Trouble with Comics
It Takes A Villain #10: Harley wouldn’t last five minutes - Suicide Squad, Vol. 1: Trial by Fire

It Takes A Villain is TWC’s bi-weekly column about comics in which super-villains take the starring role; brought to by your favorite black ops bad-ass, Mick Martin.

What exactly is the point of a work-release team of super-villains?

I’m saying you’ve got the Justice League – often multiple squads of the Justice League- and you’ve got the Teen Titans and the Outsiders and the Birds of Prey and the Justice Society and the Green Lantern Corps; along with gobs of solo heroes jumping rooftops and streaking across the sky. It’s a wonder anyone in either the Marvel or DC universes can do so much as jay-walk without some traumatized jerk in a mask ready to dropkick them for it. So, in a world with this kind of super-hero surplus, why does the United States government then say, “well, we need one more team comprised of super powered murderers, thieves, and rapists; and if they actually survive their missions, we let them out of jail for good?” Or, you know, if not for good then at least until Booster Gold or someone else kicks their ass.

The only obvious answer is that while, sure, the world already has a ton of super teams, the government doesn’t have much control over what they do. The government can’t stop the Justice League from doing something it doesn’t want them to do. And it certainly can’t deploy the Justice League on specific missions. It can ask for help and in times of crisis (actual crisis, not DC crisis), it will almost always get it. If the government needs help fighting off invading aliens or stopping an incoming asteroid or some other Michael Bay horseshit, sure, the Justice League will be there.

But sneaking into Soviet Russia, liberating a political prisoner, and getting her to the States all for the sake of global PR? Yeah, Superman and Batman probably aren’t going to make time for that.


I wasn’t going to review Suicide Squad, Vol. 1: Trial by Fire quite so soon. I ordered it around the same time I started It Takes A Villain, but since I knew my first review would be about the New 52 volume of Suicide Squad, I figured I’d want more of a break between reviewing different volumes of the same title. I thought it might even make more sense to review it sometime late September or early August; close to the release date of David Ayer’s film adaptation.

But once I broke down and read Trial by Fire, I knew I didn’t want to wait to review it.

Suicide Squad is violent. Considering the name of the comic and the premise, that shouldn’t be surprising, but the way the violence is handled is different. That, I guess, shouldn’t be surprising either. The restraints DC Comics had to deal with in 1987 helped make the violence more artful and more interesting. One of the sequences I find the most memorable is in the beginning of the sixth chapter when Deadshot kills a Soviet soldier. Deadshot raises a rifle and says, “No sweat.” We see a panel showing the faces of three Soviet soldiers searching for something, with a BLAM! above them. In the next panel we see roughly the same shot with the flanking soldiers’ heads reacting to the gunshot and a simple red explosion erupting between the eyes of the center soldier and covering most of the top half of his face. The way it’s presented, the explosion could be blood, or it could just be a mark of impact. The page’s final panel has the soldier knocked backward and his comrades reacting to his killing. Most of the panel is colored the same as the previous panels, with the exception of the killed soldier’s head which is completely lost in shadow, with telltale inky spurts exploding from his forehead. 


While I’m sure it’s the gorier, more explosive, and direct style of today that sells, this is so much more elegant and ingeniously subtle. It reveals everything while showing almost nothing. I’d take this over Harley Quinn and King Shark ripping their way through a stadium of cyborg zombies any day.

Compared to more recent shots at the franchise, Ostrander and McDonnell’s Suicide Squad was politically charged and controversial. The team’s first mission in this volume is to take down a Middle Eastern mercenary super-villain group called Jihad. The aforementioned “Mission to Moscow” storyline is the longest in the book – spanning three issues – and follows the team’s incursion into Soviet Russia to attempt to save a dissident Russian writer who, it turns out, doesn’t really want to be saved.


The story so bold I’m surprised to have not heard of it before reading this volume is from Suicide Squad #4. A crossbow-wielding vigilante calling himself William Hell is fighting crime in Central City, but the only criminals he hands over to the cops are the ones who aren’t white. White criminals he recruits into his Aryan Empire. The Squad is sent to infiltrate Hell’s organization and expose him for the racist he is.

More than anything, what impresses me about this volume of Suicide Squad and makes me desperately hope DC keeps reprinting the original series, is that Waller’s Task Force X doesn’t handle things the way they do now.

More recent incarnations of Suicide Squad aren’t much different from straight super-hero teams. Yes, they’re more violent, but super-heroes in general are more violent than they used to be so that doesn’t really mean a whole lot. Books like today’s New Suicide Squad are really just super-hero titles with a little gimmick twist.

Not so with the original Suicide Squad. They were different. They were exactly what they were supposed to be: a super-villain answer to The Dirty Dozen. The Suicide Squad is an elite secret task force that does not accomplish all or most of its missions with big, loud, stupid super-fights. Sure, they have their fisticuffs, but most of the time they’re doing everything they can to operate under the radar. When the team exposes William Hell in Suicide Squad #4, no one has any idea they’re involved. Captain Boomerang is the only team member Hell ever sees in costume. Deadshot, Nightshade, Rick Flag, and Bronze Tiger are all disguised. Chronos – the squad member arguably most instrumental in Hell’s downfall – is never actually physically near the action. And Hell’s defeat has nothing to do with a fight with the Squad. They just trick the stupid, racist sonofabitch. Certain members like Nightshade and Black Orchid operate almost completely from the shadows, never or rarely taking part in any violence. In the “Mission to Moscow” story, squad members like Penguin and Deadshot don’t appear in costume for so much as a single panel in a three-issue long storyline. Because why would they appear in costume? They’re trying to get in and out of the Soviet Union in secret. They don’t want to spread bloody carnage all over the place just for the fun of evil wicked evilness. They want to finish their mission and go home. Compare that to New Suicide Squad which opened in Russia with a huge, explosive, city-rocking battle between the Suicide Squad and Russia’s Rocket Reds.

Ironically, it seems like over the years super-hero titles got more like Suicide Squad while Suicide Squad got more like everybody else. Books like Ultimates and Secret Avengers worked hard to get that military black ops feels that Suicide Squad had. Super hero team books overall have a stronger military feel these days, using military lingo and tactics. In the opening salvos of Avengers Vs. X-Men, the assembled team of Avengers about to invade the beaches of Utopia listened to the military strategy/pep-talk of Red Hulk, even though the lousy derivative bastard had tried to bring down the US government a few months before.

