Tag Archives: marvel comics

Creativity Thrives on Limitations

I wrote this blog a head of time because I’m at Gen-Con 50 this weekend. Come visit me at my table in Authors Avenue!

Wise words.

Reboots are all the rage now, especially at the cinema. I’ve heard it said that the biggest reason for this is because it allows creators the “freedom” do something new without the constraints of continuity; they don’t have to be limited by what has come before. In other words, they can do whatever they want.

But is that such a bad thing?

Case in point: the infamous Spider-Man storyline One More Day. The creators at Marvel Comics (the supposed “House of Ideas”) had complained for years that they wished Peter Parker (aka Spider-Man) hadn’t married Mary Jane Watson back in the mid-1980s. Why? Because they claimed they couldn’t think of enough good stories for a married Spider-Man. Seriously. Did they think all of life’s excitement was gone after getting married? Must stories always include sexual tension and unrequited love? Anyway, to “remedy” this, they didn’t just have them get a divorce. No, that meant they didn’t love each other. Instead, Peter and MJ made a literal deal with the Devil to erase their marriage from continuity. To save Aunt May’s life because she was dying from a gunshot meant for Peter.

Dumbest. Idea. Ever!         

I quit reading Spider-Man comics after that. From what I’ve heard, Peter Parker, now a 30-year-old single, spends a lot of his time whining about being alone. (Cue eye roll).

Most fans hated this story, and rightfully so. It was a character assassination done by the creators to serve themselves and not the readers. All because they didn’t want the constraints of writing a married Spider-Man.

Recently at a Children of the Wells creative meeting, my friend/collaborator Nick Hayden mentioned that writing for our serial, with all its continuity and parameters, forced him to be a better writer. It required that he keep consistent with what was written before and follow the rules we’d set down for the world. In many ways, since not all of the characters he created and since the ones he did create had changed since he last wrote them, he was a caretaker for these story and characters. They weren’t entirely his, so he had to be more careful with them. Beyond that, though, it required that he dream up ideas that worked with what had been written before as opposed to going with whatever came into his head.

There are constraints in most creative endeavors. Even improv comedy has to have parameters. It gives the performers a framework from which to work, a way to focus their creativity. If they were sent on stage with no direction, they’d either come up with nothing or not say anything funny, most likely.

Are there times when creators should start fresh? Yes. But that should be done in such a way that respects what came before, respects the characters, and respects the readers.

Do you think creativity thrives within restrictions? Why or why not?

Meeting Stan Lee

I scratched an item off of my bucket list Saturday.

If you were following me on my social media this past weekend, you know that I attended C2E2, a convention held in Chicago, to meet comic book legend Stan Lee, the creator of most of the Marvel Comics universe. I would rank Mr. Lee among the top five most influential writers on my life. Indeed, Mr. Lee might be among the most impactful writers of the last fifty years.

This was the best I could zoom in with my iPhone. I had to sit in the back. (L to R: Frank Miller, Stan Lee, the moderator)

After a harrowing three-hour trip with my friends Sergio and Jude (which included breakfast at IHOP, a brief Walmart run, and a shorter-than-expected battle with traffic), we arrived at McCormick Place. We got tickets and the lay of the land, so I changed into my Captain America cosplay and hurried to a huge auditorium for Mr. Lee’s panel with fellow creator Frank Miller (who I like but not nearly enough to bother meeting since the man is now insane). I was concerned I wouldn’t get in because it was crowded. You see, Mr. Lee is 94 years old(!), and 2017 is his last year for appearing at conventions, so this would be the last time most people would get to see him in person. I passed the time making friends with my “line-mates” (a word I coined that day), including a 20-something Chicago girl standing behind me. Thankfully, we made it in.

Unfortunately, the panel started 20 minutes late due to technical difficulties. My annoyance was drowned by my excitement, though. Mr. Miller came out first, but it was Mr. Lee who got the biggest cheer. What’s hilarious is the Chicago girl and I had joked about how it’d be hilarious if Mr. Lee passive-aggressively mocked Mr. Miller—and he did! In fact, Mr. Lee spent much of his time roasting Mr. Miller, making fun of his artwork and writing and his comic series Sin City, among other things. Mr. Lee also made frequent comments about how his eyesight was fine but his hearing was going out, so he couldn’t hear Mr. Miller or the moderator when they spoke into microphones (which he demonstrated by making garbled sounds), but he could hear them when they didn’t speak into mics.

