Greetings once again, as we continue our look at great holiday writing. Today we examine a genuine holiday classic, drawn from the mind and hand of one of America’s comic strip legends. Let’s turn the spotlight on A Charlie Brown Christmas.
It’s the holiday season, and as usual, Charlie Brown is feeling depressed. He feels that Christmas has become over-commercialized, (thanks to Snoopy’s excessive doghouse decorations and his sister Sally asking Santa for money), and that he cannot grasp the true meaning of the holiday. Taking advice from Lucy, he agrees to direct the school Christmas play, but is unable to control the unruly and sometimes selfish children. Charlie Brown decides to get a Christmas tree to better set the mood, but selects a small, barren tree (the only actual tree in the lot) which is ridiculed by the children.
Charlie then beseeches someone to tell him the meaning of Christmas, which prompts Linus to recite the Nativity story from the Bible. Feeling inspired, Charlie Brown takes the tree home to decorate, but it cannot even support a single ornament. C.B. leaves in disgust, but Linus and the other children arrive, and are able to properly decorate the tree as C.B. returns, as the group begins to sing.
What Writers Can Learn: Simplicity, Subtlety
Charlie Brown Christmas has aired for fifty consecutive Christmases, and it’s not hard to see why. Aside from bringing Charles Schulz’s Peanuts cast to television, it is a landmark in the art of simplicity. Everything about the story feels genuine and endearing, from the basic story (completed within ten days) to the performances (done by young children with little previous acting experience). As a result, the story isn’t weighed down by excessive details or long winded story telling. The characters are direct, which makes them seem more like children, and the lessons are quickly stated and shown, which makes it easy to get across, especially in Schulz’s simple and often heartwarming style.
The other great aspect is the subtlety. As mentioned, the story itself is largely simple, but as such, its points can be easy to grasp. Charlie Brown is similar to the Grinch at the start, disillusioned with the commercialism of Christmas, and this point is clearly stated without lingering too long. The other children also display their negative traits quickly. But of all these moments, the most important is Linus’s reading of the Bible, one of the key moments of the Christmas season.
A scene that Schulz fought to be included, it is easy to say that bringing up religion is a difficult topic, and it is. But the presentation is what makes this the keystone of the special. The earnestness of Linus’s delivery is a major part, to be certain. And while the religious aspect is undeniable, it is also true that Christmas is a religious holiday, and for those that celebrate that aspect, this is what the holiday truly means. But most importantly, following Linus’s speech, there is silence. No urging is given to the viewer, no demands are made. We are simply left to our own devices, to take the words and apply them as we see fit. In that, we have the greatest example of subtle writing- assuming the audience is smart enough to grasp the meaning in their own way.
There have been numerous Peanuts specials over the years, dealing with other holidays and various events, but few, if any, have reached the heights of the first. But those of you looking for one last gift, come back next week when we unwrap what may very well be the greatest Christmas tale of all.
Welcome once again, as we continue our month long look into Christmas storytelling. Last week, we visited a modern version of the North Pole, but today, we’re entering a different realm. A realm between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This week, we venture into the American TV classic known as The Twilight Zone, and its Christmas offering, “Night of the Meek.”
Henry Corwin, a drunken department store Santa, arrives late and is fired from his position after a parent complains. Corwin then pours his heart out to the crowd, explaining that he drinks in large part because of the squalor and poor condition of his neighborhood and the children in it, and that he cannot truly be Santa for them. Decrying that Christmas is a far purer and better thing then department stores and presents, Corwin wishes that for one night, the meek could inherit the Earth. After being refused entrance to a local bar, Corwin comes across a large sack, which produces any gift asked of it. He then fulfills his wish, giving gifts to the children of his neighborhood and to the men of a homeless shelter. However, a nun calls the police, who then contact Corwin’s former employer, who believes he has stolen the gifts from the store. However, the store manage can only remove garbage out of the bag, and the policeman tells him to leave it alone. Later, Corwin has emptied the bag, and wishes only that he could do this every year. As he returns to the alleyway where he finds the bag, he now discovers a sleigh with two reindeer and an elf, waiting to take him to the North Pole.
