MAY GOD HAVE MERCY ON YOUR SOUL, DR. WERTHAM*

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(*Every time I say the word ‘Wertham’, I spit on the ground.)

In the late 1940s, a series of articles appeared in the Ladies’ Home Journal about the menace of comic books. They were written by a respected psychologist named Dr. Frederic Wertham*. They were later collected and expanded upon and published as a book titled “SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT”. For a comic book fan such as myself, Wertham’s* odious tome is as perfidious as Mein Kampf.

Wertham* worked in the prison system and noticed that the vast majority of juvenile inmates were avid readers of comic books. An unsurprising observation, in and of itself. In the post-war period, super-heroes fell out of favour and the dominant genres were crime stories and horror tales. Charles Biro’s “CRIME DOES NOT PAY” was the much-imitated best-seller, featuring “true” tales of gangsters, bank robbers, outlaws and such. EC (Entertaining Comics) had a thriving line of horror titles like “CRYPT OF SHADOWS” and “VAULT OF HORROR”. (There were also : Western comics, Romance comics, a handful of super-hero comics, humour comics, funny animal comics, war comics and “Tijuana Bibles”, bootleg samizdat pornographic pamphlets featuring comic book characters in sexual situations.)

Wertham* lumped all these disparate genres together and came up with the fear-mongering notion that comic books were a den of wicked perversion that … well, seduced the innocent into a life a crime, sin and misery.

Crime comic books were literally “textbooks”, according to Wertham*, that taught young children how to commit crimes like the professionals do (even though EVERY SINGLE CRIME COMIC BOOK EVER PUBLISHED ends with the criminal being executed, by agents of the state or his erstwhile colleagues or by Fate itself. Hell, the best-selling title was called “CRIME DOES NOT PAY”).

Superman was a fascist overlord fantasy (even though he was created by two Jewish kids from Cleveland. He also once choked out Hitler).

Batman & Robin were “an idealized homosexual fantasy”, a pederast’s dream – riches, secret identities, a young boy cavorting in his underwear. (This is where all those “Batman & Robin are gay” jokes and jabs come from. For the record, Batman’s not gay, he’s asexual. He’s got way too much going on in his head to waste brain-space lustfully. Plus, he’s a Science-Ninja, pretending to be a play-boy, remember? He can give women SCIENCE-NINJA ORGASMS! In like, three seconds, so powerful, the women pass out from the bliss and then he slips out of the room and … goes and fights Mr. Freeze. Maybe he goes and punches a murder-clown in the rain ontop of a bridge or something. Robin, on the other hand, grew up into Nightwing and then slept with half the women in the DC Universe. Trust me, Dick ain’t gay, much to the chagrin of the gay community in the DC Universe. )

Wonder Woman encouraged lesbianism. Phantom Lady’s tits were too big. Everything was too violent – Westerns had gun fights galore, funny animal comics had anvils and steam rollers and rolling pins upside the head. Wertham* even looked into the line-work to find hidden, coded, subliminal “sexual” messages, in the inking of a shoulder or a background. (I am not kidding.)

Horror comics came under particular fire, for their depictions of horrendous (FICTIONAL) murders and the supernatural. Again, these comics were manuals that taught children to become axe-murderers or sociopathic poisoners or something. Again, the protagonist of any horror story invariably ended up dead themselves but Wertham* ignored that fact, in service of his thesis, that comic books perverted and sullied the pure imaginations of America’s youth.

The thing is : people ate this up with a spoon.

It was the 50s – McCarthyism was in full swing, there were Reds under every bed, potentially and who knows what other kinds of monsters to boot? Children were becoming unruly and disrespectful, listening to strange music and dressing like hooligans. Something, clearly, needed to be done. Or, failing that, to be seen to be done. And so, the sitting House Un-American Activities Committee hauled in comic book publishers to testify before them and stand to account. That’s right – the Government interrogated publishers of comic books to discover if Batman was undermining America.

The end result of this was the Comics Code, an agreed-upon set of “guidelines” that dictated what could be shown in a comic book. NO SUPERNATURAL STORIES – that ran horror comics out of business, almost immediately. CRIMINALS COULD NEVER BE GLORIFIED AND THE POLICE COULD NEVER BE SEEN AS LESS THAN PERFECT – bye-bye, Crime comics. Everything had to be WHOLESOME ENTERTAINMENT and not smutty indulgences – so long, Phantom Lady. A comic book about the (recent) Korean War was in BAD TASTE because America didn’t win that war outright so Harvey Kurtzman’s Two-Fisted Tales bit the dust. And so on. Once you put “guidelines” in place, creativity suffers.

Comics went into the doldrums for a while but not for long. Guys like Jack Kirby created Science comics, like Challengers of the Unknown (a proto-Fantastic Four). Monster comics, tales of science gone wrong, were popular among the mental defectives and juvenile delinquents of the day, with the rational man’s triumph at the end of the story. Before long, super-heroes started to make a come-back. War comics (about WWII, the War We Won) came back, as Westerns went into decline and died off. By 1966, the release of Wertham’s* next book THE MARK OF CAIN, comic books were more popular than they had been in years (thanks to Batman, strangely enough) and they were a far different entity than the one Wertham* once defeated.

