COMIC BOOK SHOP ETIQUETTE

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So you’ve decided to be brave & bold and go to a comic book shop! Good for you! You’ve taken the first step into a wonderful new universe (SEVERAL universes, actually!) of fantastic four-colour delights and thrills for all ages! Maybe you’re new to comics or maybe you haven’t been to a comic book shop in AGES, since back when you were a kid and big into X-Men or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or something. (I don’t know your life.)

Now, there are a few things to know before you go. You can’t just walk into a comic book store. (Well, you actually can. Most people don’t, though. And they should. But go in with your eyes open.) Some shops are bright and airy, some are … not. (The bright and airy ones tend to smell less like B.O. than the … other ones.) Comic book shops generally don’t bother much with décor, unless it’s paraphernalia that they can sell. (This is called Shelf Porn – toys, action figures, statuettes, etc. “Cool Shit”.) The good ones, whether bright and airy or … not … always have LOTS of Cool Shit and a variety of it. You like Star Wars? We got Star Wars. Hell, we got Star Trek, too. You like Horror Movies? We got Horror Movies. Pulps? Cartoons? Old paper ephemera? We got it all, man. (Even in the bright and airy ones, the carpet or the floor might be dirty. Just go with it.)

I mentioned the smell earlier (and yes, you might smell some B.O. It’s considered crass to wear too much cologne in a comic book shop.) and that’s a bench-mark of any very good comic book shop. It should be redolent with the sweet aroma of rotting newsprint, a most intoxicating perfume, a peculiar and delicious odour as attractive as cinnamon or vanilla or new-car-smell. The ink, the paper, the plastic, the combination – if I could bottle it and sell it, I certainly would. This will be the first (in a series!) of assaults on your senses (IN A GOOD WAY! Probably!) upon entering a comic book shop.

Then get your eyeballs ready because that’s what’s next on the list – THERE ARE COMIC BOOKS EVERYWHERE. They’re all over the walls, behind the cash register. These are the Marquee Books, the important and expensive and you can’t afford them so don’t even bother asking to see them. Then again, I don’t know your life, you might be rich so go ahead and ask to see that Mister Miracle #1. The staff will then give you the V.I.P. treatment.

There will be bins, about chest height, lining the walls and filling the space. These are the back-issue bins and they are FULL of OLD COMIC BOOKS, grouped alphabetically by title, in ascending order of issue number/volume. The books are all in plastic bags, with backing boards. If you’re looking for that old issue of Batman or Jimmy Olsen or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it’ll be in the bins. There’s a lot of gold in there and if you’re frugal and persistent, you can make out like a bandit. (Please don’t steal at the comic book shop.)

The focal point of the store is the New Comics Rack. It’s a wooden shelf, about four feet tall, stepped outwards from the wall maybe two feet, with slot-like shelves, so you can only really see the title (most comics place their title on the upper third of the cover). This way, you have to choose to examine the cover (in case there’s a spoiler on the cover or something. Plus it keeps the books upright and undamaged). Some stores group the new releases by company, some do it alphabetically. It depends.

The New Comics Rack is a heavy traffic area; it’s where everybody wants to be. Sure, it’s great to rummage through bins or browse the shelves for trades (trade paperbacks – collected editions of existing material or original stories in book form. These are what eggheads call “graphic novels”) but EVERYBODY wants NEW Comics.

This is why (and I can’t stress this enough), it’s very important to stand three feet back from the New Comics Rack when browsing. It’s just polite. It’s an unwritten rule of comic book shopping that, I guess now, is written down.

“Unless you’re four years old, you’re three feet back” is how it was explained to me way back when, what seems like a thousand years ago.

The 3 Foot Rule is Geek Democracy In Action. No one is so important that they can block the view of others. Everyone can scan the racks at their own discretion, take a step forward and choose the book they want (and then take a step back). Since you can’t judge a book by a third of its cover, you need to flip through it, check the creative team, absorb any spoilers you want. And then, if you choose, step forward and put it back on the rack, to await a more (or less) discerning customer.

The other two inviolate rules of comic book shops (and if you violate them, you will be asked to leave. Some places threaten to vaporize you) are these –

  1. DON’T OPEN THE BACK ISSUE BAGS. Ask an employee. They might not be happy to help you but they will. Most stores post a sign to this effect. (Seriously, don’t open the bags. Because then you’re an asshole who just ignored the sign.)

