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Friday, May 26, 2017

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Thoughts on The Black Lightning Trailer




I caught the CW’s Black Lightning Trailer at the library last week. And because I was so busy with making videos and editing Legend of Mad Matilda I didn’t have time to write a review. At first I was excited. But now that I’ve had time to think about things it looks like a….Meh show.


Yeah, it’s Black Lightning. And he’s a Black guy with electric superpowers. But there’s not much electricity sparking this show. 


Greg Berlanti and Mara Brock Akil’s Black Lightning seems to be a fusion of The original Tony Isabella concept from the 70’s and the 1990’s comic series. In the trailer it looks like Jefferson Pierce was Black Lightning up until 2005 when the nights of fighting to make a difference in the streets was getting to him. So he decided to hang up the suit and become the principal of his local high school and raise his family.


Twelve years later the gang The 100 are back stronger than ever. And they’re terrorizing the Black community. And now that Jefferson Pierce’s kids are coming of age and being threatened by the 100, A Hero must rise again. Or One man must come back to make a difference at 50.

Meh.  

When you look at the trailer it looks like something big is going to happen when Jefferson Pierce is putting his suit back together and getting ready to take on the bad guys and clean up his community. Then if you’re an old head like me you realize you saw this show on Netflix. And it was a lot better when it was called Luke Cage.


And even better when it was called M.A.N.T.I.S.


Yeah, it’s Black Lightning and he has is own TV show. But it’s DRY. Predictable. By the NUMBERS. With an off-the-shelf premise and off the shelf villains. Why is it every time we get a Black superhero they’re always taking on street hoods? I’d like to think there’d be some variety in the rogues gallery.


Over here at SJS DIRECT Isis lives in Harlem and she has yet to take on a street hood. She’s taken on a resurrected Nubian Queen, a Greek goddess, a psychotic cosmetics mogul, She-demons, a campus stalker, a Cybergoddess, Vampires and Dracula himself. And When I get the money she’ll be taking on Pro-Black Hotep priestess and trying to escape from Transylvania If I can imagine up different threats and mix up the rogues gallery of my heroes to make it fresh for my readers, I’d like to think that DC Comics, Greg Berlanti and Mara Brock Akil could mix it up and make Black Lightning interesting for the new viewer.  


But I’m not expecting the first season of Black Lightning to be on the level of Supergirl Season 1, Flash Season 1 or Arrow Season 1. Unfortunately, from the looks of things we’re gonna get M.A.N.T.I.S season 1 in 2017 complete with the same special effects from 1994.


Yeah, there are some things I liked about Black Lightning’s trailer, like seeing him be a father and a family man. But with characters on Arrow and The Flash and Supergirl taking on heavyweight threats like Grodd, King Shark, I’d like to think Black Lightning could do better than take on a street gang in his first season. Part of a superhero show is giving the hero a credible threat, and I’m just not seeing a serious threat to Black Lightning from The 100 like I did with The Master from Buffy Season 1 or Callisto in Xena Season 2.



I’m still on the fence about Black Lightning. And I’m holding out hope it’ll be good. But with the mediocre trailer, weak badguys and the fact that a Mara Brock Akil and Greg Berlanti’s track record on Black male characters I’m just not seeing much to get excited about. Throw in the fact that Black Lightning won’t be interacting with Arrow, The Flash or Supergirl in the Berlantiverse in Season 1 and there’s no reason for me to buy into this series I’ll tune in for the first episode. But I’m still not sold on an entire season.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Ta-Neshi Coates Needs a Crew To Teach Him Superhero Comics



Ta-Neshi Coates career as a comic book writer has been a disaster. His Black Panther is considered the worst run in the character’s history. And his latest opus: Black Panther & The Crew was cancelled after the second issue due to poor sales.


All anyone has to do is look at Ta-Neshi Coates premise for Black Panther & The Crew why it’s a poor seller and how out of his depth he is as a comic book writer. While he can write a bestselling nonfiction book like Between the World and Me, he doesn’t know what makes for a compelling comic book story.


In Coates’ Black Panther & The Crew Harlem is patrolled by robot cops. And a robot cop kills a Black Civil Rights Leader. And in the aftermath, Black Panther, assembles a crew of Black heroes including, Storm, Misty Knight and Luke Cage and Iron Fist to find out who killed him before the city explodes in a riot.