It seems unlikely that Suicide Squad will ever get back to its less fight-y, black ops feel; at least judging by the look of the film and the fact that Harley Quinn has become as much a fixture on the team as Deadshot and Captain Boomerang. I like Harley Quinn. I adore her solo comic. But she wouldn’t have lasted five minutes on the old team. How do you get through a secret mission in Soviet Russia with someone like Harley Quinn? How do you incorporate the Joker face and giant cartoon mallet with a stolen Soviet soldier uniform?

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the New 52 Suicide Squad. I’m a bit more on the fence with New Suicide Squad. I’ll certainly be checking out the post-Rebirth series and I’m precipitously guessing the film may be the best super-hero flick of the year (or at least close to it). But this original volume is something a bit more different. Something tougher to find in other books, and it’s regrettable that aspect of the franchise is gone. I’m just happy that for now DC looks set to reprint the rest of the original series, and if it’s new to me, it’s new to me.

Suicide Squad, Vol. 1:Trial by Fire is good. Read it.

It Takes A Villain #9: Good but not Great - My Name Is Holocaust

It Takes A Villain is TWC’s bi-weekly column about comics in which super-villains take the starring role; brought to you by your favorite emotionally disturbed crime lord, Mick Martin.

I like titles. Especially when it comes to comics, I will give something a try just because I like the title. I think it’s because, particularly with the still-super-hero-dominated medium, I’m used to very specific kinds of titles. Just a name. Batman. Or an adjective and a name. Amazing Spider-Man. When you get something that’s even just a little off-kilter, I get excited. I Killed Adolf Hitler was my first Jason graphic novel likely because of title. It’s not likely but a goddamn fact that the only reason I bothered to buy the first issue of Vengeance of the Moon Knight was the title. I was actually a little intrigued by all the long titles that sprung up in DC’s line after Infinite Crisis like Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes and Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters

That, I suspect, is one of the reasons why I’ve been chomping at the bit to check out the 5 issue mini-series My Name Is Holocaust ever since I started this column. I knew nothing about it. I had taken a break from comics in the mid-nineties so, other than a few stray issues of Icon and Hardware, I hadn’t read any Milestone comics. I’d never read, or heard of, Blood Syndicate and so didn’t know My Name Is Holocaust was a spin-off of that series. I was browsing through a comics merchant website, saw the title My Name Is Holocaust, correctly assumed a lead with the name Holocaust wasn’t a good guy, and was instantly giddy at the chance to review a super-villain comic with a slightly nonstandard title because that’s the kind of embarrassing shit that makes me giddy.


Leonard Smalls, aka Holocaust, boasts super strength and explosive fire powers; and he wants to be the king of crime in Dakota City. For that to happen, he needs a seat the the Coalition’s table. With help from his super-powered underlings Tarmak and the cyborg Bad Betty, Holocaust takes out Coalition members one-by-one. He plans to either force them into giving him his rightful place at the table, or burning their crooked organization to the ground and owning crime in Dakota all by himself.

 My Name Is Holocaust is good, but not great. But the seeds are there and the main thing that stops it from reaching its full potential is its connection to the Milestone continuity.

Some years ago I reviewed the trade reprint of Mark Waid’s Empire for Comic Book Galaxy. It was the series that got me thinking about super-villain comics because it occurred to me Empire was the first comic I’d read in which a super-villain was the protagonist and yet the writer didn’t pull any tricks to gain reader sympathy. He didn’t gut the villain by turning him into a good guy. He didn’t have the villain forced into heroics like Suicide Squad, Loki: Agent of Asgard or Brian K. Vaughan’s Mystique. Nor did he keep the villain a bad guy, but pit him against someone who was somehow more evil like Mark Millar’s Wanted. Waid kept his protagonist, Golgoth, a sonofabitch from cover-to-cover. And we rooted for him every step of the way.

Published five years earlier, My Name Is Holocaust is not that different from Empire. Like Golgoth, Holocaust is remorseless. We are given glimpses of his humanity as he’s wracked with visions of his abused past, but there’s never any hint that this guy plans on joining the side of the angels. Holocaust charges into everything like a bull and has none of Golgoth’s intellect, but his will is no less indomitable. He won’t stop until he gets everything he wants. Like Golgoth, Holocaust eventually does get everything he wants and just as was the case in Empire, once Holocaust finally achieves his goals, it’s clear he knows it will never be enough for him. And just as Empire ends with one of Golgoth’s lieutenants escaping his grasp and joining the resistance against him, My Name Is Holocaust ends with the cyborg Bad Betty planning on eventually murdering Holocaust for the Shadow Cabinet.

Two of My Name Is Holocaust’s biggest weaknesses lie in its differences with Empire.

First, you don’t like Holocaust and you don’t sympathize with him. He’s abusive, murderous, insecure, and doesn’t seem particularly bright. You don’t ever really want him to win; not when he’s fighting the cops, not even when he’s fighting other criminals. When the captive Juniper holds a shard of broken glass over the unconscious Holocaust but doesn’t kill him with it, you can’t help but hate her a little for it.

Holocaust’s crazy-as-shit determination is his only redeeming quality and the only thing that even comes close to making him sympathetic. When he rallies from almost utter defeat at the has-been hero Tower’s hands in the fourth issue, you have to admire him for it a little.

Second, Empire enjoyed a freedom from any pre-established fictional continuity, whereas My Name Is Holocaust assumes all of its readers are thoroughly versed in Milestone’s narrative tapestry. If you read nothing of Milestone but this mini-series you will learn nothing about Holocaust’s connection with Blood Syndicate. You won’t learn how he got his powers, or how Tarmak or Bad Betty got theirs. You won’t even know the organization that Bad Betty is secretly working for (I only know because of Wikipedia). You will, in fact, be confused in the fourth issue when Holocaust is able to hurt the seemingly invulnerable Tower with his fists because up until that point the only super-power Holocaust  displays is his unpredictable fire power.

A lot of the drama falls short if you aren’t already invested. Holocaust and Juniper – the daughter of the first crime lord Holocaust murders – have a strange, complex relationship. Juniper constantly refers to herself as being just as bad as Holocaust, but if all you know about her is in this mini-series, all she’s ever done is watch her father get murdered and then get kidnapped. If she’s got a lot of “red” in her “ledger,” I sure don’t know about it and don’t even get hints about what it could be.

Perhaps the worst thing is that the series ends with such a weak sigh. I had to keep checking the other side of the last page – only to find reader letters – because I was convinced that last panel couldn’t be the end; that maybe the copy I bought was missing a page. It feels like writer Ivan Velez, Jr. just kind of figured the story would continue in other comics, so why bother giving a satisfying ending?