And

  1. This is a store, not a library. It’s pretty simple. Stores sell things in order to stay in business. Browsing is encouraged; camping out and reading comics for free is NOT. You understand how Capitalism works, right? You want this store to be here for your edification next week? Then BUY SOMETHING. Feel free to browse. Feel free to flip through things to see if they interest you and whether you want to buy it. NEVER EVER SIT DOWN ON THE FLOOR IN FRONT OF THE NEW COMICS RACK (and not just because the floor is possibly and more likely probably gross) because you will be asked to leave and possibly learn what “the bum’s rush” is all about. (I have actually seen someone get the classic bum’s rush, one hand on the collar and one on the back of the belt, in a comic book shop. The clerk, a man-mountain who was actually a gentle giant and one of the nicest guys in the world, got fed up with this twerp and ejected him as if he was one of the Three Stooges. It was crazy.) You don’t have to be rich, you don’t have to buy everything (even if you deeply, deeply want to) but BUY SOMETHING.

Look. A lot of people who like comic books don’t exactly recognize social cues. I’ve seen people camp out and I’ve seen the poor clerk kick them out. I’ve seen customers freak out that some dude is camping out. (I have actually seen someone get the classic bum’s rush, one hand on the collar and one on the back of the belt, in a comic book shop. The clerk, a man-mountain who was actually a gentle giant and one of the nicest guys in the world, got fed up with this twerp and ejected him as if he was one of the Three Stooges. It was crazy.)  Don’t do this. Don’t be that guy.

My sister used to take me to comic book shops when I was a kid (and used book-stores too) so I had the benefit of a Classical Education in these matters. By the time I was about nine years old, I had absorbed the 3 Foot Rule, I could scan the racks like a hawk in flight and zero in on what I wanted, I could join in intelligently on the discussions of older fans. By the time I was eleven, I was going it alone, my weekly pilgrimage to Downtown, every Saturday. Dragon Lady and the Silver Snail, maybe stop in at Bakka (they were all on Queen Street). I’d have lunch and then ride the subway home, reading my New Comics. My parents had no idea where I went every Saturday until I was about thirteen. (I had an idea they might not like me riding the subway alone so I just didn’t tell them. I’d rather ask for forgiveness than permission.)

I haven’t been to a comic book shop in a while. I bought my last New Comic on the day of my mother’s funeral (the last issue of THE BOYS, if you must know). But today is Wednesday, New Comic Book Day. You should go.

Really, you should. You’ll love it.

YOU ARE NOT BILL HICKS : ON ONLINE SHAMING

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“There’s been a lot of talk lately about the phenomenon of online shaming,” he said, EXACTLY LIKE Eric Idle, circa 1973.  Really, the whole thing is easily as absurd as any Monty Python sketch. An invisible mob. [A PICTURE OF AN EMPTY CITY STREET] A virtual riot. [THE VERY SAME PICTURE] These are things that didn’t exist in 1973 (well, empty streets did but you get the idea) but they certainly exist now. Frankly, the whole thing is insane.

Endless thoughtless think pieces have been penned about this. We’ve heard stories of people losing their jobs for being a jackass in public. Jon Ronson wrote a book about it and was immediately attacked online. Every day, it seems, there’s a new outrage, a new call to the digital barricades, a new cause to figure out which side to be the right side of on, whether it’s GMOs or vaccination or trans-gender issues or just good old-fashioned bullying. (Which is kinda ironic.) It’s everywhere and it’s something that’s not going away.

And maybe that’s a good thing.

Because seriously? If you make a tasteless joke on Twitter about the prevalence of AIDS in Africa (HA HA) and you work in public relations? Maybe you shouldn’t work in public relations anymore.

And seriously? If you make crude sexual comments to a reporter on live tv, there is no other context in which to judge you, other than as the type of ‘person’ who makes crude sexual comments to a reporter on live tv. That says a lot about your character. None of it good.

And seriously? If you’re the Mayor of Toronto, you probably shouldn’t crack wise about ending up being eaten by cannibals if you go to Africa or assert your faithfulness as a husband by describing the frequency that you engage in cunnilingus with your wife. (Again, on live tv. Two separate Mayors. I know.)

And if you shout about raping people who disagree with you, and cutting off their heads, then maybe your mother should know, especially if the discussion centres around video games. She’d be so proud of her little boy. And speaking of little boys, maybe parents should know that they shouldn’t leave their kids alone with you. And maybe your boss should know about the way you present yourself to the world as a representative of your company. I’d say “Maybe your girlfriend should hear what a charmer you are” but we both know you don’t have a girlfriend, don’t we?

