A look back at some personal experiences and memories, part one

March 10, 2014

By Avi Green

If there was any place where I came close at an early time to experiencing how the left thinks, it was surely at the Captain Comics website. This also applies to how the man who ran the site, and some of his own correspondents, could think, opine and argue. And admittedly, that could even include my own mindset of the times too! How glad I am to have largely changed since then.

I recently found a CD containing some HTML files of old Q&A and mailbag files from that old site I’d saved to disk, since I thought they might have some kind of value in the future. Now, after all these years and my trip from left to right on the political spectrum, from someone who’d foolishly read The Washington Post to someone who now wisely reads The Washington Times (okay, maybe not that wisely, since they do have their own share of disappointments as well), I think they most certainly do have some value, and that’s for figuring out not only how the leftist mindset and educational system can screw up so badly, but also what went wrong with the comics industry and how writing – not to mention artwork in some situations – became so horrifically bad.

So in this article, I’m going to feature some of the examples I found – both political and comics connected – and have my say on what I think is right or wrong with any of them. This even includes some of my own correspondence to the site, which, after more than a decade, I myself don’t think too highly of. Still, I was rather naive and superficial in some cases back in the day, or my ideas were just too easy, so maybe I shouldn’t be too bothered. The names of the people who wrote them will be kept classified/omitted.

Let’s begin with this item, from approximately July 1999, the earliest I have from any official Q&A correspondence the site got at the time:

Q: Do you believe that the quality of DC Comics's crossovers have lessened in quality production since The Crisis On Infinite Earths saga?

A: I actually think they've improved, as has the general quality of writing at DC since the '80s. For my money, Crisis was a confused, poorly-written mishmash in 1985-6, and time hasn't improved it any. It was historically important, but that doesn't mean it was any good!

Wow. This is exactly why the quality of DC’s crossovers has become absolutely abysmal by 2010. Because MSMers like Mr. Smith aren’t willing to ask whether this is all we’ve come down to since that time. Most of the x-overs they’ve coughed up post-1990 have been for little more than killing off characters they seem to think are worthless, including but not limited to Hal Jordan. No Man’s Land, which took place in the Bat-franchise, was egregious too. Just think, if the MSM that focuses on comic books had called all this junk out for the short-term monstrosities they were, comics might not be at dismal level they are now.

Here's another exchange that in itself features a credible argument, but, thanks to his dishonesty and forked tongue, rings hollow:

Q: What is your opinion on the possible return of Hal Jordan as The Spectre? Do you think that he should "stay dead"?

A: I think they've mucked up Hal Jordan so badly that I wish they'd just leave the poor sod alone. Every time they resurrect him and polish him up a little, it just makes things worse. Unless they're willing to undo "Emerald Twilight" altogether, they should leave bad enough alone.

What bugs me specifically is that Hal is still thought of as a hero. Nonsense! If we're to believe "Emerald Twilight," Hal Jordan is the greatest villain in history! He managed to do what Sinestro and Darkseid failed to do: Wipe out the Corps. Hal Jordan has the blood of more than 3,500 superheroes on his hands. Tell me, do YOU consider that to be terribly heroic? Good intentions or madness aside, he's a mass murderer of appalling dimension.

Let me put it another way: Do you think Bill Clinton will be remembered for Kosovo? For health care? For the Irish peace accord? Nope -- he'll be remembered for Monica Lewinsky. Nixon isn't remembered for opening China, he's remembered for Watergate. And if I went berserk tomorrow and killed everybody in the office, how do you think my obit would read? "Loving husband"? "Good-natured co-worker"? Ha! My obit would read: "Andrew Smith, who massacred 30 people at his newspaper in a shooting spree, died today ... "

So, what's the sense of Hal becoming The Spectre? HE'S NOT A HERO.

True, if Hal Jordan is going to be depicted as someone who slaughtered tons of GL Corp members, then even Day of Judgement, an early “effort” of Geoff Johns, bombs out big time. Alan Scott was shown in the story supporting the idea of making Hal the Spectre because “it feels right”. Yet if he hasn’t been cleared of the crimes (and the story even today may not have been entirely reversed), then it’s just embarrassingly bad.

But if Mr. Smith didn’t slam Zero Hour as soundly as he could have back in 1994, when it came out and littered the horizon so badly, then to find him criticizing the degradation of Hal Jordan falls flat. And I may recall once reading at least one old item of his circa 1995 where he sounded pretty mild, with no tour de force critique involved. He later wrote 2 columns 4 years after this debacle where he claimed to supposedly care about Hal's situation, but spoiled everything after he parroted a line once uttered by DC editors that Hal was "less imaginative" than Kyle Rayner! I shouldn't have to tell anyone how laughable it is to say a fictional character is at fault for a claim that's flimsy at best.

And now that I think of it, his commentary on health care (and Kosovo) at the time of the Clinton administration is fishy. If Clinton tried to run any policies similar to what Obama’s been doing on health care services, and Smith is implying that it was positive, then that’s very sad.

Even today, Hal Jordan is still being messed up in more than one way, what with all the bloody violence taking place in the mainstay book that’s supposed to star him, but has recently made way for Sinestro, of all people, and even been exploited for introducing a Muslim adherent with no honesty offered about the Religion of Peace. I’d rather not get into too many more details at this point, but leave it for later. I will say for now though that Smith’s failure to criticize Johns’ most repellently violent stories in Green Lantern is serious reason to doubt his sincerity in the above conversation. (And if he’d ever once been critical of Johns in the early 2000s, it’s changed considerably since.)

Next item is from August 1999, about Peter David:

There sure have been a lot of dismissals from popular titles lately -- Peter David from the Hulk and Aquaman, Erik Larsen from Aquaman, John Byrne from the Hulk, Mark Waid from Captain America, etc. What in the name of J. Jonah Jameson is going on? Are these writers in possession of poor work habits or attitudes or is it more sinisterly, Editors with Egos the size of Major League Baseball Owners? What's the scoop?

The best response is "creative differences." In Peter David's case, Marvel management wanted to go back to the "dumb" Hulk, and David didn't want to erase the 10 years of characterization he'd put in on the book, so he opted not to continue. Larsen and DC management didn't see eye to eye; he has been quoted extensively in the fan press about how they kept changing his stories, making arbitrary and peculiar demands, etc. Byrne has kept a closed mouth about his dismissal; no doubt his "Hulk" also met with editorial disappointment. And Waid has also stated that there were editorial differences, and he couldn't write Cap the way they wanted. And, like David, rather than write a character he loved in a way he found false, he didn't want to write it at all. There may be more to that story -- there's a lot of speculation in the fan press that Waid and Busiek (who also recently quit Iron Man and Thunderbolts) may be starting up their own creator-owned "shop" called Gorilla Comics. At any rate, it appears that in almost all the cases you mentioned, the creators felt ham-strung by editorial fiat, and the editors felt the creators weren't producing the product asked for.

Unfortunately, in the case of Peter David, something has been terribly left out – his termination of Betty Banner, from radiation poisoning that seemingly came from Bruce Banner, but turned out to be the Abomination’s work. (This may have been reversed at long last recently - and even Glenn Talbot’s death was! - but for now, the work of the past remains the main concern.)

David may have been suffering from personal problems at the time (I can’t remember clearly if it was a divorce), and killing Betty may have been a way of taking out his anger over his personal problems. But he was abusing established characters for this very thing, and you certainly aren’t going to solve anything by taking out your anger on fictional characters you didn’t create yourself and violating Mark Gruenwald’s famous argument that every character is someone’s favorite. Some way to end his impressive 11-year run on the book, by capping it with a dismaying death. Yet that doesn’t get any mention. For a writer who didn’t want to write the Hulk in a way that he found false, it’s really dumbfounding he would strike such a false note himself on his way out. Kind of brings to mind Spider-Man’s execrable One More Day!

Another problem here though, is that Mr. Smith seems to draw a moral equation between writers and editors, and what both sides wanted or not. Whose side is he on anyway? I guess he just didn’t have the courage to decide which to take. And still another problem is that some of the writers mentioned here have gone way downhill since. Next is an item about religion that first appeared on December 2, 1999, and also appeared in a Scripps-Howard column on January 20, 2000:

Q: What religion are Batman and Superman?