Wertham * almost recanted his insane accusations but not really, because he actually believed them – he’d worked with depraved individuals and struggled to understand them and how they got to be the way they were. He interviewed the infamous Albert Fish, a man more terrifying than every horror movie ever made put together (who, incidentally, never read a comic book in his miserable, misbegotten life. Google ‘Albert Fish’ and prepare yourself not to sleep for a few days).

Wertham* put one (comic books exist) and one (people in prison, particularly young offenders and the tentatively literate enjoy the distraction of magazines) and came up with MORAL PANIC! The infallible calculus of an idiot academic, massaging the data to a happy ending of his own choosing, with an axe to grind and a theory to prove. He’s the reason I don’t trust anyone who calls themselves a “doctor”. I thought doctors swore an oath to do no harm.

Nowadays, Dr. Wertham* would be spoilt for choice about pernicious influences on the youth. Video games, EDM, tight fitting clothing, you name it. He might be surprised, though, by the daily news of our time, two generations hence from his temporal location. If you go to a movie or school or church or work or pretty much anywhere, you might not come home because someone with a gun might just kill you, for reasons unknown(until they post their manifesto online, of course). Maybe they liked comic books, maybe they didn’t.

Anyway. I’m parched from all this spitting. I need a drink.

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ON WONDER WOMAN

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In the mythology of DC Comics, there exists the concept of the Trinity – Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. They represent the thematic underpinnings of the whole enterprise – The Stranger From Elsewhere, The Night’s Avenger and The Queen of Power. Three major arcana, unique in that they have been consistently published since the early 40s and yet, are still relevant today.

Superman was created by two kids from Cleveland named Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster. Batman was created by Bill Finger but a kid named Bob Kane stole all the credit. Wonder Woman was created by the guy who invented the Lie Detector.

Much has been written about William Moulton Marston and his unorthodox home life (he lived in a triparate “marriage” with two women and was big into BDSM, apparently) and Wonder Woman gets tied up a lot – like, A LOT – in the early comics but make no mistake. Wonder Woman is essentially important to the DC Universe and comics in general, even beyond the whole “yin to the yang” thing.

Wonder Woman, first of all, is the premiere female super-hero, probably the only female super-hero that anybody knows. She had a tv show, she’s a merchandising dream, she’s been on lunch boxes and beach towels and bubble-gum cards. In the same way that Superman is the first super-hero (and strangely, in the same way that Batman is not a super-hero AT ALL – but that’s another story, I’ve said too much), Wonder Woman is utterly unique in that she’s top-of-mind, when asked to name a female super-hero. Name another one. Go on. I dare ya.

Superman’s had his ups and downs, over the years (the 90s were particularly cruel to him – he died, came back to life, had a mullet, turned blue, got better, ditched the mullet). Batman, likewise, had a rough patch (his back got broken, he got better, Gotham had a plague and then an earthquake, many more shenanigans, he died and came back to life blahblahblah, he found his long-lost son, who later died and then came back to life blahblah) and Wonder Woman? Man, they’ve never known what to do with Wonder Woman.

A quick info-dump – we all know Jerry and Joe got screwed by DC on Superman. Bob Kane screwed both DC AND Bill Finger (AND JERRY ROBINSON!) on Batman. Marston screwed DC on Wonder Woman.

Somewhere, buried in the original contract, that DC has been renewing since 1942, is a stipulation that if DC ceases publication of Wonder Woman, the rights revert to the Marston family. And they can’t have that, oh no. We’re not leaving that money on the table.

That’s right – the greatest female super-hero ever created is a loss-leader for the publisher. They make more off Wonder Woman branded beach towels and lunch boxes and Under-Oos than they ever did off Wonder Woman comic books. Wonder Woman comic books don’t sell, they never have, they never will. They don’t have to sell, they just have to exist.

Name one Superman villain. Lex Luthor, right? Name a Batman villain. The Joker. (And yes, the guy at the back yelling “KING TUT!” can shut up now.) Name a Wonder Woman villain.

Here’s five – Dr. Psycho (a twisted misogynistic dwarf), the Cheetah (which version?), Angle Man (a jumped-up hood with a magic triangle that “figured out all the angles”) Ares (the Greek God of War), Egg Fu (a giant, sentient Chinese man, whose head looked like an egg) and Silver Swan (she had sonic powers, I think and was largely forgettable). Oh and Paula Von Gunther, a Nazi who Wonder Woman rehabilitated. (She lived a happy life in exile on Paradise Island and created the Purple Ray, which instantly healed people. Not bad for a reformed Nazi.)

None of these (except maybe the Greek God or the reformed Nazi. Or the dwarf) are particularly interesting antagonists. They’re certainly not the calibre of a murder-clown or a mad scientist. Wonder Woman never got the attention that she should have. While Batman was battling an arsonist with a colourful gimmick (Firebug, Firefly, several others), Wonder Woman was wondering if Steve Trevor (the male Lois Lane) would ever ask her to marry him.

