Nota Bene: Patricia Highsmith and Stan Lee

During World War II, Marvel Comics impresario Stan Lee was working as an in-house writer for the U.S. Army (training movies about organizing your footlocker or field-stripping your rifle). He was still moonlighting for Marvel (then called Timely Comics), where the editor who replaced him, Vince Fago, was intrigued by another of their writers: Patricia Highsmith.

According to Highsmith’s biographer Joan Schenkar:

Vince Fago took Lee up to Pat’s apartment “near Sutton Place,” hoping to make a “match” between Pat and Stan Lee. But the future creator of the talented Mr. Ripley was not fated to go out on a date with the future facilitator of Spider-Man. “Stan Lee,” said Vince Fago, “was only interested in Stan Lee,” and Pat wasn’t exactly admitting where her real sexual interests lay…

Which raises the question: Who would win in a showdown: Captain America or Tom Ripley? Discuss.

Screening Room: ‘The Old Guard’

Based on Greg Rucka’s comic-book series, The Old Guard is a big-budget attempt to start a new action franchise, this one centered around a band of centuries-old mercenaries who are (mostly) immortal.

The Old Guard launches today on Netflix. My review is at Slant:

Smartly prioritizing the bond of relationships over action in the way of the modern franchise series—doing so more organically than the Fast and the Furious series but missing the self-aware comedic patter of the Avengers films—The Old Guard is in the end only somewhat convincing on both counts…

Here’s the trailer:

Reader’s Corner: ‘The Complete Works of Fante Bukowski’

My interview with graphic novelist Noah Van Sciver, author of The Complete Works of Fante Bukowski, ran in Publishers Weekly:

You’ve written three books about Fante Bukowski, a delusional, arrogant, and slovenly character. Do you find something admirable in his belief in his own greatness?

I’m always interested in people who are obsessed with one thing, like people who become obsessed with comics history. I think it’s admirable to dedicate your life to this role. But now I have to think about it. Is he admirable? He’s dedicated to being a drunken writer [laughing]. I don’t know if that’s admirable, though…

Screening Room: ‘Birds of Prey’

Birds of Prey
(Warner Bros.)

My review of the new DC Comics movie Birds of Prey, which is playing now everywhere, was published at Slant Magazine:

The self-consciously ornate subtitle for Birds of PreyAnd the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn—lays out the reason for this film’s existence far better than the first 45 minutes or so of jumbled exposition that follow. In theory, the self-consciously goofy story of a “badass broad” who breaks free from being pole-dancing eye candy for her villain boyfriend to carve out a life for herself would be a welcome addition to a canon of films still in thrall to hyper-buff and hyper-serious dudes. And surrounding her with a squad of equally fierce and sarcastic female ass-kickers has the potential for a vibrant, pop-punk comedic franchise: Think Guardians of the Galaxy by way of Barb Wire. But since the film can never figure out how seriously to take its heroine, or how to gin up a halfway engaging caper what could have been an emancipation ends up feeling more like a trap for the character…

Here’s the trailer:

Reader’s Corner: Stan Lee’s Marvelous Life

My interview with Danny Fingeroth, author of the new biography A Marvelous Life: The Amazing Story of Stan Lee, was just posted at Publishers Weekly:

What do you think accounts for Lee’s ability to create such an incredibly long-lived roster of characters?

Stan is pretty much the only comic creator who the casual person on the street would know. Because he became the voice and face of not just Marvel Comics but the comics industry, there was a long time when Marvel had no publicity department. Stan was in the office most days, he was available, he always had a quip and a quote. Stan took that on. He realized that this would be his vehicle for extending himself and Marvel beyond the attention of people who read comics. He cultivated it. Why nobody else took that on is hard to say…

TV Room: ‘Watchmen’

watchmen1
Regina King as Sister Knight in ‘Watchmen’ (HBO)

Damon Lindelof’s wonderfully strange and deeply political Watchmen series is more interested in exploring the further ramifications of Alan Moore’s groundbreaking graphic novel than producing a faithful reenactment. It’s a high-risk move but one that appears so far to be paying off.

My article on Watchmen is at PopMatters:

The first episode, a direly ironic hour, kicks off in Tulsa during the 1921 massacre in which whites rampaged through the black neighborhood of Greenwood. Jumping to an alternate-historical 2019 Tulsa, Oklahoma, in which the racially-mixed police wear masks to protect their identity from a murderous white-supremacist underground called the Seventh Kavalry (for Custer’s unit decimated at Little Big Horn), the episode uses the massacre less as plot point and more as ominous overture…

Here’s the trailer:

Reader’s Corner: Summer Graphic Novels

I reviewed three new graphic novels—well, a graphic memoir of self-discovery and heartache by Ulli Lust, one immersive graphic biography about Stephen Hawking, and George Takei’s internment-camp memoir, to be precise—in a summer roundup for this weekend’s book section of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

They’re all smart, absorbing reads and well worth your time.