A: It's never been firmly established, [name withheld], no doubt deliberately to avoid offending any segment of DC's audience. Which means we have to examine the facts and draw our own conclusions:

For openers, I'd say both are -- at the very least -- deists. After all, they hang out with Zauriel (an actual angel) in the Justice League and have met The Spectre (the Wrath of God). And they've both battled demons (Etrigan, Neron) and visited Hell (the recent Day of Judgment) so I think we find ourselves pretty much in Judeo-Christian territory.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that Superman is a Protestant (what denomination I don't know, but I'd guess Methodist). His creators -- ironically, two Jewish kids from urban Cleveland -- were shooting for the ultimate corn-fed WASP and had young Clark Kent grow up in rural Kansas. If parental units Martha and Jonathan Kent had been anything BUT Protestant in that environment, we'd have heard about it by now. And Superman's a big believer in personal responsibility and encouraging morality by quiet example -- both of which are strong tenets of Protestantism.

Batman is a little more problematic. While he might like to believe in an Old Testament god of vengeance, he is far too ultra-rational to entertain notions he would doubtless consider superstition. His is a very concrete world, and I feel it unlikely that he practices any religion as an adult.

But how was he raised? Well, let's see: His parents were rich and moved freely in the upper stratosphere of East Coast society in the 1940s -- that means probably Christian. And Batman is motivated in part by survival guilt -- so I'm leaning toward Catholicism, where mea culpa is taught from an early age.

Of course, that's pure supposition -- Bruce Wayne might easily have been reared Episcopalian or Lutheran. But I really enjoy the juxtaposition of Batman and Superman having the Catholic/Protestant divide to go along with their whole night vs. day, human vs. alien, grim vs. cheerful schtick. After all, they can't agree on anything else, so why should they go to the same church?

Such big talk about responsibility and morality from somebody who doesn't follow those virtues himself. If he did, he would never have supported sick, disgusting books like Identity Crisis in 2004 or been so dishonest about them. Now, how about this one from December 15, 1999, about Melissa Joan Hart, who starred in the sitcom based on Archie’s Sabrina the Teenage Witch in the mid 90s:

Q: Are the rumors of Melissa Joan Hart true? She is/was my favorite actress but hearing that she came to interviews wearing skimpy clothes and talking sex & drugs is not a good influence on younger kids who look up to her. Well, just trying to get the facts! ... Please e-mail me if you know why she is doing such things.

A: Yup, Melissa did sexy photo spreads in Maxim and Bikini magazine. They weren't tasteless or nude -- we're not talking Playboy here -- but they were typically sexy shots in skimpy clothes designed to, eh, arouse the interest of men. Her interview referenced drinking games associated with various TV shows, and made it apparent she was no stranger to sex.

I don't want to alarm you, because you'll see worse in any given issue of Cosmo. But the publisher of Archie Comics, who owns the copyright and trademark to Sabrina and leases it to ABC for the show, was strongly concerned that the spreads would sully the Sabrina franchise. If it had been any other actress, it wouldn't have raised an eyebrow. I see the man's point, though -- Hart is strongly associated with the Sabrina character. And it leaves a bad taste in my mouth, too --there are far too few role models on TV and in movies, and Hart's actions let us all down in that regard.

Which I doubt was a concern. It's become clear that the photo shoot was a calculated move by Hart and her manager/mother to distance her from squeaky-clean roles and open up career possibilities. Witness her turn last week on That Seventies Show as a seductress in a hot tub. To be fair to Hart, she is now in her twenties and forever being associated with teen-age roles would be a career-ender.

And the Archie company’s descent into “diversity pandering” come 2011 is bound to be a business ender! Besides, I’ve been doubting that even then, he really meant what he said, especially if he still upholds Identity Crisis as a “classic”. And honestly, I can’t say Hart’s turn to those kind of photo shoots bothers me if they’re in magazines with better taste than the average issue of a monstrosity like Hustler.

And what’s said here back in January 6, 2000, about movies:

Q: Got a movie question for you, though your answer will have to be more speculation than fact I'm sure. What does Marvel have against the live-action incarnations of their characters looking like the comic-book incarnations? DC does it and does it well. Superman, Supergirl, Wonder Woman and Batman have all been done live action and have looked the way they should. You saw Chris Reeves in his blue tights and you knew instantly that he was Superman. Ditto for Supergirl, Wonder Woman and Batman. Even that prime-time comedy DC did starring a live-action Justice League many years back gave us instantly recognizable characters. Now, look at the crap Marvel's dumped on us.

Oh, their Spider-Man and Captain American live-action versions were OK, but does anybody remember their live-action incarnations of Thor and Daredevil back in those live-action, made-for-TV Hulk movies? "Sucked" is too weak a description for them. And The Punisher! How hard would it have been to give Dolph Lundgren a shirt with a skull logo on it? I won't even torture you with that horrible live-action Dr. Strange. Now, they're about to do it again. Rumors, if you trust them, have it that the costumes in the X-Men movie are nothing like the ones in the book. What's Marvel's deal? Never has Cyclops or Jean Grey worn black leather, so why is that the proposed costume for them in the movie? I hope they at least remember to put X's on them. And that Magneto outfit. Ugh. Why is it so hard to take a comic costume and make it real? When making a superhero movie, if the character on screen looks like the one in the books, your battle's half won. Fans will be so happy to see their favorite hero become reality that even if the movie sucks (read: SPAWN) we'll still enjoy it for the visuals. Give us some lame version we can't recognize and we're instantly turned off and it's an uphill struggle from there to get us to enjoy the movie.

Before anyone says costumes don't translate well to real life, let me reiterate four names: Superman, Batman, Supergirl and Wonder Woman. Their real-life incarnations exactly mirrored their comic-book counter parts, so it can be done. So, why does Marvel not do it? Just curious, because I see myself sitting in the X-Men movie saying again and again "Who the heck is that supposed to be"?

A: My pet theory about the problems Marvel has with its movies can all boil down to a single unalterable fact: DC has the vast resources and corporate interest of media conglomerate Time Warner behind its movie efforts and so have greater control over the product. Marvel, on the other hand, sells its rights to the highest bidder, then sits back with its fingers crossed. Without fail, whoever gets the rights grabs some hired-gun director who wishes he was doing The Magnificent Ambersons instead of some silly comic-book movie and and has nothing but contempt for the subject matter. For example, the guy who did the Captain America movie was quoted as saying that he was deliberately limiting the amount of time Steve Rogers would be in costume (to about six minutes overall, I think) because "nobody wants to see a grown man in a costume." Brilliant.

I have sympathy for the difficulty of, say, making Wolverine's "ears" stand up. But as the movies you mentioned prove, you CAN do it if you try hard enough. Doesn't sound like Singer & Co. are really interested in trying very hard. They'd just as soon do a heartwarming love story or a coming-of-age story or some other familiar genre. "Costumes? The heck with that!"


Costumes as we know them may translate to live action well enough, but that’s as far as it goes – what about the lousy screenplays that accompanied all those fancy suits? Or even the miscastings? Frankly, I don’t think any of the four initial Batman movies were done right – definitely not the latter two – and the man who brought them down to embarrassing affairs was none other than the overrated Joel Schumacher. And while the Christopher Nolan Batman movies are much better done, with the third taking an approach to the focus on Bane that makes his MO look similar to the anarchy committed by Occupy Wall Street, none of the other adaptations of DC products made to date have been successful. There was the Catwoman movie, for example, and even Superman Returns, which featured an embarrassing depiction of Supes as a beta-male plus single parenthood messages. And what good is the movie’s resolution if we don’t even know whether the father of Lois Lane’s child is Superman or another boyfriend of hers? Another serious detractor was how Perry White’s line of “truth, justice and the American Way” was deliberately replaced with “truth, justice, all that stuff?”

Since that time, most filmmakers who produced movies based on Marvel products have long ceased to have any serious problems with colorful costumes, the X-Men’s dulling of the clothes notwithstanding, and DC’s troubles still prevail with bad scripting in departments other than the wardrobe, as the Green Lantern movie’s failure can attest.

Here’s a little something from January 13, 2000:

Q: Do you know why Byrne left the Avengers and Avengers West Coast in early 1990? It seemed an abrupt exit since he didn't have time to finish some of his storylines.

Also, do you know why Stern left Amazing Spider-Man? His departure seemed abrupt as well. Years later, in '96, he wrote Spider-Man: Hobgoblin Lives to finally but his end to the storylines that were finished by other writers.

A: Well, [redacted], the answer is -- well, I haven't the slightest idea. So let's turn it over to fandom in general, and see if anybody out there can "Help the Captain!"

