John Ostrander: When He’s Wrong…

by John Ostrander

’m a dyed in the wool pinko commie leftie and these Trump days are not great for me. So I find watching the various commentators like Samantha Bee, John Oliver, Seth Meyers, Trevor Noah and especially Stephen Colbert to be therapeutic.

Into this mix, I can usually add Bill Maher on his weekly HBO show, Real Time. Maher is very attack orientated and each week he winds up his hour with a rant on a given topic., Usually, I find him really funny and incisive but Maher does have his blind spots. He is anti-religion – Islam in particular. He thinks the majority of American voters to be morons and says so, which I find to be a broad generalization, counter-productive and not true.

His past two shows featured rants that gored a pair of my oxen. One was on space exploration, such as terraforming and colonizing Mars, and the other was a screed against super-hero movies.

Maher argued (ranted) that we should not be exploring space or even think of colonizing Mars so long as we have so many problems here at home. Neal DeGrasse Tyson rebutted Bill the following week when he pointed out that any technology that could terraform Mars could also terraform the Earth and restore what has been ravaged. I would add that a lot of our technological advances are a result of space exploration. That computer you carry in your pocket? That’s a result of the need to reduce the size of computers while making them faster and stronger to be of use to astronauts in space. Sorry, Bill, you didn’t think this through.

Then on his most recent show, Maher was quite disdainful about superhero movies in general.

He said there were too many superhero shows on TV and too many superhero movies at the cineplex and blamed the genre for the rise of Donald Trump. He said they “promote the mindset that we are not masters of our own destiny and the best we can do is sit back and wait for Star-Lord and a f*cking raccoon to sweep in and save our sorry asses. Forget hard work, government institutions, diplomacy, investments – we just need a hero to rise, so we put out the Bat Signal for one man who can step in and solve all of our problems.”

Really? Super-hero movies and TV are directly responsible for the presidency of Donald Trump? Right – and they also promote juvenile delinquency, Batman and Robin are really gay (not that that’s a bad thing) and Wonder Woman is a lesbian (not that that’s a bad thing). Wait, no. That was Dr. Frederic Wertham in his book Seduction of the Innocent back in the 1950s. He was every bit as full of shit back then as you are today, Bill.

And, besides, everybody these days knows that Wonder Woman is bisexual.

I have no idea where Maher pulled this notion of superheroes and Trump from. Maybe his ass. I doubt that he’s seen many if any of the films or TV shows that he’s knocking. He’s taken an attitude and applied his standard disdain, snark, and superior attitude to it. Just not much thought.

Why does this bother me? It’s unlikely that Maher’s words will cause the opening weekend grosses for Wonder Woman to drop. However, this is a topic I know something about and if Maher can get that so wrong, can I trust him on topics that I don’t know much about?

Maybe I’ve outgrown him.

Think I’ll go watch a good superhero movie and let it rot my brain. It’s been a long day.


John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. Don’t forget to read his most excellent blog at ComicMix, where this piece first appeared. You can learn more about John and his masterworks HERE

John Ostrander: Double Your Pleasure

by John Ostrander

When I was younger I would go to double features at the movies all the time; sometimes, even a triple feature. It was good value for the money; two movies for the price of one. We also had what was called second run theaters. These were more the neighborhood, smallish theaters that would show films after they had been in the larger theaters. There were even venues that would show old movies and change the program daily. This was before tapes or CDs were out and often were the only way to see old movies on a big screen (as God and Cecil B. DeMille intended).

Often the films were chosen randomly but every once in a while you’d get someone booking the films who knew what they were doing. I first saw Casablanca in a double bill with Play It Again, Sam, written and starring but not directed by Woody Allen. It was at the old 400 Theater on Sheridan Road not far from Loyola University and the place was packed with deeply appreciative fans. They cheered at every appropriate point. It was the best introduction I could have asked for to what has become one of my fave films.

