Sunday, July 26, 2015

Holly Marshall Would Be Happy

Editor's Note: Today we have a guest post from Gina Shelley about the positve increase in role models for today's female fans. - Jim

So Jim, my nine year old daughter, and myself went to Heroes Con in Charlotte a couple weeks ago and had a fantastic time. She dressed up as Maleficent, and Jim went as her sidekick Diaval. I went as “the person who sewed the Diaval costume.” Of course, we returned home triumphantly hauling bags of awesome new titles we had discovered. It was glorious.

I flipped back through the goodies my daughter had chosen. Batgirl. Princeless. Starfire. Jem and the Holograms. Altar Girl
Lego figures of Gamora and Supergirl and the Scarlet Witch. Pictures on my phone of my girl posing with the wonderful Babs Tarr and indie creator Kata Kane.
Pictures of my daughter dressed as Maleficent, the masterfully-written title character of one of the best movies ever to come out of Disney. A movie where the female title character is a living, breathing villain, hero, human in her own right.

And then it hit me: I didn’t have any of this when I was growing up.

There’s a little boy that stays at my house sometimes. He has particularly endearing television-watching habits. He will announce which of the characters is “him” (for example. he will announce “I’m the guy in the blue shirt.”), and will watch the show with the idea that he is watching a show about his own adventures. Sometimes he will assign me or others a role, too. Had I done this as a child, I would have had some slim pickings indeed. I would have been a side character.

So, as I was growing up, I guess it’s not too surprising that most of my role models were men. They had to be. None of my heroes looked like me. If I wanted to imagine myself having those sorts of adventures, I had to imagine myself as a boy. I had Princess Leah and Holly Marshall (Land of the Lost) and (O Mighty!) Isis, but beyond that, not much else of any value. To this day, I have to admit that for a straight woman, I have spent an awful lot of time in my life forgetting I was female. 
Let’s talk about the old tv show, Wonder Woman that ran between 1975 and 1979. Even then, I thought that show was kind of ridiculous. Of course, there were characters out there that made the attempt, sure. Even Wonder Woman made the attempt. But it was a different time, and mostly, the creators driving our media simply did not get it. Even female title characters were seen through the male lens.

They were not there for me. They weren’t even there for themselves, really. Wonder Woman wears underwear and heels and is driven by her crush on Major Steve Trevor. That’s not really how little girls want to see themselves.

It wasn’t until characters like Ripley and Sarah Connor came out that we started to see real heroes we could admire. 
But by the time they came along, I was an adult. So I am old enough to be cursed with the idea that these sorts of stories are remarkable.

At the Con, I discovered Rat Queens, after the young lady that sold it to me raved about how awesome it was. She was right. It is awesome. There is no way a book about an entirely female group of adventurers would have existed when I was younger. There is no way a show like Once Upon A Time would have existed, with the leads all being tough warrior women who drive the plot. It wouldn’t even have occurred to anyone to even make such a show. So when I see characters like Emma, Snow White, Princess Aurora, and Mulan presented as a serious group of adventurers solving problems and taking the unapologetic lead, I notice it. Younger women might don’t notice the air you breathe until it changes. The air in my world has changed. And it’s awesome.

Full disclosure here. I am a writer. I am a feminist. I am an adventurer in my own right, and always have been, even as a tomboy child, running through the wild woods and swimming in rivers and lakes with snakes and God-only-knows what else. But even so, even knowing all that, I still had to overcome the subconscious idea that female characters are boring. That they are there to be decorative, or to further the plot line for the male characters. It took me a long time to be able to break out of this mindset. I had to relearn everything I’d been marinated in for my entire life. It’s hard for me to admit that, to be honest. But there it is.

But here’s my daughter, who spends her time writing stories with female protagonists, and drawing comics where it’s the girls that have the adventures and take the risks and do the rescuing. It’s my daughter who has a box full of PlayStation heroines she picked out herself, using them to build castles and fly spaceships and fight bad guys.  And here she is dragging home a bag full of heroes that all look like her, engaged in stories that she can easily imagine herself into.