What Writers Can Learn- Redemptive, Unique Character Writing, Morals
While The Twilight Zone is largely thought of for supernatural tales, it could often tell more heartfelt stories, and this is no exception. A great part of the genius of the episode can be placed at the feet of Corwin. The idea of a drunken, layabout department store Santa is nothing new, and is often written for comic effect, or to showcase a superior Santa figure. But here, we are made to feel for Corbin, who is aware of his flaws, and drinks out of regret not for himself, but for the poor people he lives with. We see that there is a good man behind the alcohol soaked veneer, who takes his position so seriously, that he weeps when poor children ask for gifts and “a job for my daddy” that he is powerless to give (A great note of consideration must also be given to Art Carney, famous as Ed Norton on The Honeymooners, who carried the episode with his heartbreaking performance as Corwin).
But this episode is also excellent in its redemption and moral offerings. Despite his noble intentions, Corwin is at best, a sad figure with little to give the world, and he knows it. Upon finding the magic bag, we see Corwin’s utter joy at being able to make his dream a reality. Even under the face of scrutiny, he stays true to his goal, gifting his accusing manager, an act that convinces the policeman that Corwin should be left alone to accomplish his goal. In that, we see that even the most unlikely of us can do great good, if we are only given the chance.
And now, we come to the morals, the part that makes this required Christmas viewing for everyone. As mentioned, Corwin is a department store Santa. He constantly sees the hustle and bustle of people endlessly shopping and buying and spending each day, then goes home to a world where Christmas is just another day of the year. He sees children that will get everything they want, and children that don’t even get coal in their stockings. Even his firing comes at the hands of a woman who is trying to force the commercial of Christmas onto her son, and it is that very scene that makes Corwin deliver a speech on the truth of Christmas that ranks up with Linus telling the Nativity to Charlie Brown. Because Corwin doesn’t just remind us of Christmas’s true meaning, he stands in the hall of commercialism and reminds all the people, including the children, of those who have nothing. It is a speech that I have placed below, and I dare you watch it, and not weep.
The Twilight Zone had no other Christmas episodes, but those looking for strong moral tales would do well to examine its episodes for them (“The Last Night of a Jockey” is a fine example). “The Night of the Meek” was remade for the 1980’s Zone revival series, but nothing tops the original. And of course, there is another classic tale of the true meaning of Christmas, which we’ll get into next week. But if you want a hint, check the funny pages.
Greetings once again. First off, I must apologize for my recent absence from the blog. I have spent last month prepping for the release of the Lightrider sequel, Equites, and have had little time for any kind of outside work. However, that work is nearing completion, and I can begin December with new postings. And as we are in the holiday season, I am compelled to continue last year’s tradition, and comment on some Christmas stories. To kick things off, I have chosen a new holiday film that seems on it’s way to becoming a holiday classic- Arthur Christmas.
Arthur Christmas is the youngest son of the Claus family, which has maintained the role of Santa for years, the role passing from father to son throughout the generations. Arthur’s brother Steve is largely responsible for the work each year, having transformed the process into a largely military style operation, with the boys’ father acting in a purely symbolic role. However, the current Claus, who is out of touch and largely working in a bubble, is still unwilling to pass on his title, which frustrates Steve to no end. When a present is found to be undelivered, the elder Clauses ignore it, but Arthur, who believes no child should ever be left behind on Christmas, sets out to correct the error, aided by his grandfather, who also wants to recapture his youth.
What Writers Can Learn: Old vs. New, Sympathetic Characters, Moral Lessons
Arthur Christmas is a unique spin on the Santa Claus legend, largely because of the modern spin it puts on the actual job of being Santa. The amount of technology and stealth style planning that goes into making this version of Christmas is clearly effective, but at the same time, seems cold and impersonal. As such, it is an interesting dichotomy for the viewer. The process is effective and amazing to behold, but it is so far removed from the traditional depictions of Santa, that it becomes uncomfortable to a degree, a fine satire of the effect of modernization on many current technologies and trends.
