Not So Funny Pages
 

R.I.P. Yvonne Craig (1937 – 2015)

Craig2Yvonne Craig died this week, and that makes me sad. For most of us, Craig was known as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl on the ultra-campy 1960s Batman TV show. Along with Adam West and Burt WardCraig fought famous Batman villains, like the Joker, the Penguin, Catwoman, and Egghead in the show’s final season from 1967 to 1968. It was, of course, in reruns that this role continued to make her famous, and continues to make her well-known throughout much of the comic industry. Even if you’re not a fan, you’ve most likely seen an episode or two of the Batman series, and you’ve most likely seen a bit of Craig’s most excellent portrayal of Batgirl.

I don’t want to spend too long talking about Craig’s life. There are plenty of obits all over the Internet that are doing exactly that. A simple Google search will net you plenty of information about where she was born, when she started acting, her roles outside of Batman, and how she died. I don’t want to spend too much time worrying about all of that. Now, I’m not avoiding that because it’s not important. It is. I just want to spend the limited time I have here, as I write this on my lunch break, to celebrate the importance of Craig’s role as Batgirl on a campy 1960s superhero TV show.

No one is going to argue that Batman is a masterpiece of TV storytelling, or even a masterpiece of superhero narratives. The show is campy as heck. Fun, but campy as heck. The puns are groan-worthy, the villainous plots are simplistic, the fights are silly, and the storylines are all formulaic. Despite that, though, the show — for better or worse — shoved Batman into the general consciousness, pushing him near the top of the recognizability list of comic book characters. The show basically made Batman a household name, turning him into a pop-culture icon, a status he maintains today. Whether you enjoy the show or not is irrelevant. This show IS important to the Batman mythos, campiness and all.

And for all of this status, the show really only has one concept to thank: its characters. As mentioned before, nothing else in the show is all that well-done, but the characters themselves are memorable. From West’s Batman to Caesar Romero’s Joker to Burgess Meridith’s Penguin to any of the other bright and colorful characters that graced TV screens every week, these representations remain first and foremost in the minds of people that watched this show growing up. Mind you, the numerous portrayals of these characters in media since may overshadow them a little; however, when you mention some of these characters to the average Joe on the street, chances are the portrayals from this TV show will immediately spring to mind.

And in the midst of this stood Yvonne Craig with her purple outfit, red wig, and sweet motorcycle. Introduced in the comics only two years earlier, the appearance of Barbara Gordon in this show was important for a number of reasons. First, it was one of the first portrayals of a female superhero in television and film. Ten years before Lynda Carter spun into her Wonder Woman costume, Craig donned her cowl to punch the Joker with a Ka-Pow! She stood on the same ground as Batman and Robin, often saving them from whatever dastardly deathtrap the villain of the week had caught them in. And, in doing so, she inspired girls young and old the world over.

I talk a lot about how representation is important, and Craig is case in point. Right now, you can do a single Google search to find countless stories of young girls for whom this show was a gateway drug into the world of comic books, and Craig’s Batgirl is at the top of the list of the reasons it resonated so much with them. Representation in media is important, because we all want to imagine we’re comic book characters fighting crime, and that’s made much easier when we can identify with them, much easier when the characters look like us. Now, as a white male, it’s easy for me. I have a million comic book characters I can pretend to be. I can pretend to be obscure characters from the 1930s, or I can pretend to be the latest big-name superhero to grace the silver screen. They’re, for the most part, white and male. But, you go outside of my group, and you find the pickings slim. People who don’t look like me? They don’t have a ton of options.

But for the past 50 years, from broadcast to reruns, Yvonne Craig has helped to fill that role, and she did it well.

Craig1And because of this, I think it’s important to note that her portrayal is also a counter to one of the traditional arguments people trot out regarding diversity in comics: Companies only do it as a quick cash-grab. In Batman, Batgirl was exactly that. Ratings were lagging, so they thought if they introduced a female character, they could keep things going for a little while. It didn’t work, of course — the show only lasted one more season. But, that doesn’t change the fact that the producers only introduced her to try and make a little more money. To that, I say this: Who cares? She was only on the show for a season, but look at what she inspired. The motivation for including her is irrelevant, but the result of including her is important. And the result of her inclusion in the show is a ton of little girls watching a superhero show and wanting to become Batgirl.