Check out the reviews here.

Screening Room: ‘Avengers: Endgame’

My article, “Is Avengers: Endgame a Miserable Bore or Something Worse?” was published at Eyes Wide Open:

It’s official: We’ve been had. Avengers: Endgame is many things. A complex web of interlocking character arcs. A masterpiece of corporate synergy. A box office hit whose take various publications simply cannot stop fawning over. It is not a good movie, or even a passable one. Yet somehow this great yawning bore of a cinematic black hole will end up being remembered as the great smash hit of 2019…

Writer’s Desk: Let the Magic Happen

When graphic novelist Alan Moore (Watchmen, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) was asked by a fan what “happens” to him when he writes, this is in part how he replied:

I know that my consciousness, if I am immersed in writing something demanding, is moved into a completely different state than the one which I inhabit during most of my waking life…

When you descend into this level of our reality, the code of our reality if you like, then whether consciously or not; whether deliberately or not, you are working magic. So, the answer to your question as to what happens to me when I write, is the most banal and useless answer you will ever get from an author: the magic happens…

One of the secrets to writing, it would seem, is to allow yourself to descend into that fugue state and just let the magic work its way through you.

It seems to have worked for Moore.

Screening Room: ‘Captain Marvel’

The latest Marvel comic movie, Captain Marvel, opens this weekend pretty much everywhere.

My review ran at Slant:

As another of the character-introducing MCU stories existing mostly to feed new superheroes into the Avengers series, Captain Marvel looks like something of a trial run. You know the drill: If the film lands with audiences, then you can count on Captain Marvel (Brie Larson)—like Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and even Ant-Man before her—getting her own series. But if not, then, hey, she’s at least assured of being asked to pop by the game room at Stark Industries for a kibitz in somebody else’s franchise down the road. Based on what’s on display here, Captain Marvel could well get her own star turn again at some point, but hopefully it will be with a different crew behind the camera…

Department of Lists: 2018 Edition

(image by KangZeLiu)

Since it’s the end of the year, and there’s only so much champagne one can drink while watching Andy Cohen/Anderson Cooper and hoping that 2019 will show 2018 how things should have gone, it’s time to look back at some of the best that the year that was had to offer.

To that end, I contributed some pieces to a few different publications who make a point of cataloging this sort of thing:

Now you’ll have something to do this January besides catch up on new TV shows and ignore your dieting pledges.

Screening Room: A Little ‘Venom’ Goes a Long Way

Tom Hardy in Venom (2018)

A hybrid superhero-antihero misfire that wastes Tom Hardy in a should-have-been great role, Venom is somehow even less fun than when he played both Kray twins a few years back in the London gangster epic bomb Legend.

Venom is playing now pretty much everywhere. My review is at Film Journal International:

There are plenty of characters from the Spider-Man universe who could manage having a movie all to themselves. Eddie Redmayne as the Green Goblin. Maybe Tilda Swinton as a gender-reversed Doctor Octopus; just imagine the goggles. In theory, Venom should be perfectly able to handle a story all on his own. Despite serving as a somewhat weak anti-Peter Parker in the mostly forgotten Spider-Man 3, the ravening parasitic alien being seems like a perfectly good villain to set loose on an unsuspecting world…

Reader’s Corner: Social Justice at Comic-Con

Though it will probably spur a backlash from the troll-ier corners of fanboy world, this year’s San Diego Comic-Con—the ever-more-massive pop culture lollapalooza currently taking over a good part of the city’s downtown—features a broad focus on diversity and social justice issues.

Per the San Diego Union-Tribune, here’s a few of the events being highlighted:

  • Panel: “Radical Activism in Comics”
  • Panel: “What Rebellions are Built On: Popular Culture, Radical Culture, and Politically Engaged Geeks”
  • Voter registration drive led by Indivisible and Black Mask Studios

Also, Black Mask Studios is releasing a special convention issue of their Trump-versus-California comic Calexit, with all proceeds going to help immigrants and their families in the San Diego area.

Nota Bene: On Being a Black Nerd

From Lawrence Ware’s “Black Panther and the Revenge of the Black Nerds,” where he talks about what the release of a blockbuster adaptation of the Black Panther comic series means:

Now I know that to be a black nerd is by no means anomalous; there are millions of people who look like me and grew up loving comic books. Yet despite our numbers, we were underground for a long time. But now, there appears to be a widening cultural appreciation for what black people have always known: There are many ways to be black in America. The 44th president helped.

Barack Obama meant a lot to black nerds. Jordan Peele, the director of “Get Out,” told NPR back in 2012, “Up until Obama, it was basically Urkel and the black guy from ‘Revenge of the Nerds.’” President Obama showed us that to be black and nerdy could actually be an expression of black cool, what the author Rebecca Walker who compiled a series of essays on that topic, defines as audacity, resistance and authenticity in the face of white supremacy.