Monday, February 24, 2014

MONDAY MEANDERINGS


I’m on a roll with these wandering bloggy things, so I’ll continue in that vein today.  I get a cheap high crossing items off my topic list. Let’s start with the casting of the new Fantastic Four movie, which seems to have raised some hackles.

If I have any concerns about the new movie, it’s my fear that the people making the movie might fail to understand who the Fantastic Four are: family.  More than any other iconic super-hero team, the Fantastic Four are, first and foremost, a family.  If you lose that aspect of this greatest of all Stan Lee/Jack Kirby creations, then you are not making a Fantastic Four movie.

I also have a problem with the casting of Michael B. Jordan as the Human Torch and it has everything to do with race, just not in the way others appear to have a problem with it.  I’m not bothered by Johnny and Sue Storm being of different races.  The American family of 2014 doesn’t look like that of 1961.  I can’t think of a single good reason why the current Storm family couldn’t be a mixed-race family.  It’s the family that counts, not the color of their skins.

So what’s my problem with Jordan as Johnny Storm? It’s the idea of setting a black man on fire.  Yeah, I know this casting is not the same as racists murdering blacks in that manner. But that horrible history exists.  Jordan and the movie makers will have to go above and beyond if they want me to overlook that history.

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Dynamite will be publishing a new series of Doctor Spektor comics based on the character created by Don Glut for Gold Key Comics in the 1960s.  Mark Waid is writing the title, which means I’ll read it.  I’ve enjoyed almost everything Waid’s written. Indeed, some of his recent work - Daredevil, Indestructible Hulk, Incorruptible and Irredeemable, to name just four - ranks among the best comic books of the new millennium. That said...

I’d rather see Don Glut writing this incarnation of his creation. Even if he created the character under a work-for-hire arrangement, Glut should have been given the opportunity to write this title for Dynamite.  The publisher might not have had any legal obligation to have him write it, but I believe a case can be made that there was a moral obligation, a basic fairness demanding they not ignore the
creator without whom there would not have been a Doctor Spektor for Dynamite to publish and Waid to write.

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The disgraced and ever-repugnant Tom DeLay dropped this nonsense in a recent interview:

“I think we got off that track when we allowed our government to become a secular government, when we stopped realizing that God created this nation, that He wrote the constitution, that’s based on biblical principles.”

It should go without saying, but here I am to tell you God didn’t write the Constitution.  It was written by men.  For that matter, God didn’t write the Bible, the Koran, the Torah or anything else. Those were all written by men.

Men (and women) are not unbiased creatures.  When they write stuff, be it laws, religious tomes, textbooks, novels, comic books, poems, plays, screenplays, political manifestos, you name it, they write from their own bias and self-interest.

I don’t discount the charitable or high-minded intentions of those who wrote any of the works named above.  I’m sure many of them had the best of intentions and sincerely wanted their works to elevate mankind and lead us to our best angels.  I’m also certain many were mostly looking to protect attitudes and institutions that brought benefit and power to themselves.

People ain’t perfect.

My modest proposal is we stop treating holy books as holy. Demote them to perhaps useful guides to a better life.  I’d also propose we stop equating legislation with holiness.

Most of all, I think we should stop blaming God, whether we see him as an impossibly white Jesus, an angry All-Father, or a radioactive dinosaur that cautions us against the folly of man and occasionally protects us from extraterrestrial invaders, for what we write and how we behave.  That’s all on us.

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Heidi MacDonald’s The Beat recently ran an article on the amazing philanthropy of Ike Perlmutter, describe as a “billionaire, CEO of Marvel and one of Disney’s largest stockholders.” In a fascinating piece, MacDonald wrote about Perlmutter’s background, his legendary cheapness and he and his wife Laura’s “initial” gift of $50 million to Advance Cancer Research and Treatment at NYU Langone Medical Center.

Perlmutter is regarded with hatred and terror by many in the comics industry, perhaps deservedly so. Yet this donation will be used to fight one of the deadliest diseases known to man.  Is he a hero or a villain? Maybe he’s both.

Stan Lee used to tell me and others that no hero is entirely good and no villain is entirely evil.  That bit of creative wisdom has always struck me as exactly right.  The best stories are those told in the grey, the spaces between good and evil.  That is where truly  human struggles have always taken place. That is where intriguing characters and situations are born.

Maybe Perlmutter deserves condemnation for actions he has taken at Marvel Comics.  This would not surprise me.  But he also deserves credit for his role in elevating Marvel to the entertainment power it has become and for his charitable donations.  Hero and villain.  Just like all of us.