And the most amazing thing to me, the most staggeringly incredible thing is that she is completely and totally oblivious to why this is remarkable to me. She won’t ever have to struggle with the idea that characters like herself don’t have to be boring cardboard cutouts. She would never understand why this particular bag of heroes takes my breath and puts tears in my eyes.

I hope she never understands. I just want her to go with it. I want her to be the hero in her own story, without once thinking that it’s remarkable.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Heritage, Not Hawkman

Flashback world headquarters is located in Columbia, South Carolina, the city both Jim and I call home.  Since you have access to the internet, you know what's dominated conversation in the shadow of our state house the past couple of weeks.  South Carolinians on both sides of the the Confederate flag issue have demonstrated, penned editorials, turned out in force to express their beliefs.  Many have had lifelong assumptions challenged, and some have found the courage to embrace new ways of looking at history.

The debate has extended to pop culture, as well, with Warner Bros. dropping the Confederate flag from toys and memorabilia featuring the General Lee from Dukes of Hazzard and TV Land quietly dropping the show from its summer rerun slate the next day.  Warner and TV Land distanced themselves from the controversy with zero fanfare, but the entertainment media picked up the stories and ran with them, tying them to earlier decisions by Amazon, eBay, and Walmart to discontinue sales of the Confederate flag.  John Schneider and Tom Wopat joined in the discussion.  All across America, people were talking about the General Lee.

And that's where we get to the (far more trivial) heart of this blog post.  Some of those people were calling it red.  The General Lee.  Red.

At the same time, I was engaged in a Facebook conversation about the costume Hawkman briefly wore from Hawkworld #25 (August 1992) to the end of that series in #32 (March 1993).  The original conversation wasn't about Hawkman or his duds, but given that's a — well, less-than-fondly remembered outfit, they quickly overtook the conversation.

What color will Hawkman's new
costume be?
HINT: There's a clue on this cover.
"That red outfit is ug-lee!" wrote one commenter.

"To people of a certain age (like mine), pure red costumes will always look like long underwear," added another.

Which prompted me to ask:  Had people lost their minds?  The General Lee wasn't red, nor was that Hawkman suit.  They were orange!  While my fellow South Carolinians were mounting "heritage, not hate" arguments all over social media, I took to Twitter and Facebook to ask, "Have I gone colorblind?"

Turns out — I was wrong.

About Hawkman, anyway.  Consensus is that the General Lee is orange.  (Whew.)  But that Hawkman suit is as red as the Confederate flag.  Graham Nolan, who designed the suit and drew its debut in Hawkworld, chimed in on my Facebook thread to set the record straight, calling the color "comic-book pure red."

DC colorist Tony Tollin, who emblazoned plenty of super-suits during the same era, explained it in CMYK terms so definitive even I couldn't protest:
The torso portions of Hawkman's costume pictured are 100% Magenta and 100% Yellow, the same composition as Superman's red cape.  Orange would normally be 50% Magenta and 100% yellow, like Aquaman's costume.
So there you have it.  That suit is red, even though I've spent 23 years seeing it as orange.

The funny part is that I still see it as orange.  If I squint, or if I juxtapose an image of it with Superman's cape or Robin's tunic, I can that it is red.  But that requires enlisting the cognitive part of my brain to make it red.

I imagine that's how a lot of South Carolina legislators, who previously couldn't see the inherent offensiveness of the Confederate flag, must feel.  Somewhere deep down in their bones, they still see the flag as a symbol of something somewhere between harmless and positive, but someone's shown them the color charts of harm wrought in its name and made them think twice about how it's seen through other people's eyes.  Maybe they saw quotes from Confederate flag designer William Thompson that stopped them in their tracks the way Graham Nolan's did me.

For some people, of course, Hawkman will always be orange.  A part of me feels that way.  My eyes betray what my brain knows to be true because they've spent decades seeing what they want to see, what looks better to them, what fits with their image of the past.