It didn’t help that Bob Kanigher was writing her (and THAT’S a story for another time, as it’s very “inside baseball” – suffice to say, Bashful Bob Kanigher lived like Don Draper for as long as he could) and that’s ONE of Wonder Woman’s problems. When they finally wrested control of her from him, they immediately took away her super-powers and tried to make her into Emma Peel. (Google it.) THAT didn’t work so she eventually got her powers back and then went through 12 labours to be accepted back into the Justice League. (It took Gloria Steinem complaining on the cover of the first issue of Ms. Magazine for Wonder Woman to get her powers back.)

In the 70s, there was the television show (and the TERRIBLE pilot starring Cathy Lee Crosby!) and Lynda Carter nailed it – NAILED IT – as Wonder Woman. She cemented, in the minds of the mass audience, what Wonder Woman is. AND THAT IS THIS – a compassionate heroine, who speaks and acts for the down-trodden, the forgotten, the hopeless. Superman saved the world from alien invasions or mad scientists. Batman stops a murder-clown from poisoning the water-supply. Wonder Woman reunites children with their parents or rehabilitates a Nazi.

You all know Superman’s origin – Last Son of Krypton and all that. Batman’s parents ARE DEAD (Spoiler Alert) and you all know that. Five bucks says you have no idea what Wonder Woman’s origin is.

Well, it goes like this :

The Gods blessed Hyppolita, Queen of Paradise Island, with a dream – go down to the shore and form a child from the clay. Name the child Diana and she shall be a light unto you. So she did and yes, she was. And she grew to woman-hood, magical child that she was and truly, a light unto them and she learned from her sisters, every secret under the sun. And then, the war came and Steve Trevor ditched his plane in the … Aegean? I guess? And rather than let him die, Diana saved him. And was eventually chosen to accompany him back to Man’s World. Because they didn’t want him on Paradise Island. Once in Man’s World, she felt she could do some good and teach men (and women!) how best to behave. Armed with a Lasso of Truth and her Amazonian bracelets and her natural skill and resiliency (and YES, an invisible plane), she became the ultimate crusader for Justice.

Unlike Superman or Batman, Diana’s home is extant, it exists. She CAN go home again (and often does, to rest and recharge). Krypton is gone and mere fragments of it are poisonous to Kal El. Batman’s parents are, I remind you, DEAD. Diana calls her mom all the time.

You know how DC is always trying to make Aquaman look cool? Even though he’s totally NOT? Yeah, well. They have greater contempt for Wonder Woman. Nobody looks cool with an Aquaman lunch-box (or even a beach towel, which is kinda ironic) but half the population can identify with Wonder Woman. And DC doesn’t care.

Take away her powers, give them back, take them away again. Make her into a crazy psycho bitch, maybe that’ll work? What if she killed somebody, a meaningless character, like Maxwell Lord? Hey, what if Zeus raped her mother? Greek Gods were hella into rape. What if we make her a bad-ass, like Batman but with the power of Superman? That CAN’T fail, can it? CAN IT?!

Diane Nelson, the publisher of DC Comics Entertainment (an oxymoron, to be sure) is quoted as saying “Wonder Woman is a difficult character to get right.”

No, she isn’t.

Wonder Woman, at her essence, is all about compassion. She cares about people and would rather avoid violence, if possible. (Batman actually enjoys violence, it’s not only his job, it’s also his hobby. Wonder Woman only uses violence if she absolutely has to.) Compassion is so rare and that’s why it’s so valuable. She saves the world, one tiny life at a time. And thus, teaches us all that WE CAN BE HEROES, just for one day.

Boys AND Girls.

Thematically, that beats the hell outta Green Lantern, that’s for sure. He’s just a space cop with a magic ring.

JACK IS MY ONLY KING

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Jacob Kurtzberg was born in 1917 and he died in 1994, a shitty year for deaths – Charles Bukowski, Kurt Cobain and Jacob Kurtzberg. You’ve probably never even heard of Jacob Kurtzberg. But I bet you know who Jack Kirby was. Or do you?

He anglicized his name, the better to get work, such was the miasma of anti-Semitism in society in those days. He reinvented himself, you might say.

He had a partner, in the early days – no, not Stanley, Stanley was the fucking office boy. An annoying kid who played the ocarina and goofed off, when he wasn’t going out for coffee and sammiches and Roi-Tan cigars. No, Jack’s partner was Joe Simon (gee, I wonder if he anglicized his name, too?) and they both wrote and they both drew and they were GOOD. They were in demand. Together, they created Captain America.

[A BRIEF DISSERTATION ABOUT CAPTAIN AMERICA – He’s Marvel’s version of Superman. He’s a nakedly propagandistic figure but he stands for the best parts of America – her can-do spirit, her never-say-die ethos, her magnificent idea that a man can be whatever he wants to be in America, as long as he works hard enough and his heart is in the right place and he’s willing to be a human test subject in a government experiment. One day, I’ll tell you who Marvel’s Batman is and the answer will shock you.]