Oh, I’ll help out alright, you can be sure of that. By stating that while Byrne’s run on the mainstay Avengers was decent enough, his run on AWC was a disaster, with Scarlet Witch turned into a short-cropped wicked mage, yet otherwise ineffective in combat, after Byrne “revealed” that her children with the Vision were just magical constructs, and this drives her to madness, rejoining her father Magneto along with her twin brother Quicksilver who’d also descended back into villainy. I recall one part of that story where she scratched a paralyzed Wonder Man on the chest, possibly drawing blood. Yet she was otherwise ineffective in combat, as was certainly the case with the Wasp. As for Stern, he sadly left Spider-Man because – get this – he didn’t like that Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson would marry! Mountains out of molehills, I’d say.

Then, I can see his bizarre bias forming in the following from February 17, 2000:

Q: What are your opinions of the following comic-book characters: DC Comics' Black Lightning; Marvel Comics' Storm (Ororo Munroe) and The Falcon; DC Comics' Tyroc; Marvel Comics' Moses Magnum; and DC Comics' The Vixen.

A: Black Lightning: I was ambivalent to his original '70s incarnation -- he just seemed another guy in Spandex -- and I thought his joining the Outsiders was completely antithetical to the stated motivation of the character. (You can't fight crime in the streets of Brick City if you're in Markovia all the time.) But his recent incarnations, particularly the recent Isabella/Newell series, have been outstanding. The murkier urban world he now inhabits has more verisimilitude, more gravitas and more dramatic potential. And it's really nice to see an urban hero who isn't as repulsive and brutal as the bad guys. The contrast of his personal integrity and character to his bleak surroundings is a breath of fresh air. I'd be pleased to see a regular series.

Storm: I've always been a big Storm fan, although Chris Claremont should be hung for stealing Modesty Blaise's origin for her. (By damn, she deserves her OWN!)
The Falcon: He really seemed to be a token in the '70s, but, like Black Lightning, seems to have grown into his own. I hope the "Snap Wilson" origin is gone forever, though -- another really bad idea.

Tyroc: Look up "token" in the Encyclopedia Galactica, and there's his picture.

Moses Magnum: A really lame villain when first introduced, but getting better. Kurt Busiek actually gave him a little pathos recently in Avengers.
The Vixen: Lost in the shuffle in Suicide Squad for the most part. Nothing terribly original about the character, but a great visual. She made a cameo in JLA recently, so maybe they'll do more with her in future.

Now what do I take issue with here: Smith’s intellect-insulting answer on Black Lightning, whom I consider impressive since the beginning because he was a hero of African-American descent who gained his own role, unlike say, the new Firestorm Jason Rusch from around 2004, who was put into Ronnie Raymond’s role all for the sake of “diversity” at all costs, while Ronnie was slain in Identity Crisis. And what’s this about being in Markovia “all the time”? Because they weren’t there all the time, and by Smith’s dumb logic, I guess Batman, Green Arrow and Black Canary shouldn’t leave Star City and Gotham City ever in their lifetimes (or so long as DC Comics publishes stories like theirs). Gee, what’s the point of a Justice League then? The reason Jeff Pierce joined the Outsiders is because Batman, desperately in need of help in rescuing one of Wayne Enterprises’ business managers, Lucius Fox, after he was taken hostage by Baron Bedlam in Markovia, turned to Jeff for help, and when the official team was formed, we can say it suited Jeff a lot more than the Justice League, probably because they didn’t see themselves as being held hostage to political correctness like the League unfortunately was!

And Falcon was hardly a “token” when he co-starred in Captain America in the mid-70s, so I don’t see where he gets off making that claim either. I also don’t see why he would consider Vixen not so original when she was the first African-American superheroine in the DCU. All I can see here are traces of a man with a wretched bias in all the wrong places. A problem that turned up on February 24, 2000 to boot:

Whatever happened to the team members of Batman & The Outsiders? I know that Metamorpho is dead but I have no knowledge of the fate of the other Outsiders.

Oy vey! You would ask me that! Outsiders was one of those books that aroused so little interest on my part that I could barely read it even when it was free. Consequently, I have only vague memories of how the characters ended up. But I'll give it a try (and assume that other readers will chime in with more current information where I'm off).
Black Lightning is busy fighting crime on the mean streets of "Brick City" -- according to his recent (1995-96) series -- which creator Tony Isabella has helpfully informed us in a recent Comics Buyer's Guide is actually in Cleveland, Ohio. BL recently appeared in a single panel of Day of Judgment No. 4, helping The Outsiders fight demons.
Looker, the last I remember, was turned into a vampire and became Queen of the Underworld (an underground vampire civilization). I think it was in the Batman & The Outsiders/New Teen Titans crossover, but I could be wrong. My colleague Chuck Miller of the Mobile Register remembers an appearance in Detective Comics in the last 10 years, but a book-by-book search failed to turn her up.

Katana was a major player on Batman's team during Day of Judgment, and referred to her katana as a "soulsword" which was particularly effective dispatching demons.
Geo-Force is the King of Markovia -- or what's left of it, after the Millennium Giants trashed it in that mega-Superman crossover. He also appeared in that single panel in Day of Judgment No. 4.

Metamorpho died in JLA No. 1.

Faust, the son of Felix Faust, first appeared in (and joined) The Outsiders, later appeared with (and joined) Primal Force and last appeared in Day of Judgment Secret Files where he joined the "Sentinels of Magic," an ad-hoc group of mystic defenders that includes Alan (Sentinel) Scott, Blue Devil, Zatanna, Dr. Fate, Phantom Stranger, Madame Xanadu, Ragman and Dr. Occult. I have to snidely note here, as one wag put it, that Faust is always described as "a loner" despite having joined a different team in his every appearance.

Halo and Terra II appeared in the background in that overworked DOJ No. 4 panel, fighting demons in Markovia.

Of the lesser members, Wylde became a bear permanently, Eradicator was recently featured in the "Metropolis 2000" and I don't recall Technocrat or Windfall appearing anywhere since Outsiders was canceled.

And just why wasn’t he interested, I wonder? Because it depicted a small team of crimefighters trying to do the right thing while operating on the outskirts of the law for the right reasons, and save a country in danger from the clutches of evil? Specifically, they were on a mission for starters to both rescue Lucius Fox and save the rest of Markovia from the evil Baron Bedlam, a neo-nazi type villain who’d taken over Markovia and was planning to destroy the royal family of prince Brion Markov, alias Geo-Force. Fortunately, all turned out well in the end, and the Outsiders, a name Metamorpho thought up by coincidence, went on to work on more cases where they could be vigilantes working without the kind of obstacles the JLA either faced, or didn’t have the courage to. Gee, I guess Mr. Smith wasn’t so eager to see the Soviet Union (or even the Berlin Wall) collapse, and probably isn’t worried about its looming rise again in different form under the premiership of Vladimir Putin!

And he’s wrong about the time when Looker became a vampire – this happened during the 1993-95 run of the Outsiders, and I think she was saved from that state eventually. What a shame that Katana and Faust had to be exploited for the sake of Geoff Johns’ awful Day of Judgement miniseries, BTW.

Q: Correct me if I'm wrong, Cap, but didn't He-Man (Masters of the Universe) make his first appearance in a Superman comic?

A: Yes and no, [redacted]. What you're thinking of was the "Free 16-Page Insert" in Superman 377 (Nov., 1982). That preview featured He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, but they didn't interact with the Man of Steel (who was quite busy with Terra-Man), and graduated to their own three-issue Masters of the Universe miniseries the very next month. The MOTU then gravitated to Western Publishing in 1984, and were picked up by Marvel's Star Comics line with issue No. 7 of that series, which lasted until issue 12 (1988).

Yes and no indeed! This guy’s got no real grip on history at all! He forgot to mention that MOTU made at least one guest appearance in DC Comics Presents #47, also published in 1982-83, and appeared alongside the Man of Steel there. Poor fellow, he just doesn’t do his homework, or he’s plain forgetful. And, he’s as clownish as Skeletor and his band of bungling villains!

Next, from March 2, 2000:

While I'm thinking about it, what happened to three of DC's longest-running series -- Adventure, World's Finest and The Brave and the Bold? I think it's a shame to lose three titles running several hundred issues each.

Yup, but low sales killed 'em all. Anthologies as a rule don't sell well.

