Catalyst: Prime cuts from Marvel Entertainment.

Catalyst Prime: The EventAfter years of lamenting the loss of Wildstorm and Milestone I am blessed to have both back.

When Valiant spearheaded the 1990s resurgence in 2012 I jokingly said that they were going to “do DC comics better than DC Comics.” The joke was a truthful one. DC was faltering by the time Valiant had geared up for its major creative push and the young upstart had amassed an amazing selection of talent with a familiar approach cribbed from DC’s classic style of storytelling.

With Catalyst Prime—a Milestone in spirit though not name—history is poised to repeat itself. I predict the imprint may just do Marvel comics better than Marvel. For Marvel Entertainment, though blessed with beloved brands and solid creative teams, seems to be floundering. The company is besieged by lackluster events such as Civil War II and Monsters Unleashed and its new directions (ex: Captain America’s current stint as a brainwashed Hydra agent) seemingly irritate long-term fans. While the company is equipped to turn things around, charting a new course for an industry behemoth takes time. And in that time fans can easily be wooed away by the competition.

While DC has claimed a few of those wayward Marvel fans (and will likely capture even more with The Wild Storm), the company cannot easily ape Marvel’s approach. Marvel capitalized on its universe being “the world outside your window.” If your apartment is in New York City, that is. The Marvel universe is akin to the world we live in—messy, diverse, flawed, and fragile—with a generous dollop of fantasy. DC, however, provides its readers with idealized Americana—a true melting pot where the bad guys are supervillains, not the intuitions that guide us.

Enter Lion Forge’s Catalyst Prime (as well as Wildstorm, but that is a topic for another post).

Catalyst Prime is poised to give us the world outside our window—and started on said path by hiring the people we could see through that window. The project is helmed by senior editor Joseph Illidge, a man who earned his stripes at DC and Milestone. He in turn has brought on another notable Milestone alum in Christopher Priest and a diverse selection of talent from Marvel, Image, and DC. Surely taking note of the inroads Marvel has made in regards to diversity from the Blaxploitation era on, the project is also peppered with a multi-cultural and visually interesting band of characters. The premise, however, while intriguing, is reminiscent of the launch of the original Wildstorm universe in which a mysterious asteroid hastened the proliferation of super-powered beings. Hopefully Catalyst Prime will discover its own unique direction from that common starting point. If the industry can handle a dozen Superman pastiches it can certainly weather two asteroids!

Yet how will Marvel weather two new imprints infiltrating the arenas it once dominated? The answer likely lies within the Secret Empire.


The Luke Cage wrap-up.

Okay, so I’m talking about Luke Cage, just not here! I was lucky enough to be part of a roundtable involving three folks who I admire greatly: Evan Narcisse, David Brothers, and Jamie Broadnax. You can take a look at our thoughts on the series over at io9. And of course, my thoughts on the rest of Marvel’s Netflix output can be found below.

And that’s all she wrote, folks!


On pre-ordering comics.

I do not pre-order comic books and do not plan to. I only purchase trade paperbacks and digital comics. I have a mild fondness for Marvel and DC brands, but do not feel the need to purchase comics from either company in order to engage with said brands. I am a casual reader. I wasn’t always, but I have become one.

And I feel absolutely no guilt about it.

The comics industry will continue to be here. No matter how bad a company’s business practices might be, they cannot kill off a method of storytelling—a medium. Should Sony fail? Songs would still be sung. Should Rockstar Games go under? I would still make the safe bet that there would be compelling video games left to play.

That said? I am concerned. I am worried that perhaps the larger comic companies have painted themselves into a corner akin to the one that the conservative American news media currently finds itself within. And now the extraction process will be a messy and haphazard one.

Both have placed themselves within a cordoned-off area (cable television/specialty shops), narrowed their focus considerably (“alt-right” narratives/superheroes), and appeal to an aging and shrinking market. However, that market is a zealously devoted one willing to pay a higher price for material that could easily be found elsewhere at cheaper cost. So perhaps concerns should not be heeded until the last 40-year-old is no longer willing to pay $4.99 for a new issue of Deadpool and the last reactionary septuagenarian discovers he can read Breitbart for free rather than pay for cable.

And yet Americans are not averse to pre-ordering. We pre-order games, sneakers, novels, graphic novels—why not comics?

I can only speak for myself. Convenience is of the utmost importance. I can buy a pair of shoes from Amazon and the site is kind enough to let me know that I’ve bought 6 Empowered trades from them and a new one is on its way. Would I like to buy it now and have it shipped to me upon its release? Why, yes! And look at that. No rifling through Previews. No pit stop in a specialty shop. Comics right to my door.

Celebrity and exclusivity will also push me to pre-order. Look, if Puma had given me the opportunity to pre-order a pair of Rihanna’s Fenty slides? Done and done. It’s Fenty. It’s Rih. I’d be willing to devote the extra time and effort involved in obtaining said product. Especially when said product is so rare. And lastly, reliability is also a factor. I would never blanche at pre-ordering an album from an artist I had followed for years because I could be fairly certain of the new album’s quality by examining older works.

As for Marvel and DC? I can be entertained by their brands for free or nearly free by turning on my television or computer. Leaning on exclusivity is not an option when your characters are everywhere in nearly every medium. Reliability is not a given considering the frequent changes in creative teams. And there is currently only one celebrity (Ta-Nehisi Coates) employed at either company who is notable enough to motivate me to pre-order. Luckily, I don’t have to pre-order Black Panther because I know that given Marvel’s printing habits scarcity will never be an issue. And I can buy my trade today from Amazon.

On sale.

All I ask of the comics industry are books I want to read in the format I most enjoy. And yes, I am willing to pay in advance for them as long as the company is a reputable one. I think the larger comic companies realize that. But I also think those companies also realize that the “Wednesday crowd” feels the exact same way—which is why the direct market currently exists! Blithely telling members of either market (direct/digital) to “get with the program” and change their purchasing habits is absurd. If you want someone to give you money for a product? You do the adjusting. DC and Marvel must find a way to appeal to multiple markets—which I hope both are trying to do behind the scenes—rather than blatantly ignoring one or forcing it to change.


Iron Fist: Big Trouble in Little China.

I am not happy with the casting of Finn Jones as Iron Fist. While the choice of a Caucasian actor for the role adheres to the character’s origin, I think the selection of a biracial actor to play the part of Daniel Rand would have improved upon the story told and enhanced the overall quality of the cinematic Marvel universe (and Hollywood in general) in multiple ways.

