Review: Animal Man #29 – series finale

Some minor spoilers ahead. Also, not so much a review of the last issue, as a meditation on the series as a whole, and it’s unfortunate end…

So one of DC’s few remaining books featuring a character not from the Superman, Batman, or Green Lantern mythos came to an end this week. Animal Man #29 was the last issue of the surprise break-out hit of the “New 52” relaunch. And I must admit, I was a bit disappointed, not just by the issue itself, but the way the whole series was unceremoniously cancelled. Despite the publisher’s claim that writer Jeff Lemire felt he had told the story he intended to tell and this was the right place to end the series, I have a feeling the decision had a lot more to do with editorial and marketing decisions than creative ones.

Animal-Man-29-Cover

I think it’s safe to say that nobody expected Animal Man to be such a hit, but it managed to differentiate itself from all of DC’s other titles by blending horror with superheroics, feature a lead character who was married with kids, and introducing strong new concepts into the DC Universe, such as The Rot. But despite Lemire’s strong writing, the book did lose its way (and much of its stream) around midway through its run). Although counterintuitive, the “Rotworld” crossover with Swamp Thing, written by the equally popular Scott Snyder, actually ended up hurting sales. From a plot standpoint, the crossover made sense. The metaphysical realms of The Red, The Green, and The Rot were out of balance due to a power grab by The Rot, and Animal Man and Swamp Thing, avatars of their respective realms, had to come together to restore the balance. However, in execution, the story was long, meandering, and ultimately, pointless. From page 1 every reader, jaded by decades of similar “elseworlds” or “imaginary” stories knew that this supposed dystopian future would not come to bear, that somehow everything would be “fixed” by the heroes and the status quo restored. There was no real sense of drama, nothing at stake.

DIG002142_1

And so sales took an unexpected hit.

I was actually on the verge of dropping the book when Lemire turned it around, rebounding with more strong ideas and a new direction. The whole “Brother Blood invades The Red” final storyline felt like a return to what made the book so good to begin with. And it didn’t hurt that it featured some fantastic brushwork by artist Rafael Albuquerque. And perhaps I’m wrong, but the jump to an alien planet and the introduction of the enigmatic new character The Bridgewalker in issue #26 felt like a setup for some major new storylines in the future.

RafAlb-AnimalMan

But by then, I think the decision had already been made to cancel the book. And looking at the numbers, it’s clear that sales were not the main reason for the decision. Animal Man was selling in the 18-19K range, putting it above other lower-selling yet continuing titles like Superboy and Birds of Prey. In light of DC’s reluctance to feature married superheroes, is it any surprise that the one book featuring emotionally complex and dynamic stories built around the heroes familial relationships is being cancelled?

Which brings us to the last issue. In between an opening and closing sequence showing Buddy’s reconciliation with his estranged wife (and drawn by the book’s original artist, Travel Foreman), the book is otherwise a series of 11 splash pages illustrated by Lemire himself. This sequence depicts Buddy’s young daughter, Maxine, essentially recounting the events of the whole series as a bedtime fairytale for her dad. It’s sweet, and brings a nice emotional close to the loss of Buddy’s son, Cliff, and it gives Lemire an excuse to jam out a bunch of bold splash pages like this:

animal-man-29-art2

But ultimately, it felt like a cop-out. Like the writer’s best effort to put a positive spin on an arbitrary decision from on high to end the book.

And I get it. I understand that business decisions will usually trump creative ones for any publisher. Lemire is one of the few writers at DC with a high cachet, able to bring in readers to new books. And the multitude of weekly series in the pipelines are sure to sell better on a per-issue basis than any continuation of Animal Man. So I get it.

But it doesn’t mean I have to like it. Especially when it means one less book with a unique perspective, in favor of more os the same superheroes.

How to sell a crappy Wonder Woman show

Use phrases like “a product of its time” and “certainly worth a look.” That’s the inspired sales pitch on the DC Comics blog for the 1974 TV pilot for Wonder Woman, starring Cathy Lee Crosby.

As developed by writer John D.F. Black (Star Trek, Shaft), this take on Wonder Woman featured a hero with little in the way of super powers hunting down a villain (portrayed by Ricardo Montalban) who had stolen classified information about American agents. Also drastically different was Diana’s mod-inspired costume, though elements such as her iconic bracelets, lasso and her Amazonian home of Paradise Island make appearances. While a product of its time, this take on the revered character is certainly worth a look for DC comics fans, if for the nostalgia factor alone.