And that is awesome.

The other reason that Yvonne Craig is so important is that the show did much of the same for Batgirl as it did for Batman. Batgirl had only appeared in the comics for a couple of years before she was introduced to the TV show. Without the show, who knows if she would have continued. And then, without her, we wouldn’t have Oracle or Cassandra Cain or any number of other female heroes inspired by her. And I think that so much of that public awareness is due to Craig’s portrayal. As previously mentioned, she stood up with Batman, completing her own stunts and proving Batgirl as a viable member of the bat-mythos. I don’t know if you can say that we definitely wouldn’t have our idea of Batgirl without Craig, but there is definitely a strong chance of that. The Batman comics were already faltering during the 1960s, and DC was considering cancellation entirely. What saved the comics were editor Julius Schwartz and Batman, the TV show. So, I don’t think it’s a far cry to state that Craig is to thank for the popularity of Batgirl, a popularity which allowed her to continue as a character for the past fifty years.

Craig lost a fight with breast cancer this week, a fight she had been taking on for nearly two years. My condolences go out to her friends and family in this time definitely, but also, my condolences go out to anyone who Craig inspired with her costumed escapades. I can understand what she meant to you on a theoretical level, but I can’t truly understand how important her portrayal was. I’m not equipped to do so, and my experience in this world is different from yours. With that said, I do praise Craig for doing what she did, and I hope I’ve honored her memory with this post.

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Re-Evaluating “The Killing Joke”

The Killing Joke 1At San Diego Comic-Con a few weeks ago, Bruce Timm announced that he would be producing a direct-to-video animated version of “The Killing Joke.” This was cause for much celebration for many fans on its own, but their celebration was soon heightened by the announcement that Joker veteran Mark Hamill would be returning to do the voice of the Joker. While either of these announcements would have been enough to produce massive amounts of excitement on the part of fans, together these two announcements create something new, something entirely different, something larger than life. You have one of the most iconic voices for the Joker combined with one of the most famous Batman stories. It sounds to me like an idea that prints money, and judging by the response from the fans, I’m not far off.

And this is something I find a little disturbing.

I get the Hamill thing. His version of the Joker is really one of the best of all time, and his voice and laugh have become associated with the character in many fans’ minds. I know I’m not the only one to hear Hamill’s voice when I read the Joker in the comic books. Any time he revisits the character is exciting and very welcomed.

I, like many other people, struggle with the choice of “The Killing Joke” as the story to adapt. I didn’t always feel this way. When I first purchased this book off a sale shelf for about five bucks, I was blown away. I felt like the story was complex, providing an excellent backstory for the Joker, while still maintaining an air of mystery for the character. I thought he interactions between Batman and Commissioner Gordon were all extremely well-done, and the ambiguous ending was remarkably thought-provoking in every way. Over the years, though, as I’ve grown as a writer, reader, and person, I’ve started to question that original assessment. I’ve started questioning if this story really deserves as much praise as it receives. Continue reading

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Terminator: Genisys Review, or Why I Hate Time Travel

Genisys-3There’s a riff in a classic Season 8 episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, where, after one of the characters in the movie Overdrawn at the Memory Bank comments “I’m bored!,” Tom Servo responds to his fellow riffers with, “Okay, which one of us said that?” I experienced a similar sensation while watching Terminator: Genisys when Kyle Reese says, “time travel makes my head hurt.” I looked around the theater and wondered, “Okay, which one of us said that?”