However, what gives the film much of its strength is that all of its major characters are relatable. In fact, it is hard to find an active villain within this story, which in most stories would be a death knell. However, this story succeeds by giving each Claus, save Arthur, a healthy degree of selfishness, though each one is understandable. Steve is resentful towards his father and does not want his brother to succeed because he doesn’t want him to be a hero. But at the same time, Steve has clearly been the real driving force beyond his father’s recent work, and is justifiably angry at continually being passed over for a job he has proven himself at. Grand-Santa simply wants to feed his ego, but he has also been neglected in his old age, and watched the tradition he worked for be pushed aside. And finally, Santa himself is shown as well past his prime, but refusing to pass down the job to his son. However, this man has been Santa for most of his life, loves his work, and is frightened at the prospect of losing his identity. This makes all of the characters sympathetic for different reasons, and viewers can find their own opinions regarding them and the film itself.
Finally, the film also teaches a fine lesson about one of the greatest aspects of Christmas- the act of giving. Throughout the film, each of the Santas acts in selfish ways and give little thought to the missing gift at first. Then when they do, they either botch the procedure or argue over who should do it. Only Arthur truly cares about making sure the child gets what she asks for, a moment outlined in the movie’s strongest scene. It reminds us of the best part of giving to others- that it doesn’t matter how or who does the giving, only that it is done with care and love for the receiver. It is because of Arthur’s dedication to this, that his family realizes he is the only one that can carry the name of Santa into the future. And that reminds us of why we truly should give at Christmas- simply to make another person happy.
In this case, I can’t offer further reading, but I can implore you to view this film to really see the ideas I’ve explained here. Next week will see the examination of another Christmas classic, and in the spirit of the season, I leave with a gift of my own- a preview of the cover of Equites. And if you are interested in finding out more, I will be at the Clark Public Library in Clark, NJ, from 2-4 this upcoming Saturday, where you can get a special pre-order discount. Happy Holidays.
Greetings from the boneyard as we celebrate All-Hallows Eve. Tonight, we head into the past for one of the earliest examples of horror in the last century, horror made with ink and pen and paints for children of all ages. Today, we end October with a look at the grand history of horror comics.
Horror comics can be traced back to the early 19th century in America, with Prize Comics’ “New Adventures of Frankenstein” widely considered the first of the genre in the States. While many other publishers produced such books, the most well known was EC Comics, and its three series Haunt of Fear, Vault of Horror, and Tales From the Crypt. These comics reached a massive high in the 1940’s, with famous artists such as Johnny Craig and Reed Crandall writing and drawing the frightening tales.
Unfortunately, these books also experienced a tremendous backlash as parents of the time preached on the bad influences of horror and crime in comics. Dr. Fredric Wertham also published Seduction of the Innocent, which claimed that violent caused children to be violent, painted the comic industry as a shadowy, Mafia like operation, and even pointed to Batman and Robin as propagating homosexuality. In response to the claims (which were based on largely undocumented anecdotes), the Comics Code was formed, which put a ban on many of the essential details for horror and crime comics. As a result, most horror comics faded away, though some were repackaged under sci-fi and mystery.
However, horror comics did find their way around these guidelines, and in the 1970’s the code did relax enough to allow Marvel to create the vampire Morbius, and even their own version of Dracula. Alan Moore also had great success at DC resurrecting the Swamp Thing and modern comic writers have found success with characters like Hellboy, and series like 30 Days of Night, Deadman, The Midnight Sons, and Marvel Zombies.
While many horror comics were generally simple horror tales, their influence has allowed for much of the creativity in comics today. Without their influence, it is unlikely their would be much, if any, supernatural influence in the comic world today, or any real seriousness. Indeed, many look at the Silver Age of Comics (done under the Comics Code), as one of over the top stories, with such gimmicks, as Lion-Headed Superman, and Bat-Baby (really. They both happened). Even a long lived character like Batman suffered without the elements of those early horror comics, becoming farther and farther removed from his grim beginnings until the 70’s and the loosening of the Code. Because of that, comic writers today have further freedom and creativity to weave not only frightening tales, but to explore darker, more serious elements that challenge readers instead of merely satisfying them.
