Fag Casting and Tokenism

The term “Stunt Casting” is defined as:  “casting used to generate media attention.”

The problem with commentating on topical issues is that you’ve sometimes got to discuss subjects you’d really rather not discuss. No, that subject is not Gay Awareness or Gay Acceptance. It’s the fucking X-Men.

Someone said in passing that people outraged with the recent development that Ice-Man had come out of the closet and been revealed as Gay (hahaha) were misguided, since the X-Men have “always been about tolerance”.

But have they? It seems beaten into the public subconscious that The Uncanny X-Men are a pop-culture allegory for acceptance and standing up to prejudice. Granted, there did exist some late 1960s’ stories where Cyclops and Ice-Man himself were about to be lynched (!) by a fearful town of ordinary folk. And, granted, Magneto was always pushing for the rise of “Homo Superior”. So why do I seem so reluctant to embrace Marvel’s mighty mutants as bastions and examples of equality and acceptance?

Because you’ve got to care about intentions. Getting the right reactions for the wrong reasons means a lot with something as important and fundamentally crucial as increased Gay acceptance.

Everything about Marvel seems reactive and under-handed. Significance passed down. Sure, this character that’s been here for five decades now- he’s Gay. Because, you know, if you’re a mutant who can turn his body into ice- your sexuality is clearly the most interesting aspect about you.

The X-Men, initially, had some interesting potential to explore and exploit underlying fear of a changing culture. But it wasn’t until the 1980s and beyond that it entered the fandom lexicon that the Magneto/Professor X dynamic was just like the imagined Malcolm X/Martin Luther King Jr. dynamic. This was, I presume, casually mentioned in passing but very quickly picked up on to where it is still mentioned today. But this isn’t so. It just- wait for it- capitalizes on popular thought amongst the public subconscious that was earned by something else. Before you knew it, it was hip to speak in pretentious, serious tones about how the X-Men were “persecuted” and, therefore, perfect reading for those suffering in the real world.

X-Men

I suppose it’s fair that I offer that this is true; many X-Men fans have spoken about those stories helping them as they suffered self-doubt and self-loathing about their sexualities, etc. I’d suggest it was more the escapism involved in the stories than the creative team actually executing such a message, but I don’t want to dismiss other people’s enjoyment.

Marvel has been using the “knows what it’s like to be judged and persecuted” card for some time with their X-Men titles; titles that show a true elitist group, even shown endlessly posing with dour, rock-star expressions and superior hustle. A group that lives in a Mansion and that, at least in recent times, are prone to endless hook-ups with each other and other super-heroes. So, tell me: persecuted by whom? Big fucking Sentinels? So how is it different from The Fantastic Four, constantly under attack by Doctor Doom and his endless robotic assaults on the Baxter Building? “BECAUSE THAT’S NOT AN ALEGORY FOR RACISM *slobber”- yeah, shut up.

Making Ice-Man suddenly Gay is Fag casting. That’s all it is. Even the dialogue involved is so abnormaly terrible with it’s cutesy wording and movie trailer pacing. The snark is high at Marvel Comics; it makes you wonder if their entire editorial mandate is to write every comic like a movie trailer- condensed and edited towards making sure every smug punch-line is met by the audience- and they’ve all been given the Guide to Writing by Joss Whedon. (we must be self-aware and make smug remarks at all times!!!)

“I don’t know why everyone’s in love with you”, Ice-Man says.

“Yeah, that’s because yer Gay.” replies Jean Grey, head-tilted and all cutesy. Ugh.

It makes you wonder if any of these cargo-shorts wearing straight male man-children working at the Big 2 even interact with Queer people outside of comic savants, whose personality should not be held as the standard for balanced individuals, regardless of sexual orientation.

I’ll bet you that, eventually, Ice-Man dates an African-American. That seems the usual trope of white straight comic writers- their reverse logic is so extreme that they’ve made him a token, why not go all the way? Why not make it interracial to boot? Oh, I’m in no way against this- by all means, interracial relationships are fantastic. It’s just that you wonder if every single comics fucker’s only exposure to Gay relationships were Pedro Zamora and his boyfriend Sean or what? Whether it’s Mikkal in Starman or Northstar in the X-Men, it’s always the same, tempered Black guy putting up with the more emotional super-hero. You adorable little Avenger. Stop being foolish and come here. The writer needs to prove something.

The next time any publisher wants to promote a Gay character, outside of Wuvable Oaf.. it would be very nice if they didn’t have a series of Press Releases to announce it. Sometimes, it’s best just to DO IT.

Oh, and my response to the comment made in passing about people being outraged due to a member of the X-Men coming out as Gay..? “I’m amazed more people weren’t outraged at how abnormally bad and poorly written the X-Men were to begin with.”