Well they did at one time! It was by the mid-80s that they finally began to wane, and one of the last ones at the time was the Secret Origins anthology that Roy Thomas contributed to, including another reworking of the Black Canary’s background, since what he’d thought of in Justice League of America 219-220 just didn’t seem right.

Anthologies today certainly don’t deliver, thanks mainly to Dan DiDio’s wrecking crew. And Mr. Smith doesn’t deliver very well either, if he can’t make a clearer distinction between how anthologies sold in the past and present.

Isn't Blackhawk an American? I mean, I only treasure good Silver Age and '70s comics, but the retcon Polish Blackhawk sounds like the result of an editorial agenda to me, instead of the story of an American fighting with the oppressed against Germany as pilots.

I don't recall a time when it was stated that Blackhawk was American, but it was always ASSUMED that he was. Recent series have established that his name is Janos Prohaska and he is Polish. I haven't any problem with that, editorial agenda or not, as it makes sense. The Blackhawks were supposed to be a band of pilots from Axis-conquered countries who created their own air force since their own had been destroyed. As such, it made little sense to have any Americans on the squad, much less two (Chuck was an American). Since Poland was the first European country conquered by the Axis (the Japs were already in Manchuria and China, and the Italians in Ethiopia in 1939), it makes perfect story sense that the first two Blackhawks -- "Blackhawk" and Stanislaus -- would be Polish. The others were Chop Chop (Chinese), Andre (French), Hendricksen (Dutch) and Olaf (Swedish) -- all from conquered countries. (Actually, it would have made more sense for Olaf to be Norse, since the Nazis occupied Norway but not Sweden. But Sweden, despite its official neutrality, was pretty bullied and controlled by the Nazis, so I guess I won't let it bug me.)

I thought to include this intriguing historical note because it alludes to something I’ve thought could make the medium work even better today, if “diversity” is really, truly that important to them: make the heroes/supporting cast members Armenian, Bulgarian, Ghanian, Burmese, Serbian, Danish, Portuguese, Arabs (and Maronites) of Christian and other non-Muslim backgrounds, Copts from Egypt, Jews from North African countries, stuff like that. These are precisely the kind of “diverse” backgrounds that I’ve never seen seriously put to use in mainstream comics, and despite what Mr. Smith brings up here…I’ve got a sad feeling even he isn’t interested.

Now, look what he says about one of two different series on March 9, 2000:

[…] I was just wondering what you think about two of my favorite comics: Mutant X and The Tick.

I was prepared to loath Mutant X, as it was yet ANOTHER "alternate X-Men" story. After "Days of Future Past," "Age of Apocalypse," "Ages of Apocalypse," ad nauseum, I didn't think my poor brain could handle another one. But it has turned out to be pretty good -- probably because it's open-ended, so it's not COMPLETELY depressing like all the others.

As to The Tick, I can't say I'm a BIG fan, but I like it OK

Well, I can’t argue about the Tick, but I will argue about Mutant X: I’d say it was just another worthless over-expansion of the X-Franchise, and shouldn’t have been greenlighted in the first place. And Alex Summers deserved much better too. The Mutant X series may not have been as depressing as most other X-books became by that time, but it was still depressing enough nevertheless. So he’s merely being lenient with that time-wasting series. On the other hand, he’s obscuring the writers who are at fault for a character’s personality – or at least his perceptions along those lines – in the March 16, 2000 entry he did:

What do you think of Quicksilver? He's become my favorite Marvel Comics character. He's been tangled with the Fantastic Four, Avengers and X-Men. He seems to have his busy nose in everybody's business. And his canceled series actually read like a nice extended miniseries. Like that 12-issue Vision/Scarlet Witch series in the '80s. I also thought he should be an official X-Man. He's worked closely with them, was a member in the "Age of Apocalypse" and would be a great member considering who his daddy is. So what do you think?

Quicksilver has been offered slots in the X-Men numerous times, going back officially at least to Uncanny X-Men 43 in the '60s -- and unofficially as far back as issue 3. He always turns 'em down, so Marvel must not like the idea.

As to what I think of Quicksilver -- well, my opinion was formed when he was in Avengers in the '60s, and he was pretty obnoxious. Come to think of it, he's still pretty obnoxious! But if he's your fave, more power to you!

Why thank you! Because he is my favorite character too, and I recognize – and certainly try to – that the writer is at fault for any characterization you consider poor, not the character himself. Put another way, while I have a lot of respect for Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, I still realize that if Pietro Maximoff was a hothead, it’s because they characterized him that way; he doesn’t exist in real life, so he couldn’t form his own personalities! What an idiot. I suppose he’s just too afraid to criticize Stan and Jack because he thinks it’ll imply he’s not a fan. Nonsense. There’s plenty of writers who’ve had their share of screw-ups in all mediums, yet kept their great reputations all the same. This is just the icing on the cake of how Mr. Smith’s got a problem of attacking other people’s creations instead of writing an unambiguous argument on how the writing was sloppy, if he feels that was the case.

Q: 1) Why did the DC staff feel the need to negate Gardner Fox's superior work?

2) Whatever happened to Mars II?

3) Add Cyclops to the (silly) costumes section. What are in all those pouches seen in X-Men 1? What's with the extra strap? Didn't the cowled costume have enough functionality? Simple, too.

4) Nightwing, as much as I like the name and costume, is guilty of similar crimes. In fact, if you put Troia in the evil box, stick Nightwing in too. What is a Night wing? It's a name with similar connotations as Batman, only sleeker and younger. Like Troia is to Wonder Woman. Troia's name is like Nightwing in that respect. Too old to be sidekick, too young to take up the mantle.

A: 1) I assume you're referring to Crisis, or Zero Hour or possibly JLA: Earth 2? If so, then the reason for all the retconning is that 1) DC decided that the multiple-Earths scenario was too confusing for new readers, and 2) a lot of it doesn't hold up. Take for example "Crisis on Earth-Three!" that introduced the Crime Syndicate of America in Justice League of America 29. The actual storyline is full of eye-rolling coincidence and laughable motivation, and Ultraman was completely unworkable -- he gained a NEW superpower with every exposure to kryptonite. The Crime Syndicate wasn't even very evil -- they basically indulged in bank robberies and thrill crimes. Criminals, yes, but hardly the frightening, more "realistic" villains of JLA: Earth 2.

Don't get me wrong -- Gardner Fox was a master comics writer for his time. But 30 years later the audiences are different, and demand different kinds of stories. Fox's don't hold up very well.

2) If you're referring to the proposed sequel to Marc Hempel and Mark Wheatley's 12-issue First Comics series Mars, there was no Mars II because First Comics went out of business.

3) I agree with you that the straps and pouches are silly -- but they are so ubiquitous now, I can't isolate one guy for the Silly Super-Togs section.

The blue/black-and-yellow Cyclops outfit introduced in Uncanny X-Men 41 was a classic -- particularly as rendered by Neal Adams, and currently by John Byrne in X-Men: The Hidden Years. But, as [name removed] mentions in the Silly Super-Togs section, Cable's success in the late '80s made superfluous straps and pouches almost a requirement for all costumes. Even the Legion of Super-Heroes fell prey to the trend for a while. (That's a lot of straps and pouches!) I try to think of them as utility belts full of communication gear and survival rations and stuff, and forge on ahead.

4) I actually covered the origin of Nightwing's name in the Q&A section a few years back -- it has a long, storied history at DC. Originally, Nightwing and Flamebird were Superman and Jimmy Olsen playing "Batman and Robin" in the Bottle City of Kandor, back when it was full of Kryptonians in the '60s. Later, a Kryptonian scientist named Van-Zee -- who just happened to be a dead ringer for Supes -- and his lab partner picked up the roles, and even had a short-run series in Superman Family. A Teen Titans story established that Dick Grayson adopted the name to honor the two men who'd influenced his life the most -- Superman and Batman. Post-Crisis there were no Kryptonians in Kandor, so there have been several flashback stories to establish that when Dick adopted the Nightwing identity, it was due to Superman telling him of two heroes from Krypton's past named Nightwing and Flamebird. (In case you're wondering, nightwings and flamebirds were some sort of avian creatures on Krypton.) There you have it -- a Nightwing is a Kryptonian bird.

Excuse me? Just who does he think he is saying that Fox’s stories don’t hold up? As products of the time, they certainly do, and in that context make for perfect pastime. I can understand why today a more sophisticated approach is appreciated, but that does not make Fox’s approach any less worthy than say, how the Mod Squad didn’t usually pack pistols in the 1968-73 TV series broadcast on ABC. As for Mars II, no comment.