So far, so good. But Joe and Jack realized they weren’t happy and they were getting ripped off by Stanley’s uncle, Martin Goodman, who was not a good man. So they started thinking about jumping ship and going over to National (better known as DC). They made the mistake of telling Stanley and he ratted them out to his uncle. They left and indeed went to National but it didn’t last long because the war happened and Jack got drafted. So that was it. He married his sweet-heart Roz before he left and went off to war.

He ended up fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, among other places. He got frost-bite in a frozen shell-hole in the winter of ’44. Almost lost his legs. But he made it.

His C.O. once asked if anybody in the squad knew how to draw. Jack said “I created Captain America.” Everybody laughed and when they stopped laughing because he actually DID create Captain Fucking America, Jack got sent out in advance to sketch the enemy’s positions. It was a dangerous job but it probably saved a lot of lives.

Stanley also enlisted. You know how he spent the war? He was stationed at Fort Dix and he wrote funny captions for cartoons about v.d. I’m not even kidding.

So Jack comes back from the war and goes back to comics and superheroes are starting to wane. So he creates Western comics, Romance comics (girls got money, too, y’know!) and refines his style and in so doing, practically defines the whole language of comic books. He’s working small at first, doing genre work, monster stories, weird sci-fi but he had a hit with the Challengers of the Unknown. Four men living on borrowed time! Rocky, Red, Ace and the Prof.! They were the template of the Fantastic Four.

So he goes back to Marvel, willing to forget the past and re-invent himself AGAIN, because he had a family he had to provide for and so on. Stanley’s there, only now his name is Stan Lee and he’s now Jack’s boss, not the wretched office boy. Jack creates the Fantastic Four (it’s entirely possible that Stan was at least in the room when he did it) and it’s a fucking hit. He keeps cranking them out. He works with Steve Ditko on a concept he kinda came up with a few years ago and it’s another fucking hit. Maybe you’ve heard of him. His name is Spider-Man.

Thor. Iron Man. The X-Men. Sgt. Fury. Dr. Doom. The Inhumans. Adam Warlock. Name a Marvel super-hero OR villain, chances are Jack created ‘em. Galactus. The Silver Surfer.

And therein lies another great Kirby story.

He was working for Will Eisner, way back in the day and this torpedo comes in to the office, trying to extort them. Think of a gangster in the early ‘40s – big guy, six feet, a nose that’s been broken before, cauliflower ear, a couple of scars on his face, fedora, pin-stripe suit, oily pencil-mustache, chewing on a match-stick. Black shirt, white tie. That kinda guy.

The guy said something about “You should use our towel service. Everybody in the building uses it. It keeps accidents to a minimum.” Jack (who I must mention was not a tall man) comes up and gets in the guy’s face and says “Is this sonnuvabitch bothering you, boss? Get the fuck outta here! We don’t want your goddamn towel service, asshole! Get out and never come back!” And y’know what? The guy scurried out of there and they never had any problems with the rackets ever again.

So Jack figured a cosmic (yeah, he also invented the concept of “cosmic”) big-wig like Galactus wouldn’t come knocking on your door like a celestial version of Walter White. He’d send a guy ahead of him. A herald. And surfing was popular so Jack said why the hell not. Stan was amazed to see these panels of some guy on a surfboard soaring through space towards Earth, towards an inevitable conflict with the First Family of Comics, in the World’s Greatest Comic Magazine. “Who is he?” Stan asked. “The Silver Surfer”, Jack answered.

[A BRIEF DISSERTATION ABOUT THE SILVER SURFER- Norrin Radd sacrificed his life to spare his planet from Galactus, agreeing to roam the stars to find uninhabited worlds for the Great Devourer to feed upon. Eventually, Galactus’ hunger exhausted the uninhabited worlds and Radd found Earth. In the course of the battle, he realized that humans were as precious as his own world that he sacrificed himself to save so he defied Galactus and helped the FF chase him away but was exiled to Earth, free to roam the spaceways no more. The Silver Surfer is widely recognized as the coolest fucking super-hero ever. HE RIDES A SURFBOARD THRU SPACE. How cool is THAT?]

You know who else thought that was cool? Stan Lee. He made a rule that only he could ever write the Silver Surfer. That really stung.

Jack jumped ship to National again, the year I was born. Created the Fourth World of the New Gods. Kamandi. OMAC. The Demon. It didn’t work out. He went back to Marvel in 1975. There, he did the Black Panther (another character he created, the first black super-hero), Captain America, the wonderfully demented Devil Dinosaur. He did a weird “adaptation” of 2001 : A Space Odyssey, that had nothing whatsoever to do with the movie OR the book of the same name. Eventually, it became Machine Man.

He went to work in animation after that. Sick of the bullshit of comics. Remember Thundarr the Barbarian? That was him. You know that movie Argo, that won an Oscar or two a few years back? Yeah, that was based on his work. He saved a few lives, just by drawing some pictures.