Still, My Name Is Holocaust wasn’t without promise. Given a few more issues and maybe paying more attention to the Milestone-uninitiated; Velez, penciller Tommy Lee Edwards, and the rest of the creative team could’ve – and likely would’ve – told a much more riveting story. As it is, the mini was impressive enough to spark my interest in other Milestone titles; opening up an entirely new world of super guy continuity for me, my fat ass, and my thinning wallet.

It Takes A Villain #8: On Breathtaker and Why These Villain Comics Are Important

It Takes A Villain is TWC’s bi-weekly column about comics in which super-villains take the starring role; brought to you by the lusty temptress of sinful delight, Mick Martin.

It’s likely I never would’ve heard of Breathtaker if I hadn’t started writing It Takes A Villain. When I first conceived the column, I wanted to make sure I knew about as many villain-led titles as possible. I compiled a list by going through an online comic shop and scanning every single title. Breathtaker’s title probably wouldn’t have grabbed my attention if it wasn’t a DC comic. Since it was DC, right away, I knew it had to be either a villain comic or a Vertigo title. Once I read the description of the series – a woman who kills men with sex is pursued by a super-hero named The Man – I felt lucky to have stumbled upon such an intriguing sounding villain-led title, though I was also a little hesitant. The description said the comic was released in 1990. If the story was really as interesting as it sounded and it came out that long ago, why the hell hadn’t I heard of it? Still, precisely because I knew nothing about the series beside its title put it high on the list of comics I was excited to read for It Takes A Villain. A quick search on Amazon revealed that DC was planning to release a trade collection of the comic in late 2015. Unfortunately, those plans were scrapped. But I was curious enough to do something I hadn’t done in a very long time: I doled out the money for the single back-issues, and I don’t regret a penny lost.

I still can’t answer the question of why I had never heard of it. Maybe because the protagonist was female, maybe because without the Vertigo imprint comics like this fell through the cracks. I don’t know. Regardless, Breathtaker is wonderful and deserves to be talked about and written about more. After reading it, though, I actually questioned whether or not it really belonged in It Takes A Villain. This is a column that’s not just about comics in which villains are the protagonists, but super-villains from the super-hero genre. That’s why you won’t be seeing any reviews of Lucifer or Darth Vader here. But for some very specific reasons, Breathtaker not only fits, but shines a light on something I’m seeing more and more in super-villain comics.

Not to mention, I paid for the damn comics and they’re good, so whatever. I’m writing about them.


Written by Mark Wheatley and beautifully rendered by Marc Hempel and Kathryn Mayer, Breathtaker tells us the story of Chase Darrow: a woman whose love is fatal. The deaths aren’t intentional. Chase doesn’t want to hurt anyone, but her victims’ love is just as much a drug to her as her magnetism is irresistible to them. Her love doesn’t kill instantly, but in increments, and the story opens on the final moments of Chase’s relationship with the rich Paul. Though only in his mid-fifties, Paul looks as wrinkled and spent as a man in his nineties, and all it takes is one kiss from Chase to kill him. Moments after his death, Paul’s grown son Charlie finds Chase. She tells him what happened, and because he is just as spellbound by Chase as everyone else, his only concern is the trauma she’s been through.

Chase goes on the run and soon the violent super-hero The Man is after her. Under fire for thoughtlessly killing innocent civilians while chasing criminals, government agent The Man is desperate for some good PR. Chase’s growing trail of bodies is music to The Man’s ears. He eventually captures Chase, but falls victim to the same yearning as all of Chase’s men. Eventually a group of men related to Chase’s former lovers – men who now all want to be her lovers – find Paul’s son Charlie and hunt for Chase to save her from the authorities.

Everywhere Chase goes, she tries to avoid being the flame that draws in doomed moths, but she can’t help it. Even animals are drawn to her. When Chase helps an elk in the woods whose antlers are caught in a tree’s branches, the elk wants to be with Chase as much as any human man. Chase cannot stop men from wanting her or stop herself from needing them.

When I first read the series description, I was expecting Chase to  be much more deliberate. I kept thinking of the earthbound goddess in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods who literally devours men with her vagina during sex. But while men can’t resist Chase, she’s no temptress. She doesn’t kill men for money, for power, or for kicks. She needs sex to survive. Without it, she quickly ages and, presumably, dies. But she tries to control it. In fact, she doesn’t kill all of her victims. If she only has sex with a man once or a couple of times, they survive, but younger men suddenly find themselves with heads of white hair or even bald. Yet most of those who survive wouldn’t call themselves victims.

This is why I considered not reviewing Breathtaker for this column. Could I really call Chase a super-villain? Sure, she has powers. Sure, she’s got a bonafide super-hero on her tail, but a super-villain? Chase is as much a victim of her situation as any of her men. She’s riddled with guilt and at one point tries to commit suicide because of it. You could even argue Chase is more of a victim than the men. At least she tries to fight her urges and avoid hurting anyone, while the men throw themselves at her without giving a single damn about the consequences. The trucker Lou that Chase meets at the end of the first issue gladly hands over the keys to his truck when he learns the law is after her. Even though he’s got two kids to look after, moments after Chase drives away Lou whips out a revolver and is ready to fire on a pursuing police car; holstering only when sees it’s actually an ambulance.

But I include Breathtaker because, among other reasons, it brings to a head something that seems to be a recurring theme in these super-villain comics I’m reading: addiction.

Chase is addicted to contact with men just as the men become addicted to contact with her. They know she’s killing them and don’t care, just as an addict will knowingly race towards the edge of the cliff. In the very beginning of Breathtaker, Chase sounds like an addict fooling herself about who’s in control. “I can control my need,” she says. “I can pace my need.” And then two pages later her lover is dead.

There is a recurring theme of devouring and overeating in Breathtaker. The Man berates his handler for interrupting him during breakfast. The dedicated but sympathetic Detective Cob who pursues Chase is constantly eating though he’s as thin as a board. At a crime scene, Cob is devouring a burger and asking for seconds. When he meets with the mob of wanna-be-Chase-lovers he inhales a pizza. When Chase stops at the diner where she meets Lou the trucker, there’s a veritable kitchen worth of spent plates, bowls, saucers, and glasses at Chase’s table.

Sounds kind of familiar? Maybe like a guy floating through space and devouring entire planets because, you know, he just has to? To survive?

When I wrote about Superior Spider-Man, I mentioned addiction, and the more I read these villain-led comics and think about the implications of who these characters are and what they do, the more the word “addiction” springs up. It could be projection, I’ll admit that. I have my own addictions. I wrote about that a bit in my Superior Spider-Man column. Addiction is on my mind a lot so it could very well be that I’m just looking at these comics through that lens and naturally see exactly what I want or need or just plain expect to see.