That's a burden I'll have to bear.

But at least I know how to pitch my idea for a Katar Hol mini-series to Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale now.  I'm calling it Hawkman Red.

— Scott

Monday, July 13, 2015

Superman vs Batman SDCC Trailer Roundtable

This weekend a new trailer for Superman vs Batman: Dawn of Justice was revealed at San Diego Comic-Con:

While I had my own opinion on the trailer, I thought a consensus might be interesting, so I reached out to fellow Flashback Universe contributors to see what they thought of the trailer. Here's what Caine Dorr, Trey Causey, Scott Simmons, StevieB and I had to say:

I have to say that both the "do you bleed" trailer and now the longer "SDCC" trailer both to me somehow.  They look weird, unlike other trailers, and i think that's because of two reasons.  1.) I think they have a couple of very big plot points that they do not want to spoil and have kept a wrap on for quite some time forcing them to structure the trailer around hiding the plot points rather than really just dazzling us with a great trailer they don't have to worry about.  2.) I'm willing to bet that years from now it will be common knowledge that there were a lot of cooks in the kitchen in this movie and Zack Snyder effectively had to co-direct this movie with Geoff Johns and other Warner Bros executives, almost committee style.

It has been heavily suggested by many that Ben's Batman is the Frank Miller Batman Returns Batman and with the scenes of Batman in a sun bleached sandy (Almost an apocalypse possibly?) desert looking battle scene mixed in with urban scenes of Metropolis it almost leads me to believe that the story takes place over a great many of years, of possibly with an alternate timeline, or in another reality, or even possibly some of the story may take place in Themyscira.

As a life long Batman fan I'll be there at the theater lined up to see this, but as of right now it still somehow.

I agree with Caine to a degree that I suspect there are some plot points they are still trying to keep obscure, though I think this at least suggests the role Luthor might play in setting the two at odds which wasn't in the first one.

They are (somewhat cleverly I think) trying to keep the audience guessing. Note that dialogue that was played over scenes of Superman in the first trailer are played over Batman in this one--muddying the waters as precisely which of the heroes is "out of line" and needs to be reigned in. Batman's to a building going down and the governmental hearing suggest that the big complaint about the first film (the destruction in the battle) is going to be address, at least to an extent.

All in all, I'm looking forward to it. The Goyer/Johns approach to these characters isn't my favorite, but it is one informed by their history, and I don't think we need all superhero movies to have the same tone--as Marvel Studios largely seems to think they do.

I completely agree that a central tone (particularly gritty) is NOT the way to go with these and the Goyer/Johns versions of these characters are not my favorite as well.  Whats funny is that DC rebooted so that they could bring us the MOST ICONIC VERSION of their characters but really, in a lot of ways, the movies don't feel that way at all.  It's strange that they would feel so strongly about that approach in one medium but not in another.

Well, I didn't say this wasn't the way to go. I don't think there is one way. This way is valid; it just isn't the one I would have chosen.


My initial take away is a lot more positive than the I felt from the first trailer.  Like a lot of people I was afraid we were just going to get a blunted version of Miller's Dark Knight Returns. However,  seeing the scenes with Luthor has really got me jazzed. I've never seen Jesse Eisenberg in a movie before but he looks like he's gonna steal the show.

It was also nice to see Wonder Woman in action.

I'm hoping it will convince a lot of the ww naysayers that she will work in the film (in the role - plot wise I'm not sure she won't be a bit lost in the crowd.)

Your absolutely right about WW Jim.  Good call.

I've done an about-face from my younger-fan days of longing for super-hero movies to "get it right" by staying überfaithful to the source material.  Now that I'm outside the 18-35 target demographic, the comics themselves have morphed and changed in what they consider iconic versions of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman.  Rather than films that aim to capture the super-heroes of my youth and foist them on a modern movie-going public, I'm more interested in new iterations and interpretations of these characters than I used to be, particularly in the movies, where they're going to be rethought and reinvented by necessity.