Finn JonesFirst and foremost, depending on the actor’s phenotype, a biracial actor of European and Asian descent would have provided a visual signifier of Daniel Rand’s existence as a warrior trapped between two worlds—that of a modern Western city and an ancient Asian village. To watch billionaire adventurer Wendell Rand and the Chinese businesswoman who captivated him enough to become his bride work to build a life for Daniel that included both of their cultures would excellently foreshadow Daniel’s later struggles as an adult to do the same. The existence of a biracial Iron Fist would also act as a bridge, tempering the woefully appropriative nature of the Caucasian martial artist Daredevil and paving the way for the later introduction of well-known Chinese hero Shang Chi. (One could even argue that Daniel Rand’s presence was not needed in the Marvel cinematic universe at all, for every role he plays could have been neatly divided between Matt Murdock and Shang Chi.)

A biracial Iron Fist, hot on the heels of the black Luke Cage, would have provided instant (though minimal) racial diversity to Marvel’s overwhelmingly white line-up of leading men. Given that we are at a point where Marvel has been repeatedly and publicly admonished for its non-existent efforts at diversifying its slate of films, one would think that the selection of non-white leading men would be a priority. And yet an Arab actor is not playing Doctor Strange and a biracial actor was not chosen for Iron Fist. This is a shame.

The substandard depiction of men of Asian descent in American films is a longstanding problem and has driven many to seek proper representation in foreign films. But why should Asian Americans have to look outside of their country to see Asian men shown as masculine, heroic, and sexually desirable? This is absurd—and must be terribly frustrating to young Asian American men. Not only is there a dearth of material in which one is mirrored, but one must endure a glut of projects showcasing white male action stars playing dress up in costumes cobbled together from the culture of one’s forefathers.

While the selection of Finn Jones as Iron Fist extinguishes yet another opportunity for a male actor of Asian descent to step into the limelight as an action hero and heartthrob, I must admit that my disappointment stems from the fact that black women of darker hues may perhaps be robbed of the rare opportunity to be seen as romantically desirable as Marvel adjusts Iron Fist’s history in order to deflect criticism by increasing the number and importance of supporting female Asian characters.

Simone MissickWhen in doubt, swap the secondary characters out. While Marvel is clearly disdainful of altering the races of its leading white male characters, the studio seems more than happy to add diversity where supporting characters are concerned. I would not be surprised to see Marvel replace Misty Knight with the biracial Colleen Wing as Daniel’s primary love interest—cribbing from Iron Fist’s histories in the House of M event and the Ultimate universe. However, it would be frustrating to lose Misty Knight as Daniel’s companion given her status as the only woman in the Marvel universe who is not fair-skinned and is also depicted as attractive and desirable. Who would be depicted as a woman deeply loved–first and exclusively. The physical changes made to Storm, Cecelia Reyes, Claire Temple, and Reva Connors would be glaring in Misty’s absence and would lead one to question if colorism were at the root of it.

Oh, so many missed opportunities! Many critics have argued that Iron Fist must be white to provide a cultural counterpart to Misty Knight and Luke Cage, but a biracial Daniel Rand would still be wealthy, would still benefit in certain ways from his father’s white privilege and mother’s “model minority” status, would still find wonder in modern technologies—providing a perfect contrast to Misty and Luke. The inclusion of whiteness is not necessary in every exploration of race relations and inequality.

But the choice has already been made and Iron Fist is white. So how does Marvel move forward from here? By taking cues from the title of this post and the second season of Daredevil as well. Jack Burton is the star of Big Trouble in Little China, but Wang Chi is the hero. Marvel could do the same with Shang Chi, inserting him into the series as a foil to Iron Fist as Punisher and Elektra initially were to Daredevil. How fun would it be to see Shang Chi as Elektra’s inverse, a weapon of the Chaste stolen and raised by the Hand, only to return to his true heroic nature! How fun would it be to see Shang Chi emerge as the star of the show as just as Punisher usurped Daredevil’s throne!

The fight for representation is an ongoing battle, and we must be as creative as possible in exploring every loophole before Hollywood can sew it shut.


Daredevil 2: Social Justice Punisher.

In my excitement I have started this essay four times. This is the fifth. I am not certain I can do the character of the Punisher justice with my analysis. I am too giddy for reasoned observations—too enraptured with Jon Bernthal’s performance. I have a soft spot for “hard” men like the Punisher—tough men who have had almost everything ripped from them but would gladly give the little they have left for family. For retribution. For some semblance of justice.

The PunisherPunisher is not alone in fitting this description. Marvel possesses other bruisers and brawlers such as Luke Cage and Wolverine (both characters I have long adored). And Frank Castle is certainly not the only character to suffer a great loss. So what makes Punisher the perfect foil and counterpart to Daredevil? What sets him apart from his peers? Why is he uniquely qualified to be a part of the upcoming Defenders team and perhaps lead his own show? It is simple. Frank Castle is white.

(I do not care how many issues of Origin Marvel produces. Wolverine is indigenous and I will continue to argue with anyone who says otherwise! But that is a matter for another time.)

That said? Marvel certainly does not want for white men. They are everywhere—from square-jawed patriots to cerebral playboys—saving the world from certain destruction as the rest of society watches in awe. For decades we have been provided with project after project of white men displaying feats of superhuman strength and uncanny intellectual prowess while women and people of color are there to provide assistance, but are rarely allowed to have their stories and desires take point.

A few years ago, David Brothers penned an excellent series on the trinity of black male representation in comics: the fantasy, the reality, and the ideal. I followed up later with one on black female characters. I believe this trinity extends to other groups, its balance wholly dependent on the group’s status in society. For white men, we have been presented overwhelmingly with an ideal not rooted in reality. Moreover, we have been presented with an ideal that is erroneously reinforced as reality via its ubiquitousness while the power fantasies of others are sublimated in response. Trinities work best when they are balanced. When they are not—as is the case with our entertainment industry’s depictions of white men—this is damaging not only to those who do not get to see themselves as heroes, but also to those who are told that they must always be heroes—that they are incapable of failing. In reality, perfection is unattainable. Perfection is Godly. The best of us are those who rise once more after they falter. For every Black Panther there must be a Luke Cage. And for every Superman there must be a Punisher.

