why it's a debate -- this is pretty muddy issue. Superheroes, despite being technically vigilantes, have grown a code of conduct that we subconsciously accept as genre convention -- heroes famously don't kill, for example, and don't act as judge and jury. They act as super-cops, not super-judges. By that standard, Barbara's sin tax is in violation of her peers' rules of conduct.
A similar moral/ethical situation would be The Joker's defense lawyer "throwing" his case to make sure that a homocidal maniac is off the streets -- it's a very moral thing to do, but it violates the ethics of his profession and could cost him his license to practice if discovered. Since the original question was about Barbara's ethics (although it grew exponentially), that's a vital point.
On the other hand, Blockbuster is a REAL BAD GUY, and would use money in the pursuance of illegal acts. So, heck yeah, rob the guy blind and cripple his organization! Right? But once you start "fining" Blockbuster, where do you stop? Is every crook's bank account, no matter how petty or small-time, open to thievery? Where do you draw the line -- and who decides? What if the crook's bank account was money he was salting away for his doting mother's heart medicine, instead of earmarked for crime? Uh oh -- that's not so easy to justify.
Which brings up your point about how Oracle probably ought to separate herself from the other characters. It's never been established if Batman knows about her "funding," although common sense dictates that nothing gets by The Bat. If he's "looking the other way," then that makes him an accessory, and brings up a whole new debate!

Wow, for the umpteenth time, look who babbles about morality and ethics yet fails to follow them when commenting on screeds like Identity Crisis! Just what is this dummy’s point?

He hasn’t considered that lawyers usually have the option of refusing to take a case or represent a defendant. Doctors and nurses, on the other hand, have a much harder time opting out of treating certain patients no matter how dirty they are. Not very challenging ideas being pitched, eh? Now for 2-in-1:

Dear Cap: I was re-reading old "Mailbags", particularly the letters concerning the ongoing "What's Wrong With Comics Today?/What Can Be Done To Save Comics?" debate, and I got to thinking. At first I wondered if maybe the problem is that the whole superhero genre is played out. Maybe there's nothing more to to be said with superheroes, and since superheroes virtually are comics in the USA, the medium is diminished because the genre is diminished. (Now, I realize that there have always been some non-superhero stories, and that today creators are more diverse than ever in their storytelling, but superheroes still dominate the medium.)
In turn, this led me to ponder another question: "What if the character 'Superman' had never existed?" As I recall, Siegel and Shuster got turned down a lot before National Periodical Publications (DC) bought the Man of Steel. What if they had given up? I'm sure this isn't an original thought with me, but I always figured that Superman was the primary cause of the Golden Age superhero boom. I imagine that some characters with various super-powers would've existed (as they always have) as would "masked avenger" types like Batman (Superman was never really one of his antecedents), but they probably wouldn't've come to dominate the medium as they did in our history.
What would comics be like today if Kal-El had never existed? Would they have a history of greater diversity of genres, as comics had in their early days, and as Japanese and European comics do today? Of course, other countries tend to have their dominant genres, too. In the British comics (brought back from Canada by my vacationing parents), a large majority of stories revolved around WWII heroics and soccer teams. But even then they had more variety than the comics I grew up with.
On the other hand, without the unique, colorful and wholesome character of Superman to attract readers, would comics still exist today? People often mock the "Boy Scout" images of Superman and Batman in the early Silver Age, but no other versions of the characters would've survived the 1950s. I distinctly recall a Golden Age Batman story where he machine-gunned zombies from his Batplane. What would Dr. Wertham have made of that?
As I said earlier, I'm sure I'm not the first person to think of this, so that if you know of any book/article/Web site or whatever where these issues may well have been discussed by cleverer minds than mine, I'd love to read them.
I guess the question that fascinates me is this: Taken all in all, has "Superman" (and by extension, his offspring, the "superhero") been a good thing or a bad thing? God knows, I've enjoyed superhero stories my whole life long, but I can't help wondering what we might've missed by our emphasis on this one type of story.
Anyway, sorry for blathering on. […] go home now.
Heck, […], I hope you consider this site a home of sorts. At the very least, it's a playpen, where there's no two-drink minimum and your spouse never asks you where you've been!
Anyway, it's an interesting question you raise, and I won't pretend to have a definitive response to questions no one can possibly answer -- I'll leave that to the Psychic Hotline. I will, however, hazard a guess.
In passing, I'll note that Alan Moore's famed Watchmen series posited a world where superheroes actually existed, and all the ramifications thereof, including the fact that comic books wouldn't focus on superheroes. (Why buy a superhero comic book when you can watch the news for all the superhero stuff you can stomach?) Instead, in Alan Moore's vision, PIRATE COMICS dominated the medium! I don't know his reasoning, but it's as likely as anything else!
For my part, I suspect that without Superman to establish huge sales and a large infrastructure in the early '40s, the comic book would have disappeared in the late '40s when the novelty (and sales) fell off. Some other form of heroic fiction would probably have surfaced -- you can trace the genre back from pulps to penny dreadfuls to The Iliad to Gilgamesh to Beowulf to cave paintings -- but it probably wouldn't be our familiar, four-color pamphlets. By extension, the comic book wouldn't exist in France, Japan, or elsewhere, since they got the format/concept from us.
But superheroes a bad thing? No, I don't think so.
I agree with those who want more variety in our comics -- I think it's a necessity to keep the medium healthy. But I tire of the whining about superheroes. I disagree fundamentally with those who say the genre has "destroyed" the medium. Superheroes haven't chased away other genres -- if those other genres had lasting appeal, they'd still be here. No, the medium is often dominated by superheroes because they ALWAYS SELL. During lean times, it's usually only the superhero genre that remains -- not because it somehow sabotaged the other genres, but because it's the last man standing (weakly) in a (weak) medium. Instead of vilifying the superhero genre, we ought to rationally recognize its lasting and significant impact on keeping the industry alive. Realistically, without superheroes, there'd be nothing for the whiners to whine about -- there'd be no superhero-dominated industry for them to rail against.
[…] responded:
Dear Cap: You present an interesting case for superheroes. Understand, I've always enjoyed superheroes myself, and I have since I was 13 or so and used to jog several miles at 6 a.m. to get to a store down by Cleary Square called simply "CIGARS" which also sold comics. I was re-reading a diary I kept in those days the other day. One day's entry reads simply "Bought Hulk, All-Star and Nova." Was that really 25 years ago? And did I really read Nova? I would've been better off reading Spidey Super-Stories!
I have a feeling we may find out what a world without superhero comics is like fairly soon. Maybe I'm cynical or unduly pessimistic, but I sometimes get the feeling that we are breeding a post-literate generation. In Fahrenheit 451 Bradbury posited a future in which all books are banned by government fiat. What I'm afraid of is that books won't need to be banned, when they can instead be allowed to die of neglect.
I don't imagine that superheroes as a genre will disappear from the world. There's no reason I can see that our four-color friends couldn't survive online. In fact, as technology progresses I can imagine superhero stories being presented as little online mini-movies with levelsof "realism" that could never be achieved with mere ink and paper.
Now I'm no Luddite. I have a computer, and I use it frequently. (The World Wide Web, still your finest place to look up wrestling results.) But I find myself defending comics the same way my late father used to defend the old-time radio shows he grew up with against television. "Television gives you everything," he would say. "Radio required you to use your imagination, to construct the scene in your head." I hate to sound like the Old Man, but I really think that as marvelous as the developing technology is, it will never be a substitute for holding a comic in your hands and reading it.
I'm willing to bet that you, as a youngster reading comics for the first time, developed a clear idea in your head of exactly what the Hulk, Captain America, Thor and friends sounded like. They may have been very different from the voices I imagined for them, but they were right for you. And didn't you hate it when you saw some darned cartoon where the voice actor for a given character sounded completely different from what you imagined? I guess that's why I loved the old 1960s Fantastic Four cartoons (pre-HERBIE the Misfit Robot) -- the characters sounded exactly the way I thought they would sound. Conversely, it's also why I can't watch the new X-Men: Evolution cartoons. Nightcrawler in particular just sounds wrong!
Anyway, to get back to my point (and I do have one, as Ellen DeGeneres would say), I have a feeling that comic books as we have known them cannot survive. It's a sad thought, and I for one hope I'm wrong. Now I don't expect that comics will die out completely, any more than vinyl records entirely vanished. (You can still find them some places, if you look.) But it may be that the future of superheroes does lie in electronic media, and kids a generation or two from now will create their own super-stories on their computers as easily as you or I created them with our Crayolas once upon a time. And old-timers, perhaps named […] or […], will tell these future generations about this thing they used to have when they were kids called "comic books". And maybe those self-same kids will roll their eyes and say "Sure thing, Pops," just as I did when my father used to tell me about the adventures of Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy.
But, you know what? That's life, times change, styles change, and things move on whether we want them to or not. And hey, I could be wrong, I don't know everything. If I've learned nothing in 38 years, it's to expect the unexpected.
Wow, this little missive is dragging on and on, so I guess I'll leave you with this profound thought: […] HUNGRY. […] GO EAT NOW.
And I hope […] smash puny McDonald's human if he or she gets his order wrong!
That's a sobering analogy you use about your Dad and old radio shows. Yup, I've found myself in curmudgeon mode in exactly the same way, talking to my nephews or other youngsters. I try to eschew it, but really -- compared to videogames, what's a comic book to today's kids? Sobering thought, indeed.
And, yes, you and I both bought Nova. Let's keep it our little secret.

I don’t find that Hulk joke funny. With all the maniacs running around assaulting women, you’d think he’d know better than to make slapdash cracks like that. But maybe it could explain his lenience on Identity Crisis, and even Civil War (and Avengers: Disassembled, despite his attempt to sound like he was panning it). It brings to mind the recent Bill Cosby rape scandal – something I’ll probably have to comment on here in the future – and some of the passages in a few of the books he wrote during the 80s and 90s which some critics say register as creepy today.

Dear Captain: I yelled a "hallelujah!" when I saw your review of the following in your Next Week's Comics column:
MINISTRY OF SPACE #1: An interesting concept -- particularly for the history buff in me -- in which Warren Ellis follows the idea that the Brits hired away Germany's best rocket scientists after WWII instead of the Americans. But the anti-U.S. propaganda is wearing a bit thin ("The way the Space Race SHOULD have been!"). Note to Ellis: It's nice that you have such loyalty to your native land, but please consult "B" in your Barlett's Familiar Quotations, under "Bite the hand that feeds you, don't."
I picked up The Authority during Ellis's run after receiving your recommendation to check it out. Unfortunately, this was exactly the point when he decided to crank up the anti-Americanism. I posted to WildStorm's site to see what others thought of the issue. Sadly, all on that board replied with long treatises on what's wrong with America and that Ellis is a hero for telling it like it is.
Why do so many Americans loathe their country so? As an Air Force veteran, this disturbs me profoundly. Thank you, sir, for providing a much-needed corrective.
Glad to do it, […]. I'm here to tell you that I think the USA is the greatest country in the history of our globe, and I thank God daily that I was born here and not, oh, Serbia. Or England, when you come down to it, and I don't mean that as a slam against England.
That's not to say I'm a blind patriot, or a zealous "America: Love it or leave it" jingoist. Sure, the US has plenty of problems -- who doesn't? The cool thing about the US is that we are utterly free to discuss those problems, disagree with each other about solutions, and even irrationally slam our government, our political system, the religious right, the goofy left, our second-grade teacher and our next-door neighbor if we want to. That principle was enshrined in THIS country for the FIRST time 200 years ago, arguably making it possible for freedom of speech to exist ANYWHERE. Some abuse of it is the price we pay for having it at all. Freedom of speech exists to protect UNPOPULAR opinions, and I grit my teeth when somebody burns a flag -- but it's his or her right to do so, and I'd fight to the death to defend it.
Why do so many Americans belittle their own country? I assume it's because they can. And if you talk something down enough, it's human nature to accept it as true. (Joseph Goebbels called it "The Big Lie Technique.") Besides, a great many of the folks you refer to on the WildStorm boards are probably adolescents, and it's the nature of adolescence to be dissatisfied with and critical of the status quo -- hey, that's what being a teenager is all about, and it's healthy and normal. They don't yet have a stake in the system, the status quo generally doesn't benefit them directly, and they have no adult responsibilities. Once they have their first mortgage payment, they'll abruptly lose their radical firebrand pose.
When I'm not annoyed by Ellis's blatant anti-Americanism, I'm amused -- because the only reason he can shoot of his big bazoo is because America made it possible for him to do so. I guess we're big enough to take it.

Sometimes I’m amused by Smith’s own hypocrisy on serious issues, but never when it comes to his flippance on topics like sexual/spousal/child abuse. How fascinating a man who alleges to find anti-Americanism appalling can’t find it in himself to condemn Identity Crisis and Civil War for their own anti-American metaphors.

Intrestingly, Rick Veitch later wrote a 9-11 Truther screed called “The Big Lie”, and one can wonder if he got that name from Goebbels’ creepy tactics…and why Mr. Smith’s never bothered to argue why that kind of monstrous propaganda only hurts the medium’s reputation.

Dear Captain Comics: A while back, somebody asked why the comic-book industry never switched over to a standard magazine format as an answer to their sales and distribution problems with traditional magazine & book retailers. In response, you quoted from (and provided a link to) a Stephen Grant column on the Comic Book Resources page in which he states that the idea can't work. His primary arguments are that A) magazines derive 60 percent or more of their revenues from advertising and B) comics circulations are too small to attract the notice of major advertisers.
I read the full column, and I don't agree with his conclusions. Sure, comics circulations are relatively small; I understand that the best-selling title today barely cracks 100,000, a far cry from the 1950s when Whiz Comics routinely sold more than a million. (By the way, all my information is anecdotal, but I welcome anyone with hard facts to share them.) But that's a chicken-and-egg argument; today's comics are largely shut out of the newsstand market, so who can say that a newsstand-distributed product can't do better today?
The closest analogues we have today for newsstand comics are MAD, Cracked and Heavy Metal. I have no numbers for Heavy Metal, but I recently read in The New York Times that Cracked sells at about 230,000, and MAD sells at about 250,000 -- almost half the 480,000 it was selling just three years ago, before some ill-considered editorial changes sent readers fleeing.
Grant argues that comics fans wouldn't put up with ads, but come on -- we see them in every other magazine, so why would it be so strange to see them in comics? Even MAD has begun to accept advertising.
Why are advertisers interested in MAD? For the same reasons they could be interested in other comics titles -- demographics. The readership of comics, by and large, is males from their early and mid-teens up to their early 40s. And who are the most desirable targets for advertisers today? Males in the 18-25 age group. Males in the 25-36 group and in the 13-18 group are also highly sought after, which describes just about the entire comics-reading audience! Ads for video games, CDs, computer games and software, movies, videos and DVDs, soft drinks and clothing are naturals for this crowd.
Why are the 18-25 males so prized? Because they are thought to be the hardest bunch to reach with advertising; anything that captures their attention is worth a premium. This is why advertisers flock to the Super Bowl; it reliably draws the largest audience of males every year. This was the rationale for the creation of XFL football; WWF wrestling is big with that young audience, so there was hope that its popularity would rub off. (Well, that idea flopped, but that's another story.)
I'm somewhat baffled that DC, at least, hasn't tried harder; after all, it's part of AOL Time Warner, which has a whole division dedicated to creating new magazines. (It gave us People, Entertainment Weekly, In Style, Teen People and Sports Illustrated for Women, among others.) And, as you and others have noted, DC Comics is the incubator for an endless array of spinoff products based on the comics characters.
The biggest hurdle I see to getting comics back on the newsstand (aside from publishers' lack of will to make it happen) is that there's been a lot of consolidation among magazine distributors in recent years. The new giant in the field, according to The Wall Street Journal, is rather ruthless about pushing for efficiency. He can't yet end the system where retailers merely return unsold stock to the distributor, but he's trying; he's starting by lowering the bar on how many he'll take back.
Another problem is the notorious brand loyalty of comics fans to their particular company -- Marvel zombies, Image freaks, etc. After all, the main goal of advertising is to steer you away from the other guy's product. Advertisers don't prize the 18-to-25-year-olds because of their disposable income; after all, the 36-to-54-year-olds are at the top of the earnings curve, and the 54-to-72-year-old have more time, and several of them have more money, than anybody. The reason advertisers want the 18-to-25-year-olds is that they haven't settled on their favorite brands yet; they still can be persuaded to switch. This is why a show like Touched by an Angel can draw four times as many viewers as, say, Buffy the Vampire Slayer but can only charge a fourth of what Buffy gets for a 30-second ad; Buffy draws the young viewers, and Touched attracts their grandparents -- who, after all, have fewer years left to buy stuff.
To illustrate, there was a Pepsi commercial that aired during the Super Bowl a few years ago. It showed a newborn baby in the maternity ward, and his first sight was Cindy Crawford, Tyra Banks and Christy Turlington waving at him through the window, sipping Pepsi and ooohing and aaahing about how cute he was. The tagline: "Baby Norman -- Pepsi drinker for life."
Well, if Baby Norman truly is a Pepsi drinker for life, then neither Coke nor Pepsi want to waste any more time or money on him. In other words, Pepsi has GOT his loyalty, so the fact that Christina Aguilera is in Coca-Cola's ads won't make him switch; she's for the kid in the next crib who hasn't made up his mind.
A newsstand comics magazine may not be the answer for getting the young reader back into comics, but I think its a viable answer for the audience that exists -- and making comics available to more places than just the specialty stores would surely help the business grow.
As for the younger reader, I am baffled that DC doesn't have a reprint digest, like Archie does, or a kids magazine like Disney Adventures, which is at the checkout of every supermarket I've ever set foot in, right next to TV Guide, Readers' Digest, Jet and the soap opera magazines.
The official reason Marvel & DC don't publish digests is because reprint fees to creators make it cost-prohibitive. I don't know what Disney's policy is, but Archie Comics doesn't pay reprint fees, making their digest line possible. Tough break for Dan DeCarlo, though.
As to Golden Age circulation figures, they are indeed suspect. The editors of Comics Buyer's Guide have done a lot of hard journalism on that subject, and what they've turned up is that circulation figures posted by publishers in the '40s were often for whole lines instead of individual titles -- that Fawcett posted circulation figures for Captain Marvel Adventures, for example, that included every Captain Marvel title published that month! (DC would do the same thing with its Superman line, its Batman line, All-American Comics, etc.) Since an ad that appeared in Captain Marvel Adventures would also appear in all those other Captain Marvel books, it wasn't exactly fraud. But what the actual circulation figures for specific titles were, nobody knows -- and we should certainly look at those gargantuan figures with a jaundiced eye.
You made some nice points about the magazine format -- except that magazines have a notoriously difficult time making a profit because their circulation requirements are so high. Ninety percent of all new magazines fail -- only 10 percent crack the circulation ceiling necessary to charge advertisers sufficiently to make a profit. Needless to say, that ceiling is a LOT highter than the 100,000 that X-Men pulls -- in fact, it's probably three or four times that. You'll note, for example, that Heavy Metal was probably pulling in twice the numbers X-Men does, and failed anyway. Ditto with Penthouse Comix -- they were making a profit, but only marginally, and Bob Guccione killed the title as a waste of his time and resources. Marvel & DC would have killed for those circulation figures, but it wasn't deemed profitable ENOUGH in the high-stakes, highly competitive magazine market.

Since this was written, outside advertising in mainstream’s shrunk to much fewer ads published, with in-house ads now making up a larger percentage. This was particularly noticeable in Spider-Man several years back, after the whole One More Day debacle.

Speaking of loyalty, even alleged journalists aren’t much different from the zombie-fans, judging by how they fail to comment objectively on some of the worst products in comicdom today.

Dear Captain: A couple of things:
1) Liked your updates to "Silly Super-Names." How about the old Flash foe Big Sir? I thought this name was absolutely absurd and meaningless when I was seven years old. Years later, when I discovered that it was probably taken from the most beautiful region in California, I realized it was an even dumber name than I'd thought.
2) As promised, my comments on Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay: As I'm sure you know, this novel -- which just won the Pulitzer Prize -- centers on the Golden Age of comics. It's really very good, and I'm so glad that it's garnered so much attention. It furthers our ongoing crusade to make the general public aware and appreciative of the comics medium and comics history as a vital part of American pop culture. (I get so frustrated whenever anyone says that jazz is the only truly American art form.) This is especially important since the comics medium is dying, and we'd better recognize it before it goes the way of freak shows and radio serials. (Fortunately, I saw Michael Chabon on CNN, and he said movie rights have been sold for Kavalier & Clay, and he's already completed a first draft of a script).
Chabon -- obviously a comics geek himself -- got a lot of his details right, although he raises a few questions. For example, one of his protagonists, writer Sammy Clay, is a closested gay man. What kind of evidence is there that any of the creators of the real-life Golden Age were gay? It makes sense, since even then it was an outsider's medium, and superheroes have always appealed to people who feel alone and powerless, but I wonder if Chabon based his story on any documented truth.
Also, and this I find particularly interesting, the character that Kavalier and Clay find success with is called The Escapist, a super-powered escape artist. Joe Kavalier, the artist, started out as an escape artist himself, and Chabon makes a point that a primary inspiration for the concept of the superhero was Harry Houdini, wildly famous in the early 20th century as a showman of nearly superhuman abilities. Has anyone discussed this point previously? I'm surprised it's never occurred to me, since I'm a big Houdini fan, and I've spent more than a little energy on analyzing the meaning of and love for superheroes. Another interesting point here is how Houdini, as he got more and more famous and more and more revered, became a raging egomaniac (read Houdini!!! by Kenneth Silverman, an excellent and meticulous biography, which informed me that Houdini had an affair with Jack London's widow in my sister's Greenwich Village apartment building!) I've always felt that if superheroes were real -- if a virtually ominpotent person like Superman or Green Lantern actually existed -- they too would be egomaniacal, if not worse (say, power-mad and intent on conquering the world). I suppose that's why I've always been partial to Batman -- his super-competence makes him a jerk, which makes his stories a lot more believable.
Finally, probably the crux of the whole novel is how Joe Kavalier -- a Czech refugee who leaves his family behind during World War II -- uses The Escapist, and his battles against fictional Nazis, as a way to calm his survivor's guilt. How much do you think the actual Jewish creators of the Golden Age felt this way? That having Captain America punch out Hitler, or Superman destroy a German tank, was a way of compensating for a lack of powerlessness against the Nazi threat? Did Siegel and Shuster, for example, have relatives who died in the Holocaust?
Sorry I went on so long. Just read the book.
Big Sir is indeed a silly name, and has been added.
As to closeted gay Golden Age creators, I don't know of any -- but, then, that's what "closeted" means! Frankly, I'd be surprised if there weren't quite a few them -- statistically, if for no other reason, and also for the reasons you cite.
As to escape artists and funnybooks, Houdini was certainly in the mix when Bob Kane dreamed up Batman, along with The Shadow, Zorro, The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Bat Whispers, Errol Flynn, Michaelangelo's bat-winged flying device and God knows what else. Jack Kirby's Mister Miracle was based on a real-life escape artist too -- Jim Steranko, believe it or not.
As to Siegel and Shuster, they dreamed up Superman in the mid-'30s -- long before the Holocaust was a reality, much less common knowledge. Actually, I always assumed Superman was at least partly based on the Jewish legend of The Golem -- a creature of unbelievable power whose duty it was to defend the defenseless. Although, I hasten to add, events in Europe were certainly frightening in the '30s, as Hitler marched through the Rhineland, Alsace-Lorraine, Czechoslovakia, Austria, etc., and that would likely have had an impact on the zeitgeist that produced Superman, first published in 1938 but created several years earlier. I'd guess fear of Hitler and rampant anti-Semitism played a role in S&S's thinking, but I wouldn't be surprised if Hitler's unnerving success made publishers a bit more open in 1938 to the idea of a powerful protector than they were in, say, 1935.

Smith’s answer forgets to note that Austria, from where Hitler came from, was a key nazi collaborator.

It’s regrettable that the correspondent thinks Chabon is worthy of recommendation, because he represents some of the crummiest left-wing ideals for a novelist. So far as I know, Kavalier & Clay wasn’t adapted to film, and that’s okay, because it may be a leftist propaganda vehicle too.

Dear Cap: While I'll agree that Penthouse Comix was just sleazy, they did have one brief, shining moment: They published an issue long "tie-in" to Tim Burton's Mars Attacks movie, which featured an absolutely hilarious story pitting Mr. Monster against the invading Martian hordes. There was little or no nudity, gratuitous or otherwise, let alone the sort of OB/GYN stuff normally found in Penthouse, and other than some physical resemblance between the Martians in the movie, the story was pure, over-the-top Mr. Monster silliness.
Also, thanks for the insights into what actually went wrong with comics in the last 30 years from the business standpoint. I'm cc-ing my assembled comics fan buddies, and I'm going to try to put it up at my local comics shops. It completely ROCKED.
Thanks, […]! I sometimes forget that what I've learned in the last 35 years isn't common knowledge -- but I'm glad to share! And I missed a Mr. Monster story! Darn! Here's more on that comics-business business:

He thinks Penthouse’s product is sleazy, but not Identity Crisis? Ladies and gentlemen, there’s another double-standard by a left-wing propagandist. One who long forgot morale for the sake of establishment norms.

Dear Cap: Another fine installment of the Mailbag ... I feel that your takes on the state of the industry are spot on -- especially lately, in particular the analysis of CrossGen's success following a "modern" business model and the utter lack of viability of the 32-page pamphlet as a sales vehicle, despite it being the bread-and-butter sales vehicle in the industry.
Another take was recently aired on Comicon.com -- a notable one at that -- by Mike Friedrich, an important figure in the building of the current (if not "modern") comics business landscape, playing a part in the creation of the Direct Sales Market and serving as counsel (most notably) for Neal Adams in the early days of the quest for recognition of creator's rights (I'm probably remembering the last piece wrong). The take, however is not particluarly inspiring, but eye opening nonetheless. He echoes your sentiment that the current publishing form IS severely outdated, and wishes for the arrival of comics King Arthur/Joan of Arc figure -- a young (Friedrich gives the age of 25) overflowingly talented and (this is important) savvy individual who can come in and make things work again (he evokes Will Eisner as the prime example of this). A really good interview:
http://209.198.111.165/ubb/Forum11/HTML/000160.html
Good grief! Friedrich really HAS read too many comic books! He's waiting for somebody to swoop out of the sky and save us? Look, the Lord helps those who help themselves -- why isn't Friedrich doing something to bail out the industry? And why does Our Hero have to be 25? No offense to 25-year-olds, but I don't expect them to have much in the way of business savvy! Wouldn't somebody with Friedrich's experience and acumen be more likely to bust a move?

I think Mr. Smith has read too many left-wing journals! That’s why he can’t comprehend the key problems with Identity Crisis and Civil War. And despite what he might say, he can’t understand what’s wrong with Avengers: Disasembled either.

The incompetent correspondent who wrote that piece also bought too far into his CG analysis. As a result, he doesn’t get how Smith’s deviation from objectivity led to a very poor analysis of their “success”.

Just some quick notes, Cap, on things from this week's Mailbag and Q&A.
I was so pleased to see someone else observe that DC's Crisis was designed to make things easier for the writers, not the readers. I never knew a reader of any age, at any time, who didn't grasp the concept of parallel Earths. However, DC's writers and editors, no doubt, were constantly being called to task by reader complaints such as "How could Wildcat team up with the Creeper? Wildcat lives on Earth-Two, while the Creeper is from Earth-One." The few times I've heard or read DC personnel or other comics professionals trying to defend the Crisis as doing it "for the readers" has always sounded weak.
You also echoed another point I've always made, in reference to the huge price inflation of comics over the last three decades. Like you, I do not claim that the executives at DC or Marvel are immune to bad decisions or short-sightedness; however, I know that they aren't evil men out to gouge the buyers by raising the prices ad librium. For some reason, though, there is a highly vocal number of fans who believe that DC hasn't got the right to make any profit out of its comics -- as if DC has some sort of sacred responsibility to print the fans' favourite comic.
It's an oddity of comics fandom, possibly because we're so small and insular. But a lot of comics fans feel they "own" their favorite characters, and the companies have no right to make wide-ranging decisions about them. Well, without consulting them, I guess. :)
As to Crisis, for months in '85-'86 I heard those weak defenses, suspecting that it was a lie. Then someone -- I think it was Marv Wolfman! -- let it slip in an interview that, "Yeah, you know, the whole multiple-Earth thing was annoying to have to explain at the first of every team-up, so we killed it." Frankly, there was no joy in finding out I was right.

Oh, does that correspondent know how to sugarcoat! He was among the Identity Crisis supporters, so I don’t see what business he has complaining about “weak” defenses, when plenty of those issued for IC rated even lower.

And if Smith realizes how insular comics readers have become in a time when they’re such a tiny part of the population, how come he doesn’t have what it takes to admit Identity Crisis stems from that very insularity? How come he doesn’t even have what it takes to distinguish between fictional characters and the writers assigned to them? How come he zigzags too whenever he feels like it?

Dear Cap: Did you see The Daily Show (on Comedy Channel) when they visited Gaylaxicon and they asked this guy whether he got more flack for being gay or a sci-fi fan? He said it was sf geek hands down.
Anyway, that got me thinking. Isn't it funny how:

Memorizing the powers and origin stories of superheroes and discussing who could trash whom is geeky ... whereas doing the same for baseball players is normal?

Spending hours fixing up a car and yabbering about classic cars is cool ... whereas building and fixing up computers all day labels you a nerd?

Writing your doctoral thesis on racism in Star Trek makes you look like a mental case ... while writing your thesis on trashy B-horror movies of the '50s earns you both academic cachet and real-world envy?
Weird but true. I hate to say it, but doing the comics column has been an impediment to my newspaper career -- a lot of editors don't take me seriously now -- whereas being gay or black or female or Chinese or a bad dresser wouldn't have been. Comics fans: The last oppressed minority!

How nice of him to espouse victimology. I suppose when somebody in mainstream develops the guts to say IC is a screed, he’ll continue to call us all victims? The only thing we’re victims of is addiction to buying and collecting no matter the quality of the story, and an inability to grasp how this only emboldens the publishers to continue with their atrocities, no matter how small their audience gets.

Dear Cap: Long time, no communicate. Here's some commentary.
<<... but if it advances Captain America beyond the two-dimensional Ward Cleaver construct he's been for years, I'm all for it. -- Captain Comics>>
What about Mark Waid's run on Captain America? I can't think of a single writer -- including Kurt Busiek writing the character -- that has handled Cap so well in comics. The only other really good handling was Tony Isabella and Bob Ingersoll in the novel, Captain America: Liberty's Torch.
<<The first problem that I see is that these movies tend to have way too high an emphasis on special effects and established stars ... – […]>>
It's hard to blame Hollywood for wanting lots of special effects in superhero movies. Just look at the source material: comics media stories with unlimited special effects budgets. The only limitation for special effects in a comic are those of the imaginations of the writer and artists and the ability of the artists to develop that onto paper. Comic books are, basically, huge special-effects productions.
Yes, Hollywood does overdo it. From the beginning, the Batman films were garish. The Batwing? Bleah. Couldn't fly (there's this little thing called "lift" that anyone who has taken physics or studied aviation could tell you about). The Batmobile? Each movie's Batmobile was worse than the previous. Batman's costume? So much for ol' Bats's gymnastic abilities.
X-Men, on the other hand, kept the technology pretty darn close to its comic-book origins. One of the two differences I really saw was Cyclops's motorcycle. Where'd that "turbo boost" come from? The second was the chamber that Cerebro was in. Every time I see the movie, I can't helping thinking the words "Stellar Cartography" (see Star Trek: Generations if you don't understand the reference. The Cerebro unit itself, however, looked very close to its comic-book origin.
As for casting, I've said it before and I'll say it again that casting big names is NOT neccesarily the way to go. Yes, there were some big names (in the Superman movies). Of the two biggest names, one (Gene Hackman) was the villain and the other (Marlon Brando) was in a pretty minor role. Who had heard of Chrisopher Reeve before he helped to make the world believe that a man could fly?
Same thing with X-Men. Sure, it had Patrick Stewart and some other well-known names -- none of which I'd consider A-level Hollywood actors and actresses. (This is not to belittle their talent, they just aren't on the popularity level of, say, Tommy Lee Jones or Julia Roberts.) But James Marston? Hugh Jackman? I read bios that listed other things they have done, but I never heard of them before X-Men.
It was these (relative) unknowns that helped make both movies so good. And it was celebrity casting that helped make the Batman movies so bad.
Of the three actors to play Bruce/Batman, I think that only George Clooney fit the role well. Unfortunately, he was saddled with a terrible script and a director with a terrible vision. Jack N. as Joker was pretty darn good: scary and homicidal. Michelle P. as Catwoman was also very good, even if the film's Catwoman was nothing like any Catwoman I've ever read in the comics. But so many of the others were just terrible in their roles (DeVito, Kilmer, Ah-nold and others, especially Chris O'Donnell).
I seem to be ragging on the Batman films. I hope so. From a comic fan -- and especially a Batman fan -- standpoint, they were abosolutely terrible. Each one was worse than the previous.
I'm sure looking forward to Spider-Man, though. The cast is known, but not A-level. The director seems to be truly interested in doing a good adaption of the origin material. And organic web-shooters? A good idea. Stan Lee may have been a genius, but even geniuses miss things sometimes. (And there is precedent for a Spider-Man with organic web-shooters. See Peter David's excellent Spider-Man 2099 series.)
MJ just left Peter.
Rant time. The first two issues of Mary Jane's return (in the regular monthly titles) were terrific. Even (my wife) enjoyed them. Then came part three in the Spidey annual. And it sucked. Big time. Peter just saved MJ from a psycho who has had her captive for months. They had a terrific reunion. Everyone is happy. Then the annual comes out and suddenly she doesn't want to be around him. They've "grown apart." (Expletive).
Do you how ticked I have to be to use a word like "(expletive)?" Really, really ticked. This was a (expletive) bad story. I have a feeling that it was editorially driven, not writer-driven. Why even bother bring Mary Jane "back" to life just to return the books to the status quo that they've had for months? Just so they can say to some fans, "See? We didn't really kill her." I never really believed that she was dead anyway. What a waste.
<<I have my own pet plotline to erase "Emerald Twilight" -- and it stars Sinestro." -- Captain Comics>>
It sounds like a good story but has one minor glitch. The Guardians brought Sinestro back as a final defense against Hal. Hal killed him, just like he did so many others.
<<He wasn't a bad man. He was a good man ...who did a bad thing. And if you can't tell the difference between the two then what the Hell are you doing here? -- Superman in JLA: Superpower>>
I picked that quote simply because I'm re-reading Superpower. It occurs to me that Superman's comment (to Green Lantern) equally applies to Batman's attitude about Hal Jordan. What do you think?
I think that Hal didn't do a bad thing, like the character in Superpower. I think he did a MONSTROUS thing. He wiped out an entire police force! He left thousands of grieving spouses and children! He left the whole universe open to Darkseid or Mongul or whoever! He murdered HIS BEST FRIENDS IN COLD BLOOD! And how many sentients died in a natural disaster because there wasn't a GL there to stop it? Translated into real-world terms, it's as if I murdered my family and everybody at work, and then killed every policeman, firefighter and paramedic in the world! His crime is so unbelievably huge and shocking, I STILL can't get over it! And they still call him "the greatest Green Lantern"? Good grief! He's worse than Darkseid!
Whew! Got to switch to decaf.
On to your other points:
On Hal killing Sinestro: Well, heck, that Sinestro was just another ring construct by those tricky Guardians evoked for psychological reasons. Geez, roll with me here! (And, come to think of it, whey didn't the Guardians just shut off the Green Power to Hal when he went berserk? They'd done it before -- famously in the Green Lantern/Green Arrow series, when Hal "went on sabbatical" and they cut him down to half-power. Oh, wait, there I go bringing story logic into "Emerald Twlight" again, when it is simply not applicable.)
On Mary Jane leaving Peter Parker being stupid: I agree. The MJ "finding herself" excuse was nonsensical in terms of established characterization and clearly editorial fiat to clear the decks for J. Michael Straczynski's debut. Mary Jane deciding, after months of separation from her husband and life, that MORE separation is a swell idea -- well, it's just stupid and makes for a bad story. You could practically see the editor's hand swooping down and snatching her from the series. And, as I'm on record as saying, I resent any story that's guided by anything other than telling a good story. Like, oh, Emerald Twilight.
On movies: Can't disagree with a word you said. Have nothing to add.
On Captain America: I enjoyed Waid's run quite a bit. I was referring more to Mark Gruenwald's lengthy run, which I couldn't stand, and everybody seems to think is the standard for how to write Captain America. Bleah. Gruenwald wrote Cap as a clucking old hen who disapproved of everybody and everything. Instead of being the best big brother you could imagine (as Stan Lee wrote him), he was the disciplinarian father you couldn't wait to escape.