With that in mind, I find the new Dawn of Justice trailer compelling, as a fresh alternate take on these characters origins and relationship if nothing else.

Putting aside our fanboy expectations and what we (think we) know about these characters to rely on the trailer itself, Batman's origin is apparently tied intimately to Superman's battle with Zod from the end of Man of Steel.  The trailer makes no reference to Bruce Wayne having a previous history as Batman.  Immediately following the scene of him in the wreckage of Wayne Tower, we have Alfred's voice-over, "That's how it starts — the rage, the fever that turns good men cruel," followed by police discovering a Batarang and the usual newsroom coverage shot (this time with Perry White admonishing Clark Kent not to pursue the story).  There are some hints this is a Batman with a past: the costume presumably spray-painted on by the Joker, Bruce's hints at "20 years in Gotham," the presence of a tarp over the Bat-Signal, and flashback scenes to a mustachioed father gunned down in an alley.  But none of those are definitive or even serve to drive home the point this is a Batman whose crusade predated Superman's appearance.  Likely, this is because everyone on Earth knows the Batman story and the Superman story and doesn't need to be told Batman isn't avenging the murder of his wife and daughter in a 9/11-style building collapse that he initially blamed on Superman.  But dangit, that's the story implied in the trailer — and a movie I'd like to see.

Batman and Superman on screen are going to be different than their templates from the comics, anyway.  Why not change up their origins, streamline them, and give them a relationship to each other that future films can build on.  Heck, why not make Wonder Woman the inhabitant of that other Kryptonian ship seen in Man of Steel?  Other than a slavish devotion to the source material that insists another Kryptonian on Earth must be Supergirl.

To Caine's comment earlier, I don't doubt there will be Dark Knight Returns influence a-plenty in Dawn of Justice.  Since 1989, every incarnation of Batman we've seen on the silver screen has managed, in some way or other, to be a back-door adaptation of that story.  ;)

I'm enamored of the cast, too.  Cavill, Affleck, and Gadot are pretty enough to watch in Imax without any special effects.  Jesse Eisenberg is once again playing a passionate young man with the worldweary cynicism of a much older one.  And I'm assuredly looking forward to Jeremy Irons as Alfred.

Audiences usually have to be shown what sway Alfred has over Bruce, but Irons seems to be wearing his stern paternalism on his sleeve in the trailer.  Given how deeply Man of Steel was concerned with fathers, I'm looking forward to seeing Irons as Bruce Wayne's surrogate father even as Clark copes without (either of) his.

I doubt the movie will plot itself in this direction, but it would be interesting if Bruce Wayne were a father who lost children in the battle of Metropolis.  Maybe these are the kind of plot points the movie is keeping under wraps.  Superman had a son in Superman Returns, remember, and the whole town of Smallville and Lois Lane know his identity in the world of Man of Steel.  Why blanch at the possibility that other long-held traditionalist notions might be different this time out?

Given what we see in the trailer, I suspect its destruction (that of Metropolis in the first film? something new?) that Superman was involved with that brings a retired Batman back into action, DKR-style. The police not seeming familiar with him, may be reference to the fact he's been gone long enough (like in DKR) that a lot of people don't believe in him.

As to Jim points, I feel like this trailer helped move some people that where sitting in the "IIIII Don't Knowwwww" Camp and move to a place that they feel like this movie might actually be good.

Scott, I believe its been said by Zack Snyder and Ben Affleck in interviews that this is a seasoned Batman and been doing the Bat thing in Gotham for some time. Maybe not as aggressively and publicly.

Wonder Woman looks great! I think she is going to be the plot device that stops them from fighting. Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor seems interesting. It's def a way different take on Lex then we've seen but that's not necessarily a bad thing. (Jim, I believe he stars in The Social Network. It's a really good movie and I suggest you check it out.)