That sure sounds like a great take on an iconic comic book character. I’m sure fans of Wonder Woman can’t wait to fork over their hard earned money for this “classic” now available on DVD.

Digital comics sales

Whiles sales figures for print comics in the direct market are readily available, publishers have been notoriously guarded with their digital sales. But in this article over at Cnet, DC Entertainment’s Senior Vice-President of Digital, Hank Kanalz, drops a figure:

Kanalz revealed, though, that the recent issue of Justice League which depicted a kiss between Wonder Woman and Superman was the fastest to ever reach 10,000 books sold digitally, which means that it sold more than that. Since that issue of Justice League, August’s number 12, was estimated to have hit around 160,000 books sold in print, we can start making some educated guesses about digital sales — at least for popular titles.

These numbers track against the news from many comics publishers, including DC Comics, at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con that digital sales were buoying print sales.

Now granted, this is for a heavily-hyped special issue of their top selling title. But still, it helps put the entire digital market in perspective, relative to print sales. And of course, excluding some minor overhead (digital file conversions and digital distributor’s cut), those sales translate into pure profit on top of the print book sales.

Regarding the second point made in the quote above, while the audiences for print and digital seem to be fairly distinct right now, I suspect as the hardcore comic book collectors leave the hobby (or die!) they won’t be replaced. The print market will probably shrink, and the new fans will come to the medium via digital.

First look at the new Blue Devil

A few months ago on the blog, I posted my pitch for a new take on DC’s Blue Devil character, after it was clear that it wasn’t going anywhere. And today I saw the announcement for a new Black Lightning/Blue Devil storyline coming up in DC Universe Presents. Anyway, here’s the new character design by Brett Booth:

No. Just…no.

I don’t know the man himself, and I have nothing against him, but I’m not a fan of Booth’s style at all. To my eye, it’s a throwback to the absolute worst excesses of the 90s “Image style.” Metal kneepads with chains attached to them? Leather fetish wear with an open chest and more chains acting like a tail? Yeah, I pretty much think this design is 50 shades of hideous, and that’s being generous.

On the other hand, Marc Andreyko is writing the 5-issue story arc, and I’ve liked most of his past work, especially his reboot of the Manhunter character, with Kate Spencer in the role. And since it’s not clear that Booth will be the artist on the series, there’s some hope in that department yet.

I like the anthology aspect of DC Universe Presents, and I’m looking forward to Andreyko’s take on these characters. Despite my comments above about the character design, this isn’t a case of sour grapes. When I was given the opportunity to pitch to DC, I always knew it was a long shot, and I don’t begrudge any other creator getting work.

I just really, really dislike that ugly character design.

DC Comics pitch: The Spectre

This is the second (and last) pitch I made to DC Comics, after their “New 52” relaunch. The first was for a more ethnically diverse take on Blue Devil, which you can see here. Several factors led me to abandon any further attempts at pitching other ideas, including a lack of response on their behalf, my time being spent on my various creator owned projects (chief amongst them being Persia Blues), and frankly, the fact that the publishers isn’t exactly open to new writers right now.

Ironically, this pitch was for a character I wrote in my one and only gig at DC to date, The Spectre. That was back in 2010 for the DC Universe Holiday Special 2010.

Now, I won’t claim to be the world’s biggest Spectre fan, and I haven’t read all of his various comics series, but I do like the concept a lot and see enormous storytelling potential in it. Also, the various Spectre series have had some fantastic covers, as you may have noticed if you follow my “7 Covers” feature on my other blog.

The character was created by Jerry Siegel and Bernard Baily way back in 1940…

…and like most other venerable comic book characters, has undergone numerous changes to its status quo. There have been 4 ongoing Spectre series over the decades, plus a handful of minis. In 2001, recently “deceased” Green Lantern Hal Jordan joined with The Spectre and became its host, transforming the former “spirit of vengeance” into a “spirit of redemption.”

And most recently, prior to the reboot, murdered Gotham City homicide detective Crispus Allen is forced to become the new human host for The Spectre.