On the other hand, Cable in his current form only began in the early 90s, not the late 80s, as he states, and what made his costume dreadful was actually all that bulky stuff including all those excess guns, not just merely the straps and pouches. As for the Nightwing stuff, that should make for good historical reference. And as for his take on pricing from March 30, 2000:

Q: What's your opinion on DC's Comics price hikes?

A: I think it was inevitable. The price of EVERYTHING goes up sooner or later, and comics are no exception. I expected it -- Marvel went up this month, and historically DC has followed every Marvel increase within a month or two.

Well it wouldn’t have gone up so much – four dollars for some items last time I looked – if they actually wanted to do better writing and not make their superhero line so jaw-droppingly insular as they’ve done lately with an obvious romance between Superman and Wonder Woman. If they’d actually made an effort to keep selling in the bookstores and reformatted from pamphlets to something more effective like paperbacks, they’d be doing a lot better there too.

Next, here’s something more TV related, from April 6, 2000:

Finally, I hope you or perhaps one of your loyal readers can help me with this one, or point me toward a web site with the answer. I realize this isn't a comics question, but you always seem to know the answers (or know someone who does). I read recently of the death of actor John Colicos, whose best-known roles were in a single episode of the original Star Trek series and, of course, a recurring role as Baltar in Battlestar Galactica. The TV series Battlestar Galactica began on ABC-TV in 1978, and I remember I never missed an episode. At least I didn't until I joined the Navy a few months after the show premiered and I was shipped overseas. I never have found out what happened to the group of humans who always managed to stay one step ahead of the Cylons on their heels. I've seen repeats on the Sci-Fi Channel, but HOW DID IT END? Did the humans find Earth, or did they settle on some planet they found along the way? Did they ever defeat the Cylons? And for good measure, was a comic ever published using the Galactica's characters? I've wondered for years how it ended, and Colicos's death has brought the question to mind once more.

Battlestar Galactica hasn't ended at all! There was a short-lived Galactica: 1980 series that depicted the ragtag fleet finding Earth -- which, to their disappointment, wasn't technologically advanced enough to help them. There have also been five telemovies adapted from two-parters aired in the original series.

But both Glen Larson, who owns the rights, and Richard Hatch, who played Capt. Apollo, have been trying to get a sequel on the air for years. Hatch produced a trailer that aired at last summer's conventions, and Larson has been quoted in recent months as wanting to do a big-budget Galactica movie.

About that 1980 “revival”: it was widely panned, mostly because it trivialized the Holocaust in a time travel story, and didn’t exactly do many favors for the 1978-79 series either (if they’re humans from a futuristic society yet this is the present, how does that make much sense?). That said, as of today, my facination with sci-fi and fantasy in live action films and TV is very limited compared to my interest in the genres in other mediums, so I guess I can’t even care enough about Galactica to get angry.

The series was remade a few years after this conversation was written and managed to make more of an impression the second time around, even without Lorne Greene as Adama to helm the starship, running for at least 4 seasons and even spun off a short-lived prequel called Caprica. But, that kind of sci-fi just isn’t my thing today. Next, here’s another dialogue from the same week, though I’m only going to include parts:

What is your thoughts about the following comics creators and industry folk: Warren Ellis; Grant Morrison; Kurt Busiek; Todd McFarlane; Rob Liefeld; Frank Miller; Alan Moore; Gary Groth?

Warren Ellis: His commentaries can be a little grating, and his work sometimes downright repulsive (Strange Kiss). But he (and to some degree, the rest of the so-called "British Invasion") are adding a jolt of electricity to the Frankenstein monster that is the American comics industry. Planetary and The Authority are riveting, and have jump-started the ongoing maturation of action/adventure books. I read everything he writes. Send up the kites! It's alive! It's alive!

Sorry, but this one flubs because Ellis, even at that time, had written negative takes on America in books like those, and in a book called Global Frequency that he wrote the following years, he even extended his hostilities to Israel. Michael Medved may not be perfect at everything, but thank goodness he spoke about this in 2003. Send down the tomatoes, I say!

Grant Morrison: There are those Brits again! I enjoyed Doom Patrol (until it devolved into incoherence, which I think was under another writer), but I found Invisibles and Animal Man too self-referential and smug. However, his JLA is outstanding -- as close to Authority as it can get and still be a DCU comic book. From deconstructing and rethinking the concept of the superhero to clever dialogue and personal interaction, it's the best team book on the stands. OK, he's a little weak on plotting, but I can forgive it.

Not me! Not anymore anyway, because of how increasingly tasteless Morrison’s work has become, notably in New X-Men for starters, but there’s more. Even before that embarrassment, curiously enough, he inserted a conversation between Batman and the Kyle Rayner Green Lantern in JLA where the Masked Manhunter told him he likes him better than Hal Jordan because unlike the Silver Age hero, Kyle knows the meaning of fear. And I guess that means Batman should be a coward? He wouldn’t be Batman if he were. All Morrison did there was tell all we need to know about where he could stand on Hal’s case, and suggests he wasn’t particularly bothered about Hal going to heel in Emerald Twilight/Zero Hour in 1994.

Todd McFarlane: His artwork betrays a basic lack of understanding of anatomy, design and perspective, disguised by a lot of scritchy-scratchy over-rendering. His writing appears to me amateurish at best. Spawn is a terrible idea, given life only by circumstance (the '92 speculator boom) and given legs by the collector mentality. I shun his work as I would a pustulent sore.

I don’t think Spawn is worth anything either, but in fairness to McFarlane, I will say that when he began his art career in the early 80s, he did turn out some pretty good – if not perfect – illustrations. And his takes on anatomy at the time were competent too. Even J. Scott Campbell’s art, while an acquired taste for some, is sufficiently competent without looking repellant like the work of another artist who can be read about below:

Rob Liefeld: I find his concepts and artwork derivative to the point of being devoid of originality; a relentless parade of swipes from recognizeable sources.

Gee, that’s putting it lightly. Sure, his art is derivative to the point of potentially trace-drawing off of other artists’ efforts, but that doesn’t even begin to describe Liefeld. His takes on the anatomy are revolting, sloppy, and sometimes even downright creepy! Worst, they give new meaning to the term “wooden”, because the facial expressions look stiff as a board.

Gary Groth: Huge vocabulary, churlish attitude. His tirades in The Comics Journal are self-righteous, pompous, self-important, intellectually dishonest and as irritating and repetitive as a scratch on a record. I react violently to his assumptions and conclusions from my brain stem.

Some of his descriptions of Groth from back in the day would make a perfect mirror for Mr. Smith look at himself in, and see how he’s really no different. Alas, he’s so self-indulgent in his own way that we just can’t expect him to wake up and smell the coffee.

Do you think Marvel will realize that cutting a title off before it has a chance to gain a following is every bit as detrimental to our lil' hobby's health as it is to flood the market with gimmicks and variants?

I have to defend Marvel here -- it's not the editors and executives pulling the trigger on axed titles necessarily, it's the bankers. Marvel is being micromanaged by the holders of their debt: Faceless, soulless beancounters who work for large financial institutions who couldn't care less if the entire industry went belly up as long as they got their interest payments. Ugly, but true.

I’m not sure I can go along with this – at least not if he’s willing to overlook their continuing obsession with variant covers. If a series does well overall, then it should be kept going as it’ll make money for those pesky bankers. If not, then their discontinuation is understandable. I’m not defending Marvel on this one.

Betty or Veronica, Gwen or Mary Jane, Lois or Lana ... and why?

Why, Betty, of course; Veronica is a selfish, vain, cruel rhymes-with-witch. Betty is sweet, loyal and just as sexy. Maybe moreso, since she'd be eager to please, if you get my drift. I got over my attraction to "bad" girls a long time ago.

I also have to go with Gwen, but I feel less strongly about it. Frankly, Gwen had zero personality. But MJ has been flighty and thoughtless -- particularly during the Gerry Conway days -- and Gwen has never been anything but sweet and loyal. The absence of bad news give her the edge.

As for LL girls, I'd have to go with Lana. Lois has been portrayed in recent years as a help, not a hindrance, to the Man o' Steel for the first time in her 62-year history. But for decades the reverse was true. Her bullheadedness and enormous ego make her less attractive to me than self-effacing, staunch, down-to-earth Lana.