But I don’t think it’s that. Or, if I am projecting, then at most I’m turning up the volume on something that really is there, but maybe doesn’t deserve as much attention as I give it (but it does).

I can’t say I’ve become some kind of expert on super-villain comics. There’s still so much to read and I’m having a ball reading it and writing about it. But if there is any general comment I can make at this point about super-villain comics, it’s that it seems like the central struggle of the super-villain-led comic is the struggle of men and women doing shit that just doesn’t make any goddamn sense.

I’m not saying it’s not believable, mind you. I’m not saying it’s bad writing, no. I’m saying these characters, super-villains, are mostly smart people who make stupid choices, who act against common sense and their own self-interest. You can call it addiction or you can call it obsession. You could just call it insanity. Regardless, it all boils down to men and women who go to unbelievable lengths for stupid and mostly unattainable goals, and for the most part both the efforts toward those goals and even the unlikely realization of those goals will only make their lives suck more.

Just looking at some the titles I’ve written about so far, there’s the Suicide Squad who risk their lives for a woman known for manipulation and lies – who they know from experience will likely never give them the clemency she promises – instead of using their super powers and amazing talents to break the hell out of prison (which every other super-villain seems to be able to do pretty frequently). There’s Astro City’s Steeljack who keeps being drawn back to his criminal roots through plain old habit. There’s the Doctor Octopus of Superior Spider-Man who has finally defeated Spider-Man in every conceivable manner, but actually imprisons himself in Parker’s body and life, and can never be happy with his victory. There’s the Maestro of Future Imperfect who risks all and loses it in attempt to unseat a god. There’s the Penguin protected by wealth and power, almost in the arms of a good woman who impossibly loves him, who throws it all away just to get back at the memory of children who bullied a lonely, ugly child.

No, there’s nothing unbelievable about these people beyond their silly titles and their outfits and their powers. That they rush towards defeat and ruin with eyes wide open is not difficult to believe. We have no Penguins and no Doctor Dooms but we eat ourselves to death, drink ourselves to death, drug ourselves to death, and fuck ourselves to death. We are crushed in stampedes for Black Friday deals. We fly through windshields so we can check Facebook on the highway.

This is why these super-villain comics are so important to me. I love super-heroes, but they don’t happen. They make more sense, but they don’t happen. But what super-villains experience is what we experience in our culture. Futile struggles for worthless treasures. I can’t relate to some caped asshole who spends all his day thinking about what’s the more righter thing to do golly gosh darn it. Sure, I’ve had my moral conflicts, we all have, but if I’m honest then I know that more often than I ask myself whether or not what I’m doing is right, I’m asking myself whether or not what I’m doing makes any damn sense. And the answer usually, of course, is “No, Mick. No it does not.” When my apartment is filthy and my clothes are all dirty and my cats’ litter box looks like a rock garden and my phone’s voice mail seems to only exist for the sake of bill collectors; and because of all this I plan a productive evening tackling my issues; and I stop at a grocery store on the way home from work and buy a bowling ball-sized bag of peanut butter M and Ms and spend the entire night prone on my couch, shoving sugar in my face and binge-watching Parks & Recreation; I’m not worried about whether or not I did the morally right thing. I’m worried about the fact that I know I have a respectable IQ yet everything I do is so goddamn stupid that I should be checking my knuckles for drag marks.

The men of Breathtaker throw themselves at Chase even though for most of them it will only mean their deaths. They fall in love with her in seconds. Detective Cob stands uselessly in the way of The Man to protect Chase, one of his many snacks still clutched in his hands. The Man is shot and almost killed pursuing Chase, but he keeps going, even when one of his legs looks like nothing but chewed up bone.  

I’m going to keep reading these super-villain comics because they have something to teach me. About why you and me act against our own good. About why I have to go to meetings full of strangers to stop myself from doing things that hurt me. About why I do things that make no goddamn sense.

I’m writing this at 2:30 in the morning. For free.  

Men of Steel and Miracles: Scott Cederlund on Alan Moore’s Miracleman #1-16 and Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow

Whatever Happened to the Man of Miracles?

“As it transpired, I was quite touched: They made a bonfire on the wastelands that was once Trafalgar Square and on it heaped their comic books, their films and novels filled with horror, science fiction, fantasy, and as it burned they cheered; cheered as the curling, burning pages fluttered up into the night; cheered to be done with time when wonder was a sad and wretched thing made only out of paper, out of celluloid.”

from Miracleman #16 (December, 1989)

Alan Moore ended the era of the superman. He first did it in 1986 when he sent the Superman of Siegel and Shuster off into the realms of memory with the two-part “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” in Superman #423 and Action Comics #583, almost immediately following DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths which reset the DC universe and marked a clear departure from the old DC Comics. In that story, the Superman of the Golden, Silver and Bronze age is given one last adventure as all of those corny, aged villains come back, more bloodthirsty than ever. It’s one last remembrance of friends and foes before John Byrne reimagines the character into something not quite as magical. And then Moore finally ended the idea of a superheroic nirvana with the destruction and resurrection of London in Miracleman #15 (Nov 1988) and #16 (Dec 1989.) That conclusion of his “Olympus” arc accuses DC and Marvel Comics of every atrocity that allowed to happen within the pages of their comics and blithely ignored. Sure it was all imaginary stories but did that make them any less real?


Miracleman is such a product of its time that when Marvel Comics recently reprinted the long-out-of-print comics, it was basically ignored. It was like you could almost hear fandom’s collective yawn of “been there, done that.” After all, the Alan Moore of the mid-late 1980s directly influenced the tenor of comics for at least 10 years, that is if the strong reach of Moore isn’t still very active in the most mainstream of superhero comics today. Geoff Johns has spent a career trying to rewrite Moore so the general direction of DC is haunted by the ghost of Moore. Moore and Frank Miller wrote the textbook on superhero deconstruction that’s still used by the likes of Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar.

For Moore, that legacy is mostly cemented by Watchmen, his mic drop moment in superhero comic books. But Miracleman both predates and postdates Watchmen, begun as a serial in the British Warrior magazine in April 1982 before wrapping up over seven years later as a semi-monthly Eclipse Comics publication. If “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” was Moore’s gently rocking the Superman myth to a gentle and unending slumber, Miracleman counted off every sin of the superhero and laid them all down at the superman’s feet.