These days it’s hard to find a double bill anywhere unless you’re possibly in NYC so Mary and I sometimes put together our own from the films we own. This isn’t the same as binge watching; we’ve done that as well with Downton Abbey or the Harry Potter films. No, we try to figure out which seemingly unrelated films might fit well together.

For instance, we finally got around to seeing Hidden Figures, which starred Octavia Spencer and told the story of black female mathematicians in the early days of NASA. Great cast, terrific story about something of which I knew nothing. What movie would go well with it?

The Right Stuff of course came to mind, covering the same era and some of the same events from a very different perspective. However, to my mind the film 42 – the story of how Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball — works even better. While they don’t cover exactly the same years, they do cover the same era when blacks were just starting to get some measure of equality and what it cost to do that.

When the live action version of Beauty and the Beast comes out on Blu-Ray, we may pair it with the animated version to compare and contrast. Or, possibly even better, pair either with Cocteau’s 1946 version.

I just watched Bull Durham again recently (it’s early in baseball season) and tried to think what would go well with it. Field of Dreams occurred to me, of course (another of my faves). Both films star Kevin Costner (why is Costner always better when he’s in films about sports of some kind?) and is about baseball but Field of Dreams is a little too mystical, I think. I’d rather go with Tin Cup. It’s about golf (which I largely detest) but it also stars Kevin Costner and is written (or co-written) and directed by Ron Shelton who also did Bull Durham. There is a similar sensibility in both films and a bawdy sense of humor.

I’d pair Disney’s Pinocchio with Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. Both animators are at the top of their game in their respective eras and styles and there is a sense of the weird and wonderful as seen through the figure of a child (or a puppet who would be a child).

I might pair Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back with Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. Both are tinged with darkness and loss. What would go with the first Rocky film (which is effective and touching and not bloated like the sequels)? I might pair it with Creed which could also be described as the last Rocky film. Seeing the character at the beginning and the end of his story arc could be very instructive.

Anyway, there’s a lot more and I‘m sure all of you can think of some. To me, it’s not just about naming two films but finding the connective tissue between them, an artistic DNA that suggests a relationship. That’s what makes a good double bill so interesting and so satisfying.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, the TV is calling my name. “Johhhhnnnn, Johhhhnnnnyyyy. . .!”

Okay, okay I’m coming. Keep your cathode ray tube on.

 

 


John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. Don’t forget to read his most excellent blog at ComicMix, where this piece first appeared. You can learn more about John and his masterworks HERE

Words That are Actually Hidden Phrases

Know those cryptography apps that let you hide a whole hard drive’s worth of files in, like, one gif or somesuch?

Turns out the English language has had that very feature for a very long time. (Patent trolls: Go ahead. Sue everyone who uses English words. C’mon. We dares ya!)

Anyway:

Arika Okrent does it again! Check out her very helpful channel.

Words We Invented By Getting Them Wrong

Shakespeare wasn’t the only dude who invented a few words. In fact, he’s just one of the crowd.

For example:

Arika Okrent does it again! Check out her very helpful channel.

John Ostrander: Wait. What Was I Thinking?

by John Ostrander


NOTE FROM LB: John Ostrander didn’t create the Suicide Squad, but he, along with various important partners, made it into something special enough to succeed as a film even though it starred Will Smith. I enjoyed John’s discussion of the evolution of the world’s most heinous super group and hope y’all will too!


On May 23, DC will release the sixth volume in their TPB reprint series of my Suicide Squad work. It’s sub-titled “The Phoenix Gambit” and, as is my wont, I’m going to share some thoughts about the stories therein. This might actually take a few weeks.

The volume covers issues 41 through 49 and, with one exception, was co-written with my late wife, Kim Yale. It was at this point that we shook up the Squad (and the book) to a large degree. When we last left the Squad in issue 40 (and the end of the previous TPB), the Squad had disbanded or dispersed. Amanda Waller was in jail as a result of her hand in executing the criminal gang calling itself the Loa; she just surrendered and, at the time, many people both within the book and without wondered why. Why didn’t she fight it? Why didn’t she scheme to get out of it?

