Friday, March 20, 2015

The Killing Art: Batgirl Cover Controversy

"It's just an homage to The Killing Joke, m'dear!"
"Yeah. Say -  it that MY blood?"
Recently DC Comics pulled a cover from production, thinking it inappropriate for the readership. This has caused a bit of controversy. Many pros, geeks and amateur artists are mad as hornets, crying "Censorship!"

I think they overspeak, but let me tell you why I feel that way.

First, censorship is an emotionally charged word, judging an editorial decision on prima facie evidence: art that is not overtly sexual or brutal has been denied publication. Doesn't seem right, and so immediately "Censorship!" is cried.

Problem is, visual art has a subjective value in the cultural milieu that is fairly undeniable. It is not in a vacuum, and it is not without implications.

We fill in the gaps when we see a single image or scene from a story. It lives and breathes because we can do this, we geeks. Take off your geek glasses and you might see it differently.

Secondly, artists - like writers - sometimes accidentally connect dots by implication: sometimes it gives more meaning than they intended, and sometimes it gives meanings they did not, ever, under any circumstances, mean.

I have known very good artists have to re-draw something because their director saw a false implication or a failure to be absolutely crystal clear.

One editor I know was showing off the wonderful artwork of a comic he'd just finished writing to us, his college buds. We were seriously impressed. Then, on panel X on page umpteen, one of us - Ashley was his name - said "Heh. It looks like the guy is pointing to his crotch!" We looked. Yes, it looked that way, but in context we knew he wasn't. Also, we knew brilliant Ashley loved to re-write ancient poetry using vulgar lyrics, so he had that internal bias.

But still... we couldn't shake it. One re-drawn thumb later and my editor friend was safe from any misinterpretation. His newborn hero and heroine would NOT be considered vulgarly gesturing in any form. Thus, a new comic was born and careers were started.

That was a valuable lesson.

I myself had to re-write an entire passage in my novella and change terms because of negative implications they had - this was pointed out to me by readers AFTER the fact. You get caught up in your craft, and well... let us say artists can go too far by several car lengths.

But brakes are not useful when you're creating: you need to let the beast out and express yourself. You need to write like you are hearing from God, and draw like you own the universe--or at least those eleven by seventeen inches in front of you.

So when should the brakes be applied? I mean, what the heck is wrong with the Joker being evil to Batgirl? He is a villain and he's obviously evil and he's painting her lips with...

...blood? Is that blood? Whose blood? Not Barbara's, is it?

She doesn't look shot. Where would you get a fingerful of blood from a woman? And why is Barbara looking so terrified and helpless? I mean, I remember when she faced the Devil himself .

What would unnerve Batgirl so much she is crying - not gritting her teeth, mind you - wide-eyed weeping in horror as an albino and vacation-loving sociopath draws blood across her lips...

...there are no other victims to be seen, so he must have gotten the blood from her... where can you get blood from a... woman... for her lips... with no obvious wounds...


ARE YOU @#$@$#%# ME?! TELL me you do NOT mean THAT!!

Yeah. Think about it.

Someone at DC saw this too. Maybe not to the degree I did, but they saw it as inappropriate.

Look, you may disagree. You may cry censorship.

I implore you to wake up and smell the coffee of community, consumers, and creative context.

This could be easily fixed by adding a paint can in the Joker's hand and a brush in the other. Or just changing it to lipstick - even go so far as to show him SHARING the same.

But it is blood shown - and it has an ugly implication.

DC made the right call.

That is my opinion, of course, but the more I consider the image, I see the problem.

Batgirl is a heroine. Let us not victimize her so callously. Let us protect her image.

She's been through enough already, I think.


Thursday, March 5, 2015

He Was Superman - a Villains & Vigilantes tale

Years ago, I was working to see if the world's greatest hero could possibly be rolled up randomly as per standard rules in my favorite superhero role-playing game, Villains and Vigilantes. Created by Jeff Dee and Jack Herman, you were supposed to play yourself with the addition of super powers. You were, however, able to bend and re-write certain powers at the Gamemaster's discretion if it made a better character.

I imagined the creation of Superman, Kal-El of Krypton, being done in this way would be for far different reasons than just a gamer wanting to be the most powerful character. He might be finally living out a fantasy that reality would not allow. I thought of how his fellow players and the GM might agree to this and how he would affect their lives as teens.

If you grew up with comics and pen & pencil RPGs of the 80s and 90s, you might enjoy this tale.



He Was Superman!

Superman was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster and is copyright DC Comics. All Rights Reserved. No challenge intended.

An Imaginary V&V Tale

He had been working on the school newspaper and they really liked his articles, especially on comics as the new American mythology, so Tuesday one of the guys invited him to come play at their Friday night superhero game.

His mom dropped him off from her truck and happily waved good-bye with all the sweetness that belied any concept of coolness. When he rolled in, sad to say, the other guys were not impressed – not at first anyway.

He was the classic image of a perfect geek, replete with coke-bottle glasses, pocket protector and even a tie, for the love of Mike!  His crutches and cough assured them they would not be playing football with him any time soon. As one of the guys held open the farmhouse screen door, he clattered in with his braces.
"Thanks for inviting me over," he said. "I don't get out very much, as you might guess."