My favorite moment (besides the Mr. Miller roasting) was his story about creating Spider-Man. At first I didn’t want to hear it because it’s a story I’ve heard from him in interviews many times, but he put a new spin on it. He was told by his editor to create a new hero, and when Mr. Lee was sitting at his desk to write, he saw a fly on the wall and thought it’d be “groovy” to have a hero who could stick to walls. He decided to call him Spider-Man and make him a teenager with lots of personal problems. He took that to his editor, who shot it down, saying, “You can’t call him Spider-Man! People are scared of spiders! You can’t make him a teenager because teenagers are always sidekicks! He’s a hero! Heroes don’t have personal problems!” Here’s the part I never heard before, though: Mr. Lee disregarded what his editor said and sent it to the printer because it was going into the final issue of Amazing Fantasy #15 and he figured no one would remember it. The next month, sales figures came in and showed that was the bestselling book that month, so the editor told Mr. Lee, “Remember that hero you made that we liked? We’re giving him his own series!”

Tenacity and guts. I love Stan Lee.

I realized during that panel that Stan Lee is the most endearing cranky old man ever. If anyone could be granted immortality, I hope it’s him.

The new crown jewel of my library. 🙂

My primary goals for the day after that were to get his autograph and a photo with him. I’d bought a photo-op in advance, but I had to stand in line for the autograph—for 2 ½ hours! It was much like waiting to ride a roller coaster at Cedar Pointe: multi-hour wait for a 60-second thrill. Was it worth it? Oh, heck yes! Again, I made friends with my “line-mates,” several of whom want to check out my books. (Hello to you, new readers!) If I got the chance, I wanted to ask Mr. Lee one of two questions. One wasn’t related to his work while the other was somewhat related. Regarding the former, a lesser-known fact is that Mr. Lee has been married to his one and only wife, Joan, for nearly 70 years(!), so I was gonna ask him what was the secret to a lasting marriage. If not that, I was just gonna ask him for writing advice. However, the organizers had to move the line fast, so I was only able to say, “Hello, Mr. Lee,” to him. Even then, there were two guys sitting on either side of him who had to point me out to him when I said that while he was signing my copy of Essential Captain America, Vol. 1. I guess he really is hard of hearing. He did smile at me, though.

Finally, there was the photo-op. Sergio joined me for that. He’d insisted the day before that he would not join me if I wore my costume, all but demanding that I “dress formal” for Stan Lee out of respect. I got the message, although my garb is more semi-formal. Anyway, it wasn’t nearly as long of a wait for the photo-op, but it was a brief meeting. This time, though, Mr. Lee said, “Hi, fellas!” to us. Sergio boldly went stepped forward and shook his hand, so I did the same, unsure if we were allowed to do so. Nobody said anything. The photo was snapped, and we hurried out.

Meeting greatness. (L to R: Me, Stan Lee, Sergio)

So, there you have it. I sacrificed going to Indiana Comic-Con the week before to meet their multitude of amazing guests and missed the chance to meet most of the multitude of other guests I liked at C2E2, but it was worth it.

As Stan Lee always says, “Excelsior!”

But I Digress…, Episode 36: A Review of ‘Captain America: Civil War’

“But I Digress…”
Hosted by Nathan Marchand

After a host of delays and problems filming this video, I’ve *finally* completed it–a month after the movie in question was released. Sorry.

Anyway, my buddy Sergio and I tackle what is arguably one of Marvel’s greatest films after some crazy (and schlocky) shenanigans.

Additional Music Credit: “There was a Hole Here” by The Wingless

My more timely text review: http://www.examiner.com/review/civil-war-is-marvel-s-best-film-yet

Did you enjoy the film? What are your thoughts on it?

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NERD RAGE! Episode 1: Captain America Hails HYDRA!?

“NERD RAGE!”
Hosted by Nathan Marchand

In light of the recent revelation that, apparently, Captain America–one of my favorite superheroes–has always been a supervillain, I decided to launch a new show called “NERD RAGE!” This show will focus on me ranting about any stupid decisions made in media and/or the nerd and geek community. This episode features my friend and frequent co-host Sergio Garza. “NERD RAGE!” will have an irregular schedule and have episodes posted sporadically.