So I like sweet girls. What can I say? I've discovered that self-absorbed women are lousy in bed. (So you can probably guess how I'd vote in the Mary Ann/Ginger contest, as well.)

So Veronica is selfish and self-absorbed? Well gee, isn’t that the writers’ fault, and the editors? I do think there’s something awfully screwed up if she can be one of the leads despite this kind of persona, but in any case, if that’s the kind of persona they’ve ascribed and you don’t like it, don’t blame her! Blame the writers.

Zero persona for Gwen? And whose fault is that? Much as I admire Stan Lee, if he fouled up in developing her personality, then the blame must be laid at his feet. And while I won’t say killing Gwen off was bad so long as they avoided going for revolting shock value like today’s writers do, I do think that Conway technically failed at creativity, and John Romita, who was one of his editors at the time along with Roy Thomas, failed to help him develop better skills in knowing how work on the role a girlfriend plays in a hero’s life. Or, they went the easy route and took the audience for granted, assuming they’d be quite fine with terminating Gwen’s life. Author Sean Howe told in his book Marvel Comics: The Untold Story that when Stan Lee went to a convention at a university, he got yelled at, yet was unwilling to admit to failure on his part, claiming the story must’ve been done “while I was out of town”, and leaving Conway to be the fall guy.

And regarding Lois, she came of age by the time the Bronze Age came into effect, but in any case, I am quite tired of hearing his mentally adolescent view of fictional characters drone on.

Is the market missing out by not publishing comics on current TV shows (a la Dell & Gold Key), like Dawson's Creek, Third Rock from The Sun and any others that might be appropriate comic-book material and/or draw in a fresh, young audience?

Of course I do. I wouldn't allow Marvel or DC to get near them, though, as they always try to turn TV-show books into superhero books and they just stink. I'd let Oni or Dark Horse take a crack at 'em -- Dark Horse, in particular, has done a good job with Buffy and the Alien, Predator and Terminator spinoffs.

Oh, I don’t think so. Buffy has become increasingly tainted with overly leftist positions, like a recent story where she gets an abortion. As for Aliens and Terminator, if not Predator, I lost interest in those films after realizing just how umm…anti-capitalist and even anti-science their vision was. Come to think of it, even Predator was just a lot of baloney. Next is the first letter I wrote to him, on April 27, 2000, which features a pretty goofy idea I had for whom to draw inspiration from image-wise:

Q: I've been reading your columns in the Memphis Commercial Appeal for almost a year now, and I find you to be one of the best (and even funniest) comics historians around. I've decided that now is the time to get around to asking you some questions, among a few other things, and so the first letter I shall try to write will be about your column from April 16. I noticed that in what you told one of your other readers about the Hulk was that the first-run series had been canceled after six issues. Are you sure? I thought that it had been on a steady run since it was first published back in 1962. I guess I may not know as much about such comics as I thought. So, could you please tell me how exactly the Incredible Hulk was published over the years? I know that, yes, the Hulk was one of the cast members in the Avengers, but I just may not know as much about the character's own title as I think.

Next, I have a suggestion for something that may be of interest to you as a subject to write about: actors and models who can serve as inspirations for comic-book heroes and heroines. I just had an idea that maybe Jennifer Aniston of Friends fame could be a perfect inspiration for conceiving a comic-book heroine from. I'm one of many men who have been smitten by her and her Botticelli hairdo, and then, a few months ago, the idea came to me that she could be a perfect inspiration for such ideas. I had also read in the Orange County Register two years ago that, just like in her sitcom, she's also very sweet in real life too. And there's another reason why I think that she'd be one of the best people to get the inspiration for creating comic-book characters from. Does that sound like as interesting subject for you write about? Please try it sometime.

A: Yup, the Green Goliath's first outing was a failure. The Hulk debuted in Incredible Hulk No. 1, 1962, but that title was canceled with the sixth issue. He was shoehorned quickly into Avengers when that title debuted in 1963, but only for the first three issues (the first two as a member, the third as a "villain"). Meantime, he kept a high profile as an "event" guest star in famous issues like Fantastic Four 25-26, Amazing Spider-Man 14 and Journey Into Mystery (starring Thor) 112. That led to him "guest starring" as the antagonist in Giant-Man's strip in Tales to Astonish 59, and taking over the backup slot in that title with issue 60 (1965). With Astonish 70 Giant-Man was replaced by Sub-Mariner, and the titanic twosome alternated covers and lead spots in that book until issue 101 (1968). Subby gained his own title then, whereas Astonish was renamed Incredible Hulk with its 102nd issue, and the Green Goliath continued to hang his purple trousers there until it was canceled with No. 474 in 1999. Hulk debuted that same year, changing its name to Incredible Hulk with issue 12 (which explains how the current issue can be Incredible Hulk VOLUME ONE No. 15 -- there never has been an Incredible Hulk 7-101 until now).

The Hulk has had a number of other series, as well. He was a founding member of Marvel's non-team The Defenders in Marvel Feature 1 (1971), and remained a member of that team, off and on, for years. He also had a B&W magazine (Rampaging Hulk, later just Hulk) debuting in 1977 that ran for 27 issues and purported to tell his early years in more detail -- before being retconned later as having been a sort of alien TV show. He also starred in the short-lived 1998 Rampaging Hulk comic book 1-6 -- that ALSO purported to tell his early years in more detail.

He's certainly appeared in more places than I can add here, but I think those are the highlights.

As to your second question, picking thespians for superhero roles is a popular pastime these days -- in fact, Wizard magazine has a standing feature wherein they "cast" superhero movies with popular actors and actresses. I'm afraid I don't indulge in it much, though. Not only is it frustrating to imagine how good a superhero movie would be with such-and-so actor in it, but also I don't see much TV (I work nights) and am somewhat at sea as to who the popular actors and actresses are these days. (I'm only vaguely familiar with Jennifer Aniston, for example, and that's from magazine covers.)

But I'm game. Anybody wanna play?

Years after I regretted ever corresponding to him after he praised Identity Crisis, I can't say I'm happy to have bothered writing this one in the first place. And why should I? It really wasn't the cleverest thing I could bring up for a discussion anyway, and Aniston's own politics are very questionable, alas.

1) I agree with you that Power Girl's joining the Birds of Prey permanently would be a mistake. But as to your idea that Huntress should join, well, I don't think Babs would go for that. She's probably still holding a grudge about that Batgirl thing from "No Man's Land." I wish Chuck Dixon would get his wish and Hawkwoman would join the group, but Dixon has said the editors nixed that notion. What do you think?

2) I don't read Aquaman, and I've been wondering how he lost his left hand. And is he still using that hook/harpoon, or has he got a bionic hand now?

1) I think Babs would hold a bigger grudge against Huntress because of her, eh, indiscretion with Nightwing! As to Hawkwoman, we simply don't know anything about her yet, which is one of the usual complaints I hear about JSA. There's supposed to be a storyline coming up that the writers claim will straighten out the Hawk-stuff enough for the characters to be viable again. I'd really like to avoid shooting my mouth off in total ignorance -- I'd prefer to reserve opinion until we find out what this character's all about.

2) Arthur lost his hand to piranha in Aquaman 2, 1994. A villain named Charybdis -- who has a new name now, which I don't remember -- had stolen Aquaman's telepathic powers and used the fish against him. He still has only the one hand, but with the advent of Dan Jurgens on the title (issue 63), he has a prosthestic hand.

Why would Babs hold anything against Huntress? She's only an imaginary creation! It's the writer who creates the tension (and under Gail Simone, that was all patched up best as possible), and as much as I admire Chuck Dixon, if anyone had a problem with that direction, why don't they just say so? Interesting that the loss of Aquaman's hand came up the same year Hal Jordan was desecrated and Alexandra deWitt was refrigerated. Both Green Lantern and Aquaman were edited by Kevin Dooley at the time, so we can only guess how the latter's direction came around.

A shame Dixon didn't get the chance to add Hawkgirl to Birds of Prey, even as a guest star, because what if he had a better handle on developing her background than James Robinson and Geoff Johns did? Honestly, after all these years, I don't see the point of tying in older adversaries like Gentleman Ghost with the backgrounds of the newer characters (and why do Smith and the correspondent call her Hawkwoman, when here, they're going with Hawk-GIRL, the original moniker?), and DC editorial threw it all away with the New 52.

