Thursday, March 26, 2015

Op-Ed: Why the Batgirl Cover Should Have Been Cancelled!

Originally Written for Legions of Gotham in March 2015 
by Matt MacNabb 

In recent weeks a controversy has arisen in the comic book fan community over a variant cover to Batgirl #41 that pays homage to the fan-favorite 1988 Batman one-shot graphic novel, Batman: The Killing Joke. The story has been picked up by national media outlets and some comic book fans may be wondering why this cover is such a big deal. The idea that this is an issue of censorship has been thrown around, as has a huge movement by the predominantly male comic book community to pressure DC Comics into releasing the cover as scheduled. The request to not release this cover actually came directly from the artist, Rafael Albuquerque. We aren't talking about any violations of free speech or censorship here -- neither of those would qualify in this instance. We are looking at a private company that opted not to release a comic book cover that they commissioned to be created, based on sensitivity to the public. It has been incorrectly cited in the media that death threats were going around, but just to be clear, those threats were actually against those that were objecting to the cover being released. The fact that DC Comics agreed to cancel this cover is a very, very good thing...and here's why. 

Consider the idea that a major mainstream entertainment company like DC Comics has a comic book that showcases sexual assault and a new comic book cover that actually pulls that part of the comic book out to glorify and tribute the incident. Nearly half of all comic book readership, over 46% in fact, is actually female. Couple that with the fact that at least one in five females has or will been sexually assaulted in their lifetime and certainly a greater number are sensitive to including excessive amounts of it in their chosen forms of entertainment. That doesn't even count he number of males that aren't fans of sexual assault as a form of enertainment and you risk alienating a large part of your audience. The Killing Joke was certainly a dark and edgy book that was released at a time when that type of content what young male comic book fans were craving. This comic book was the first mainstream exposure that many readers had to not only darker themes, but a real mingling of sexuality and violence.

 The Killing Joke spends some time giving us an origin story for the Joker, something that many fans had never been exposed to at that time. We were woven the tale of a failed, desperate comedian and his pregnant wife. He gets in too deep with some criminal types and bad things happen. This part of the story is a nod to the retro 1951 Detective Comics #168 story, "The Man Behind the Red Hood". The story goes on to show the daughter of Commissioner Gordon, and Batgirl herself, Barbara Gordon answer her door to the Clown Prince of Crime. The Joker is whimsically dressed in snazzy vacation attire, complete with a hawiian shirt, shorts that show his pasty legs and a camera around his neck. The Joker wastes no time in shooting Barbara right in the stomach, paralyzing her instantly. We are then shown the Joker undressing her in a very menacing manner and later learn that he has snapped photographs of her in some compromised state. This is where the story gets a bit fuzzy.

There is a lot of intense debate amongst fans about whether the Joker injures, humiliates and sexually assults Barbara or if he actually full-on rapes her. On one hand it wouldn't be beyond author Alan Moore to go all the way with this, as he did feature rape in his 1986 comic book series The Watchmen. Oh, and again in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (yes, the one they made the movie off of) volumes I and II AND The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen 1969, AND AGAIN in Miracle Man AND again in Lost Girls AND the near rape of Evie in V for Vendetta (yes, again the one they made a movie off of!). Alan Moore is no doubt marketable and highly sucessful as a writer, no one disputes this. His stories have a trend of taking off in the mainstream, which he often comments about loathing, but he clearly has a strong recurring theme of rape in his work.

Grant Morrison, a current big name writer at DC Comics, told Rolling Stone's Brian Hiatt in a 2011 interview that "I was reading some Alan Moore Marvelman for some reason today. I found one in the back there and I couldn't believe. I pick it up and there are fucking two rapes in it and I suddenly think how many times has somebody been raped in an Alan Moore story? And I couldn't find a single one where someone wasn't raped except for Tom Strong, which I believe was a pastiche. We know Alan Moore isn't a misogynist but fuck, he's obsessed with rape. I managed to do thirty years in comics without any rape!" Well said Grant.

There are still many comic fans that will assert that Barbara wasn't not raped, simply paralized, stripped nude, photographed and humiliated. Oh, and her father was also stripped naked by BDSM-gear sporting midgets and forced to view the photos. Well, thats a relief! I was worried that the content could somehow be misconstrued as inappropriate. The Joker isn't a typically sexualized character. The fact is that rape isn't a crime of sex, but rather one of power and control, so in that way it could fall into the Joker's character.