That entire premise is fucked up. And anyone who understands comic and fantasy writing like myself can tell you where Coates went wrong. You’re gonna tell me In the Marvel Universe, a place filled with superheroes the City of New York is gonna use robot cops to patrol only a Black neighborhood. And when a robot cop kills a Black activist, Black Panther has to assemble a crew of super powered Black people and a “down” White boy to solve the case.


Even if we suspend our disbelief, the entire foundation of his premise is just ABSURD.


Coates says he’s trying to make a commentary about Police brutality and the Black Lives Matter Movement in the story of Black Panther: The Crew. Unfortunately, the premise he proposes to tell that story defies logic even in the Marvel Universe.


The robot cop concept just doesn’t fit organically in the New York City of the Marvel Universe, where police unions would definitely protest about robots taking their jobs. And the mystery behind who killed the activist doesn’t seem like the kind of threat Black Panther would have to assemble The Crew to get involved in. All those incredibly powerful characters getting involved to solve a mystery Misty Knight, Cage, and Iron fist could probably solve on their own? It’s a jumbled mess of a story that makes no sense.


When I read that synopsis it’s clear to me that Coates just doesn’t understand basic fiction elements like establishing a main character, what they want, and why readers should care. Nor does he understand how to develop a villain into a credible threat the reader can believe is dangerous. Generic robot cops seem like a way to not establish a villain and to create a stand in for the White cops he wants the Black heroes to beat on.


And the superheroes he puts in the story don’t fit into the story organically either. They’re just shoehorned in just because they’re Black. Why would the King of Wakanda CARE about a Black activist being killed in Harlem? Hasn’t he got his own problems to deal with Wakanda being in ruins due to Coates’ critically panned run? If anything that shows me how little Coates understands his own continuity.


And Coates shows me how little he understands his characters. Black Panther is a master strategist. He wouldn’t overpower a team like this. Instead he’d choose individuals who would be able to help him handle the threat effectively. I’m still scratching my head to how Storm fits into this Crew or how she’d be able to help deal with this threat. If anything, this seems like a threat Cage, Iron fist and Misty Knight could handle by themselves, and the Black Panther name is just tacked on the title as a cash grab. 


When I look at Coates’ Black Panther & The Crew it’s SJW/diversity writing at its worst. There’s no care to the story or care for the execution of the concept.  It’s all about ramming the ideology of Black Lives Matter down people’s throats.


Now I wrote a story similar to the one Coates uses in Black Panther: The Crew with Isis: Wrath of the Cybergoddess. And it featured the Black heroes of the SJS DIRECT Universe taking on an atheist Black scientist who used nanites to turn herself into a Cybergoddess who sought to murder Isis in the hopes of taking humanity in the next step of human evolution. And in that story I followed up on plot points established in Isis: The Beauty Myth, took Isis’ feud with Raheema Sanders to the next level, made a commentary on Darwinism vs. Creationism, connected the worlds of Isis and John Haynes, and gave readers an exciting action packed adventure in one 80 page story. So I know the premise Coates was trying to use works.


Unfortunately Coates just didn’t know how to execute the concept. Comics are about characters having fantastic adventures in amazing stories, not pushing political agendas.


Coates tries too hard to push his political activism in his comic book stories and it prevents readers from escaping. Comics and sci-fi are supposed to make a commentary in between the lines of the story, not put it in people’s faces. This is why his comics fail to resonate with readers.


It’s clear to me that Coates is just the wrong man to be writing comics at Marvel. While his background and his resume are impressive, he just doesn’t understand the medium of comic books. He needs a crew to teach him the medium of comic books, the story model, and how it works. Comics are supposed to be an escape from people’s everyday lives, not a platform for pushing the political narrative of Black Lives Matter. People buy comics to read about heroes kicking ass, not be presented with an editorial from the op-ed pages.



Friday, May 19, 2017

CW’s Black Lightning Won’t Be a Part of the Berlantiverse-WTF?




I’ll admit that I wasn’t too enthusiastic of the CW’s Black Lightning from day one. With Greg Berlanti and Mara Brock Akil in charge of the show I walked in expecting a disaster. However, in spite of a Black feminist and a White male in charge of producing a show about a Black male character I had one reason for watching the show: To see the expansion of the DC Universe on Television. However, now that I know that Black Lightning won’t be a part of the Berlantiverse, I now have a reason to make that clean break from Berlanti’s DC TV shows after this season is over.