As Moore progresses through the Miracleman story, he begins it by wondering what a C.C. Beck Billy Batson character might be like if they suddenly found themselves in 1980s Britain with the power of a god? Middle-aged Mike Moran is a bit overweight, probably overworked, and wakes up from dreams of flying through space with pounding headaches. Rediscovering his magic word, “Kimota!” he becomes a blonde, chiseled god. Even his thinking is so much clearer that it’s like he’s a different person. From finding his maker, his “father,” to discovering others like himself, Miracleman’s story is about him becoming something more than human. He’s not just the next evolutionary step; he’s the next one thousand steps.

Moore and his various artists’ stories are about how a god operates first as a superhero and then as a man. But the twist isn’t that the god learns any real lesson. In the end, Miracleman accepts his godhood, his place above humanity and sets to reign from on high in his new Olympus. For all of the sins of the superhero, Moore judges them to be apart from humanity and unanswerable to them. This isn’t praise of the superhero; it’s a condemnation of them.

It’s odd that in all of Moore’s superhero work, the one character he remains somewhat sympathetic to is Superman. “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” gives Superman and Clark Kent the sendoff that they deserve. The story, drawn by Curt Swan, with inks by George Perez and Kurt Schaffenberger, sees the future in which these childish characters become more “grim and gritty,” more homicidal. The story is a mercy killing as much as anything else, protecting the original Superman from what comics would become in the late 1980s and 1990s. The irony is that this is the future that Moore himself created primarily in Watchmen. “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” serves as an apology for Watchmen but it also serves to protect the story of Superman, no matter what may happen to the characters afterwards.

In Miracleman, particularly in the final “Olympus” storyline (issues 11-16), Moore doesn’t show the character the same kindness. He’s far from being protective of Mike Moran, his wife, his daughter or any of the other heroes or villains introduced in the story. His Miracleman story shows a god remembering who he is and then taking his place among a pantheon. London and humanity are collateral damage in this world where middle-aged men and children wear the bodies of gods. Or are the gods wearing the bodies of middle-aged men and children and then discarding them in favor of their godhood? The damage done is both emotional and physical. The destruction of Liz Moran is no less frightening than the desolation of London.


It’s almost funny how much DC’s movies look like they’re embracing the ideas of Alan Moore’s Miracleman while Marvel chooses to ignore them.  The idea of cities falling out of the sky is commonplace in Marvel’s movie kingdom while DC’s The Man of Steel visually embraces parts of Moore’s “Olympus” storyline.  The final battle between Zod and Superman in Zack Snyder’s film looks an awful lot like John Totleben’s scenes of chaos and destruction.  But Snyder in that movie didn’t follow up on the consequences of the fight the same way that Moore did in his final issue. Once again, it’s the wrong lessons of an Alan Moore story applied to one of those future iterations of the Superman that Moore tried to spare the character of back in “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?

Alan Moore’s Miracleman still remains one of the great superhero comics. But what once looked like the celebration of the superman now looks like its condemnation. John Totleben, the final artist in Moore’s run, ends the story with Miracleman in a military dress-style version of his own costume, sitting in the heights of Olympus, sipping on a glass of wine and looking down on mankind. It’s not a protective gaze of the character but more a gaze that puts Miracleman and mankind in their places, one sitting high above the other. “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow” ends with a wink and a nod to the reader, letting them in on the secret of the way that Moore saved Superman. Miracleman: Olympus ends with a warning about placing these characters to high on a pedestal.

And much like what we all took away from Watchmen, the lessons of Miracleman fell on deaf ears.

I miss the Silver Age Superman to this day.

– Scott Cederlund

It Takes A Villain #6: Forgotten Gold - Penguin: Pain and Prejudice

It Takes A Villain is TWC’s semi-whenever-the-hell-Mick-wakes-up column about comics in which super-villains take the starring role, brought to you by your favorite cartoon animal, Mick Martin

Batman’s rogues’ gallery is a gold mine. The dark knight’s franchise has produced some of the most memorable and enduring bad guys in comicdom. Ask any random comic-book-uninitiated civilian to name as many super-villains as he/she can, and you’re likely to get at least half Bat villains. Joker. Riddler. Catwoman. Penguin. Bane.

There’s a lot of sexy and a lot of cool in Batman’s villains, but neither the sex nor the cool has touched Oswald Cobblepot. There are a few reasons for that. There’s his physical presence. He’s short, fat, and ugly. There’s his age. And there’s the fact that in the group therapy session that is the rogues’ gallery of Batman, Oswald Cobblepot doesn’t have as obvious a place. The villains of Batman - particularly the Joker - owe a large part of their popularity to their insanity. Whether they actually are as free as they want us to think, characters like the Joker evoke ultimate, unbridled freedom in their insanity. But Penguin has never seemed a true part of that fraternity. Sure, he’s eccentric. He’s got the outdated FDR thing going on and there’s the crazy gadgets and the penguin motif, but he’s always seemed like a gangster who was just slightly off-kilter because, after all, it’s a comic book so he needs a little crazy. He’s always seemed much more concerned about the dollar-and-cents than the likes of Joker, Two Face, the Riddler, or even Catwoman (whose motivation for crime is at least sixty percent thrill). Not to mention that while the villains of Marvel and DC are flush with animal themes, those bad guys usually pick a beast that’s scary or tough or at least sneaky. The Rhino. Doctor Octopus. Man-Bull. Hell, Catwoman. The predators. The behemoths. Oswald Cobblepot picked a short, squat bird that doesn’t fly. He seems like he should be in the world of The Tick and Squirrel Girl. He’s ugly, old, uncool, and unscary. He’s not the Joker. He’s a joke.


For those reasons - and because the wonderful mini Penguin: Pain and Prejudice was released around the same time as the dawn of the New 52 and was drowned by it (it’s actually not clear to me if this is a New 52 book or not; there was no “NEW 52” on the cover of the trade or the single issues, yet in some panels Batman’s outfit looks like his New 52 get-up) - there’s a good chance you never heard of Penguin: Pain and Prejudice. And that’s a shame. On the back cover of the trade is a pull quote asking if this is “Penguin's Killing Joke.” Look up the trade on Amazon and half the reviews make the same comparison. Most of them even use “Penguin's Killing Joke” as the review title. It’s kind of an annoying comparison. It’s easy. It’s obvious. But it’s not wrong.

The story opens on Cobblepot’s birth, and the first two pages tell us so much that if that was all novelist Gregg Hurwitz and artist Szymon Kudranski showed us of the villain’s childhood, that would be enough. Oswald’s father is so shocked by his newborn son’s strange face, he drops Oswald the first time he holds him. The toddler survives perhaps only because of the love of his doting mother, who is as blind to his ugliness as the literally blind woman Penguin falls in love with later in the story. His mother’s embrace is the only love Oswald knows and so, on the second page when we see the child forced to lay at the foot of his parents’ bed as they have sex, we see exactly how and where the Penguin was born.