I liked this latter iteration of the character. Writer Will Pfeifer wrote a fantastic and highly underrated 3-issue mini-series (with the unwieldy title of Infinite Crisis Aftermath: The Spectre) which explored the moral ambiguity of The Spectre’s motivations in a story that was at once metaphysical and grounded in reality. It was this Crispus Allen version of the character that I wrote in the Holiday Special, and it was this same one that I used as the foundation of my pitch:

The Spectre

A “DC New 52” Treatment by Dara Naraghi

(The Spectre © DC Comics)

Logline

A supernatural police thriller on the gritty streets of Gotham City, featuring homicide detective Crispus Allen, who after a near death experience finds himself bonded to a delusional spirit of vengeance.

Tags

Crime, Horror, Mystery, Occult, Religion, Psychological, Mystical

At a Glance

GCPD homicide detective Crispus Allen is many things – a loving family man, a stoic citizen, an atheist – but above all he is an honest cop in a dirty city. One night, while investigating police corruption and its ties to a street gang dealing in venom, he is gunned down from behind by dirty cop Antoine Frey.

Critically wounded but still alive, Allen undergoes a surreal out of body experience wherein he is confronted by mystical entities beyond comprehension, and an angry spirit known as The Spectre. The spirit offers the detective a bargain: his life will be spared if he agrees to bond with it and carry on its mission as “The Wrath of God.” Desperate to be reunited with his wife and sons, Allen agrees.

Waking up in an intensive care unit, Allen finds his wife praying by his bedside. Elated at his recovery, she relates how his wounded body was found by a homeless man, Jim Corrigan, who called for help. Allen undergoes many months of physical therapy, determined to return to the force and continue his investigation of Frey.

But what Allen believed to be hallucinations during his near death experience become all too real when The Spectre materializes during one of his investigations. Now, torn between his oath to serve and protect, and The Spectre’s gruesome form of justice, Allen struggles to make sense of his new situation while trying to protect his family, career, and above all, his sanity. Meanwhile, Antoine Frey bids his time, with order to take out Allen for good.

And to what lengths will Jim Corrigan, Allen’s savior and new street informant, go to protect his own secret? The former human host of The Spectre, his mind succumbed to insanity after decades of witnessing the spirit’s extreme brand of justice. Upon discovering Allen’s wounded body, he saw his chance to rid himself of his personal demon by offering a more suitable host, a deal The Spectre could not refuse. When Allen eventually discovers the truth, will he still see Corrigan as the man who saved his life, or instead condemned it to a new kind of hell?

Tone/Themes

At its heart, the series will be about the study of opposites: Allen’s methodical, logical mind and science-based forensics vs. The Spectre’s unpredictable nature and inexplicable magic. The “lone wolf” Jim Corrigan’s inability to retain his sanity as former host for The Spectre vs. Allen’s success due to his grounded personality and family support structure. And finally, free will vs. predetermination.

Crispus Allen is a heroic, complex, strong African American character, and I feel it would be a disservice to relegate him to the role of a disembodied spirit, unable to interact with others around him. There is a wealth of story possibilities to explore with him front-and-center: as a police detective in a morally grey environment, a husband grappling with issues of faith and spirituality, and a father trying to raise his sons well. I want to portray a strong family unit as a positive light in Allen’s life. Other topics explored will be religion, duty, obligation, sanity, and the vagaries of the criminal justice system.

Finally, a dark conspiracy of money and greed will provide the backbone of the street level crimes investigated by Allen, one which will lead him to Gotham’s elite politicians and captains of industry.

Powers

The Spectre is incorporeal and unseen by everyone (including Allen) until he wishes otherwise. Able to instantaneously travel to any spot in the world, he will often take Allen with him to mete out “god’s wrath.” And much to Allen’s frustration, he is able to render Allen intangible at will, taking his human host “out of the equation” when it comes to delivering justice.

The Spectre is able to prey upon the fear and guilt of criminals in such a manner that they believe he is physically punishing them in gruesome ways, such as an arsonist finding himself lit on fire. But in fact everything is happening only in their minds. The subconscious acknowledgement of their own guilt fuels The Spectre’s powers, and the depth of their guilt determines how real the physical effects of their punishment become. Of course the delusional Spectre is unaware of the true nature of his power, believing himself to be an emissary of god. Seeds of doubt will be sown when he notices that the truly delusional criminals or those lacking a conscience are essentially immune to his wrath.