As mentioned the EC Comics are largely among the most popular horror comics, with various anthologies existing today. The titles mentioned previously are also worth looking for the modern ramifications of horror. However, those with a taste for the silver screen can also be satisfied. The classic TV anthology Tales From the Crypt, is based on the comic of the same name, and many episodes are direct adaptations. Stephen King and George Romero’s Creepshow is a feature length tribute to EC, featuring graphics and stories straight out of the classic comics. So if you’re looking for a way to get some scary fun next Halloween, take a trip to your local comic story. Until then, boils and ghouls…
Welcome back to the literary graveyard, as we continue our Halloween journey. Today, we take on one of an American horror legends, located in the Hudson River Valley region of New York State. In particular, a small village that plays host to a story of death, ghosts, and mystery- Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
Familiar to many, Sleepy Hollow is the tale of Ichabod Crane, a schoolteacher that journeys to Sleepy Hollow and pines for the hand of local beauty Katrina Van Tassel. However, Katrina has another suitor- Abraham ‘Brom Bones’ Van Brunt, who delights in pranking and frightening the superstitious Crane. Then at the Van Tassel’s autumn party, Van Brunt spins the tale of the local ghost, the Headless Horseman, a Hessian solider decapitated by a cannonball, and who now rides the countryside looking for his head. Crane is frightened by the story and later leaves the party, presumably after being rejected by Katrina. On his way home, he runs across the Horseman, and endures a panic filled ride to the Church bridge, which is supposedly a barrier to the Horseman. However, the Horseman hurls his flaming head at Crane, who is never again seen in Sleepy Hollow, with many wondering what became of him.
What Writers Can Learn: Ambiguity, Mystery, Suspense
One of the most fascinating things about Sleepy Hollow is its ambiguity. For example, none of the main characters are purely likeable. Ichabod is depicted as an overly strict and moral teacher, but a glutton in his private life, who desires Katrina as a way to access her father’s vast fortune. Van Brunt is a local hero, but a vicious prankster and a bully in many depictions. Even Katrina is hinted to be only interested in Ichabod to make Van Brunt jealous. Each character is genuinely flawed and imperfect, which makes who is likeable up to the reader.
However, that ambiguity also extends to the story itself. Nowhere is this more seen then in the final fate of Ichabod Crane. While it is plausible to believe Ichabod was spirited away by the Horseman, the story also suggests that he escaped and left the town to become a judge in another county. But it is also suggested that his spirit haunts the area. However, the strongest suspicion is placed on Van Brunt, who was described as an agile rider. The story mentions that he always had a knowing look upon his face when the tale was told, hinting that he dressed as the Horseman to frighten off Crane and get Katrina (whom he does marry). What actually happened is left up the reader, and with all the options seeming plausible, the terror of not knowing the truth makes the tale even more frightening.
Of course, no discussion of the story would be complete without the famous chase. Irving wisely builds the section to pulse pounding intensity, beginning with the superstitious Ichabod traveling down a dark road, the ghost stories of the party still ringing in his ears. As the Horseman approaches, Crane demands for his identity, until the ghoul’s frightful visage is revealed. Crane runs off, pushing his horse to the limit as he races for the bridge, the Horseman in pursuit. Crane reaches the bridge, but turns just as the Horseman hurls his flaming at him, ending the chase so suddenly, the reader is left drenched in sweat, stunned into shock and uncertainty, elements that all great suspense stories should.
Sleepy Hollow has been adapted many times in film and television. The Disney adaptation is best for younger viewers, as it maintains a fine balance between Disney charm and frights. Older audiences would be well served by Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, which is loose with the story (Crane is now a NYC constable, called in to investigate the Horseman) and adds a compelling murder mystery and well done gore element, while still paying homage to the original story. The TV movie The Hollow is also a fine choice- a sequel of sorts that deals with The Horseman returning for the descendants of Ichabod Crane, with many dark and genuinely frightening elements. Finally, there is the current TV series Sleepy Hollow, which resurrects a British turncoat version of Ichabod Crane in the modern day, along with the Horseman. While it expands on the story, adding Biblical, historical, and mythical elements as well as a modern crime drama, it is still an enjoyable and fun version, good for anyone looking to expand on the original story.
Come back next time for our final unearthed grave, one filled with ink and paint and plenty of ghouls….
Welcome back to the dark side. As promised, today’s entry will take us up several feet into terror, but also into a gigantic household world, the afterlife, the end times, and the outer limits of our imaginations. How? Because today’s entry is on one of the great American horror writers, the late Richard Matheson.
