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.

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Clean Reader: Censorship?

Clean Reader1. If you run in the same circles as me -- circles which read literary blogs -- there's a good chance you saw a new mapp (short for mobile application [just coined it.]) making a few waves. The mapp is called "Clean Reader" and seeks to scrub your e-books of all filth and debauchery, replacing the words in question with family-friendly terms, like "freak" and "bottom." The mapp gained a bit of international attention last week when author Joanne Harris posted a scathing critique on her blog. And almost instantly it blew up, forcing the issues of authorship and censorship to the forefront of Internet discussion, as different authors weighed in, and even a few journalists threw their opinions into the ring. As a fan of words and literature in general, these types of discussions are my jam, and I've followed the debate closely, nearly salivating over each new entry into the saga. There were issues of copyright thrown about by armchair lawyers, and horrible metaphors about blue cheese dressing thrown about by the mapp creators. Big authors got involved. Small authors got involved. Dogs and cats started sleeping together. It was madness. It was Sparta. Continue reading

Down the Wire (Volume 1)

The-WireWhen I sat down to do my column this week, I was a bit torn. See, normally, I spend the better part of two or three days just trying to find something to write about. This week, though, I was struck with a bunch of different topics, all of which I thought would be super fun to discuss, and about each of which I thought I would have more than enough to say. How do you choose? I briefly considered going to the race track and randomly assigning each column topic to a separate horse and just let the racing gods decide my fate. Ultimately, though, I determined that was a less than ideal road, since horses scare me, as do people who frequent race tracks in the middle of the week, or on the weekends for that matter. Instead, I decided I would combine my topics into one giant, super, Voltron-like column, in which I would simply move from one topic to another, laying out some brief and quick responses on a variety of issues. So, without further ado, let's begin our journey down the wire in the magical land of television, a vast wasteland, as Newton Minnow once called it. Continue reading

On Comic-ish Tragedies

Death-of-SupermanIt’s 1992, and Superman is dead. I’m in my local comic shop, and I see the issue on the racks. Superman #75, with its iconic cover featuring a tattered red cape hanging from a pole, like a weird flag of death. Next to it sat the black-bagged special edition, with its black armband, obituary, and collectible card. It was quite the sight to see for a young comic book fan, and one that sticks with me even now. Of course, now-a-days, Cynical Comic Book Fan Chris looks at death in comics and says, “Ha! Death! That’s a good one! Tell me again about how this character or that character has died!” But, back then… As adult fans, our cynicism is well-founded. For years, there was a saying in comics that the only comic book deaths that would stick were Bucky, Jason Todd, and Uncle Ben. Considering that even out of this short list, two of the three characters have returned, it’s easy to see why we don’t put much stock in major comic book deaths. You can tell me all you want about how Jean Grey is really dead this time, but we all know that when sales start lagging, and you need an event to really spice things up, her coffin will be conspicuously empty. (Note: This cynicism in no way applies to the recent death of Wolverine. I’m sure he’s really dead this time.) Continue reading

I Can See My Breath

Majoras MaskI can see my breath. That's all I can think about as the minutes tick down into seconds until the Target two blocks from my apartment opens. It's 7:55 a.m. on a cold Friday morning, and my wife has left to go get breakfast. I'm about tenth in line, and I'm reasonably sure that the other nine people in front of me are here for the same reason I am. In five minutes, Target will open up, and we will all rush back to the electronics department, for an opportunity to score a new Nintendo 3DS. Specifically, we're all waiting to be one of the few people to score the super-limited Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask edition. I know I don't have much of a chance to get one. From what people have said, each Target is only going to get two to six, and being tenth in line puts me out of the running considerably. Continue reading

Digital Comics: Revisiting the "Future"

first-internetI love digital comics. Anyone who knows me knows that's no secret. Truthfully, I am the perfect customer for digital comics. Unlike my partner-in-crime, I am not a comic book collector. I don't buy comics and bag them and store them in boxes, in dark closets, never to read again. I don't keep a spreadsheet of issues I own, cross-referenced by title, characters, and creators. I don't have a pull list, and I don't anxiously await Wednesdays. I read comics solely for the stories, and when I'm done with the stories, the comics often go into a stack in my closet, where I sometimes pull them out again months down the road and reread them, gaining new perspectives on the stories within. While I have great memories of brick and mortar stores, right now, in my life, at the moment, I am a horrible comic shop customer. But, digital comics. Digital comics are made for me. They always have been. Four years ago, I wrote an entire essay on a different site arguing in favor of what I perceived to be the future of comic books: digital comics. In that piece, I wrote about the access that digital comics could offer, and the potential for savings for the consumer. I painted digital comics as a perfect utopia, the wonderful and glorious future we are destined for. You can read the whole piece over here. I'm not super pleased with it. I was young and shortsighted and not very good. Continue reading