“You must be something when you’re not wearing the long johns, right?”Frank Castle

In America, a man will never suffer the vicious inequities of institutionalized racism if he is white, but—as Frank Castle’s tale illustrates—whiteness does not prevent one’s life from going to complete shit. The existence of the Punisher is a novel acknowledgement of the suffering of a particular subset of white men, which is why I believe his popularity has undergone a rabid resurgence. The Frank we are shown in season two of Daredevil is not only very different from your average Marvel hero, but initially parallels the lives of so many working-class white men in Northeastern and Midwestern districts who are disillusioned with the American Dream. Both Frank Castle and Matt Murdock come from the same lower-middle-class white ethnic urban background. Matt is Irish American. Frank’s ethnicity is not given, but context clues place him as Italian American. What is so wonderful about the inclusion of Punisher as a foil to Daredevil—and that pivotal scene where Matt questions Frank about his upbringing—is that we can deduce the exact moment where the lives of Matt and Frank diverged.

Matt received an influx of cash and went to college. Frank went to war. Matt studied concepts of liberty and justice in classrooms where his worldview was questioned by multicultural multitudes. Frank was told what liberty and justice were by a lone man richer and whiter than he was. And was then ordered to kill for it. He made a living out of killing. Matt, foregoing the footsteps of his father, made his living with ideas. With words.

“You know you’re one bad day away from being me.”Frank Castle

Frank isn’t as wealthy as Tony, as smart as Peter, as worldly as Matt, as powerful as Bruce—but he was able to build a life for his family with this country’s help, just like any other white man a couple of generations deep into the GI Bill. Like so many others who went to the plants and the police stations, Frank buttoned that blue collar, albeit a camouflaged one, and went to work.

And then it all went to shit. And Frank went to pieces. But white men in America are not allowed to be broken. After all, we have been told time and time again that white men are the ideal. So broken pieces must be swept under the rug to keep said illusion in place. Frank suffered. Alone. With nothing more than the shattered remains of his home and his gun. The White Reality is that men who are not allowed to acknowledge their pain, who are not allowed to give voice to the truth that their American Dream has become a nightmare, lash out. Frank is bottled sorrow. Frank is unchecked anger.

Punisher is death.

Frank Castle’s reintroduction to the public could not be more perfectly timed or placed. The character is rooted in revenge, a ‘70s film sub genre made popular by Death Wish—making his gunplay the perfect bridge connecting Daredevil’s martial artistry and Luke Cage’s Blaxploitation exploits. His violent rampages are also therapeutic for white men who are similarly awash in a groundswell of anger. But unlike the vehement displays manifest in hate crimes (and occasionally political rallies), the Punisher’s actions are as subversive as they are frighteningly cathartic. And that subversion comes from the fact that Frank Castle does not blame his woes on some random invented outgroup that happens to be browner than he is, but on the actual individuals responsible for his suffering. Men he thought were his brothers. And in delivering his own personal brand of punishment to them he finds the first member of his new family along the way—Matt Murdock.

“I think I’m done.”Frank Castle

The Punisher 2The Punisher’s introduction via Daredevil is vital because Matt gives Frank space to commit another subversive act for men: the act of grieving openly and passionately. And only Matt can do that because he represents home—a completion of the circle—in a way that no other character in the Marvel universe can. Matt Murdock, Daredevil, is just another boy from the neighborhood. As close as you can get to family without sharing blood or spilling it.

Next up: What I’d like to see in a Punisher series, why Misty Knight should be Frank Castle’s platonic ride-or-die (and vice versa), and why the two characters are the perfect bridge connecting Matt Murdock and Luke Cage.


Daredevil 2: Elektra Boogaloo.

The second season of Daredevil provides two separate tales binding together to make for an even stronger whole. I enjoyed it—thoroughly—though it is plagued by themes that one would call problematic.

ElektraDamned if you do; damned if you don’t. I was delighted by the casting of Elodie Yung as Elektra. To finally have a woman of Asian descent take the female lead in a story that leans heavily on Asian martial arts and East Asian myths allowed Marvel to make a bold statement: it would not be following Hollywood’s insulting lead in erasing Asian people from their stories.

To be honest, I was deeply concerned that Marvel would do just that. (The casting of Finn Jones as Iron Fist does not do much to assuage those concerns.) I was afraid that Marvel would cast a white actress as the originally Greek Elektra Natchios—that a white woman would be the face of Asian martial arts in the Marvel universe, to be surrounded by a slew of nameless Asian lackeys that would be quickly mowed down by Daredevil’s superior skill. I was fearful that we would see white men and women bringing justice to the overwhelmingly Asian American areas of New York via their mastery of Judo, Karate, and Muay Thai. I was afraid that all the heroes would be white, all the villains would be Asian, and all of the cultural elements cribbed by Marvel would be Asian as well. I was afraid that Asian people would be reduced to set pieces in white fantasies of Asian myths.

To be fair, we were provided with an ample sampling of the above. Daredevil’s depictions of the Hand and the Chaste—two mythical warring factions originating in Central Asia according to Marvel lore—were frustratingly unbalanced. The protagonists were a multicultural band of men; the antagonists were Japanese. In fact, if not for Elodie’s Elektra, none of the protagonists in a story about good versus evil—one spiraling out of ancient Asian cultures—would be Asian. That? Is both insulting and absurd.

To reiterate, damned if you do; damned if you don’t. What if Marvel had decided to cast an elderly Asian American actor as Stick, leader of the Chaste? While it would have been comforting to have a second person of Asian descent on the side of “good”—that choice would have certainly opened Marvel up to criticism. Is inclusion worth it when the role is that of an elderly “mystic Asian” who teaches the white hero to be all he can be?

Indeed the change of Elektra from white to Asian adds uncomfortable elements to the love triangle established in the second season that would not exist were all the actors of the same race. But instead we have a woman of color in the position of a succubus, tightly wrapped in red and black, dragging Matt Murdock further from his lofty position in the Western world. A woman who we are told inherently possesses a darkness within her. A woman who in every scene is set as a counterpart to the plucky—and white—Karen Page. A Karen Page who is draped in ivory and blue. A Karen Page who tries her hardest to bring both Matt Murdock and Frank Castle back from the brink. Back to her world. Back to a New York City where people of color exist on the fringes as civil servants, villains, and victims—but never heroes.