Terminator: Genisys is not the worst movie ever made. It’s not even the worst Terminator movie ever made. That said, it’s certainly not a good movie. This attempt to reboot the franchise with a fresh timeline, similar to 2009’s Star Trek, tries its best, but ultimately unravels the series’s own ethos, leaving us with a mess of a movie, and one that will most likely spark a hatred of time travel movies for many movie goers for many years to come. Continue reading

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Chris Watches TV: Humans, Episode 01

Humans-1I’ve always loved a good science-fiction story about robots. More than space travel and post-apocalyptic futures, my favorite science-fiction stories are the ones about blurring the lines between man and machine, between real and artificial intelligence. Whether the robot seeks to help or harm, when the servos start to click and turn, I start reading, or as in this case, watching.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went into Humans. I had seen the commercials, and I was intrigued. It wouldn’t be the first story to question the line between humanity and robotics, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. But, the production value seemed high, and I like William Hurt, so I felt it was something I should try. Ultimately, I’m happy I did. While the first episode felt a little slow, there was enough there to bring me back next week, which I suppose is all I can ask from a serialized TV show.

Humans tells the story of a parallel present in which the world is obsessed with Synths, androids that are programmed to serve humankind. The first episode is split into three different storylines, each of which focus on a different relationship between humans and their Synths. The first is about Joe Hawkins, a stressed father trying to take care of his home and three children in the absence of his wife, Laura, who has been called away for some work issue. At the end of his rope, Hawkins purchases a new Synth on a 30-day loan, which the family soon names Anita. Throughout the episode, Anita serves the Hawkins family as a faithful servant, though she has moments here and there that tell the viewer that things with her aren’t quite what they seem. For example, early in the episode, while the other Synths in the factory are shut down the for night, Anita stares up at the moon. It’s a subtle touch, and one that becomes more and more overt as the episode progresses. When Laura finally returns home, she is taken aback by her husband’s actions. She distrusts Anita, but also feels pushed to the side by the rest of the family.

The second storyline also involves Anita, but begins five weeks before the Hawkins ordeal. Five figures are walking through a forest, Anita among them. One of them, the clear group leader, asks the other four about their charge levels, cluing us into the fact that at least four members of the group are Synths. Later, three of the Synths are captured by junkers, leading the group leader, Leo, to head off to London to track them down. Included in the synths stolen is Anita, which explains how she eventually comes into the service of the Hawkins family.

The third, and final storyline, is my favorite. Hurt plays an old man, who is attempting to keep his older-model Synth from being replaced. The viewer quickly learns that this man is a widower, who feels an almost fatherly kinship to the Synth, Odi, who appears to be some sort of connection to the man’s deceased wife. It’s a touching story, and one that drew some real emotion out of me. It’s a relationship that I hope the show explores into the future.

Humans-2Throughout the three storylines, there emerges a very common theme: the emotional impact that occurs when the line between human and android begins to blur. If there’s a point at which artificial intelligence surpasses the human mind, Humans takes place right smack dab in the middle of it. Humanity is on the cusp of some real stuff going down, and we, the viewers, are getting a once-in-a-lifetime chance to observe. The writing, at least in this first episode, is fantastic. The three storylines are weaved throughout the entire first episode seamlessly, and the acting, especially from Hurt, and Colin Morgan, who plays Leo, go a long way to show how strong the bonds between humans and Synths can get within this world. There’s a subtlety to a lot of the interactions between the characters, and as an emotional character drama, they hit the nail on the head.

That said, with as much as I enjoyed the first episode, I’m not sure Humans has me hooked quite yet. It’s well-done, but I’m not seeing them break much new ground in this series so far. Books, movies, and even other TV shows, have focused on similar themes and explored them fully. I’m not sure if Humans can find even a sliver of an original statement to make on such heavily tread ground.

The series is only eight episodes long, so they don’t have much time to prove me wrong, but I still hope they do. As I said in the intro, I am a huge fan of science-fiction focused on robotics, and I’d hate to see such slick production values wasted on a boring and overdone story.

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Webcomic Review: Camp Weedonwantcha

WDW-1I love webcomics. Over the past two decades, I have moved here and there throughout the websphere, trying different comics, adding a few to my daily reading list, and removing the occasional comic that starts to lose me. I have actually been reading a handful of comics, like Penny Arcade and PVP, fairly consistently since they came online way back in the infancy of the industry. I have watched as many of these old guards worked to shape and define what the webcomic industry could become, ultimately paving the way for various newcomers to the medium over the past years.