Characters

Crispus Allen – A man of upstanding moral character, and a deep sense of duty to his family and friends. Unfortunately, the world he lives in is one of moral ambiguity, deception, violence, and fear. Allen’s daily struggles against his environment, as well as his own personal demon The Spectre, will provide the moments of adversity, drama, and triumph of will that define a good heroic story.

The Spectre – The self-proclaimed “spirit of god’s wrath,” it is actually a delusional soul unaware of its role as a pawn in the grand cosmic game of control waged by the Lords of Order and Chaos. Coveted by both, yet controlled by neither, The Spectre is at once a source of law and order, and calamity and madness. If a deeper tie to the New DC universe is desired, it can eventually be revealed that The Spectre was originally a religious zealot who lived during DC’s “dark ages,” as depicted in the Demon Knights series. Perhaps a gruesome death at the hands of The Demon led to its current state.

Antoine Frey – A dirty cop deeply entrenched in a vast conspiracy of vice, money, and the depraved fantasies of the rich and famous. He does the dirty work necessary, and in turn is handsomely rewarded and protected by his benefactors. The lynchpin of Allen’s investigation, he will be a recurring foil.

Dore, Jake, and Mal Allen – Crispus’ wife and two sons, and a source of moral and emotional support for the detective during his darkest hours. His moral compass remains true due to the love of his family.

Jim Corrigan – A homeless man who saves Allen’s life, and later becomes his informant and friend. Unbeknownst to everyone, Jim was the former human host for The Spectre, but as a loner “tough cop” he did not have the support structure to help him deal with the horrors he witnessed. His eventual nervous breakdown led to the loss of his job and home. He feels a deep sense of guilt for having burdened Allen with The Spectre.

As with my Blue Devil pitch, I didn’t go off in a “radical new direction,” although I suspect that’s probably what DC was more interested in. And frankly, I liked having a strong and noble minority character as one half of the The Spectre equation. I kept some familiar callbacks to the character’s previous incarnations, most notable in the reuse of the “Jim Corrigan” name, but tried to spin the series off in a different direction. But alas, the pitch went nowhere.

I’d be curious to see what form The Spectre will take when they eventually introduce him (her? it?) to the “New D52” DC universe. Until then, I’m happily plugging away at my creator owned properties.

DC comics debuts new Batman digital comic

So back with the “New 52” relaunch, DC Comics announced that all their print books would be available on the same day as a digital comics as well. Unfortunately, in their fear of a backlash from comic book shops, they decided to price the digital books the same as the print ones. And let’s be honest, for an entire generation used to the 99 cent price point for songs and other digital works, $2.99 is just not going to prove all that popular.

Their next step was to debut some books in the digital format first, to be followed by the print version (Batman Beyond, etc.)

Well now DC is taking the next step in their digital comics initiative by introducing brand new Batman material in digital format for just 99 cents. Titled Legends of the Dark Knight, the stories take place outside the regular series continuity, and feature an impressive list of well-known creators:

Kicking off the first chapter is the all-star line-up of LOST scribe Damon Lindelof with artwork by the critically acclaimed Jeff Lemire. The line-up for the first six chapters of LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT is as follows:

  • June 7 – “The Butler Did It” written by Damon Lindelof with artwork by Jeff Lemire
  • June 14 – “All of the Above” written by Jonathan Larsen with artwork by JG Jones
  • June 21– “The Crime Never Committed” written by Tom Taylor with artwork by Nicola Scott and Wayne Faucher
  • June 28 – “Crisis of Identity” Part 1 written by B. Clay Moore with artwork by Ben Templesmith
  • July 5 – “Crisis of Identity” Part 2 written by B. Clay Moore with artwork by Ben Templesmith
  • July 12 – “Crisis of Identity” Part 3 written by B. Clay Moore with artwork by Ben Templesmith

I’d call that a good start.

DC Comics pitch: Blue Devil

Last October, while in New York for the NYCC show, I arranged a meeting with two DC editors. The first was with Vertigo editor Will Dennis, to share my pitch for a long-form mini-series titled Dervish (more on that some other time). The other was with DC Coordinating Editor Elisabeth Gehrlein.