“Immigrant Africans, Caribbeans, and African Americans make up 25.1% of New York City’s population.”

“Asian Americans make up 11.8% of New York City’s population.”

“Hispanics and Latinos make up 27.5% of New York City’s population.”

A lot is riding on Luke Cage and Iron Fist.

The Marvel universe is split neatly into different factions, a clear (and wise) attempt by Marvel to appeal to fans of other genres while remaining safely nestled in the superhero realm. The Avengers and Spider-Man provide consumers with standard superhero fare; mutants, cosmic characters, and space explorers such as the Fantastic Four lean heavily on science fiction. Blade and Doctor Strange allow Marvel to explore horror and fantasy; street-level characters allow Marvel to explore neo-Blaxplotation, martial arts, and noir.

It is the latter that concerns me. And it is the latter that I see heading down a narrow-minded, well-worn path. And that path contains omnipresent white male heroes, a less competent man of color providing support, and a scrappy but beautiful white woman with a well-timed kick or pithy comment to show that “ladies rock too.”

Dear God, am I tired of that. But it seems to please Hollywood considerably and I have the option not to watch. I’ve been exercising that option a great deal lately. I don’t have to settle in for another Avengers movie. Or Ant-Man. Or Fantastic Four. Make a million movies in that vein and I won’t be troubled in the slightest (or found in the theater).

Daredevil and NobuBut Netflix’s slate of Marvel shows is different. Why? Because the shows are set in New York City. Because the comic books that the shows pull from are overwhelmingly influenced by African American films and television shows, Chinese action flicks, Japanese manga, and African American and Chinese American ethnic enclaves. To reduce black and Asian characters to sidekicks in these stories, to roll out with a Defenders team that includes one lone black man as the only person of color? Is decidedly racist. A New York City where the stories of people of color are subordinate to the stories of white people is a lie and a travesty. I want the truth of equality. I was born there. I know New York City’s reality. My family is a part of it. My friends are a part of it. And a large percentage of them are not white.

A chunk of them are however! So, once more, what I what is equality. Marvel has done a fabulous job weaving a thread of the story of the Irish in New York City into Matt Murdock’s tale. I am crossing my fingers that they do the same with Frank Castle’s Italian American background. (Don’t let the last name fool you. If you think for one moment that the Punisher isn’t Italian I’ve got a bridge to sell you.) But I would have much preferred a series featuring Angela Del Toro to one featuring Jessica Jones. And I am disappointed that a biracial actor was not chosen to play Iron Fist. Moreover, Luke Cage’s introduction in Jessica Jones has me skittish in regards to how African American culture in New York City will be showcased.

As I’ve said, a lot is riding on Luke Cage and Iron Fist. And we’ll discuss that a bit later.


Me and Mrs. (Jessica) Jones.

The Marvel-Netflix series of shows has been a success both financially and creatively. Daredevil and Jessica Jones have not only remained faithful to the core attributes of its lead characters but have also stretched the notion of what the masses expect from a superheroic tale. Both works are darker than other fare from Marvel—clearly indicating comic heroes aren’t for kids anymore—utilizing quirky examinations of adult themes rather than juvenile titillation to make said statement.

Jessica JonesJessica Jones in particular has connected with an adult white female audience—a group woefully underserved where action projects are concerned (though inroads have been made with projects like Mad Max: Fury Road). However, where both Daredevil and Jessica Jones take great pains to examine the role of the white vigilante (or in a broader capacity, whiteness in urban society) and how it has morphed since the glory days of Batman, depictions of people of color suffer greatly for it.

It is both frustrating and exciting to watch. Jessica Jones dives headfirst into the topic of consent and its requirement for a true and healthy relationship. Jessica’s abuse by the hands of Kilgrave, and Patricia Walker’s dysfunctional romance with Will Simpson highlight the patriarchal need to dominate and diminish the role of women. However, unlike a by-the-numbers Lifetime movie, a tale of empowerment is woven using elements of science fiction as connecting threads. Kilgrave’s mind-control abilities push his tormenting above and beyond that of the average anonymous social-media bully, causing not only mental anguish for his victims but physical pain as well. Simpson, a rogue cop fueled by pharmaceuticals, attempts to control the movements of the women in his life via superhuman abilities. The character is perhaps even more frightening than Kilgrave in that Simpson shows that an abuser can wear a mask of kindness and can easily be a man one has been willingly intimate with.

Jessica’s physical strength saves the day, but not without the assistance of two very important things: smart women working in tandem and a higher socioeconomic status than others. Trish’s and Jeri’s money and notoriety provide access that would be otherwise impossible to obtain—from a favor from a morgue attendant to classified corporate documents to a speedy and medically sound abortion.

Luke Cage and EmmaIt is here where Jessica Jones shines and also falters. The familial bonds between Jessica and Trish as well as the snide working repartee between Jessica and Jeri are a delight to see. The show glorifies both sisterhood and women who are exceptional at their jobs. Women are shown in leadership positions in entertainment, in medicine, in law, and in criminal justice; the capability of said women is not questioned by the show—only by male characters who are rebuffed for doing so. Women do not need men to take care of them in Jessica Jones, but they are willing to exploit the white-supremacist society those men have built to aid them in their goals. Male characters of color suffer to serve Jessica; female characters of color are utilized to move the story along (and provide the show’s fleeting glimpse of lingerie-clad female objectification), but they are given little to no characterization or voice. Jessica Jones’ sisterhood welcomes members of only one type.

The treatment of Luke Cage is perhaps the most egregious given the character’s history as a Blaxploitation-era figure of empowerment. That history is gone in Jessica Jones—the character becoming a tabula rasa to aid in Jessica’s story. Luke’s cultural ties have been severed. No longer situated in Harlem, he runs a bar in Jessica’s integrated neighborhood. His past as a private investigator—one more skilled than Jessica herself—has also been taken from him. It is Jessica who shows him the ropes as a PI and compliments him for being a quick study. Luke Cage, a character with deep roots in northern African-American subcultures and an origin that highlights the racism of the prison industrial complex and the need for black people to work independently for their own justice, has been changed into a character wholly dependent on a white woman for instruction and closure in the case of his dead wife—a wife killed by the woman whose bed he routinely occupies as an emotional and physical salve. He is a private dick in the worst of all possible ways.