Interlaced with Penguin’s past is his present. He rules over the Iceberg Lounge while dealing vengeance with the sadistic cruelty of a Keyser Soze; punishing not his transgressors, but their families, friends, lovers, etc. Batman gets the villain’s scent when Penguin hires some pros to steal unique, priceless jewelry from the rich and famous of Gotham. In fact, at least part of the first scene depicting one of the robberies – a man in a ski mask trying to tear a necklace from a rich woman’s neck – makes it tough to not think of the birth of Penguin’s greatest enemy. We learn that the bloody robberies are for nothing more important than providing treasured presents to Penguin’s aging – and seemingly vegetative – mother. While lording over his particular corner of Gotham’s crime world, Penguin meets a lovely blind woman named Cassandra who he romances. He refuses, however, to let her touch his face. She falls for him just as hard as he falls for her, and though he tries to protect her from the dark aspects of his life, eventually the authorities’ pursuit becomes impossible to avoid. His humiliation drives him to a self-destructive assault on Batman, Gotham, and the ghosts of tormentors long dead.

Kudranski’s art is gorgeous, and rather than letting the Penguin’s ugliness work against him, he uses it to great effect. The Penguin has never looked more chilling, more dreadful, or scarier. One of the most memorable sequences is in the first issue, when Penguin is tormenting a young man who insulted him earlier in the evening. He isn’t tormenting him physically, but describing to him all the things his small army of thugs and killers have done to his loved ones while he’s been oblivious. In one panel, Penguin is looking at his watch. In the next, he looks from the watch to the man who is crying on the floor. The only difference between the two panels are the lack of a dialogue bubble in the second panel, and the movement of the eyes. It’s simple, perfect, and quietly terrifying.

Sometimes – though not often – John Kalisz’s color choices take away from the art. Usually, they work perfectly. There are distinct differences between scenes in the present and those in Penguin’s tortured past. The scenes of Penguin’s childhood have a kind of faded amber hue. But everywhere, especially the present scenes, is saturated with shadow. Perhaps oversaturated. This is the only way the colors take away from the art, as it can sometimes confuse the action.

Batman is smartly kept even more in shadow than normal. We hardly even see his mask in most scenes, much less his skin. Batman is not only a target of Oswald’s envy, but he is the adult manifestation of the bullies who helped to make Penguin’s childhood a living hell. In the beginning of the second issue, after Batman crashes into Penguin’s Iceberg Lounge and questions him about the attacks, Oswald is literally transplanted to the past as we see Batman as one of Oswald’s bullying brothers and Oswald as a young boy cringing against a tree. After Batman leaves, the scene ends with a memory of a young Oswald cradling the broken body of a bird one of his brothers shot and killed just for fun.

Batman’s portrayal in the story is almost perfect. My only (very minor) complaint is a scene toward the end of the series. Talking with Gordon, Batman says something that seems to partly uphold Penguin’s argument that Gotham pursues him while ignoring the crimes of others. It’s not that I don’t think Batman would be that thoughtful, but that I preferred to see Batman through Penguin’s eyes for the duration of the series. As an unforgiving bully.

I don’t know if I would’ve necessarily doubted someone if they told me a skilled writer could render Penguin sympathetic and tragic while still being deadly honest about the monster he is, but it’s still a wonderful surprise. Hurwitz’s Penguin is ruthless, abominable, horrible, and yet exactly the man none of us could blame him for becoming. His treatment at the hands of his father and brothers is disgusting and absolutely believable. I wouldn’t say it makes you root for him. It doesn’t, and if it did it would make itmuch less of a story. The Penguin’s history is as real as it could be.

Just as Thomas Wayne is such a giant figure in Bruce Wayne’s history, Oswald’s mother is a giant in his. Similar to how Kudranski treats Batman, we never fully see Oswald’s mother. Most prominent are her full, red lips. We see them kissing Oswald’s cheek when he impresses her with a toy gadget that springs out a bouquet of roses like a jack-in-the-box. We see them framing her smile in the reflection of a snow globe he makes for her. While it is never inappropriate, the image of her lips is clearly suggestive. Oswald’s story is as Oedipal as you can get.

Just as Hurwitz’s story humanizes Penguin, Kudranski’s art makes the sillier aspects of the villain genuinely intimidating and scary. When Oswald launches rockets at Gotham filled with violent birds, we don’t think of the comical clockwork Penguin bombs of old. We think of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, and the terror seems all too real.

One interesting little touch that at first annoyed me but which I eventually warmed to were some well-timed Joker cameos. A couple of times, Penguin accidentally walks in on a private room in the Iceberg Lounge that Joker has apparently rented for some “private time.” We see the clown prince in situations as depraved and deadly as we would expect; like wearing women’s underwear while standing over a live goat tied to a spit. At first, it annoyed me because I thought it was just some easy humor. Then, because I thought “Oh of course we have to have Joker in it a little bit, don’t we?” But as I read on I saw a sharper point. As I wrote above, Penguin’s never truly seemed fully a part of the more truly deranged Batman villains. Penguin: Pain and Prejudice proves, I think, that we’ve always been wrong about that. Cobblepot is no more about the dollar-and-cents of the thing than Joker or Riddler or Catwoman. Penguin’s brief stumbles into Joker’s depraved little exercises are more than cheap gags. They’re occasional reminders to Oswald – whether he heeds them or not – just how batshit crazy he really is.

Penguin: Pain and Prejudice is forgotten gold. Find it. Read it.

Earth 2: Society #1-4 reviewed by Brian Domingos

Writer: Daniel H. Wilson
Artist: Jorge Jimenez
Colors: John Rauch, Alejandro Sanchez, Andrew Dalhouse
Letters: Travis Lanham, Pat Brosseau

Man, EARTH 2: SOCIETY is a breath of fresh air. What I mean is, the last years of EARTH 2 has been such a massive mess, so having an organized book that I actually want to read is refreshing.

Wilson got a clean-slate for EARTH-2 – it spins out of CONVERGENCE where a new earth was created – and he gets to literally rebuild the world from the ground up.

He gives each issue to a different one of the lead characters. The first issue is from the perspective of the new Batman. It’s Dick Grayson – introduced as art of the weekly series WORLD’S END – and here he’s in a new role and the most perfect point-of-view character possible. We see it through his eyes and Wilson is able to get most of the exposition out of the way. Nearly a year has passed and, with the help of Mr. Terrific, Dick has grown into his new role.