Captain Victory and His Galactic Rangers. Silver Star (which he pitched as a film project, initially). Destroyer Duck (when he saw Steve Gerber getting screwed by Marvel over Howard the Duck, he was happy to lend a hand to punch them in the balls).

DC did the one decent thing in the history of their existence as a company when they gave him credit (and money) from his Fourth World creations when they released them as action figures. (Darkseid is a big influence on Darth Vader, did you know that?)

He died in 1994.

The next time you see Stan Lee, don’t believe a word he says.

There will never be another man like Jack Kirby.

I started this blog the day Leonard Nimoy died. This is my fiftieth issue so I figured I’d do something special for someone who gave me so much over the years. And to confess, that when I was a little kid, Kirby’s artwork scared the hell out of me. Weird blocky figures screaming at each other, unimaginable bombastic situations that were enough to blow your MIND! And I can’t exactly pin-point the moment that I began to like it and thus, re-invented myself.

Thanks, Jack. You’re the King.

FOR RIKI

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Let me tell you about my friend Riki. (I recall she later changed her name to Rayna, the last time I saw her. I knew her as Riki). She was fantastic. Sharp as tack and gorgeous to boot. Legs like mad, bee-stung lips, flawless makeup. Mulatto, from where, I never knew, no trace of an accent I recognized but rather, a voice like expensive scotch dripped upon velvet. Loved to dance and was a star. I haven’t spoken to her in … jeez, more than twenty years. I have no idea where she is or even whether she’s alive anymore. Statistically speaking, she probably isn’t. You see, she was transgender.

I was in my mid twenties and running drunkenly and madly in all directions with a late-nite arty-style squad. It was a loose arrangement that happened with a weird kind of military precision. We’d go to places that didn’t have names, exactly. The night would start out pre-gaming as we watched the ladies get dressed and ready for an evening and morning on the town and then hook up with somebody at the Boom Boom Room or wherever to find out where to go later. It was like the 90s Parkdale version of Warhol’s Factory. Most of it is a bit of a blur, to be perfectly honest but hot damn, I remember Riki. I’ll never forget her.

She was FEARLESS, truly. She did as she liked and owned the night, every night. Honey, you have NO idea. She was sharp and obsidian and always on point. Impeccable comic timing, like, Genius Level, the kind you have to be born with but the kind that only gets better the more you use it.

She was a sexy brown Oscar Wilde in a fabulous-and-totally-not-tacky gown. And sure, she was born a dude but dude? She was a woman. Trust me. I’ve met women, I know what women are like, how they act, how they essentially, existentially ARE. Riki was all woman, as woman as any woman I ever met. I don’t mean she just looked like a woman or “acted” like a woman. She WAS a woman. From the top of her head to the tips of her toes.

I remember one time, we all went out late one night, well past the Witching Hour in the winter-time. We were happily strolling down a side-street somewhere downtown when a street-salting truck passed by slowly and blasted out rock salt at us, ballistic-style, like a machine-gun nest all of a sudden opening up on us. Riki caught it right in the bare ankles, while wearing crazy 90s-style Fuck-Me Fluevogs. If I didn’t know better, I’d say the guys in the truck did it on purpose. Riki squealed in the onslaught, while the rest of us drunkenly cursed out the assholes in the truck. I asked if she was okay and she said “Honey, I’ve had worse than that.”

I believed her.

Riki was original. She was, quite literally, one of a kind. Sense of humour like a fucking whip-lash, which was kinda appropriate, because she did sex work, as a dominatrix. “You’d be surprised at how many perverts out there want to whipped by a tranny,” she said to me once. Again, I BELIEVED HER.

I was kinda-sorta “dating” Riki’s roommate at the time (it is at this point that I mention that Riki’s roommate was a cis female.) and I’m pretty sure she wanted to shock me, me being a hick from the sticks. To my credit, I didn’t ask any stupid questions or act nervous or scared, I just mainly went with the flow. I never acted nervous or scared around Riki, nor anybody else I met back then. (Well, there were a couple of drug dealers who were absolutely terrifying at the time but they turned out to be harmless.) Riki used to flirt with me and I’d flirt back, in a British accent. (I do a good British accent.) Riki liked my British accent.

Nowadays, we have Laverne Cox and (sigh) Caitlyn Jenner. 20 years ago, we didn’t have that. We barely had Ru Paul back then. Oh, sure, there were drag queens but that’s not what I’m talking about. And sure, transgender people (or trannys, as we used to call them but don’t anymore) had existed in every single culture on Earth since the Year Dot but role models and inspirational figures in and from within the trans community were thin on the ground. The trans community were treated as the butt of a joke, as less than actually human, like you and me. Damaged. Broken and deluded or something. (To too large an extent, they still are treated that way.) Riki was the first transgender woman I ever actually MET and shook hands with and broke bread with and got to know. And while she wasn’t exactly a role model, she certainly was one of the bravest, strongest, most amazing people I have ever met in my life.