I had been sending Elisabeth samples of my published works for a couple of years by this point, so she was familiar with my name. In fact, on the day I met with her in her office, she was looking through a copy of my Dark Horse Presents story. This was right around the time when DC was launching their “New 52” books, and she was kind enough to give me the “lay of the land,” as it were. She was open to reviewing pitches from me, but obviously all the “big” characters and the ones already featured in their own books were off limits. As for the other characters, she said to send her a short list and she could tell me which ones DC already had plans for, thus saving me time on proposals that wouldn’t have a chance from the get-go.

So I did just that, sending an initial short list of a half dozen characters, a combination of ones I really liked and ones I thought would be available for reinterpretation. For a variety of reasons, of the ones she gave me the go-ahead on, I decided to go with Blue Devil as my initial pitch.

Dig the singlet...or is it a leotard?

Now, for those of you who may not be familiar with this character, he was created by Dan Mishkin, Gary Cohn, and Paris Cullins, and first appeared in 1984. Here’s a nice synopsis, from Wikipedia:

“Daniel Patrick Cassidy is a special effects wizard and stuntman hired to create and play the title character in the movie Blue Devil. To that end Cassidy creates a full-body costume with a hidden powered exoskeleton and built-in special-effects devices. When two of his co-stars accidentally free a demon named Nebiros, Cassidy uses his costume to drive the demon back, but not before being blasted with mystical energy. After the fight, Cassidy finds that the blast has permanently grafted the Blue Devil costume to his body.”

As you might have guessed, the original series was more of a fun romp than a serious superhero book. Of course, over the years, the character went through several revisions, as different writers went with different takes on Blue Devil. Most recently, he was a real demon and a member of the magic-based group Shadowpact.

BD:BA - Blue Devil: Bad Ass

But I’m not a fan of “grim and gritty” superhero stories, so for my pitch I decided to go back to the character’s roots and play up the “fun” aspect of his stories. And yes, I knew that going with that tone severely limited the marketability of my proposal, but I figured if I was going to go through the trouble of putting a pitch together, I was going to make it something I’d want to read myself, let alone write.

We've made comics FUN again!

In terms of the main protagonist and supporting cast, I definitely wanted a diverse ensemble. I modernized one of the basic concepts as well, but overall, I stuck fairly close to the original beats. I’m not a big fan of wholesale “reinvention” of characters, where the only commonality with the previous versions is the name. What’s the point? If you’re going to do such a radical change, just create a new character. So yeah, the movie industry, the Hollywood setting, the special effects angle…I kept all of those. I mean, what better setting for bizarre adventures that Hollywood, right?

Anyway, as you might have guessed, the pitch went nowhere. In fact, I never heard back anything on it, good or bad. But enough time has gone by that I feel safe sharing this on the blog. Out of all the DC characters I’d like to write, I won’t pretend that Blue Devil would be my top choice. But I definitely think it would have been a very fun book to write. Oh well.

So, here’s the text of my pitch. Well, more of a treatment that a full series pitch. But I had enough there that if it interested one of the editors, I could have easily developed it into a full series proposal. Let me know what you think.

BLUE DEVIL
A “DC New 52” Treatment by Dara Naraghi
(Blue Devil © DC Comics)

Logline

An exuberant superhero action/adventure romp through the bizarre corners of the DC Universe, with a new, diverse Blue Devil.

 

Tags

Fun, Absurdist, Humorous, Weird, Culturally Diverse, Heroic

 

At a Glance

Reza Hamidi is a 25 year old Iranian-American software developer in Los Angeles. Much to the chagrin of his traditional father, who envisioned a life of high-profile engineering research for his brilliant son, Reza followed his passion for movies and now toils as one of hundreds of computer animators at Shay Toons, a special effects company specializing in CGI animation, run by the powerful and enigmatic Robert Shay.

However, the talented and entrepreneurial Reza has higher ambitions, including founding his own CGI production house. To this end, he has spent all his free time and money developing a graphics rendering engine he has dubbed D.E.V.I.L. (Deep Environment Visualization, Interaction, and Logic). His innovative software/hardware cluster is capable of creating cutting-edge visual effects, with a built in logic engine that bestows autonomous properties to the virtual creations.