In one of the stories in this issue, Amanda explains why to a friend – she felt she deserved to go to jail, that she had stepped over the line. This re-enforced the fact that, so far as I was concerned, Waller has always had a conscience of some kind, even when she crossed it. I think that’s the main difference between my Amanda and the film’s Amanda – mine is not a sociopath. Please note: this is not a criticism of the film; they wrote the character as they saw her, as they needed for their story. Mine is just a bit different. The first story starts with Waller in a prison cell in Belle Reve and the caption “One year later.”

This was slightly controversial at the time. There were fans who felt this now put the Squad out of sync with the rest of the DCU. Kim and I weren’t overly concerned about that; we figured over the run of the stories, they’d even up. It was important to Kim and I that the time elapse between the end of the last story and the start of this one. Not only did Waller need time out, some of the other characters need time to elapse as well.

Sarge Steel approaches Amanda in her cell. (Steel also works in the Intelligence biz and he and Waller have been at loggerheads since the Squad began.) He could use her help and advice with a problem and makes her the same deal she made others – do the job, succeed, survive, and get time off your sentence.

Amanda smiles at him; she’s been waiting for this or something like it. She has a counter-offer. She gets a presidential pardon; she gets to put a Squad together like before, they work without governmental ties or oversight, and they get a million dollars. Oh, and Batman has to help with the first mission.

This would be one of the big changes in the book; no more Belle Reve, no more supporting cast. Smaller Squad and, for the most part, no costumes. Every day clothes. They were free agents. More expendable than ever and the U.S. Government had less (or no) control over them (and especially Amanda).

These were significant changes. The book was over three years old and time, Kim and I thought, for a shake-up. While the new direction seemed to me at the time to be a good idea, in retrospect I’m not so sure. Fans can be a conservative bunch; they tend to want the same thing each time but different. That’s a hard trick to pull off. Don’t you need the characters in costume to really know who they are? It could be argued that Deadshot’s costume WAS the character. In losing the Belle Reve, we lost not only the Squad’s HQ but a genuine character in the series.

It could also be argued that having the characters running around in costume negated their being a covert action bunch. This seemed more “realistic” although realistic in this context is somewhat malleable. It also got Waller more out into the field as part of the operation rather than waiting at HQ and that seemed to me to be a better idea.

The Squad itself was a somewhat different group. Deadshot and Captain Boomerang were givens and Vixen and Bronze Tiger were regulars although we had messed with Tiger a bit, scuffed up his “good guy” image. They were joined by Count Vertigo and now Poison Ivy and the modern Thugee, Revan, who previously had been a Squad opponent, working with the terrorist group, the Jihad.

They were also joined by the Atom or, shall I say, an Atom. It appeared that Ray Palmer was killed in an explosion and a new Atom, named Adam Cray, had taken his place. Most the of the Squad members (and many readers) believed that Cray was actually Ray Palmer; they thought Palmer had, for some reason, faked his own death and was now assuming a disguise.

I always felt that the Atom would be an ideal member of an espionage team, especially the Squad. His ability to shrink could make him an ideal spy and so, when he became available to us, Kim and I jumped at the chance – albeit with our usual touch of twistiness.

The Phoenix Gambit also included the Russian equivalent to very early Superman crossed with Captain America, Stanoivolk (“Steel Wolf”). And Batman. Lots of Batman. In fact, the first chapter of The Phoenix Gambit could almost be thought of as a Batman story. He’d stick around for the other three issues as well. No great mystery there – Batman already had a history with the Squad and doing something of a crossover could be a nice way to boost sales, Especially at this stage of the Squad’s history.

Getting ready to write this column (and the next few) gave me a chance to go over the volume myself; I hadn’t read most of these in more than a decade. I think, as a whole, they’re among the strongest in the series. Kim and I were really hitting our stride and there are places where I can clearly see her hand and hear her voice. There’s a place where a drugged and deranged Count Vertigo gets all biblical while in battle. That was almost certainly scripted by Kim; her father was an Episcopal minister and she knew the well from which she drew.