Batman, who has remained basically emotionless to the pain and suffering of his dear friends throughout the Killing Joke story, corners the Joker in an alleyway and beats the tar out of him. Readers are left with a bloody and battered Joker standing face to face with the Batman in the rain. The Joker tells Bats a joke and begins to laugh. Then, out of nowhere Batman himself begins to chuckle and the two share a good laugh together before the Joker is carted away again to Arkham Asylum. To say that this scene disturbing is a vast understatement. Not only is the Joker a murderer of hundreds or even thousands of innocent people prior to these events, including Robin (Jason Todd), but he goes so far as to assault Barbara and James Gordon...and the Batman shares a laugh with him? This shows that perhaps the Batman feels some sort of twisted connection to the Joker, even more so than the Gordons. Two people, their veiled personas born from misery. They know death, they know torment, but they deal with it in very different ways. This certainly isn't the way their relationship is always portrayed. I remember reading the story as a ten year old boy...looking up and thinking to myself "Oh, holy shit did the Joker just rape Batgirl?!...and Batman doesn't even care?!" I'm supposed to see this man as a hero and I'm sorry, but as a son, brother, husband, father and a man I just can't fathom this reaction. Alan Moore took the soul out of Batman

This leads me to the core of my real issue with The Killing Joke. I believe in comic books as not only an art form and amazing story telling medium, but also one that can reflect real-life issues...hopefully to teach us all something in the process. That being said, a story about key character going through something like rape would have been a wonderful chance to teach the young male readers that this wasn't a violatio that should be tolerated. We could have been taught as readers that rape was a horror and a humiliation that no person should have to endure and perhaps instill readers with some level of compassion and even an anger against sexual crimes. Unfortunately, that wasn't the moral of this story. Batman just didn't care. Bruce Wayne watched his parents gunned down before his very eyes, an act that would have torn his feeling of security away as a child. It would have taken his safety and his power, something he had to go to the lengths of becoming the Batman to get back! These same feelings can often happen to a woman when she is sexually assulated, so you'd think of all people the Batman would understand. Does Batman come to the aid of Barbara and Jim? No. Does Batman finally cross the line and end the Joker's life? No. Batman gives the Joker a fat lip and then laughs it out. Silly Joker...there he goes rapin' again!

The Killing Joke was released in 1988. Whats done is done, but now this new variant Batgirl cover showcases a helpless Batgirl with the Joker painting a smile on her face in blood, while wearing his outfit from the Killing Joke. The Killing Joke is not a classic, its not a story to be revered. Its a huge festering sore on the history of Batman...a blight that should be erased, certainly not homaged. Bravo to DC Comics for reconsidering this cover. After all, when Alan Moore wanted to cripple Barbara back in the 1980s the editorial decision handed down was literally "Cripple the bitch". Hopefully moves like this will show misogynists everywhere that some of us love women, and I believe that the Batman character that I know and love does too. I would ask those that object to this move to go back and with a clear mind re-read this story and really analyze if this is the reaction you want from your Batman and if this story should still hold up as a classic amongst the fans.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Top 5 Gimmick Gums That 1980s-90s Kids Loved!

Originally written for The Atari Nation March 2015
by Matt MacNabb

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Kids get the shaft in the candy department these days! In the 1980s and 90s we got all kinds of themed candies that enriched our young lives and made things so much more fun! The candy companies need to bring it back. I know, I know its unhealthy and they shouldn't market it to kids, blah, blah, blah. This is why they make dentures, right? Here are the Atari Nation's top five awesome gimmick gums from the 1980s and 90s!

-Fruit Stripe Gum
Yipes! Stripes! Fruit Stripe Gum! This multi-colored gum has been around for many decades, but it got a branding resurgance during the 1990s with colorful commercials featuring a cartoon zebra. The gum packs would often include pack-ins like tattoos and in 1996 the gum gave 5 cents from the sale of each jumbo pack to the World Wildlife Federation. Their total donation was in the area of $100,000. This aside, the gum looked a lot funner than it tasted..the flavor left this one almost as soon as it hit your taste buds.

-Bubble Beeper
Wait, its bubble gum in a fake plastic beeper? My kids would look at this and scoff (and then ask me what the hell a beeper is!), but I still get all excited when I see such a cool gimmick. I mean I'm a kid, and I have a play beeper! Now I can pretend to be a doctor..or a yuppie..or a drug dealer! These containers featured neon colors and sticks of gum inside that had snappy beeper-friendly phrases, like "See You Later!" and "I'll Call You!". The gum was crap, but the gimmick was definately cool for 90s kids, like me.

-Bubble Jug
    These awesome little jugs came in various flavors and colors that were all kinds of desirable back in the 90s.  We're talking neon pink, yellow, green...the works.  If you shook these jugs you'd hear the little pink squares of gum rattling around.  The gum was Hubba Bubba brand, so it was decent enough, but you needed so much of it to make a real piece, that this was definately all about the cool container gimmick, not the amount of candy you were getting.

-Ouch! Gum
Ok, now this is one was really cool. I know its hard to imagine now, unless you were there, but these metal tins with sticks of gum packed in band-aid graphics were fantastic back in the day. A tin with 24 sticks of gum was cool, but it didn't exactly fit well in your pocket. The nice thing about these bad boys was that when you were done with it you could store stuff in it at home. The overwhelming 90s gum color of neon pink was again the primary color used on this one.