Who He Is
Richard Matheson began writing at eight years old, which is when he saw his first story published in the local papers. Since then, he created a legacy of entries in the fields of horror and science fiction genres, not only as an author, but often as a screenwriter. Some of his best work were the many stories he donated to the classic TV show, The Twilight Zone. These include ‘Steel’ (the story of a future robot boxing promotion, also adapted in the 2000’s film Real Steel) and his most well known episode, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” in which William Shatner is terrorized by a monster on the wing of a plane (the story proved popular enough to be remade for the 1980’s Twilight Zone movie). Matheson also wrote the screenplay for the ‘Little Girl Lost’ episode (about a girl lost in the fourth dimension).
On his own, Matheson also wrote countless short stores, ranging from suspense to science fiction and beyond. He also wrote many classic novels, including I Am Legend, about the last human left in a world of vampires (which has been adapted for the screen four times) and the metaphysical What Dreams May Come, a tale of a man experiencing the afterlife and rescuing his wife’s spirit from Hell (also adapted for film). Matheson was fortunate enough to write many of the screenplays for these films, such as The Incredible Shrinking Man, and even worked with famed horror director Roger Corman on a series of Edgar Allan Poe films.
What Writers Can Learn- The Basics and Best of Horror and Sci-Fi
Matheson’s contributions to these genres are invaluable; it is no surprise Stephen King refers to him as a great influence. His stories make up some of the best of horror and sci-fi, and are required reading for anyone looking to write in those genres. Matheson’s work utilizes suspense and drama, knowing how to build a story to heighten tension and grab the reader by the throat. He also understood the use of ambiguity, as many of his stories use paranoia to help throw the reader off track (even in 20,000 Feet, the original text never makes it clear whether the monster is real or the hero is mad). However, Matheson can also add unexpected elements- in Legend, the protagonist spends time trying to scientifically understand the vampire- why garlic and the cross are repellant, for example. And finally, Matheson understands the use of the twist ending- check out Legend for arguably the greatest one he produced.
The works mentioned above are really the best primer for Matheson’s work, and there are many collections of his stores in print or available digitally. His filmwork is generally well received, though The Last Man On Earth is perhaps the best of the four Legend films.
Come back next week, as we head to upstate New York and see if we can withstand the terror without losing our heads…
Greetings and Happy Halloween season to you all. I’m returning to the blog to kick off a favorite tradition- the October reviews of horror classics in literature and film (which will have increased entries to make up for their late start). To kick things off, we examine a horror masterpiece that is currently seeing a revamp in the theatres- Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Jonathan Harker, an English lawyer, travels to the mountains of Transylvania to finalize the sale of Carfax Abbey to the enigmatic Count Dracula. As Harker’s stay becomes further extended, he slowly begins to realize that Dracula is an undead vampire that has terrorized the region for decades. Harker is able to escape, but is unable to stop the Count’s journey, as he reached England and begins a new reign of terror. As he attacks Harker’s friends, they band together and with the help of Dr. Van Helsing, work to stop the vampire, who has begun to turn Harker’s fiancée Mina.
What Writers Can Take- Imagination, Morality, Desire
Dracula has gone through countless revisions and rebirths over the years, but they often overshadow the brilliance of the original text. To begin with, Stoker uses Dracula in a way that is often forgotten by the horror films of the modern day- he has little actual time in the novel. The story is told as a series of journal entries from Harker and other sources, and we see a much greater view of their world then we do of Dracula’s, save Harker’s early writings in the castle. However, Dracula himself hangs over each page, an invisible presence fueled by the reader’s knowledge of him, and the characters’ growing fear. This builds him into a much greater force, painting him as a force of tremendous evil, but leaving his exact nature to the reader’s imagination, which makes fearful to all, but in a very individual way for each reader.
However, there are aspects of Dracula that are clear, and those are the moral and even sexual undertones the character and vampirism bring to the novel. After all, Dracula lives with three brides that attempt to seduce him before biting him. And the fact that Dracula’s victims are all women, who become more and more enamored of their escapades as his power over them increases. It paints Dracula, and vampirism itself, as a sexual temptation, a force that would speak volumes in Victorian London. Both are seen as a sense of freedom, of release from society and all else. But the cost is high- continual murder and the loss of one’s soul. It is no surprise that the affected characters struggle to hold on to themselves even as their vampirism increases. They know that while their new desires whisper of freedom, they come at the cost of their very souls and morality- often the price for an overabundance of freedom and what makes Dracula so very dangerous.