Unfortunately, I have often become so embroiled in this old guard, that I approach any of these new artists with trepidation and fear, a rake in my hand ready to shake at them if they step on my lawn. Usually, when I do dip my toe into something new, I am greeted by the downside of having such established titans create the industry. I can’t tell you how many webcomics I’ve read that involve two gamers, one straight man and one fool, who sit on their couch and play video games. In fact, for the longest time, this was a fairly accurate representation of most video game webcomics. So much so, that I actually created such a Penny Arcade rip-off back when I started writing comics in the early 2000s. I’m not going to link to such embarrassment. There’s something called Google. If you really want to find it, I’m sure you can.

Sometimes, though, when I find a new comic, I’m pleasantly surprised. I not only find something that is enjoyable to read, but something that challenges me as a writer and creator. Such is the case with Camp Weedonwantcha by Katie Rice. Continue reading

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The Rescue Blues

Shenmue1It’s E3 week. For gamers around the world, this is like first Christmas in June, where among the lights and smoke and mirrors, we receive small little nuggets of sunshine in the form of game announcements and updates. This year was no different, with various companies announcing some big games, like Halo 5 and Mass Effect 4. But, in my opinion, it was Sony that stole the show this year with a pre-show press conference with the announcement of three highly-anticipated games. The first two, the Final Fantasy VII remake and The Last Guardian, were definitely welcome surprises, with the former a long-stated desire of fans and the latter long-since dead, but it was the third announcement that seemed the most shocking and exciting: Shenmue 3.

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The Savagery of Red Wolf

anadm (1)I want to talk about representation. I know what you’re saying: Chris, you’ve already written two columns on representation. Isn’t that enough? Why do you hate this horse so much that you gotta just keep beating it? Well, because it’s not enough, that’s why. And when you are fighting nearly a century of comic books that have featured one group primarily (white males), followed by the diminishing othering of marginalized groups through gross stereotypes, two columns isn’t even the bare minimum. It’s not even enough to scratch the surface. So, I want to talk about representation, but I want to talk specifically about how not to do it.

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The Importance of Bobby Drake

xmen40

I don’t normally start out my column with a spoiler alert, but since the nature of today’s column is from this week’s issue of New X-Men, I thought I would state one here, especially if you’ve lived under a rock and haven’t been on like Facebook or anything. Of course, now, I’m just typing enough text so that I know the little textual preview on Facebook won’t spoil the first official line of the column, which is coming…

Now.

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QuarterBin Follies #23: Turok Tuesday

Image1bI guess with a title like that, the metaphorical cat is out of the imagined bag, here. Today, we are going to discuss and review Turok, specifically, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter #1, the opener for the 1993 Valiant Comics series. Turok has long been on my ‘B-team’ of comic fandom.

I ought to explain, because the B-Squad is NOT the not-ready-for-prime-timers, au contraire. My B-team is populated by the characters I like enough to say I dig ’em, but not so much I have spent so much money on them. Folks like Zorro, Daredevil, Hellboy, The-Big-Red-Cheese Captain Marvel, and even Supes himself. Time-tossed Turok is among these noble warriors, and I am glad to have him there! Continue reading

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Quarterbin Follies #21: Batman in a Kilt (Happy Tartan Day)

Image1 You might have noticed this by now, but I am something of am enthusiast for all things “Celtic,” be it art, music, story or history. Truth be told, what started as an interest in my own family history has grown into something akin to fanaticism. Well, guess what, faithful: today, April sixth, is Tartan Day, a celebration of all things Scottish in America (or wherever you happen to live). Unlike St Paddy’s or St David’s days to the Irish and Welsh, respectively, which both began as religious observances and grew to become cultural celebrations; Tartan Day is a purely secular affair. (Tartan, in case you are not “in-the-know,” is the distinct weaving pattern of Scotland, and the fabric woven after that method.)

Now, hang on, folks, I know that lengthy discussions of weaving technologies and history are thrilling reading, but I have something better in mind today. On this day The-Powers-That-Be have declared it fitting to toss a “thumbs-up” to Scotland, and we here at Ideal Comics are more than ready to comply. (Well, I am, anyway.) Continue reading

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