The Joker is going to be included in someway shape or form it seems just from the couple of messages that are thrown about. I'm not sure if you guys caught it or not. But this clip:

That, to me, Looks like a Robin Costume. I think he may have  quit because the Joker killed Jason Todd (or any Robin for that matter). I think a perfect transition to a solo Batman movie would be a "Red Hood" story. I believe the Jason Todd death is also going to be the catalyst that splits up Harley and Joker in Suicide Squad. This scene is probably the most exciting for me. A live action adaption of Red Hood would be awesome.

This movie has many things to look forward to; the first movie debut of Wonder Woman ever, more than one DC character on screen at a time, Jeremy Irons, Ben proving everyone wrong lol, ETC. I have many thoughts on where the plot will go and the trailer does hint at some things. I personally think that we may even see some kind of control Lex has over Superman. There's a scene that just seems off when Superman looks like he is kneeling in front of him. It may have something to do with Zod's body and the codex inside Superman. Which brings me to the only thing I really don't understand yet that puts me off a bit. It seems like Superman is the aggressor. Even this version of the character doesn't seem like he would go and openly start a conflict for no reason. I think that stems back to keeping a lot of the plot under wraps. Either way, this trailer got me even more pumped for this movie.

That's what I figure SvB:DoJ* will do as far as Batman's concerned — but it's not emphasized in the trailer the way it has been in the pre-press, and the trailer sparks my imagination as to other ways things could go.

Good eye on the suit in the case.  I'd simply assumed it was another Batman suit.  (There are interesting rumors about Jena Malone's involvement that could certainly relate to.)

I don't want to play into the "Rawhr, rawhr, rawhr, Gal Gadot is too skinny!" complaints of last year, but watching the trailer, I must say:  She is svelte.  I didn't realize that before.  She cuts an interesting Wonder Woman silhouette.

The Hollywood Reporter had a nice blurb about the trailer that points out, "Ma Kent replaces Pa as the moral voice of authority in Superman's life — or immoral voice, considering her somewhat selfish advice."  Which makes it worth noting Pa Kent had a selfish-seeming bit of advice for Clark in the first movie's trailer that turned out to be anything but.

* Just wanted to type that out for the first time and see how it felt.

A bit of wild speculation the trailer made me think of: we see Zod's body being unzipped from the body bag. We see all the scenes of Superman looking at least imperious, if not grim and people bowing or sort of being worshipful toward him. Is there some of Luthor-instigated mind control or possibly a Bizarro-ish clone?

Ah! Good catch Trey. Showing Zod's body and not doing anything with it would be odd, so it probably will be a plot device of some sort. Also what you are proposing would explain Steve's suggestion of a Luthor controlled Superman.

So that's what WE thought. What did YOU think? Let us know in the comments section!

 — Jim

Monday, July 6, 2015

Years of Wonder

Fans of this blog will probably be interested in checking out Trey Causey's Years of Wonder tumblr site.

One of the cool things Trey is doing at that site is posting significant events that happened in DC history on the days they happened, like this example:

Today in History
Lena Luthor, younger sister of Lex Luthor, was accidentally given psychic powers by interaction with an alien artifact the young scientific genius had in his Smallville lab.
(from Action Comics #313 written by Leo Dorfman and drawn by Jim Mooney)

 I had totally forgotten about Lena Luthor until I saw this image on Trey's site:

When I saw that panel, I remembered the story (barely) and had to go look her up on the Lena Luthor wikipedia page

In Silver Age continuity, Lena is Lex Luthor's younger sister. After Lex began his villainous career, his family changed their last name in shame to the anagram 'Thorul' and told Lena that Lex had been killed in a mountain-climbing accident. Soon after this they were killed in an auto accident. As a result, Lena never knew she had an older brother, as Lex Luthor himself (with occasional help from Supergirl and Superman) worked to keep her from learning the truth. Lena appeared irregularly in DC Comics' from 1961 to 1975. 

There were apparently Post Crisis and Post Infinite Crisis versions of the  character, but I had dropped off reading Superman by that time.

Now I wonder what other Silver Age characters I've forgotten?

- Jim


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