There’s a woman who’s been “pretending” to be black for years. She was “outed” when her parents told a reporter that she’s not actually black. Am I going to send her death threats? No, I’m certainly not. But I’ma judge the hell out of her, because “pretending to be black” is a really shitty thing to do. (I don’t have to explain why it’s such a shitty thing to do, do I?) I don’t know why she did it – is she crazy? Is she evil? Is she a Scooby Doo villain? I have no idea. But it’s like that old joke, about the guy who builds houses and roads and everything but do they call him a carpenter? Do they call him an engineer? No, they don’t. But you fuck ONE LITTLE GOAT and guess what everybody calls you?

She will forever be known as That Woman Who Pretended To Be Black.

So maybe, it’s a good idea, if we can shame people for what they say online, on Twitter or in real life. This is why it’s so delicious, every time some homophobic politician gets caught with a rent-boy or some plutocrat gets caught slagging the poor or some idiot maligns half the human race, ie. women. There’s a measure of justice in a crowd of people saying “This is Unacceptable Behaviour.” Yes, it indulges the worst of our atavistic animal instincts, to rip these people to shreds of ones and zeroes but I’d argue it also makes us better, as a society. Free Speech does not mean the right to be deliberately offensive. If you get the shit kicked out of you for insulting somebody, you don’t get to claim your rights for free speech were infringed. (Feel free to sue for assault but watch the judge throw the case out when she hears what you said to provoke the attack in the first place.)

You know who could get away with being deliberately offensive? People like Richard Pryor and George Carlin and Lenny Bruce and Bill Hicks. And you know what? You are not Bill Hicks. You are not ANY of those motherfuckers, because they are all dead now.

And even then, if that’s ALL you got out of their individual contributions to art, society and culture, then you’re dumber than ditch-water and you deserve everything you get and more. They used provocative and often very foul language to bring people together, not to drive them apart. They belittled Goliaths. They didn’t pick on David. They punched up and made everybody realize “We’re all in this together.”

There’s an old saying – “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.” If you’re a racist? Shout it out! Hate gay people? Testify! Think women are all bitches, good only for one thing? Call Now! Operators are standing by!  That way, everybody else will know who to avoid in future. (Spoiler Alert – You, ya muthafucker. People will avoid YOU, you racist, sexist, homophobic piece of shit.)

I’ll be the first to register my displeasure with the entire Human Race (we’re all a bunch of scum, don’t bother to deny it, it’s true) but there are enough good people out there to out-weigh the bad (… I guess. Statistically, anyway).  Mob justice often gets it wrong. But sometimes, a crappy, half-apology isn’t good enough. There’s another old saying “Sorry doesn’t feed the bull-dog.”

ON FANDOM PART SIX : INDEPENDENT’S DAY

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In the late 70s and early 80s, there were two major comic book companies, Marvel and DC. There were others. Dell was still around but they were called Gold Key and their product was sub-standard, to put it mildly. Mainly reprints of junk. Their market was “stoned idiots” and “harried mothers who needed that brat to shut the hell up for five minutes”.  Charlton was still going but just barely and they were fruitlessly chasing the same market segment as Gold Key. DC swallowed them up and that’s the reason for Watchmen. Harvey was putting out kid’s comics like Richie Rich, about an annoying boy billionaire and his wacky shenanigans and Sad Sack, about a useless recruit and his wacky shenanigans (All you Mad Men fans think “Scout’s Honor”, only not as clever) and Hot Stuff, about a demon who was best friends with Casper the Friendly Ghost, for some reason. And his wacky shenanigans. Archie enjoyed its hey-day in the 70s, pretty much locking up the girl comic book fan market. (Jughead had, like, three comics dedicated to his “adventures”, at one point. All he ever did was act like a glutton. And for the record? It’s Veronica, all the way. Betty Cooper is CRAZY, man.  Veronica is just petulantly evil but Betty is INSANE. All good fan-boys know this.)

But in the late 70s and early 80s, the wind shifted. Maybe it was the aging of the audience – people were reading comic books well into their teens and even twenties and if you were lucky, you knew a couple of guys in their forties (they were pretty much always guys) who remembered early Marvel of even the EC Era of the 50s as if they were yesterday. This ‘new’ audience wanted stories that were NEW, that weren’t just recycled formula and bait-and-switch trickery. Maybe it was DC’s continual mis-steps and fuck-ups or Marvel’s disorganization and blatant pandering to fan-service and self-referential bullshit but a sense came that these twin monoliths could be challenged. These filthy four-colour pamphlets, hated by librarians and routinely destroyed* because it was “just a comic book” were becoming a viable business and a creative wonderland for the daring and the reckless. (*The reason Action Comics #1 is so valuable, more than a million dollars when last auctioned, is  because it’s so RARE. Most of them went to paper drives during the war or right into the garbage right after they’d been read.)