Now, here’s something Mr. Smith said in reply to a query about Spider-Woman on May 5, 2000 that’s superficial at best:

I could be wrong but Marvel's original Spider-Woman had never seemed to be that much of a popular character to me. Do you know what prompted them to give her her own animated series?

I must say that her life was hard and a bit of a tragedy in her early comics. Imagine people and genetically-enhanced animals steering away from her because they could sense a "difference" about her; that and her need to find acceptance from a group. I guess the character and the title was all about making life as pleasant for yourself as much as you can, especially when it is neither fair nor unfair but simply just is.

The reason that Spider-Woman became a cartoon is the same reason that Marvel trots out a new S-W series every few years: To keep the copyright/trademark current.

Oh, please! After the 1978-83 series for Jessica Drew ended, it’s not like Marvel made any serious attempts to launch another one for at least a decade. Besides, they created it, they own it. Same goes for She-Hulk. Sames goes for Dazzler too, now that I think of it, if only because her 1981-86 series shares a little in common with S-W in that for its time, it was a relatively successful book with a female star, even on the direct market and its cutback to bi-monthly in the middle of its run notwithstanding. The whole notion they couldn’t possibly manage it is nonsense.

Anyway, I appreciate how the guy who wrote to him about S-W does seem to like that female take on a role that first began with a male protagonist. Jessica Drew was a worthy addition to the MCU back in the day. It’s just a pity that writers like Brian Bendis don’t have respect for her.

Next up, from May 11, 2000:

What is your opinion of the portrayal of the following characters as heroines from the 1970s to the 1980s: Marvel Comics' Scarlet Witch and DC Comics' Mary Marvel, Power Girl, Batgirl and Supergirl?

Heroines in general have been written better and better with each succeeding decade, and all the characters you mention (save one) have improved with time. The Scarlet Witch, who started as one of Stan Lee's many "pose and point" heroines, has reclaimed her gypsy heritage to good effect, her powers have been beefed up (and make a tad more sense than before) and often serves as leader or co-leader of the Avengers. Mary Marvel has gone from being a clone of C.M. to becoming a "Captain Marvel" in her own right -- and, as is usual at Mary & Billy's age, is often more mature and level-headed than the Billy Batson Captain Marvel. The original '60s Batgirl didn't make a lick of sense -- putting on a costume does NOT miraculously transform you into someone who can take out a group of heavily-armed thugs -- whereas the new Batgirl has (like Bruce Wayne) trained from an early age to do the things she does. (Her history also gives her a bit more pathos and motivation than Barbara Gordon, who lived a relatively sheltered life.) And the new Supergirl, while leaving me occasionally troubled by her overtly Christian iconography, has a much more interesting life and personality than Kara Zor-El, whose main concern in the '60s and '70s was "landing a boy."

The one exception, of course, is Power Girl, whose origin has been retconned at least twice. As a result, her history in the '70s and '80s is a patchwork of shifting personalities, origins and powers, and whose current bullying attitude leaves me cold.

If there’s anything regrettable here, it’s how the improvement of past heroines isn’t entirely true if we take into account what’s happened since Brian Bendis got his mitts on the Avengers in 2004, and did an utter hack job on Wanda Maximoff. And Mary, if you saw what happened to her in the year-long Countdown series that followed 52, was turned into a dark version of herself who even took to using a guy’s own body like a club! Ugh! Hardly what I’d call an improvement over what came before.

On Batgirl: okay, so they didn’t say early on whether Barbara Gordon studied martial arts that would help make her more qualified for the role. But if you ask me, that’s actually a rather minor nitpick, and very easy to fix (and they did circa the 80s). And on Supergirl: something wrong with her hoping to find Mr. Right? Of course it probably shouldn’t be the only thing she’s worried about in an adventure story, but still, that in itself is something most teenage girls do like to do. The real problem was how the writers depicted her slinking away in tears if her heart was broken by a breakup, when it’d be better for her to maintain a thicker skin in romantic relations that might lead nowhere.

And his argument about PG’s renditions leaves ME cold. Her personality traits have been played tongue-in-cheek in the best stories. I will say that under Geoff Johns, that’s where things do come under a question mark.

What was your impression of the Blade character in his early days in Dracula's issues?

I didn't care much for Blade as he appeared in Tomb of Dracula or any subsequent series. He seemed to have a lot of attitude for a guy armed with only wooden knives. However, the movie version in Blade explained the attitude while making him a lot more interesting, a lot more capable and a lot more heroic -- a rare example of a comic-book character being improved by Hollywood.

Nope, I don’t think so. Marv Wolfman’s famous creation was actually a lot better than he makes him out to be, and no movie is going to improve on that.

I was wondering if the Sci-Fi Channel should not try its hand at airing a show based on superhero fantasy for its original programming. What is your opinion on that score?

While TV executives try to copy success as quickly as possible, they flee like madmen from failure. Since no superhero-based show since the '60s has been a breakout hit, they are unlikely to try another one.

Umm, that’s not quite so. Let’s take the 1977-82 Incredible Hulk series starring Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno as an example. It was only loosely based on the comics series, and here’s an interesting bit of trivia: at one point in Hulk history, a technical error was made and Bruce Banner’s name was mistakenly listed as “Robert”, leading to the subsequent implication that Bruce was his middle name. In the rendition with Bixby, his first name was changed to David, although Bruce still remained as his middle name. It was developed as a drama along the same lines as The Fugitive (and, as writer/producer Kenneth Johnson once noted, drew a bit from Les Misrables too), and other than the Hulk himself, other sci-fi elements weren’t that common during the run. But, it was pretty good, addressing the times a lot more directly than even the live action series based on Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, as the scientist who’d spawned an alter ego while searching for “inner strengths” following the death of his wife in a car accident and his failure to get her out in time before it burst into flames wandered the USA helping other people with their misfortunes as he sought a cure for the transformations. His adversary was a reporter named Jack McGee (Jack Colvin) working for a tabloid-ish paper called The National Register who hoped to find and capture the Hulk, who he assumed was responsible for killing Banner and his lab assistant, when, even if it wasn’t intentional, he himself knocked over a chemical container that caused the explosion in a storage he was hiding inside. The unfortunate part is that, towards the end, NBC decided to cut its last season down to only 7 episodes and Bixby and company were unsuccessful in persuading them to take more or sell it to another network. But, they did manage to produce three reunion TV movies 6 years afterwards on CBS, which culminated in the death of the hero; that’s how, in Banner’s dying words, he was cured.

I’ll admit that NBC didn’t give it enough of a chance, but I wouldn’t say that particular series wasn’t a success in its own way. What surely made it work well at the time was that they only based it loosely on the source material, and another plus was that, in sharp contrast to how Marvel’s been operating today, the comics editors didn’t try to mandate anything totally similar on the original stuff.

And Smith’s assertion that there haven’t been any “breakout hits” since the 60s also flies in the face of the Lois & Clark series and even Smallville, though I’ll have to note that the latter series, while it ran even longer than the former, was not a success artistically, particularly towards the end when it became more politicized.

Did the Super Friends (DC Comics) exist in the post-Crisis period?

The Super Friends have never existed in the DC Universe continuity, before or after Crisis. They were in a world all their own -- Earth-TV, I guess. (Although Zan and Jayna have appeared -- presumably as jokes -- in Final Night and Kingdom Come. And there was one Superman story where two characters remarkably similar to Zan and Jayna made an appearance, but the concept has never been revisited. You can also forget altogether about Wendy and Marvin -- except for Kingdom Come 2, where Marvin was depicted drinking heavily with Lobo.)

That changed, at least for a while: during Geoff Johns’ run on Teen Titans – a very bad one at that – he introduced a take on Wendy and Marv into the DCU proper, yet never really did anything special with them. And then, to make matters worse, when Sean McKeever took over, he coughed out a story where these Wonder Twins were attacked by a demonic version of Wonder Dog, leaving Marv dead and Wendy in a wheelchair. And Johns didn’t seem to have any problem whatsoever with McKeever’s publicity stunt. Now, onto another letter:

Where is Mike Grell? Is he writing anything at the moment?

I haven't heard much from Mike Grell since Shaman's Tears went under at Image. I read in CSNsider that he was still pitching the series to various publishers, but that's the last I heard.