Quarterbin Follies #15: The View from the Cheap Seats

The_Marvel_UniverseWell, I suppose it was only a matter of time. Inevitable, really. 616 is no more. El finito. Deep Six'd. Garroted. Really, this is sort of a big deal, I suppose. So big, that Chris asked me to put my normal Quarterbin Follies column on hold (tune in next week for some thoughts on Gen13!) and give some thoughts on the END from the perspective of a continuity obsessed uber-nerd. Sure, it seems like the kind of thing to rankle the crochetey hackles of a middle-aged and loud-mouthed comic-book wash-out, right? Sounds like some “good TV.” And to be honest, when Chris first mentioned it, I was a little miffed. It is no secret that I HATE the New 52 and all it stands for. As a general rule I hate “the relaunch,” and all that it implies: the new ideas are better than the old ones, or that there is something wrong with how things were done. There's an inherent disrespect in that type of thinking. So, you'd expect that I would have some pointed opinions about what Marvel should do, or how it should or should not proceed, but I don't think I can care. I could go on about how the 616 began: about how Roy Thomas, the original Super Fan, saved the Marvel Golden Age, and how Marvel had formerly been one of the more reboot proof universes. I could do that, but I won't. As I said in the beginning, this move was inevitable. Hear that, Fan-Boys? If you didn't see it coming, you are fools (for the record, I didn't see it coming, either, damn it). It really has only been a matter of time, and no greater evidence should have been needed than Disney's sundry decrees over in the Lucas-Verse. The Star Wars Extended Universe was one of the most closely guarded and edited fictional universes in history, but it still was not safe from the mighty swing of the Great Axe of the Mouse. With a single swing, decades of side stories and timelines were undone. Now, I get the reasons, and I am even excited for the new Star Wars products (Star Wars: Rebels has been a ton of fun!), but there is a lot there for a nerd to lose sleep over. Nevertheless, why should that have an impact on Marvel? With Marvel's recent success as a movie studio, and recent acquisition by the Disney “conglom-co,” it is suddenly true that there is a reason for a single, interlocked product that can be MARVEL, under the umbrella of “House of Mouse.” However, the late 90's and the 00's were not kind to this kind of uniformity. Marvel began struggling for 'relevance' in the face of a shrinking comics industry, and so they tried to re-invent themselves with the Ultimate line. (Gah—how I hated the Ultimate line, but now is not the time for that). But even if they had not, this reboot was the doom required by the intrinsic assumption of Marvel. You see, Marvel – like many of their other mainstream counterparts – built a universe with a rotating timeline, where everything that happens in their comics is happening “now.” This constant present tense does make for easily engaging stories, but at the same time it ties the legs of the narrative. Comics take a while to come out, and because modern comics are telling complex, nuanced stories, this practice stretches days into months and years to the point that the whole hot mess eventually falls into itself. I am not going to bore you with the math here, but I trust you can see what I am talking about. Just how long can Peter Parker stay a teenager? Anyway, because comics refuse to tie their stories to any kind of realistic time frame, and yet refuse to leave themselves untouched by real-world events, the reboot becomes needful and, despite my impulse to hate it, well, that just doesn't matter. So this merger, which, as I understand it, will not be an entire reboot, will still leave few things unscathed. Only these things I hope:
  1. Captain America stays hopeful in spirit and believes in all the best of what America was meant to be. It worked in the movies, guys.
  2. Wolverine stays really short and really damned old. And that he is not a statutory rapist
  3. Nick Fury has his beginnings in the Golden Age. He is so much more interesting as a point-to-counter-point to Cap, and you miss a lot of that if they don't have the same roots.
  4. Bruce Banner is more Dr Jekyll and less Mr Hyde.
  5. Miles Morales finds a place and Peter finds MJ. The former deserves a chance, and the latter, a break.
Well, I suppose that's what I have to say. I don't know if it's because I really don't have an opinion, not being a die-hard Marvel fan, or I am just argued out, but, damn people, let Marvel do what they want. They were gonna do that anyway. Me, I am going to sit back and watch. From a respectful distance.