People call Caitlyn Jenner “brave” and sure, without doubt, she is. She went from America’s Golden Boy to America’s Golden Girl, in a very public manner. But Caitlyn Jenner played dress-up and had millions of dollars. Riki didn’t have a closet full of designer gowns to hide in, nor a pile of money to hide behind. Riki lived it, all the time. She didn’t have a choice, nor an option.

Like I said, I haven’t talked to Riki in a long time. (She’d changed her name to Rayna the last time we got together. I never asked why.) And sadly, statistically, I’ll probably never get the chance, ever again. But I swear that I have never met anyone braver than her and I have met men who went to war.

I guess, the take-away from this should be ~ Don’t ever talk shit about transgender people around me. I won’t have it. And I might look like nothing at all to you but believe me, muthafucka, I am FIERCE. I learned from the best.

ONFANDOM PART EIGHT – THE SCORN OF THE UNDERDOG

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When you grow up reading comic books, you quickly learn that everything is terrible, you’re an idiot and that it will never, ever get better. It will just continue to perpetuate itself, swallowing its own tail like some hideous four-colour ouroboros. It’s cute when Star Wars fans complain about the prequels or when Trekkers whine about Voyager or Deep Space Nine. It’s really cute. Comic book fans are used to being disappointed by what they love.

Blame Stan Lee but comic books are always advertising new projects as the greatest thing to come down the pike since indoor plumbing. No, really. Stan Lee deserves all the blame for this. He’s the one who started it, the relentless hucksterism, the hard fucking sell, the full-court press. The words “To Be Continued!” actually mean “Jesus, are they going to drag out this story-line for ANOTHER issue?” If I had a nickel for every time I was told “Not To Miss IT!”, I’d be living on a private island made entirely of platinum.

Comic books often take ‘bold new directions!’ that everyone hates and then six months later, they revert to the mean.  Death is such a meaningless concept in comics to the point that it’s actually a requirement for membership in the X-Men, the Avengers AND the Justice League. For an embarrassing length of time in the 1990s, Superman was rocking a mullet. Then they turned him into an electric blue ballet dancer. Then they turned him back to normal (minus the mullet, thank God.)

They turned Batman into Wolverine. They turned the Punisher into Heaven’s holy hit-man. Then they turned him into a Frankenstein-like creature. Then they turned him back to normal. They turned Wolverine into God-knows-what at this point and then they killed him. (He’ll be back. In fact, a version of him is already back.) Say the words “Clone Saga” to any long-time, long-suffering Spider-Man fan and watch the fire-works. Better yet, say “One More Day” and then stand back. (This was the story-line where Spider-Man made a deal with the Devil(!) to save Aunt May, who had already “died” once and has been at Death’s door since 1962. The price the Devil asked? The erasure of Peter and Mary-Jane’s marriage. Yeah, I know. That’s pretty fucking stupid. You don’t have to say it. I already know.)

Creative missteps are one thing; the deliberate detonation of what makes a character popular in the first place is quite another. It’s hard to come up with exciting stories month after month about a billionaire who punches murder-clowns or a living god or a guy with knives that come out of his knuckles. The three-act structure can be a blessing, like a road-map or a curse, like a prison cell. The impulse to shake up the status quo is strong. Any good creator would want to put their mark on such long-running, iconic characters like Batman or Superman or even Wolverine. A radical re-interpretation is sometimes exactly what’s needed to re-invigorate the franchise and make fans realize why they liked it in the first place.

Grant Morrison re-imagined both the Doom Patrol and the Justice League in remarkably different but equally effective ways. On the other hand, radical re-interpretations hardly ever work or last very long. And there’s always a cadre of cranky old fans who grumble about Batman using a machine-gun or Superman killing people. Grant Morrison also lost his mind while he was radically re-imaging the Doom Patrol and the Justice League and now his scripts are written by a monkey named Jeff who lives in a cardboard box in the basement and smokes cigars all day.* (* This is probably not true. The monkey’s name is Barnabas.)

Whenever sales dip to a certain thresh-hold, shake-ups happen. They might be minor, like a new costume or a change in locale (Daredevil’s moving to San Francisco!) or major events (Barry Allen has died at least three times but he always gets hand-waved back into existence). This has one of two effects – either they work (the All-New, All Different X-Men and the New Teen Titans are both excellent examples of this) and they attract new readers and acclaim; or they don’t work, at all (like every subsequent iteration of the X-Men or the Titans since about 1985).

Perhaps the most ridiculous ‘bold new direction’ was the Blackhawks. They were an international team of ace fighter pilots during the war (the French guy was a ladies’ man, the Dutchman was a kindly father figure, the Chinese guy was a racist stereotype); they had cool fighter planes and stylish black leather uniforms, like any good para-military force. (Except the Chinese guy, who was a racist stereotype.) They fought the Nazis during the war and mostly fought ex-Nazis after the war. By the mid-60s, they’d pretty much run out of Nazis to fight month after month and The Batman TV show was in full swing at the time so they gave them all stupid new costumes and “super-powers” based around technology. One guy was called “the Listener” and he had ears all over his costume, which looked like nothing so much as an especially ugly pair of pajamas. The whole thing was best left forgotten and in about six months, it was. They went back to the black leather.