Malcolm Ducasse, a young black man twisted into a junkie spy by Kilgrave, does not fare much better. Jessica turns society’s irrational suspicion of black men against itself by using Malcolm’s presence as a distraction in order to steal items that will aid in her client’s release from prison. To reiterate, she offers Malcolm up to the system to free a young white woman from the same. Moreover, she extends Malcolm’s time in mental bondage to Kilgrave because it is advantageous to her. To Jessica’s credit she feels guilt regarding these actions, but what help is her guilt to a man railroaded into the system? Once Malcolm is freed from Kilgrave’s mental grip he does not return to his promising career, or to his family, but instead remains by Jessica’s side—fielding calls for her company and showing concern for her sobriety. And that is where we leave him, waiting for season two.

Would I recommend watching Jessica Jones or Daredevil? Yes, depending on the individual asking, for both works send different messages to two distinct groups. Unfortunately, as a black woman I am not in the group that is championed or empowered. I can hope for that to change with the addition of Luke Cage and Iron Fist to the Netflix slate, but I am still wary. And given Marvel’s history? I have reason to be.

Okay, you poor souls have suffered through enough Marvel thinkpieces for one day! Of that I’m certain. Next up? I play Daredevil’s advocate.


My Spider-Man is black.

Spider-Man #2You speak your truth. The following panels, taken from Brian Michael Bendis’ and Sara Pichelli’s Spider-Man #2, irked many—myself included. I’ll be painfully honest, my first reaction upon seeing the panels was to smirk and to dismiss the work as the result of a naïve white author who had once overheard a black man exasperatedly proclaim that he did not wish to be a black writer (or artist, or actor, or musician) and proceeded to weave the experience into a story without any knowledge of the history behind such a statement. The scene rang false to me. Given my own history, I simply could not imagine an Afro-Latino kid from similar stomping grounds as my own who would not immediately recognize the importance of representation. I could not imagine a black kid from New York in the age of #BlackLivesMatter who would not wear his blackness and his heroicness like a badge, streaming across the avenue with all the bravado of Jeezy and the defiance of Kendrick.

Spider-Man #2These kids are better than we were. We made them better. Dragged them out of the Bushes with battered bodies still broken by Reaganomics. Built them ladders from our bowed spines.

And so black and brown blanched at the sight of those panels. Social media quickly ignited—journalists and critics fired back with lists of what Bendis should have done and what he should no longer do. In my opinion? Bendis did what he was supposed to do. He did what countless other white writers who overwhelmingly dominate the mainstream marketplace do.

He spoke his truth.

Spider-Man #2And his truth is different from my truth. His truth comes from a place where race does not have to matter. His truth comes from a place where one can innocently proclaim that one doesn’t “see color” or question why the world deems it so important.

Because he is white. And no matter who a white writer embraces at night or who he tucks in, he cannot step into the shoes of another and speak as them. He can only imagine and describe what their vantage point must be like from his own.

And that’s okay. And that is what writers are supposed to do. And beautiful works have been produced from that. What is not okay, what is unbelievably harmful, what we have in the marketplace right now, is a massive block of writers from one sole vantage point describing everyone else’s. A truth that is not multifaceted is distortion. A publishing marketplace where black voices are muffled and Bendis, Waid, and other white writers are given heavily promoted platforms to speak upon the topic of race is distortion. This is a long-standing problem. And it is one that will not be resolved with advice to white writers. Because all the advice in the world will not make them black.

I don’t want to be a black writer. I don’t want to be pigeonholed and only (rarely!) considered for stories featuring black characters, stories I will not get to write should a non-black writer have a desire to write them. I don’t want to be told that I can only write for characters who share my vantage point while non-black writers are given free rein to produce work from any vantage point they can imagine—including my own.

And be championed for it. And be paid handsomely for it.

But, oh, do I want to be a writer that is black. Oh, do I want to see writers that are black. I want black and brown and white children to know the worlds that are inside of us. I want them to know the beautiful way the brick and mortar of a brownstone changes the way one can see a sunrise. I want them to know how the heat of the jungle is described by one who knows the heat of the comb.

There is a difference. Another facet of the diamond. And aren’t diamonds at their most beautiful the deeper and more intricate the cut?


DC vs. Marvel: The Pre-Game Show.

“I have said—repeatedly, to anyone who will listen—that given the similarities found in both lines, Marvel and DC should release separate but simultaneous ‘Crisis’ events that dovetail into a Marvel vs. DC crossover, the climax of which would launch a short-term Amalgam universe, which would then fold as the DC and Marvel universes are rebooted—just in time to coincide with Avengers and JLA blockbusters in movie theaters. If one’s golden goose is dying, it’s best to feed it with as much grain as possible so those last eggs are glorious.”Cheryl Lynn Eaton

I still firmly believe that DC and Marvel should join forces for a month-long Amalgam event. Both companies should put out a line of one-shots featuring Amalgam characters as well as two four-issue event series to be shipped weekly during the month of April 2016—bridging the gap between Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War in movie theaters. (It’d also be wise to release two movie tie-in one-shots and two related trades to occupy newcomers for a month while die-hards enjoyed the Amalgam event.)

However, April 2016 is over a year from now and both Marvel and DC appear to be in the midst of renovating at this very moment. Instead of quickly launching from one event to the next, or dragging out Secret Wars and Convergence well past their sell-by dates, perhaps it would be best for DC and Marvel to reorder their houses after Secret Wars and Convergence have wrapped. Then, after firmly establishing the new DC and Marvel universes, a new threat—one that would launch our favorite heroes into Marvel vs. DC—could be introduced.

Post-Convergence Conversations: A quick look at DC’s upcoming titles has me pretty pleased. I’ve often argued that DC was devoid of diversity—race, gender, sexuality, and genre—genre being the most notable issue. While I’ve always believed genre diversity could be best introduced by giving each “house” (Super, Bat, Wonder-Marvel, Aqua, Green, Flash, Power, Teen) its own point of view and style, DC has mixed things up even further by trying for different styles within a particular house. I think it’s a tactic that will work.

Genre diversity aside, I’m elated at the inclusion of minority creators who will be bringing in points of view we haven’t seen in the mainstream for quite a while. More please! And on a personal note I’m glad to see that some of my favorite creators are still in the mix or have snuck in the back door—Connor, Simone, Walker, Corson, Randolph, Cloonan.

Still, all is not completely well. There are still a couple of opportunities that DC has yet to take advantage of and Vertigo is far from healthy—a point I have stressed for a very long while.