Wilson uses subsequent issues to explore the rest of Earth-2’s landscape. He blends world-building with character work and gets some great scenes out of the characters. Issue two uses series villain Terry Sloane to explain how the world was created. It paints him in a slightly different light, where he’s not as much of a scoundrel as he seems. He’s basically the Earth-2 Lex Luthor; lots of selfish, destructive behavior in the name of selflessness. We had previously seen Lois Lane merged with the Red Tornado robot and the third issue gives her a new purpose.

Jorge Jimenez was my favorite of the WORLD’S END artists and to get full issues from him is pretty awesome. He has dynamic, expressive art and can handle futuristic skyscapes as easily as emotional figure work.

The color art of the first two issues is handled by a combination of John Rauch and Andrew Dalhouse. They skillfully set the scene and tone of the book. Alejandro Sanchez comes in with issue three and he’s just as dynamic and slick as Jimenez. It’s smooth and shiny and visually appealing.

With EARTH 2: SOCIETY, the characters get a literal new chance at a life and Wilson and Jimenez are doing some amazing work that gives the characters the proper respect.

– Brian Domingos

The All-New, All-Different 52: The Big Event Effect by Roger Green

Marvel and DC Comics have periodically engaged in the Big Event. When I was reading comics, it was Marvel’s Secret Wars back in the 1980s, which, in addition to being a retailer’s nightmare – how to order the tie-ins was more guesswork than usual – didn’t seem to change things all that much at the end of the day. Or maybe I have selective memory.  

Some of the subsequent B.E. have been more significant. But I’ve been pondering whether these relaunches – obviously designed to welcome newcomers into the fold – might be the perfect opportunity for one to QUIT collecting. In other words, is there a downside for the existing comic book buyer, and by extension, to the publishers? Especially since the veteran collector has seen “the big change” before, only to see it negated by a new creative team.

Everything I’ve been reading in the chatter suggests this very scenario. You have the movies. The comics are definitely secondary in the minds of most fans. Thor could be a woman in the comic book, but the only continuity the movies need follow is its own internal logic.

I’m convinced the end of the individual comic book, the floppy if you will, as the primary sales product, has likewise upended the value of “getting in on the ground floor.”  It was thought that by scrapping the previous numbering systems, and sadly, the rich history tied to them, the “kids” would be more invested, in every meaning of the word. They would be able to buy their own #1s that would OBVIOUSLY increase in value.

I’d love to hear from a current, long-term retailer such as Mike Sterling. Does buying a #1 still matter to younger collectors? And, as I theorize, does this also signal time for older fans to give up the ship(ment)?.

Comics Industry Observers Respond to Black Lightning News

Comic book observers are responding to this week’s news that DC Comics and Black Lightning creator Tony Isabella have apparently agreed on the publication of a new trade paperback collection of the earliest Black Lightning stories, originally released in 1977. This represents the possibility of an improvement of relations between Isabella, a longtime comic book writer, and DC Comics. Isabella has frequently been critical of the ways in which the character has been used by DC for the past two decades.

San Francisco retailer James Sime (Isotope Comic Book Lounge) said on Facebook “Great news. I’d love a collection of the Tony Isabella / Eddy Newell run on my shop’s shelves too.” Longtime comics artist Joe Staton told Trouble With Comics “This is really good news for Tony and I’m very glad to see it.  There are so many examples of writers and artists being treated badly by the companies that it is sort of heartwarming to see someone being treated decently. Perhaps this will start a trend and one day Jim Lee or Dan Didio will have a sudden insight and think, ‘Why, those fine fellows Englehart and Staton really should receive some proper recompense and credit for creating the modern character of Guy Gardner, the one true Green Lantern.’”

Trouble With Comics also contacted blogger Roger Green, who was manager at the now-defunct comic book store/mail order house/publisher FantaCo from 1980 to 1988 (and who has blogged daily, occasionally about comics, for over a decade); he found more than one angle on the story to be of interest. “As a business librarian, and former store manager, I was depressed about the office politics that left Tony Isabella in the cold, while a short-time editor was backed by management. Did they not understand the chilling effect it must have had on other artists and writers? Were they oblivious, or did they just not care? As someone who took an online course on intellectual property last year, I applaud that an arrangement [has apparently been made] to compensate Isabella fairly. But I can’t help but to wonder if it would have happened at all if Disney/Marvel hadn’t blinked in response to the legal actions instigated by the estate of Jack Kirby.”

Green went on to say “As a comic book collector from 1973 to 1994, who is black, I was primarily a Marvel Comics fan for the first half dozen years. But I did pick up Black Lightning, because there just weren’t a lot of superheroes who looked anything like me: Luke Cage, Hero for Hire; T'Challa, the Black Panther, maybe one or two more. It is difficult to explain just how important it was to see folks in the culture, even fictional ones, that one could relate to.”

Bleeding Cool’s Rich Johnston reported on the story and speculated that the rights over the character may have played a role in the development. “It was noted that back in the beta version of the DC Universe Online game, Black Lightning appeared as a shopkeeper on the JLA Watchtower, but in the official release of the game, he was nowhere to be found. Could rights have been an issue? And does this change indicate that DC may be planning something else with Black Lightning, either TV, gaming or movie related? After all diversity is in the air, and honouring one of their first headling black superheroes may be a good way to go.”

Summing up the significance of the story, Comics Beat’s Jeff Trexler commented “To say that Isabella’s announcement is the most unexpected Facebook post of the year is an understatement — it’s one of the most dramatic turnarounds I’ve seen in decades of reading about comics-related disputes, and kudos to all involved for bringing about what I hope will be a truly lasting peace in our time.”

Alan David Doane

Black Lightning Creator Tony Isabella Announces TPB Collection

Black Lightning creator Tony Isabella today announced on Facebook that DC Comics will be publishing a trade paperback collection of the earliest stories featuring the character, who debuted in 1977 with artwork by Trevor Von Eeden.

Alluding to decades of estrangement between DC and himself over the direction and use of the character, Isabella characterized the news as “a pretty big deal.” He noted that “Though this is only the first step in a long process, it’s more than the previous management of DC was willing to do. I hope DC and I can get it all done because nothing would please me more than to have these long decades of disappointment and pain come to a happy ending and new beginning that will benefit all parties.”

Contacted for comment, Isabella said it is too early in the process for him to talk details, but he did note that the new TPB had its origins in DC executives Geoff Johns and Dan Didio reaching out to him. Isabella has been vocal in the past about his unhappiness over DC’s handling of the character, and said in a 2004 Comic Book Galaxy interview that the day he was fired from Black Lightning Vol. 2 left him angry and depressed:

There wasn’t a person at DC who hadn’t come to realize that hiring [editor Pat] Garrahy had been a terrible move on the part of the just-promoted Mike Carlin. I was shocked that Paul Levitz and the other executives upheld my unjust dismissal…because they had admitted to friends of mine that they knew it was an unjust and unwarranted dismissal. Against all fairness and logic, they held to the company line that you had to back editors over freelancers, even knowing that Garrahy’s career as a DC editor was going to be relatively short. As it was.