But on the night of Reza’s first successful full-scale system test, wherein he animates a character of his own design (nicknamed Blue Devil) inside a richly detailed virtual world, disaster strikes. An immense power surge of mysterious origin rips through his system, frying the circuitry and nearly killing him in the ensuing explosion. But what Reza believes to be an accident is actually an act of sabotage, carried out by Reza’s employer, Robert Shay, a demonic entity disguised in human form. The mystical attack serves to satisfy Shay’s pleasure in ruining the dreams of others, as well as fending off potential competition from the talented Reza. However, the supernatural blast interacts in an unpredictable manner with the technology of Reza’s D.E.V.I.L. system, causing the young man’s transformation into a physical representation of the Blue Devil character.

Now Reza has to navigate his way through work, love, family dynamics, and the backstabbing world of Hollywood, all while stuck as a 6 foot tall blue devil with horns and magical powers.

Powers

As a product of magic and technology, Blue Devil is able to manifest the powers and abilities that Reza had designed for the character in the virtual world, at the time of the accident. These include super strength, limited invulnerability, and the manipulation of a “blue fire” energy for offensive and defensive purposes. He will eventually also learn to manipulate the blue fire for flight.

Tone/Themes

The tone of Blue Devil will be playful and fun, paired with a fast-paced story. It will combine wild ideas and outrageous situations (think Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol, minus the somber tone) with a culturally diverse cast of characters and a hero with a lot of heart. The villains and obstacles encountered will be bizarre and colorful, yet no less dangerous. At the same time, Reza’s family and friends will help ground the wild action in a realistic setting, one that readers of all types can identify with and relate to on an emotional level.

The setting of Los Angeles, and specifically the entertainment industry, will provide plenty of material for not only outrageous new villains, but also social satire. One of the central themes of the book will be our celebrity-obsessed culture, and the nature of fame. Reza’s struggles with instant, unwanted fame will be a main throughline. He’s a man who values success through hard work and intellectual achievement, not random, unwarranted celebrity. But his new situation will see him pushed towards temptations, both material and existential, that he can only resist by summoning his true strength of character.

In summary, this is Blue Devil returned to his entertaining, madcap roots, albeit with a very modern slant and a more multicultural cast.

Characters

Reza Hamidi – Our protagonist. Reza is a brilliant computer scientist, with a passion for movies. He is level-headed, analytical, compassionate, and loyal to his friends and family. In short, the kind of all-around nice guy we’d all like to have as a friend. He is not very good at sports, nor particularly “physical,” which makes his transition into the life of a superhero rather awkward at first, resulting in some early humorous missteps.

Ali & Mina Hamidi – Reza’s parents. Iranian born and raised, but Western educated. They immigrated to the US shortly before the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Of the two, Ali is slightly more traditional, holding on to some Iranian cultural beliefs and values that sometimes put him at odds with his more liberal son. Mina is the peacemaker of the family, and often the voice of reason.

Brandy Jarrett – An animation voice actor, and object of Reza’s affections. Artistic, curious, and lively, she is not particularly well-liked by Reza’s father, who wishes for his son to settle down with “a nice Iranian girl.”

Daniel Cohen – Reza’s roommate, an attorney practicing entertainment law. Unlike Reza, he’s adventurous, brash, and more of a risk taker. He also has a sharp wit, but also a good heart.

Robert Shay – The exiled demon Nebiros in his human disguise. Due to a mysterious transgression centuries ago, he was banished from hell with a mere fraction of his powers. He has firmly entrenched himself into the entertainment industry as a cure against boredom on Earth. He meddles in people’s lives and cruelly manipulates them for his own amusement, and to pass the time, but longs to return to hell to reclaim his full powers. To that end, he sees Blue Devil as his ticket out of Earth.

D.E.V.I.L. – The computer graphics system developed by Reza and infused with Shay’s mystic energy. It will play a central role in the overarching narrative, after it’s repaired by Reza. As Blue Devil, his link to the system will allow him to explore new powers, including manipulating it for dimensional travel, and creating a “phantom zone”-like prison for wayward demons. The system will also be coveted by Shay, setting up future clashes between the two.