First and foremost, I’d bring characters such as John Constantine and Swamp Thing back to Vertigo along with darker Wildstorm characters such as Deathblow and Black Betty. Package them as their own universe—an imprint within an imprint—Vertigo: Heights. The imprint would lean heavy on action and horror, leaving the sci-fi and standard superheroes for the main DC universe. The imprint would also woo “big name” creators such as Ennis and Snyder as well as give creators on the cusp of gaining notoriety a chance to finally solidify their reputation. Vertigo cannot win back its old glory from Image with creator-owned work. That ship has sailed. Even if Vertigo changed its deal to match Image’s, the winds of change have already shifted. What Vertigo can do is champion the beloved characters in its stable while providing creators with something they cannot get elsewhere—financial stability and the attention that comes with working with established IPs. It would be best if Vertigo: Heights stressed characters that could easily be launched as a cable TV projects down the line. The line should be kept rather small too. No more than six titles at a time. I think a strong line-up would be as follows:

  • Constantine: The Hellblazer
  • Section Eight (seeding possibilities of a Hitman cable series)
  • Deathblow (in the vein of Punisher: Max)
  • Lilith (a companion series to Lucifer)

Two slots would remain for miniseries taking place with the Heights universe, such as Swamp Thing, Desire, or Papa Midnight. DC crippled Vertigo in the post-Berger era by pulling characters from Vertigo. And it damaged those characters by altering them to fit within the DC universe. Why? These are not network-friendly characters. They are and will always be HBO, not NBC. Sell them that way.

As for the DC Universe, it seems as though DC is about to correct course and right the ship. But there are still a few ways in which DC could be more competitive with Marvel. Building Power Girl into a brand that complements Harley Quinn and competes with Captain Marvel should be a major objective. And she should be a brand in her own right—not one that cribs from the origin of DC’s most popular Kryptonian. I would roll Harley Quinn/Power Girl directly into a Power Girls ongoing series featuring Karen and Tanya—pairing Amanda Conner with Dani Dixon while keeping Stephane Roux along for the ride. A sales win all around—a beloved creator and character (Captain Marvel), a nod to authenticity and diversity (Ms. Marvel), cross-generational conflict (Icon), and female friendships (Birds of Prey).

Building Vixen should be DC’s next objective. DC has already made inroads with the animated Vixen shorts that will debut soon. But that simply establishes a place for Vixen in the DC television universe. What about comics?

Looking at sales of Storm and Black Widow, I do not believe a Vixen series would sell well should one be launched in the near future. However, I do think placing Vixen in the leadership position of a Justice League International team that borrowed heavily in style from Warren Ellis’ Stormwatch run would do wonders. In fact, perhaps JLI should be repackaged as a revamped Stormwatch. A team featuring Vixen, Fire, Jack Hawksmoor, The Ray, Solstice, and others—given orders by a hardnosed, UN-funded Jackson King—would stand as a tightly controlled bureaucratic counterpart to the Justice League. Special attention should be given to Vixen, but also The Ray (given the dismal number of Asian superheroes to be found in the mainstream). I’d probably go and switch his residence from America to the Philippines too to keep the team from being too American heavy and provide Pacific Islanders with representation. Using the team book as a way to build background stories and establish supporting characters and situations for future television and film projects is crucial.

Anything else? Yes! DC’s “teen scene” needs a major restructuring to lure back fans. The creators on deck are excellent, but another way to show that an overhaul has occurred is through renumbering, costume redesigns, and a change in team lineup. There should be a clearer division between young adults (Grayson, Cyborg, Raven, Starfire, Batgirl, Arsenal) and teens. Also, more interaction between the young adults is key given that there is a Titans show on deck and Cyborg will be appearing in movies soon. And even though the characters are appearing in solo books, building them together as a brand is still helpful. Branding the young adults as Outsiders and the teens as Titans would help in reorganizing. Finally, I think repackaging Shazam as Captain Wonder or Captain Thunder and pulling the character slightly under Wonder Woman’s wing isn’t a bad idea. And having a couple of miniseries ready for readers before a movie is released might be a good idea too.

Next up? Marvel musings.


Next up? Next IP?

It’s the year of announcements—Wonder Woman, Black Panther, Daredevil, etc. The floodgates have opened and every Kal, Bruce, and Logan has been plastered across our small and silver screens. C- and D-list white male characters (S’up, Gambit?) and even A-list male characters of color and white female characters (T’Challa? Carol? Very nice to see you!) have crossed the four-colored threshold into the third dimension. Is that scraping we may hear at the bottom of the barrel?

Not hardly. Hollywood has yet to fully exploit the superhero genre. Yes, we are well into our second decade and there are still stories to tell. Much like the reviled rom-com, the superhero is not going anywhere. Critics may cry that the movies are of no substance, but the films make very large numbers of people with considerable sums of money feel very good. And for that reason, much like your annual meet-cute vehicle for the ingénue of the moment, they will be around for a long time.

Yet much like the public tires of particular ingénues after a period of time, it will tire of particular brands as well. And still Marvel and DC approach the public the way a dealer approaches an addict—or, quite frankly, the way publishers currently approach comic-shop retailers—pushing more of the same product to the same people at a faster rate with no thought of changing markets or the condition of their consumers.

No, the public will not tire of superheroes, but if you saturate the market with one particular brand, one set of characters, it will grow weary of hearing stories about them. The tales of Marvel and DC characters are our modern myths; they will stand the test of time as did Zeus and Paul Bunyan. But how often does the public wish to hear the origin story of the Greek gods in 2014? The public does not even want to see the origin story of Jesus on-screen more than once a decade let alone Spider-Man’s!

To bring in an example from our modern era, how many James Bond tales can entice the public each year? Even one a year would be too much. Has the public tired of action thrillers? No. But it does have a set tolerance for James Bond. And when that level has been reached, it is time for John Wick.

If you flood the market the public will tire of you faster—and you will have to wait that much longer for the public to once again embrace you. Though the current slate of announcements has elated Marvel and DC fans, some of the upcoming superhero movies will be flops—more than likely those helmed by Sony and Fox, studios so desperate to hold onto a superhero franchise that they will churn out a subpar product to maintain it. I have a sneaking suspicion Inhumans will do poorly as well; it is a weaker rehash of the X-Men’s tale—a tale that has already lost its way by having no members of any ostracized groups involved in the telling of a story about a group of people contributing to a world that hates and fears them. The lack of voices from those the world currently, quite honestly, hates and fears has removed the teeth from the X-Men (and will from the Inhumans). Hopefully Marvel can fix this issue before the franchises are due for a major launch/relaunch by either including those voices or changing the basic premise of the two franchises. Both options are easy fixes.