I want to take the time here to say that Grell disgusted me during his Iron Man run (blessedly short, but still…) by touting a guest character in his first story on the grounds that she was a Muslim. What specifically offended me was how it was being referenced/depicted so superficially, without being transparent about the components in the Islamic belief system, that being the Koran/Hadith. The name of the woman in the IM story was, interestingly enough, Ayisha! What would Grell say if he knew that the girl the woman in the IM story was named after was only 6 years old when the “prophet” of Islam, Muhammed, bought her as a child bride and fully consummated the marriage when she was 9? What would even Mr. Smith say?

The IM story itself may have been written as a metaphor for the war in the former Yugoslavia, which, as the following research should make clear, was started by the Bosnian Muslims. See also this harrowing report on Pamela Geller’s site about what one vile monster did (and here's another).

The writer to Mr. Smith who asked the query about Grell also asked what he thought of the current state of Marvel, and he replied:

The state of Marvel in general: A sorry one, I'm sad to say. It's more editor-driven (as opposed to creator-driven) than ever before, and "ideas" coming from top down are rarely any good. I know they're in a lot of financial trouble, and the scrutiny of the banks is at the root of their editorial cowardice. Understanding that doesn't make the books any better, though.

And it doesn't look like it will improve. The new publisher granted an interview to The Comics Retailer recently where he kept referring to Marvel Comics as appealing to the "teen market." And a Wall Street Journal article this week quoted the company's intention to "move away" from comics and into TV and films. (Like they've had any success whatsoever in those fields.)

Seeing how he failed to recognize that DC suffers the same problem, both then and today, I’m not taking that statement at face value. But wow, look what he cited there – the intention by Marvel to drift from comics into movies instead; just look where they are now! Sure, I’d like to think the movie success they’ve had is something to admire, but when I see how it was all done at the expense of the comics, I can’t help but wonder if it’s really worth the bother. Now for the next letter:

A few years ago you had an article about famous comic-book death scenes. Are there any comic-book characters that you are glad survived their near-death experience? And why?

Well, Superman of course -- his "death," if permanent, would have altered DC's comic-book universe profoundly, and not in a good way. The same is true of the "deaths" of Professor X and Jean Grey -- their absence would have changed the warp and woof of the X-titles in a negative way. (One reason I'm counting on the return of Cyclops.) In fact, most major characters have died at one time or another and come back -- to my great relief.

You didn't ask me about characters who have returned that I wish had STAYED dead -- and there are many. Start with Norman (Green Goblin) Osborn and work your way down.

Yeah, right, he wishes, doesn’t he? After Osborn became a leading villain in Civil War and Dark Reign, I didn’t see him feeling particularly bothered with Norman’s contrived return to life. Come to think of it, I don’t see him feeling particularly bothered with the second demise of Jean Grey in New X-Men either. He fails to convince. And now, for a really goofy reply to a rather pedestrian query from May 18, 2000:

What color of ink is used most in publishing comic books (after black)?

I'd say blue is the most common color after black. Yellow has to be used with discretion -- too much and you can see through to the next page -- and red is too overpowering. Blue is the natural color for background (sea and sky) and for highlights (metal, glass, Superman's hair).

Wow, when did the Man of Steel get his hair dyed to look like an anime character? (Incidentally, I think a lot more women in anime have blue hair than men do!) Seriously, as anybody who drinks their coffee often enough knows, Kal-El’s hair is black, and his eye color is blue. The way the particular query this came from was written up was pretty sloppy, but at least the reply provided some good belly laughs at how inept it was. LOL. On the other hand:

What did you think of the stories of the original Challengers of the Unknown?

I didn't much care for the Challengers, particularly in the Bob Haney/Dick Dillin era -- after all, we had an "updated" version of the Challs in the form of the Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four that was much better. But I'd take any of the original stories over either of the recent revamps.

Tsk tsk tsk. To think that Jack Kirby created those early space explorers all so that banal writers like Mr. Smith would denigrate his work, just like he did to Gardner Fox and John Broome? Shameful. The next item is pretty clumsy:

Being born in the '70s, I missed the Batman (TV) heydays. Had to catch it in syndication on weekends and days I was home sick from school. ... I guess I just never realized how huge it was back in its original run. How many years did the show run?

Batman started as a mid-season replacement in 1966, running twice a week its first year (Tuesdays and Thursdays in Memphis). It only ran for three years altogether (1966-68), but for the first two the impact on popular culture was nothing short of amazing. "Batmania" inspired a national fan club attached to the only "national" radio station (WLS in Chicago, which could be heard coast to coast after dark), a dance craze (the "Batusi") and more Bat-paraphernalia than you could shake a Batarang at (most of which was junk, because the toy industry was not nearly as developed or as sophisticated as it is now). Most kids (and Adam West) took the show seriously, whereas adults laughed themselves sick. I was somewhere in the middle -- I was glad to see Batman getting national exposure, but realized it was a mixed blessing when he was treated as a clown.

The result in DC Comics was mixed as well. Suddenly Batman and Detective were selling well again -- both were on the verge of cancellation -- and virtually every cover of Justice League of America had the Caped Crusader in a prominent position. (To that point he had, like Superman, been mostly on honorary member.) On the other hand, the character was visually changed to look like the TV show -- short ears and all smiles -- and "Zap! Bam! Pow!" was on every cover. In short, he was a clown. It took Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams to restore the Dark Knight to his '40s glory, sometime around 1970. That's why to ME the ultimate Bat-artist is Neal Adams -- he saved the Dark Knight from The Curse of Adam West. (Incidentally, I only collected Marvel in the '60s. It took Neal Adams on Batman and Green Lantern/Green Arrow to get me interested in DCs, which -- with the exception of Green Lantern, Atom and one or two others -- were all patterned after the TV show and were beneath my notice. I have, of course, since gone back and filled in DC to '63.)

If there’s one thing I do give the West series credit for, it’s how a request by the producers for a character to model their idea for Batgirl on be created led to the introduction of Babs Gordon. (Funny thing is that while in the comics, Babs was emphatically redheaded and wore her hair long, Yvonne Craig was brunette and wore her own hair short under a longer redheaded wig and cowl.) But if there’s one rare thing I do concur with here, it’s that yes, the 1966-68 series was a very mixed blessing, even if the special effects were such howlers (in one episode, Batman, while fighting a henchman “threw him” across a room, and the cable-hook carrying him was obvious!).

However, depending on your viewpoint, it wasn’t all that far removed from the angle used during the Silver Age, when at least some of the stories were played tongue-in-cheek, and the Joker was depicted more like the Prankster in Superman and the Trickster in Flash. However, the approach in the comics at the time had an advantage in that they managed to balance out some more sophisticated/intelligent ideas much better than the live action Bat-series ever did, and the characters in their four color world were a lot more engaging than the live actors ever were, IMO.

His assertion that much of DC’s output during the late 60s-early 70s was similar to the TV show is also very greatly exaggerated and definitely misleading – during the Silver Age, plenty of comics could incorporate a tongue-in-cheek approach, though as mentioned, with a lot more sophistication than the live action productions ever had, and while I realize that it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, there’s still plenty about those Silver Age DC stories that can be appreciated. So, I can only look down my nose at him for resorting to that bias.

Speaking of The Flash, my friends and I kept hoping Barry Allen would make a guest appearance on Lois & Clark, especially after Martha mentioned "that nut in Gotham," thus proving that Superman wasn't the only hero on that Earth (Earth-TV?) Do you think this would have worked as well as my friends and I do, or do you think the show's tones were too different?

I think it would have been swell. Except for the Flash suit -- clearly modeled after the Tim Burton Batman suit -- Flash wasn't a terribly serious show. I think it would have mixed well from a writing standpoint. But Flash failed because of exorbitant costs (reportedly a million dollars per episode) and being scheduled against The Simpsons and the The Cosby Show. One of the selling points for Lois & Clark was that they were going to keep F/X costs to a minimum by focusing on the "relationship" instead of superheroics -- I don't think they could have swung a Flash crossover from a cost standpoint alone.

I’m not sure if the costume was modeled after the overrated Burton movie, though the music by Danny Elfman certainly was. Maybe it failed because of the problematic budget, but artistically speaking, it was a failure too. In fact, calling it a not very serious show is something of an oxymoron: if the setup for the hero’s origin was to kill off his brother to serve as a motivation, then obviously there’s something dark to it, and not all that far removed from Batman’s own origins.

This should be enough for this first entry. The next Q&A files I worked on will be in another page, coming up next.

Copyright 2013 Avi Green. All rights reserved.

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