Everything is terrible. That new Ghostbusters movie might be good or it might be shittier than Ghost Busters 2. Everyone loves the new Mad Max movie but I can all but guarantee that everyone will HATE the NEXT Mad Max movie. They’re making more Star Wars movies – what’s the over-under on whether or not they’ll be any good? They certainly won’t be the same. Here’s hoping they don’t go in a bold new direction.

Think of all the bad movies you’ve ever seen. Do you think anyone ever actually TRIES to make a bad movie? I can assure you that they do not. But there’s always a tight-rope to walk, of “what if this movie is a piece of shit that kills my career?” Ask Johnny Depp. He’s made tons of bad movies in the last five years alone.

It’s different with comic books, of course, because the stakes are so much lower. Comic books have an inferiority complex. They’re the transsexuals of literature – they’re not classy like prose, they’re not deep and meaningful like cinema but they contain aspects of both. A comic can reach more people, especially those with weak or non-existent literacy skills before an 800 page novel can get its boots on.  A crude doodle of a dictator can shake the country much more-so than a reasoned, well-researched documentary about the same dictator that nobody ever watches. You can glance at a cartoon and get it immediately, whereas you have to sit your ass down to read a novel or watch a film. But comic books ignore this obvious truth and tart themselves up with a surfeit of pouches on every costume or ridiculous arbitrary changes for the sake of desperately increasing sales (Captain America’s a werewolf now!).

Comic book fans are used to failure, sequential failure. So they reach for ‘bold new directions’ and radical re-interpretations that rarely, if ever work and that never last.

Because everything is terrible, you’re an idiot and things will never, ever get better.

Here endeth the lesson.

A DESPERATE LEISURE CLASSIC!

karla

(WHY IS THIS WOMAN NOT SMILING?)

(I named this blog after the ‘zine I used to do in the 90s. I wrote & self-published this in the summer of 1993, a few months after the arrest of Paul Bernardo, back when he was called “Paul Teale” and before he went to trial. At the point this was written, (July 1993) it was not public knowledge that there were videotapes hidden in a pot-light that the police didn’t find at first and that Karla got a walk on two other rapes, including her role in the death of her own younger sister. Karla Homolka is a free woman these days, with three children of her own. She’s changed her name, of course and now lives in Quebec with her husband and family. Today, Paul Bernardo applied for parole, as is his right, under the law.)   

A QUESTION OF (NO) JUSTICE

Let me see if I’ve got this straight : the courts have decided in the interests of justice, not to let YOU, the ignorant public, to know the details of the “manslaughter” trial of Karla Homolka. Karla received 12 years for her role in the murders of two teenage girls. Her estranged husband, Paul Teale is awaiting trial for the crimes, as well as numerous violent serial rapes. Details of Karla’s trial will not be made public until his trial is over with; that could be two years or more.

WHAT’S THE POINT?

I was getting to that. The point is NOT that the judiciary has nothing but contempt for the public. The point is NOT that this is another example of arrogance by those in power. The point is NOT that the media is waiting to make a buck from tragedy. That’s NOT the point.

The point IS that the publication ban is in place to hide police incompetence and judicial corruption.

How many resources were wasted on “eyewitness” reports? On phone tips, TV shows, psych profiles? Why was the search warrant on Teale’s home extended not once but twice? Too many questions. Not enough answers.

Karla ratted on her husband AND THAT IS THE ONLY REASON HE IS IN CUSTODY. She struck a deal with the Crown and will be free sooner than you think. Believe it. Paul will get a fair trial and then he will be found guilty, thanks to the testimony of Karla. Then the details will be released to the public and by then, it will be too late. The newspapers and journalists will make money. LOTs of it. And the police? There will be a public inquiry. After a long, costly process, the police will be exonerated. Or not. Recommendations will be made. Nothing will change. Trust me.

WHY I HATE GOLF

1986:  Portrait of Jack Nicklaus of the USA during the US Masters at the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, USA. Nicklaus won the event with a score of 279.  Mandatory Credit: David  Cannon/Allsport

1986: Portrait of Jack Nicklaus of the USA during the US Masters at the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, USA. Nicklaus won the event with a score of 279. Mandatory Credit: David Cannon/Allsport

My dad used to be an avid golfer. (That’s what they call you when you like golf a lot.) He’s gotten SEVEN (7!) holes-in-one during his golfing career. That’s pretty impressive – most golfers never even come close, even the professionals. And I ain’t talkin’ mini-golf ; I’m talkin’ full-on, 18-holes, hey-here-comes-the-beer-girl Capital-G GOLF. I asked him about it, how much was luck and how much was skill. He admitted most of it was luck, while rightly asserting that to even get ONE hole-in-one, you need to be able to hit the ball very well. “The wind helped, too.”