If Marvel and DC wish to consistently remain in the spotlight and stay in the public’s good graces simultaneously they will have to bring more to the table than just superheroes. And they will have to let some of their superhero IPs lie fallow for a period of time. Luckily, they have quite a few IPs in other genres that are ripe for exploitation—characters that are currently languishing in limbo. Which ones? Well, that’s a topic for another blog post.


Too black, two strong.

Tim Hanley’s “Gendercrunching” articles are always of interest to me because while the perception of the impact women and people of color have upon the “mainstream” comics industry can be molded via marketing, numbers do not lie. This month, Hanley has added his yearly statistics regarding creators of color to his monthly presentation on gender. The results are far from surprising.

Race and Gender Statistics

Though for the most part they are not working at the “big two,” black people are working in comics and in related entertainment industries such as animation and prose publishing. It is important to reiterate because the reaction to the periodical release of the miniscule number of black creators working at DC and Marvel (1.4 percent) compared to the percentage of Americans who are black people (12.6 percent) is often anger followed by a rattling off of potential black creators to be hired and various methods DC and Marvel can use to find black talent.

DC and Marvel are well aware of methods such as hiring individuals from independent comic companies, inviting self-publishers to pitch, pairing established writers from other genres with comic writers in order to acquaint them with the comics industry, reconnecting with creators who have left the industry, and providing artists with back-up stories in order to gauge their ability. DC and Marvel routinely use these methods to bring creators who are not black into their companies. DC and Marvel are aware of the methods used to increase one’s talent pool. DC and Marvel are aware of black creators. The dearth of black pencillers, inkers, writers, colorists, and editors at DC and Marvel have nothing to do with a lack of available talent or an inability to communicate with said talent.

What is frustrating for black fans of Marvel and DC is the unfulfilled desire to read about their favorite black characters and hear black voices within the same work. And those fans will never be happy until they expunge that desire. DC and Marvel have little interest in hiring black talent. And until fans disturbed by that basic truth accept that fact, the lack of black voices will eventually poison the enjoyment of mainstream black characters. Trust me—I speak from experience.

Black readers can have it all—popular black characters and talented black voices—if only they are willing to commit to the simple task of buying two quality books instead of one. Of course, one can save money and forego mainstream books entirely, but I do realize that for some fans pastiches are just not enough. And for only a few bucks extra they can enjoy a great book featuring the “real thing” (though we should examine which characters are deemed “real” and why).

I will admit it is bizarre that mainstream heroes are not voiced by black people, that DC and Marvel routinely explore concepts such as government corruption and institutional inequality sans any input from African Americans, but we are not experiencing the silencing of the past where black people were denied means of distribution. Kickstarter, Patreon, and independent companies are available and black comic creators can be found there. Quality work can be found there. Instead of bemoaning the paths that are not available, let us celebrate (and widen) the paths that are.


Oh, what a web!

If a company markets one product to two diametrically opposed groups within the same arena, said company should expect a spectacle as those two groups angrily vie for the sole attention of the company and dominion over the product. The spectacle will be a boon to the company as those not even interested in the product will flock to the spectacle to witness the clashing of the two groups—promotion via chaos. It is a deeply exploitative form of marketing that I find distasteful, and it is a form that Marvel has recently used with greater frequency, causing me to shy away from its products.

The rapid growth of the number of women involved in geek circles has sent various entertainment industries that once catered wholly to men scrambling to find material to sell to a new and untapped market. In comics, Marvel has wisely made space in its roster for empowering and entertaining works featuring female characters that are helmed by female creators. Ms. Marvel and Captain Marvel are notable examples. However, two books and two female creators are not enough to service the growing number of female readers. Demand has clearly outstripped supply.

One way Marvel has countered is by upping the number of books featuring female leads. The upcoming Spider-Woman was announced at Marvel’s Women of Marvel panel at the well-attended San Diego Comic-Con (the panel amusingly stated by Melissa Molina of Comic Book Resources to have dispelled stereotypes). It was here that Marvel marketed to its first group—men and women frustrated with poorly conceived, sexist, and sexualized material that objectifies solely women.

spider-woman-1-coverAnd it was here, in the cover created by erotic artist Milo Manara and in the choice of the notorious Greg Land as series penciller, Marvel marketed to its second group—men craving sexualized images of women to objectify—a group that is in direct opposition to the men and women who were in attendance at the panel. It is a group that is frustrated due to the belief that they are being stripped of the ability to enjoy erotic art featuring Marvel characters as an increasing number of female characters are used to create empowering works for women. These two groups were bound to clash—and clash they did in several notable places, which drew the attention of the mainstream media. And with the attention of the mainstream media Marvel got exactly what it set out to obtain when it first championed Spider-Woman to female audiences and then hired the industry’s most infamous “cheesecake” artist and its most talented erotic artist for the project. And it only had to gaslight its female readers, a group already battling sexism and harassment in an industry that is hostile to them to do so.


Punch bowl.

In comedy there is a rule that one shouldn’t “punch down,” that one should not attack one who is in a weaker position and who is of no threat. It is an unnecessary cruelty that should not be engaged in if one wishes to be the “better man.”

In marketing? You punch everywhere. Should another company have a weakness, said weakness should be exploited. Should another company have an asset left unprotected, said asset should be obtained. Should another company have a market left unsatisfied, said market should be quickly wooed. Companies are not men. They do not deserve empathy or consideration nor do they provide it to others. Compassion should be reserved for those able to bleed more than just revenue.

In comics, spectators have amused themselves for decades watching the battle between the “big two”—Marvel Comics and its distinguished competition, DC Entertainment. Despite a good showing by DC, Marvel can easily be declared the winner at this juncture, regaining the number one spot in the market and a position as America’s premiere comics publisher in the eyes of the public. DC has had great difficulty shaking its image as an out-of-touch underdog, despite pulling from the same talent pool as Marvel and producing similar work. If DC wishes to rid itself of its “Dad’s Comics” public persona, it will need to carefully examine where its corporate culture diverges from Marvel’s and decide if changes need to be made. However, a silver medal is still a medal. DC might just be content with the status quo.