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The Lion In Winter

Much has been written in the past week regarding the untimely passing of artist Herb Trimpe. If you’re reading this, then you likely won’t need me to expand upon the much deserved praise and heartfelt sadness his death has prompted as Herb was indeed the rare example of someone who lived up to his reputation as both talented in work and generous with fans. It’s a minor sticking point that only now are said fans spotting on to Herb’s horrible treatment in the late nineties from Marvel after three decades of company loyalty and quality work; that being said, it’s better late than never. However, the nature of this post doesn’t concern that so I’ll refrain from going off on a tangent.

Trimpe

While reading the genuine expressions of grief and appreciation, a post by comics writer Ron Marz triggered something I’d thought long ago and spent some time trying to push to fruition last year. His comments reinforced that proposal, which I’ll share with you shortly. In the meantime, Marz wrote;

“In more recent years, Herb was a regular on the con circuit, as numerous older artists are. It’s an important way to make ends meet. Comics as a whole is not very good at taking care of its veteran creators, those upon whose shoulders we stand. Hopefully with Herb Trimpe’s premature passing we can give some thought to taking better care of those who came before us.”

Within his statement, Marz touches upon a subject all too seldom discussed: the activeness of older artists and writers on the ever-popular convention circuit. It’s possible that it’s not as discussed simply because all would (or should) agree that seeing these important creators at conventions is a good and positive thing, and are happy that they have the opportunity to still interact with fans and received the hard-earned admiration and respect they so truly deserve.

The term “Lion in Winter” is defined as follows: “A proud, prominent, strong man whose great strength and dignity have been eroded by age and adversity.”

What is never considered is the expenses and costs of such endeavors for these creators whose importance to the comics industry as a whole can not and should not be discounted. Think if you will the significance of working in comic books in the 1940s and 1950s: an industry still new, without decades of preexisting context or standards. These artists shouldered the blame and carried the weight of an industry looked down upon. They are important and should be treated as such.

Right now a significant number of older creators still attend the convention circuit on a regular, ongoing basis. Off of the top of my head, I can list a few and their initiative is truly to be respected, especially as I know people a quarter of their age who won’t get off their fucking couch to go outside.

Allen Bellman is 92.

Ramona Fradon is 88.

Ken Bald is 95 this August.

Joe Sinnott and Russ Heath are also 88.

While it’s not ageism per se, there exists a tangible sense of discomfort in considering people who are, well, old. There’s also a subtle subconscious belief on the part of younger people that older people have accumulated so much wealth in their long lifetimes, that they must undoubtedly be loaded with cash.

That’s misguided thinking. Believe me, I’m aware that these creators (especially those I listed above) have nothing to prove and are not doing this for the money. They truly enjoy the experience of interacting with fans of their work and the social involvement. That’s just not the point. The point is finally agreeing, as a community of followers, fans, historians, whatever- to forcibly initiate a new standard to assist older creators.

Within the past few years I had e-mailed a few legends. I asked Dick Ayers if he’d be appearing at a show (name withheld). His response was that he and his wife, Lindy, simply could not afford the table. Ditto with Allen Bellman. Arnold Drake told me a decade ago that he liked conversation but needed some extra bread, to boot. (to paraphrase his exact quote.)

Here is the solution. Here is a small step to repaying those artists still living, still working, still active and engaged and, yes, gracing every convention floor with their presence.

Free table space. From now on. Free, or, at the very least, heavily discounted table space and assistance. In fact, you could allot two to three tables and have them shared by those creators deemed applicable. Sure, it lends itself to making jokes about the “old person’s alley” but can anyone say this wouldn’t be a helpful step in paying the proper respect to those who deserve it?

Back in December I was discussing this with the brilliant historian and curator Karen Green, who added “once you’re 90 you shouldn’t have to pay for anything.”

This isn’t just altruistic. This is of immense benefit for Con Exhibitors. Because it pays dividends in goodwill, good karma, and positive press. You can almost read the Bleeding Cool (Ugh) headlines now… “Want a Free Table at Comic Con? Just be born before 1960“, etc.

For context, I’d like to point out that this is practiced to an extent every year at San Diego due to the involvement (and I assume insistence) of Mark Evanier. However, their practice is slightly different in that it involves only that year’s Hall of Fame participants- what I’m speaking of is an ongoing, industry standard approach that becomes procedure, as well as guaranteeing free space to all older creators, regardless of show.

Are there logistics to be worked on? Sure. Is it a pipe dream? Fuck no. This is entirely possible. There is no huge risk/reward in bringing this notion to fruition. Even the Film Industry pays for the treatment of aging actors and studio professionals. Comic veterans should not have to struggle- ever.