-Juice Carton Bubble Gums
I was a connoisseur of bubble gum in my day. The 90s had some cool gums, but in the 1980s the coolest gum for my money came from Topps' foray into the candy market...Juice Carton Bubble Gum. They came in little paper cartons themed as orange, apple, grape and eventually pink lemonade. This was pound for pound the best tasting gum out there. The cartons were full of little colored rock shaped gum pieces that you'd inevitably finish in a mouthful or two, but oh the joy!

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Top 5 Coolest Animated Incarnations of Mr. Freeze!

Originally written for Legions of Gotham in March2015
by Matt MacNabb

    Mr. Freeze is one of the most enigmatic and emotional villains in the Batman's rogues gallery.  Orginally dubbed 'Mr. Zero' when he was first introduced to comic book fans back in 1959.  His appearances on the 1966 Batman television show altered his name forever to Mr. Freeze!   The real birth of this once one-dimensional character, however, came in the Batman cartoons.   Legions of Gotham will now countdown the top five animated appearances of the tragic Dr. Victor Fries!

5. Young Justice
    The Young Justice cartoon ended too quickly after just two seasons, but Batman fans were treated to a few appearances by the king of cold before it was done!  Mr. Freeze  appeared in three episodes of the popular series, voiced by Keith Szarabajka.   This beefed up older version of Freeze was captured by Batman and Robin and transported back to Arkham Asylum, and later transfered to Belle Reve Penitentiary after being declared legally sane.   It was in prison where Freeze managed to cause more trouble by helping to organize a mass breakout

4. Future Freeze
    We got a rare animated peek into the future in the season four episode of 'The Batman', titled Artifacts.   We're transported a thousand years into the future of Gotham City and Mr. Freeze has managed to emerge and it terrorizing the citizens of the future!  The police are desperately trying to comb through the archives they can find in the old rubble of the Batcave to see how Batman last defeated his foe, since any trace of the Batman legacy is long dead.  We get a cool flashback scene to 2027 where we see Batman facing this cool future freeze.   Freeze has now been reduced to a torso with robot legs and is in a giant super-mech suit.  The voice duties are still being performed by The Batman's Clancy Brown.

3. The New Batman Adventures
    When Batman: the Animated Series got its design overall to become The New Batman Adventures, one of the villains that went through the most changes was ol' Mr Freeze.   He remained voiced with the dry, emotionless delivery of Michael Ansara, but the character himself went through intense physical changes.   Mr. Freeze's condition has become too unstable, so he has resorted to being just a head under glass that has mechanical spider legs attached.   Freeze is able to climb inside of a robot body and appear somewhat normal, with enhanced strength and agility, a useful tool when facing the Bat-Family!


2. Batman Beyond Mr. Freeze
    Decades in the future Mr. Freeze's head is alive and well in the laboratories of Wayne-Powers!  Derek Powers (aka Blight) has been keeping it there, having research done to cure his affliction.  A bright young scientist comes up with a procedure that helps Freeze become mobie again with a new cryogenic suit.  Mr. Freeze decides to use his powers for good, but the aged Bruce Wayne isn't buying it.  He has Batman Beyond watch over Freeze, and he soon turns back to a life of crime.  This version of Mr. Freeze was voiced again by Michael Ansara, keeping consistant throughout all three Timmverse incarnations of the character.

1. Batman: The Animated Series Mr. Freeze
    The definitive characterization of Mr. Freeze happens in his debut Batman: The Animated Series episode, titled Heart Of Ice, for which the writers won an Emmy!    Freeze is voiced in a dry and menacing tone by the great Michael Ansara.  We had previously only seen Mr. Freeze as a one-dimensional animated character in the two Filmation Batman cartoons.  This go around they took Mr. Freeze and made him arguably he most sympathetic and emotional villain in Batman's rogues gallery.  The plight of the devoted husband, his mind twisted by the loss of his beloved wife is one that resonated deeply to the audiences of all ages.  It is unlikely that without this version of him that we'd even be discussing the character at all.  This will likely remain the definitive animated, and all around, version of Mr. Freeze.

Honorable Mention: The Batman

    The first time a non-Bruce Timm helmed animated Batman show hit the air since 1992 was when Jeff Matsuda's vision for the Dark Knight, called The Batman, premiered in 2004.  The progressive and unique new designs were a welcome treat to Bat-Fans young and old.  Mr. Freeze was voiced by the gravely and dark stylings of Clancy Brown, previously known to fans as the voice of Lex Luthor in the Justice League series.  The Batman ended up lasting for a five season run.

Animation Screenwriter For Hire

I have just finished work on a script for a children's animated show that looks to be seen on the BBC and other networks around the worl...