As mentioned before, there have been countless adaptations of Stoker’s work. However, fans of the silver screen are required to view Universal’s original Dracula, with Bela Lugosi’s career making performance. Another excellent entry is Hammer Film’s Horror of Dracula, which is loose with the original story, but holds to the spirit of the novel, and contains some effectively seductive and horrifying scenes (as well as an original death scene for Dracula). Francis Ford Coppola’s version is best for a pure adaptation, though it adds its own romantic touch that still works with much of the original plot. And there are several group monster films that feature Dracula in a fine light (Monster Squad, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein). However, fans should avoid the 2009 book sequel, Dracula Un-dead, which is written by Stoker’s great grandson and a film writer, which retcons much of the novel and is largely seen as an attempt by Stoker’s family to reclaim the Dracula name (which has long been in public domain). And as for the current revision film, Dracula Untold?
Skip it. Just skip it.
Keep your eyes open, as I will soon be taking us on a red-eye flight, where there just might be something outside your window…
Welcome back. First, I must apologize for being absent for so long, but I’ve been busy editing the new book, getting artwork approved, and trying to promote my crossover petition. And in that sprit, I wanted to talk about something that is rare in popular writing, but does happen on occasion- the crossover.
What is It?
In the simplest terms, a crossover is combining characters from two or more existing worlds or franchise in a single story. In general, these are rare occurrences, due to both creative and corporate reasons. Creators themselves can be wary of combining their stories, and with the vastness of property ownership, being able to get through all the legal issues involved can doom a project from the start. However, they still have happened in the past, in films, TV, and comics alike. Sometimes it can combining two franchises under one corporate umbrella (the horror classics of Universal’s Frankenstein meets the Wolfman, and New Line’s Freddy vs. Jason) or two companies making a mutually profitable venture ( the DC Comics vs. Marvel miniseries). But regardless of the origins, writes of these stories must obey the fundamental rules in order to make it work.
#1. It Has to Make Sense- while this rule seems obvious, it is one that needs to be remembered. While certain characters are believable together, there needs to be a legitimate reasoning behind why they are working together. The set up is all important, or else it’s mindless fanservice. For example, in the DC/Marvel series mentioned above, the “God’ figures of the Marvel and DC universe are going to war, and the two sets of characters are set to battle to determine superiority, as a battle with the two godheads would wipe out all existence. It gives the heroes a good reason to fight despite their moral misgivings, gives us clean one on one battles, and a big enough force to bring two universes together.
#2 Two Franchises, Two Rules- every story has a set of rules and regulations for it’s universe and characters. Therefore, bringing them together means these rules have to be obeyed. In Alan Moore’s League of Extradinary Gentlemen, arguably the greatest crossover ever, we have numerous literary characters joining forces. One character is Captain Nemo, who was well established as disliking humanity for it’s sins. Therefore, in the story, he demonstrates moral outrage at the vicious ‘punishment’ of the traitorous Invisible Man by Mr. Hyde (who is also acting in accordance to his rules, haven grown more evil due to spending more time as Mr. Hyde) and abandons the group when they are tricked into bringing a deadly virus into alien infested London. Even the Invisible Man works according to his rules, becoming more and more untrustworthy as the story progresses.
#3 The Characters Have to Mesh (or not)- this is an expansion of the previous rule concerning sense-making. When two characters are brought together, they need to have similar enough traits that they could function together; a good example is the multi-planet, peace promoting Federation of Star Trek, and the similar-minded Legion of Superheroes. However, it can often be fun to bring together characters that are more opposite then alike, such as Batman and Spider-Man. Both characters are thought of as tragic and angst ridden, but deal with their pain differently- Batman projects a grim exterior, while Spider-Man cracks jokes. The interest them comes in watching the two characters find their similarities buried under their outward appearances.
#4 No One is Superior- This is the most important rule of any crossover, which is why I saved it for last. The central idea of bringing two characters together is to show them working together as equals with mutual respect. Therefore, neither character can be shown as superior to the other, as it shifts the balance to that character and makes them, and their universe, feel superior. Some ways to avoid this are to highlight each character’s skills at different moments- Batman is more of a detective and is more intimating, but Superman has knowledge of alien devices and is more trusted by the public. Another way is to have the characters fight each other, but end in ties, or have each one win a single fight to highlight how each approach can work. But above all, you must do something to make sure your characters are on equal ground, or your crossover is doomed from the start.