And Brad Meltzer wrote Wally West as an ignorant idiot who cared more about the magic “lobotomy” in IC than Dr. Light’s violation of Sue Dibny. So I don’t put any value on his observations of Gruenwald. Smith didn’t make any serious complaints about the shafting of Mary Jane in his columns during 1999 either, so I see no points to his arguments here, and come to think of it, the correspondent doesn’t have many to offer either. Next is the umpteenth letter I wrote:

Dear Cap: Have you heard about Kurt Busiek’s plan to tell about what happened to one of Marvel’s big mistakes, the teenaged version of Tony Stark? He’s now planning a story for either the title itself or for a miniseries that explains what happened to Tony’s teen self five years ago, during the Heroes Reborn story arc. It’s something he’d been planning to do for awhile now, and now he’s got the time.
Marvel’s idea to replace Iron Man with a teenaged version of himself with zero personality was a really big screw-up that really surprised me. Why did they ever think he was “too old”? As you once said, you see Tony Stark as being a guy in his early 30s. And in my opinion, it’s a pretty fitting age for him too. It gives him a more authoritative image, and as the chairman of a huge machinery firm, it helps make him look more convincing without being too old. One difference is that he’s undeniably a few years younger than Bruce Wayne/Batman, to be sure.
Of all the “older” characters in the Marvel universe, Iron Man is probably the one I can identify with the most. While I’ve never been paralyzed or suffered broken limbs like he has, I have many times suffered some painful cuts and bruises from foolishly knocking my hands and toes against hard furniture when I was young. And there have been many times during the summer when I’ve had a problem of getting blisters on my ankles (my shoes haven’t always been the best). But painful as such things are, I’ve survived them. And it’s amazing as to how Iron Man survives his even more painful injuries: he’s taken flak from the (North Vietnamese), he’s been crippled by a madwoman’s bullet, he’s come very close to death by a mind uplink with one of his remote outfits, and he’s been beaten badly by The Mandarin.
And he just keeps on going! And it’s so amazing as to how he constantly survives all those near-lethal injuries, without fear of his enemies. And by building some remote controlled robotic duplicates of his armor, this makes it possible in some ways, if not all, to conceal his secret identity even better than Peter Parker can as Spider-Man.
It’s quite right that Iron Man is in some ways the Marvel version of DC’s Batman, but unlike Bruce Wayne, Tony Stark does have some differences:
Unlike Batman, the injuries he suffered have more often been physical than emotional.
Unlike Bruce Wayne, Tony Stark is much more open and part of society than the former is, and he much more of a ladies' man, and among the gals he’s swept off their feet, there’s also Carol Danvers/Warbird.
Unlike Batman, Iron Man is much more of a traveller, and he’s probably worked outside of New York much more than Batman has out of Gotham City, as well as travelling into space a lot more often too.
I’ll probably take a look at Busiek’s story explaining the fate of the teenaged Tony, but overall, no, that colossal goof won’t be missed. It’s so great to have our suitably 30ish Tony Stark back, and I thank Kurt Busiek, whose work I’ve hugely enjoyed on the Avengers, for setting the record straight again.
While we’re on the subject of iron, […] made a good recommendation with the Iron Giant, to which I thought I’d add some recommended reviews.
The movie's Web site:
http://www.theirongiant.com/ T
And next the reviews:
The Austin Chronicle:
http://www.auschron.com/film/pages/movies/8752.html
The Detroit News:
http://detnews.com/1999/entertainment/0806/mgiant/mgiant.htm
The Washington Post:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style
/longterm/movies/videos/irongianthunter.htm
The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle:
http://www.rochestergoesout.com/mov/i/irongi.html
The Cincinnati Post:
http://www.cincypost.com/living/1999/giant080699.html
The Indianapolis Star:
http://query.starnews.com/movies/search.html?action=re&mid=42613
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:
http://www.ardemgaz.com/cgi/showreview.pl?The+Iron+Giant
The Providence Journal:
http://www.projo.com/cgi-bin/include.pl/movies/films/irong.htm
The Chicago Sun-Times:
http://www.suntimes.com/ebert/ebert_reviews/1999/08/080602.html
The Iron Giant was a very good cartoon movie that contains a lot of great messages that even Disney cartoons haven’t been able to offer. And one the best comic-related parts is where Hogarth Hughes shows the robot his Superman comics. I too would very much recommend it. And also, seeing that you enjoyed the movie of Josie and the Pussycats, I’ve got several reviews that I can add to that as well. For example:
The movie's Web site:
http://www.josiethemovie.com
Minneapolis Star Tribune:
http://www.startribune.com/viewers/qview/
cgi/qview.cgi?template=free_article&slug=jos11
Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY):
http://www.louisvillescene.com/movies/rev2001/20010412josieand.html
Cincinnati Enquirer and Post:
http://www.cincinnati.com/freetime/movies/
mcgurk/041301_jossieandthepussycats.html
http://www.cincypost.com/2001/apr/11/cats041101.html
The Detroit News:
http://detnews.com/2001/entertainment/0104/11/c03-210426.htm
Detroit Metro Times:
http://www.metrotimes.com/editorial/review.asp?id=47852
Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ):
http://www.nj.com/movies/index.ssf?/movies/reviews/josie.html
Austin Chronicle:
http://www.auschron.com/film/pages/movies/23349.html
LA Weekly:
http://www.laweekly.com/film/film_results.php3?showid=1519
Los Angeles Daily Star:
http://63.147.65.28/socal/film/review/0401/11/mov01.asp
Toronto Star:
http://king.thestar.com/thestar/editorial/
movies/full_reviews/MO-JOSIE_20010411.html
New York Post:
http://www.nypost.com/movies/041101b.htm
The Providence Journal:
http://www.projo.com/cgi-bin/include.pl/movies/films/josie.htm
I hope this isn’t too much for you. Have fun.
Thanks for the links, Avi! As to Iron Man, I shudder to remember the Teen Tony storyline, back when Marvel & DC were infected with some sort of mania to de-age or replace their characters with younger ones in search of some elusive teen/twentysomething demographic (not only Iron Man, but Green Lantern, Green Arrow, The Atom and probably some others I've forgotten).
I have nothing against twentysomething characters, but there are ought to be SOME variety. If I want to read about a beginner superhero, there's Green Lantern; if I want to read about a struggling, young-adult hero, there's Spider-Man -- but there ought to be a book about adult situations, too, and that book ought to be Iron Man. In fact, I wouldn't mind if Tony hit his forties -- after all, he was a founding member of SHIELD's Board of Directors back in '65, an exclusive club of high-powered politicos and industrial leaders -- probably not a one of whom was under 50. They don't invite wet-behind-the-ears types into those smoke-filled rooms, and even if Tony was a prodigy, he wouldn't have been there if he wasn't deemed mature enough. I say write him as if he's pushing 40 (or over), which in no way obviates his success with women or in industry -- in fact, it would probably accentuate it.

Say, what’s this? He’s defending GL's rendition circa the 90s despite all the botched setups circa Emerald Twilight? Gee, even I didn’t try acting so sloppy when I wrote that letter! How come he didn’t cite The Flash instead? Or, how come he can’t distinguish between good and bad efforts to replace older protagonist creations with newer ones?

Dear Captain: I agree with you, I thought Josie & The Pussycats was a pretty good movie too. Not great, but pretty good.
I'm not exactly a teenager either. Well, let's put it this way; I'm just a couple of years older than [name withheld].
[withheld], of course, is "Mr. Know-It-All" of the Legion of Superfluous Heroes, and author of a number of movie/TV encyclopedias.
And it's disturbing to be an adult and like Josie, isn't it? We aren't exactly the target audience! But it was fun little piece of fluff.

All this from somebody who doesn’t think it’s disturbing to love a book like Identity Crisis, which features anal rape from a nearly 1st-person perspective in the second issue. By contrast, I don’t find it too disturbing to like Josie at all, since at the time, it was a movie done with far better respect for the female persuasion. Now for May 9, 2001:

Dear Captain: I think that this kind of debate played out in the comic-book realm would really be a great story if done right. Y'know, some kind of crossover (logically done in this case), between all the books that (Barbara) is directly involved in, like the Batman books, Nightwing, JLA (though played down since Mark Waid's run) and Birds of Prey. I'm tempted to write in and tell DC about it.
Thanks for letting me rant once again. This is so much fun and reading how other people react to these debates really keeps me hopping.
It is fun, isn't it? And some correspondents have already responded -- proving no debate is ever over in fandom! To wit:

The sad thing is, in the past decade, there’s been cases of comic book dialogue written like a whole debate on a message board, taking away considerably from whatever value a story has. The Oracle debate may be interesting, but it’s not something DC would be able to handle in a comic proper.

Dear Cap: I was reading the latest letter on Oracle's garnishing money from Blockbuster. Indeed it is an interesting debate!
But imagine if or when Chuck Dixon decides to resolve it. What would happen if Blockbuster found out about his money being stolen and who was responsible?
Of course we can assume no matter what Babs would survive because BoP wouldn't exist without both her and Dinah but she'd be left in a quandary. Odds are BB would set up greater security for his funds upon learning this which would prevent her from using them unless she could get around his protective measures.
So where would Babs turn to for cash? Garnish off another supervillian or look to other options (and I don't mean stocks because they're just too unpredictable to give her the constant source of money she needs)? I can't imagine her begging Batman even though he likely has enough money to fund New York City for a year.
I'm sure he'd be more than willing to help her but it would go too far against the independence she's set up for herself.
Actually, Dixon DID resolve the issue after a fashion; there was a four-part crossover storyline called "Hunt for Oracle!" that ran through Birds of Prey #20-21 and Nightwing #45-46. Read no further if you don't want to know how it turned out.
Still with me? OK, in "Hunt for Oracle!", Blockbuster captured and tortured Nightwing and hired some previously established computer hackers (a character called Mouse and her associates -- and, yes, Mouse dressed like a mouse for no good reason) to hunt down the mysterious Oracle who was stealing his money. There were some fairly clever bits, as you saw exactly how hard it is to track Oracle through her various dummy servers and whatnot, and in the end, with Barbara "cornered," she had diverted Blockbuster & Co. to an abandoned submarine in Gotham harbor, tricked out to look like Oracle's lair. Leaving aside for a moment how few cities have abandoned submarines floating unused and unguarded in the harbor, it did allow Barbara some physical "action," as she used the enclosed space (and relative darkness) in the sub to limit her opponents' mobility and somewhat even the odds as she battled desperately against professional killers.
It didn't address your question -- what would Barbara do if her "sin tax" was curtailed? -- but it did finally allow Barbara and Black Canary a chance to meet face-to-face. Canary showed up to help Barbara out -- and to make the outcome of the inequal battle more plausible -- and, for the record, Dinah surrendered herself to Blockbuster as "Oracle," so Barbara's secret remains safe. And Blockbuster thinks the "garnishing" problem has been solved.

Look who’s talking about no good reasons! The same man who won’t admit Identity Crisis was chock full of them. Come to think of it, he wouldn’t even admit Avengers: Disassembled was too, and never gave a meaty explanation in his columns. So, how’s anyone supposed to know it was worse than he said it was?

Re: Kavalier & Clay, Superman & The Golem
Dear Cap: Actually, the Golem legend is the centerpiece of the first part of Kavalier & Clay, and Chabon makes the superhero/Golem connection very explicit. And while the Holocaust wasn't a reality yet when Superman, etc., were created, the persecution of Jews in Eastern European ghettos (where Joe Kavalier and the families of so many real-life comics creators were from) had been a reality for decades (the pogroms, etc.), hence the diaspora that brought so many of them to the United States.
As for Houdini being an inspiration for Batman, in all the writing I've read about how Kane and Finger came up with Batman (way too much), I've never seen Houdini mentioned. I think the connection Chabon is trying to make is how Houdini was more than an escape artist -- he was, literally, a superman. When people ask how Houdini did all his stunts, the answer is usually that he fought his way out of those traps. Sure, there were tricks and cheats employed, but most of it was by dint of pure physical ability -- the man was a bona-fide physical marvel. The conceptual leap to a man who can leap an eighth of a mile and lift automobiles above his head is not difficult. (And it helps that Houdini -- the son of a rabbi -- grew up in the shadow of the Jewish immigration.)
One more reason to read Kavalier & Clay! How much The Golem (or the diaspora) affected Joe Shuster & Jerry Siegel's creative process is something I can only imagine, as I've never read anything to assert it one way or the other. As to Houdini and Batman, I've seen the name touted here and there as one of Batman's inspirations -- but again, I don't remember anything specific to Bob Kane, so we'll just have to speculate.

Alas, Chabon’s work is overrated. I’d strongly recommend Will Eisner’s work instead, because he had understandings of awful ideologies like communism that provoke more thought than Chabon ever will. I don’t know if the Golem had any influence on Superman, although it certainly did have some on Ben Grimm, of the Fantastic Four.

Dear Cap: [...] (though he didn't have to look very hard this time): You're probably going to be asked about it this week, so I'd like to know your take on this, Frank Miller's keynote speech last Friday in Pittsburgh to open this year's Harvey Awards ceremony:
http://www3.bc.sympatico.ca/kdreger/articles/miller_wizard.htm
Also on the front page of http://www.comicon.com/splash/ as I write this.
I thought actually being there would have been a great, just to see Miller perform and articulate all this. It also seems to be a bit tinged with some residual bitterness after his "Michael Jordan-does-minor-league-baseball"-like stint as a Hollywood screenwriter on Robocop 2 & 3. However, I do think he is spot on with his sentiment that comics are STILL an unbreakable matrix of creativity, as shown by the Harvey nominees, and that comics should not take a back seat to anyone, whether it be the crushing machine of the Hollywood "production process" or the yoke of anti-productive "publicity" from the likes of Wizard Magazine.
Needless to say, my sympathies lie with Miller -- no matter how self-serving his rant may or may not have been -- than with the Hollywood "suits" that defile all they touch, and the relentless, deliberate and self-satisfied immaturity of Wizard.
But the uncomforable subtext of what I heard is that 1) comics really aren't mainstream, and probably never will be, and 2) if they BECOME mainstream, then they'll be just like TV and movies -- safe, uncreative and run by smarmy thugs in suits who are always looking at the bottom line. Of course, there are those who'd argue that's exactly what the industry is like, anyway.
That's what popped into my head as I read Miller's rant. I'd like to hear what others have to say.
Meanwhile, […] followed through with Wizard's response:

Re: Wizard responds to Frank Miller!
http://news.wizardworld.com/Comics/CB0502-Wizardresponds.asp
Frank Miller is a legend in the comics industry. Precisely because of his stature, it's strangely gratifying and hurtful that he imputes so much power and malice to our magazine, Wizard: The Comics Magazine. During his keynote speech at the Harvey Awards at the Pittsburgh Comicon, he describes, among other things, the trials and tribulations of dealing with Hollywood: the potential to make money, the likelihood that your product will be changed by a studio's needs (or perceived needs), and the fact that once you're no longer important to them, you're thrown into the "ignore" bin.
We at Wizard deal with thousands of comic creators throughout the year who want to -- or who have -- these concerns, and concerns similar to this. These creators, like Frank, are struggling to put out the best product they can. I believe Wizard offers these creators the best chance to be seen by anyone -- by fans, by Frank's "Hollywood establishment," and by people in Frank's "real world." And ultimately, that's a very good thing.
Wizard Entertainment makes huge efforts and risks millions of dollars every year to make sure that the comic book industry has the greatest outreach to new readers possible. Wizard is on the newsstands every month, many times in places that no longer carry comics themselves. Our goal is to always, always push readers to buy books, and find their local comic shop. We're often successful in that goal, which is good for everyone.
Why is Wizard successful in both our industry and the "real world" to which Frank refers? I believe, and the "real world" seems to concur, that it's a great product. Wizard is bright, funny, thoughtful, and clearly provocative. What else does our industry need from a consumer magazine? If the "Hollywood insiders" read Wizard (or pay people to read Wizard, as Frank contends) but don't read comics themselves, I find myself in a quandary. Haven't we done our job? Hasn't Wizard gotten them interested in the very ideas and creations that are the heart and soul of our industry?
Wizard is a very well-respected magazine throughout the professional world. Does that make us an easy target? Sure. Is it fair to the guys who write and design Wizard, who pour their hearts and souls into the magazine every month, to call them "Satan?" I don't think so. Make no mistake, Wizard is a great and successful magazine because everyone involved cares so much about the magazine, about comic books, about the people who create comic books, and most especially, the final arbiter, the people that actually read and buy comic books.
Thousands of people in our industry are involved in the creation of Wizard. Every month, Frank Miller is always welcome to participate in its creation and has been invited to on many occasions. Sometimes he does, and sometimes he doesn't. But just as all the creators in the industry are free to create their products their way, we at Wizard are free to create our product our way. It seems only right. We're proud of our product.
As Frank has pointed out, for better or for worse, Wizard has become an ambassador for the comic book industry. For those who are unhappy, you are welcome to become more involved. Otherwise, we will continue to put out the highest quality monthly publication about comics we can, working with the industry professionals that share our passion for promoting comics on a worldwide scale.
Fred Pierce
President-Wizard Entertainment
Frankly, I'm flabbergasted. This is an imposing and striking letter.
For one thing, in my 10 years working in comics journalism, I've never seen a letter like this. No misspellings. No verb/subject disagreements. No lost antecedents. No misuse of hyphens, apostrophes, semi-colons or ellipses. Nothing. This is a perfect letter. I had to do zero copy editing on this letter. Stylistic differences, yes -- I hyphenate "comic book" when I consider it a compound adjective -- but otherwise, simply perfect.
And the content! Ye gods! Wizard is positioned as a champion of the oppressed! A hero to the industry! A white knight, doing battle with the forces of evil on a daily basis, with rabid dogs like Frank Miller nagging at their heels! Gee whiz, give these guys a break! And sign me up at the recruitment center! This letter is BRILLIANT!
And, of course, laughable. Content-wise, Wizard is a peurile, adolescent, self-important piece of fluff full of fart jokes and whiney self-aggrandizment that underscores the contempt the comics industry has for itself, and other industries have for comics. It makes a fetish of positioning its staffers -- none of whom have written, drawn or edited a comic book -- as celebrities on the level of, oh, a Frank Miller. This letter disengenuously suggests that the magazine is something that created people like Frank Miller, instead of a magazine that sells because of people like Frank Miller. An "ambassador" that makes the whole thing possible. And Frank is "welcome to participate" in an industry that he and other like him are pretty much holding up single-handedly. Oh, sorry, was FRANK somehow involved? It's WIZARD that's somehow putting out tremendous comics that have kept the industry alive! Oh, silly me -- it's not the CREATORS who are doing the work here, it's the REVIEWERS who are the driving force of the industry -- in fact, its "ambassadors!"
For Pete's sake -- I've been a comic-book journalist for 10 years, and have never confused myself with someone who actually creates comic books. Frank Miller creates something. I talk about what he creates. In the grand scheme of things, I'm a flea on Frank Miller's back getting a free ride ... and so is Wizard. But my circulation is bigger. :)
Whoever Fred Pierce is, I doff my cap to him. He deserves a raise, Mr. Shamus! I am genuinely impressed!

Oh, does he really talk about Miller’s output? He never did when Holy Terror went to press, and I find that telling. Come to think of it, he never spoke about Will Eisner’s last GN either, which deals with similar issues.

Wizard is no champion of the oppressed, but then neither is Mr. Smith, because like them, there’s many bad ideas coming out of the big two today he won’t condemn, like DC’s monstrosity of 2004, or Marvel’s from 2006.

Dear Cap: My wife just finished reading Superman #170 and it moved her nearly to tears. She rushed home to hug our own dog, Buster, and promise to never send him away. The main story was strong enough by itself, but what topped it off was the cute puppy material allegedly provided by Kyle Rayner.
Have you ever had a dog of your own? It's apparent that Clark didn't realize how much attention would be required to keep Krypto happy and emotionally healthy. I'm not suggesting that Clark isn't responsible -- his sense of responsibility is above reproach, even to the point of sending his dog away when he realized what happened (and could happen again). But he never had a dog as a child on the farm, did he? He's never been part of a dog's "pack" or experienced a canine's special need for social order and interaction. He probably didn't realize humans have to adapt to dogs as much as dogs adapts to us.
Because I just can't help thinking how irresponsible it was for Clark to even consider keeping a superdog to begin with. Let's face it, Clark has no regular schedule -- he can expect to rush off without a moment's notice to save the world, in addition to whatever journalistic obligations he has to meet. Lois's schedule isn't much better (she's only human, after all; I expect she works harder as a journalist than her husband). When could he ever commit time to train Krypto to be a good dog in a human world? And how could he expect an obviously active dog to remain passively content in such a small apartment?
I know he didn't have a lot of choice in the adoption, but it still bothers me. Legally, pets are property. They aren't human, and it would be a mistake to treat them as miniature people. But they're also living, breathing responsibilities, due some small measure of respect and care just because they're alive. And leaving a dog alone, with or without a robot, just isn't fair to the dog.
A solitary dog is a pitiful creature; they need pack stability. One of the worst things you can do to a dog is to derprive it of social interaction. What he's done is the super-equivalent of chaining Krypto to a tree in the back yard. I sincerely hope Clark finds a better home for his dog soon, OR commits to appropriate canine training (Krypto is the world's smartest dog, after all; he would probably learn very, very quickly).
I hope the story has a happy ending, but I fear for the worst.
Oh, no. No, no, no. I haven't read Superman #170 yet, and now I'm afraid to.
My dog is asleep beneath my chair as I write this. I give her as much love, attention and interaction as I possibly can. It rips my heart right out of my chest when I have to go to work -- and she sees the keys and gives me that despairing look. My wife and I, in addition to being her "pack," are her entire World. No toy can replace us, no amount of guilt food can alleviate her suffering when we're gone. It's estimated that the majority of health problems dogs in America suffer from are caused by ... loneliness. Dogs require social interaction, or they just die.
I don't think I can stand to read Superman #170. I'll have to work up to it.

In that case, how come he could stand to read Identity Crisis, including the 1st-person perspective view seen in the second issue? What a phony, and the correspondent is too. I recall he penned some anti-war farrago in a weekly paper, leading me to make clear that Iraqis/Arabs/women who suffered under Saddam’s rule are living, breathing people too, and he sees them as animals? Speaking of which, for somebody worried about dogs, if he is, he sure isn’t worried about the Islamic religion’s degrading view of canines.

Dear Captain Comics: I saw your column in Comics Buyer's Guide #1434 regarding "the dumbest comic book you ever read" -- Marvel Team-Up #28, featuring Spider-Man and Hercules in "The City Stealers!", the classically bad tale in which some anonymous villain moves Manhattan out to sea, and Hercules tows it back.
I wouldn't call it the dumbest comic I ever read (after all, there are a LOT of Silver Age Superman, Action Comics, Superboy and Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane issues that qualify) but that story certainly rates high. Plus, you did a fine job pointing out many -- but not all -- of the holes in the story. Let me mention two more:
A look at a map will show that Manhattan is too wide to fit between Staten Island and Brooklyn, and
A look at the famous two-page spread from the story showing Hercules towing the island with Really Big Chains shows that they are attached to the south end ... which means he put it back FACING THE WRONG WAY!
They definitely don't make 'em like that any more, thank goodness.
Good points, [name withheld]. Marvel Team-Up #28 -- which is reiterated in large part in the Silly Moments in Comics History section -- isn't really the "dumbest story I ever read." As I said in the column, it was just the first story I remember throwing down in disgust, having reached an age where my cognitive faculties were kicking in. But it really ranks up there, doesn't it?

I’d be tempted to say Mr. Smith was the dumbest columnist I’ve ever read, but I think that honor is best bestowed elsewhere. What I do know is that Identity Crisis is one of the most offensive, disgusting and bigoted comic tales ever published, allegedly about superheroes, but Mr. Smith sure doesn’t think so.

Dear Mr. Smith: I was very disapointed to read the sidebar to your column in CBG #1434 (May 11) titled "Canceled Comics Cavalcade Comments". In it, you chose to print the comments of [name withheld], praising your prior negative review of the canceled DC/Vertigo comic Deadenders (See Canceled Comics Cavalcade). Both you and […] are fully entitled to your negative opinions of the book. However, by printing the comments of a reader who agrees with you instead of one voicing a contrary position, you violate a common rule of editorial fairness.
Although sales on Deadenders were obviously poor enough for the book to be canceled, there were certainly some readers buying and enjoying the book. Commenting negatively TWICE on a canceled book is beating up on a dying horse. Surely ONCE is enough! I for one looked forward to Deadenders each month, and found it one of the more enjoyable books on the stands. I also found the art very attractive and appealing.

Thanks for the defense of Deadenders, [withheld] -- and especially for the polite tone of your letter. I find your use of common civility in disagreement to be a refreshing change from the junkyard dogs snarling at each other on the Internet bulletin boards.
And, naturally, I don't want to violate "a common rule of editorial fairness." Not only are you correct, but in the words of Monty Python, if I break the unwritten law, you'd have no choice but to nail my head to the floor. And then screw my hip to the coffee table.
Anyway, I'm certainly aware that there was a dedicated following for Deadenders -- in fact, I said so in my initial CCC remarks -- just not one big enough to support the title. The fact is, your letter was the only one to arrive in support of Deadenders. Since I can't run every letter, I try to pick ones that are representative of what I do get -- and […]'s letter reflected the many letters I got from those disappointed with the title (as well as being the most concise and the best written).
But fair's fair, and now that I HAVE a letter in support of Deadenders, I present it herewith. Good enough?
And as long as we're fielding complaints:

I’m sure there’s a lot of meatier issues raised by some correspondents he’s never printed either, so this one needn’t have felt left out. After his original site was discontinued, he stopped running pages reprinting reader letters, and just relied on a mostly left-wing forum for everything. And most of the leftists I allude to simply weren’t very morally reliable, that’s for sure. I know we’ve come a long way in web technology, but still, some old fashioned ideas are still valid…assuming they’ll respect dissenters with political correctness.

Hi, Cap! In response to a message in your Mailbag, you make an affirmation which doesn't represent the absolute truth. I'll quote:
<<For my part, I suspect that without Superman to establish huge sales and a large infrastructure in the early '40s, the comic book would have disappeared in the late '40s when the novelty (and sales) fell off. Some other form of heroic fiction would probably have surfaced -- you can trace the genre back from pulps to penny dreadfuls to The Iliad to Gilgamesh to Beowulf to cave paintings -- but it probably wouldn't be our familiar, four-color pamphlets. By extension, the comic book wouldn't exist in France, Japan, or elsewhere, since they got the format/concept from us.>>
About your first argument, although superhero comics were the main genre published in the '40s they were FAR from being the only one. And just after the war, the crime and horror comics easily surpassed them. If U.S. comics survived the war, they would easily get into the '50s (and them the Comics Code would probably destroy them, but we are making a lot of assumptions already).
For your second argument, the French and Japanese comics were NOT based on American comic books. They were mostly based on American comic STRIPS, so much that the superhero genre is rare in Japan (DragonBall is an exception) and unheard-of in France (except for U.S. comics reprints).
Do not overestimate the importance of American superhero comics. They weren't published in most foreign countries until the '50s and '60s, when both the European and Japanese industries were already in formation.
You make some interesting clarifications, […] -- but, respectfully, I'll stick with what I said. I never said the superhero genre was the only one in the '40s, just that characters like Superman and Captain Marvel -- which sold in the MILLIONS -- were primarily responsible for making the industry profitable enough for a huge publishing and distibution infrastructure to spring up. Without Superman's success to piggyback on, war and crime comics would have been more expensive to produce and distribute -- and likely no one would have bothered for long.
And, while I may overstated the case in reference to France, Japanese comics were definitely based on the U.S. model. Comics books and baseball were two cultural items deliberately and specifically transplanted to Japan during the American post-War occupation -- and neither existed in Nippon before that. I never specified what genre was introduced, only that the form was -- and I'm afraid that's it a matter of historical record that the American comic book was high on Gen. MacArthur's list of things he thought would "Americanize" Japanese society so that democracy would find fertile soil.

Of course he overstated on France, yet at the same time, he fails to note westerns were something that had a bit of influence in La Republique. The one I can best think of now would probably be Lucky Luke, and that was meant to be a comedy/parody. And that never occurred to him, did it?

Dear Cap: Many world-domination schemes, crimes and misdemeanors have been stopped early in their tracks because villains chose to play with their captives instead of going on with the follow-through. Failing to dispose of their opponents, they have "aided" in their last-minute escapes. No one wins all of the time and that is evident when you look at the number of heroines who have been tied up on the covers and inside pages of comic books. Somehow, for some reason or another, drawings of well-defined women draped in Spandex, junglewear, etc., and trussed up have been making their eye-catching appearances throughout the industry's history.
Hmmm, I wonder why?
Portrayal Of Women In Comics: http://www.public.asu.edu/~alykat/school/comics.htm
No idea, […]. My mind's a blank.

It’s also a blank on why Identity Crisis had such a resolutely male viewpoint!

Dear Cap: As to why (GI Joe) was stopped, I feel it had to do with the quality of the material. The sales on Joe toys were down, I suspect because they had been becoming pretty dorky. The Marvel comic book, which for a long time was one of the best-written titles out there, mirrored the toy line and the last couple of years were, well, pretty dorky. As for the Dark Horse version, GI Joe Extreme, it looked so bad from the get-go that I never picked up an issue.
The resurgence of interest in GI Joe ties directly in to the same phenomenon that we discussed a few months ago with the Transformers. The biggest difference is that the toy company is handling it better. They're re-releasing many of the older vehicles and 3.5-inch figures. They've re-named the vehicles -- don't know why -- and put them in spiffy new packaging. The figures are available in affordable, themed three-packs. If I were at all interested anymore, I'd be blowing my "allowance" on them!
By the way, don't even think of getting between a Masters of the Universe figure and a fanboy who needs it. They're REALLY obsessive.
<<Aunt May, on the other hand, has been UN-buried. -- Captain Comics>>
Okay. My recent compaint about how Mary Jane's return was handled? Nothing compared to how stupid and insulting I found the return of Aunt May. Calling whoever came up with that stupid is an insult to stupid people everywhere. It was beyond stupid. It was poorly thought out and insulting. Insulting to the readers and insulting to the creators that did such a fine job on the issue wherein Aunt May died.
No argument on Aunt May.
And, just for fun, an old GI Joe anecdote: I got a "frogman" GI Joe figure for my sixth birthday in 1964, which was held on the beach at Lake Michigan. I took the rubber-suited figure for a dive with me in the dead-fish-infested lake of the time. His joints instantly rusted. Ditto with my "Deep-Sea Diver" Joe, which I took in the bathtub with me. Those figures-- and most of the others -- were eventually eaten by my dog, a Scottish Terrier named Smorgie. God, she hated those little homunculi. She learned to unlatch the footlocker with her nose, and "killed" them all before I came home from school one day.

I distinctly recall this correspondent was okay with Identity Crisis, and clearly didn’t consider that the miniseries was an insult to victims of rape and child abuse everywhere. His inference that GI Joe toys were becoming “dorky” also bores me, because those toys – if not the comics – were for kids! In any case, most of the toys produced even then were nowhere near as bad in design as the writing was becoming in superhero comics. I’m skeptical he cares much about Mary Jane as a character either.

Dear Cap: Heavens, this gets complicated. But "complicated" seems to be what comics are all about these days. I mean, have you ever tried to explain Supergirl to a non-fan? "Well, she was this proto-matter being from a pocket universe, who was allied with someone named Lex Luthor, only not the Lex Luthor you might know -- this one was a good guy. But when she came to Earth, she took on the form of an adult Supergirl, which I guess would make her Superwoman, only that was some other character, except that she no longer exists, most likely. But not only the form of an adult Supergirl, but she also looked like Lana Lang. But later she looked more like the old Supergirl, but she hooked up with the 'real' Lex Luthor, because she didn't realize he was a crook, but later she did. And still later she merged with the body of a dead teenager named Linda Danvers, but now she knows that she is really an Earth-born angel."
Good night! "Earth-born angels"? "Proto-matter beings"? "Pocket universes"? Who can relate to any of that nonsense? How much simpler it would be to say, "Supergirl? Oh, she's Superman cousin, that's who she is." Well, don't most people have cousins? Can't they relate to that a heck of a lot more than they can to Earth-born angels and all that other rot?
Well, just my favorite rant of late. Thanks for listening.
And I enjoy listening. I also enjoy Supergirl, but I was always uncomfortable with the Earth-born angel aspect, as I am about any story that borders on establishing an "official religion" for DC Comics. But I was also uneasy about the sheer complexity of her origin -- not because I ever expected to explain it to anybody, but because even I got confused sometimes!

Suuuuurrrre Mr. Smith is uncomfy. His support for Identity Crisis contradicts what he said nearly 15 years ago. Of course explaining the post-Crisis setups is problematic, but even after they brought back Kara Zor-El, they trashed a big chance to make it really worth something.

Dear Cap: Appropos of nothing, in addition to being a comics fan, I'm also a WWF fan. (I particularly enjoyed Chaos! Comics' WWF-related efforts). Anyway, if you're at Blockbuster and don't know what to rent, spare a few bucks for the WWF 1998 King of the Ring Pay-per-View. Most of the card is forgettable, but the Mankind-Undertaker "Hell in a Cell" match is one of the most astonishing things ever committed to videotape. In addition to leaving one amazed (and horrified) at Mick Foley's ability to absorb punishment, it also presents the closest thing to what a "superhero" battle would look like in real life that I've ever seen. It makes you realize how much it would actually hurt to be a superhero. However, I should say: It is not for the squeamish!
Having seen the fall Mick took from the top of the cage in that match, made me think of the old story of the kid that was playing Superman and broke his leg (or worse) trying to fly. I remember hearing it as a cautionary tale as a kid, but I wonder if it actually happened or if it's just another urban legend?
I can't speak to the urban legend, since I've never seen any hard evidence in many years in newspapers. I suspect it is, as you say, something your mother says to keep you from jumping off the garage roof with a towel around your neck (which, incidentally, I did).
As to WWF and comics, this month sees Chaos! Comics's latest effort in that regard, The Rock #1. Not my cup of tea, but I hope you have enormous fun.
And lastly, you bring up something I've always wondered about: the sheer brutality of a typical superhero's life. Why don't more superheroes show up to their civilian work (or school) covered in bruises? Why aren't they all toothless and concussed? I hit my head a few weeks ago, the second time I had a concussion in my life, and it resulted in four days in the hospital. What about characters who are routinely "knocked unconscious" by gun butts to the head? (James West of Wild, Wild West leaps to mind here -- happened every episode.) Recently, an NFL quarterback was forced to retire (or consider it anyway -- I don't remember the details) due to repetitive head injuries -- what does that say about Batman?
The Bat-characters in particular are very physical, and even BLOCKING a blow leaves a bruise. Why aren't superheroes nursing wounds -- and having to explain them -- more often? I know that Bruce Wayne writes off his injuries due to clumsiness, drunkenness and an active, sloppy lifestyle (skiing, polo, etc.), but what about Robin? Peter Parker? Night Thrasher? Nightwing? Black Canary? Star-Spangled Kid? The list goes on and on, and you'd think -- particularly in the case of minors -- that there would be a lot of serious questions asked. And why do they all stay so pretty? Even Muhammad Ali suffered a broken nose or two. Bruce Wayne and Matt Murdock ought to look like aging boxers.

And I guess he never saw any hard evidence of bad fanfiction writing in Identity Crisis either, did he? And what’s the use of arguing about why heroes in a surreal world don’t suffer significant bruises unlike real life? The same goes for age, or lack thereof.

Dear Cap: Someone once asked as to why the Luthor of the Christopher Reeve Superman movies was depicted employing such incompetent allies -- i.e., Otis (Ned Beatty). I guess it could be that a master villain would use less-intelligent accomplices because, if they used intelligent accomplices, then the intelligent accomplice might try to betray them or try to take over the scheme to make himself the boss. An unintelligent accomplice would not think of doing this.
Actually, people were surprised that Luthor was not more menacing in those Reeve films. The answer I can give is probably what happened was that the people making those films decided that, with the Adam West Batman TV show having come out within the last 11 years, and the fact that few sci-fi/fantasy adventure films had been attempted before other than low-budget serials, it would be neccessary to treat the more sytlized or fantastic elements of the Superman movies with a high degree of respect -- and note that General Zod was treated as being very menacing and commanding in the first two Superman films (he was actually in both, although he had only a cameo in the first one). This is because General Zod is more of a stylized, fantastic charachter, and so it was probably felt that he would have to be played straight.
Luthor, on the other hand, is a relatively prosaic character. (In the first two films, notice that Luthor, other than a hologram, does not invent any especially fantastic device or weapon.) While there had been few (if any) big-budget movies with villains similar to General Zod before 1978's Superman, there had been plenty of big-budget thriller movies with characters similar to Luthor by the time the first Christopher Reeve Superman movie came out. So it was probably felt that, since Luthor was something that had already been done in a big-budget movie, he would not have to be played as straight as Zod or Superman.
Interesting insight, […]. There's no way to tell, of course, unless one of the Salkinds or Mario Puzo or somebody steps up and says so.
Interestingly, the original question about why the movie Lex Luthor hired idiots was brought up by ... the movie Lex Luthor! ("Why does the most brilliant criminal mind of our time surround himself with morons?" -- Superman I) It seemed self-explanatory to me -- someone as convinced of their own brilliance (who, as you noted, never did anything particularly brilliant) and as egotistical as the Gene Hackman Luthor would hire morons to make himself feel smarter by comparison. But maybe that's just me.

If Mr. Smith were in a position like Lex’s, he’d be the less intelligent one, while his minions would be smarter. And if he were in General Zod’s position, he’d expect you to kneel before his propagandistic might. Shudder, shudder, tremble, tremble.