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Last week, I started reading a well-respected graphic novel.  I was a hundred pages into it when I asked myself why I was reading a graphic novel I wasn’t enjoying.  I put it aside to be returned to the library unfinished.

I don’t have to watch movies or television programs because others think they’re great.  I don’t have to read books or comics because others believe they are essential reading.  I’m not on the clock. I can read and watch what I want to read and watch.  Even if I live to be 100 - which is the plan, by the way - I won’t be able to read and watch everything I’d like to read and watch.  So it has become amazingly easy to cast aside that which others consider classics.

In the case of this particular graphic novel, I think there was a decent story underneath all of the creator’s self-indulgences.  He switched scenes without those scenes reaching any actual meaning. He had unreadable balloons that I suppose were meant to represent mumbled speech.  What he didn’t do was tell the story.

That’s where I come from.  If someone has a good story, one which addresses important aspects of life, one which presents intriguing characters, one which excites me whether it’s about just getting by in the real world or saving a universe, tell the story.

Don’t go artsy-fartsy for the sake of snobby academics and critics too dishonest to accept their love of comics without resorting to the absurd obstructionist bullshit they once used to sell to their equally pretentious high-school teachers.

Just tell the damn story. You’ll fell better if you do.

I know I will.
 
I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2014 Tony Isabella

5 comments:

  1. Michael Kelly SchurmanFebruary 24, 2014 at 8:43 AM

    As to the Michael B. Jordan casting, he's just gonna haveta own the burning black man thing. He should, I think, turn it around and use it to his own purpose. Easy for an old white man to say, I suppose, but you're right about it being there. Better to take it over, than let the old imagery be in control.

    Even by our decidedly low and rightish standards in Texas, Tom DeLay is one odd s.o.b. How someone even as stupid and self-righteous as he ought to know nobody's god wrote the constitution. Did Jesus his ownself pen the traffic and zoning ordinances down there in Sugarland? I mean, come on. I guess I ought to be used to some of the oddball things the religious right believes. A frightening number of my neighbors (hell, my own sister actually) believe in biblical inerrancy. Show them untruths and contradictions right there for anyone to see and their eyes glaze over to match their minds. I would suppose it to be comforting to believe such sureties but they don't seem a very comfortable group.

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  2. 1. DeLay is a few fries shy of a Happy Meal, or, given the name, a few chips short of a full bag, take your pick. Enough said.

    2. I'm not on board with Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm, either, Tony, but it's because you have an inexperienced director (Josh Trank) who has worked with Jordan previously, must've promised him a primo part. Problem is, it's the wrong part. I'd have pencilled Jordan in as T'Challa (Black Panther) instead, had Jamie Bell as Johnny, and gone with a slightly older actor as Ben, but that's just me.

    3. What exactly has Perlmutter done to offend anyone in comics in correlation to his standing at Marvel? I must confess I know 0 about the story.

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  3. I think the casting of Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm is more like "stunt casting," or more appropriately, "token casting." Not "token" in the sense of injecting diversity in the the cast, which is a worthy goal, but "token" in creating a character that can deliver all the cliched "black character" reactions and "black character" quips, one-liners and catchphrases that seem to be standard in bad action film scripts.

    There are currently some "go-to" actors in this category (and the categories below) that should be ashamed of themselves.

    These cliches bother me as much as over-the-top portrayals of gay characters, insensitive, grunting male characters and vapid, wine and shoe obsessed female characters.

    Please pleasantly surprise me, FF movie director. And also, please don't set the film in the '70s. The young hipsters have it all wrong. I was there, it wasn't that cool.

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  4. I never picked up on the black-man-on-fire bit; since he's in control of the flames, it could be seen as an empowerment thing, taking the negative and turning it around. Or the filmmakers might not have thought of it, either.
    I thought Rise of the Silver Surfer did a pretty good job w/the family feel of the team, their interactions. If they don't get that right, I don't care what color or gender these characters are.
    I'm looking forward to Dr Spektor, guardedly. Agreed that I'd like to see Don Glut writing it. I'd like to see Don Glut writing anything.

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  5. It's not so much the "on fire' that bothers me. It's the fact that Johnny Storm of the comics was an immature hothead. On the other hand, their Ben Grimm actor certainly doesn't look like a jock. So let's see what they do. I remember being very pleasantly surprised by Michael Keaton.

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