My dad used to golf with a guy named Maynard, who was in the Devil’s Brigade during the Second World War. He didn’t like to talk about it much but, yeah Maynard had killed people. He offered the anecdotal evidence of the expert to my dad about what it’s like to kill somebody with a knife. “Oh yeah, there’s blood everywhere. That’s why it’s best to do it from behind. Even then, you still get blood all over the place.” My dad, to this very day, firmly believes in the innocence of O.J. Simpson, based on the time-line as presented in court and the lack of extraordinary amounts of blood, courtesy of the anecdotal evidence of his golfing buddy.

When I was a kid, I used to help my dad practice putting in the winter. He’d stand in the hallway of our house and putt from the kitchen to the front door, about twelve, fifteen feet or so down the hallway and I’d retrieve the ball for him, double-quick-time. We had this “durable” carpet in the hallway (read: cheap. My dad probably got a deal on it) that was, coincidentally, grass-green in colour (my mom hated it) and it was completely FLAT. My dad travelled a lot for work when I was a kid, usually to places that had lots of golf courses (ANOTHER coincidence!), so he had to keep his skills sharp and in good order. This was how I spent “quality time” with my dad in the winter when I was a kid.

I fucking hate golf. It is a ridiculous, elitist waste of time, energy and resources. It’s a pointless form of self-imposed psychological torture for rich people, disguised as a “fun pass-time”. It’s utterly racist, totally sexist and the clothing is terrible. Countless charlatans circle like sharks and offer to relieve you of money to help perfect your swing or master your short game. The entire enterprise is a magnet for assholes, liars, businessmen and psychopaths (who are often all four in one form). Mark Twain called golf … “a fine walk, ruined by a little white ball.” He was right (as usual).

Golf courses everywhere waste obscene amounts of water and spread fucking deadly poison everywhere, all to ensure that everything is all green and pretty for the stupid millionaires and idiot thousandaires who get to act like minor European royalty for a few hours a week out on the links. California is dying of thirst, except for the golf courses, of course. OF COURSE.

Golf is notoriously racist, Tiger Woods notwithstanding. (And ask him about how many times he was called “nigger”.) A lot of prominent clubs, to this day, still don’t accept Jews or blacks (or women) as members. Can we make that our next useless Internet crusade? It won’t ever work, because Augusta and St. Andrew’s will never change. Enjoy your victory over the Confederate flag. Golf WILL NEVER CHANGE. If I was a Jewish black woman who liked to golf, I’d be pissed off.

Golf pits you against the environment, the laws of physics, other players and YOURSELF. You are a team of one and if a shot gets fucked up? You’re the one who fucked it up, pal. Go ahead and blame the wind all you like. Does that sound like fun to you?

Golf is a sport created by the Scottish. THE SCOTTISH. Let that sink in. The Irish are a fun-loving people, a nation of lovers and poets and fierce fucking warriors and holy men and women. The “Scottish people” are an oxymoron – they’re SCOTS. They are their own race. They’re certainly not fucking human. Only a Scot could make up a game by saying “I’ll give you a bob if you can get yon rock in yon hole, 300 yards away.”

Have you ever watched golf on TV? I have and I wouldn’t recommend it to my worst enemy. It’s cosmically boring. It makes watching baseball on TV (more fantastically tedious television) look like a goddamn Daffy Duck cartoon in comparison. Golf televised is slower than molasses in January. Admit it. It’s fucking boring to watch other people play golf.

And it’s even worse than that to hear other people TALK about golf. Jesus, kill me now. I would rather you describe some half-remembered dream to me than to hear you talk about golf. (Please do not ever describe your dreams to me.)

Golf is like a cult. You play a few times and have fun and all of a sudden, golf becomes EVERYTHING IN LIFE. That’s a fucking cult. (Or meth. Or both, actually.) Once you drink the Kool Aid, that’s it. No going back. Now you’re just another stooge, mis-interpreting Beatles lyrics or chanting in the airport or trying to get “clear” after that. It’s a fucking CULT. Cults only appeal to those who are desperately lacking something, in their lives and in themselves. They join a cult to make themselves feel … not better, exactly but SOMETHING. A sense of community, of self-actualization. As if they could solve all their problems by whacking a little white ball.

And the first person to say golfers are athletes? HA. HA. HA. John Daly is not an athlete. Fuzzy Zoeller? Seve Ballesteros? Not athletes. Michael Jordan is an athlete. John Daly is a big fat guy. Tiger Woods lost his mojo when he threw his back out with a cocktail waitress and his wife found out so he’s washed up now. That’s not an athlete, that’s a lying, cheating piece of shit. Do you want to be like that? (And yes, I know he’s rich. But he’ll never get any richer and everyone will always say “he USED TO BE good.”)

Honestly, if you like golf? I don’t really care. I don’t. I don’t have to, unless you try to press-gang me into golfing with you (or talking about it). If golf is your “thing”, then good for you. Go out and do it and enjoy the fuck out of it. The Hell do I care? My preference is not to play golf, ever. (And yes, I’m secretly judging you. Get over yourself.)

The main reason I hate golf is that it makes little boys cry, when they realize that their dad loves golf more than he’ll ever love them.