Greetings once again. I currently find myself in a lull as the Lightrider sequel is being edited. As such, I’ve found a new project to occupy time between books. As with many children of the 80’s and 90’s, I am a major fan of Back to The Future and Ghostbusters. As both films are either at, or nearing their 30th anniversary, I’ve been working on a comic book script to bring the two franchises together. The mere concept script has thus far gotten great reviews from fans of both francises, and as such, I have decided to implore the studios invovled (Columbia and Universal) and IDW Publishing (the current publishers of the Ghostbuster comic) to bring these two together through my work. I’ve created a peition on the link below, as well as a basic outline of the story. If you check it out and want to see it, then please, sign and help get it to the attention of the people involved. We’ve got nothing to lose and plenty to gain so please, check it out, and help bring two 80’s icons together.
This week, I find myself in the unique position of watching current events that further two previous topics of mine. Marvel recently announced changes to two of its major characters- giving the title of Captain America to African-American hero the Falcon and that the title of Thor will be carried by a woman. These announcements have been met with much speculation, including accusations of race and gender baiting. While I cannot give a definitive answer to that debate, I would like to examine them as they relate to my earlier discussions on race and gender in writing.
To begin, we should first establish exactly how these changes are coming about. For Cap, Steve Rogers has had the super-solider serum drained out of him, and is no longer able to function as Captain America. As such, he has assumed a strategic role and given the mantle to Sam Wilson, aka the Falcon, a former sidekick and long time friend of the Captain. Of the two changes, this one is less of an obvious ‘baiting’. Unlike DC’s move to create diversity by placing Teen Titan Cyborg in the Justice League (despite his having no previous association or status with the group), Sam Wilson has been a part of the C.A. mythos for years, and has operated as a protégé to Rogers for almost as long. Beyond former sidekick Bucky Barnes, there are few else who could hold the shield of the Captain. As for his skin color, I again state that Wilson is a hero in his own right with a well established history that gives him credibility. Also, the C.A. mythos have already established Isaiah Bradley as the ‘black Captain America’, the lone survivor of early American tests to recreate the super-solider serum on black soldiers (who died as a result and were kept secret). Therefore, placing Sam as the new Cap becomes more meaningful then learning that the previous ‘black Cap’ carried shame as well as pride with him.
Thor’s change is more difficult to determine. As of this writing, the story calls for Thor to become unworthy of his hammer, which will be taken up by a female character. As this change has just been announced, no successor or method has been named. This makes it more difficult to judge; Cap’s succession contained true to form reasoning and a protégé taking up the costume. Without knowing how or why these changes occur, or who will take up the hammer, I cannot judge it accurately. However, based on what is known thus far, this change has more of a ‘baiting’ feel to it. While Cap’s mantle can be passed down, Thor is a mythological figure and is the ‘god’ of thunder. Unless his personality is also placed with the new Thor (unlikely), this new Thor could very easily seem a pretender and inexperienced. Also, while there has always been call for diversity in comics, I doubt that women find draping a woman in the guise and identity of a male hero is much of an improvement. Still, too little is known to make a proper evaluation; but since Marvel did a good job pulling off Loki’s temporary gender change, there is still a possibility this could work.
So what do we take from this? Is this a chance to update and adapt heroes or simply a ploy to increase readership? In honesty, I do feel this falls under a ploy. Despite the logic behind the Falcon’s ascension, and the too-early nature of Thor, I simply don’t believe Marvel would permanently alter two of its largest properties. One simply needs to look at Superior Spider-Man (in which Dr. Octopus temporarily took over the mind and body of Spider-Man) and how its run returned Peter Parker to the front just in time for “Amazing Spider-Man 2”. By the time the next Marvel film with Cap and/or Thor rolls out, I think things will have reverted. So what do we take from it as writers? First, how well Cap’s story not only follows logic and history, but how it also keeps skin color at the back- this is someone that proven himself, and just happens to be a minority. Second, how simply dressing an opposite gender character in an established identity may not be diversity as much as marketing. And third, that writers still need to watch how and why they create minority and female characters, because all this controversy clearly says there are still issues attached to it.