"Really?" smirked Joey, the group smart-aleck. Frank elbowed him, but he took no notice. He never did. That was Joey.

"Really," affirmed the boy with a lop-sided grin. "That last discotheque screwed me up pretty badly!" he joked as he used his arm brace to pull a seat out. "May I sit down?"

Eager to cover Joey's dumbness, Frank stepped in. "Sure, man! I'll get you some dice and help you create a character."

"Thanks alot. Since you called I've been reading up on role-playing games. Love to try." He coughed hard. It lasted for several minutes. "Sorry. Don't worry. I'm not contagious. It's a form of cystic fibrosis. Wears me out. It's why I can only stay till 10."

Frank said, "That's cool, man. Sit next to me. You need anything, I'll get it."

"Thanks again," he said appreciatively. "You know about cystic fibrosis?"

"Nah. But my great uncle had lung cancer. I used to help him a lot."

"Ah! Well, thank you sonny!" Then he grinned that lop-sided way again. "I got lots of stuff wrong with me. It's all in the genes. Got the brains, didn't get the body."

Jerry said, "We can fix that - sort of. See, in this game, you play a super hero based on you. So you can be - or at least pretend to be - someone else for a while. Pure imagination."

"Could I be from another planet? A stranger from another world?"

"You already are," muttered Joey. Frank kicked him under the table. This time Joey winced.

"Sure, why not?" said Jerry. "I'm the GM - the gamemaster or referee if you prefer. We could give you an alternate history or something like that."

"All right! Cool! I'm liking this already."

"By the way, what's your name? We'll put it down on your sheet first."

"Kent. Clark Kent."

At first, everyone was shocked how badly he rolled. Only three powers, and he discarded the weakness Physical Handicap faster than you could say Jack Sprat! Only two powers left: Psionics and Insect Powers. Interesting options at least, but for a newby? What would he do with them? Thankfully, the Insect Powers gave him the hit points he needed to survive, 'cause they played hard in Jerry's game.

By the next session, his health had grown notably worse. Clark explained: to top everything off, his doctor said was not getting enough vitamin D. The doctor was demanding him to drink milk and lay out in the sun.

"I'll be a bronzed Adonis next time I see you!" he quipped. But because of physical therapy he would only be able to play every other week. They understood.

Later, they decided to revise their campaign and bring up bigger threats, so they gave Clark three more rolls for powers to help him out.

Jerry's jaw dropped when he rolled up Body Power, Mutant Power and Absorption.

"If you can't make those work, I pity you!" spat Joey nearly envious.

"I'll give it a shot," grinned Clark from his new wheelchair. "I'm a strange visitor from an another planet, right?"

"Yeah," agreed Joey reluctantly. He'd slowly been won over by Clark's wit, and how he'd helped him create his spectral avenger.

"So, how about this..." He whispered his idea in Joey's ear. Frank watched as a  devilish grin came over Joey's face. Like the time he decided to Saran-Wrap the toilet bowl in the girl's locker room.

"Oh, that's goooood. That's really good!" He clapped his hands together. "I'll write it up for you!"

"Thanks, Joey," smiled Clark laying his head back into the chair rest.

They didn't see him for a month after that.

He came as often as he was able and played, glad his character was now able to fly and see everything he wanted. Sometimes he dozed off, but the guys didn't mind. They enjoyed helping him. He would wake up just in time to make an heroic cry for action. "This is a job for... SUPERMAN!" he'd say, then slowly fade away again.

By Christmas, they were playing at his house, spending several nights there talking with the family, drawing his character sheet, tweaking his powers, and letting him come in to save the day at the last moment.

Which he always did. With a grin that would light up the room. "That's what heroes are for!"

But on Good Friday they waited for him at his school locker, and he wasn't there. Jerry and Joey drove down to the farm to find out what was up. Since it was a half-day at school, they guessed he'd just decided to not to bother coming in. He'd been feeling pretty bad lately.

Mrs. Kent met them at the back door. Her eyes were bright.

"He's gone, boys."

"Yes, ma'am. But where is he?"

She smiled gently. "He's with the Lord, son."

Jerry just stood there, dumbfounded. The porch spun. It took a moment to regain his balance, then he heard something he never heard before in his life.

Joey was crying. Wailing even. Before Jerry could reach him, he had run off the porch into the nearby field.


Jerry turned back to the middle-aged lady. "Yes, ma'am?"

"Thank you for being so good to Clark. His eyes would light up every time he knew you  were going to come over." Her gentle drops circled the smile on her lips.

Jerry felt his heart rise to his throat. "Yes, ma'am," he croaked. "Thank you."

Tears began coursing down his cheeks as well. "He was..." He stopped.

He was what? he thought to himself.

"He was–" Jerry set his jaw. He was what?  A big heart in a frail body? Brave? Bold? Bolder than any person he had ever met?

He mimicked the familiar lop-sided grin for a brief second.

"To us, ma'am... he was Superman!"