If you disagree, please explain why.

There’s much that can be done, and done quite easier than you’d think- that’s why comic books are often a cause for sincere frustration. From credit to promotions to distribution to publishing- everything has the potential to improve and reward all sides involved. There’s so many things publishers and creators could be doing to better their success.

In future installments, I’ll tell you how.

Sexism and Settling

Progress is defined (at least in noun form) as “forward or onward movement toward a destination.”

Tell me. If you’re a female who, understandably, wants progress in regards to how female characters have and continue to be portrayed within the world of comic books- Is it progress to be a derivation of an established male character? Is it breaking new ground to be the secondary counter-part to an established male character? Is it innovative to be introduced after-the-fact with an origin consisting of happening to be the second person whom a radioactive spider bit?

It isn’t.  So why do girls put up with it?

Amazingly- and, I say that with no sarcasm intended- it’s seemingly because this is as good as it’s going to get (for now), with the “for now” added by me.

BLOG PIC ONE

There is nothing noble or sincere in Marvel’s somewhat recent campaign of a more culturally diverse shared universe of characters. Now, now- don’t think I’m coming into this with some kind of bias, or the always-easy “pick on the corporation” viewpoint. A corporation is quite capable of doing good things, Marvel is always capable of more. The fact of the matter is they just don’t. Lest I get off into a tangent, I’ll touch on the deeper reasons why in a future post- it involves the enabling of their lazy actions by a passive audience, therefore spoiling and cultivating them into a position of not needing to really do better- so, let me stress: not only is Marvel’s attempts at diversity a misguided failure, it’s also downright offensive.

Recently, I’ve caught glimpses of ongoing headlines about who “created” a character called Spider-Gwen. I have not read this title, therefore enabling all the readers of that comic to now take me to task for casting judgment on something I’ve not experienced- take what you can get- the content of said book is not the point. For example, often during the nineteen fifties, the Superman books would have some plot device where Lois Lane inexplicably (and temporarily) gains super-powers. During the course of this story, she may be called “Super Lois” or “Super Woman”- and that’s it. It didn’t take away the fact that Super Lois was simply a variant of an established character created by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster. Gwen Stacy was created by Steve Ditko & Stan Lee. It’s just too much credit to give to someone to say they ‘created’ what I safely presume is simply a super-powered Gwen Stacy from an Alternate Universe (Ugh).

I’m glad that readers enjoy it. It’s just not a step towards progress for equality in the slightest.

Consider that the majority of popular super-heroines within Marvel derive from established Male characters. X-51 (hahaha). She-Hulk. Ms. Marvel. Silk. Spider-Gwen. Yes, there’s a female Thor… who, like the African-American Falcon… is temporary.

If one was sincere in developing fully thought-out female characters, why not a female who stands apart? Whose origin and motivations aren’t tied-in or directly (or even indirectly) related to a pre-existing male counterpart?

The height of my disappointment came recently, in a public exchange with one of the more preeminent and respected comic bloggers- who, incidentally, also happens to be a woman. I remarked that;  “I’m amazed that anyone would think ‘Spider-Gwen’ is a character of progress in the first place: it’s a hero’s Girlfriend, taking on the pre-existing powers of the boyfriend, only on a secondary basis. Everything about it is handed down, and there’s nothing empowering about that.”

Her reply was, It’s “empowering” because imperfect representation is better than none.”

That’s compensating. That’s taking what you can get and not wanting to dwell on what you’re not.

To be fair, she continued with:I think it’s “take what we can get” AND “push toward something better” at the same time. I want comics I can enjoy, and I’ll take marginal progress because maybe it will start the trend that gets us where we want to be.”

To get to that elusive place…? You’d have to possess a capacity for empathy- as well as a capacity for new ideas.

Marvel has neither. It’s hard to argue with their logic when constant riffs on old ideas has kept them afloat this fucking long.

But supporters of these things have their responsibility as well. It’s notable that Marvel’s ideal of a strong female is the film version of The Black Widow-  who, in every portrayal, is directed to have a slo-mo walk away from the camera with the focus firmly planted on her ass. I was, however, sincerely impressed and pleased with Marvel’s recent Agent Carter mini-series- I felt it was the first real portrayal of a woman character who was fully developed, fully realized, and played as a real human being. As for equality, she also proved to be the first Marvel heroine who could do anything a man can do- and betterwithout needing endless angles of her showing off her (actually far superior) curves.

So naturally, the reaction to ‘Agent Carter‘ from fans, pros, and critics alike was fairly unanimous:

“So who does she end up marrying?”

“Does she hook-up with that one Agent?”

“Could she be Iron Man’s Mother?!*slobber*”

Progress indeed.