The whole idea of Black Lightning not being a part of the Berlantiverse is troubling especially when you consider his relationships to several characters in the DC Universe. Black Lightning had a significant role in Superman’s extended universe. Living in Metropolis, He’s worked with and fought against Superman. So having him as part of the same shared universe to interact with Supergirl Superman, and James Olsen, the Guardian of the Friendzone would be an opportunity to expand and diversify Supergirl’s world. And With the show being a midseason replacement, it’d be easy to build into a ratings bonanza for the first episode by segueing into his show with an initial episode establishing him in a Supergirl episode with Tyler Hochelin’s Superman guest starring. 


Plus with the show being set in Metropolis, Tyler Hochelin could feature in a couple of episodes as the Man of Steel to show how significant Metropolis truly is to the Berlantiverse.


It’d also be an opportunity to expand Arrow’s world as well. Black Lightning was a core member of the Outsiders, and so it’d be a no-brainer to have Black Lightning teaming up with Arrow for a crossover. Season 5 gave us Green Arrow and the Outsiders, so why not have one of the founding members on the show as a part of the team?


But Black Lightning won’t be a part of the Berlantiverse. So we won’t be getting those stories. Because Black Lightning won’t be interacting with any of DC’s other characters onscreen.

Damn. Just Damn.

Berlanti had the opportunity of a lifetime to redeem himself in the eyes of many Black comic fans like myself. But He, Mara Brock Akil and Warner Brothers drop the football One Mo’ Gen.
Damn. Just Damn.


You’d think after emasculating James Olsen in Season 2 of Supergirl and turning DC’s resident badass Mr. Terrific into a bumbling stumbling idiot that Berlanti would be focused on making Black Lightning a shining light that presents a positive portrayal of a Black male superhero onscreen that would prove capable of standing with the rest of DC’s top heroes like Arrow, Flash, Superman, Supergirl and the Legends of Tomorrow. But with him in his own world we won’t see him being a hero in the DC universe on TV the same way we saw Falcon, War Machine and Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War.


Seeing those three heroes onscreen in Captain America: Civil War still ranks up there as one of the greatest moments in cinematic history for a Black comic fan like myself. Three Black superheroes in a movie. And all three presented in a way that makes them the equal of any of the major white characters. It’s a shame we won’t get that moment in the Berlantiverse.


Shit.


With Black Lightning not being a part of the Berlantiverse, many comic fans like myself have no incentive to buy into the show and start watching it. And now fans like myself who were apprehensive about the show are thinking about finding something else to do when it comes on.  


At this point I’m expecting Black Lightning to be a trainwreck. No connection to the Berlantiverse, No interaction with other DC Comics characters. Plus with a Black feminist and a White man writing and producing a TV show about a Black man I’m expecting nothing less than a disaster on the level of WB’s Birds of Prey. When Black Lightning comes on the CW I’ll tune in for the first episode. But that’s just to see how bad this show will be.


Just when you thought DC couldn’t find a way to create a fail greater than epic, they find new ways to make their properties suck that much harder.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Bringing Balance Back to Batman




Over the last 30 years Batman has stopped being Batman.


How did he stop being Batman? Over the last 30 years comic book writers, editors, artists and fans haven’t applied any objectivity to their craft when the approached or wrote stories for the character. So instead of the character being his own person with his own life, and his own “voice” he’s become a cipher for whatever writers and artists want him to be.

Back in the 1970s when Denny O’Neill and Neal Adams were hired to redefine Batman after the Campy Dick Sprang era and the 1966 Television series, there was a serious effort made to bring Batman back to his roots in the Batman comics. And during that time Batman was presented a balanced person with room in his life as Bruce Wayne and his alter ego, Batman. During this time Bruce Wayne was considered just as important to a Batman comic as The Dark Knight. And Bruce had time to do things like enjoy his own life. He was driven to fight for justice and protect Gotham City, but he also had time to have a little fun too.


And yes, even Batman cracked a smile or laughed from time to time.


During the O’Neill/Adams Era up until about Knightfall writers understood that Batman was called the Dark Knight. And that there was a place for chivalry, honor and a code of conduct in Batman comics. These were the values that Thomas Wayne instilled in his son and what was core to Who Batman was as a hero.


And those core values that Thomas Wayne instilled in his son was the line between Batman and his rogues. Batman knew where the line between driven and obsession was and stayed right behind it.