Comic Biz quote of the day

“Hard to name another entertainment industry where people would happily stab the content creator in the neck out of support for a label.” –Brian Wood

From the comments section of this post on The Beat about writer Chris Roberson ending his work relationship with DC Comics. Without going into too much detail, I’d say this other great quote, from artist Cameron Stewart, pretty much sums up my thoughts on the original matter:

“Once again, I see no harm or foul on either side here – a guy made a calm and reasoned decision to part with a company he no longer felt comfortable working with, and said company responded by cancelling the remainder of the work they were doing. Unsurprising and perfectly reasonable.”

However, I post the Brian Wood quote above because having recently experienced some of that fanboy rage myself, I can attest to how rabid certain folks are with defending their superhero icons, even when responding to a calm, rational, non-confrontational opinion.

Aquaman and Iranian superheroes: an open letter to Geoff Johns

First, a bit of background for those of you who don’t follow superhero comics: a couple of weeks ago, DC Comic published Aquaman #7, written by Geoff Johns, one of the most prominent and popular writers in the superhero genre, and Chief Creative Officer at DC Comics. In it, he introduced a brand new superheroine to the DC universe by the name of Kahina the Seer.

Kahina the Seer, art by Joe Prado

On page 1 of the comic, we see her running for her life from Aquaman’s mortal enemy, Black Manta. She puts up a good fight, but by page 7, she is defeated.

Page 7, art by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado

On page 8, we find out that she’s Iranian.

Page 8, art by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado

And yes, she’s also killed off.

What follows is an open letter to Geoff Johns, adapted and slightly reworked from a similar note I sent to the book’s editor, Pat McCallum.

Dear Mr. Johns,

After reading Aquaman #7, I felt the need to share my thoughts on a topic close to my heart. To that end, allow me to very briefly share my background with you: I’m an Iranian-American writer, a lifelong fan of the medium of comics, and a big fan of the DC characters. I have over 10 years of published works to my credit, from self-published stories to comics and graphic novels from Dark Horse, Image, IDW, and DC Comics. My DC Comics contribution was a Spectre story set in Tehran, Iran, for the DC Universe Holiday Special 2010 #1, edited by Mike Carlin.

Needless to say, when I saw that a new superheroine introduced in Aquaman #7 was an Iranian woman, I was very excited. As far as I know, the only other Iranian character in the (pre-52) DCU was the villain Rustam (who, ironically, was named after the most famous and popular HERO from Iranian literature). So you can imagine my frustration and extreme disappointment when this new hero, Kahina, was summarily killed a mere 8 pages after being introduced!

Please understand, this is not one of those “DC Comics is racist/xenophobic” essays that you’ve undoubtedly encountered countless times in the recent past. I’ve been happy with, and supportive of, DC’s attempt at diversifying their universe with a sizable number of comics starring minority and female characters in the “New 52” relaunch of books. But I just don’t understand the logic behind creating a new minority hero – one from a country and culture that’s often misrepresented in today’s media as “evil” – only to have her killed upon her first appearance. What purpose did her death serve, other than being a mere plot point?

In doing so, you deprived your readership of a character utterly unique by virtue of her ethnic background, a character different than the thousands of others in the DC universe. Imagine the new storytelling venues opened up to you and other DC writers, had this character been allowed to continue her adventures in your fictional universe. With Iran in the news cycle as of late, here was a chance to add an element of verisimilitude to DC Comics, and start something bold and unconventional.

I’m not asking that DC Comics create a plethora of Iranian characters, or that they should only be portrayed as heroes, or even that once created, they should never be killed. I understand narrative needs, primary characters and supporting ones, emotional beats and motivation. But when there are absolutely NO characters of a certain ethnic or cultural background in your stories, to casually kill off the ONLY example of one, after a mere 8 pages, seems very counterproductive to me. It’s a disservice to your audience, a step back in your strides towards diversity, and just reinforces the negative stereotypes about the stunted development of superhero comics.

I know that because of my background, I’m much closer to this situation than the majority of your readers, but I don’t feel that invalidates my thoughts on the matter. Embracing multiculturalism not only offers a wealth of new storytelling possibilities, but it also distinguishes them from the hundreds of other alternatives in the marketplace, and opens them up to a wider marketplace.

I hope that you will consider my thought on this topic in the spirit that they were written: not to condemn, but hopefully to illuminate.