Pacific Comics started with two brothers and a mail-order comic book shop in 1971. By 1981, they were publishing Captain Victory by Jack Kirby, Groo the Wanderer by Sergio Aragones and Starslayer by Mike Grell. (Dave Stevens also debuted the Rocketeer there. If you wonder why Betty Page is so popular (ESPECIALLY WITH ME), it’s because Dave Stevens had a crush on her (DON’T WE ALL) and made her into Cliff’s girlfriend, thus reviving her for a new generation. See? COMICS! THEY’RE GOOD FOR LEARNIN’!) Pacific Comics also redefined the rights of the creator (otherwise, they never would have gotten Kirby). The creator OWNED THE RIGHTS to his own creation. No more work-for-hire bullshit, no more “I sign over the rights to Superman for a hundred and thirty bucks and you do whatever you want with him”. That era was over. (Well, not really. But this was the first time any publisher bothered to try offer the rights to the creators.)

By 1984, Pacific was gone. They tried 3D comics, giving Ray Zone his first big gig. They lured the elusive and reclusive Steve Ditko onboard, they published early work by important artists like John Bolton and Art Adams but they sank. They couldn’t compete. Marvel and DC raided their catalogue and their creative staff (Marvel’s creator-owned line, Epic, published Groo. DC mostly got a bunch of new interns) and that was that for Pacific Comics.

First Comics had an audacious idea, to make comic books that adults would actually want to read. They prided themselves on being edgy but responsible, realizing that little kids could read (some) of their comics (preferably not American Flagg!). They published Nexus, Grimjack, Jon Sable, Freelance. They too, embraced the Pacific Comics model of creator-ownership and so Mike Grell (Sable), Tim Truman (Grimjack) and Howard Chaykin (American Flagg!) to this day own their characters. (I think. I’m not a lawyer. I know I’m not a lawyer and I know I don’t know copy-right law, especially American copy-right law. But I’m pretty sure.)

First was done by 91, which is when the whole comic book industry took a power-dive into the toilet like Ewan MacGregor in Trainspotting. Seriously, it was disgusting and a time best forgotten. *Ahem!*

Then there was Eclipse. Dean Mullaney and Cat Yronwode published the American edition of  Alan Moore’s Miracleman (originally Marvelman, based on Captain Marvel, who was owned by DC, whose actual name was owned by Marvel. It’s a long, boring, confusing story. It was also Alan Moore’s introduction into the legal fuckery that goes on behind the scenes in publishing. Not his last taste of it, either.) They had Airboy, a public domain hero from the 40s that they updated and revamped for a modern audience. They published some important books, like Real War Stories (about American malfeasance in Latin America, which was happening concurrently) and Brought To Light, a rare, out-of-print Alan Moore Bill Sienkewiz collaboration about the history of the CIA, as told by a drunken American eagle Uncle Sam, swilling whiskey in a tropical bar somewhere. (Trust me. You’ll never happily step into a swimming pool ever again, knowing how many pints of human blood it would take to fill it up. And how very many “swimming pools” are on Uncle Sam’s butcher bill. Alan Moore knows the score. Master of the Metaphor.)

Eclipse suffered a flood in 1986 (how Biblically ironic) and lost a huge amount of artwork and capital. Dean and Cat got divorced (ditto) and by 1994, they were done. Todd MacFarlane bought what he could (and then fought over the rights to Miracleman with Neil Gaiman for 20 years, until – go figure- Marvel Comics picked up Miracleman, once they settled and the ink was dry. I told you it was a long, stupid, boring story.)

These were the first of many. These were the birth of the comic book store, where all they had was comic books – new ones, old ones, fancy ones on the walls. You couldn’t reliably buy Captain Victory or Jon Sable, Freelance at a news-stand or a smoke and gyp shop. (DC pretty much controlled magazine distribution with if not an iron grip, then the roughest velvet you ever felt.) If you wanted these comics (and others. And I’ll needlessly remind you that I wanted ALL THE COMICS), you had to go to a comic book store.

So, naturally, I did.