What do you think of Marvel’s decision to make Cap a HYDRA agent?

#SayNoToHydraCap

But I Digress…, Episode 34: My Top 5 Favorite Films of 2015

“But I Digress…”
Hosted by Nathan Marchand

I’m a little late to the party with this one, but in this episode, I discuss my top five favorite films of 2015. I even get a visit from Nerdimus Prime–who is suddenly *not* an alternate mode for me. Weird.

Does my list match yours? What were your favorite films from the past year?

Avengers: Age of Ultron text review.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens text review.

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But I Digress…, Episode 31: A Review of ‘Fantastic Four’ (2015)

 “But I Digress…”
Hosted by Nathan Marchand
I wasn’t planning on doing this, but since people kept asking me what I thought of the new “Fantastic Four,” I decided to make an impromptu video review of it. I invite my buddy Sergio Garza to join me as we–no surprise–riff on the movie and say the Roger Corman version is better. No joke.
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My text review of the movie for Examiner.

Daredevil and Writing Christian Characters

Matt Murdock (aka Daredevil) as seen in the new Netflix series. Played by Charlie Cox.

A few weeks ago, Marvel Comics released the 13-episode series Daredevil on Netflix. My longtime readers won’t be surprised when I say that it was this show–the first of five that Marvel is releasing exclusively to the streaming service–that made me finally sign up for Netflix. I’ve made it no secret that I love superheroes, comic books, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

(If you’d like to read my official review of the series, go to my Examiner page here).

One of the things I find most interesting about Daredevil is he is one of only a few Christian superheroes that I know of (Nightcrawler from X-Men is another). He’s Catholic, to be specific. I was curious to see how his faith would be handled in this series since Hollywood has a track record for presenting Christians as hypocrites, loons, or both. I thought they might gloss over his faith, at best.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that his faith was an integral part of his character. He unabashedly identifies himself as Catholic, even saying that it’s what keeps him going most of the time. But most importantly, his faith isn’t simplified. In fact, it makes him a complicated character. Conversely, he’s not the squeaky-clean, nigh-perfect Christian character usually presented in faith-based movies.

(WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!)

Matt has endured much tragedy. He was blinded as a boy after shoving a man out the way of a truck, which then accidentally dumped chemicals on him. His father, a mediocre boxer, was murdered by mobsters because he refused to throw a fight. He spent the next several years in a Catholic orphanage dealing with his radar-like super-senses (a “gift” of the chemical bath) until he was trained to fight by a skilled but amoral blind old man, who eventually abandoned him. Is it any wonder he adopted the faith of the orphanage? He needed it to go on. It spurred him to become a lawyer so he could help clean up Hell’s Kitchen.

But Matt quickly learned the limitations of the law. He told the story of hearing a man in the next-door apartment sexually molesting his eight-year-old daughter. Because of his super-senses, he was the only one who knew about it. The mother didn’t believe it, and, as he said, the father was “smart” and managed to convince Child Protective Services he was innocent. So, one night, having gotten sick of it, he put on a mask, tracked the father down, and beat him up, threatening to make the next one worse if he ever touched his daughter again. “I could sleep better after that,” he said.

This was his first night as a vigilante, which by definition is someone who operates outside the law to enforce some form of justice. It goes counter to what Matt normally would stand for as a lawyer. Yet it doesn’t. As Matt states in a courtroom speech, the law concerns itself with facts and not necessarily truth. It can only act based on the evidence that is presented. Plus, as Matt learns while trying to take down his archenemy Wilson Fisk (aka Kingpin), cops and judges can be bought or bullied to offer criminals protection. This brought Matt to a crossroads. The only way to stop Fisk seemed to be killing him, but as he confessed to his priest, such an act would damn his soul. This was only one of the many spiritual struggles he had concerning the morality of the often brutal tactics he used to enforce his vigilante justice.

What was brilliant about it was it all seemed realistic and believable. I’ve heard of many people in real life who’ve wrestled with huge moral issues (though, admittedly, they weren’t costumes vigilantes…so far as I know…). At one point Matt was willing to risk damning his soul if it meant saving his city. Ultimately, he found another way, but it may not be the perfect solution (that’ll be revealed in season 2). This struggle is presented with great respect. The show’s creators remember that religion is a large part of many people’s lives. It shouldn’t be mocked or ignored. (I also admit that putting characters in moral dilemmas is something I enjoy and used to do a lot in my own stories).