Hey Cap: Been a while since I dropped a line and I thought I would throw in my two percent of a dollar on a few items from the Q&A and the Mailbag:
[name withheld] sez:
<<I dropped out of the Marvel world back when Ned Leeds was revealed as the Hobgoblin. Apparently, I've missed a great deal.>>
I had also dropped out of comics for the most part somewhere back in the late '80s, early '90s, and appreciated the info on Aunt May's "deaths." Having killed her off, however, I wish that the powers-that-be would have left her dead. I don't have anything against Aunt May, but the trend of resurrecting every character that kicks off makes death in the Marvel Universe completely trivial and robs a death-story of any emotional content (and annoys the heck out of me!).
How can I get worked up over a character's demise when I know he or she is just going to come back a dozen issues down the road? I can't! Not to mention that a character's resurrection will frequently invalidate an emotionally poignant storyline (re: the returns of Jean Grey and Norman Osborn), but even gratuitous deaths for shock value (re: the death of Iron Fist at the end of the Power Man & Iron Fist series) should be left alone once the die has been cast.
Oh well. At least Aunt May didn't turn out to be a clone ... (yet?)
Anyway, I wanted to ask, since, like Perry, I have only sporadically been following comics for quite a while, what's the deal with the Hobgoblin? I've heard something recently that it wasn't actually Ned Leeds? How can that be, when he was killed in the Hobgoblin costume?
Captain Comics sez:
<<I dunno if Ludwig Von Drake was related to Donald or not.>>
Ludwig Von Drake was indeed related to Donald. According to The Official Encyclopedia, Disney A to Z, by Dave Smith, Ludwig was "Donald Duck's erudite, eccentric uncle." He emceed a total of 18 television shows, starting with Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color in 1961.
Captain Comics sez:
<<Huey, Dewey & Louie were his nephews (although I always harbored the suspicion that they were Daisy's illegitimate children).>>
Now don't go starting any evil rumors! Seems like people will believe just about anything, no matter how unlikely, if it's attached to Disney in some way ... HD&L's mother was Dumbella Duck, Donald's sister. It's never been revealed who their father was.
Re, Silly Super-Names, Troia, [name withheld] sez:
<<Writer/artist George) Perez gave her a new origin (hasn't she set the record for new origins?) and established that the Titan gods named her Troy -- fine so far -- but when she starts her rebooted super-career, (her name) mysteriously becomes "Troia," and not "Troy." What's a Troia?>>
Troia is another name for the city of Troy. Not that this makes it any less useless as a super-name. It would be like if a character whose identity was somehow connected to my home town were to adopt the super-name of "Los Angeles." Not very "super," if you ask me.
Captain Comics sez:
<<Further, correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't Troia granted her powers by the GREEK pantheon of gods? If The Iliad is to be believed, the Greeks and the Trojans weren't exactly the best of friends ... >>
True, but The Illiad was written by a Greek and Troy was treated, for all intents and purposes, as just another Achean-culture kingdom. No Trojan gods (if there even were any Trojan-specific Gods) are mentioned, although the Trojans are favored in the war by several Greek gods (most notably, Ares).
From what I have read, Troy began as a Greek colony and, although control of the city would periodically pass back and forth between the Greeks and Persians, was strongly influenced by Greek culture (including maintaining temples to Greek deities) throughout its existence.
There's nothing that I know of to link the Titans with Troy, however. In fact, the Titans were all slain or imprisoned in Tartarus well before the Trojan War (in the Greek tradition, anyway -- Roman interpretation has Cronus escaping death and fleeing to Italy). Since the Trojans were the enemies of the Greeks and the Titans were the enemies of the Olympians, perhaps Perez was just taking poetic license by suggesting that the Titans were somehow linked to Troy?
In any case, I think all this may be negated anyway, since Byrne gave her (yet another) origin, as some kind of mystical Wonder Woman clone or something.
Captain Comics sez:
<<As to Igor, the John Byrne Hulk revamp downplayed Igor's involvement, and removed all references to his being a dastardly Commie. (It was published after the fall of the Berlin Wall, after all.) I don't know how much of Igor is still canon or not, and I doubt Marvel's going to go to any great lengths to dredge it up and explain it.>>
Maybe I am mis-remembering, but didn't Peter David do a story during his run on the Hulk in which Bruce Banner and the Pantheon confronted Igor with his complicity, and it turned out that he has been tormented all these years by the knowledge of what he helped unleash (namely, the Hulk)?
Captain Comics sez:
<<My priority on this site is content, content, content. I decided long ago to eschew clever programming bits and all other bells and whistles -- even unnecessary art, if it added to load time. I wanted the site to be content-heavy, with minimum load time and maximum ease of navigation. So I'm curious: Do regular visitors to the site think I met that goal? Did I succeed?>>
Yes, I think that you did. I agree with your comments that a site should be content driven. Bells and whistles are all well and good, but when I surf the World Wide Web, I am looking for information. Extraneous gimmicks can turn me off of a site and make me navigate away from the page instantly, before I have even had a chance to look at the content itself. If I just want dazzling eye-candy and noisemakers, I'll shoot off some fireworks in my back yard.
Your site is well organized, easy to navigate, and, most importantly, has lots of useful, accessible information.
As I mentioned up above, I had mostly dropped out of comics in the late '80s, early '90s. The writing, it seemed to me at the time, had turned to muck. The only books that were "flourishing" were the Image T&A-type books, aimed at horny adolescent boys, and they were definitely not my cup of tea. Despite being a life-long fanboy, I stopped any serious collecting outright. I only infrequently stopped in at the local comics shop to pick up the occasional issue of some exceptional title (Astro City) or TPB (Kingdom Come).
I did try to keep somewhat informed of what was happening in comics through the Internet, mostly on newsgroups or the official sites of the big publishers, like DC and Marvel (which haven't always been very good sources), and occasionally on fan sites.
That's how I happened to find your site one day while surfing the Web. It's been great, and your columns (as well as those of Son of Salmon and your other contributors) are directly responsible for getting me back into the comics habit. Although I had never (NEVER!) bought a comic book on the basis of a critics' review, your glowing reviews of CrossGen comics sent me to the my local Comics Cave once again, and, as the books were everything you said they were and more, I am now hooked on my four-color habit again!
I am likewise diving into Age of Bronze, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and the "Treasury of Victorian Murder" books because of reviews on the site.
So, yeah, I think you've done it right. Good content is what has gotten me hooked on "funny books" again. If there had been too many bells and whistles when I first visited the site, I might have been instantly turned off and would never have read your columns in the first place.
You have no idea how warm and fuzzy you've made my palsied heart, [withheld]. Knowing that one fan who'd lost interest was encouraged to find four-color fun again makes all those all-nighters worthwhile!
As to your other points:
On Igor: I disliked The Pantheon storyline so intensely that I remember little about it, and refuse to re-read it. If he re-appeared there, someone else will have to confirm. For the record, I'm a big Peter David fan, but I really found something about The Pantheon to be an enormous turn-off. Perhaps it's because I'm sick to death of ultra-secret societies that have been around for decades or centuries, but show up in some comic book or other and immediately and abruptly drop all attempt at secrecy. Gee whiz, if they're that sloppy, how come we haven't found about them before now? And what have they been DOING all this time? Y'know, I believed it when I read Stan & Jack's Inhumans storyline in the '60s, but I'm less forgiving now.
On Troia: I've admitted before that I played fast and loose with the Greek connection to Troy for the sake of a cheap shot. Sure enough, the historical Troy is believed to have been in Asia Minor, a Greek colony grown up, that also worshipped the Greek gods. Still, you note that Ares was one of Troy's patrons -- and is one of the chief foes of Wonder Woman, the former Wonder Girl and Themyscira. Plus, Themyscira is thoroughly Greek, and likely wouldn't countenance one of their foremost daughters being named for a historical enemy. (It would be like a modern Greek heroine being named Turkia, even if the Turks worshipped the same gods.) And, as you note, the mythological Titans had nothing to do with Troy.
Still, as erudite as I'm trying to make this argument, the truth is that the name Troia just irks me. It sounds stupid, and it strikes me as lazy writing, where a writer came up with it because it sounded kinda Greek, or kinda old, or kinda mythological, or kinda cool, with little thought behind it or little understanding of the actual history. And that annoys me. I'd read most of the widely published material available on the Greek myths by the time I graduated high school -- and it's not my job. Presumably, a guy whose job it is to write about that material should do the same before picking out the name -- at least, if he wants to entertain me and those like me, instead of presenting us with an opportunity to point out his failings. It's just sloppy, and I feel vaguely insulted.
On Ludwig Von Drake: [withheld] said last week. "As far as his relationship is concerned, that is a subject of debate. Carl Barks established a working family tree in the early '50s that had Scotty McDuck (with) three children: Matilda, Scrooge and Hortense. Hortense McDuck married Quackmore Duck and had two children: Thelma Duck (the mother of Huey, Dewey, and Louie) and Donald Duck. In the Barks family tree, Matilda McDuck had married Goosetave Gander, but Don Rosa, who took over the Duck stories later, established in 1991 that Matilda had married Ludwig Von Drake (maybe it was a second marriage). By the Rosa version, Von Drake would then be the brother-in-law to Scrooge and an uncle to Donald Duck."
You both present well-researched, plausible continuities. Now I don't know what to think!
On Aunt May: I agree 100 percent. I wasn't all that keen on knocking off the old lady, but once done it should have stayed done. As it is, the Spider-Man continuity is particularly one of revolving doors, with Aunt May, the Spider-clone, Norman Osborn, and even a clone of Gwen Stacy making grand comebacks. Gee whiz, fellas, when you have an emotionally gripping death scene, leave it lie!
And, here's another correspondent that makes the old Captain feel better about his efforts:

First things first. If he thinks calling Donna “Troia” is lazy, why doesn’t he think it’s lazy writing to ignore a serious issue like sexual abuse, as seen in Identity Crisis itself? Let’s be clear: you can’t just deal with in later books as an afterthought (and even then, I’m not sure it was), it has to be dealt with right there in the very same book it first appeared in, and there has to be a female viewpoint.

Dear Cap: I wanted to report back on my virgin voyage into CrossGen seas; first impression, very good.
I had avoided CrossGen up until now because, horror of horrors, I thought they were an Image-like company. However, based on your recommendation and positive buzz around other sites, I knew it was time to jump on with Crux.
Mark Waid laid out a tremendous amount of information in this intro story, but I never felt confused. Like any good story, I was drawn in and my appetite was whetted for more. I especially appreciated Mark giving us some insight into Atlantis. DC and Marvel both have used Atlantis in the past, and it was simply a given that the city was underwater with little or no further explanation. Now we know the rest of the story! Well, not quite, but I'm sure Mark will be telling us more.
Since his brief stint on Superman a couple of years ago, I knew Steve Epting was capable of delivering outstanding art. He came through big time on Crux #1. His double-page spreads of Atlantis in its prime and later, post-devastation, were tremendous. Steve also provides very noble-looking figures which fit well into this type of story.
Overall, a very nice package. I like the thick, slightly glossy paper stock and the extra pages were nice. The one element that suprised me by it's absence was advertising! No ads? How does CrossGen pull that one off?
I'm tickled that my recommendation turned you on to CrossGen, […] -- because I am truly pleased with their product. I find the whole line thoughtful, patient, well-executed and intriguing.
I'm also pleased to see your review, as I'm always interested to hear what folks like or dislike about a given title. I learn something new every time.

So after all these years, is he disappointed that management backstage didn’t equal the quality of some of the tales? He never said clearly. And he’s not accurate about advertising. I read some of their material myself, and the ads are at the back of the issues, not in between the story proper.

Dear Cap: OK, for the past couple of years it's been drilled into me that Batman is more Batman then Bruce Wayne. In fact Bruce Wayne is even less an identity then Matches Malone. Then comes JLA #53 with Batman being a faceless (i.e., mindless) warrior, while Bruce Wayne is the ferocity that is the Dark Knight. The problem with good writing is it can make you believe anything but now there’s so much good writing I don’t know what to believe. I’ve always liked the Bruce Wayne side so I definitely enjoyed the JLA interpretation more. Unfortunately, I think readers take the view Lex Luthor did on Clark Kent being Superman: If you have serious power you don’t waste time being an everyday schmuck. Bruce Wayne will always play third fiddle to all other plots.
I also find it interesting how much Plas and Bats have in common. Both are made of leadership material but two parents dead make one a dark loner and excessive flexibility makes the other a class clown. (It would be nice to see a plastic person with attitude, Inque from Batman Beyond is an example of just how dangerous a power like that can be.)
Hunter vs Potter: Names of Magic is my introduction to Timothy Hunter and I haven’t yet read the previous series. I have read all the Harry Potter books. I have to say the word "magic" is the only thing they have in common. Besides just the age level involved (Hunter in high school, Potter in 6th,7th or 8th grade) the styles are extremely different. Hunter is Arthurian(?) magic. Everything is based on English mythology. It certainly gives it a grander appearance but unless you’re well read on these things you may not appreciate everything that is there. I recognize some names that pop up but are the others unfamiliar because they're made up or because I need to do some homework? Plus the magic itself is more of a mystical approach without much explanation. Magic in comics tend to be the exact opposite of science. Writers go to great lengths to explain four-dimensional beings living in a subatomic world flying around a sugar spoon but magic -- well, it's just magic. Potter is cut from whole cloth, while basic plotlines may not be brand new, the magic is. And everything in the books is explained in the books, characters, spells, history ... No outside sources required. Obviously I’m tilting towards Potter but I prefer more laughs than angst in my reads. Hunter is excellent reading still, and I will be going back to the beginning and working my way through. Any reader would enjoy either/or and I would certainly suggest both.
Yup, the Bat-books are certainly cursed with lots of good writing these days, so good that it raises "reality-check" questions about who and what Batman is. That's pretty cool for us, the readers.
And thanks for the Hunter/Potter analysis. I've grown a bit weary of the endless Tim Hunter saga -- it's a great premise, but moving pretty slowly -- and know very little about the Potter books. So I appreciate your perspective on both.

Did the Batbooks have good writing at the time? Yes and no – they still had to contend with quite a few crossovers, and that took away some of the impact. And it didn’t get any better after Identity Crisis. In fact, it only got worse. That’s why I’ve long become weary of Mr. Smith’s fluff-coating.

Dear Cap: Apparently, it befalls me to defend Earth's "greatest Green Lantern." Yes, I know what he did was bad. No one can really defend it. But you recently compared what he did to murdering the police, fire department and parademics in the world. So here is my defense, and take on the events of "Emerald Twilight."
1) He did not kill the Guardians. They committed suicide, when they realized Hal was taking all of the power battery's power. They could have survived and rebuilt. They did in the 'eighties, when the battery blew up. Instead, they decided to give all of the power to Ganthet, and by extension, committed suicide.
2) He did not kill all of the Green Lanterns. Or even most of them. He did take most of their power. But he said he left them enough to survive. Granted, he did kill Sinestro (which he shouldn't have done, but who can really blame him?), and he did kill Kilowog, which was indefensible. Also, Boddika may have died, but it is not known. You must realize that many of the GL's have since shown up alive and well (or at least not having been killed by Hal) in both Guy's book, and GL.
3) And finally, had he killed the Lanterns and the Guardians, he didn't leave the universe defenseless. There was still the Darkstars and L.E.G.I.O.N., and although neither were as interesting, and the Darkstars soon fell, they were still around to police the galaxy.
Hal's participation in the accursed "Zero Hour" is harder to defend, but is also exaggerated. He didn't kill the JSA; Extant did. He did try and kill the Time Trapper, but failed, apparently. But once again, you have a killer who had killed numerous heroes. He is responsible in large part for the destruction of parralel timelines though.
All of that seems to be all you and DC and other anti-Hal forces seem to focus on. What about all of the times Green Lantern had saved the universe? He was saving the universe in "Trinity," while Coast City was destroyed, and helped Superman save the Earth there afterword. Now Kyle seems to blame Hal for the destruction of Coast City every chance he gets. (JLA #46 for instance) It is sickening. And he did die saving the universe.
So what does that leave us? DC and Ron Marz had Hal betray everything he stood for. Don't get me wrong, I found "Emerald Twilight" very brilliant, and who is to say they wouldn't do the same thing if they had the chance? But he deserved better, and yes I think he should return as GL. He is DC's first hero who was "worthy" of being a hero. Doesn't that count for something?
Thanks for your defense, […] -- believe it or not, I think Hal Jordan WAS the greatest Green Lantern. Well, until "Emerald Twilight." But he's not that any more.
Post-Emerald Twilight, he's just a guy who went postal and killed his fellow employees. Like that day-trader in Atlanta. Whatever he did before that is irrelevant. What he did at the end is all that counts. Y'know, like in real life.
I mean, does anybody know what that guy in Atlanta did before he killed everybody he knew? He might have been the greatest guy on Earth. He might have contributed to Save The Whales. He might have helped old ladies across the street. Heck, he might have pulled on a Bat-suit every night and fought crime. But all anybody remembers is that he walked into the office one day and shot a secretery he barely knew in the forehead.
Hal Jordan's like that. He killed his best friends, his colleagues, his co-workers. Didn't kill Boddika? Sure he did. He took her ring and left her floating in space. Her survival estimate: Nine seconds. Plus all the other members of "Hal's Corps" that he stole rings from. Didn't wipe out the Corps? Sure he did. He destroyed the Central Battery. Any Green Lantern operating anywhere was instantly without power -- if they were in space, or underwater, or in flight, or whatever, they died immediately. The unlucky ones were the ones who were suddenly helpless when their enemies came calling. And the "Fatality" storyline established pretty much that -- because Hal destroyed the Central Battery, and their rings lost power, Fatality was able to kill the surviving ex-Green Lanterns easily in horrible ways Didn't kill the Guardians? Sure he did. They had established over and over for 35 frickkin' years that they controlled the green power. But somehow, inexplicably, Hal overcame that. Took the green power away from them. They commited "suicide" to continue the green power away from Hal's influence. The Oan race had no concept of individuality, so it's plausible that they had little concern about reducing their entire race to a single guy. But WE are concerned with individuality, and so is/was Hal. And from our perspective, our established moral paradigm, all those individual Guardians died ... because of Hal.
Look, the reason I'm so harsh about this is that Hal Jordan was my hero when I was growing up. My parents weren't killed, so I couldn't be Batman. I wasn't from Krypton, so I couldn't be Superman. But Green Lantern? All that took was fearlessness and a good heart. THAT I could do. And for 34 years I enjoyed the adventures of Hal Jordan, fearless good guy.
And that all changed -- abruptly -- with "Emerald Twilight." Never in my 42 years on the planet have I seen somebody change so quickly and permanently. It doesn't "ring" true. I still get a bad taste in my mouth when I re-read the series. It simply doesn't work. It has too many holes. It flies in the face of established characterization and continuity. (Anybody wanna discuss why the 34th century turned to Hal to be "Pol Manning"? THEY certainly should've known he had a screw loose, even if we didn't.) It was blatantly editor driven and not writer driven -- the events in the story clearly were mandated, and didn't arise from good storytelling.
In short, I think it's a bad story. I don't disgree prima facie that Hal couldn't become a villain. Just give me a story that justifies it. Make me BELIEVE it. "Emerald Twilight" was just a crappy story, in that it didn't convince me of anything except that DC was determined to get rid of Hal and they weren't too picky about how it was done. And if you're going to besmirch a hero of 34 years -- and I admit I feel that way -- the least you could do is do it well. Hal Jordan, and his fans, deserved that much.
And there's where we have a disagreement, if we have one.

I wonder what his answer would be if the correspondent liked Identity Crisis? I’ve already recorded Mr. Smith’s take on that sick miniseries, and the letter writer embraced Emerald Twilight, so it’s pretty apparent where Mr. Smith would stand if his contact did. Say, did Mr. Smith ever publicly criticize Kevin Dooley for his part in the mess? Probably not, and that only makes his arguments all the more weaker.

I agree with what you said in your May 2 Mailbag, regarding Tony Stark's age:
<<There ought to be a book about adult situations, too, and that book ought to be Iron Man. In fact, I wouldn't mind if Tony hit his forties ... I say write him as if he's pushing 40 (or over), which in no way obviates his success with women or in industry -- in fact, it would probably accentuate it.>>
Years ago, I remember reading that Superman is "perpetually 29", and that Batman is a few years older. Since Peter Parker graduated from college, and Franklin Richards turned seven (?), characters have rarely been shown to age, and have remained frozen around their late 20s/early 30s (the exception was Mike Grell's Green Arrow, who celebrated his birthday every year, and was well on his way into his 40s).
As a young comics reader, I was fine with that. The thought of being 18 was "old", and people hovering around 30 MUST be mature, worldly and wise enough save the universe from evil. Such is the innocence of youth! Even when I was in college, I could accept the "Superman is 29" concept, because it still seemed so far away.
Now, I have a problem. The other day, I realized that I'm older than Superman! At best (assuming that he may have slowly aged into his 30s), we would be peers! (Think about some of your classmates in high school ... can you imagine any of them saving the world today?) Heck, even Steve (Captain America) Rogers, who was born in the 1920s, is technically younger than me! At this point, I think the only heroes who are my elders are Reed Richards (although I'm catching up fast) and the original JSA!
I know that in my children's eyes, I am capable of solving any problem and making the world a better place; however, I cannot say I have the perspective to make judgments that affect peoples' lives. And now, in hindsight, I find it hard to believe that heroes in their 20s all have the capability to make these decisions!
Although I agree that comics should continue to strive for a youthful audience, and therefore publish younger characters, I also believe that they should age some of their existing characters to satisfy their aging audience. People relate to characters with whom they share common traits; one of the most easily identifiable traits is age. That's why older sports fans traditionally cheer for the athletes who come out of retirement or simply refuse to go away (e.g., George Foreman, Ric Flair, Mario Lemieux,, etc.), and why "Old Timers" games are so popular.
Aging Tony Stark to his 40s is a great idea. Showing Green Arrow approach middle age was also smart (although we don't know if that is still applicable). It would be nice if there were others to "look up to" and aspire to be when we "grow up".
Oh, well ... I guess it's time to go back to my shuffleboard game and planning my retirement ...!
I know exactly what you mean. I looked up to Hal Jordan and Barry Allen when I was growing up; they appeared to be the adults I wanted to be when I got "old." I didn't WANT them to be peers -- I wanted role models!
My moment of truth was when I realized I was older than Peter Parker. When I was in junior high, Parker was in high school. When I was in high school, Parker was in college. When I was in college, Parker was in grad school. Talk about a natural progression. Then when I turned 30, it dawned on me that Parker was still in grad school -- and still in his 20s. Bummer.
Oh, well -- here comes my nurse to feed me my tapioca pudding.

And here comes your doctor to prescribe that you see a psychiatrist, because you embrace monstrosities like Identity Crisis, and for somebody complaining about ages, you sure seem stuck in a mentally adolescent, uninformed state. Oh, and here’s a strange look he takes at Chomskyism:

Dear Cap:
Re: Batman machine-gunning zombies: http://www.intelcities.com/Hobby_Lane/argent/batman.htm shows that issue was Batman #1, a Hugo Strange story -- it was inspired by a Doc Savage novel called The Monster Men.

Re: Anti-Americanism:
http://www.geocities.com/the_time_trust_2000/dcwar/ustimeline.htm
http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Olympus/7160/us.html
http://www.mmmfiles.com/amerimpe.htm
http://www2.prestel.co.uk/littleton/ge1_menu.htm
http://members.aol.com/yingko9/Dimensions.htm has an Avenger timeline elsewhere on the site. And Noam Chomsky wrote a recent article for The Humanist on this idea, "The Ultimate Rogue Nation."
OK ... Ellis is not the only one to explore this anti-Americanism theme in comics. Garth Ennis did an Unknown Soldier miniseries around this idea (the first link), and the Uncle Sam miniseries by Alex Ross comes to mind (second link).
I have not read Ennis's Unknown Soldier limited series, but I should mention that it was anticipated by the 1988 Justice Inc. miniseries by Andy Helfer and Kyle Baker. Justice Inc. featured The Avenger (Richard Benson -- the pulp character; needless to say, due to Marvel's Avengers, he has never been featured in a comic book called The Avenger.) That miniseries had to do with The Avenger becoming an agent for a government organization. Since The Avenger had the limited ability to shapeshift (similar to the later 1980s version of Marvel's Chameleon), he was used to infilitrate Third World countries by killing the leaders of those countries and then impersonating them. While impersonating them, he would change the policies of these leaders' countries to be more pro-U.S. -- and, after a sufficient amount of time and a pro-U.S. successor was chosen, The Avenger would disappear for another mission. This continues until The Avenger encounters a Soviet agent -- who also has shapeshifting abilities. Shocked, since he believed himself to be the only person with shapeshifting powers, The Avenger discovers the truth behind his origin. Afterwards, he decides to thwart the morally dubious operations of the U.S., by assassinating and then impersonating U.S.-backed dictators -- and, after a sufficient amount of time, disappearing, but making it look like the U.S. had killed him.
This miniseries did an interesting retcon and was fairly satirical of U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War. Frequently, in the attempt to combat Communism, alliance were made with highly undemocratic governments. For example, Francisco Franco was Spanish dictator from 1939-1975. Although non-racist, he came to power with help from Hitler and Mussolini, executed many political prisoners, and infringed on the freedom of religion of Protestants. (Protestants were not allowed to have parades or festivals; Protestant churches were not allowed to even look like churches.) Practicing both censorship and the authoritarian capitalism/corporate state (no unions other than official government-run unions were allowed; workers were not allowed to strike), Franco was despised as an unreconstructed Fascist.
However, after the Cold War began, Franco's anti-Communism won him friends in the U.S. He received Marshall Plan aid in return for allowing the U.S. to maintain military bases in Spain -- to which Bertrand Russell, in his book Human Society in Ethics and Politics once said "We say we hate the Communists because they don't believe in democracy, but Franco doesn't either and we don't hate him." Indeed, the U.S. seemed to look the other way as far as Franco's anti-democratic practices went. The other Western democracies and the Hispanic countries were shocked that the most democratic country in the world would assist the most Facist country in the world, and this relationship cost the United States much credibility in the developing countries, and gave the Soviets something to crow about. (See Paul Blanshard's book Freedom and Catholic Power in Spain and Portugal.) When Franco died in 1975, the U.S. was the only Western democracy that sent an official to his funeral.
Another example would be the Shah of Iran. (See Big Book of Bad.) Although he surpressed dissent and did little to affect a just distribution of wealth, he was U.S. supported.
Although I agree with the Captain that the U.S. system of government has been justified by history -- that system, as Paul Blanshard stated, "that the majority of the people have the right to determine our future by free choice based on free discussion, with certain inalienable rights guaranteed to minorities," I should note "that does not mean that I assume perfection in our democracy" (Communism, Democracy, and Catholic Power, page 4).

Re: Morals vs. ethics: You mentioned the example of a lawyer throwing the case of a criminal he knew was guility. Were you thinking of the Cape Fear remake?
Re: Houdini and Batman: Houdini met Batman in the Elseworlds Batman/Houdini: Devil's Workshop. Houdini also appeared in a Malibu/Eternity comic book called Ghosts of Dracula. And the notorious Spawn #19-20. (Spawn #19-20 shipped AFTER Spawn #21, due to Spawn/Batman. McFarlane intended that those issues would introduce a character called The Freak, as ads directed. However, when Spawn #19 came out, the letterer(!) of Spawn instead wrote a story drawn by Greg Capullo in which Houdini appeared. Spawn #25 came out next! Spawn #20 came out after Spawn #25, finishing up the storyline from Spawn #19. The writer of the story, by the way, apparently did not know that Houdini was a skeptic who exposed spirtualists and never claimed to have magical abilities, as in these issues he is present as affirming the existence of magic.)
Re: Spawn: The disorder in Spawn releases didn't surprise me, in that I didn't consider Image at the time to be a professional publishing company. It was, and in some cases remains, a bunch of kids playing at being professionals. But the misrepresentation of a famed historical figure like Houdini is unforgiveable (and legally actionable by his heirs). What next, FDR as a Republican? Josef Stalin as a nice guy? Appalling. There's such a thing as "research," and it's something that professional writers do and something professional editors check. One more reason I don't read Spawn, a comic book written by people whose entire body of knowledge is derived from hearsay and other comic books.
Re: Anti-Americanism: Thanks for the links. I didn't mind the Unknown Soldier mini, as it seemed to imply that the elements that employed US were "rogue" -- a time-honoroed cop-out that is virtually a genre convention for spy novels. And Uncle Sam I found to be incomprehensible, although the art was very pretty.
As to America's erratic and sometimes contradictory foreign policy, that's certainly nothing new. Part of that is the nature of the American system, where you have a Jimmy Carter administration for four years, then a Ronald Reagan comes in and sacks everybody and institutes an entirely opposite approach. Then a Bill Clinton comes in and reverses the process, then W is elected and does it again. Consistency isn't a hallmark of a republic.
As to the Shah and Franco, yeah, our support of their awful regimes is embarrassing and difficult to defend. In those two cases, though, we WERE being consistent -- with our Cold War policy of "containment," in which the enemy of our enemy was our friend. Not the most noble of practices, but our leaders believed that the ends justified the means. And since we did sorta win the Cold War, it's hard to argue with success. Not that I'm supportive of or in agreement with our tolerance of Reza Pahlavi and his ilk, but I'm just pointing out the thinking behind it.
Again, I'm no knee-jerk patriot. Since "We, the People" are theoretically the CEOs of America, and our leaders theoretically are our employees, what they do reflects on ME. And I reserve the right to criticize my employees when they embarrass me.
My complaint vis-a-vis the anti-Americanism exhibited by some writers is that it reads like a prejudice more than a political philosophy; it just seems like cheap shots. I reserve the right to criticize THAT, too.
Anyway, thanks for all the research and links, [...] -- if I could afford a fact-checker, I'd hire you. Meanwhile, here's more on anti-Americanism:

Before we get to that, I honestly find the correspondent’s exact take…suspect. But worse is Mr. Smith’s lenient, accepting take on Carter, who’s administration let the Ayatollah’s gang take over in 1979. I’ll admit it’s regrettable Reagan never tried to defeat the Ayatollah in his time, but if Smith is letting Carter off the hook for his own failures, that’s sad. Speaking of which, wasn’t he embarrassed by the Democrats’ support for Saddam’s awful regime, not to mention Iran’s current one that’s building nuclear warfare? One more sign you can’t take anything he says at face value.

Dear Cap:
<<When I'm not annoyed by Ellis's blatant anti-Americanism, I'm amused -- because the only reason he can shoot of his big bazoo is because America made it possible for him to do so. I guess we're big enough to take it.>>
And it may happen that enough people ignore his books because of his anti-American stance that he notices, and stops pushing it so hard.
Free country. And I'm free to tell Ellis to take his anti-American sentiments and go to ... someplace else.
<<Good grief! Friedrich really HAS read too many comic books! He's waiting for somebody to swoop out of the sky and save us? Look, the Lord helps those who help themselves -- why isn't Friedrich doing something to bail out the industry? And why does Our Hero have to be 25? No offense to 25-year-olds, but I don't expect them to have much in the way of business savvy! Wouldn't somebody with Friedrich's experience and acumen be more likely to bust a move?>>
Perhaps he's still in medieval mindset. In the chivalric era that Joan of Arc lived in, and the legendary King Arthur belongs in, a 25-year-old person was a person with experience and acumen, and 35-year-olds were elder statesmen.
Yes, I'm exaggerating for effect. Still, if we're looking for a King Arthur to save comics, then I want Arthur from after the creation of the Round Table, with a knight for every situation.
Translated into modern terms, that would be a CEO hiring writers and artists who can attract a wide range of readers, not by being all things to all people, but by targeting two or three demographic segments with each comic book. Then sending the creative talent to do what they do best, backing them completely, and working to build trust among the fans.
Hey, waitaminit ... that sounds like a little bit like Crossgen. (grin)
Hmm. It does at that. Particularly since CrossGen CEO/Publisher Mark Alessi has demonstrated considerable business acumen by becoming a millionaire by 35. An elder statesman? Perhaps.
Incidentally, I read somewhere that the average age of death for a European male in Medieval times was, indeed, 35. That statistic is skewed substantially by the enormous number of males that didn't survive into adulthood -- explaining why people often had 10 or 11 children, since so many succumbed to childhood disease or accident. But still, it was rare in those days to know your grandfather, and men in their thirties and forties were clearly men of robust health and/or luck, and their counsel was trusted.

Alas, he wrote an unchallenging take on Alessi’s conduct once again. Sure, I thought some of CG’s ideas were pretty good, but that doesn’t put Alessi above scrutiny for incompetence.

As for Ellis, I can endure some of his early work on books like Excalibur so long as he avoided serious politics, but since then, he’s had little or nothing that’s as tolerable. As for Mr. Smith, I'm honestly skeptical he ever found Ellis' politics even remotely reprehensible.

Dear Captain: I have, for quite some time, tried to accept and re-read those whom I consider to be "bad" writers and artists. Everyone has a couple of stinko stories in them and Lord knows that most of writing in who love comics want to write or draw them someday; we don't want to throw stones that might bounce back on our glass houses. So I give them a chance every year or so to see if I was wrong in my first estimation.
The one with whom I've suffered for at least eight years has been Scott Lobdell. Ever since he got his foot in the X-door, I've been (annoyed) that he couldn't keep a character in character for long enough to make his next set of actions believable.
I tried to justify it many ways.
"Maybe Jim Lee and Whilce Portacio were stifling him when starting writing the X-Men stories." Well, no, because the same lame things kept happening and continue that were apparent in that run.
"Maybe the artists weren't good enough." JRJR, Travis Charest, Joe Mad, Tom Grummett, Jim Lee, Andy Kubert, Tom Raney, Adam Pollina, Carlos Pacheco, Bryan Hitch. I'm mean, how many times can you blame the artist for a lousy story? The worst is when he does have a bad artist and he can't piggyback on their storytelling ability, his inability to produce a solid story is VERY evident.
Everytime I've cracked open a new Lobdell story, I've tried to look at it as if it's the first time. But he manages to mangle even what some would consider to be an easy story. Carte blanche on Wildcats and he can't manage to salvage that one. Look what (Joe) Casey did with the same material.
The best example is the most recent "Eve of Destruction" storyline. What a waste of paper! The final showdown between Magneto and the "new" X-Men was Godawful! If you would like to see what an all-out battle with Magneto was done and done well, dip into the Claremont well once again. Forgive me for the issue numbers, but it's been a while: X-Men #115 (where Phoenix puts Magneto to the test), X-Men #150 (on the desert isle). Magneto's presence really needs to be given one of menace. That each moment is fraught with danger and possibly death. Even the issues with Magneto as ally work better than Lobdell's recent debacle: X-Men #275, X-Men Graphic Novel: God Loves, Man Kills.
Needless to say, Lobdell is a hack who shouldn't be let back into the door of any comic company. Hopefully he'll go pursue that Hollywood career and stay away from a medium he's managed to sully with his tepid and vapid stories of mutantdom.
Next issue. However, you feel about Captain America, there are two runs of that book that should not be missed.
One is Mark Waid's. It's an easy stretch these days to say that Mark Waid is a good writer. But it really doesn't do him justice to the treatment that Waid gave him. He did what a good writer does; when given lemons (Gruenwald's abysmal story up to that point), make lemonade (break it down and mold it back in your image). You nailed exactly what Cap was becoming; the parent nag who was SOOOOOOOO upright, uptight and unappealing to readers. If we wanted that kind of proselytizing, we go to the local church or to our parents. Sheesh! Waid turned him into a soldier who always had the plan, the back-up plan and then the plan that came together just after the back-up plan failed. I think so many people turned Cap into a garish thug without realizing this is a man who was a soldier of war and a thinker. He was a strategist and a leader of the most powerful group of super-humans. He thought out strategies before executing them, but thought on his feet, too. Waid's "Man Without a Country" story was fabulous and put together all the elements I've loved about Captain America since reading Kirby's run: action, adventure, romance, espionage, Cap in moral quandaries and adverse conditions. And winning!
The second is J.M. DeMatteis's run on the book, interspersed with fill-in stories by David Anthony Kraft (a writer during Giffen's run on Defenders). These were the issues just after Roger Stern and John Byrne's. There was a lot of introspection about who Steve Rogers was and where he fit into society today (then the mid-'80s). DeMatteis really tried to round out his C.A. with a supporting cast of neighbors and love interest (Bernie Rosenthal). Unlike Cap's book today, Cap lived among the "normal" people and not just those involved in international intrigue and dressed in Spandex. He was very human. Also, some of the best work of Mike Zeck's career coming off of Master of Kung Fu. Two storylines to read that really show off J.M.'s understanding of who Cap was and is: #261-264 (the return of the Red Skull and the Ameridroid; very poigant moments) and #276-278 (the return of Arnim Zola and Baron Zemo).
I will make one exception for Mark Gruenwald's run. When Cap was stripped of his job and had to find another way (#320s to #350). I thought it was something that hadn't been done quite this way. I was kind of sad when they simply reduced John Walker to a psychotic madman and gave Cap back the shield and name.
I look forward to seeing what happens with Cap in the Marvel Knights line and hope they shake him up. Dan Jurgens is turning him into a fuddy-duddy again.
Thanks again for the vent.
I usually give Chris Claremont a hard time, […], so let me praise him in reference to his use of Magneto. One of the reasons I so enjoyed the X-Men revamp in the '70s was that it seemed so vital and alive; the characters were in flux and the situations dire. (As opposed to the last five years, where the "main" characters like Cyclops and Wolverine were flash-frozen in time, an unintended side effect of appearing in so many titles that no individual writer could do anything with them).
And one of those scenes was so riveting that I remember it vividly to this day. In The X-Men #111-112, the author of the merry band's latest woes was revealed: Magneto. Wolverine, who had never fought Magneto but had heard what a bad dude he was, reacted typically, "OK, troops, let's cut ol' bucket-head down to size!" Cyclops, who HAD fought Magneto, had a chilling thought balloon: "Dear God! We're nowhere NEAR ready for this!"
That thought stunned me. These new X-guys were preposterously stronger than the original five, who'd fought Magneto to a standstill for years. I'd read lots of Magneto stories, and he seemed like just another supervillain to me, and an outnumbered one at that. And Cyclops was ... worried? Afraid? Suddenly, I was too -- I abruptly realized just how dangerous this man was.
And Magneto proceeded to dismantle the X-Men in jig time, handling them easily and wreaking a horrible revenge on them. (He mechanically reduced them to children, spoonfed by robots in little potty chairs.) Of them all, only Cyclops stood up to the Big M for more than a few seconds -- demonstrating the advantage of experience better than any speech ever could.
ONE LINE OF DIALOGUE gave me a snapshot of Magneto as a true threat to be feared. A snippet that locked into my mind what real danger the X-Men were in.
But Lobdell's "Eve of Destruction"? Phooey. A waste of trees. Four issues, and not one moment I recall with fondness. Not only is the confrontation with Magneto anti-climactic, but what was the point of Jean Grey dragging all those amateur civilians into battle? Dumb, dumb, dumb -- God knows there are plenty of X-tra X-Men she could have called in as the cavalry. Where was X-Force? Generation X? Maggott, Marrow, Nightcrawler, Captain Britain, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, Iceman -- heck, after X-Men Forever, she probably could've recruited Juggernaut and Toad. Just .. stupid. But it did give Lobdell a chance to exhibit the inisipid, vacuous, adolescent dialogue he's honed to perfection on the insipid, vacuous, adolescent Gen13.
As to your Captain America remarks, I agree that Waid's run might well be the best characterization the Star-Spangled Avenger ever had. I'm not as big a fan of the DeMatteis run, since I find a soul-searching Cap a contradiction. It reduces his man-of-action, ultra-competent, I-can-handle-anything persona. It was called for at the time, I admit, but it's not what I want to read. Although I do remember the Zeck art with great fondness.