COMING SOON – COMIC BOOK SHOP ETTIQUETTE EXPLAINED

CATS I HAVE KNOWN AND LOVED PART ONE

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I’m a cat person. I like dogs too but I find them better in theory than in execution. They’re too boisterous, too needy, too eager to please. Dogs that are cool and mellow are awesome and excellent but they tend to be rare or old. I dislike small yappy-type dogs as much as I dislike big aggressive dogs. I’m not here to try to convince you that cats are better than dogs, not at all.  I’m here to remember the cats I have known and loved.

My first cat pre-dated me. Tootie had been our family pet for about seven, eight years before I came on the scene. She was a slightly plump slate-grey short-hair with a fondness for human food and a fear of mice. (Seriously. Hunting was beneath her.) She immediately took charge of me. She’d sleep in my crib with me and whenever I’d wiggle and begin to stir in the middle of the night, Tootie would go and wake up my mom by slapping her in the face. Softly, no claws but still. She was my constant companion as a child. She used to howl along with me at bath-time when I was a baby, pestering my mother who was busy trying to bathe a crying baby. Up until the day I learned how to splash. She got a face-full of water and stalked out of the bath-room, indignant. I was on my own at bath-time after that.

Tootie loved human food, particularly roast turkey. Every Christmas and Thanksgiving, she’d park herself 18 inches away from the stove and just sit there and breathe in the aroma of the cooking bird. She’d do this until she was shoo’ed away for being underfoot but she’d always return a few minutes later. When the turkey came out of the oven, she’d start yelling until she got some. She got the first bite before anyone else in the family, just to shut her up. She also loved fish and chips (well, the fish part, anyway, minus the batter) so every Good Friday, when we’d have fish and chips after Mass, the cat, who was not Catholic, would get some first. AND RIGHTLY SO, said the cat unfortunately named ‘Tootie’. Usually, it was my mom and me who sacrificed a sliver of halibut for the cat. Amen.

It used to be a given in our family that Tootie didn’t really understand or believe that she was a cat. She wasn’t interested in hunting, at all. (She was once startled by a mouse.) She’d go outside to sun-bathe, perhaps go to the bath-room discretely and that was it. She did not go outside in the winter or only very rarely. And rainy days were for nap-time. Which is eminently sensible, I think. No right-thinking sentient creature actually LIKES Winter.

She was really good with children because she had an imperiousness to her, she didn’t take any shit but she was never violent. She always got her way because that was the way it should be. She could silently control whomever she needed to, using only body language and a few choice chirps here and there. She thought she was speaking a language all reasonable people could understand. She counted herself among the reasonable people. She never splashed in the bath, for one thing.

When she was a kitten, she was sent to live with my grand-mother for a while, for some reason and my uncle bonded with her. She’d eat a plate of raw hamburger while he ate his cooked hamburger at three in the morning. She turned my uncle into the fine cat-loving gentleman that he is today. See? I told you she was a magical cat! Aren’t all cats that way?

Tootie had PERSONALITY. She was as close to a person as ever an animal I have ever known. Which made me believe, from a very young age, that ALL animals have distinct personalities (and so do candy wrappers and all other inanimate objects but that’s a story for a different time).  Tootie didn’t really understand that she was a cat and we were human. She was part of the family and we, the family, were all just really bad at being a cat. I guess. Who knows how cats think? Not me, that’s for sure.

Tootie lived to be 21 years old, which is OLD, for a cat. At the end, she was so weak, she couldn’t even lift her head. It was mercy to end her life, her long, rich, intricate life. Apparently, she was named by my sister, after either an aunt that no one remembers or a forgotten song called “Toot Toot Toodles The Tug Boat”. The real answer is probably a bit of both and none of us will ever know the truth. (You’ve never met my sister. She dissembles. Nuff Said.)

Regardless, Tootie was the first cat I ever knew and loved. And boy, did I love her.

ON AQUAMAN

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Let’s address the elephant in the ocean, shall we? His name is Arthur Curry but you might know him better as Aquaman.

There are a lot of B-List super-heroes. Not everybody can stroll down the metaphorical Red Carpet of Heroism. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, Captain America – they’re all A-List. (Batman was played by George Clooney, fer chrissakes! It don’t get much more A-List than that!) Aquaman, despite his name starting with the letter ‘A’, is not on the A-List. Or the B-List. Keeping going through the alphabet until you get to the bottom. Yeah, that’s where Aquaman lives. He sucks, right? Everybody knows that. Well, yes and no.

It’s true, the perception of Aquaman-as-sucking is strong. And the up-and-down characterization of him over the decades certainly sucks. The inconsistencies and the ret-cons and the TRYING OH-SO HARD TO MAKE HIM COOL are what sucks about Aquaman the most. He’s actually a fairly interesting character, if you ignore most of what’s been done with him over the decades.