On the other hand, Matt would probably be criticized by many Christians (and perhaps fellow Catholics) because he isn’t perfect. Besides his questions of morality, he has (small?) vices like swearing and possibly pre-marital sex (it’s never shown and details aren’t offered, so the audience is left to decide). Yet at no point did I question the authenticity of his faith. It reminded me that things like cussing don’t always mean a religious person has a weak or superficial faith. Legalism never helps anyone.

What do you think? Did you see the series? How should Christian characters be written in fiction?

‘Marvel vs. DC’ movie coming in 2020!

Author’s Note: I originally posted this today on Examiner.com, but they put the kibosh on it and took it down inside of five minutes. I guess they have no appreciation for April Fool’s Day jokes. Regardless, here it is.

In an unprecedented move, Disney and Warner Bros. have struck a deal to adapt the epic crossover comic book miniseries DC vs. Marvel for the big screen. Published in 1996 and written by Ron Marz and Peter David, with art by Dan Jurgens and Claudio Castellini, the four-part story saw characters from both publishers clash to save the multiverse. Kevin Feige and Christopher Nolan are executive producers with David S. Goyer slated to write the script and Bryan Singer directing. This announcement was made with a trailer created by super-fan Alex Luthor.

“Despite being competitors, DC and Marvel have had some classic crossovers,” said Feige. “Since both companies are building cinematic universes, it only seemed logical to have them crossover.”

Bryan Singer jumped at the chance to direct this massive film. “Since I’ve directed both Superman and the X-Men, I think I’m the only guy in Hollywood qualified to handle characters from both companies,” he said.

The comic book featured over a dozen bouts like Superman vs. Hulk and Captain America vs. Batman. Half were determined by the creators while others were decided by fan votes, which is something that will also be done for this film.

“This is for the fans, so we want them to be involved,” said Nolan. “When the movie’s website is launched, it will feature a page where they can cast their votes on the more high-profile matches. We freely admit that they might know better than us.”

Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and the rest of cast of Avengers will be joining Henry Cavil, Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot in this epic war of worlds.

“I could so take Bat-fleck,” Downey said. “He looks all mopey and sad. Plus, I’ve got better toys.”

Ben Affleck was unavailable for a retort.

Adding to the scope of the film, Marvel is in talks with 20th Century Fox to allow the X-Men and Fantastic Four to be part of the massive crossover.

“Since both of those franchises have tampered or will tamper with the fabric of reality, it made sense story-wise to include them,” said Feige. “This would allow us to sort of include them in the MCU without having them in the MCU. Negotiations have been tough, but I expect we’ll have a deal hammered out soon.”

DC is also considering adding the likes of Grant Gustin (“The Flash”) and Stephen Amell (“Arrow”) to the mix because of their respective shows’ immense popularity. Given the nature of the story, it’s definitely possible.

While all the main players are set, the studios have yet to cast Axel Asher, aka Access, the character who will serve as the bridge between these worlds.

“He was just a regular teenager until a bum told him he was next in line to inherit special interdimensional powers,” said Goyer. “I love that about him. It’s as much his story as it is about the huge fandom-fueled brawls.”

Several actors have apparently auditioned for the coveted role, including Josh Hutcherson (“The Hunger Games”), Taylor Lautner (“Twilight”), Channing Tatum (“G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”) and, interestingly, Liam Hemsworth (“The Hunger Games”).

“I’d love to be in a movie with my little brother!” said Chris Hemsworth, who plays Thor. “We always competed with each other growing up.”

Don’t expect to see this crossover clash in theatres for a while, though, since most of these actors are contracted for other films.

“These actors all have a lot on their plates, so we’ll have to wait for everything to align,” said Nolan. “But it will be worth the wait.”

The question on everyone’s mind, though, is will Stan Lee have a cameo?

“The man will be almost a hundred years old by then!” said Singer. “But I think he’d be honored to be part of the film, even if he’s carted in on a wheelchair.”

“Marvel vs. DC” is slated to be released April 1, 2020.

Representation in Stories is Overrated

Marvel Comics recently announced it was launching a new title with an all-female Avengers team called A-Force. It seems like it will feature many of the House of Ideas’ most famous superheroines—like She-Hulk, Black Widow, and Phoenix—many of whom have been members of the main Avengers team.