Sad news about Lobdell is that he’s long since returned to comicdom; Hollywood clearly didn’t like his writing, and only mainstream companies now plagued with terrible staffers want him.

Interesting Mr. Smith didn’t comment on Lobdell’s homophilia, hammering his beliefs about homosexuality in the form of Northstar over the readers’ heads and getting Jean-Paul into a pointless clash with one of the pathetically written “recruits”. And he probably hasn’t commented on Lobdell’s confession of sexual harrassment against a woman at a LGBT panel in a convention center. Fascinating how Lobdell has such major respect for homosexuality, but far less for the female part of society, and it can be seen in some of his comics work too. Now, here’s a letter I wrote that begins with a paragraph I most deeply regret:

Dear Cap: First, I wanted to say that you were right on, Amazing Spider-Man’s 30th issue turned out to be brilliant indeed. J. Michael Straczynski did a brilliant job at beginning the story arc in which Peter Parker takes some time to return to his roots. I’m already looking forward to the next issues.
Next up, this past week I was so lucky, I found a Silver Surfer TPB containing the first several issues in a used bookstore this week. It was so wonderful to get a look at what the all the old classic works of Jack Kirby from the mid-'60s were like. For comics drawn during the mid-'60s, the artwork was brilliant, as was the story. In an introduction at the beginning, Stan Lee explained how the idea for the Silver Surfer arose from a drawing that Kirby had casually added within the pages of the Fantastic Four when he was writing about their battle with Galactus. Upon seeing this simple surprise sight, Lee encouraged Kirby to expand the drawing into what would become a major character and one of the most popular folks in the Marvel Universe.
Though at that time, the Silver Surfer only ran about five years, it was a great sci-fi story, telling about how Norrin Radd sold himself into slavery in order to save his planet Zenn-La and his lady fair, Shalla-Bal, but later turned against the creator who made him the Surfer, and for doing so was de facto exiled to earth.
The writers even made a good astronomical observation: At the beginning, the Surfer says, “How vast is this universe! How limitless the cosmos!” How so indeed. Space, as we know it, is endless, and to explore it as far as possible, is, to be sure, something that even the Silver Surfer would find very challenging. But whatever adventures, alien life and other beings and worlds that he does find, can be of great entertainment to us readers who’re fans of the Silver Surfer.
Finding this TPB was such a joy, and I really hope that Marvel will try to relaunch the title in time. If there’s anything I’m really looking forward to at just this moment in comics, it is that great journey through space, finding new worlds and lifeforms, and battling the evil that exists there, enabling the good to be free.
A word or two on the Star Trek discussion from the April 25 Mailbag: You said:
<<I also found Denise Crosby's return to Next Generation implausible, confusing and ridiculous. What was she supposed to be? The daughter of Tasha Yar and a Romulan rapist from a future timeline that didn't exist? Or something? Gah! Just an excuse for Crosby to get back on the show when her movie career tanked.>>
Yeah, I too found that whole Tasha time warp idea to be mind-bogglingly absurd. Of course, it was the producers fault that they’d failed to develop Crosby’s character, and that they’d killed her off rather than just leave the door open in a plausible way for her to return. What they probably could’ve done was to bring her back in a totally different and unrelated role with her hair grown longer, which could make her look different or they could’ve resurrected her a la Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. It actually made more sense to hire her as the host of the acclaimed 1999 documentary, Trekkies, in which she introduced us to some of most bizarre Trek fans in the U.S.
Still, that was probably nothing compared to how Gates McFadden, as Dr. Beverly Crusher, was so appallingly underused for the show’s entire run. Such a lovely lady deserved a good boyfriend/love interest, and they never seemed to offer that, nor did they seem to really be interested in genuinely developing her character at all. And then, when they finally did offer her a chance at romance, in an episode from 1991 called “The Host,” it all turned out to be in vain: This bizarre parasite called a Trill turns up in a dying man’s body, and then gets Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) to let it (if that’s the right description) temporarily dwell in his body, whereupon the charmed Dr. Crusher makes out with him, and then later, when a new host body arrived, it was a woman’s body, and Dr. Crusher was understandably driven away. And following that episode, I can’t recall them ever trying to give her any more boyfriends again. Sigh. What a waste. Of the nine Star Trek movies made so far, not counting the documentary Trekkies, I’ve seen eight, but I missed the ninth, which was Insurrection. However, I read a review somewhere that even in the last movie, Paramount never provided any chance at romance for her. Aw, nuts, even in the movie based franchise they misused her? Tragic. Life’s so unfair, isn’t it? The only femme Trekker I can recall who was really well developed was the Irish native Marina Sirtis’s Betazoid counselor Deanna Troi, whose hairdressers got even better as the seasons progressed too. They were pretty keen to focus on the happy and sad aspects of her Betazoid background many times, and her affair with Cmdr. Riker, as well as her mother Lwaxana, (Gene Roddenberry’s real life wife, Majel Barret), whose guest appearances were often for comedy relief.
It’s been a year since I first began contributing to the Mailbag in April 2000, and I want to say that I’ve been very much enjoying how the Comics Cave has been progressing. I first began reading your column where it all began, in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, in mid-1999, and a few months later, I began to check out your own Web site as well. When I first looked at it, there were no permanent archives on the site itself, and so the permanent content was minimal. But then, when I checked it out again a few months later, I discovered that archive options for the site had been added, as well as plenty more features, and I began to take much more interest in the other columnists as well. And the more new features and writers that were added, most notably [name withheld], the more and more interesting the site became. And so finally, I was hooked. It took me awhile to fully establish myself as a fully frequent Mailbag contributor, like fellow correspondents [withheld] and […], but eventually, I managed, and my parents were very pleased as to how I could write. Initially, I tried writing while connected directly online, but then I realized that it was more convienent to use a word processor to write the majority of the letters I write to the site. I almost never miss a column of any sort on the site, coming on whenever I’ve got the time.
Among the things that make your site a lot better and more convienent than such sites as Fandom.com is that unlike that site, where there’s so much to look over every day, reviews, interviews, etc, on your site it’s much more comfy because the columns like [name withheld]’s reviews are all in one file, almost like some of the arts reviews in the London Times, and they’re much easier to load too. And two or three updates per day are really all that’s needed, rather than a whole floodgate. And the answers you give for the many discussions with all the Mailbag correspondents provide a lot to think about. One of the best examples was this past week or two, in your discussions with […] and […], which helps to tell us why, if the comics companies, most certainly Marvel and DC, don’t start making improvements in their marketing strategies, the industry could be all but gone in the next 20 or 30 years. One of the best ways of course, to make improvements, is to start showing an actual interest in selling their stuff, and to get kids to have a go at them when they’re young.
To be sure, even if you’ve got assistant webmasters and secretaries to help you edit and program much of the site content, it must no doubt be a very difficult job, especially now that the updates are daily, which is why you deserve a lot of credit for being able to manage the Comics Cave as best as possible. Sometimes, when I come on, I found that one or two of the new columns links or one of the front page photos were misconfigured, but then, a while later, they’ve been corrected, which shows as to how you take very good care to see to it that the content is programmed as correctly as possible. Now that’s what I call very responsible work! Bravo!
You’ve got a great site Andrew, and it’s one of the best things to come along for me in the past year or so. Keep up the good work.
And last, but not least, I’ve got a suggested link that I didn’t see on the links page: http://www.comicfanmag.com, a fairly new comic book site that began several months ago.
Thanks for the kind words on the site, Avi -- and for giving me a chance to brag on [withheld]. My belief about critics/reviewers is that they generally fail to persuade; rather, the good ones find a "voice" that is thought-provoking and relatively consistent so that the reader grows comfortable with the "conversation" and has sufficient information to make up his or her mind.
[withheld] has done this in spades, and I'd hold his reviews up to any on the Net. He is clear, consistent, thoughtful, witty and eschews being patronizing. He establishes his premise, explains his reasoning, makes his conclusion and moves on -- all in an entertaining, breezy style. When I read a […] review, I can easily picture having the "conversation" with someone I know well in a diner, and come away with a clear idea on whether I'd like the book, whether [withheld] did or not.
As for the site, there are no assistant webmasters or secretaries -- just little ol' me. Which explains why the Mailbag is two days late this week!
As to the Silver Surfer TPB, I'm glad you had a chance to experience the same thrill I did when reading them the first time -- albeit 25 years later. I think they still hold up, but I need to note for the record that the Surfer origin story was drawn by John Buscema (not Jack Kirby) in Silver Surfer #1 (Vol. 1, Aug 68), as was the bulk of the first 18-issue Surfer series.
Finally, it was not the producers of Next Generation, but Denise Crosby herself who asked that her character be killed -- she was entertaining hopes at the time of becoming a movie star and wanted out of Trek. You could argue that she wanted off the show because her character had been so poorly developed, which would be the producers' fault. But it was her idea, and when the career failed to materialize, she asked to be back on the show in some capacity, a request that was granted in the form of Sela.
As to Gates McFadden, her character was poorly served in that the writers were keeping the idea alive that she and Captain Picard secretly had the hots for each other -- a potential story complication that was never explored and only rarely alluded to. Meanwhile, poor Dr. Crusher remained implausibly celibate.

That praise at the beginning for JMS remains a source of embarrassment for me, written at a time when I didn’t go into all these things with an open mind. I feel so stupid now. He debuted on Spidey with a story allegedly drawing from the Columbine massacre in 1999, and copped out at the end by revealing the shooter to be nothing more than a bullied kid seeking revenge with an assault rifle whose exact source was never explained. My praise for his site, if not some of his contributors, also remains a source of shame for me. Honestly, was it really worth turning to him to get a clarification for Crosby’s departure from Star Trek: TNG? Hardly. I don’t even watch the Trek franchise anymore, and since 2005, it’s pretty much petered out on TV. The two movie remakes that came a few years later weren’t very impressive, that’s for sure. Now over to May 23, 2001:

Dear Cap: So Marvel is finally biting the bullet and withdrawing from the CCAA? I remember the huge debates when DC withdrew the stamp from Swamp Thing in the mid-'80s, and how virtually nothing came of it then. The main reason for that, of course, was that DC did not withdraw completely from the code -- it just set up Vertigo as a code-free line. Now that one of the Big Three is pulling out completely, does this necessarily mean the end of the code? In my own mind, I do not see how a code system without one of the (relatively) major publishers can continue, but neither do I believe the grading of comics in some voluntary fashion will be a suitable replacement. The question in my own mind boils down simply to this: Who, if anyone, should take responsibility for the comics we buy and read, and for indicating what the content may be?
Without going through the old arguments, maybe we need to look at the way comic shops arrange their goods. The ones I go into from time to time still insist on organising their comics in an A-Z fashion, without regard to the content of the magazine. The result can be a title like Lucifer within touching distance of Legion Lost, for example -- and then we wonder why parents get upset because little Johnny has got ahold of an adult title? Maybe we need to take a leaf out of bookshops, and arrange titles by category (crime/horror/humour/general), and then alphabetically within that category. Anyway, I would appreciate hearing your views on this.
My immediate reaction to Marvel's announcement is that it's only a matter of time before DC follows suit, and the CCAA becomes the "Archie Seal of Approval." A three-legged stool that loses a leg is bound to fall down. That's sheer speculation, of course, but it seems the likeliest outcome.
As to the Code itself, it's always been an exercise in cowardice and I won't be sorry to see it go. I don't doubt that the Code workers have the very best of intentions and work hard at their job -- but it's a job they shouldn't be doing.
Who's responsible for our reading material? You and me, pal, you and me.

It took DC a decade to follow suit, ditto Archie, yet only poor writing followed, and their output today is truly awful. Equally disturbing is how they published some horrors like Identity Crisis without a content warning. If there’s anyone the CCA’s closure didn’t help, it was the mainstream themselves.

Dear Capn: Well, I'll jump in and defend Enigma.
Enigma's my favorite Vertigo mini so far. My main response to your criticism is simply that when I first read it I don't believe I'd ever read anything else by (Peter) Milligan, and since then all I've read is the Human Target TPB, and any stories he's done for the Vertigo anthology minis (most of which I've got) and Flinch. Never read Minx. So I'm looking at the work in a different context than you are. Now, looking at a piece in relation to the author's other work is a worthy kind of analysis/criticism. But I don't think it's the only one. Looking at a work as a distinct, seperate piece is always a good way to go, too.
And I think Enigma holds up extremely well in this way. The "nothing happening" that was a problem for you in the most of the issues was for me the slow burn of an individual fighting hard against a slowly-dawning realization about himself. This guy put himself through a lot of (heck) before he chose to -- had to choose to? -- deal with what he was learning about himself and his feelings. Tying it all to the question of who and what The Enigma was not only deepened the mystery and conflict of his struggle, it also, of course, likened it to -- and in doing so, turned it into -- an identifiable and marginally commercial genre story. But that genre story provided a solid narrative backdrop against which psycho-dramatics could be placed, moving things along in a readable way. I think Milligan and Fegredo brought it all off beautifully. It was dark and moody and incredible to look at; Fegredo gave the mini a truly off-balance, fractured world in which to take place, reflecting the imbalance and conflict, within and between characters, that Milligan made so vivid, particularly in the central character's emotional/verbal/internal sparring with his girlfriend and especially The Enigma and himself. The guy's pain and half-life lethargy were very well-written.
For me, this all led up to something that wasn't as simple as the schlub finally fessing up and coming out after having been helped there by The Enigma and his involvement with the hero. A statement is made at the story's climax that is both subtle and rather radical, really. It is never established, in the thinking of the protagonist, The Enigma or the "author's voice" that it can be known whether the fella has been brought out (i.e., he was queer but unable to realize and deal with it before his encounter with The Enigma) or changed from straight to queer, made queer, by The Enigma's machinations. Yet he nevertheless opts to live out the sexual reality with which he now finds himself, embracing his love for The Enigma.
This goes a little deeper than merely exploring whether or not queerness is "caused" by nature or nurture, with its implications that it is an acceptable human state of being on the one hand and the suggestions that it is a "condition" or "warping" that can be prevented or undone on the other. In the protagonist's final commitment to his "new" sexuality and to The Enigma himself, Enigma suggests that, whether queer folk simply ARE, that queerness is just one configuration of human sexuality, or whether queerness is something attained through the redirecting of sexuality away from it's original state of straightness -- either way, the result is to be accepted and enjoyed, there's nothing wrong with it. In fact, it's a liberating phenomenon, a cause for celebration. After all, our guy clearly is in a state of inertia, if not outright entropy, before he learns the things that The Enigma has to teach him.
In a time when folks are adamantly lining up on one side or the other -- "We were born this way!"/"You've got a moral/physical/psychological/spiritual disease, and if you wanted to, you could get help and change!" -- Engima's ultimate stance is positively bracing.
Okay, another bone to pick ...
Capn, Capn, Capn, you have GOT to understand -- there are about a million light years between the Super Friends on TV and the Super Friends in comic books. Slamming the new TPB -- and the old series by extension -- because of the quality (or lack thereof) of the Saturday morning show is one big dang Nuh-Uh, Mr. Man! Because, creatively, the two things have almost nothing important in common whatsoever.
Yes, the cartoon show was junk. I mean, for the first two or so seasons, when they were sticking with the original concept of a small, permanent band of senior superheroes training the young folks to become crimefighters, I loved it. But I loved it despite the fact -- or perhaps it was because of the fact -- that it was awful.
The comic-book series was an entirely different matter. For one thing, they stuck with that strong initial concept throughout the run of the book. This gave the title a cohesion, a theme, a reason for being, while the TV show degenerated (and look where it degenerated from!) into a mess of contextless "oh, let's throw these heroes at these villains this week" skits. But, more importantly, the vast majority of the stories were written by E. Nelson Bridwell, and the majority of them were pencilled by Ramona Fradon. And they knew how to do it up right.
Bridwell understood the value of a relatively simple plot that appealed to kids without insulting anyone of any age. Never over-complicated, the narratives nevertheless usually sprung from a clever basic idea. For most of the run, he judiciously and deliciously applied guest-stars -- both established folk like Supergirl and Plastic Man and tons of characters created for the series, like the Global Guardians and a good set of the ever-popular "Four Elements" super-people -- without making the book feel like it was no longer about the Super Friends. And he had a great time offering up tons of grand old continuity and trivia for lovers of old-time DC. The original Black Orchid guest-starred, as did TNT and Dan the Dyna-Mite, and cameos, guest-spots, name-droppings, references of all kinds from all over the history of the DCU, found their way into the book. Bridwell also loved disbursing historical and scientific data in his stories, and he could do it in pretty comfortable, unobtrusive ways.
Bridwell was a marvel, and I miss seeing new work by him to this day.
And Fradon! Only one of my three favorite cartoonists, I think she's more than a marvel, and her work on the Super Friends was extraordinary. Just enough cartooniness to separate the title from the pack and make it a "younger readers" book, but one that, again, didn't look down on any reader. This is in part because, cartoony or not, Fradon's stuff was truly dynamic. Whether engaged in portraying characters' strong emotions or their superheroic physicality, Fradon knew how to tell a story, fluidly, clearly and potently. Backgrounds were general rare to be found, but this little mattered in light of the strong figure-work and panel and page composition.
Even the inks of Vince "Cinder Block" Colletta on the latter part of her run couldn't diminish her power and verve. Nevertheless, the greater-looking issues were inked by Bob Smith, who brought to Fradon's pencils a luscious and flexible, soft and smooth roundedness that was a thing of great beauty. I guess I enjoyed Colletta's issues, a bit begrudgingly, for offering up the "other," or "hard" Ramona Fradon, but the Fradon-Smith was the absolute (tops). One lone issue was inked, quite distressingly messily, by Kim DeMulder; it was after this book came out that I took to refering to him as Kim DeMuddier.
Super Friends remains, to this day, one of my very favorite comic-book series, ever, and DC need have nothing but pride in representing the material from it in a TPB, particularly since said volume is heavy on the Bridwell-Fradon(-Smith) thang ...
And do I even have to say anything more about Alex Toth than "Alex Toth?"
Actually, I do believe that DC has made two real missteps in publishing this book. One is, as far as I'm concerned, a matter of simply bad, bad taste, while the other one is ... well, quite the head-scratcher.
One, the cover: You take a beautiful original by one of the masters of the medium, Alex Toth. And you get Alex "lifeless realism" Ross to redo the shot.
Good God.
Two, why in the world did they reprint the first issue of the series -- the first part of a two-part story -- AND NOT REPRINT THE SECOND ISSUE? As I whined on the DC Message Boards, is DC run by lobotomized lemurs or something? Who the H-E-double-hockey-sticks came up with this stunning idea???
Thanks for your defense of Enigma, […] -- as I said, I didn't enjoy it, since I guessed the ending early on and there was no mystery in my mystery book. But I'm glad you got a kick out of it.
And I share your affection and enthusiasm for Ramona Fradon, E. Nelson Bridwell, et al. The Super Friends comic book wasn't exactly a world-beater, but it was a pretty good book -- and heads above the insipid cartoon!

Please, spare us the taqqiya, buster, you don’t fool people as easily as you must think. I wouldn’t trust his claim to be a Bridwell and Fradon fan one bit.

Dear Cap'n: Johnny-come-lately that I am I just got around to reading The Punisher. I read the first issue in Marvel Knights magazine, then bought the trade. The color wasn't as nice in the trade as in the magazine.
It was good. Not Ennis's best work but good. He only had one or two things to say about The Punisher, but he did say them well. So The Punisher kills criminals because he hates them? And he likes to do that?
And it wasn't violent enough by a long shot. I expected a little splatter, a little more arterial spray. And Daredevil should give a stern talk to the whiny wimp who impersonated him in issue #3.
But it's still pretty near the top of The Punisher pile.
I also picked up some Birds of Prey, partly on your recommendation. They were great but I think they've awakened a new pet peeve in me.
Jim Shooter always claimed that, along with inventing the trade paperback and leading comic pros from slavery, that he told his writers to mention the characters' name once an issue, maybe their origin or motivation. To throw the readers a bone.
Jim Shooter was right. I read two really good issues of Birds of Prey's Gorilla War storyline, up to where Diana left Deathstroke surrounded by apes, and unless I missed it no one ever mentioned that arrow-lady-in-red's code name, or why the hell she was there. I thought she was Arrowette but she was too willing to kill gorillas.
In addition, I understood the 15-plus years of continuity behind Deathstroke's motivations, who Ted Kord was, why Barbara was in a wheelchair and why Diana's called Black Canary and not Where's-The-Bottom-of-Your-Wetsuit Lady. Heck, I probably even have most of Mace's costumed appearances.
But I can't imagine that most anyone else would. And people wonder why kids don't flock to comic-book collecting. Who is going to join our little comic club if we don't tell them our secret code words and handshakes?
Two more Gorilla City things and I'm done. First, killing or ignoring or hypertiming or whatever has been done to Solovar makes Gorilla City a barren, pointless place. Every story needs an underlying conflict, even one about big monkeys (technically apes, okay). Reading about a Grodd-controlled Gorilla City is like watching Dukes of Hazzard episodes in which Boss Hogg has long ago buried the Duke boys in the swamp.
The other thing is the willingness of the characters to sacrifice a gorilla for Blockbuster. Gorilla City residents are as intelligent as people and, as far as I can see, just entitled to live. Chuck Dixon's Web site speaks a little about his Christian beliefs. Maybe he thinks killing gorillas is okay because they don't have souls?
Hey, what did happen to that big white telepathic ape anyway?
I assume you mean Ultra-Humanite, and I have no idea. Maybe he's in a floating poker game with M'Sieu Mallah, Detective Chimp, Sam Simeon, Titano and Beppo, the Super-Monkey.
I had lots of problems with the Birds of Prey Gorilla City storyline -- chief among them that it was boring and went on too long -- but I don't attribute the characters' nonchalance about sacrificing apes for humans as being Dixon's opinions so much as the characters' opinions. Max Allan Collins said (while writing Dick Tracy), "Tracy voted for Ronald Reagan, but I didn't." On the other hand, since I'm not privy to Dixon's mind, you could be right.
As to the Lady in Red, you've got a good point about her not being named. She's an assassin in Blockbuster's employ that Nightwing calls Lady Vic, which is short for something (Victoria? Victim? Vichhysoisse?). The fact that I can't remember off the top of my head is indicative that her full name isn't used nearly often enough. As to what she was doing there, the best term I can come up with is "baggage."
And full agreement on your Daredevil remarks. Maybe he should go back to the yellow togs until he develops a backbone.

Hmm, this correspondent’s told a lot more about himself than Ennis ever will. Ennis wrote Frank Castle carrying an all too easy motive for wiping out criminals, and he’s fine with that? Wow, imagine that, reducing Frank to some weakly characterized dummy who’s not blasting murderers and rapists away because he wants to exact the justice regular courts failed to provide, but rather, simply because he hates them, as though we’re not supposed to hate violent criminals. Next thing you know, he’ll say we shouldn’t object to turning established goodies into baddies!

Hi, Cap. I have to respectfully disagree with the following comments about Thor, Odin & Jane Foster, made on your website. (Sorry, I don't remember if they come from the Q&A or somewhere else.)
<<Nurse Jane Foster was originally written out of the series in Thor #136, wherein Odin "relented" and made Jane an Asgardian goddess to test her worthiness to be the Thunderer's mate. Naturally, this being Odin, he rigged the game -- Jane's divine power was that of flight (hardly unusual -- Thor can sorta do it -- and pretty useless offensively) and her tests were such that most Asgardians couldn't pass them. She failed the tests and Thor -- being a clod -- accepted Odin's judgment that she wasn't worthy. She was placed back on Earth sans powers, her memory of Asgard (and Dr. Don Blake) wiped, and introduced to handsome Dr. Kincaid who was -- gasp! -- a dead ringer for Blake. -- Captain Comics>>
Now I remember that comic fairly well, as one does most experiences of one's youth. Even as a kid, however, I didn't walk away from the story feeling that Odin was being unfair or capricious. (That would happen later, under OTHER writers.) Nor did I feel that the test was rigged due to the powers given to Jane by Odin.
The test was one of bravery, and it was THIS test which poor Jane Foster failed. Suddenly transplanted to a Nordic environment where warriors rule and dying bravely in battle is the happiest of fates, poor, simple pre-female empowerment Jane was overwhelmed and collapsed in a hysterical heap. Far from being a bully, Odin gave Jane a chance and showed his son the reason he was opposed to the match. At the very same time and at the end of the same story, he manages to introduce Thor to Sif, the goddess who is destined to be his mate.
Stan wrote a tale which displayed Odin's great wisdom and heart (something often lacking in the original Norse legends).
Thanks for the defense of Odin, […]. You make some nice points vis-a-vis the Norse warrior culture, something that hadn't occurred to me when reading the story. Funny how two people can read the same story and walk with different impressions, ain't it?

I’m skeptical that was his impression years back. It’s not all that surprising coming from somebody who can’t even appreciate the co-starring women from superhero comics who were written as brave. Or, who can’t even appreciate the idea they could do their best to learn about courage. He sure didn’t seem bothered that some of the female co-stars seen in Identity Crisis could act like hysterical cowards.

Dear Cap: I frequent a chat at http://comicbookresources.com and we have started a debate about "mature" comics like Vertigo and the new Marvel line. The debate is whats the difference between a "mature" comic and just a regular old comic story. Some feel it's because it deals with "mature" themes (whatever that means). Others feel that the only difference is that there's nudity/sex, swearing, and more graphic violence in the "mature" comic. Kinda like what's the big difference between PG-13 movie and an R-rated movie. Is the only thing keeping, let's say, Superman a regular comic book is that we haven't seen him and Lois actively have sex (even though we know they are) and thats there's hardly any swearing in it? What do you and your readers think?
I've posted your question, […], and will wait for resonses to come in. For my own part, a "regular" book -- like Marvel's mainstream titles and the DCU titles -- I think of as PG-rated, in that nothing will appear that I couldn't put in my newspaper. That is, no nudity, excessive violence, swearing or overly controversial material. A mature title I think of as "R" and, hopefully, is called that because it has mature themes -- that is, a storyline might involve abortion or gun control or some other hot-button topic, or the good guy could lose, or drug use could be painted in a glamorous light. Of course, "mature" could also just be a euphemism/excuse to show some boobs and cuss. This is a particularly timely topic, in light of Marvel's decision to adopt an in-house rating system.

Umm, heroes losing is not something considered “mature”. Otherwise, the Fantastic Four’s loss to the Hulk in 1964 would have to be censored, now wouldn’t it? Yet another discussion he gives that doesn’t qualify because he approved of Identity Crisis trivializing a serious issue. Say, and Marvel did quite a few “mature” acts soon after ditching the CCA, but ultimately, they turned out to be very poorly written garbage as well. Stuff that Mr. Smith didn’t seem especially worried about either, or he would’ve complained how their “maturity” was superficial at worst.

Captain: Last week, during a trip to my local comics shop, the owner mentioned the arrival of JLA: Incarnations #1, thinking that I would want to add it to my collection. My response was “No thanks. I’ll just wait until the trade paperback comes out next year, and buy it then.” As you can imagine, his reaction was less than enthusiastic.
This brought to mind a quote by Neil Gaiman. When describing his approach to writing “The Kindly Ones” story arc in Hy Bender’s The Sandman Companion (Vertigo Books, 1999), Gaiman said: “By the time that I was plotting The Kindly Ones, I knew the entire storyline would end up being collected in book form. I therefore chose to pace the story in a way that would work perfectly for a book -- but would not work very well for a monthly comic. ... Some monthly readers complained that they didn’t feel the story was being done for them, and they were just being used to subsidize the book; and there’s truth to that charge.”
I admire Gaiman and applaud his candor is discussing such a controversial approach. He could have easily claimed that we was consistently focused on the monthly comic and pleasing his loyal fans, and that the collections were not a factor in his plotting style. Instead he exposed a truth about modern comics publishing.
Similarly, I recall reading an interview online by someone at Marvel, explaining their excitement at hiring Grant Morrison to write New X-Men. In this interview, the person (and I apologize -- I cannot find a copy or recall who was speaking) said that Morrison proposed the concept of writing stories in arcs that could ultimately be collected into TPB form, as well as connecting Annuals with a common plot that accommodates a TPB collection.
Getting back to my original anecdote, I rarely buy individual comics anymore; instead I wait for the TPBs. A simple reason is economics: Why should I ultimately spend over $24 on JLA: Incarnations over the next seven months, when I can wait a little longer and buy the paperback collection for under $20? For similar reasons, I did not buy Legion Lost, The Brave & the Bold or “Superman’s Return to Krypton;” and I do not buy the monthly issues of Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate X-Men, Legion Worlds, Amazing Spider-Man, etc.
I will admit, I do occasionally buy individual comics issues. For example, I’m enjoying Green Arrow, and I plan to buy JLA/Avengers & the Dark Knight sequel as soon as they are released. But I just don’t find the need to buy the comics NOW; I can wait a year and still enjoy the stories (without that pesky monthly wait between issues!). And let’s be honest and admit to another cold truth: If a storyline is compelling and worth reading, nine times out of 10 it will be collected and republished in TPB format.
Much has been written lately about the future of comics industry. One of the common proposals is the abandonment of the current periodical format, and instead switch to publishing square-bound collections of the stories. As I’ve illustrated above, that reflects my buying pattern. (One notable exception: As per my habit, I did not buy the original run of the Batman “No Man’s Land” story arc; however, I’m also not buying the TPBs because I refuse to spend over $60 for the TPB collections. Instead, I bought the paperback version of Greg Rucka’s novelization, and enjoyed it immensely ... and for under $7!)
Now for my challenge to you: Can you (or the Legion of Superfluous Heroes) make an argument for buying monthly comics? And please do not use the easy excuses such as “They are a good financial investment” (they’re not; only the occasional issue increases in value), “We need the comics to subsidize the TPBs” (I don’t get that argument ... traditional books are published without first being serialized, and that industry has consistently flourished), etc.
I’d appreciate your feedback, and look forward to your opinions.
Well, the truth is that the monthly books are necessary for the publishers. Comics are periodicals, not books; the comic-book industry is structured differently than the book industry. The comics industry is front-loaded with tremendous overhead;. the book industry is the very definition of low overhead. Book publishers can simply wait for a single writer (whom they don't have to support during the writing phase) to walk in and hand in a manuscript. Then they pay him a front fee, and turn around and put out a book to pay him the rest. (That's simplistic -- some writers get enormous advances -- but you see my point.) Comics, on the other hand, have to support legions of writers, artists, inkers, letterers, colorists, editors, distributors, retailers, etc. -- the whole periodical chain from one end to the other -- on a month-to-month basis or the whole show evaporates. The writers and artists have to be paid regularly so they can eat, so the publishers have to have regular income to pay them, which means retailers have to sell monthly to keep the cash flow going, which means retailers have to have regular product, etc. Besides, if the comics publishers restricted themselves to TPBs under current conditions, it wouldn't be enough to keep them alive.
But that doesn't answer the question of why YOU should buy the monthly product. Frankly, I can't think of a good reason. After all, it's not YOUR responsibility to keep the publishers flush; they ought to figure how to do that themselves! I'll be interested to hear other opinions from the LSH!

Sigh. No, the monthly pamhlets are not necessary for the publishers. Trade paperbacks are. And he’s wrong about comics being only periodicals – what about Will Eisner’s A Contract With God? That was one of the first graphic novels published in the late 1970s. Today, there’s plenty of GNs that didn’t all begin in pamphlet formats.

Dear Cap: It's way past time for the X-Men to have a rest. The franchise should be put on the shelf for five years at least. There's more than enough Marvel material out there to keep X-fanatics satisfied. I for one have quite enough of The X-Men to last me the next 20 years. And I'm speaking as a 42-year-old who's been around since the team was first conceived. Enough already.
I'd be content with, oh, I dunno -- maybe a single monthly Uncanny X-Men book? The cascade of titles is really tiresome. No sooner do they deservedly axe a bunch of second-tier X-books (X-Man, Bishop, Gambit, GenX) than they generate a bunch MORE second-tier X-books (X-Treme X-Men, The Brotherhood). Pfeh. "Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it."

Yeah, and that includes people who complain about sexism, and then when an “event” comes about that wallows in gender bigotry, they suddenly forget all they said before. Sick.

The X-Men franchise did wear out its welcome long ago, but as seen recently, it was the Fantastic Four that got cancelled, apparently because Marvel’s managers see it as a sacrificial lamb – it doesn’t sell as well anymore, even though X-Men no longer sell well either.

Re: Your column in CBG #1434 on Marvel Team-Up #28
I haven't had the opportunity to read the story in question, but have heard others opine on its absurdity. One point others raised that was not covered in your story is that, based on the two-page spread included with the article, Herc is towing the island back into place BACKWARDS. Or, as the song might now go,
New York, New York
It's a helluva town.
The Bronx is down,
and the Battery's up.
It'd never be the same.
Lawsy, that Hercules. You gotta watch that boy every minute. Thanks, [name withheld]!

You also gotta watch for all the dishonesty the mainstream press obsessively keeps on with, Mr. Smith included.

Dear Cap: Not to be picky (No, that's a lie, I love to be picky!), but baseball was not imported into Japan after WWII. It's actually been played in Japan since 1873. You can find some good info on this at:
http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2081.html
The popularity of baseball in Japan was something of an embarassment to the Japanese government during the war years, which tried to cover up its American origins as much as possible. I don't know as much as the history of Japanese comics but
http://www.dnp.co.jp/museum/nmp/nmp_i/articles/manga/manga1.html seems to
indicate that they have a history almost as long, although it is true that manga as we know them today didn't really develop until the advent of Osamu Tezuka in 1947.
Anyway, I hope this letter doesn't come across as too snotty, it's just that Twentieth Century Japanese History is something of a hobby of mine. Interestingly enough, despite being fascinated with Japanese culture in general, I have to admit that I'm not a huge fan of manga myself. Maybe I'm just a big old gaijin, but the goofy sidekicks and prepubescent female nudity have always perturbed me a little, even though I understand that these are a product of cultural differences to which I am not accustomed.
Thanks for the info, […]! That flies in the face of what I learned at Vanderbilt in one of my history classes -- I'd go chew that professor out if he wasn't probably dead now.

Mr. Smith doesn’t seem perturbed by crudely written rape scenes drawn from near 1st-person perspectives, as if it were taking place in a shooting game like Doom. Hmm, what are the odds he keeps a lot of ecchi, or worse, hentai, around the house?

Dear Captain Comics: I’m absolutely delighted to see Amazing Heroes mentioned on your site; it’s a magazine I enjoyed writing for in the three years I spent with it before its sad demise, and it’s heartwarming to see that it’s fondly recalled. For anybody longing for Amazing Heroes, I recommend the publication Comics International. Published in the U.K., Comics International has the intelligent fanboy perspective of Amazing Heroes. At $1.95 an issue, it’s much less expensive than Wizard, and there are far more
reviews and historical information.
Right now, I’m trying to renew my enthusiasm for comic books, and it’s been a difficult process. I don’t want to give it up -- nostalgia has such a keen pull on my heart; at the same, there isn’t much to be excited about, at least from what I have seen. The main problem are the prices. With the inflated prices, I expect more from any comic book I purchase; if I am to plunk down three or four bucks for a title, the writing has to be on the level of mid-‘80s Alan Moore. That may seem like extremely high standards; however, the prices warrant it. For four dollars, I could visit the used CD store and purchase four or five New Wave albums from the ‘80s.
I am pleased to learn that Grant Morrison will be scripting an X-Men comic, but I wonder if that alone will rejuvenate my affection for comic books. I’ve tried varying young authors of current hip idolatry -- Brian Michael Bendis, Paul Jenkins, among others -- and while I can see qualities worthy of critical rhapsodies, none has made my heart skip a beat.
What am I searching for? I mentioned to you before the lack of a “sense of wonder” in modern superhero titles, and I suppose that’s a significant part of it. I just want to read comic books that will drag me into the store again, open my mind to the vast landscapes of another person’s imagination. Can you recommend any superhero comics today that would do this?
I’ve read some of Alan Moore’s latest work, and while he can still weave memorable tales, his magic isn’t quite as potent as it once was. I remember when Swamp Thing was alone on a blue planet and recreated his loved ones to free him of his loneliness. I was so
moved by it that I analyzed it in a piece for Amazing Heroes. That’s what I’m searching for -- a burst of unrestrained creativity.
Thanks for your comments, [withheld] -- and I miss Amazing Heroes, too.
As to what superhero comics might ignite your malnourished sensawunda, it's hard to say without knowing you better. But there are a lot of good ones out there these days. JLA, JSA and Avengers have never been better, and Fantastic Four is really beginning to click. Spider-Girl is whimsical fun, while Black Panther is political theater and Captain Marvel mixes humor with heroism. Paul Jenkins and J. Michael Straczynski are getting ambitious on the Spider-titles, while Peter Milligan's X-Force is gritty hyperrealism. Kurt Busiek's Astro City, when it comes out, is in a class all its own, as is Alan Moore's literate Promethea. Batgirl, Birds of Prey and one or two other Bat-books do a lot with a little in the non-powered superhero category. Then there are the pseudo-superhero titles worth your time: Planetary, The Authority, Powers and Rising Stars. And why limit yourself to superheroes, when astonishing strides are being made in titles like Age of Bronze, Ring of the Nibelung, The Red Star, Queen & Country and 100 Bullets. And just because they're canceled, there's no reason not to pick up the TPBs of such books as Starman, Hitman and Preacher. I'm sure I'm leaving a few out, and others readers will have recommendations as well.