Created in 1941 (!) by Paul Norris and the legendary Mort Weisinger, he was basically a rip-off of Timely’s Namor the Sub-Mariner, only blond and fully clothed. Originally, Aquaman’s father was a world-famous scientist who discovered Atlantis and taught his young son “scientific principles” for living underwater for extended periods of time. This was later adapted to his father having a romance with an Atlantean princess, who bore him a half-breed son. (Which is almost exactly Namor’s origin, except it’s heavily implied that Namor’s mother was raped by a “surface-dweller” and that’s why he hates humanity. But I digress.) His origin was later tweaked to make him the last in a long line of Atlantean royalty, making his name ‘Arthur’ auspicious and his title ‘King of the Seven Seas’ all the more thematically heavy.

Aquaman is one of the few super-heroes who survived into the 1950s. Supes, Bats and Wondy are on that very short list. (The reason is most likely that Mort Weisinger became a powerful editor at DC and protected his own creation. But we’ll never really know why Aquaman, along with Green Arrow, were ‘popular’ in the ‘50s. It’s merely conjecture on my part. But Weisinger was all-powerful for a while and that’s why Aquaman exists to this day.)

In 1956, he gained a side-kick, Topo the Octopus. This needs to be properly explained and put in context. You see, Superman had Krypto the Super-Dog. Batman had Ace the Bat-Hound. Green Lantern had Itty, a blue blob that could transform into things. Aquaman had an octopus butler. (Eventually, he adopted an Atlantean orphan named Garth who became Aqua-Lad, ie the underwater Robin and later a charter member of the Teen Titans.) Topo worked as a Deus Ex Machina for the Sea King, getting him out of jams and helping out, comic-relief-style.

Let’s review Aquaman’s power-set, shall we? As a half-Atlantean (or someone who was “highly trained to survive underwater”, whatever), Aquaman is able to survive underwater. At crushing pressures. His bones must be unusually dense and his musculature the same. He can swim really fast (faster than a speeding torpedo) and, as we all know, he can control underwater creatures telepathically.

(If you believe the cartoon of the late 1960s, he can throw balls of water with enough force to stun a shark or act like an underwater grenade. He also rode a giant sea-horse like an actual horse. )

He also has a weakness (every super-hero has one – Superman has Kryptonite, Green Lantern has the colour yellow, the Martian Manhunter has fire. Batman’s weakness is a well-aimed bullet.) and Aquaman’s weakness is he has to be wet all the time. If he’s away from water for an hour, he dies.

Now, most people know about Aquaman from the Super-Friends cartoon show (or the lame routines of every hack comedian extant). He’s been the butt of a thousand jokes on Family Guy and Robot Chicken. He always caught the bad guys by getting sperm whales to ram their boat. (Stop snickering.)

All of this put together means Aquaman sucks. But, operating on the assumption that there are no bad ideas, nor bad characters, Aquaman doesn’t ACTUALLY suck. It’s just the execution that was wrong.

First of all, telepathy is a cool power. And he can talk to fish, whales, mammals. It’s specific, directed telepathy, too – he issues “commands” and the fish obey. So do the mammals (whales and dolphins are mammals, don’tcha know). Which means he has telepathic powers over humans as well (humans are mammals and we all came from the sea).  So his low-level telepathy can be used not to influence people but to strike hard at the reptile part of their brain, the evolutionary remainder of our previous life under the sea. He can give you a seizure just by squinting at you.

Secondly, he’s strong. He can move effortlessly through water in the same way Superman flies through the air. Water is more dense than air. He can survive the crushing pressures of the bottom of the ocean, which is largely unexplored territory to us “surface-dwellers”.  He never gets the bends, never gets tired. Has to get wet but never gets tired.

Thirdly, he commands the fish because he is a KING. An oft-noted fact in any Aquaman story is that the Earth is 70% water and Aquaman owns ALL OF IT. Plus, his name is ARTHUR. Get it? He’s the Underwater King Arthur, waiting in the depths until we need him.

The real problem with Aquaman is nobody’s ever known what to do with him. His wife (yes, he has a wife) Mera, an alien princess who can “control” water and he had a baby – Aquababy, Arthur Jr. Aquababy was killed by Black Manta, his arch-enemy. (Which makes Black Manta the worst villain in the DC Universe because he KILLED A BABY.) Then they added all that “he’s King Arthur underwater” crap. Then they made him an outcast of Atlantean society because (GET THIS!) he had blond hair. They redesigned his costume (it didn’t last), they cut off his hand, they gave him a beard and long hair (that didn’t last either), they TRIED and TRIED to make him “cool” and “bad-ass” so many times, it just reeks of failure, even underwater.