Unfortunately over the last 30 years the line between Batman and his rogues has blurred. And the reason why it’s blurred is because many Batman writers and Batman fans have become just as obsessed as Batman’s rogues. We have a lot of Dark in the pages of Batman comics and Batman media. But none of the chivalry and honor of the Knights of medieval lore who were one of his inspirations.  


And thanks to their obsession we don’t see any balance or objectivity to Batman, his rogues or Gotham City.  For them everything is about Batman, not Bruce Wayne, or his life. In their eyes Batman is the real person and Bruce Wayne is the fa├žade. If Bruce Wayne needs to be Batman all the time that’s when Bruce has crossed the line between driven and obsessed.


I remember a Superman animated episode where Clark said if he were Superman all the time it’d make him go crazy. I’d like to think the same would happen to Bruce. Every human being needs downtime away from the job, even Bruce Wayne.


And sadly he can’t have that because these days Batman isn’t his own character. He’s a cipher for whatever fantasies writers have for him. A Gary Stu who knows any and everything, he’s capable of using Green Lantern Rings, understanding Apokoliptan, Kryptonian and Thanagarian tech and is capable of taking on or cosmic level villains like Darkseid all by himself.


Seriously who needs the Justice League anymore when Batman can do everything? And who needs the Justice League When Batman has designed an armor capable of beating his friends?


The way I see it there really needs to be balance brought back to the Batman character. Yes, he cares about Gotham City. Yes, he seeks out justice for those who can’t get it in the dark and the shadows. But there needs to be room for the chivalry, and honor that establishes Batman’s code of conduct. That’s what makes Bruce a Hero, and that’s something that’s been sorely missing from Bat books over the last 30 years.


And it needs to be established that Bruce isn’t perfect. He isn’t always right. And it’s Okay if he needs to ask for help. Batman may be one of the world’s greatest detectives, but he shouldn’t be on the level of Mr. Terrific, the world’s third smartest man, Pieter Cross, one of the world’s foremost experts in medicine or capable of understanding alien tech from Krypton, Thanagar, Atlantis, or New Genesis. What makes the other characters in the DC Universe special if Batman knows just as much as they do? 

 A writer needs to work towards drawing the line in the sand that separates Bruce’s character from his bad guys.  And they need to work towards establishing limits for Batman’s abilities in team settings. The other characters in the DC Universe need an opportunity to show what makes them special when they stand at Batman’s side on a team like the Justice League or in a major earth shattering event.


Moreover, a writer needs to re-establish Bruce as a character in the Bat-Books. As I see it, it’s Bruce who controls Batman, not Batman controlling Bruce. Batman is Bruce’s creation and he needs to be shown being in charge of things. Bruce decides when Batman goes into action, not Batman.


And Bruce decides when it’s time for downtime. While Batman took an oath to protect Gotham, he understands he needs to have a balanced life in order to do his job at Wayne Enterprises and patrolling Gotham City effectively. There has to be more to his life than putting on a Batsuit and sitting in the Batcave. As I always saw it Being Batman was only something he did for a couple of hours a couple of nights a week from about 11PM -3 or 4AM regularly when it warranted or when there was a Justice League mission he needed to be on.


But because many comic fans and comic writers don’t understand balance in life they think he’s Batman all the time. And because they don’t understand balance we have Gotham patrolled by about eight or nine people yet the streets are less safer than they were in the 70s when Batman & Robin patrolled Gotham with the occasional assist from Batgril. I find it crazy that Batman who now has a literal army of crimefighters working with him in Gotham including Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl, Huntress, Spoiler, Azrael, Batwoman, Batwing, Red Hood Red Robin and Catwoman but he has a harder time fighting crime today than he did when it was just him, Robin and Batgirl in the 1970s. With all those people working with him along with Jim Gordon and the Gotham P.D. Gotham should be the safest city in the DC Universe.


That clearly shows how me how out of balance Batman’s world has become. And why it’s so important to bring Balance Back to Batman’s world. Yes, Batman’s world is filled with criminals with psychotic obsessions. But Batman himself is a balanced and sane individual who cares enough about people to go out of his way to protect them from the same types of criminals who murdered his parents. And while he’s driven to fight for justice, he knows where the line is and his limits. Yes, he’s dressed like a Bat when he fights crime. But he’s still a man. I’d like to see Batman go back to being a character with his own personality and his own voice and tell his own stories, not be a cipher for the fantasies of comic fans who want to live vicariously through his cowl.


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