The main artist at this point was Geoff Isherwood who had been one of our inkers for a long time. He gave the art a nice illustrative feel while, at the same time, keeping the down and dirty realism the book required. Luke McDonnell, our original artist, would return here and there but the bulk of the work is Geoff’s and he does a fine job.

Well, that does it for this week, my li’l Squadders. Join us next time when, among other things, we’ll talk about our Secret Origin of Captain Boomerang and how that came about. That’s next week – same Squad time, same Squad channel.

Or something.


John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. Don’t forget to read his most excellent blog at ComicMix, where this piece first appeared. You can learn more about John and his masterworks HERE

Commas – Gotta love ’em! Well, Gotta use ’em anyway!

We’re writers. We used commas. A lot. Except this TVWriter™ minion. I use periods because…well, because I’ve never fully understood how the damn things are supposed to be used.

But that’s no excuse. Because now we have…these lovely and comma-loving videos:

Wow, look at me dance, sing, and jump for joy cuz now I knows commas, yessirree, Bob!

John Ostrander: Sidekicking Around

by John Ostrander

Holmes and Watson. Lone Ranger and Tonto. Batman and Robin. Lucy and Ethel. Hamlet and Laertes. The list of heroes and their BFFs is long and overall an honorable one… and usually necessary.

A sidekick, at base, is a supporting character and a supporting character’s main function is to bring out aspects of the protagonist. In most cases, the sidekick is there so that the protagonist isn’t constantly monologuing. Granted, Hamlet is a champion monologuist but when Laertes is there he can be engaged in a dialogue. Holmes needs Watson so the reader can see how brilliant the Great Detective is. Whatever his other character traits may be, Watson’s prime one is to be surprised and amazed by Holmes and, in that, Watson represents us, the readers.

There are many different ways of interpreting a sidekick. Watson, for example, can be Nigel Bruce’s bumbling Colonel Blimp character or Jude Law’s testy and acerbic put-upon friend or Martin Freeman’s occasionally explosive but loyal best man. In the Harry Potter films, Ron Weasley, in the first film, is at one point both brave and self-sacrificing. In later films, however, he becomes cowardly and mostly comic relief, very like Nigel’s Bruce’s Watson.

Robin falls into a strange category of the child or teen sidekick. He was originally introduced to lighten up the Dark Knight Detective and, again, to give Batman someone to talk to rather than himself. Robin humanized the Bat. His popularity gave rise to a whole slew of child/teen associates such as Wonder Girl, Kid Flash, Speedy, and Aqualad. Later, these five went from supporting characters to central ones when they formed their own super-team, the Teen Titans (later, just the Titans when they all outgrew their teenage years).

The original Robin, Dick Grayson, later grew out of his shorts and tights to become a full-fledged hero of his own, first as Nightwing and then later, briefly, actually taking Bruce Wayne’s place as Batman before reverting back to Nightwing. There have been other Robins since then, including one – Jason Todd – who was killed by the Joker. Don’t worry; he got better. The role is currently being filled by Bruce’s son, Damian. I believe he died as well at one point but is also now feeling better.

Moral and ethical questions have been raised about the whole idea of the adult hero having child/teen sidekicks. The lifestyle, after all, is inherently violent and rather dangerous. Frederic Wertham, in his suspect 1954 treatise Seduction of the Innocent, postulated Batman and Robin were gay which, given those times, was thought to be profoundly deviant. Wertham was blowing it out his ass but the damage was done at the time. Still, one can see that it was a dangerous life style to include the kids in. The questions remain.

For me, I’ve sometimes identified more with the sidekick than the protagonist. I love Holmes but I’ve always identified more with Watson (except for Nigel Bruce). Batman (and Bruce Wayne) is difficult to like but Dick Grayson (especially in his adult incarnations) is someone with whom I can more easily relate. I think sidekicks are designed that way. They put more human into super-human.


John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. Don’t forget to read his most excellent blog at ComicMix, where this piece first appeared. You can learn more about John and his masterworks HERE