I could chide him for recommending a Warren Ellis-owned title like Planetary, but I think I’ll reserve my condemnation for his recommendation of James Robinson’s Starman. I honestly don’t think time will be kind to it, and Robinson’s already proving why.

Dear Cap: I was thinking about something today and I'm interested to see what you and others think. Which do you prefer, miniseries/one-shots or crossovers, where continuity is affected?
After thinking about it a little, I have to say that I prefer the miniseries/one-shot approach. Let me give a couple of reasons:
1) The miniseries/one-shot approach gives the consumer (us fanboys/fangirls) the opportunity to decide whether or not the story is important or interesting enough to pick up. A good recent example (to me) is the Robin:Year One series. I personally have always been a big Dick Grayson/Robin fan (in fact, I'm pretty sure I like him more than Batman) and therefore to me the miniseries was an essential, as will be the Dark Victory TPB when it comes out (as I'm sure it will eventually). However, I could see that for those fans that aren't into Robin, having this appear in one of the monthly Bat-family books would be fairly annoying. Conversely, I could say the same about the recent Superman/Batman fight appearing in Detective (and one of the Superman books, none of which I read) recently which I personally did not find very interesting, especially since it seemed to be screaming out for a World's Finest one-shot.
2) Crossovers tend to interrupt what are sometimes really good stories in the peripheral titles. As much as I enjoyed the recent "Officer Down!" story, I felt it kind of stopped the momentum of books like Birds of Prey, Robin, Nightwing and even Detective. Not to mention that in a lot of the titles the featured character(s) were shoved off to the side (Robin barely appeared in his comic), which I think defeats the real purpose of the crossover in the first place (which is point No. 3).
3) The (true) purpose of the crossover is to get the reader to pick up titles they wouldn't normally pick up and hopefully, be intrigued enough by the character to continue to pick up the title. I think that especially in this period of time, given the very small number of comics readers, the proliferation of comics information on the Internet, and the price of the comics themselves, I can personally attest that I am not going to pick up titles I wouldn't normally buy based on a cross-over. For instance (going back to "Officer Down!"), the only title I picked up that I don't buy normally is Gotham Knights, simply because it was the end of the story arc (I haven't picked it up again because I don't need it to follow continuity). I did not pick up Azrael, Batgirl, Catwoman or Harley Quinn, nor do I plan to in the near future. Generally (I can only speak for myself), if I do decide to pick up a new title, it's because I hear good things about the title from enough sources that I trust to give it a shot.
I really would be interested to hear what you and other members of the Legion of Superfluous Heroes and anyone else on that matter think about this situation.
In general, if continuity is affected I prefer the story take place in the main titles, with specific out-of-continuity ideas or flashbacks occurring in miniseries/one-shots. But I see your point, primarily because both "Officer Down!" and "In this issue -- Batman dies!" didn't really gel. But, as with "Officer Down!", when something important happens that affects the main title (as Commissioner Gordon't retirement does to ALL the Bat-books), it's nice to have the event within those titles so that you can sit down and read, say, a year's worth of Batman without having to go dig up a miniseries or something to explain what happened between issues 586 and 587.
Of course, what really curls my toes is a miniseries that isn't special at all, and could and should have occurred within the main title anyway, like Iron Man: Bad Blood, Daredevil: Ninja and just about any X-mini from the last five years.
Anyway, my opinion's not carved in stone. I'm curious to hear what others have to say.

Uh uh, he doesn’t see any point, because he’s embraced Identity Crisis, and come to think of it, he also accepted Marvel’s storytelling even after Avengers: Disassembled, right down to the awful treatment of Scarlet Witch. I never even saw him comment on an insulting story Bendis wrote where Hawkeye went in search of Wanda, and basically took advantage of her while she was amnesiac. And if he can’t publicly condemn that, he has no business arguing about points.

Dear Cap: I noted in your latest mailbag that you say you know very little about the Harry Potter books. Although I'm sure I won't be the first person, let me be the latest to highly recommend reading these. They are children's books, in that they are directed at a young audience and sold in the juvenile section of bookstores -- but they are are exciting, fascinating, charming and appeal to me as a comic reader (not that THAT is a well-defined term, but be that as it may ...) The books appeal to adults as well as children, and they are not insulting to anyone's intelligence. I think you would find the books enchanting and a lot of fun. I do, and I'm 40 (my wife, also 40, is hooked on them; every now and again, she says, "Next book ... next book ..." and gets that glassy look in her eyes.) I would think that you will be doing yourself a favor to check out the four books if you can squeeze in the time ... and they're worth squeezing the time in. Perhaps you might even solicit a review/recap from one of your regular columnists? It really is only a matter of time before these books are "comic-ized."
Thanks, […]. MORE stuff to read -- it's an embarrassment of riches!

J. K. Rowling is also an embarrassment of political biases, as seen recently after the bloodbath at Charlie Hebdo’s office in Paris, France. Although not actually said in the last book, Rowling sure led to an awkward situation after she said at a book convention that Hogwarts’ professor Dumbledore was homosexual. What is the point of that, honestly? No less annoying is how none of the teachers in the books I read seemed to be married, although some of the students had their romantic connections. Now for another letter by me:

Dear Cap: Sometimes I’ve wondered if old people, 40- or 50-plus, can be the central focus in comics.
Usually, when adults are featured in comics, they’re secondary to the action, serving as parental figures and mentors, as in the cases of Aunt May, Charles Xavier and even Martha and Jonathan Kent. But can the elderly ever be in the spotlight? This is something that I don’t know if comics writers have ever explored. Comic books of course have largely been for the younger generation and starring the younger generation. But that doesn’t mean that adults over 50 couldn’t be an interesting focus for comic books. And there’s no reason why the younger generation shouldn’t find them an interesting focus as well. One sure thing, they certainly shouldn’t be against it. And I most certainly am not. Years ago, in fact, I also used to watch reruns of several television programs whose protagonists were 40 and 50, including Columbo; Kojak; The Rockford Files; Murder, She Wrote; Cagney & Lacey; and even The A-Team, in which George Peppard was the oldest member. And some of these shows were certainly a lot better than what today’s TV has to offer.
One thing that’s certainly good about many comics though, is that unlike a lot of movies in the past decade, they don’t try to depict old folks in a negative light. That could be of course because people in the comics industry aren’t as busy as movie folks are, and they’re able to find more time to be their families (it helps of course that many artists can work at home), and also because they’re more understanding and respecting of the value of having relatives and kids than moviemakers are.
One example I can think of at the moment in which the protagonist is over 50: Frank Miller’s mid-'80s masterpiece, The Dark Knight Returns, in which a mid-50s Bruce Wayne comes out of retirement. This is one of the best stories spotlighting an over-50 protagonist.
I once heard someone say that after you turn 50, the showbiz industry doesn’t care about you any more. And they act as if old people don’t go to the movies or even buy themselves pastry snacks like M&Ms. Nonsense, as an uncle of mine once told me, there are plenty of older people across the U.S. who like to eat M&Ms, go to see movies, and even read comics, including a couple of the contributors to the Mailbag. And I think it is worth a try to spotlight old people in comics. What could be done for example is to write a Superman story that focuses on Martha and Jonathan Kent, and could tell the story from their viewpoint, like how they see their adopted son Clark, and his career as Superman. Or, they could even write a story that spotlights the sorceress Agnes Harkness, an elderly character who appeared in the Fantastic Four and the Silver Surfer. And of course, they could even do a story that focuses on Aunt May, whose recent appearance in Spider-Man #31 was done for comic relief.
To say the least, even old folks do deserve a chance to be spotlighted in comic books. For even younger folks do need to get to know about and understand the elderly. And while I don’t know if it’d get more older people to read comics as well, it could at least give them something to be pleased with.
I've railed against age discrimination in comics before, Avi. It's all well and good to have coming-of-age stories and hero-learns-the-ropes stories, but a little variety would be nice, too. But I can't really blame the publishers, who are well and truly trying to appeal to a young demographic. The problem is larger than that. Fixation on youth is endemic throughout Western entertainment, to the point where TV shows never seem to show anybody -- brain surgeons, nuclear physicists, master spies -- who aren't under 30 (and gorgeous -- you wonder why people who look that good didn't go into more lucrative fields, like acting). And if you think over-50 audiences are being ignored, listen to the complaints of over-30 actresses ... !
Which is just silly. Honestly, if you were in trouble and a Green Lantern flew to your rescue, would you rather it be Kyle Rayner, or a fiftysomething GL with 30 years experience with the ring? In the real world, believe it or not, experience counts. As an editor, if I've got a problematic story, I don't assign it to a twentysomething intern -- I give it to an old hand, who's been reporting for years and knows all the landmines. He may not be young and pretty, but he'll probably turn in a Pulitzer Prize-winner. I don't care how good the intern MAY be someday -- I've got a problem, and the old hand is the guy who can solve it for me NOW.
Incidentally, go back and re-read that scene with Aunt May in Amazing Spider-Man #31 -- I actually thought it was the best use of Aunt May in ... well, ever. Instead of being borderline senile and out of touch, it seemed to me that she was an unusually active agent in the conversation, getting Peter to make the right decision by saying juuuuust the right thing to lead him where he needed to go. In other words, Aunt May solved his problem for him, but sweet thing that she is, she let him think it was HIS idea. I thought that was Marvel-ous.

Trouble is, even an “old-hand” like him knows too little if he can’t figure out when prejudice is sitting right under his nose in Identity Crisis. In fact, I don’t think he spotted it in Avengers: Disassembled either; his alleged “pan” of that story seemed to be on pretty superficial grounds as it was. So, I can’t accept his argument today, any more than various other ones. Him rail against discrimination? What a joke.

Cap: Let me first say that I enjoy your site. Since I have tightened up my budget I no longer buy CBG, but your column more than makes up for it.
Now onto the big thing. I started comic collecting in 1970 when my grandma bought me a Batman comic (which I learned to read from). Years of collecting, conventions , flea markets, etc., that tried my wife's patience and one day I just snapped and started to sell my collection.
Piles were given away to kids, some of the real muck was tossed in a public place where hopefully somebody would adopt it and the rest were sold on eBay. For the most part I took a big loss on what I sold.
After I was done I had some insights.
First I did keep a hundred or so books that were my favorites. Spirit reprints, Not Brand Echh and Inferior 5 (childhood favorites), 1963 (Alan Moore trying to lighten things up after Watchmen turned them dark). Etc.
For the most part the people who I sold my comics to were great, but some of them ... well I could see where the negative stereotypes come from.
Chief among these was the guy who months after the auction was over lambasted me over a comic that did not ship (according to him). I gave him a list of suggestions ( ask the local post office or anyone else who might sign for your mail). After some "taunt" e-mails I got one from him that said "Oh, mother had it!" No "I am sorry in sight."
Another one asked that I "be sure to put the comic in an envelope with cardboard. My wife said "Gee, I guess that leaves out our plan of wrapping it in toilet paper and using a marker to write on the book to address it."
The sad thing is that at one time or another I was guilty of one or two of these behaviours myself. The nice thing is I gained a lot of closet space and time to investigate other interests.
I recomend that other fans try to do the same if you feel that this hobby is taking up too much of your time (or money). I make a good living but it amazes me that there are others out there who can afford $200 statues and other stuff on a regular basis.
I still buy an occasional comic to read and pass on. The only thing I do buy are the collections. I like the collections because usually the best stories are collected. They can be left on the book case. I can read them without fear of condition and for the most part I can often find them at discounts if I am patient.
Now as somebody looking from the outside in I have some observations.
Comics helped shaped some of my morality. Very often I will do the right thing because of lessons learned from the four-color kingdom.
One of the things that I hope the industry does do is try to make things fun again. Am I the only one to notice that one of the things missing from today's books are the house ads that would intrigue you to buy other books.
As for the talent pool: While there are many great talents out there more and more it seems that we rely on a few all stars. Its time to bring in fresh blood and some of the old masters who seem to be left out in the cold.
And lastly, let's have some fun out there and stop taking ourselves too seriously. What made the Silver Age great in my mind was the sense of fun there was. Something I see lacking out there. Just my thoughts.
And interesting ones they are, [name withheld]. Anybody who sees themselves in your "fanboy" scenarios should have some thinking to do. And I'm all for adding more fun to our little hobby, something that's been missing since grim-n-gritty became the rage.

Once again, he posits a lie. His embrace of Identity Crisis contradicts his argument. So too in fact does his willingness to accept Infinite Crisis and the 52 maxi-series from 2006. Now for May 30, 2001:

Dear Cap:
<<As my wife remarked after reading The Brotherhood, if mutants existed in America they wouldn't be assaulted in the street -- they'd all be celebrities (like in the new X-Force). America is enthralled by those who rise above the common herd, and we aren't burdened by rigid class distinction.We don't resent Bill Gates's money, because we all think we're one lucky break away from being equally rich. We LIKE weirdoes (See: Dennis Rodman). We'd make the pretty mutants rich, and we'd set up support groups for the ugly ones, who would all end up on talk shows whining to a sympathetic audience. If mutants existed, we'd all want to BE one. -- Captain Comics>>
Couldn't agree with you more on that statement, Cap! I've always been confused by the fact that the public accepts superhumans like the Fantastic Four and The Avengers, but rejects the X-Men on the premise that they're superhumans! (Well, you understand what I mean).
Looking at X-Force #116, I've always said that all Xavier needed was good marketing and the X-Men would be overnight heroes/celebrities.
For a good look at the idea of superhumans as celebrities. Check out these links:
The Specials: This independent movie does Mystery Men one better as it goes further into Captain Amazing's dilemma (Superhero as celebrity, and what do you do when there aren't enough supervillans/super-problems to go around?)
http://www.thespecials-movie.com/
And here are some reviews of the White-Wolf RPG company's answer to superhero role playing: Aberrant (I've played it, it's awesome)
http://rpg.net/news+reviews/reviews/rev_2266.html
http://rpg.net/news+reviews/reviews/rev_2735.html
http://rpg.net/news+reviews/reviews/rev_1972.html
Enjoy!
Thanks, [withheld]! I've often thought -- and stated on this site -- that what Professor "Big Brain" Xavier should've done from the beginning is read the mind of a good public relations expert. Maybe then he wouldn't have tried to achieve human/mutant trust by dressing teenagers in masks and having them avoid the press -- !

Here’s another correspondent whom I hope is now confused/disgusted at how Mr. Smith complains about dark grittiness and then goes on to embrace sexist abominations and other horrific screeds shortly afterwards. What he should’ve done is see a psychologist.

Dear Captain: I have been visiting your website for some time (about the last eight months or so) and I want to let you know that I think it is the best website about comics! I like the fact that your site is so content-based -- it is very informative and I love the debates.
I guess I got into comics the traditional way you would recognize -- buying them off the rack at my local newsagent. I was pretty lucky that my newsagent carried such a great variety of comics, as I was raised in a country town in Australia. Being the tender age of about eight, I went straight to the superhero comics -- I remember reading Green Lantern and JLA from my earliest years. I still have some "Best of DC Blue Ribbon" Digests which collected various DC stories, like "Superman vs. Weird Villains;" "Superman vs. Kryptonite;" "Detective Comics;" "Superman vs. Luthor;" a collection of stories telling how Black Canary (pre-Crisis), Red Tornado, Elongated Man and Zatara joined the JLA; and stories of the JSA (including its origin in WWII, pre-Crisis of course). The Digests were in colour, but in a small-size format.
I later gravitated to Marvel when I started reading Spider-Man reprints published in a similar format to the DC Digests. I think it was called Marvel Comics Series by Pocket Books -- I only have two volumes titled "Stan Lee Presents the Amazing Spider-Man," which collected Amazing Fantasy #15 and Amazing Spider-Man #1-11 (I think; the last story was the first appearance of Mysterio).
(Captain's Note: That would be Amazing Spider-Man #13.)
I started reading Amazing Spider-Man #231 (which had the Cobra) onwards. I then discovered Uncanny X-Men #167 (I think) which had the first Brood storyline -- it really grabbed me when I saw Wolverine fighting the Brood embryo gestating inside him and Storm had bonded with a living spaceship -- fantastic stuff!
Captain, do you remember the DC Digests and the Marvel Comics Series reprints or were they something published for overseas markets?
Eventually I had to stop during university, as it got very expensive for me to collect the few titles I enjoyed. When I had a steady job, I was interested in getting back into comics, although the exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the Australian dollar means that comics cost more than twice the U.S. price. I started going for trade paperbacks -- Kingdom Come, JLA, Watchmen, etc. -- as I found it easier to get "complete" stories than try to pick up the middle of plotline. By the way, I find that DC generally has a better presentation and effort in their trade paperbacks than Marvel. Is that a choice Marvel has made because of their recent bankruptcy?
Anyway, I found your website was entertaining, informative and really helped me get back into comics. On your recommendation, I have picked up Black Panther, Amazing Spider-Man and Peter Parker: Spider-Man, and I am enjoying them immensely. I particularly like the question posed by JMS (like you I find it difficult typing Mr. Babylon 5's last name!) -- how did Peter get his powers? It really made me question the assumption I (and Peter) made about the origin of his powers. I am sure the answers are going to be fun to find out too. I guess that is what I like about comics -- they are fun.
It has been quite a long letter, but I just wanted to say for you to keep up the good work. There are very few websites that have excellent content and great debates on comics. As I said before, your website is the best!
Thanks, [name withheld], for a letter that warmed the bitter, twisted cockles of my blackened heart! I hope I -- and the Legion of Superfluous Heroes, long may they wave -- can keep you keen on comics. Where else can you have this much fun?
And Straczynski's Spider-Man? I'm with you there -- I've read about the webspinner's life for 39 years and it never occurred to me to ask the question JMS did in his first issue. That's called "good writing" in my book.
As to the digests, DC did publish the Blue Ribbon series (and others) in the U.S., but I never saw the Marvel books you mention. Could have appeared elsewhere, but not where I lived, here in the heart of Dixie. And as to the trade-paperback situation, DC made a business decision about a decade back to aggressively pursue the TPB market, and Marvel didn't -- but they're playing catch-up now. Marvel has entered the TPB sweepstakes in a big way, and have announced plans -- should they have the financial wherewithal -- to have as big a backlog of in-print material as DC.
Anyway, thanks again for the kind words -- and for the anecdotes. I love anecdotes!

It’s been 14 years and the answers were neither fun, nor did they actually last. But that’s probably nothing compared to the obliteration of Spidey’s marriage to Mary Jane Watson, one of the worst things about Joe Quesada’s decade of awfulness. But does that matter to Mr. Smith at this point? Signs haven’t been promising.

Hi! I've been a long-time reader of your column, and always wanted to contribute with my own two cents (I'm cheap), but never had the time. Whenever I had an idea about a topic you brought up, some other intelligent reader had already beaten me to it. (Just goes to show I should go to sites with a dumber readership -- naah).
But this discussion about Oracle's swindling Blockbuster's money got me thinking. How do so many superheroes make a living having to divide their time between "secret identity" jobs and the superhero gig? I mean, some of these guys just take off to fight evil, then have to run back to their actual jobs, then there's a bank robbery, then there's a job emergency ... How DO they keep their jobs? If I did that sorta stuff, I'd be unemployed in a week.
I know, the Avengers get government paychecks, the Fantastic Four live off Reed's royalties over inventions. Bbut what do the Titans do for a living? Or the X-Men? Where did the X-Men get money for that ultra-high-tech place they live in, Danger Room included? Does Xavier somehow support all of the DOZENS of mutants in the X-books? Or, like regular students, do they take summer jobs? Picture Skin workin' at McDonalds. Nothing for me, thanks.
Have you seen the recent Mystery Men movie? There was a superhero in it who made a living through sponsors! I thought that was a GREAT idea. He had ads on his costume, similar to the ones race-car drivers wear. Would you mind if the guy who flew down from the sky to save your life wore an "Exxon" logo on his shoulder? Even the hero's name might be related to his sponsor, like the "heroes" we see on corny '50s-style ads! You know, Captain Cornflakes and like that (Not that much worse than some existing names, many of which are found in the SILLY SUPER-NAMES section of your site). Picture Ice being sponsored by a cold-drink brand, Black Canary being endorsed by Harley-Davidson (she does ride a motorcycle) or Hawkeye with a Rolex (Precision and style, dontcha know ;-) ). Booster Gold's original series touched on that a bit, and it made sense to me, not seeming odd or wrong. I mean, the bottom line is whether they're (the heroes) saving lives and doing good, right? If they're accomplishing that, why not make a living through licensed use of their good image? We don't mind when Michael Jordan endorses sponsors he chose responsibly, would we care if The Flash did it?
Well, hope you find my first contribution interesting. I hope to be able to do it more, it's fun.
There's that F-word again: Fun. Seems we're doing this right!
I did see Mystery Men, and enjoyed it immensely. The character you mention -- Captain Amazing, played by Greg Kinnear -- was a hoot, even if he didn't seem terribly heroic.
But then, as you say, how DO those superheroes maintain their income?
With the X-Men, Professor X has a private fortune AND his funds/equipment are buttressed by the Shi'Ar. You could surmise that a guy with a connection to a galactic empire could make a dime when he wanted to. And, of course, all those "playboy" heroes like Batman, Starman and Sandman have private fortunes that finance their crusades.
But how do the blue-collar heroes keep a roof over their heads? I've often marveled that Peter Parker maintains a middle-class lifestyle in one of the most expensive cities in the world without bothering to maintain a steady job. Nightwing's difficulties in getting away from his police gig has been documented -- but it's still difficult to believe. The list goes on and on -- and I think it's time we started cataloging income on this site! Where does the money come from to keep college-professor Ray Palmer in Atom gadgets? Who paid for the Titans Tower? Is the entire JSA financed from Wesley Dodds's fortune? Inquiring minds want to know!
Good question, […], and I want to hear from the Legion on this one. Where DOES the money come from?

I’ve got a better query: where does Mr. Smith take his cues from when he praises some of the worst products coming out of the Big Two, probably dating back to the mid 90s when he first began his career? Don’t patronize us about money where it doesn’t matter so much, buster brown.

Dear Cap,: I really don't understand what Frank Miller hoped to gain by his Wizard rant and wonder if he didn't make himself look foolish in the process.
If he is so disgusted by the publication (actually he seems to be bothered by quite a few things and Wizard just happened to take the brunt), why dignify it with that sort of public performance?
It's kind of like Pauline Kael taking Pauly Shore to task for his latest alleged film on the front page of The New York Times. Talk about stooping to conquer.
Without spending a dime, Wizard has already benefited by receiving considerable publicity, and, based on the scathing and emotional nature of Miller's diatribe, I'm guessing Wizard will continue to benefit in the form of fan support and sympathy. Am I the only one who thinks Wizard comes out of this looking like the victim? "Satan's bible?"
To quote Warren Oates from Stripes, "Lighten Up, Francis."
Anyway, reading Miller's comments (obviously, the performance didn't read as well as it played "live") brought to mind a phenomenon I witness frequently at my job: I edit a magazine at a university after working for around 10 years as a reporter and sportswriter at a daily newspaper. I'm constantly amazed at the power the press has over people. Many of the academicians here get incredibly worked up over what they consider "negative" press coverage, particularly in the student paper. Please. Have these folks ever heard the phrase "Consider the source"?
In this case, the source is a bunch of confused college kids. It's debatable whether these non-pros should be held to the exact standard of professional newspapers but it would at least be nice if they were in the ballpark. For the most part, their stories are innaccurate, and poorly and lazily written. Every once in a while someone from the staff will improve rapidly and go on to become a top-notch professional, but a great many are weeded out of the business by their lack of skill. (Keep this in mind: I don't want to give the impression that I'm on too high a horse. If I were a reporter and/or writer of tremendous skill, I surely would have advanced from the shabby rag I used to work for.)
Back to the story.
In Frank Miller's case, the source, Wizard, is not "Satan's Bible," it is a sophomoric publication that, for better or for worse, appeals to many comics fans. Whether it is the inspiration for vapid Hollywood deal-making, I can't say. Whether it reinforces the notion that comics fans are semi-literate geeks, that is certainly debatable, but I have to say that I'm past the point of caring about others' interpretations. I'm 38 and mature enough to realize that if people want to razz me for reading comic books it's more a reflection of their own ignorance and insecurity than my geekiness.
I'm probably in the minority here but I have to say that Wizard does not bother me as much as it does Frank, or you, Cap. (I must add, though, that I haven't read a copy in a few years so maybe it has gone through some insidious change I don't know about.) I bought my first copy four or five years ago to read on a trip and found it entertaining. Based on that issue, I decided to subscribe for a year and eventually realized that I like it best as an occasional diversion.
"Sophomoric" seems to be the most popular description of Wizard and I tend to agree, although I don't necessarily see that as a derogatory term. Sometimes sophomoric is refreshing.
In fact, my dream publication would be an amalgam of Wizard and Comics Buyer's Guide, a publication I often find too prissy and spineless. Although I've been a CBG subscriber for more than 10 years, I wouldn't mind seeing it (I'm talking more about the editorial content, not the columnists) adopt a more irreverent tone every once in a while.
In sum, I don't think Frank Miller's rant will hurt Wizard much, if at all. I'm not sure his reputation will be boosted though.
One more note about Miller:
Why is does it seem like he's always trying so hard to make himself look psychotic in photographs? I wanted to write CBG about this but thought maybe it was just me. But, honestly, it seems like every photo I see of Miller, he's contorting his features to give the reader the impression that he's really angry. To what end?
And finally: Despite the good reviews, I must admit I've been pretty disappointed in Kevin Smith's Green Arrow series. I'm not a big fan of Smith's work -- I haven't seen any of his movies since Clerks and didn't read his Daredevil -- but appreciate his enthusiasm for comics. I wanted to give him a chance, I wanted to give Green Arrow a chance -- I don't think I've ever read a GA comic -- but I don't know if I'm going to continue reading past the first three issues. After reading No. 1, I wondered if this was part of an old script Kevin wrote that was supposed to play on the Lifetime network. OK, I get it. Men do bad things to women. Y'know, there have been occasions when the opposite was true too.
"Sisters are doing it for themselves," Black Canary says to Oracle. I'm sorry, but if this is the kind of thing that typifies Birds of Prey I'm going to stay far, far away, even if I see an issue in a quarter bin.
The first three issues seemed like PC pandering at its most heavy-handed. On the plus side, I'm kind of intrigued by the mystery of GA's "lost years" and the identity of the Star City child molester (my immediate reaction is that it's his aged, gay benefactor but that seems too obvious) but I think I'm going to be content to wait and hear about what happens rather than plunk down cold hard cash for the issues. I expected much better.
Not being privy to Frank Miller's mind, I can't say why he delivered the rant he did (or for the state of his mug shots as you describe them). It could well be that he's genuinely sick of comics being dismissed as juvenile literature, and sees Wizard and its success as emblematic of the self-hatred the industry has -- which in turn hobbles him professionally. It could be he was looking for a headline, or trying to be shocking. He could have been having a really bad day. Heck, he could have been on a three-day bender, for all I know.
But it sure has us talking, doesn't it? That alone might have been the point, and I welcome the discussion. See Peter David's discussion of that very idea, vis-a-vis Dave Sim, in Comics Buyer's Guide #1434.
As for my dislike of Wizard, it's straightforward, in a way you probably recognize. It's professional disgust. As a guy who struggles to maintain professional standards in the face of professional ridicule on a daily basis in newsrooms ... well, the magazine offends me. Personally and professionally, it offends me. Sophomoric? That's polite. It's like every obnoxious fratboy with a two-digit IQ I've ever known put in the same room and competing to tell the same fart joke at the same time. And I am perforce lumped into the same category by outside observers. (And if small-time, no-account Andrew Smith feels that way, you can imagine how Frank Miller and Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman feel about being mentioned in the same breath with Wizard.) Instead of the BEST of us being the "ambassador" to the non-comics world, as Wizard's pious defense maintains, it's the WORST of us. The sad truth is: The outside world perceives comics fans as nose-pickin' mental deficients, and Wizard gleefully plays along, reinforcing the idea, to make a buck. Then they point to their sales figures and assume a mature pose and call themselves "ambassadors." That offends me.
In regard to your comments about Comics Buyer's Guide, my CBG editor reads this site, so I'm here to tell you that Comics Buyer's Guide is an outstanding publication, virtually flawless in content and execution, and my editor in particular, Brent Frankenhoff, a man of grit and talent, is a sterling fellow who would risk his life for nuns, orphans and baby ducks, and to whom no blemish, personal or professional, could ever be conceivably attached. Thank God for men of his character, which made this nation great.
As to Green Arrow, let's review: You don't like Kevin Smith, and you don't like the character enough to have read any other Green Arrow series. Fair enough: You're not likely to enjoy it. So I encourage you to stand up to the bandwagon effect, and read what you like, not what People Magazine (or Captain Comics) tells you you're supposed to like.
For my part, I'm enjoying GA well enough. But I do think the media hullabaloo is overblown. I mean, did you read the People Magazine review? The reviewer demonstrated dramatically that he knew nothing whatsoever about comic books -- in three paragraphs. But he loved Green Arrow. After all, it was written by ***KEVIN SMITH*** and I guess they had to gush over his work, or lose their "hip" credentials. That's my take, anyway, and I'm just pleased to see comics covered in "mainstream" press for whatever reason.
As to Birds of Prey, I also winced over that "sister" line in Green Arrow and no, Birds of Prey doesn't indulge in ham-handed, politically-correct, female-empowerment jargon. It's better than that: Birds of Prey seems to accept as its working premise that women don't NEED empowerment -- Oracle and Black Canary just do what they do, and simply set an example of strong women following their own star. The gender stuff has never even been raised as an issue.
Well, at least in the earlier issues -- lately I've been a bit disappointed, as the stories have veered toward clumsy superhero "adventure" and facile, vapid "romance." My wife dropped it like a hot shuriken when it became wall-to-wall Spandex during the Gorilla City storyline, and I didn't blame her. I suspect that they're trying to make it more appealing to fanboys, but that's just a guess. Check out the TPBs that collect the first 12 issues of the ongoing for some good comics.

Look who’s talking for the millionth time about news sources like Wizard, a man who covers for juvenile products and ends up making superhero comics look like a juvenile enterprise to boot. Let us be clear: if he can’t condemn the gender bigotry in Identity Crisis, then he’s letting those who do wallow in juvenile fanfiction get away with exactly what he objects to.

That’s why I find his misgivings on Wizard transparent at best. Yes, they were pretty juvenile themselves. But if they supported Identity Crisis without challenging questions and he does the same, then he’s only taking a similar path. He may not use the same kind of crude humor they were known for, but like them, he too could be very dishonest and otherwise disrespectful to superhero fans.

Dear Captain Comics: Like so many comics & animation fans, I eagerly await the Bruce Timm Justice League animated series for Cartoon Network. Judging from the character designs, to say nothing of having my appetite whetted by that Batman Beyond episode featuring the alternate future Leaguers, it looks to be a real winner!
One thing, though, has been bugging me for sometime & I run the very risk of playing devil's advocate in being annoyed at the rather unfair comparisons between the Cartoon Network JLA & the Super Friends.
Yes, I'll admit the show was often corny & preachy, especially during the Wendy & Marvin days; the long-time JLA purists had good reason to complain. More often than not, however, it's usually the callow fans with no sense of comic-book history who are the quickest to put down the Super Friends -- and very harshly, I might add.
"Aquaman's useless! Talking to fish- what kind of a power is THAT?!"
"The animation was cheesy!"
"Oh, the Toyman. I am SO scared."
"The Super Friends were wimps! They never kicked the Legion Of Doom's --- !"
A host of other equally derogatory comments don't bear printing in this column, if you get my drift.
It was a totally different era, for Pete's sake! So many of these naysayers fail to realize what Hanna-Barbera, Alex Toth or anyone else involved with the Super Friends were up against. Network interference and so-called "do-gooder" pressure groups like Action For Children's Television had such an iron grip on the Saturday morning landscape by removing what they believed to be "questionable content." "violence" or "any harmful act a child could easily imitate." In short, the very elements that made animated cartoons funny or exciting.
Consequently, the low budgets were also a hindering factor that resulted in the 'cheesy' animation. The reality of TV cartoon economics. Sad, but true.
The show's working title 'The Justice League Of America' was vetoed
because the top brass at ABC felt that, in light of the Vietnam War, it reeked of fascism.
How can ANY kind of creativity flourish under those strict conditions?
Through all that adversity, SOMEONE must've enjoyed the Super Friends, or else the darn thing wouldn't have run for 13 years!
I'm rather partial to that one season with the Legion Of Doom -- minus ANY teenagers or goofy animals; it made a world of difference and was just about the closest thing we've had to a full-scale Justice League cartoon series. (Filmation notwithstanding.)
Alex Ross went so far as to pay some lovely visual nods to the show in the Kingdom Come miniseries. (The Hall Of Justice NEVER looked better, nor the Hall Of Doom more imposing!) Even those hilarious parodies on both Cartoon Network and their recent appearance in Evan Dorkin's World's Funnest one-shot comic were done with a certain affection for the characters.
Having the deep pocket of Time Warner at their disposal, Bruce Timm & Company are AFFORDED the opportunity to create a high-quality effort with their Justice League cartoon, a privilege denied Hanna-Barbera in the past. Who knows HOW the Super Friends might have ended up if Alex Toth and the people at H-B were allowed to cut loose -- free of all imposed restrictions brought on by those fire-breathing pressure groups? Perhaps not as an object of ridicule in today's fandom, I'll tell you that much!
This is not to say that the Super Friends was the greatest animated cartoon series ever made -- far from it -- but to equate a classy production like Justice League with the whole "these aren't your FATHER'S superheroes" mentality grafted onto the Super Friends strikes me as smug and condescending, as if EVERYTHING was wrong with comics & animation from a more innocent time.
Keep in mind that for every detractor the Super Friends had/has, there are quite a number of devoted fans who'd defend the show in a heartbeat!
What can I say, [name withheld], but what a fine defense of Super Friends!
Yes, there are a lot of SF fans out there, many of whom disguise their nostalgic enjoyment of the series by affecting a post-modern cynicism. But you KNOW they watched -- how else could they know so many details to make fun of it?
For my part, Super Friends debuted after I was already in high school, and by then I was WAY too cool for Saturday morning TV. :) Ergo, my experience with the show is limited to a few episodes that had me staring agape, like at a car accident.
But you're completely correct about the strictures placed on the show -- I've read that independently. Alas. It reminds me of, oh, I dunno ... the Comics Code, maybe? Yeah, you let the bluenoses take over, and no matter how good their intentions ("It's to save the children!") what you end up with is pap, overseen with an iron hand by people who want to tell us what to see, think, hear and say.
So, let's enjoy the Super Friends for what it was -- and look forward to what Bruce Timm & Co. do this Fall with Justice League.
"Shape of -- a puddle of water!" "Form of -- a talking bucket!" "Wonder Twins powers -- activate!"

I think he’s way too cool for common sense either. Or something like that. And even if the basic structure a cartoon like Super Friends used is too tepid, I don’t see what his point is complaining about bluenoses when he couldn’t complain about situations involving sexism in the comics industry. All that aside, I find it weird how some people would dismiss Aquaman because he talks to fish, when Sub-Mariner did the same many times (one most notable moment was during his search for Neptune’s trident in the Silver Age when the warlord Krang took over Atlantis, in the pages of Tales to Astonish).

Dear Cap'n: Love your website! I have a topic that's just goofy enough to be interesting, and wanted to run it by you. I'd be happy to submit it, or hand it off.
Anyway, have you or anyone you know ever noticed that the majority of Marvel's Silver Age villains, especially as designed by Steve Ditko (and to a lesser extent by Jack Kirby) seem to wear green? It's true, just check it out by leafing through '60s Spider-Man, Dr. Strange (Strange Tales), Fantastic Four and even Thor (Journey Into Mystery). The villains are usually green, both major baddies like Doc Doom and minor nuisances like those one-shot evil-doers that popped up in Strange Tales.
Having noticed this, I always wondered if there was a reason. Does Ditko think green is bad? Or, does green contrast nicely against the red-and-blue costumes frequently used by the good guys? Either way, it's worth a few paragraphs down nostalgia lane.
You've a keen eye, [name withheld] -- most villains do dress in green (or purple or orange). And it's not restricted to Marvel in the '60s.
You were on the money with your remark about those colors contrasting nicely with red and blue -- which is, frankly, the whole story. Heroes, dating back to the Golden Age, have traditionally worn primary colors: Red, blue and yellow. This not only has to do with how eye-catching those colors are, but also with how well those colors reproduced on four-color presses in the '30s and '40s. Besides, esthetically, your primary characters should wear -- duh -- primary colors. So you've got Thor, Superman and Wonder Woman wearing all three primaries, Iron Man showing red and yellow, the Fantastic Four wearing only blue (but rounded out with red and yellow from the Human Torch and The Thing mixing the two) and Spider-Man wearing red and blue.
For contrast, their villains have to go to secondary colors: Green, purple and orange. Most of Spider-Man's early villains wore green (Lizard, Vulture, Doc Ock, Mysterio) or orange (Kraven). Dr. Doom wears green, Diablo purple. Batman's chief foe, The Joker, wears purple with orange accents. Luthor affected green-and-purple armor for a while, and Brainiac WAS green, with a pink (watered-down purple) outfit. The early X-Men favored two primaries -- blue and gold -- so Magneto contrasted with purple and magenta. Wonder Woman's '40s arch-foe Paula Von Gunther favored purple suits, and her other nemesis, The Cheetah, was orange.
Pick any major hero, and usually they'll be wearing primary colors (Batman being an exception for obvious reasons, but even his black outfit was colored blue for decades, with a yellow accent). Look at their foes, and they'll be wearing secondary colors. Heck, even Two-Face sported green and orange suits in the '60s for no good reason, Poison Ivy and Riddler wore green, Scarecrow was orange and Catwoman's suit was, implausibly, purple (who ever saw a purple cat?).
This is such a genre convention, that in the film Unbreakable, the bad guy advertised who he was throughout the film by using purple, purple, purple everywhere he could. Purple suits, purple business cards, purple carpeting in his art gallery -- even his mother wore purple eye shadow. This was the director's cue to the audience that Samuel Jackson was secretly the bad guy. And the Bruce Willis "superhero" character wore all three primary colors just once -- his red, blue and yellow letter jacket -- the one time he used his "super-powers" in his youth (when he tore open the wrecked car to save his girlfriend). That's how confident the director was in the power of those colors to our comic-book-trained minds.