To add further insult to the injury, I quickly learned that every editorial door at DC was closed to me. They circled the wagons in support of an editor - Garrahy - who most of them neither liked nor respected. It was absolutely insane, especially since, again, many of these editors were telling friends of mine that they thought my dismissal was unjust. It was a bad time for me.

I still get angry and even depressed about that stuff from time to time, but those are momentary lapses of mercifully short duration. I’ll talk about it when I feel I must, but I don’t expect anyone at DC to make it right…or to even recognize that they should make it right.

That would be the quickest way for DC to get rid of me once and for all. If they tried to make it right, the shock would probably kill me

Isabella believes DC will fairly compensate him for this new collection, stating “I have every confidence I will receive my fair royalties on this book.” He told his Facebook followers that he decided to go public with the news after an listing for the forthcoming book went live. Isabella noted on Facebook that there’s a possibility the second volume of Black Lightning from the 1990s, with art by Eddy Newell, could be reprinted as well, saying “Keep in mind that this trade paperback is titled Black Lightning Vol. 1.” A second volume would presumably depend on the sales success of the first. Isabella has said many times that that second volume of the series contains some of his best work, and he is proud that it inspired at least three readers to become teachers. Black Lightning is a teacher in his civilian identity of Jefferson Pierce.

Isabella said no new work on the character is immediately forthcoming, but said “I would certainly relish an opportunity to reinvent my proudest creation for the modern era. I did it in the 1990s and I could do it again in 2015.”

UPDATE: Tony Isabella has posted additional information on his blog regarding the Black Lightning trade paperback announcement.

Geoff Johns reached out to me on June 2, asking if he could phone me. I like Geoff and his writing, so I said sure and told him when would be a good time.

Geoff wanted to talk about Black Lightning and my dissatisfaction with my decades-unpleasant relationship with DC Comics. Just as I always have, Geoff sees a lot of potential in my finest creation. It’s a potential the previous DC management clearly never saw. We talked about what it would take to make things right between me and DC so that Geoff could, in good conscience, consider developing the character in this bigger-than-1976-or-even-1995 new comics world.

That conversation will remain private for now. Let’s just call it a good start. It was the first time in two decades a DC executive didn’t speak to me like I was a child or insane

Read the full post here.

Alan David Doane


So last week, there were two different DC Comics-related news items that received instant scorn and outrage. First, Batwoman writers J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman quit the series as of issue #26, citing DC’s decision not to allow the long-planned wedding of Batwoman Kathy Kane and her girlfriend, Maggie Sawyer. It was seen by many as an anti-gay marriage stance. Since then, DC co-publisher Dan DiDio has explained, at a comics convention, that DC is very committed to the character of Batwoman (and challenged the audience to name a publisher who has shown more commitment to a character, before he quickly answered his own challenge that there was none), but that superheroes should not have happy personal lives, so it’s more of a general policy against marriage for superheroes in the New 52. As with most things DC, there are inconsistencies, as Aquaman is currently married, but if this is now their stated policy I suppose it’s fair to accept this as true for the moment and see if they live up to it. Personally, I think their superheroes would be a lot more interesting if they were more diverse, and I don’t just mean having more ethnicities represented. How about a married superhero, a superhero with an adopted kid with M.S., a superhero with a deaf boyfriend, a superhero in couples counseling? Of course, superheroes can’t have endlessly joyous lives and still be fun to read (although on second thought, DC sold its most comics back when that was the case, but I know there were other factors), but aren’t the traditional personal life problems of the single superhero (girlfriend in distress, girlfriend suspects you’re a superhero, no time for romance because crime fighting) pretty well played out by now?

The other item was a kind of tryout to be in an upcoming Harley Quinn comic, where prospective artists would illustrate four seemingly unrelated panels, most consisting of Harley in suicidal situations, the fourth panel also describing her as nude. So people complained that it was exploitation, sexist, and hey, since when has Harley been suicidal? Psychopathic and murderous, yes. Suicidal, not so much.

Co-publisher Jim Lee had damage control duty on this one, tweeting examples of how panels taken out of context can appear very different than their intent, and that this wasn’t exploitive and the writers were actually poking fun at themselves, or something. Fair enough. But both of these stories illustrate how poor DC’s PR department is doing at anticipating negative reaction and getting in front of a story. Obviously a big name like Williams III quitting a book over an editorial decision is going to get out–why wasn’t DC letting people know about their anti-marriage thing, and pointing to their, um, one other gay superhero character as proof of their LGBT friendliness? Why announce a contest that makes drawing a female super villain naked a requirement? That seems like a case where they mentioned the nudity precisely to get a reaction, but it wasn’t the reaction they wanted. After all, they certainly aren’t really going to show Harley Quinn naked in one of their comics; it might be suggestive, but undoubtedly most of her naughty bits will be submerged in bathwater. So even if the original intent was tongue-in-cheek, the announcement ends up being skeevy. And note that in neither case does anyone at DC apologize. No, it’s the fans who misunderstood what they’re doing. For his part, at least Lee acknowledges his writers, though when he talked about the Batwoman debacle, he basically said the talent has to follow the editorial direction laid out for them, no matter how late in the game, tough shit, creators. He said it in his affable Jim Lee way, though. 

It’s a bad situation for fans of DC’s characters these days. There’s still some talent there and despite everything, some good stories will make it through relatively unscathed. But look, I’m currently reading nothing from DC, and I tried over 90% of the initial New 52 titles, and several that debuted after that first wave. With Before Watchmen and their treatment of many other creators, and retrograde decisions like this anti-marriage thing, how can anyone feel good about buying these books? I feel bad for someone like Marc Andreyko, a decent writer (I really liked his Manhunter in the pre-New 52 days not long ago) who is stepping in as the new writer on Batwoman. It should be noted that Williams III, a co-creator of the character, started writing her when original writer and co-creator Greg Rucka abandoned DC and their interference. Andreyko is inheriting maybe the only interesting, well-designed character in DC’s stable in the past decade, and yet she’s been sullied and abused, an important part of her cored out. I was joking (bitterly) to a friend the other day that it was “about time she (Batwoman) got back to her roots as a superhero not in a loving, committed relationship.” Sounds fun, huh? 

–Christopher Allen