Sincerely,
Dara Naraghi

It’s the little things

I had a chance to meet writer Mark Waid and chat with him briefly at the Gem City Comic Con last weekend. We both had contributed a story to last year’s CBLDF Liberty Annual 2011, which in a fanboyish way gave me a bit of a thrill when he signed my copy of the book. Also, it was illuminating to listen in on some of his conversations about the emerging digital comics market, and his own plans for going digital (I’d highly recommend his blog if you’re interested in this topic).

Anyway, at a lull in his line on Sunday, I stopped by his table and asked if he wouldn’t mind reading my 8-page Spectre story from the DC Universe Holiday Special 2010, my only DC Comics story to date. I hated imposing like that, but I figured the worst that could happen was getting a polite “no,” which would be understandable. And besides, when you have a writer of Mark’s caliber, you don’t pass up an opportunity like this for some feedback on your work. To my surprise, he said that although he didn’t have time to do so at the show, he had the book at home and would read the story and send me his thoughts, if I just gave him my email.

Well, a couple of days later I got this short missive from Mark:

Really nice little story! I wish we’d had just a little more exposition for brand-new readers as to how the Spectre “works” and what the “rules” are about exactly what happens to his alter-ego when Spectre’s absent, but overall, nicely done! Well-paced, good dialogue, not overwritten. Kudos!

His critique is spot on, of course. I did struggle with how to fit in some exposition about who exactly The Spectre is, and what his powers are, but working under the constraint of a mere 8 pages was tough. In the end, I decided, rightly or not, that this particular comic would probably only be picked up by the hardcore DC Comics readers, who in all likelihood would already be familiar with the character. But it’s still good to be reminded that when it comes to serialized comics and superheroes, every issue is someone’s first issue, and they need enough information in the story to understand and enjoy it.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that he also had some kind words to share about my writing. It’s the little things that keep you going.

A real archenemy for Wonder Woman: a modest proposal

When it comes to fiction, great heroes are defined by their villains. Especially in superhero comic books, where the stories are serial in nature and the best heroes have had ongoing adventures and conflicts for decades, some for over three quarters of a century. These superheroes need villains just as powerful, crafty, and enduring as them to give them a run for their money each time.

And most of the well-known heroes have a singular archenemy, the one villain who above all others is associated with them.

Batman has The Joker.

Superman has Lex Luthor.

The Fantastic Four have Doctor Doom.

But poor Wonder Woman. She has…who exactly? The Cheetah? The various pain-in-the-ass gods from the Greek pantheon? Egg Fu, for crying out loud?

Seriously, WTF?


Yep, it’s pretty well accepted in comic book circles that Wonder Woman does not have a strong “rogue’s gallery” on par with the major villains that constantly plague Batman, Superman, The Flash, and other heroes of her caliber. And despite the best efforts of some very talented writers that have worked on her book, the new villains introduced to her continuity have never really caught on.

So here’s what I’m going to do for you, DC Comics, free of charge: give you the perfect supervillain to vex Wonder Woman. An archenemy worthy of her time. One with the polar opposite of her values and belief system, and with the resources to really carry out his dastardly deeds.

And I say “he” because I think for Wonder Woman, an independent, empowered woman tasked with bringing a message of peace and tolerance to “man’s world,” the perfect archenemy would be a chauvinistic, misogynist male. A smarmy guy who embodies everything Wonder Woman stands against, and impedes her work at every turn. One with the media resources to spread his sexist message around the globe, while simultaneously convincing a large swath of the population that he’s a man we should look up to, aspire to be like.

So who is this venomous villain? This eviscerating evil genius? This monstrous man-whore?
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Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the perfect arch nemesis for Wonder Woman:

"Wonder Woman is an ugly bully. A real loser. I look forward to taking lots of money from my nice fat little Wonder Woman." -- The Donald

OK, so let’s review the comic book supervillain checklist:

  • Supervillain name – “The Donald” – check
  • Unbelievable ego – check
  • Unflinching belief in the validity of their worldview – check
  • Unique/flamboyant physical feature – have you seen that radioactive hair helmet? check
  • Evil catch phrase – “Wonder Woman, you’re fired!” – check
  • Wealth/power to perpetuate dastardly deeds – check
  • Secret lairs around the world – check
  • Access to expensive modes of transportation – check
  • Army of lackeys and henchmen – check
  • History of misogyny and chauvinism – check

You’re welcome, DC Comics.