Marvel, comfortably settled in first place, has never had a problem “punching” in any direction it deemed fit, be it a well-timed barb lobbed at DC during a panel—“We don’t publish books weekly; we publish them strongly”—or delivering a blow to Dark Horse via a partnership with Lucasfilm to produce Star Wars comics, declaring years of Star Wars canon carefully crafted by the indie publisher to be irrelevant.

Wayward

Dark Horse, though producing great work, is in danger of becoming the indie market’s DC, due to Image’s rising star and increased bravado and a very short window provided to establish a unique brand in a changing market. Much like DC, its positive moves tend to result in tepid responses, though thankfully the company is not at all prone to the public relations disasters endured by DC.

A recent Image press release, however, is a bit of a concern. After spending the past few months “punching up”—repeatedly pointing out DC’s and Marvel’s weaknesses in speeches and interviews—Image has now clearly “punched down,” using advertising not only to promote upcoming work, but to suggest that the work of its competitor has grown stale, introducing Wayward as “the perfect new series for wayward Buffy fans.”

75. Buffy TVS (Dark Horse)

  • 03/2008: Buffy TVS #12 – 88,930
  • 03/2009: Buffy TVS #23 – 64,108
  • 03/2010: Buffy TVS #33 – 46,568
  • 03/2012: Buffy TVS Season 9 #7 – 29,908
  • 03/2013: Buffy TVS Season 9 #19 – 22,424

I would have done the same. Wayward looks fabulous and will cater to the same audience—and who can resist a great pun? Dark Horse has the option to take it on the chin, or respond via advertising to let all know that Buffy is doing just fine and that Queen B will not be relinquishing her crown any time soon! The latter would allow for the initiation of a friendly rivalry akin to Marvel and DC, but one more evenly matched.

I would love to see a Dark Horse that is more vocal about its success! It produces the best superhero book on the market, but buzz surrounding Empowered is almost nil. (Truthfully, I’ve wondered if a defection to Image would bolster recognition.) It draws superstar talent but does not aggressively link said talent to Dark Horse in the eyes of the public. (Consider Marvel’s “architects” and “young guns” or Image’s Experience Creativity campaign.) I’d also enjoy seeing a Dark Horse that once again reaches beyond the realm of comics, pushing back into movie theaters and onto our television screens. Who wouldn’t love a survival horror game set in the Hellboy universe?

Everyone loves a winner—but I find an underdog with the potential to be a winner much more alluring. The puzzle of how to properly groom a usurper for the top spot brings out the Olivia Pope in me I suppose!


Read, white, and blue.

I no longer read Marvel and DC comics. That statement should not be considered an insult. The snippets made available to me in previews certainly look to be of great quality and both companies have hired fantastic creators who produce work outside of the superhero realm that I continue to enjoy.

Simply put, I am not the target audience for either line. While there are a handful of works intended to draw in different types of readers, both lines overall are clearly designed to bring in an audience in its mid-twenties to mid-thirties that is overwhelmingly white, male, and flush with disposable income. It is an audience that is shrinking in number, but is still more than willing to fork over substantial amounts of cash for a weekly diet of superheroic exploits.

And so, amusingly, its universes are skewed to appeal to that demographic. Those with even loose ties to the comics industry are well aware of editor Janelle Asselin’s astute critique of the cover to Teen Titans #1. What Asselin didn’t touch upon—a key factor I immediately noticed and mentioned to friends—is the complete lack of black culture both in the image and in Marvel’s and DC’s lines in general. Given the irritating obsession American youth have with black American subcultures (fashion, language, music, etc.) it is surprising to see it stripped from material geared towards teens. However, it is surprising only if one does not take into account two basic facts: the lack of black writers and editors at Marvel and DC; and that the majority of “teen” books are created for older white men who wish to read superheroic coming-of-age stories about the characters they loved as adolescents. And it shows.

As a detached observer, I can certainly see why DC and Marvel wish to completely drain their current resource before fully committing to the laborious task of recreating lines that appeal to multiple audiences. At this point, the demographic they cater to—though shrinking—is still the greatest in number with the greatest amount of disposable income. It is far easier to simply raise prices and change the race, gender, or sexual orientation of a tertiary character than to seek new talent and alter one’s brand.

It would be far easier for DC and Marvel to reach new audiences if their current audience was not so abhorrent to change. And so changes are made on the outskirts—in alternate universes, in solo series set apart from the main event, and in B- and C-list characters. It is a very smart move given the volatile nature of current readers—though I would certainly advise both companies to take a more aggressive stance in creating works that appeal to women. It is a market that is simply growing too fast and has too much money to ignore—especially when smaller comic companies are already taking great care to cater to it.

What I simply fail to understand is DC’s and Marvel’s refusal to band together to wring as much profit as possible from their current audience! I have said—repeatedly, to anyone who will listen—that given the similarities found in both lines, Marvel and DC should release separate but simultaneous “Crisis” events that dovetail into a Marvel vs. DC crossover, the climax of which would launch a short-term Amalgam universe, which would then fold as the DC and Marvel universes are rebooted—just in time to coincide with Avengers and JLA blockbusters in movie theaters. If one’s golden goose is dying, it’s best to feed it with as much grain as possible so those last eggs are glorious.

What would rise from the ashes? A new Marvel and DC featuring universes with a diverse selection of characters and stories—with decidedly lower prices and weekly releases to lure in a larger number of readers.


Stay pressed.

I’ve often discussed how comic companies can make things easier for journalists and increase the flow of accurate information to fans. Many journalists bring laptops with them to cover conventions. A great idea for comic companies such Marvel and DC would be to provide journalists with flash drives containing key panel notes. The flash drives, smartly emblazoned with a Daily Bugle or Daily Planet logo, could be handed out to members of the press as they entered a panel. A company rep or convention organizer would simply seek out individuals with press passes in queue. To add to the kitsch factor, panel notes could be packed with a friendly note from a colleague named Lois or Betty.

The price of flash drives has dropped so dramatically that this method of dispensing information is now feasible. And with key information and a panel rundown already typed and formatted, journalists could devote more time to accurately transcribing a creator’s pithy comments. More importantly, it would provide more time for analysis of the information distributed instead of just releasing a dry rundown of events.