A little-known, little-recognized fact about Aquaman is that he’s got a huge following in the gay community. He doesn’t wear a mask, he’s handsome and blond and he rolls around in the surf. He’s selfless and tragic and seen as uncool. He’s an outsider but he’s incredibly powerful and always underestimated. In the parlance of the day, he’s FIERCE.

So I said a few nice things about Aquaman and now you know more about Aquaman and that’s great and all.

But Aquaman still sucks. You have my word as a Batmanologist. Trust me on that. His butler is an octopus named Topo.

THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT

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Meet Alexi Halket. She’s the 18-year old student at Etobicoke School of the Arts (ESA) who staged a protest after being told her outfit was “inappropriate for school”. She’s pretty, isn’t she? I think she is. Aesthetically pleasing, yes. She’s smiling, the natural lighting in the photograph is quite flattering, she has the incandescent beauty of youth. She seems perfectly centred and content. She also deserves a right to an education, no matter what she’s wearing.

Teenagers have always rebelled against the strictures and bonds of Authority. Teenagers often make very poor choices (remember?) but I don’t think this was a poor choice on her part. And I think a lot of salient facts in this case specifically are being ignored in favour of ideological touch-downs.

First of all, why did she choose to “dress inappropriately for school”? Gee, I dunno. It was hot that day so weather was a factor. Maybe she just went shopping and that was the outfit she planned to wear that day. Maybe everything else was in the wash. Who knows? A better question is “Why are you even asking that question?” She goes to an arts school so I imagine there’s a fair amount of physicality to some of her classes (I’ve taken drama. They make you roll around on the floor and run like an angry tree.) so she maybe didn’t feel like changing. But let’s back up a second and ask again WHY it is that there’s a question about WHY she dressed like this.

Did she do it to get deliberately in trouble? Maybe but I doubt it. Teenagers are dumb but they’re not stupid. Did she do it to “distract all the boys”? That’s impugning motive onto her that there’s no evidence to support, outside of the mind of a dirty old man, who thinks that all women are wicked temptresses and jezebels. Did she do it because it was hot that day and she wanted to feel comfortable? That seems the likeliest answer. So why was that a problem?

She misses a day of school but the boy who wears a muscle shirt, with his pants hanging down, showing his underwear (and kid, you got no idea what a real gangster is) is A-OK? Doesn’t he distract the female students, with his bulging biceps and musky odour of Axe body spray and sweat? Plus, this is an ARTS SCHOOL. 80% of the boys who go there are gay*. A boy in a muscle shirt would probably cause more commotion than a girl in a crop top. (*An informal statistic I just made up. But I knew several alumnae of ESA and they all assured me all the cute ones were gay.)

Didn’t we go to war in Afghanistan to ensure that women had access to education? And if the boys are distracted and can’t control themselves, shouldn’t we send them home? Until they learn some manners and self-control?

Another thing – she’s definitely an attractive young woman. Does that matter? Should it? What if she was a little curvier or a little skinnier? Is “Nobody wants to look at your fat” worse than “everyone is staring at your tits”? Where does it end? I thought making women feel bad about themselves was the advertising industry’s job, not the educational system.

A final point – she’s studying to be an actor. Not a math professor (although she might end up as one some day), not a business owner (ditto), AN ACTOR. Actors pretend to be something they are not; that’s why we call them ACTORS. One day, she may have to wear a hoop skirt and pretend to be in the 19th Century. Or a house-wife in the 1950s. Or a super-hero.

Wait. She’s already a super-hero. Nuff Said.

THE TRAGEDY OF THE SUPER-HERO

spiderman

Since every other movie for the foreseeable future is going to feature a super-hero, it would behoove you all to learn more about the nuts and bolts of them. Ant-Man is getting a movie (and you’ll probably all go see it). Aquaman is getting a movie, for chrissakes. Don’t even get me started on Batman vs. Superman : Train-wreck At Dawn or the goddamn Suicide Squad. You’re going to be served up super-heroes whether you like them or not. Luckily, I’m here to help you with that.

I’ve spent most of my life looking at super-heroes, dissecting them like a watch-maker, figuring out what makes them tick. (Plus four years of Batmanology school and three years of Modern Tap.) I can tell you everything you’ll ever need to know about super-heroes. So can Joseph Campbell but I do it with more jokes than he does.