Well duh, Unbreakable, I hate to say, was such a bummer in the end, and I honestly don’t see what’s so great about it as a result. I do think Mr. Smith would look great in purple, green, orange, and maybe even pink! LOL. Let’s got to June 6, 2001:

I read the letter from my fellow Aussie [name withheld] (30 May Mailbag) with interest. […] wrote:
<<I guess I got into comics the traditional way you would recognize -- buying them off the rack at my local newsagent. I was pretty lucky that my newsagent carried such a great variety of comics, as I was raised in a country town in Australia. Being the tender age of about eight, I went straight to the superhero comics -- I remember reading Green Lantern and JLA from my earliest years. I still have some "Best of DC Blue Ribbon" Digests which collected various DC stories, like "Superman vs. Weird Villains;" "Superman vs. Kryptonite;" "Detective Comics;" "Superman vs. Luthor;" a collection of stories telling how Black Canary (pre-Crisis), Red Tornado, Elongated Man and Zatanna joined the JLA; and stories of the JSA (including its origin in WWII, pre-Crisis of course). The Digests were in colour, but in a small-size format.>>
While I enjoyed his reminiscences about reading comics in Australia in his youth, I did find myself imitating that old Monty Python skit about the four Yorkshireman and muttering "Well, when I as young, we had it tough!"
By the sound of things, I'm quite a bit older than [...] -- I was born in 1959. I started reading comics in the early and in those days, very few DCs made it to our shores.
To backtrack a little, from roughly 1940 to 1960 the import into Australia of nearly all U.S. magazines and periodicals, including comics, was prohibited. This was intended as a protectionist measure to encourage local production, so the only comics (and other magazines) which were available were local product and local -- or British -- editions of U.S. material. So for many years our only access to U.S. comics material was through licensed local reprints. The output of many US publishers -- DC, Quality, Fawcett, Atlas, Dell and others -- was published in such local editions. These were mostly -- though not exclusively -- published in black and white, printed on poor quality paper (even by comics standards!) and generally had fewer pages than their U.S. equivalents.
Circa 1960, however, the import restrictions on periodicals were lifted and the products of many U.S. comics publishers (e.g., Marvel) started to appear in the local shops. However, the local reprints of DC titles continued. From the late 1950s onwards these local DC reprints consisted of larger anthology titles, ranging in size from 50 to 100 B&W pages.
Only a limited range of American DC titles were available locally until the mid-1980s (at least in mainstream retail outlets -- specialist comics shops, which of course carried a full range of DCs, started to appear here around 1980). From about 1986 or so pretty much the entire DC line began to be distributed locally and the imported books finally supplanted the local reprints -- some of which had by then switched to colour, in a last desperate attempt to compete with the U.S. originals.
I now actively collect those old Aussie reprints (which had titles like Mighty Comic, Superman Supacomic, All Favourites and All Star Adventure Comics). They're both the comics I grew up reading and marvellous mixtures of material from different genres and periods of DCs history; an 80-page mid-1960s issue of Mighty Comics might, for example, contain JLA and Challengers of the Unknown stories that had been published in the U.S. just a couple of months before, along with an Adam Strange story from a couple of years back and Superman and Strange Adventures stories from the 1950s. However, as a kid I found these reprint books a source of terrible frustration; I wanted to read the U.S. originals! How I used pore over those few DC titles that were regularly distributed here, gazing longingly at the house ads for comics that never showed up in Australia.
I haven't even started to complain about the weird distribution practices that resulted in most new U.S. titles not showing up here until at least their third issue (if then!), or the fact that because the comics came by sea they were usually on sale here during or after the cover-date month, or that distribution was often scant and spotty so that a keen reader had to visit as many newsagents as possible in order to get all the books they wanted (though I gather that this last complaint was a fairly common one in the U.S.A. as well).
Actually, I get rather nostalgic thinking about these sorts of things. It might have been frustrating, but searching for and finding that elusive latest issue was a lot more exciting than just turning up at the comics shop once a week to pick up your standing order. Ah, the thrill of the hunt ...
Cap, […] also mentioned:
<<I never saw the Marvel books you mention. Could have appeared elsewhere, but not where I lived, here in the heart of Dixie.>>
If they're the books I'm thinking of, they were published in the late 1970s and, so far as I know, were indeed distributed in the U.S. [...] was probably fairly lucky to find them -- like most U.S. paperbacks of the time, they weren't distributed all that widely here. As well as one of the Spider-Man volumes, I have one reprinting the first few issues of the Fantastic Four and another reprinting early Ditko Dr. Strange stories. Nice little books with quite decent colour -- their main drawback was the teensy-tiny printing, as each standard comic page was reprinted on a standard-size paperback page.
Anyway Cap, as you mentioned you enjoyed anecdotes, I thought you might enjoy hearing about the experiences of an earlier generation of Aussie comics fans.
And I do, […] -- we all got into this weird little hobby in different ways, and I'm always curious to hear the anecdotes of others. It's particularly interesting to hear experiences so far removed from my own, such as yours Down Under. I can only imagine the pain at seeing house ads for books you'd never see. Ouch!
Although, as you note, our experiences with perverse distribution were curiously similar. While some books were carried everywhere in Mrmphis, others, like Sgt. Fury and House of Secrets, only appeared erratically in various Mom & Pop stores -- and never (seemingly) in the same one twice in a row! And the only place I could find Superboy in Memphis (within bicycle distance of my house) was a Sears-type store called Corondolet -- and it seemed to be the ONLY title they carried! By the '70s the distribution snafus were largely over, but the '60s involved, as you put it, the Thrill of the Hunt -- and, to be honest, I kind of miss it.
As to the Marvel paperbacks from Pocket Books, I have a couple of late-'60s B&W ones on my bookshelf that I picked up as an adult at garage sales and flea markets (Thor and Hulk), but I've never seen any color ones from that era. However, a fellow Memphian assures me they were around and I just missed them:

I hope some of these correspondents today will choose to post their experiences on blogs and other personal sites, because Mr. Smith is not the way to go.

Dear Cap: Loved the May 30th Mailbag. I "got" the names and colors also as a kid; after all, Superboy lived in SmaLLviLLe!
Good point, […]. You couldn't swing a dead cat in the Silver Age Super-books without hitting an LL, could you? (Note: No actual cats were injured in telling this joke.)

But there are people out there who were insulted by Mr. Smith’s dishonest coverage of Identity Crisis, among other items.

Dear Captain: Straczynski's work on Spider-Man is a prime example of comic geeks working in comics as professionals to the max. Or worse, a SCI-FI geek writing comics. There is a reason no one has questioned how or why Spider-Man got his powers before. Spidey's origin, and more importantly, his motivation, has nothing to do with how he got his powers. It has to do with "great power comes great responsibility." PERIOD! That is the story that Stan Lee wanted to tell.
It's professional comic geeks like John Byrne and Straczynski that try to pad, retell and re-weave the past stories instead of creating new stories that have caused a lot of the problems with comics. I believe it was in your own column that you tried to tell the muddled, inbred histories of Supergirl and X-Man. It's this "I'm going to tell you how this character REALLY works" mentality of every writer who takes on a new assignment that has left comics so inaccessible to new readers.
But then what do you expect from Straczynski? Babylon 5 was nothing but a tired derivative of other science-fantasy TV/movies and a rehash of other non-genre shows with a science-fiction twist to them. He just puts a fresh coat of paint on what has come before. Is that all we can expect of Marvel's flagship character?
You raise a couple of interesting points, [withheld]. I agree with you that in-breeding is a problem in the industry, dating back at least as far as '70s Marvel, when the torch was passed from generally well-rounded, non-geek professionals who had done things and learned things outside the comics field (like Julius Schwartz, Mort Weisinger, Otto Binder, Gardner Fox, Stan Lee, et al) to a new generation who largely seemed to know nothing except what they learned in comic books. (I am, of course, excluding the likes of former English professor Roy Thomas.) The immediate result was Marvel freezing its characters in age and re-hashing Stan & Jack's work endlessly -- the fans-turned-pro didn't really have anything of their own they wanted to say, and didn't want to change a word that Stan had written. The result was stagnation, and it's a problem that has doubled and re-doubled as new waves of fanboys have crested in to take over the books.
On the other hand, your line about "the story Stan wanted to tell" raises the obvious issue that Stan isn't writing the book anymore -- and hasn't for close to 30 years. Straczynski is writing it now, and I think it only fair to hear whatever story it is that HE wants to tell. If it's trite and derivative, then we can and should blast away at it. But you can't on the one hand criticize John Byrne because he didn't do anything new, and then criticize Straczynski because he is trying something new.
I feel your passion, though -- you obviously care for who and what Spidey is at his core. I do too. I feel like Peter Parker is an old friend of mine, that I know pretty well. I get irritated when he's written out of character, or sent in directions I don't think my "old pal" would go. But I'm willing to give Straczynski a chance to impress me.

JMS got his chance, and blew it big time. But don’t count on Mr. Smith to say so publicly. That’s why it’s probably better to criticize him for his inability to be outspoken. As for Byrne, while there were some tales he told in the past that were competent, he did start to screw up as time went by, with his work on West Coast Avengers being particularly awful in the latter part of the run. Scarlet Witch was turned evil again just for the sake of it, and worse, the female cast of WCA was depicted in a bizarrely ineffective way, unless it was somebody like Scarlet Witch acting evil, in which case she was effective…for all the wrong reasons. Sounds familiar? It’s almost like Identity Crisis, with the difference being that there weren’t any sexual assault themes depicted one moment and then ignored the next. But, Byrne’s wretched storyline did give Brian Bendis ideas when he was writing Avengers: Disassembled.

Dear Cap: After reading this week's (May 30) Mailbag, I had a few points I wanted to address.
First: <<For contrast, their villains have to go to secondary colors: Green, purple and orange. Most of Spider-Man's early villains wore green (Lizard, Vulture, Doc Ock, Mysterio) or orange (Kraven). Dr. Doom wears green, Diablo purple. Batman's chief foe, The Joker, wears purple with orange accents. Luthor affected green-and-purple armor for a while, and Brainiac WAS green, with a pink (watered-down purple) outfit. The early X-Men favored two primaries -- blue and gold -- so Magneto contrasted with purple and magenta. -- Captain Comics>>
Just an interesting note; Scarlet Witch was originally shown wearing green(!) on the original cover to The X-Men (vol. one) #4. Hmmm ... Perhaps her change over to red had less to do with attempting to make sense of her code name as it did with tipping off readers that she was not really bad. (Not that I really think that, but it was what came to mind when you brought up Magneto's colors).
Next: <<Who paid for the Titans Tower? -- Captain Comics>>
If I recall correctly, Cyborg's father built the Tower as a gift for his son and the team. I assumed Cyborg's father must've saved up quite a bit of money as a S.T.A.R. scientist. As for the other heroes and how they make money ... I'm wondering about that also.
<<The first three issues (of Kevin Smith's GREEN ARROW) seemed like PC pandering at its most heavy-handed. On the plus side, I'm kind of intrigued by the mystery of GA's "lost years" and the identity of the Star City child molester (my immediate reaction is that it's his aged, gay benefactor but that seems too obvious) but I think I'm going to be content to wait and hear about what happens rather than plunk down cold hard cash for the issues. – [name withheld]>>
Not to be overly PC about the issue, myself, but why is the elderly, gay benefactor the "obvious" choice for the Star City child molester? That seems to be a rather stereotypical statement. According to many studies, most sex offenders that abuse children are heterosexual. If this is the case, then the benefactor is hardly an "obvious" choice. In fact, since most surveys seem to indicate that homosexuals represent one percent or so of the population, I wonder how that figure would jibe with the percentage of sex crimes against minors in the minds of people who would lump the two groups together?
I also wasn't bothered by Kevin Smith's use of Black Canary as an empowered woman, as [withheld] seems to have been. I would feel differently if I read into the story an anti-male subtext, but I didn't. Kevin Smith is anything but "PC." Check out his movies for proof of that. That is one of the things I find refreshing in his work. He tells things like he sees them. Is it possible that you can believe that a woman can be strong and independent, or that it is possible for a homosexual not to be labeled a child molester and not be branded as a PC panderer?
Sorry to get on a soapbox, but I thought the comments in [withheld]'s letter needed to be addressed. I agree with him that Kevin Smith's story isn't the best thing since sliced bread and isn't worth all the hype. I have also been somewhat disappointed in the story, so far. But, I don't feel that it is any political point of view that is the cause for this.
Lastly: As to Frank Miller's comments on WIZARD (which [withheld] also brought up in his letter), I do agree that Mr. Miller may have acted a bit strongly, but I think his actions were needed to make his point.
WIZARD is constantly referring to comics fans as "geeks" and the like. In fairness, the editors/writers include themselves in this group, as much of the humor is self-deprecating. But, I have always stated to others that I saw this form of humor to be ultimately a bad thing. After all, can you imagine how many impressionable children/teenagers will read WIZARD for the first time and see that WIZARD regards them, as comics fans, as nerds? Yes, we adult readers realize the tongue-in-cheek nature of this good-natured name-calling, but many teenagers would rather die than be labeled a "geek" or a "nerd." I can't help but believe that more than a few would-be comic readers were turned off to the hobby rather than be put into that group. How many of us, at 12 years of age, would have wanted to willingly be labeled in such a manner? Shouldn't WIZARD, as an "ambassador" of comics, be trying to make these kids feel accepted and not the object of ridicule? I am not asking WIZARD to give up its' irreverent tone, just to lighten up on the constant degradation of comics fans and the hobby.
Perhaps, because I am a comic-book retailer and therefore involved pretty seriously within the industry, I may seem to be taking things a bit seriously. Of course, it is also just as likely that WIZARD isn't taking things seriously enough.
I couldn't agree with you more about Wizard. I find the magazine to be a professional and personal embarrassment.
As to [name withheld]'s "empowerment" remarks, I didn't interpret them to mean that he was against gender equality. In fact, I noted that I was also irritated by Smith's putting the line "Sistahs doin' it for themselves" in Black Canary's mouth, because 1) it was out of character, and 2) it's a cliche. This is in contradistinction to Birds of Prey, which treats it as a given that BC is the equal of any male hero, without resorting to trite, politically-correct jargon to push the point home. BoP SHOWS me Canary is a force to be reckoned with, whereas Green Arrow is trying to TELL me -- and you can guess which I prefer.
As to the mystery child molester, I have also guessed (as has […], in an earlier letter) that he will be revealed to be GA's gay benefactor. This is not because I assume all gays are so twisted and perverse that child molestation is a natural consequence -- far from it. As you noted, most child molesters are adult heterosexuals. The gay men I know have no more interest in sex with underage boys than I do with underage girls, and find the concept of child molestation to be equally repulsive. No, I'm assuming that the gay benefactor is the child molester because the series is so thin on supporting characters that he's just about the only suspect! You can't have a dramatic revelation about the molester's identity if we've never met him before, so to have a dramatic revelation Smith will have to use the existing characters -- and the gay benefactor is jsut about the only supporting character who doesn't have his own comic book!
As […] noted, though, I hope that's not the case -- if for no other reason than it's just too obvious.
Finally, in regard to Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver: Isn't it interesting that when they were villains Wanda wore magenta (despite her name) and Quicksilver wore green, but after they were established heroes, Wanda's outfit shifted to red and Quicksilver changed to a blue costume? It could have been subconscious on the part of the colorists/writers, but I suspect it was deliberate -- if for no other reason than to make them mesh well with their teammates' costumes. Quicksilver's puke-green ensemble looked pretty nauseating next to Cap's red, white and blue.

Here’s something that’s PC-laden, or deliberately overlooks an exact problem. No, not all gays/lesbians commit sexual assault. But this still overlooks something important to consider: if we’re talking about sexual abuse committed by male-vs-male, and female-vs-female, then many homosexuals are usually guilty of that. Including in some insular Haredi societies, I might add; that’s one more reason why I find their bizarre, increasing beliefs in sex segregation incredibly damaging to the psyche.

And if Mr. Smith and his correspondent are in any ways trying to exonerate gays/lesbians of any guilt, then all I can say is that they’re guilty pushing homosexuality for sainthood, and simultaneously dehumanizing them by refusing to admit LGBTs are capable of making mistakes. Just last year, there was an atrocious case involving a sport coach named Jerry Sandusky who was convicted for child molestation, and whose victims may have included his stepson. There was also Edward Kramer, a co-founder of Dragoncon in Atlanta, Georgia, who committed sexual abuse of a couple boys aged in their early teens. There was even the case of a Haredi man named Baruch Levobitz, who raped the son of a man named Sam Kellner. In many Muslim societies like Pakistan, child rape is practically the norm.

And by trivializing the issue of same-sex assaults, Mr. Smith and his correspondent have effectively insulted the plight of many of these victims. Interestingly, if anti-LGBT bias is so important to these phonies, how come they’ve never written any complaints about the hostility to LGBT that nevertheless takes place in many Muslim countries?

Dear Cap: A couple of weeks ago, when someone wrote in about the entertainment value of the Super Friends, it got me to thinking. Then it hit me: Grant Morrison must have been a fan of the show, at least on a subconscious level.
Think about it: His idea for the JLA was "Gods on Earth." Each member had a godly equivalent. (i.e. Superman: Zeus, Batman: Hades, and such) Steel was a member for a time. (And still is, I believe.)
The point: If you follow the analogy, who would he be? Thought so. (If you still don't get it, use Roman mythology)
Well, Vulcan/Hephaestus, of course, the master forger and weapons-maker. And using that analogy, Aquaman is Neptune/Poseidon, Wonder Woman is Diana/Artemis (or possibly Athena/Minerva), Flash is Hermes/Mercury and Plastic Man the generic trickster god -- but since Hermes/Mercury is taken, I'd guess he'd be the demigod Pan.
So who are Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter in this analogy?

I don’t know, but I do think Mr. Smith could make a good analogy for Dolos, the god of trickery and deceit. There’s also Odysseus, who specialized in dishonesty, and even misled Penelope.

Quoth the Captain: "Where does the money come from to keep college-professor Ray Palmer in Atom gadgets?"
No idea where he gets the items he comes up with during the course of the adventure, but I imagine that some of his things are effectively paid for by government research grants.
Given a grant to research subatomic fields, he could use part of it to maintain his belt, and part of it to build the equipment he needs to run the experiment. And leftover parts aren't taken away, as far as I know, so he probably has a closet/storage locker/whatever of spare parts that he bought while working on a project and never used.
If I remember correctly, he doesn't keep a secret identity these days, so Professor Palmer has a unique position on subatomic research in any case -- the only person who can do close-in observation. The pay from that alone should be fairly impressive.
That last point is pretty persuasive […] -- well, assuming Palmer charges for that sort of thing. Your grant hypothesis raises an interesting point, too -- I wonder if the government couldn't lay claim to his inventions, since he used their money? Or the university, since whatever he originally created was done using their equipment and while he was "on the clock"? Uh oh.

Oh please! It’s been told in past stories that Ray built some patents, and probably made a decent fortune off them that could pay for the costs of his White Dwarf Star technology. But the real problem here is Mr. Smith of course: a man who never raised any complaints about Ray and Jean Loring being desecrated in Identity Crisis has the nerve to address this? Sick. Let’s go on to June 13, 2001:

Cap: One of my previous missives was misinterpreted by [name withheld].
First, I wrote:
<<The first three issues (of Kevin Smith's GREEN ARROW) seemed like PC pandering at its most heavy-handed. On the plus side, I'm kind of intrigued by the mystery of GA's "lost years" and the identity of the Star City child molester (my immediate reaction is that it's his aged, gay benefactor but that seems too obvious) but I think I'm going to be content to wait and hear about what happens rather than plunk down cold hard cash for the issues. – [...]>>
Then, he wrote:
<<Not to be overly PC about the issue, myself, but why is the elderly, gay benefactor the "obvious" choice for the Star City child molester? That seems to be a rather stereotypical statement. According to many studies, most sex offenders that abuse children are heterosexual. If this is the case, then the benefactor is hardly an "obvious" choice. In fact, since most surveys seem to indicate that homosexuals represent one percent or so of the population, I wonder how that figure would jibe with the percentage of sex crimes against minors in the minds of people who would lump the two groups together? – […]>>
Ugh. I merely meant that the foreshadowing of the story, and, as you pointed out, the lack of supporting characters, seemed to point to the elderly gay man as being the molester. But, I thought somehow Kevin Smith's plot would be more intricate -- I expected some carefully planted false leads or some sort of obfuscation -- hence the "too obvious" phrase.
Thanks for backing me on that "sistahs are doing it for themselves" comment. I just thought it was clumsy writing, no sexual agenda implied. Maybe Kevin Smith's films are "anything but PC," as […] points out (I've only seen one, Clerks, and I thought it tiresome), but his Green Arrow seems to be unnecessarily so.
Again, I point this out not to take Kevin Smith's views or politics to task. I don't know and I don't wanna know. I was just taken by surprise by the writing. Like I said last time: I expected much better.
There you go, […] -- your own words absolve you.
As I said in my answer to […] -- a regular correspondent and good guy -- I thought he had mistaken your intent. I detected no anti-gay bias or anti-women bias in your remarks at all. I assumed -- correctly it seems -- that you felt Green Arrow was being too obvious with the "mystery" on the one hand, and too heavy-handed and PC with the out-of-character Black Canary dialogue. In both cases, we're discussing quality of writing, not politics.
Oh, and as long as we're setting records straight: Last week I mistakenly said that […] was one of those who speculated that the mystery murderer was Ollie's patron. Others have written in with that speculation, but he was not one of them. My apologies to […] for that misattribution.

Sigh. Look who babbles, the same man who legitimized anti-women bias in Identity Crisis and Avengers: Disassembled. And who’s never complained about anti-gay bias in Muslim countries. I’m not one bit impressed by his lethargic drivel here.

Hiya, Cap: While reading your weekly updated website material, a few items triggered the same frustrating question that always comes to my mind: Why do so many comic-book fans seem to have such a rabid fascination with maintaining consistent superhero history? Sometimes the questions you post and respond to drive me a little bonkers. For example, who bloody well cares how many years separate Barbara and Dick (in the Batman books)? Or when the original Flash regained his youth and vigor? It's not like those topics will ever make one bit of difference in our lives -- in fact, trying to organize "continuity" errors usually saps some of the enjoyment from reading current comic-book issues. Personally, I never try to make sense of any superhero "history" older than about six years of our real time for that very reason. Beyond that point, writers' styles, editorial mandates and shifts in market interest simply become too apparent to fit into a superhero world that ages so slowly compared with ours.
It's probably just a matter of perspective, of course, and I have to remind myself that each person has a different set of priorities. Heck, I still get an itch every once and again to find the secret pattern in the digits of pi. Perhaps we are all genetically predisposed to waste time on unimportant tasks.
But then another possibility came to mind. I remembered references in one of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's "Flow" books (excellent psych study; I highly recommend it) where he addresses memory practices and the pleasure some people derive from reciting long family histories or epic tales. And I thought that perhaps comic-book fans are actually doing something similar with their chosen medium. They find "flow," or an optimal experience of a joyful challenge, in structuring such nonsense as comic-book Hypertime loopholes.
It's just a possibility. I might be wrong, and our beloved comic-book "continuity cops" might just be total nerds. But it's something to consider. Do you think you or any of your regular readers could shed some light on the
phenomenon?
That's a heckuva question, […]! I put it on the Message Board, where some of the responses are quite interesting.
For my part, I'm like you -- I don't try to keep an internal consistency past a certain amount of time. Six years sounds about right. In fact, my take on DC is "if they haven't mentioned it lately, it didn't happen." And by lately, I mean that if Superman was shown wearing a funny hat two years ago, and he's wearing a funny hat this month and he doesn't mention the other incident (which human beings would be inclined to do), then the other incident didn't happen.
But when I was younger, I was quite the fiend on continuity. Especially with Marvel, where all the books were written by one guy (Stan Lee, and the ones he didn't write he edited), and the characters were aging in real time, and if Spider-Man was wearing a funny hat in issue #32, then when he wore a funny hat in issue #85, chances are it was a sequel to the first story -- or, at least, he'd mention the previous time and react accordingly. For example, he beat The Vulture the first time by divining that Vulchy flew using magnetic waves -- and built a device that interfered with that. The second time he met The Vulture, he whipped out the anti-magnetic device first thing. Of course, The Vulture had learned too -- and had built a buffer into his flying harness to prevent that very thing. That was VERY cool to me -- it was a battle of wits, with everybody remembering previous strategies. I was in chess club in those years, and when I met previous opponents, we were both adjusting to previous matches every time. Nothing worked twice quite the same way. My Marvel comics were doing the same thing! Events seemed to MATTER in those old Marvels, and the characters grew and changed according to their experiences. Like we do. So it behooved me to know about Spider-Man #32, so that I understood Spidey's reaction in #85.
Anyway, it could be that continuity fiendishness is a factor of youth. When you're 12 you want to make sense of your imaginary world, since the real world doesn't make a lick of sense -- but as we get older we become more adept at accepting inconsistencies and overlooking irrelevant information. Or it may be a matter of experience and perspective instead of chronological age -- that when you're 12 everything looks like it makes sense and you try to fit it all together as the years pass to KEEP it making sense, but by 40 you've been through umpty-ump retcons and you just throw up your hands trying to make it all fit.
Or it may be as you say about the memory-exercise bit. Most comics fans I talk to -- and given this site, that's a pretty broad sampling -- seem to have extraordinary memorization abilities. But did we gravitate to comics because we memorize well, or did we learn to memorize well by reading comics? Chicken or egg? This is an interesting topic, and I'm curious to hear what others have to say.

Boy, the correspondent here sure doesn’t seem to put much value on consistency, does he? Continuity is almost synonymous with character development and drama, and if heroes and co-stars alike act out-of-character, or some current depiction doesn’t match one of the past, shouldn’t that be cause for concern? Especially if it’s just been done solely for the sake of pushing forth a narrative only the editors/publishers care about? There were times in the past when some goofs could be overlooked, because a few decades back, most of them weren’t that forced or contrived. But today, it’s practically become the norm for the Big Two to rewrite continuity and character depictions solely to suit their ideas of what it should be, not something that’ll appeal to a wide audience. That’s what happens when insular people start taking over, and now, we have a medium left badly damaged.

Dear Cap: Chiming in from just below the Arctic Circle again. As last time, my missive has nothing to do with comic books, but rather a little educative “correction” on a little thing you said regarding Michael Avon Oeming’s Hammer of the Gods in the Next Week’s Comics section of your site not too long ago, about it being a story worthy of Snorri Sturluson, if he was a real person, or something to that effect (you seem to have removed that section, so I can’t quote you directly).
Actually, Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241), was a very real person, if one is to believe the common opinion among historians. Says Hjemmets Store Leksikon (Norwegian Encyclopaedia, published by Damm): " ... Icelandic author and historian; the foremost representative of Icelandic cultural life in medieval times. ... had a strong position in the upper echelons of the Icelandic power structures and participated actively in the political debate ... the so-called Younger Edda, composed of two parts, Gylfaginning and Skaldskaparmaal, stands as his most important early work. The former part is a presentation of Norse mythology, and the latter similar to a textbook on the arts of a minstrel (a parallel to Aristotle’s Poetica?) ... the most significant work is considered to be Kringla Heimsins (The Circle of the World). Here Snorri presents the history of the Norwegian kings from mythical times up to 1177."
I can add that Snorri is considered one of the Norse culture’s foremost literary personalities not only for the historical significance of his work, but also because of his attention and knack for character, and a sense of historical perspective uncommon in “the dark ages." His work, especially Kringla Heimsins, played a very important part in the birth of the Norwegian national movement in the 19th century, as inspiration for all of the excited poets and polticians spearheading said movement, which lead up to our country eventually gaining its independence in the early 1900s. (and here I betray my shamefully spotty knowledge of the “motherland’s” history, I can’t remember the exact year, sorry)
So, I hope I didn’t bore you to death with this little aside, and that my fumbling translation of the encyclopaedia text wasn’t too incomprehensible. And, of course, I can’t sign off without giving you praise for your great site. I luurve it.
Thanks, […]! My reference to Snorri was half in jest -- I've read the Icelandic sagas, and taken numerous courses in Norse literature and mythology. But that was 20 years ago, and I vaguely recalled some argument on whether Snorri (like Homer) was a pastiche or pen name. But as you say, most current historians DO consider that Sturluson was a real person and not a pen name, and I shouldn't ought to have said it without updating my information. Except that it did bestir you to write with all of that great info, which I'm very grateful to learn!

Gee, how come he’s not so grateful to learn what’s wrong with all the sexist and ultra-leftist books he sugarcoated later? By that I mean, he’s never spoken about reports discussing such awful cases, if at all.

Hi Cap: KRYPTONIAN LAST NAMES:
ITEM THE FIRST: Regarding your mail item from [name withheld] about Zod's name -- his full name was Dru-Zod as memory serves (the Krypton Chronicles, I believe, but I'm sure someone in the LSH can verify this. Or deny it, should the incomprehensible occur and my memory fail me. Uh, what were we talking about? :-)
ITEM THE SECOND: Yes, the early Kryptonians (that is, the ones named in the late '50s and early '60s) were, very likely, named with letters (Jor-El, Van-Zee, Dev-Em, etc.) However, some of the names weren't hyphenated (Professor Vakox) and some weren't really letters (Jax-Ur, Lor-Van, Nor-Kann.) Also, as DC matured, the names kept getting odder and odder (Quex-Ul? Ak-Var?) and some writers couldn't resist having their fun with them (the infamous Tra-Gob joke in a Lois Lane story.)
Personally, while I like an in-joke or two, I'm not sure I want to work that hard reading a comic ...
GREEN ARROW'S BOXING-GLOVE ARROW:
Is it possible that the boxing glove isn't really a boxing glove, but a rubber balloon that is collapsed in the quiver with a high pressure gas cannister that inflates it to boxing-glove shape when it's drawn? If you've ever been hit with a tough skin balloon, it would probably do as much damage as a boxing glove flung by an arrow -- and would be considerably more aerodynamic. (I love trying to figure these things out!)
ULTIMATE MARVEL TEAM-UPS
Does it really make sense to introduce an entire new Marvel Universe through the eyes of a new Spider-Man? That's basically what this title is. So far, we have Spidey and the X-Men, and I'm not reading either book, so I don't know how good (or bad) they are. However, I assure you that I'm more comfortable with the existing history (well, with the X-Men, that's not quite true -- come to think of it, not really with Spider-Man either); but in any case, I do not want to start over from scratch with existing characters. Once again, this is midgets standing on the shoulders of giants, scraping off the paint where they didn't like it, and putting their own over it. The result is a piebald mix, and it's not going to be any good attracting new readers to the Marvel Universe -- who wants to read about a Wolverine who's been doing his thing for 25 years in the MU when he's all new in Ultimate X-Men? This is CAUSING a dichotomy, not fixing it, and I cannot see how it lends itself to anything positive at Marvel, save for a surge in sales for new readers ... for the nonce. Just my two cents worth on the Ultimate line.
Well, Marvel's argument on the Ultimate line is that it's geared for newbie readers in the great, wide world outside the comics shops, and that as those readers get hooked they'll come into the shops for a shot of the "real" stuff. Yeah, it seems an iffy premise to me, too.
Your take on Green Arrow's boxing-glove is actually pretty similar to mine. I just like making jokes about it because it's so LAME! Why not just have an arrow with a hard, round arrowhead? It would be just as effective at knocking out crooks (or knocking the guns out of their hands, as frequently happened), and we wouldn't have to make up theories about that non-aerodynamic, goofy-looking boxing glove.
And thanks for the info/theories on Kryptonian names. Good to know Zod had an actual full name, instead of "General" always being his first name!
Oh, and for those who didn't get the joke (like me), the […] asks us to read Tra-Gob backwards. Here's lookin' at you, kid ...

Yep, here’s lookin’ at you too, propagandist! Some time after he wrote these commentaries, the Ultimate line pretty much went down the drain in mainstream bookstores, and sputtered in recognition, as it lost considerable audience. As for the correspondent, I assume he’s probably aware that Marvel’s modern staff are rebooting the whole MCU, something hitherto thought impossible. The query is whether he has any serious objections, because I don’t think he had many about Identity Crisis and Avengers: Disassembled.

Dear Cap: There have been a few comments and questions recently regarding Marvel paperback books and I remember them quite well. In 1966 the Marvel Super Heroes cartoon series debuted and around that same time a series of B&W paperback reprint books appeared. This sticks in my mind because the cartoons & those paperbacks got me hooked on Marvel, having been a DC loyalist up to that time. The paperbacks reprinted stories from the early '60s and there were editions featuring the FF, Spider-Man, Thor and the Hulk. I believe each book contained three or four stories and were made to be read horizontally with two panels per page. In the late '70s there was a similar run, this time in color, reprinting the early Conan stories by Roy Thomas and Barry Smith. These volumes featured three complete stories and there were at least three books covering the first nine issues.
Perhaps this format should be considered by the comic-book publishers once again. The paperbacks would be carried by retailers that don't normally touch comic books (I bought the Thor book in a grocery store if I remember correctly) and they might help develop new comic-book fans.
My understanding on the paperbacks is that, like digests, it's not economically feasible for the publishers who pay reprint fees to do any more. Plus, you have to cut and paste the comics to fit 'em on a paperback page. It seems trade paperbacks solve all these problems, with their "natural" shape and more money to go around -- and that's the way the publishers want to go.

Or do they? 14 years later and they still seem pretty confident to go the pamphlet route. So what’s his point? Here’s two letters together now:

Dear Mr. Smith: After reading your review I was left wondering if we had watched the same movie. Yes, Witchblade is bad, but that's not a good thing.
I'm guessing that for some reason, you were impressed with the movie's use of mindless Matrix-like effects. When I saw them on-screen I could not restrain my laughter. They were the icing on one of the worst fight scenes I'd seen in years.
The editing also was way below par. It may be seen by some a "hip" to mindlessly cut to nothing in particular so the audience has to go back to the tape and freeze frame to see what's actually going on, but in reality it's just bad filmmaking that's trying to hide a non-story with mindless tricks.
Ralph Hemecker is one of the worst directors in town. He has his characters act out of character all the time (like when he has Sara dodge bullets Matrix-style only to wait for her death just so the gauntlet can be in the right place ...) And I won't go into the ridiculous strobing crapola that he uses all the time or the Wonder Witchblade at the end of the show ...
I do agree however that Yancy Butler deserves all the credit in the world. She did convey tons more than could decently be expected by Hemecker. Too bad she's the one whose career is going to stop dead because of that bad project.
The fact that Hemecker is back for the sequel means only more bad photography (the stuff from his episode somehow looks worse than when other directors supervise the DP), more pointless Matrix effects, more pointless strobing, more pointless wire work, etc.
As for the soundtrack, I'd never seen such a waste of money. All the money for those songs should have been used to find a way to create effects that would not make Sara into Wonder Witchblade, and the score was completely uninspiring, falling into bad B-movie territory every time the electric guitar comes in.
Thank you for your time :)
And, thanks for your, […]!
Perhaps my expectations for Witchblade were so low -- below ground level, really -- that I was impressed that the TV show wasn't completely unwatchable. Or perhaps it's because I don't watch a lot of television to begin with, and Hemecker's tricks are commonplace now (I wouldn't know). But I was vastly relieved that the TV show wasn't as stupid and pointless as the comic book has been (before Paul Jenkins took over the writing).
But that's only my opinion, and you have yours, which you buttressed well. Thanks for taking the time to comment! Here's another comment:

Dear Cap: I saw the recent showing of Witchblade: The Movie. Awesome. Yancy Butler is some gal. I first saw her on an early episode of NYPD Blue -- if it is her, in the action she sure could run. Also, she must have the most animated face of any actress. My VCR is primed and ready!
Yeah, I was really impressed with Butler's ability to show conflicting emotion on her face. And, as she says on the interview elsewhere on this site, her innate athleticism has semi-pigeonholed her into the "action hero" category, which she doesn't mind. Being pigeonholed isn't something an actor wants, but being unemployed is even worse!

My, what an odd paradox we have here. Does he like it or not? It’s another example of his failure to make up his mind! But I do want to note that today, I cannot stand movies like the Matrix, because of all the special effects they clogged it with. It’s the same with the Mummy, released around the same time.

Dear Cap: I'm a huge fan of the Squadron Supreme. I liked them as a kid in the early '70s, when they were heroes of a parallel Earth battling the Avengers, and I thought Mark Gruenwald's magnum opus with the Squadron in 1986 was one of the best comic series ever produced.
Having said all of that, I'd love to see an ongoing series with the Squadron. My question to you is, to your knowledge, would that present legal difficulties for Marvel? Since all of the members of the Squadron are such obvious (and intentional) knock-off's of DC's Justice League, I wanted to know if there were copyright issues that prevented Marvel from using them in anything other than a limited capacity? Perhaps DC is willing to "turn the other cheek" regarding the occasional Squadron appearance, since it's all in good fun, but would not look fondly upon an ongoing series.
Or perhaps there is no legal issue, but no undercurrent of support for an ongoing, either. Who knows? Anyway, I was hoping that you could shed some light on the issue.
Given that Marvel published a year-long maxiseries without a peep from (usually litigious) DC, I'm guessing that an ongoing wouldn't present any serious legal obstacles -- particularly since the concept and characters have veered so seriously from its tongue-in-cheek beginnings. (Heck, half of the "knock-offs" are dead!) I'd bet that it's lack of confidence in sales more than anything that's preventing another series. But, that's just my opinion -- I could be wrong. If anybody else has any hard information, I'm all ears.