I’m not opposed to this idea in concept. If Marvel thinks they can generate good stories with a team like this, I’m all for it. The problem, I think, is that doesn’t seem to be their motivation. This reeks of political correctness. It’s an attempt at “diversifying” their titles because they think it’ll appeal to a wider audience. (Ironic considering this team technically isn’t diverse because it has no men on it).

The comic book industry has been dominated by men since its inception. Generally speaking, male authors write male protagonists because they’re drawing upon their own experiences as a male. Now, that doesn’t mean they haven’t written any female characters well. I’d argue there are plenty out there. Unfortunately, comics have a reputation for presenting those characters as sexual objects. Some of it is deserved, but I’d say some of it isn’t. It depends on the individual creators, companies, and/or eras. Regardless, my point remains that it’s understandable that superheroines are a minority in comics because most creators are male (and that’s not a bad thing).

This comic, whether it’s good or not, seems like it’s based on the notion that particular demographics won’t enjoy a story unless the protagonists share their gender, ethnicity, religion, and/or whatnot. In this case, they could be assuming that women won’t read the regular Avengers titles because there are only a few women on the team at any given time (in the first movie, there was only one). This extends to other demographics (i.e. only black people will enjoy stories featuring black characters).

I reject this idea. I’m sure it’s true for some people, but I don’t think most audiences care. What I look for is a good story with characters I like and/or identify with. This goes way beyond skin color or reproductive organs. A truly great story is one that focuses on human experiences, which transcend those outward superficial differences. I read/watch The Hunger Games because it has a good story; the protagonist’s gender had little or no effect on my enjoyment. Everyone has dealt with stuff like trauma, pain, joy, love, and rejection. Those things aren’t a respecter of persons, whether they be fictional or real.

One of my favorite characters in the Star Trek franchise is Benjamin Sisko from Deep Space Nine. Obviously, he’s a black man. But guess what? I never notice. What do I notice? His soft-spoken demeanor, his furious temper, his love for his son, and the pain of losing his wife in battle. All universally human experiences. Read this excerpt from the show’s bible that describes the character. Nowhere does it mention his ethnicity. It was only brought up in the show when it was necessary. That’s how it should always be handled. A character’s ethnicity, gender, and/or religious beliefs can be used to create drama (or comedy), but it shouldn’t define them. It’s only a small part of who they are. Trying to base the character around those traits will, in fact, alienate audiences.

Adding arbitrary diversity also hampers stories. Case in point: Tauriel in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films. She’s not from the book or any of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings canon. She was created by Jackson and his wife, Fran, because they wanted to add a woman to the almost all-male cast in the hopes of attracting a female audience. She’s completely extraneous to the story. What little purpose she has is to serve as one point in an unnecessary love triangle between her, Kili, and Legolas (who also wasn’t in the book, but I’m willing to accept him here because it’s arguable he was one of the Elves in the story). In other words, Jackson seems to think women want to see cliché “love stories” that go nowhere. Tauriel might be an okay character in concept, but ultimately she’s just part of what amounts a big-budget fanfiction. Instead, Jackson should’ve focused on Bilbo’s growth, which anyone can identify with. Stories don’t need to have romance to be appealing to women.

Pandora-155w-100dpi-C8In the very early stages of writing my first novel, Pandora’s Box, I thought the protagonist would be male. But as the story progressed, I realized it’d be better if the “hero” was actually a heroine. By doing that, I believe I made the story much stronger and more interesting. I didn’t do it to broaden (or narrow) it’s appeal or make some sort of statement—I did it because it was what the story needed. That’s why one of my author mantras is, “Story is king.” Whatever my tale needs, I give it. If it’s a female protagonist, then a female protagonist. If it’s a German scientist, then a German scientist. If it’s a trope-tastic ninja, then a trope-tastic ninja. 😛

So, if you’re concerned with having diversity in your story, don’t bother unless it’ll serve it well. Focus instead on telling as good of a story as you can. That will get you an audience from all races, colors, and creeds.

But I Digress…, Episode 25: Our Review of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’

“But I Digress…” Hosted by Nathan Marchand

After narrowly escaping the Comic-Corps at my local comic shop, my brother Jarod joins me to review Marvel’s latest film, “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Is this quirky space opera as awesome as “The Avengers” or as awful as “Iron Man 3”? Watch to find out!

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