The first thing about any super-hero (even Aquaman, who sucks) is that they are always born in tragedy. Krypton explodes. The mugger panics. There are innumerable accidents and explosions that people somehow inexplicably survive. Taken together as a whole, it looks like a cheap formula and it is a cheap formula. But it’s a formula that works.

Take Superman, for example. He is alone in the universe. All of the art of Krypton, all of its culture, all the music, poetry, history that were sent along with him as baby Kal El – he is the only person in the universe who can appreciate them. But it’s a world he never knew, except as through old photographs. He can never go home again, to the extent that pieces of his home are actually poisonous to him. Only by being sent away from his birth-place did he ever have a chance to live. He’s the last of his kind. (Leaving aside his cousin, his dog, her cat and 100 000 citizens of Kandor who are less than an inch tall, living in a bottle on his shelf.) He is unimaginably powerful yet he humbles himself to walk among us, his adopted people, whom he loves because we mean he’s not alone in the universe. He has a purpose.

Batman’s even worse. You all know what happened to his parents, right? So he made a vow, on the spot, at eight years old, to make sure that what happened to him never happened to anyone else ever again. So he trained himself from that day on, from eight years old, to punish evil with his own two hands and to protect the innocent. He perfected himself, learning to fight against anything and everything under the sun, to master pain and his emotions and himself, to be the ultimate expert in everything. I have never subscribed to the theory that Batman is insane or a fascist – he isn’t. He’s driven and dedicated to protecting the innocent and punishing the guilty and ensuring that what happened to him never happens to anyone else, ever again. That’s why Robin is so important to Batman; Batman failed and the Grayson’s were killed but he gave their son a chance to avenge their murders and see justice be done, to punish the guilty and protect the innocent.

Peter Parker was bitten by a spider and changed somehow. That’s how he got his powers but that’s not his origin. He was a nerd, a nebbish, a nobody, until that spider bit him but he was a good kid. He tried to parlay his new-found powers into a bit of cash but he got ripped off. The guy who ripped him off got ripped off and Peter, believer in karma, didn’t lift a finger to stop it. Well, karma’s a funny thing and it turns out that the robber ends up killing Peter’s uncle. And when Peter finds that out, it crushes him. He could have stopped him if he wasn’t so selfish, so stupid. So he promises to himself that he’ll never ignore somebody in trouble ever again, no matter what. And even though he’s broke or heart-broken or facing impossible odds, terrified out of his wits, he never gives up because he CAN`T. He just can’t. He gives himself a pep talk (“Okay, Spidey. You can do this.”) and gets back in the game.

Daredevil has Catholic guilt. Bruce Banner was abused as a child. Captain America grew up poor and fatherless. You shouldn’t overdo it, though. They tried to graft Batman’s origin onto the Flash and it didn’t really take, because he’s a more light-hearted character than Batman. Plus, it was entirely unnecessary and contrary to what made the Flash work as a character. And the Flash’s origin was just fine as it is.

Wonder Woman is unique in not having a tragic back-story – the Gods commanded her creation and blessed her with powers so that she could help people. That’s it. Of course, they tried to graft tragedy onto her too, in modern times. Again, it didn’t really take because it runs counter to what Wonder Woman represents – an unalloyed force for good and positivity. But I digress.

The other essential commonality of every single super-hero is the obvious fact that the cops are no good. At all. If they were, you wouldn’t need a super-hero, would you? Just let the cops handle it. But the cops are out-matched by aliens or robots or giant murder-machines or Mole Men or monsters or dangerous freaks with lasers shooting out of their head. Even if they mean well, there’s not much they can do. This looks like a job for [insert super-hero here]!

The other alternative is that the cops are REALLY no good; they’re crooked and corrupt, they’re on the take, they’re as big a menace as the dude with the lasers shooting out of his head. Worse, even. The cops are around all the time. They make the world worse just by existing and a protector is needed because we all know the cops won’t do it. Won’t, not can’t. They prefer to use their tanks and machine-guns on unarmed protestors, not a guy with a freeze ray or a killer clown or with lasers shooting out of his head. All the cops in Gotham City (and several other fictional cities) are s.o.b.s (except maybe Gordon and Chief O’Hara.)  So the System is inherently corrupt or useless, whichever way you slice it. Which is a pretty subversive, not to mention pervasive, persuasive message to sell to people watching explosions for two hours, when you think about it. Or to little kids, reading a comic book.