I have information, and it’s that he’s one of the most unreliable sources you could speak with on just about anything. He’s also a coward, is what.

Dear Cap: Longtime reader, first-time writer. A couple of months back there was a discussion here on the age of DC's heroes, mainly the Big Seven of JLA, and it was mentioned that their ages had pretty much been fixed, so that they really wouldn't be aging; that is, Supes will always be around 29 or so. Which seemed to make sense, but then I just finished reading Gotham Knights #17, with all the discussion between Bats and Nightwing about their relationship and it got me to thinking, and then I realized the flaw in the fixing of ages: the original Titans. DC has kept the original sidekicks in their adult ages, which makes things, I believe more difficult for the JLA. I mean, Dick Grayson has got to be, realistically, at least 25. I mean he is a cop, right? And not a rookie one at that. Plus Tim Drake, the current Robin is -- what, 17? It makes sense that Nightwing is at the minimum, 25. So that logically makes Bruce Wayne/Bats at least in his 40s. I mean, he had to have been in his mid-20s when he took in Dick originally. But, if I remember correctly, the discussion here had Bruce in his early 30s. Early 30s? I don't think so.
Same goes for Donna Troy, Roy Harper, Garth/Tempest and Wally West. They have all been portrayed as being at least in their mid-20s. But if their mentors are all hovering around late 20s to early or mid-30s, this makes no sense. Obviously the sidekicks are all old enough to be considered adults by their mentors, with Wally serving as the Flash in JLA. And the others consider and treat him like an adult, and not a "young adult" (19-22) but raher as a full-fledged grown-up, which he is.
So, how does one solve the "problem" of the Titans? I don't know.
Slightly off topic, but not really, I begin to appreciate more and more the brilliance of Superboy being told he could no longer age and will always be a teen. Not only does this solve the problem for DC of how to keep selling Superboy comics in 20 years, but it is also a hilarious metatextual reference/joke on the whole situation of not aging heroes.
Anyway, I'll stop there, put I just felt the need to throw in my two cents.
Yup, they've solved the Superboy problem -- but what about Robin, Impulse, Wonder Girl and the rest of Young Justice? Are they going to end up in college when Superboy is still hanging out at the mall?
Anyway, the age discussion, based on various Secret Files, ended up something like this: Batman is frozen at 37, Superman, Aquaman and Atom are eternally 35, Green Arrow was 48 when he died (two years ago) but has come back younger, Hal Jordan was roughly 40 when he died (two years ago) and Barry Allen was around 35 when he died (five years ago). All of them began their careers a generic 12 years ago. That's from memory, but it's probably pretty close. Anyway, that makes the spread a little more kosher vis-a-vis the Titans. Still, if they keep getting older ... !

Yawn. What’s the point of arguing anyone’s age? In that case, like I’ve said before, Dick Tracy and company should likewise age into the oldies’ nursing home. And the Peanuts gang should age too, along with Rex Morgan, Mark Trail, and even Garfield, whose birthday is celebrated every June 19, but doesn’t age in the literal sense. Otherwise, even Jon Arbuckle would be a crusty old cartoonist by now, walking on a cane, and Odie would need a set of false teeth.

Hello, Cap'n: Here's a follow-up to a note from a recent Canceled Comics Cavalcade: Cheryl Blossom's cancellation (which was brought up in your Comics Buyer's Guide column in issue #1440) is a bit more definite than you may suspect.
A recent issue (#48) of Betty & Veronica Spectacular told the story of the permanent departure of Cheryl and the entire Blossom Family from Riverdale. It was, in fact, the cover feature of that particular issue, although the cover was designed to keep the identity of the departee a secret. Frankly, it's a rather lackluster story, and Cheryl deserved something splashier, but at least we get closure on this one. It was nice that Cheryl at least GOT a send-off; many of Riverdale's other supporting players have simply been ignored right out of existence.
Thanks, […]! Now I know more than I did before, and I appreciate you letting me know.

Again, I’ve got a hunch he wouldn’t appreciate anybody telling him Identity Crisis was gender bigotry incarnate in fiction. He probably wouldn’t even appreciate it if people told him Roald Dahl was one perverted dude with a vulgar sense of humor. Or that Enid Blyton was disgusting behind the scenes. Now for another of my letters:

Dear Cap: Here’s a most surprising discovery I wanted to tell about:
Remember the discussion a few weeks ago on how Mary Jane said she wanted to “find herself” when she took off for a vacation in California? I was reading through the Silly Moments section a few days ago, when all of a sudden, in the synopsis on Spider-Man #149, I saw that the clone of Gwen Stacy had made a similar statement before she left too! I gasped and clapped my hands over my mouth. It appears to me that the writer of the 2001 Annual, Howard Mackie, had used almost exactly the same dumb idea as had the writer (Gerry Conway) of Amazing Spider-Man #149-150!
Wow! How is it that no one else noticed the similarities lying right under our noses until now?
The good news, happily, is that Mary Jane isn’t a clone this time (and she’d better not be). Yet the Marxist theory could still apply here in a manner of speaking. While not as idiotic as when spoken by Gwen Stacy’s clone, it’s still pretty stupid. What does “finding oneself” mean anyway? ... When a person discovers that he or she is adopted, it could be used to explain that they’re going in search of their family roots. But in the case of the Gwen clone, it makes no sense. Find herself? But she already did! If she knows she’s a clone, then what else is there to find? A job? A new boyfriend/husband? A chance to become a parent? Whatever, the line simply rings hollow.
And it doesn’t make much sense for MJ to use it either. And just like you and […], I too found her way of departure a bummer. Here I’d gotten the issue and was enjoying MJ’s reunion with all their friends and with Aunt May, and then what happens? At the end they go and spoil it all with a very far-fetched departure. Why was she just walking off into the night just like that? And without any suitcase? Why weren’t Peter and MJ walking home together so he could help her pack, and then walk her to the bus station and say goodbye? It all looked very artificial and stilted to me.
I understand that they’d just wanted to clear the way for J. Michael Straczynski, but that does not mean that they should be insulting our intelligence. And most certainly not by using an implausible line that’s already been used just as unsuccessfully 26 years ago. Did they get the idea for her to say that she’d like to “find herself” from that big dud of the yesteryear? I’m really disappointed that they’d want to be imitative of something so wretched.
If they really wanted to have her pack off on a vacation out of town, then here’s what they could’ve done: At one point during the issue, she staggered out of the house and leaned back upon the wall. It looked like she was feeling terrible, and it could be assumed that she’d become claustrophobic from being locked in a room for a few months by that psychokinetic fiend. What could’ve been done was to have her tell Peter that her experience as a prisoner had made her feel scared of being indoors, not to mention afraid of the dark. And THAT would have been a plausible reason for her to want to take off.
... That’s why, if Marvel’s editors want to soothe the audience, then they should take the opportunity to write in a few scenes until the 50th issue in which MJ gives Peter a phone call or two. And when she finally does come back, they could do us a big favor by making their 50th issue a “Marvel Monster,” in which they reprint three or four of Spidey and MJ’s best moments together. I sure hope they’ll try something like that, but you just never know.
I never read the 149th issue of Spider-Man, but to be sure, it’s a good thing I didn’t. While the first three entries in the Silly Moments section had me laughing hysterically, the fouth just had me groaning, and there can be no doubt it is quite the groaner it appears to be. About the only funny part was the cover line that said, “Even if I live, I die!”
Still, it does make me curious to know just how effective a villain The Jackal was. Was he a good one? I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole 149th issue turned him into a joke.
Well, I was never overly fond of The Jackal from the get-go -- he just seemed another Green Goblin clone (sorry) to me. Back when Norman Osborn was dead, Marvel would trot out one "mystery villain" after another with a Halloween theme who would inevitably turn out to be ... just who you thought he would be. It all smacked of recycling old Lee/Ditko plots, but with the original Goblin dead they'd bring in a ringer. The Jackal turned out to be (yawn) Peter Parker's professor (just about the only supporting character he COULD be). The Hobgoblin turned out to be (yawn) Ned Leeds (just about the only supporting character who wasn't ALREADY a supervillain). Then the Hobgoblin turned out to NOT be Ned Leeds, but instead (yawn) The Foreigner (or whoever the backstage villain was then -- at that point, I'd lost interest).
Incidentally, even if MJ had admitted to having become claustrophobic, etc., that would still not be cause for her to leave her husband -- it would be cause to seek trauma counseling, with her husband present to offer emotional support. If, as was implied, she couldn't deal with Peter as Spider-Man -- again, that seems like a counseling problem to me, rather than her up and leaving, which is tantamount to declaring the marriage over. (Hey, if my wife left with me with a "find myself"' excuse, or vice versa, I'd expect that the marriage was in serious, probably irreparable, shape. Absence, as they say, makes the heart grow fonder -- of somebody else.) In short, I agree with you: MJ's departure seemed abrupt and implausible.
Now for some comments on the Comics Code:

Before that, I can only declare his “agreement” rings false. Mary Jane Watson has largely fallen off his radar, and he hasn’t commented on the shockingly poor treatment in nearly 8 years. Like Hans Christian Anderson’s Emperor with no Clothes, he’s just decided that, “the show must go on.” In fact, so did the co-writer he mentioned.

I no longer hold the same stupid position on the Conway story that I used to, because I’d found info and material from ASM #149 since that makes me decide it’s not the travesty he made it out to be. That’s not saying Conway didn’t make mistakes in his near quarter century career. But that tale is far from the dud Mr. Smith wants to think it is.

Dear Andrew Smith: I am wrtiting in concern of the letter you wrote of the change in the Marvel Comics' use of the CCAA. I would like to tell you that I am an avid fan of the Incredible Hulk. The reason you may ask is simple. I am 19 years old, and grew up in a large community of people who had quite lower standards contrary to mine. I had to shell myself with comic books and schooling. I learned of good and evil from this. I learned what was right and wrong from my parents, but it was rreiterated through these comics I read. I want to express my concern of what will happen to those who are trying to uphold standards above the "average." I fear that the ways of comics are turning to that of the movie screen ... Not explicit sex, but controlled envioroments of sexual situations. Violence that wouldn't express "go out and do this," but we all know how children tend to let their minds run.
I'm not saying that since Marvel has dropped the Code, that all heck will break loose, and I'm not saying that comics need to be restricted toi my taste only. Each person has the choice ... buy the comic or not ... but what I do worry is that the courses of each comic will be diverted, and will be distastefull for me. It saddens me to know that I fear this. What would I grasp onto as my safeguard? I bid Marvel luck on making good rating decisions for there comics.
I am sorry if this may have rubbed you the wrong way, but I feel that we all have a say in this ... I just hope the morals of Dr. Banner stay strong, and that he will defeat the evil out there forever.
Rub me the wrong way? Not at all, [name withheld] -- you bring up some issues worthy of consideration, and I'm pleased to address them.
First, let me assure you that your concerns vis-a-vis the Incredible Hulk are probably unfounded. Marvel's plan is to have a three-tier ratings system, in which "general interest" -- i.e., Code-level comics -- will still be the bulk of their output, but have no obvious rating on the cover. And the existing superhero books will likely fall into that category.
Secondly, Marvel's move from the Code -- as I said in the article -- doesn't change anything so much as accept reality as it stands. Here's another writer with the same concern:

Mr. Smith, on the other hand, has rubbed me the wrong way with his fluff-coating over the years. That’s not something I’m happy to say, as a matter of fact, yet if that’s how he’s going to work, then I have no choice but to speak out against his brand of “journalism” that owes more to J. Jonah Jameson than Perry White.

As for sexual situations, I personally try not to worry about those as much as I do jarring violence, unless said sexual scenes happen be one-sided depictions of rape, as seen in Identity Crisis. So I’m disappointed the correspondent chose something rather easy to write about.

Mr. Smith: I'm a reporter with the [paper name withheld] and was hoping you could help me with a story I am writing about the Comics Code. I read a recent column you wrote about Marvel getting out of the Code and thought it was interesting. I appreciate that it's outdated and that Marvel dropping it isn't life-changing. But I'm the mother of a 10-year-old spending his allowance on comics and so wondered what advice you'd have for me and other parents out there on this whole Comics Code matter. So far he's spending his money on the JLA, Superboy and Green Lantern. He occassionally will read an Archie comic as well. I've felt pretty safe with all that stuff and just assumed that the Marvel and DC label were pretty safe. Now I'm wondering whether I'll have to be reading every Spider-Man comic that comes into my house. I went to a local comics store here in Evansville and bought one of Marvel's Code-less debut comics.
Yikes! I'm a flag-bearer for the First Amendment and all that jazz, but gee whiz, the superhero was in bed with not one, but two women by the second page! I wouldn't mind that so much but on the cover of the magazine, where the CCAA stamp used to be, are the words: "Hey, kids! Look, no code!" And the advertising is still the same stuff in the Superboy kinds of comics: Ads for bubble gum, Cheese Nips and chocolate milk.
I guess that's where I am confused. Is Marvel marketing this stuff to my 10-year-old? I'm grateful for whatever insight you can offer that I could share with readers.
Normally I wouldn't share an "interview" with my readers, [name withheld], but I doubt there's much overlap between [paper name withheld] readers and those of this site. More importantly, your concerns are legitimate -- and, moreover, seem to be widespread. So, I'm printing my response to you for the all those who are concerned.

First, let me make this clear: Neither Marvel nor any of the other publishers are deliberately marketing "mature" material to underage readers. Nor do retailers want to sell mature books to underage readers. That would be professional suicide (not to mention legally actionable). What they all want to do, however, is publish and sell mature material for mature readers -- to expand out of the "children's ghetto" that popular perception has placed comics in. They don't want your child's allowance; they want YOURS. So Marvel is setting up to publish material that would appeal to Stephen King and John Grisham readers, in ADDITION to continuing all-ages fare for all-ages readers. The blurb you read on that Marvel comic ("Hey, look! No code!") was a jokey way to warn RETAILERS and PARENTS that a book that formerly had been Code-approved wasn't that month. It was a poorly-conceived warning -- as it does have forbidden-fruit appeal to kids -- but a warning nonetheless.
From one perspective, what Marvel is doing with its new Code policy makes a great deal more sense than the existing method. For example, the non-Code book you picked up -- X-Force #116, from the sound of it -- had no label of any kind on it, whereas the G- and PG-rated material your son is already reading (Archie, JLA, Green Lantern, etc.) DOES have a label on it. In other words, under current Code policy, a parent is supposed to look for the ABSENCE of the Code seal to be warned. (Hence X-Force drawing attention to its absence with the "Hey look" joke.) Now who on Earth is going to take the time learn these arcane rules?
For example, DC's main superhero books -- the aforementioned JLA, Green Lantern, etc. -- have a Code seal on them to let you know they're unobjectionable. DC's PG-17 lines -- Vertigo and WildStorm -- contain possibly objectionable material but are marketed with no label of any kind on them. Does that make sense? I think titles like Vertigo's Lucifer (exploring Biblical questions) and WildStorm's The Authority (with over-the-top violence and overt sexual antics) are terrific books -- for ME. I wouldn't want a 10-year-old reading them, and neither does DC. But Lucifer is often racked right next to Legion of Super-Heroes because the retailer has no guide to help him and doesn't have the time to read and sort 4,000 titles a month.
Under Marvel's new policy -- yet to be implemented, which is how X-Force came out the way it did and deservedly raised your hackles -- the all-ages material will have no label. So if a Marvel book doesn't say it's got objectionable material, it won't. Avengers, Spider-Man, Incredible Hulk, X-Men and all the rest of Marvel's superhero mainstays will be as kid-friendly as they've always been. There will be a second tier of books that will be more or less PG-17, which may or may not involve superheroes, but will have a rating on the cover. (My guess is that X-Force would probably fall there.) The third tier, a "mature" line, will have the freedom to do R-rated material, which we can only hope means content of a mature, thoughtful nature, and not just an excuse to use blue language and show secondary sexual characteristics. (I expect that will rest primarily on the skill and maturity of the editors, writers and artists involved, which means a mixed bag.) The Mature line will also bear an appropriate warning. (I don't expect any "X" material of any kind, since that niche is adequately filled now, and I don't think Marvel wants to be anywhere near being tarred with that brush.)
So, once Marvel's new policy is implemented, something like X-Force will have a big, fat "Look Out!" on the cover and will be stocked in a restricted area in comics shops. By contrast, Uncanny X-Men and the rest of Marvel's all-ages line will be right up front in the shop, with no labels.
And make no mistake, Marvel's not about to make Amazing Spider-Man something parents would object to. The all-ages superhero book is their bread and butter, and they're not about to throttle the golden goose by depicting Peter Parker cheating on his wife or eviscerating an opponent.
What the two new lines will give Marvel the freedom to do is comics for adults. Yeah, I'm over 40 and I still read Spider-Man. But the comics medium is a powerful one, and can tell more powerful stories than just Spidey clocking the supervillain of the month or monthly soap opera. Adult stories. Stories that ponder the nature of evil, man's place in the universe, abortion rights, affirmative action, the death penalty, religion, sexual identity, and the whole panoply of hot-button issues that adults debate but have no place in a superhero book geared toward the 10-to-25 crowd. Now those stories will have a place, marketed to adults. And, going out on a limb here, should a writer come up with a terrific Spider-Man story that involves Peter Parker cheating on his wife or eviscerating an opponent -- well, now they've got a place for it. They can put out Spider-Man Gets a Divorce and Goes to Jail Funnies with a big, fat label on it with sales restricted to adults, while your 10-year-old son goes on reading the timeless Amazing Spider-Man, unaware. And you and I get to read both!
So, in short, here's how to monitor your son's reading habits:
-- Archie Comics are as G as G gets. Always safe.
-- Soon, Marvel Comics (Spider-Man, X-Men) with no label will be G or PG. Anything with a label on it will be restricted to more mature readers.
-- With DC (Superman, Batman), it's the reverse. A Code seal means it's G or PG; no seal means look out. Generally the DC "bullet" on the cover means G-rated; Vertigo and WildStorm (and its subsidiaries, Cliffhanger, America's Best and Homage) trade dress means PG-17.
-- Ditto with Dark Horse Comics. Their licensed books -- Star Wars, etc. -- go through the Code procedure and have seals. Their non-licensed books don't go through the Code and none of them have seals and often contain PG-17 material.
-- Few, if any, other publishers go through the Code and none have seals. Caveat Emptor.
As you can see, it's a mess. Generally superhero or teen-humor books are safe as houses, but then an X-Force or a The Authority comes along. That's why I'm strongly in favor of Marvel's labeling method, despite my professional, knee-jerk outrage at anything that treads near the First Amendment. Given my druthers, I'd extend Marvel's policy to ALL comics, so that a parent's load is lightened. The publishers ought to take the responsibility, by adequately monitoring and labeling their own output. Then retailers would have a consistent, coherent guide to act responsibly. Then parents would be at ease turning their kids loose in a comics shop as they do bookstores, while having an upscale area of their own to browse in.
I recognize the objections a great many professionals and First-Amendment rights people have to labels. Many suggest that comics go the way of bookstores, which don't use labels but instead use canny display methods to separate books.
I doubt that would work, because comics aren't books, they're periodicals. Futher, comics are uniquely (and unfortunately) fixed in the minds of most folks as "kiddie fare" and they are outraged when a "comic" book tells the same kind of story as a Stephen King novel. That mindset is suffocating the industry, and Marvel and others are actively working to break it.
Marvel doesn't want to be only kiddie fare -- it wants to break out of that niche. It wants to put out books that sell to ages 8 to 80. And, right or wrong, this is how they're going about it.

Even if the Big Two aren’t actually marketing books with suggestive/adult content to children, that’s still no excuse for promoting gender bigotry in Avengers: Disassembled and Identity Crisis. Exactly what’s absent from a lot of his pseudo-commentary.

Dear Cap: Just wanted to add a reference, if you don't mind. Many people forget (or did not know in the first place) that Men In Black was adapted from a comic-book miniseries (produced by Malibu, I believe). More importantly, Blade, which was an amazingly fun movie, was an ORIGINAL Marvel character. The books Blade was in were the pits. The storylines sucked. The books tanked. NEVERTHELESS ... the movie ROCKED! Wesley Snipes WAS Blade. It was true to the character, good fight scenes, good storyline, cool weapons, a clear history of the character, clear motivations, angst, Oedipal references (very weird), vampires existing in a manner only hinted at in Interview With A Vampire, and Traci Lords, for all of two seconds. How could that NOT be one of the GREAT, SUCCESSFUL comic-book movies of all time? I think it that it was even better than (uh oh) ... X-Men: The Movie. (Actually, Blade and Wolverine were played equally well, in my opinion.)
It just seems like many people forget that Blade was a Marvel comic book FIRST, and that it was quietly VERY successful, and that it was a true, rare, if not the FIRST, movie accomplishment by Marvel (Men In Black, while being created by Malibu and therefore eventually a property of Marvel Comics, can't really claim "Marvel" status -- not that it needed to).
In short, I'm thinking the list should go something like this: . . . blah, blah, blah, comic-book movies, the successful ones to date being Superman, Batman, Blade and X-Men. Hopefully MIB 2 and Blade 2 will live up to the originals and not tank the characters as Superman III and Superman IV, or Batman III and Batman IV did. Hopefully Spider-Man will continue the movie excellence found in MIB, Blade and X-Men, so that we can stop cringing when we hear that there will be yet another movie adaptation of a comic book.
No cringing? A consummation devoutly to be wish'd! Thanks for setting the record straight, […]!

Tsk tsk tsk. What is with this screwball correspondent? Ordinarily, I dislike horror thrillers, but there are a handful I can read, provided they’re intelligent and not forced. And Tomb of Dracula is one of those higher-level thrillers, where Blade debuted, and I don’t see how or why the clown is being dismissive of that.

But since he brings it up, I gotta ask in all due honesty: do bad comics really make good movies? Bad novels? I’ve been thinking, and I’d have to argue that the best answer is “no”. Onto June 20, 2001:

Dear Cap: I just found your site and had a comment about the Troia information.
<<Further, correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't Troia granted her powers by the GREEK pantheon of gods? If The Iliad is to be believed, the Greeks and the Trojans weren't exactly the best of friends ... -- Captain Comics>>
In the ancient world, the "Greek pantheon" were known as the Olympian Gods; historians/mythologists named them the "Greek pantheon" after their most famous worshippers, the Greeks. The Olympians were worshipped in Greece, Macedonia, Asia Minor, most of the Mediterranean Islands (especially Crete). Later on they were worshipped in Italia, which gave them different names -- Jupiter = Zeus, etc. (thus the Roman pantheon).
Troia was granted her powers by the Titans, who preceded the Olympians.
As far as the Trojan War goes, the Olympians were divided over the war; some supported the Greeks, some the Trojans. Hera, Athena & Poseidon favoured the Greeks (actually Sparta and her allies); Aphrodite & Ares favoured the Trojans; Zeus preferred the King Priam of Troy but chose to remain impartial; Apollo was neutral sometimes helping one side then the other.

Thanks for the update, […] -- I've actually already addressed that issue a couple of times, where I shamefacedly admitted that I stretched a point vis-a-vis the gods to make a joke. But I don't think I stretched it much, given that Themyscira is thoroughly Greek and I doubt they'd be thrilled about such a high-profile member of the royal family being named for a traditional enemy (Troy). It would be like if the Turks also worshipped the Greco-Roman gods, and Donna named herself Turkia. The sharing of gods is a nice palliative, but the name is almost incendiary to a Greek-based culture.
And, yes, to us the Trojan War was centuries ago. But to the immortal Amazons of Themyscira, it's probably pretty current politics.
As ever, further debate is welcome.

He may not have stretched certain things much, but he certainly did obscure vital info very much! Yet he remains as shameless as ever.

Dear Cap'n: In the last Mailbag you mentioned the "forbidden fruit" aspect of the Code warning blurb on X-Force #116. Another correspondent wrote about how comics influence kids. Both of these got me thinking ...
Amazing Spider-Man #250 featured a cover box with the Hobgoblin saying "It's great! Steal it!" So I did.
Okay, so I didn't. My mom bought it for me a couple years after it came out at a flea market. But wouldn't that have been great? Sometimes I wished I could steal it just to satisfy some twisted sense of irony or humor.
Marvel used to have the greatest cover blurbs. I remember an issue that said "If this one doesn't have it, you don't need it!" I bought into that wholeheartedly too. For the kid that I was Marvel hype was a beautiful thing.
I also wanted to comment on the obsession with continuity issue. For me, after I read enough stories about them, the characters were like old friends. My old friends don't get a new origin every week.
For example, there's not an "Ultimate" version of my friend […] that doesn't come from Albequerque, where he used to set dumpsters on fire. I know where he's coming from, because he doesn't act like a different person every time I see him. Peter Parker used to be like that.
'Course, he still could be, and sometimes is (check out that Paul Jenkins guy). I'm not asking for fascination with what he ate for breakfast 10 years ago, just a consistent character.
For why people like to remember it, I think it's fun. People like to memorize baseball scores, Civil War trivia. The more deeply involved you get in something the more fun it can be.
Hmmmm. Fun. Now there's a concept.
And those old Silver Age Marvel cover blurbs were great! (Not to mention the old Bullpen Bulletins and letters pages!) Stan Lee gets a lot of flak these days for being "on" all the time, and for hyperbole. What those critics miss is how NEW that all was in the '60s and '70s, when DC was stodgy as a sawhorse and the other companies (Gold Key, Charlton, etc.) were mostly utter crap. Lee's hyperbole (and the innovative, groundbreaking books) made us feel like the "in" crowd, people who were part of a special club. That approach has been copied and Xeroxed and beaten to death so much since -- witness any solicitation material these days -- that it has lost its original charm and become grating. But that's not Stan's fault -- he did it first -- and I still chuckle when I look at those old Marvels.

Oh for crying out loud. Here he goes with the risky claim companies other than Marvel were nothing but junk, to which I fully disagree. And the correspondent is no better, since he was a radical leftist apologist for Islamofascism. One can only wonder what people like him think of apostates by contrast.

These Ultimate books are a total puzzle, unless the "ultimate" plan is to build this line up and do away with the original universe. Which would alienate the people that have supported this company over the years. All I know is if I bought Ultimate Spider-Man or X-Men and liked it, then bought one of the original universe books and found the characters and continuity TOTALLY different, I would be majorly confused and at best just buy the Ultimate books or drop them all. Getting people to by two or three titles regularly IS NOT going to save that company.
And I still don't see any real re-entry into the newsstands/mass market. Marvel still seems bent on trying to reach their readers through the ever-dwindling comic shops. Isn't about time that Marvel, DC, Image and whoever else band together to try to start there own network of comic book shops similar to the WB stores (yes, I know ...) and Disney Stores?
Marvel tried to set up its own distribution system (Heroes World), and served only to collapse the existing system into a single distributor (Diamond). I don't think anybody's going to touch that hot potato for a while.
As to the Ultimate comics line, I haven't seen it on the newsstands either, despite Marvel's announced intention to do exactly that. Perhaps they're gambling on the Ultimate magazine line, which does reach newsstand markets. Or perhaps they're meeting more newsstand distributor resistance than they expected. Time will tell ...

The Ultimate line is indeed a puzzler in retrospect, but so too is Mr. Smith. I ask, how can he live with himself, knowing he’s done disfavors to many people?

<<Now for my challenge to you: Can you (or the Legion of Superfluous Heroes) make an argument for buying monthly comics? And please do not use the easy excuses such as “They are a good financial investment” (they’re not; only the occasional issue increases in value), “We need the comics to subsidize the TPBs” (I don’t get that argument ... traditional books are published without first being serialized, and that industry has consistently flourished), etc.>>

I can think of two reasons:
1) You will be left behind on comic chats and message boards. No one cares about the TPB of some Superman story DC originally printed a year ago. They only care about what's happening in the titles at the moment. I know this because for some reason I get my JLA comic in the mail practically a month after its in the comic stores. So while I want to chat about the issue I just got they're already talking about the next issue. Plus when I do post about TPBs I have bought I get fewer responses than if I would to post about the current issue or just silly off the top of my head. This business is a month to month venture, not a yearly one.
2) Not every story or title will be reprinted. I doubt we'll see Hourman or Martian Manhunter get one. So you don't want to buy one of the endless JLA, Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, X-Men, etc., titles. That's fine. But buy one of the other books that don't sell as well or as much as the others do. That way publishers will make more titles and TPBs of characters who aren't as big as a Supes/Bats/Spidey etc.
<<I was thinking about something today and I'm interested to see what you and others think. Which do you prefer, miniseries/one-shots or crossovers, where continuity is affected?>>

I feel that unless it launches a new title (like they will being doing with Deadman soon) miniseries/maxiseries/one-shots are really just an extra story. My favorite maxiseries is the JLA: Year One story. Is it a great story? Yes. Is it a necessary story? Not really. I will buy one-shots/mini/maxiseries, but only if I have extra money, discounted, or in TPB form.
I'm a sucker for crossovers for one reason, I LOVE it when a bunch of heroes band together or simply guest star in another title. It makes me pick them up, if only for a month or two. My favorite DC titles are the old DC Comics Presents and Brave and the Bold. That's actually how I got introduced to a great number of DC characters. If Marvel does their Ultimate Marvel Team-Up this way it would be great. Although I will wait until the upcoming "Our Worlds At War" story to hit TPB until I buy that. Too little money to buy all the chapters.
Thanks, […]! Here's still more:

Before that, I want to argue that even then, it was disappointing to see some people still argue in favor of an outmoded format. Especially when they seem so fine with crossovers, the idea that ruined superhero comics.

Hi! I was reading your latest Mailbag, and wanted to reply to [name withheld]'s claim that monthly comics are going the way of the dinosaur. I'd like to respond in two parts: why this should not happen, and why it will not.
First, I support your claim that it's necessary. Economically, this unique industry (I'll get to that later) would not be able to support itself. You've explained this, so I'll avoid the redundancy. If comic books became TPBs, graphic novels and other square-bound releases that were fairly infrequent, then the demand for them would be so great, that publishers would more than likely make more to fill this demand. What would ensue is a regular stream, perhaps monthly, of comic books that were more expensive than the regular edition. No doubt, continuity will spill over into those square-bound books, so essentially, what would happen is a regular stream of larger comic books, for double the price. This would have […] digging an even bigger hole for himself. The final point I'd like to make here is that elimination of the monthly format would take away the fun of comic collecting. The regular comic book has great advantages, and I, along with many others, would not tolerate seeing the death of such a beautiful medium.
Some of its true followers, who enjoy the entire comic-book "experience," such as myself, would be dismayed at the death of the regular format. This monthly release of books provides its fans with something to look forward to, to satiate their curiosities. To eliminate the monthly format would ruin one of the most profound properties of this great medium. Every 30-ish days the latest ish of Whatever Comics comes out with a new adventure, or a new twist on an adventure through the story arc's continuation. For me, personally, I like this. I like being able to afford a book month after month on a regular basis, and I like the anticipation of another good story (hopefully). I don't think I'm that alone. Patience builds character, but I guess that's just me. Plus, I don't think the writers and illustrators would be keen on doing twice the work in the same time span (refer to my above claim that larger books would become more frequent).
Why not just buy a regular old book, without pictures? This sounds like what […]'s preference is. I'm sure many others agree. I'm kind of one of them. Having been out of comics for a while, I'm just getting back into it. I know of the happenings in Gotham and Metropolis, but don't have the story in front of me. TPBs are great for this purpose. And I totally understand […]'s economic reasons. I'm a student in university, and I move around a lot in terms of living quarters. Monthly comics would be too expensive and too bulky to suit my needs. However, the nostalgia behind the comic will forever remain a passion. Why have radios and newspapers stayed in existence in light of technological advancements, like TVs and the Internet? They all have unique properties that are insatiable any other way. Reading a newspaper online, for example, does do the same basic thing, but one misses out on the crossword, some of the catchy ads, the chess puzzle, and just the feel of the newspaper. It is easier on the eyes, too. Anticipation is good, it gives people something to look forward to in the next issue. How good would Star Wars be if the original trilogy was only one movie (which was the plan originally, if I'm not mistaken), even if it was a four-hour epic? The writers are smart to play on our curiosities. It's good business, and a well done storyline, like "Emerald Twilight" (GL #49 was a dandy of a cliffhanger. Sinestro at the end? GREAT!) will have the reader coming back for more. I think, in the end, to have an epic within a monthly publication will keep the fans coming back, and it gives the regular title some meat. The regular title's single-ish stories are about the characters lives. The story arcs are an event. The monthly publication is needed to give background to these events for them to have meaning and be interesting. I don't see how a regular night patrolling the streets of Gotham would make for an interesting TPB, nor worth more than $5. To have all TPBs would kill the thrill, and the economics, of the comic-book lover.
<<After all, it's not YOUR responsibility to keep the publishers flush; they ought to figure how to do that themselves!" -- Captain Comics>>
Well, yeah, it is our responsibility, at least in part. If people don't buy the monthly titles -- even those that WON'T eventually be collected -- then the publishers won't be able to afford to put out collections. After all, why reissue something that didn't have a great demand in the first place? (It'd be like bringing back New Coke for a second try.)
If, on the other hand, people support a project when it first comes out, then it is more likely to be reprinted. Often -- although not always -- the collection is less expensive than the originals. That way, anyone who didn't want the series originally but changed their minds after a story receives good reviews can afford it, even when the original issues are hard to find or skyrocketing in price -- or both.
This also applies to reissuing hardcover graphic novels as softcovers. $25 may just be Too Darn Expensive for some people but the may be able to for over $15 for the same story under a different cover. (Kinda like Plymouth. The Prowler has this great retro look and is very popular but is also very expensive. Solution? The PT Cruiser. Same retro look, much cheaper price.)
Thanks, […], for your passionate defense of the monthly periodical. In defense of my own remark, let me state more thoroughly what I meant. The deal is, the 32-page format is proving to be economically unviable. What I meant was that the publishers need to find a format that meets our budget and has appealing content -- it's not our job to continue supporting the 32-page format when we increasingly can't afford it, regardless.

While I’m well aware of the price problems, that was solved through B&W collections like Marvel Essentials and DC Showcase, which are cheaper than color archives. In any case, I’ve noticed that a lot of paperbacks tend to be cheaper than a 6-part story put together. Including some very offensive stories costing nearly 4 dollars that I won’t get into at this particular moment, though I will say the written-for-trades problem has long gotten way out of hand.

Hi Cap'n: In "Next Week's Comics" you wrote:
<<GREEN LANTERN: OUR WORLDS AT WAR #1: The Emerald Crusader's role in DC's summer super-crossover begins with him trying to do something about the missing planet Pluto. You know, I'd forgotten all about that! When and why did Pluto go missing -- anybody remember? And wouldn't that seriously affect our solar system's orbital mechanics?>>
I dunno about Pluto vanishing, but it wouldn't make any real effect if it did. Pluto is by far the smallest and lightest of the planets; it's smaller than the Moon, and it's density is so low that about half of it must be made of ice. In fact, there was a serious effort a few years back in the astronomy community to have its status downgraded from planet to planetesimal (a planetary building block). It failed, but the only real reason to keep calling Pluto a planet is historical; when it was initially discovered it was thought to be about Earth-sized, and it was years before its true size was known. If it was discovered today no one would call it a planet.
In fact, Pluto is so small that Neptune's gravity has it locked into its current orbit. Every time Neptune orbits the Sun twice, Pluto orbits three times. When you're dealing with two bodies, one much larger than the other, this arrangement is gravitationally stable, at least over the lifetime of the Solar System, so Pluto's going nowhere by itself. (This is almost certainly not a coincidence. Evidence is accumulating that in the early days of the Solar System, the major planets wandered about some, Jupiter most likely moving inwards, and Uranus and Neptune most likely moving outwards. Once the orbits of Neptune and Pluto fell into the 3:2 arrangement, Pluto was forced to move with Neptune until the orbits stopped evolving.) Incidentally, despite the fact Pluto crosses over Neptune's orbit, this arrangement also ensures Neptune is nowhere near when the crossings happen, so we don't have to worry about collisions.
Thanks […]! All those astronomy courses in college, and I apparently didn't learn a darn thing. But I'm always glad to learn something new!

Obviously, he never took morality courses, nor any courses that would help him figure out how to spot subtle propaganda, like his own. What good is astronomy when you don’t know morality? Now for two in one:

Hi, Cap: I wanted to chime in concerning recent Mailbag chat about Kevin Smith's Green Arrow revamp. (Mild spoiler alert, with a major one to come.)
Issue #4's reunion of Ollie with the JLA was a hoot, and crammed a ton of characterization into a small number of pages. I've been out of the loop a lot lately (GA is the first book I've bought regularly in years), but I'm guessing that some of that characterization -- I'm particularly thinking of Aquaman -- is inconsistent with current lore. It's pretty inconsistent with the Silver Age Aquaman I remember too. Still, I really enjoyed the pinko-vs.-monarch bickering, even if it did seem unlikely it would have happened so quickly after GA witnessed his finny pal "suddenly" bearded, handless and lethal -- and Aquaman saw a long-dead friend resurrected.
One of my favorite moments -- in spite of myself -- touched on ANOTHER recent Mailbag topic, the "primary colors are for heroes, secondary colors are for villains" axiom. The green-clad archer mourning Aquaman's lost orange shirt was pure sitcom shtick, but it cracked me up -- and it argues for the addition of "second-string heroes" to the secondary colors clause.
MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!
Concerning speculation in recent Mailbags about the identity of the "Star City Slayer" in Kevin Smith's Green Arrow series, I had thought that Mr. Smith was planting loads of "green herrings" to fool us into thinking GA's gay benefactor, Stanley Dover, is the Slayer. But there's been talk on the DC boards that Stanley Dover was the star of an obscure '60s comic series, "Stanley and his Monster," and some pretty convincing argument -- to someone who knows nothing of that series -- that the beast in the bell jar is the titular monster. I bet Smith will give Stanley a loophole -- demonic possession, hypnosis or something -- to allow Stanley to become a gay Alfred, but it looks like he may in fact be the shadow figure we've been seeing. Do you know anything about that series, or the likely truth of the rumor?
Thanks as always for the site, and take care.
I think it almost goes without saying that Stanley is Stanley, and the monster in the jar is the Monster. As to the mystery child molester ... well, here's more:

Dear Cap: Hey, I've been reading Green Arrow. Do you think that old guy is supposed to be Stanley, and the big, dog thing is his Monster? The really obvious hints that Smith is dropping about that guy that took Ollie in being the killer are great. It might even be funnier if he didn't throw a curve ball and just let it be him.
I loved the Phil Foglio version of Stanley and His Monster and Angel and the Ape from the early '90s. I read DC is going to do a swingin' Vertigo version. Probably put go-go checks on it.
And speaking of Foglio (glances furtively about, hushes voice to a whisper), I followed a link that somebody on the Warren Ellis forum on Delphi sent me back when I sent them a list of my favorite comic-book sites, including yours. The forum is a little ... different sometimes, but Ellis posts there a lot. Just the other day he told me to grow up.
Anyway I clicked the link. It was a comic-book porn site and, in addition to a lot of Minara scans and disgusting (in ways too bizarre really to describe) manga I found:
Foglio porn. And not hack work. Right up there with his regular standards. Don't know why I shared that, really.
Other stuff department:
People trash Mark Gruenwald's Captain America more than it deserves. Granted it was never well written, but it had it's moments. I just re-read my favorite issue yesterday.
On the cover Nomad is pounding on this monsterously fat guy, the Slug. Cap is standing there in horror and saying "Stop it Nomad! You're killing him!" A maniacal-looking Nomad replies "That's the idea Cap!"
Inside Nomad infiltrates the luxury yacht of the Slug, a big fat guy so unoriginal that he dips his enemies in a vat of slugs. Ya know, cause he's called the Slug.
There's some kind of mystery, but when Cap arrives and all hell breaks loose Nomad responds by starting a grease fire. He tries to kill the Slug. When the Slug gets away he leaves the Slug's thugs and, though it really doesn't seem to get through to him, Cap to die in the fire.Cap finally comes up for air after trying to rescue the Slug. Nomad pretends not to know who started the fire. In the last panel the Slug's fat pops him up to the surface.
Let's see Mark Waid come up with something like that without the influence of heavy drug abuse.
I have a weakness for big, monster, fat guys whose main power is fatness-derived. Remember when Spider-Man would punch the Blob and his fists would just sink right in the fat? Boy, that was cool. Bouncing Boy used to be cool, too, before they took (away) his powers. I also like Big Bertha of the Great Lakes Avengers, Herbie the Fat Fury, Valiant's Zephyr, etc.
Lady Vic is just a sarcastic knickname? That ranks up there with Jean Grey for stupidest codename ever. (And see, that reinforces my point. I'd have to read a whole other book that probably came out a long time ago to find that out.)
You wrote:
<<As to what she was doing (in Birds of Prey), the best term I can come up with is "baggage." -- Captain Comics>>
"Baggage" cause they locked her in the trunk, right? Funnnny.
Ministry of Space is kind of blah. The real story is much more interesting. Even though we (the U.S.) didn't get a rocketplane.
The white ape the Ultra-Humanite? Nah, I meant Solovar. They killed him in JLAPE, by the way.
I likes me a comic-book monkey story. Recommendations Cap?
My comic-book guy told me he has no, and I mean no, kids as regular comic-book customers. Nada. They come in to buy cards, videogames and toys but not comics. Most of his customers are twentysomething men like me, he said. His theory? Kids don't read no more. Obviously they don't read comics, at least not in [location withheld], where I live.
I think it is blatantly obvious that Green Arrow's graying patron is the formerly young Stanley, and that his Monster is locked up in that bell jar. Whether he's the mystery child molester or not has been debated on this site, with the consensus being that we all hope not, because it would be too obvious (from a storytelling standpoint).
I think we've established that Lady Vic is short for Lady Victim. Or maybe Victoria. Or maybe Vichysoisse. I forget. Who cares? Dull character, dumb mask, bad colors (red and yellow) for a secret assassin.
Comic-book monkey stories? The Silver Age was full of 'em, from Gorilla Grodd appearances in Flash to Beppo and Titano appearances in Superman to apes in baseball uniforms in "Strange Sports Stories." Not to mention Detective Chimp!
And it's no surprise that Phil Foglio has done porn comics -- a lot of comics artists have, if for no other reason than to pay the rent. Richard Moore, the artist on NBM's Boneyard, does beautiful PG work on that title -- but he got his start doing Horny Tails for NBM's Amerotica.

I think it’s blatantly obvious Mr. Smith wouldn’t know common sense if it came into his living room and started playing a loud trumpet and tuba. And while Lady Vic may be a villainess, I’ll still argue that it’s stupid to act as though a fictional character is to blame for dullness rather than the writer (at the time, Chuck Dixon). Yes, even with baddies in fiction, you have to be more intelligent than what Mr. Smith ever proved being.

Dear Cap: It is too bad about Martian Manhunter. In a stronger market, he might have made it.

X-Men: The Hidden Years: I am sure the creative teams behind DC Comics Presents and the other Superman titles were wondering why DC was canceling those profitable titles (in 1986) for the John Byrne relaunch of Superman in Man of Steel. Marvel, however, should also have canceled Cable, X-Men Unlimited and X-Force and stopped the multiple and seemingly never-ending miniseries. It also should not started X-Treme X-Men, The Exiles and The Brotherhood.

Speaking of X-titles, after all the renumbering/restarting that has occurred at Marvel over the last few years, you would think Marvel would have renumbered/restarted X-Force. It has both a new creative team and an entire new cast of characters with no relation to any prior group/team.
Yeah, I'm kinda surprised by that, too. And I couldn't agree with you more that Marvel didn't stop soon enough canceling X-traneous X-titles, and it seems foolish to crank up with even MORE X-traneous X-titles. But, I suppose Cable is SOMEBODY'S favorite book. And I do enjoy the new X-Force and -- to an extent -- Exiles.
Here's another vote for the demise of Cable:

Even then, his statement about cancellations was a giggle-inducer. There would be more to come within just a short amount of time. Now for that other letter about Cable, which was written by me, and contains a “comparison” I feel very embarrassed about when I look back at what I wrote today, including my own flawed take on a fictional character:

Thanks for your reply on Cable (and also for adding me to the LSH page). To which let me add this hopefully helpful response:
You’re quite right that Cable is quite a drag. I’ve never mentioned it before, but even I find the character boring for many of the same reasons that you do. And what’s the main reason why he’s so dull? Quite simply, because he’s got absolutely no personality.
To put it this way, the idea of a character who was whisked into the future, and returned to the present after having exceeded his parents in age is a fairly interesting idea, but the cleverness stops there. Since Nathan Summers has no personality, nor anything to love or hate, that ruins everything. It is a solid personality that’s required to make a character click, and most peculiarly, as of today, Marvel’s staff has not tried in any way to develop him. Or maybe they have, and they’ve found it to be as easy as trying to fix Humpty-Dumpty.
That’s also one of the main reasons why I haven’t read that many issues (of Cable) in the past eight years of its existence. In fact, I never got to read the first issue; when I first came upon it, it was only by the second and third issues (to say the least, I haven’t read it in a straight or a complete line), although that’s not saying I missed anything, to be sure. And when I began reading it, well, duh, it looked pretty dull. And when I tried reading a few issues during 1996, well, even then there was no sign of improvement. It was during 1998 that I read at least 10 issues one after the other, and by then it turned out to be REALLY boring. No persona, no social life, no nothing, and even the Yoda-like “mentor” who turned up around then was almost non-existent. By last year, I had fully given it up.
All in all, it could be said that Cable is a very badly underdeveloped character who’s popularity is totally inexplicable, just like Gambit. The rumor mill has it that the writers have been thinking of giving him a right-wing “personality,” but even then, I doubt if that could help. And besides, doesn’t Wolverine already have a very right-wing personality? (It could also be a left-wing personality, but I just wouldn’t know.)
If Cable is popular, than it’d surely be a case that’s comparable to NBC-TV’s CHiPs, one of the dumbest TV shows I ever saw when I was young, and which I’ll remember as having one of the silliest music scores of all time (it sounded like a “winding, grinding” radio and it sometimes drives me crazy to hear it these days), not to mention a whole lot of strangely old-fashioned dialogue to boot. This big nothing somehow managed to run from 1977 to 1983 and even had a revival telefilm shown on TNT back in late 1998, apparently due to the viewership of mindless tots such as myself. It was built almost entirely of car and motorcycle chases and there was almost no story, no character development, no plot, no nothing; just an hour or so of Larry Wilcox and Erik Estrada riding around as if they were on Candid Camera dishing out a whole lot of corny and forgettable dialogue.
And in many ways, Cable suffers from some, if not all, of the same problems. There’s no character development, and the story and dialogue are forgettable. And, as mentioned before, he’s got nothing to love or hate, he doesn’t try dating girls or getting a social life, and all he does is fight, fight, fight. But what exactly? Does he try looking for (those in the) service of Apocalypse? I just can’t figure it out.
If you ever keep track of the video games that Capcom has made that are based on Marvel, this reminds me that in Marvel vs. Capcom 2 they didn’t make him any more interesting either: I saw the game a year ago, and it looked to me like they didn’t even provide him with any super-powered attacking skills either; rather than use his telepathy and his telekinesis, he seemed to be using firearms, such as pistol with which he fires 3 rounds, and for a super attack, a plasma rifle. In fact, it was kinda funny as to how he was animated, and how he walked back and forth, swinging that silly pistol at his side.
Well how about that. A dull character makes an even duller videogame character. Capcom’s Street Fighter formula had really begun to run out of steam around then anyway.
Strangely enough, I somehow found X-Man slightly more interesting. Not always -- it also could be tedious at times, and I didn’t read all of the issues of that either -- but there were a few story arcs there that I took an interest in, such as where Nate Grey tried to help this young mutant named Threnody, and even where he cloned Madeleine Pryor. This showed me that he on the other hand had something to love, which would be women. (That isn’t saying, of course, that I approve of all resurrections. Of course I agree with you that some characters should stay dead.) But most of the rest of the time, even that title struck me as boring, and by last year, I’d given up X-Man too.
Whatever, you’re certainly right overall that both Cable and X-Man are far too hard for anyone who doesn’t read such comics to understand, and I’m not bothered at all if X-Man’s gone for good. Will he be added to the BotD? Probably. And as for Cable, well, I’d say it's about time that he got the heave-ho as well. And if he’s popular, than why, I wonder? Very strange. Unfortunately, unless anybody writes in to the Comics Cave to tell why they find it so great, we may never know.
To conclude, let provide a link to a pretty good review from the Cleveland Free Times of Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, by Chris Ware.
http://www.freetimes.com/issues/923/arts-word1.php3
It’s a good book that sadly didn’t get as much attention as it could’ve in the Comics Cave. I really wish that [withheld] could’ve reviewed it, but he didn’t. But in the meantime, here’s a good review of it. And I’m so happy that it got some awards.
Frankly, I was completely unaware of Jimmy Corrigan until it was nominated for all those awards -- it completely slipped under the radar.
And I couldn't agree with you more about Cable. The character is convoluted, his personality seemingly non-existent, and his actions inconsistent and unexplained. But somebody, somewhere likes Cable -- and I wish they'd enlighten me as to what I'm missing!

Man, do I feel so STUPID making that negative comment on Chips after all these years. It was written at a time when I apparently didn’t have the ability to appreciate some of the best TV shows that make great alternatives to modern messes, and would make perfect templates for what to try to today. I don’t stand by that statement anymore. It was apparently based on a faint memory of what I thought I’d known about Chips from years before, and a slapdash viewing from 1992, last time I’d actually seen it till recently. I thought it just went by a superficial template of having a busload of mini-stories in one episode, and even then, I didn’t think about how entertaining it still was.

Today, in recent times, I got to see all 6 seasons, 139 episodes and the reunion TV movie, and got to polish up my exact understandings. In the first season, it was several stories within an episode with at least one main, and in the second season, these were usually pared down to just 2 or 3 in an episode to make it more managable, as the producers expanded to focus more on the cast of characters, bringing in performers like Lou Wagner as the CHP division’s main mechanic, Randi Oakes as a lady patrolwoman, and Paul Linke for comedy relief.

And what was I saying about no character development? There most definitely was. Frank Poncherello was established as having grown up a rebel from a Latino ghetto who’d once gone around with a gang, but worked hard to get out of the ghetto and find better status. He was also quite a ladies’ man. In the second season, he got himself an apartment in Marina Del Ray, one of LA's fanciest neighborhoods. Jon Baker was the more straight-laced partner, and at the beginning it was established that they were assigned to work together since Ponch had made some mistakes putting him on a probationary status. And, Baker was usually quite the ladies man too; there were some pretty hot women featured during the run, and enjoyable comedic elements too.

So regarding what I very stupidly said at the time, I no longer stand by that, and I’m glad I’ve woken up and smelled the coffee since. It was not a good “analogy” to make regarding Cable. The Law & Order franchise would make a much better one.

As for the X-books, as of today, I’m also less interested in X-Man, which was no better. And I decidedly fell way short of the mark with how to criticize anything surrounding Cable too. I shouldn’t have said he should be wiped out, if that’s what I was driving at. That won’t make things any better, and only makes it worse. This may not be the worst result of a onetime terrible approach I once had, but I think my take on the subject still stinks, and I’m glad I changed it since. Today, I do my best to follow the Mark Gruenwald argument.

Dear Cap: I know you probably pick up on most things on Newsarama, but I found this article which discusses why so many of the top comic writers and artists today seem to come from the UK:
http://www.comicon.com/ubb/Forum12/HTML/000010.html
It's actually a well-thought-out and -written article, even if it does miss out on or two things (such as Jamie Delano and James Robinson being British). I can even see why Grant Morrison cites the influences he does -- I come from a similar background, despite been a scientist and not an artist ...
Anyway, what did you think of what it had to say?
I also thought it was a well-done article, and it certainly was a thumbsucker, as we say in the newspaper biz.
As to why so many top writers are British, I have to go along with the idea of "different perspective." Most American comics writers, as the article points out, come from a pretty similar background -- upper middle class, long-time comics fans, U.S. public school system. There's very little difference between, say, how Mark Waid grew up and how Kurt Busiek grew up. (Or, for that matter, how the Captain grew up.) The Brit (and Irish and Scottish) writers, by contrast, come from a different experience -- a different education system (with emphasis on different subjects), a different experience vis-a-vis reading (fewer U.S. comics and more UK/international comics, plus greater exposure to a wider variety of literature), a different socioeconomic standpoint (often blue collar, and NOT residents of the world's last remaining superpower, and therefore having fewer assumptions about inevitable upward mobility and possessed of a bleaker worldview), and -- I hope I'm forgiven this -- they come from a culture where streetfights are much more common (despite America's reputation for violence, I've never heard of American "football hooligans" erupting after a game, I've never been in a bar fight, and, frankly, I've never seen a physical altercation of any kind as an adult).
So, my take is that to some degree you could credit the UK school system, but overall I think it's just that English/Scottish/Irish writers bring a different sensibility to their writing, and different is exciting. Plus -- and, again, I hope I can be forgiven this -- I think they bring a much more pessimistic stance to their stories, which appeals to teenagers, who in general like to affect cynicism and worldweariness. The upshot is that I think that as soon as THAT perspective becomes the status quo, another, newer one will take its place, and we'll be talking about why so many Japanese or French or Brazilian writers are so popular in America.
Of course, that's just my opinion. What's yours?

Mine is that UK writers have brought incredibly superfluous influence upon USA comics, and coupled with their increasing left-wing politics, they’re bringing them down to a very low level that Mr. Smith seems uninterested in arguing about.

Dear Captain: Older heroes in comics always end up being something like the "old cop and young rookie" movies: Green Lanterns (name the mix), the Flash (name the mix), Captain American and Nomad, Wolverine & Jubilee, Batman & Robin. The old guy is staid in his ways and the young guy just wants to rush in and start blasting away. This mix in bigger supergroups has had mixed results at best.
But there have been good mixes of those in comics. My favorite team of mix and match, young and old was the Giffen/DeMatteis JLA (I know, I know, I plug this all the time). The old pros (Martian Manhunter, Batman, Black Canary) with the hothead (Guy Gardner) and the young and naive (Blue Beetle and Captain Marvel).
Second to that has been the new JSA. To give a great example of that was the Secret Files JSA in which Jack Knight and Wildcat box and talk out their differences. Besides I think Wildcat has been done a great disservice by having to wear that darn silly costume. Can he please be given something that doesn't make the villains laugh and fall to the ground?
The Avengers have never been able to impress me with whom they invite into their ranks when the new/young heroes come around. My favorite Avengers teams have always been the Big Three with a mish-mash of old pros. The only time I've liked Triathlon wasn't even in the Avengers; it was his guest spot in Black Panther.
As for the reason that older characters need to be there is when all there is are Young Turks, it becomes self-important whining. Gen13 is godawful, with the whining and self-importance. Same with Generation X and the latest version of the New Warriors. And though the Titans have the mix of old and young pros, they're mostly young whiners who can't see beyond their own problems (I blame Jay Faerber for all of this, really).
And I wanted to put in my two cents on crossovers. I got suckered once on crossovers and never again. Only if I happen to be getting those books do I read the story. It's right up there with foil, embossed, variant covers for me.
I do like the ones that try to have a crossover serve the purpose of the story, but so few do. The impetus is always to help a lagging title with sales. And I don't like being forced to buy a title that was pretty awful in the first place.
The only time I got close was the "Evolutionary War" story in the Marvel annuals 'round about 1988 or so (off the top of my head). The only reason I liked them was because of the story that ended it was so good; the Avengers Annual for that year. Written by Walt Simonson, pencilled by Mark Bright (my favorite underrated artist) and inked by Mike Gustovich (where is this guy; loved his work), it told the story of a rag-tag team of Avengers thwarting the last-ditch attempt of the High Evolutionary to change the Earth.
Simonson did some truly impressive things with what could have been a toss-off annual. He took plot threads that were dangling here and there and spun them into a very good tale. The Avengers had been disbanded because of Nebula/Doctor Druid debacle. Captain America was the Captain in the black & red costume & vibranium shield. He brought together the Captain, the Falcon, the Beast (my favorite when he comes back to the team), Hercules (in a return to the fold after a lengthy hiatus) and Yellowjacket II (an annoying impostor, but almost gets rid of it here). Naturally, they storm the fortress and save the day, with a few bumps here and there.
If you want to see why Simonson is so good as a writer, pick it up. He's really a consumate storyteller.
That's all I got, thanks for venue.
And thanks for the opinions, [name withheld]! And now, a bunch of letters on my column about Marvel dumping the Comics Code:

Before we turn to any of that, I voice my disagreement with the correspondent on JSA, having gradually changed my mind over the years. I may have said this once, but any trades of the Johns/Goyer tales I once owned were later sold off, and I don’t miss them one bit. But, I congratulate the correspondent for admitting that crossovers have, for the most part, been a force of destruction upon comicdom. Even the old/new Valiant lines have resorted to crossovers, proving smaller publishers are making fools of themselves. Now then:

Dear Cap: From ze last mailbag:
"Who, if anyone, should take responsibility for the comics we buy and read, and for indicating what the content may be?"
The person buying the comic book shoulders that responsibility -- no one else can, and no other individual or body should.
That was an easy one! For my next trick, I shall recite every appearance of Marvel's "The Scarecrow" :)
Short and sweet. Thanks, […]!

Trouble is, even Mr. Smith hasn’t shouldered the above, nor come to think of it, did the correspondent.

Sir: I wholeheartedly agree with you on your article about the Comics Code. The only time I ever think about the Code is when an article like yours brings it up. I personally have no idea which comics I read have the Code or not. Furthermore, in the '80s when I was growing up, not once did my parents check my comics to see if they carried the Code's Seal of Approval on it. They couldn't have cared less. My parents were more concerned if I was sneaking a Playboy than if my copy of Flash was approved by the Comics Code.
An experience I share -- and I suspect others do, as well. When I said "Comics Code Seal of Approval" to my mother, she blinked with no comprehension. Here's more:

And Mr. Smith doesn’t typically do much better – when did he ever write reviews giving a clear description of the interior content in any of these books, pre-or-post-CCA? Very rarely, if at all. So what was his point to start with?

Hi, I read what you said about the Comics Code and I have to say I agree 100 percent. I was just wondering though, what would each rating, generally, support? More violence when nessessary? more adult themes? And would children be safe from it if parents object? Thank you for your time.
The way Marvel says they'll set it up -- and, given my druthers, I wish everybody would -- is that they'll have a base-level G/PG line (the books we're pretty much familiar with now), then a PG-17 line that will be more in line with prime-time TV and "older" movies, and a Mature (read: R) line that will be pretty free-wheeling. In other words, the latter line could be used as a vehicle for stories with real, adult substance and/or include the sort of blue language we hear every day and probably not shy from nudity, sexual situations, over-the-top violence and the like. In other words, Mature-line creators will have the freedom to create Maus, or The Authority, or some combination thereof. The latter two lines will be barred from non-adults buying them. Does that answer your question?

I’m afraid he didn’t answer a more challenging one: why didn’t he ever seriously complain about how Marvel since turned their mainstream output into a graphically violent embarrassment? Almost a decade ago, there was a story where Straczynski’s dully-written creation called Morlun showed up again and ate Peter Parker’s eyeball. Need I continue?

Hey Cap! [name/location withheld], wrote:
<<The other thing is the willingness of the characters to sacrifice a gorilla for Blockbuster. Gorilla City residents are as intelligent as people and, as far as I can see, just entitled to live. Chuck Dixon's website speaks a little about his Christian beliefs. Maybe he thinks killing gorillas is okay because they don't have souls?>>
Captain Comics replied:
<<I don't attribute the characters' nonchalance about sacrificing apes for humans as being Dixon's opinions so much as the characters' opinions. Max Allan Collins said (while writing Dick Tracy), "Tracy voted for Ronald Reagan, but I didn't." On the other hand, since I'm not privy to Dixon's mind, you could be right.>>
For the most part I agree with your answer. However, I'd like to expand on what you said.
It is vitally important that we remember to separate the beliefs and opinions of the characters from the beliefs and opinions of the writer. And it is also important to distinguish between what a writer depicts and what they condone.
Granted, a writer will often use a character to speak his or her opinion (just look at Grant Morrison's run on Animal Man) but that is generally regarded as being propaganda or bad writing.
I don't think that Chuck Dixon is engaging in that kind of propaganda. Look at the characters who were actually involved in "The Hostage Heart!" Five of the eight are villains. The other two are witnesses who are not directly involved and the hero who is directly involved is working both undercover and against her will.
First, Roland Desmond a.k.a. Blockbuster. He has put out contracts on both Nightwing and Oracle. Obviously, he doesn't subscribe to the sanctity of life whether human or gorilla.
Second, Grimm, who is a gorilla. Grimm is willing to kill one of his own kind for the money.
Third, Lady Vic. (Sidenote: It is Lady Victims, not Lady Victoria, although Nightwing incorrectly assumed the latter in their first meeting. Her given name is Elaine as revealed in Birds of Prey #22) She is a hired assassin and has killed numerous humans. Again, her willingness to kill gorillas is not indicative of them being a higher or lower life form.
Fourth, Deathstroke. Again, a hired assassin. However, he was interested in gaining revenge on Gorilla Grodd and had no interest in the heart.
Fifth, Gorilla Grodd. He is both a gorilla who is willing to kill his own kind and a villain who is responsible for the death of Adeline Wilson, Deathstroke's wife. All five of these villains are equally callous with human and gorilla life.
As for the heroes.
First, Black Canary. She was working deep undercover. Everyone thought she was Oracle. She was also being forced to be involved against her will. She had been captured by Blockbuster at the end of Birds of Prey #21 and his condition for allowing her to live was that she help him obtain a gorilla's heart. She even confessed that she "didn't have a choice." Black Canary's interest was self-preservation. However, she never killed a gorilla herself.
Second, Oracle. Oracle's professed motivation was that they would be able to learn the location of Gorilla City and thereby neutralize Gorilla Grodd, notorious supervillain. Oracle had no interest in the heart. However, she recognized that in obtaining the desired information, she was crossing lines that many other heroes refused to cross.
This is a recurring trend in Oracle's behaviour that has bothered me. On this site, we've already debated the propriety of stealing funds from Blockbuster. Others are questioning her motives and actions regarding hiring Jason Bard to tail Black Canary. Whether I agree or disagree with her ethics in regard to "The Hostage Heart!", I can at least say that Oracle is being consistent.
Which bring us to superhero number three, Ted Kord a.k.a. Blue Beetle. Ted objects to the entire mission and even brings up the issue of animal rights.
So where does Chuck Dixon fit in all of this? Well, I think it's pretty obvious he doesn't side with the villains who are callous about all forms of life. They're the only ones who are nonchalant about the death of the unnamed gorilla.
I'm not sure that he sides with the heroes either. Black Canary and Oracle justified their actions because of some greater purpose, such as neutralizing Gorilla Grodd. Yet the heroes themselves disagree about whether or not their greater purpose was worth it. So it shouldn't be surprising that we disagree about the morality of their actions. And it shouldn't surprise us if Chuck Dixon doesn't fully agree with any of his characters either.
Sounds good to me, […]. As you say, we must distinguish between the writer and his art. I mean, Stan Lee wrote an awful lot of Red Skull dialogue, and pretty convincingly -- does that make him a Fascist? I pretty much buy your argument in toto -- particularly since, as you say, the heroes were divided on the morality of their actions. That says GOOD writing to me, since it invites us all to the debate ... which we are carrying on right here.

Oh for crying out loud! However you write a villain’s dialogue, that doesn’t mean you literally endorse the villain (though with the way Mr. Smith endorses horrors like Identity Crisis, you have to wonder if he does). It’s usually the heroes who convey what the writer thinks, if they use them as a platform for their own views. That said, I am aware how that's changed considerably since, and now we have books featuring supervillains in the spotlight where the writers could be using them to convey their thoughts rather than the heroes.

Dear Cap: Green Lantern: Willworld was recommended to me by my comic-store manager, [name withheld] (Comics and Comix, downtown Sacramento). I had grave reservations; but gave it a try (Aaron allows me to return books he recommend; such a deal!) The coloring is beautiful. The artwork, with the coloring, grew on me. There are nice "bits of business" regarding the Guardians, the GL Corps, Sinestro (he was Hal's "mentor'). The story was fun, if predictable. I guessed the ending after the introduction; but I didn't care. It was like watching the Voyager finale. It was "caca" but very well done"caca." The "special effects" were fun to watch (both Willworld and Voyager's finale). I think DeMatteis is best when he does a one-shot with a beginning, middle and end.
A single issue of one of his comics is usually part of bigger whole that he takes too long, in my opinion, to explain. When I got over the title of Superman: Where is Thy Sting?, I enjoyed it (well, except for ending. I kept hoping Death of the Endless would show up. Heck, I'll take Mistress Death, as portrayed by Peter David and Jim Starlin. Loved Her appearance and mythology (!) in the recent Captain Marvels. Really enjoyed David's portrayal of Thor, one of my favorite characters, when he is done right; but I digress).
Anyway, is Willworld worth $25? It allowed me to remember the GL of my "youth." For a while, I could forget Emerald Whatever. My Hal did not go crazy. My Hal is not a mass murderer. Couldn't happen. I ought to know, it's my profession. The Hal of Willworld went on to became the greatest GL of all on Earth-Consistent Character Portrayal. The "other" Hal who allegedly did what was portrayed in the comics we read was an "evil twin" (hope my identical twin sons don't read this!) and DC just hasn't gotten around to explaining it yet! Bottom-line: Skim the colored Willworld and set the Wayback Machine to "Silver Age GL." Whether its worth $25 depends on your pocketbook and need for nostalgia.
Next best recent comic: Gotham Knights #17. SPOILER WARNING! My wife and I adopted our 13-year-old son when he was one week old. Only took Bruce 61 years; but finally! Knew something was coming in that two-part story; but didn't predict the ending. It was a good solid fun well drawn Batman/Nightwing/Oracle story even without the last page; but WOW!
Next: "deals." My mother is always telling me (yes, I know I'm 51, she doesn't) about "deals" she can get on recent comics at Air Force Bases (no tax). Used to listen patiently and "pass." Finally, she heard me when I explained I liked the service and enthusiasm of store owners/managers and that some were friends and you don't take "deals" over friendship, good service and enthusiasm (besides I get a "savers' discount" anyway; but that didn't seem to matter to my mother). This she understood. When, I visit a new store, it is because it is fun to find a missing comic or just "window shop." Recently, I read the second part of JLA: Act of God, and realized I didn't have part three. Called up Aaron. He had eight savers like myself that wanted a copy; but no backstroke available from Diamond. Suggested I call other comic shops because he was unlikely to get a copy in the foreseeable future. Called every store in Sacramento. Every store manager/owner/employer checked their stock or knew that that issue was gone. Finally found a store in Rancho Cordova (nearby suburb of Gotham City, next to where Nightwing hangs out) that had a copy. Rare store owner/manager/employee who will not hold a copy of virtually anything for at least a day. Drove there picked it up. Bought a few "deals." Was it worth it? Not for the that issue per se but the drive listening to Stephen King and AudioDigest Psychiatry and meeting a new store owner was. Also for the "deals." (Missing issues of Batman: Gotham Adventures for buck at most stores!)
I'm fascinated by your comments on "Emerald Twilight," Doc -- given that you're a professional psychiatrist. In fact, they had me grinning from ear to ear.
When I complain about "ET," Kyle Rayner fans accuse me of being a stodgy, unrepentant Silver Ager unwilling to accept Kyle or take Hal's breakdown in stride.
They're missing the point. I have nothing against Kyle Rayner. I have no issue with DC putting Hal out to pasture. I DO have a problem with HOW it was done. In short: I think "Emerald Twilight" was a BAD STORY.
You're going to take a guy who's been an upstanding hero for 34 years and make him a lunatic mass murderer? OK, I'll accept that -- if you CONVINCE me of it. "Emerald Twilight" didn't convince me of anything, except that DC was determined to get rid of Hal in the worst way, and didn't care how they went about it.
The story was not character-driven; it was obviously and clearly EDITOR-driven, which I find reprehensible in any story I read (like when Marvel sent Mary Jane off to "find herself" -- yeah, sure). Hal's insanity had no foreshadowing. Hal went mad because Coast City went blooey -- a city he hadn't lived in since the early '60s and ALL HIS FRIENDS AND RELATIVES CONVENIENTLY SURVIVED. So where's the trauma? Six million strangers died -- sad, but so what? Hal took over the green energy and challenged the Guardians ... um, how? It's been consistently presented that the Guardians -- who GENERATE the power -- can turn it on and off like a tap, even cut it in half to a specific ring (Hal's, on a number of occasions) when it suits their purposes. Hal increases his power by grabbing power rings ... um, how? ONE ring has potentially infinite power, so how does having two or five or 10 increase infinity?
I could go on -- and have, believe me -- but, in short: I think "Emerald Twilight" was full of holes, made no sense, and was just plain stupid. So you can imagine my reaction to a psychiatrist's take on Hal's insanity: "Couldn't happen."
That's what I thought. :)

But he doesn’t think Identity Crisis was full of holes, distorted any past storylines it allegedly drew from, nor that it depicted the anal rape in a most repellent way, using a 1st-person perspective as though it were some perverted take on shooting games like Doom? Forget it, Charlie, I’m not convinced. IMHO, he was on DC’s side all along, and I may have once seen columns he’d written circa 1995 that give hints he was soft on their angle. More to the point, he wasn’t writing opinions/arguments per se, but merely about the topics as news on the surrounding issues, which doesn’t do much for anybody.

It's about time somebody at Marvel realized that the comics demographic is no longer the 10- to 15-year-old kids, but the 10- to 15-year-old kids from 10- to 15-years ago! It's the people who were kids before vidogames who really like to read comics, but we want GOOD comics. Ooops, just dated myself.
Well, at least you can be pretty sure of having a date on Saturday night. :)

Trouble is, those 10-15-year-olds have remained firmly stuck in that age well into their adult years. That’s why comicdom’s suffered so badly.

Dear Cap: You really don't like Wizard, do you? I agree with you on most things but I don't get the same vibe from Wizard that you do. I find it silly.
Anyway, more food for thought: Do you believe Mad magazine is as culpable as Wizard in portraying comics fans as semi-literate weirdos? I mean, I've never heard this discussed, but Mad's "representative," Alfred E. Neuman, I would guess was/is someone's representation of the typical reader. Has there ever been an "origin" of Alfred? I haven't been a regular reader of Mad for around 25 years but it seems to me that its tone was condescending to comics and its readership in the days when I read it. I can't recall specific examples so maybe I'm reaching here. Just something to throw out there though.
Now on to a few questions:
I just finished acquiring, then reading the last two issues to complete a 20-issue run of the Ka-Zar series from 1973-77. The last issue (Feb 77, by Doug Moench/Val Mayerik) ends on a cliff-hanger in which Ka-Zar is trapped in an alien dimension along with several friends and the supervillain Klaw The lettercol indicates that the plot will be resolved but doesn't say where. Does anyone know how this was wrapped up and where? Seems to me it would have been perfect fodder for Marvel Team-Up or Two-In-One but I can't recall ever seeing it.
While we're on the subject, which Ka-Zar series did you find the most entertaining? And please, Cap, don't tell me the title is going to be relaunched again. I think five or six tries resulting in short runs, including a 10- or 11-issue stint in the black-and-white mag Savage Tales is enough. I didn't read Mark Waid's attempt in the late '90s because I just get tired of relaunch after relaunch. Much as I admire Waid, I knew the project was doomed to a short lifespan.
I think there should be some sort of 20-year statute for renewing a canceled series. Anyway, one of the creators in the Ka-Zar series I just read raised an interesting point -- jungle comics just aren't as thrilling as they used to be, what with space travel, technology, etc. (and this was in the '70s) which makes it a real challenge writing such a series. So why do people keep trying to revive a Ka-Zar title? I thought his adventures worked best in a black-and-white mag but, alas, the days of Marvel's black-and-white mags are long gone. At least for the time being, I hope Ka-Zar is relegated to "guest-star" or back-up feature.
Also, what does it mean when comics are "remastered" or "remixed?" I'm cynically assuming it's all BS, just rock-star buzz-words that comics creators use in a lame attempt to sound hip. Hey, I have a right to be cynical: Remember Marvel's "Unplugged" comics from back in the day when MTV's Unplugged was all the rage? And Marvel also gave us "Marvel Remix." Every so often I'll see a comic solicited as "remastered" and I just shake my head. What's the story? How is a comic "remastered?"
And finally, I picked up some issues of Cosmic Powers Unlimited cheap but haven't read them yet. What was the "Cosmic Powers" series all about? There was an Unlimited series and, apparently, a regular series, neither of which lasted very long.
Wizard perpetuates the stereotype of comics fans as sniggering, arrested-development, can't-get-a-date geeks -- a stereotype I've been fighting for 35 years. I've stood up for comics to college roommates, frat boys, dates, snickering supervisors, any and all challengers -- and taken lots of heat for it, lots of humiliation, believe you me. I take issue when my paper's managing editor makes snide remarks, which hurts my career. So my feelings are pretty damn personal.
As to your questions, I don't think Mad is the same as Wizard at all. In fact, I've often said that Mad should be required reading for all American adolescents because it teaches disrespect for all sacred cows and to question authority. Yeah, it made fun of comics fans -- it made fun of everything! Further, I don't think anybody should be reading Mad after high school -- its job should be done by then, and continued reading IS arrested development. How old is the average comics reader, 37? Wizard should reflect that, particularly if it's going to tout itself as an "ambassador" to the "outside" -- adult -- world. But that's my opinion, and I'd be interested in others.
I can't recall where that Ka-Zar story was resolved, although I have a vague memory that it was. Perhaps the Legion of Superfluous Heroes can help us out.
My favorite Ka-Zar series was, yes, the Mark Waid version. He took the character out of Tarzan mode and did some interesting things. The series sold well until he left -- and sales plummeted.
And speaking of Tarzan mode, another aspect of the "Jungle Lord" thing that isn't appealing these days is the White Guy as King of the Jungle. That dog don't hunt any more.
As to Cosmic Powers, that was a short-lived attempt by Marvel to do a new imprint, one recalling the glory days of the '60s Lee/Kirby and '70s Jim Starlin big-screen approach. Unfortunately, the creators weren't Lee/Kirby or Starlin, it was the '80s and not the '60s or '70s, and the new Captain Mar-Vell wasn't the old one. It tanked.
Oh, and I agree with you -- "Unplugged" and "Marvel Remix" were a lame attempt to be "hip."

Has he ever been trying to defy the stereotype of a “fanboy” who’s predisposed to liking horrific screeds like Identity Crisis, let alone a reporter who goes on similar paths and political correctness? He’s not qualified for role of ambassador any more than Wizard was.

<<Betty dumps Archie and takes up with a guy who doesn't treat her like a doormat. You go, girl! Ah, but she'll go back to him -- or what will Archie writers write about for the next 50 years? -- Captain Comics>>
I enjoyed part one but don't look forward to part two for this very reason. You just KNOW that they'll return to the status quo. Betty deserves better than that skunk, Archie. I've maintained for a long time that she's one of the few likable characters in Riverdale, her only downfall being her fascination with a creep like Archie Andrews.
I agree. Betty's too good for that fickle redhead.
And I'm also pleased to see I wasn't the only one puzzled by Divided They Fall!

Well what have we here but two idiots who’re attacking a redheaded teen who doesn’t exist in real life! If they really think Archie, of all imaginary characters, is fickle, why don’t they ask that he get a personality alteration to something better? Because they’re just too badly educated to tell the difference between fiction/reality, and they were never truly respectful of the Archie franchise, I guess.

That concludes this ninth list of letters from the awful Captain Comics site of old. Let’s turn to the next one.

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