Archive for November, 2013


Sleepy Hollow, Assassin’s Creed, The New Heroism, & Them Old Pastimes

November 27th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

I’m a few episodes into Sleepy Hollow, starring Nicole Beharie as Lt. Abbie Mills and Tom Mison as Ichabod Crane, who has rip van winkled his way to the modern day after being nearly killed around the time of the Revolutionary War. I like it. It’s cast from the same mold as Elementary with Lucy Liu and Jonny Lee Miller, that kind of cute antagonistic buddy cop wave. (Almost Human is on that, too.) It reminds me of a Kamen Rider show in a lot of ways (stakes, approach to conflict, lighting, plot, more), only instead of a bug-dude riding a motorcycle you have a time-lost British guy.

I’m also a few hours into Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag, which is much less good than Sleepy Hollow, but a comfortably familiar sandbox murder simulator in a setting I’ve rarely paid any attention to. The fun isn’t where it needs to be, but the new is on-point enough that I keep messing with it.

Both works have a character type I only recently realized is fairly common. Ichabod Crane, upon meeting a black woman in 2013, excitedly asks her if she’s been emancipated and gets offended when he feels that she insinuates he supports slavery. “I’ll have you know I was a proponent of the Abolitionist Act before the New York Assembly,” he says. “Congratulations,” Abbie replies. “Slavery has been abolished 150 years. It’s a whole new day in America.”

Edward Kenway, rakish pirate captain and lead character of Black Flag, is similarly progressive. He frees slaves at will, forces his men to work alongside them despite their prejudices, and is generally a good and honorable guy, despite the theft and murdering.

This is a type of character I’ve seen elsewhere, too. They are generally men who have been removed from their time and placed in ours, though the character type appears in period pieces, too. Despite the time they come from, when horrific misogyny and racism were perfectly fine and accepted pastimes for men to indulge in at their leisure, they are staunch abolitionists or totally okay with giving women the vote or drinking from the same fountain as a…you know. One of those.

Captain America’s a great example of this, I think. I don’t mind it when it comes to him, since my favorite aspect of that character is how he represents everything America often isn’t, and that kind of dissonance makes the character a lot of fun for me. It’s elsewhere, too—Batman’s ancestors helped smuggle slaves to freedom, which is more than a little ridiculous. Even Jonah Hex, veteran of the Confederacy that betrayed their country because they thought chattel slavery was totally cool, has been updated to “hate everyone equally.”

Everybody’s a Schindler, nobody’s a Nazi.

I’ve been thinking about this pretty much ever since I saw Mison-as-Crane get offended that someone thought he’d be okay with slavery. Abolitionists existed, of course. Good, kind, loving people existed who rejected the mores of their time. But at this point, I feel like every guy we see from Not-Now comes off exactly like your average open, accepting, 2013-model White Guy. Sleepy Hollow likes to use Crane to complain about taxes, Starbucks, and bottled water. Kenway’s bootstraps-y “I’ll have any man, if he’s able and willing” philosophy feels like it doesn’t take into account the prevailing attitudes of the time at all. The average is off, tilted in favor of the suspiciously progressive and accepting hero instead of reality.

The characters in our stories, the sassy black women, inexplicably pan-Asian ninja, the gay BFF, nerdy hacker, sad white guy who just needs the love of a good woman, whatever whatever, are stories unto themselves. Whether directly or indirectly, these characters tell us things about ourself and how we view the world we live in. They don’t evolve out of nothing. They represent something.

I think the prevalence of this character type largely comes down to the shifting definition of what we consider a hero. In the past, this kind of anachronistic hero character wasn’t really necessary. I once picked up a James Bond novel by Ian Fleming that was casually and hatefully racist within the first paragraph. World War II was full of government-supported hateful art and propaganda. I have a joke book from the ’50s a friend gave me, and a few books of period pin-up art, and half the punchlines are “haha, women sure are whores, stupid, or both!” It was the times! You can find all types of racial stereotype sidekicks from back in the day, but that number is markedly lower now. Racial and sexual harassment aren’t dead, but we aren’t supposed to enjoy it any more, or as much as we used to, so it’s relegated to the villains, the bad guys, not our heroes.

Lois Lane can never have that moment where she clutches her purse on an elevator because a black dude got on. Being a bigot isn’t in the cool guy repertoire any more. We’re past that, even though there are plenty of good, moral people who are also secretly afraid of black people or occasionally slip and say something untoward about Asian people. Sometimes it’s unconscious, sometimes it’s learned behavior, and sometimes it’s just a slip, but we view good and bad as a binary, not a spectrum, so just one drop of bad taints you. As a result, we avoid and eschew it.

Funnily enough, this extends to the stories we tell about real people, too. The prevailing narrative around the Founding Fathers is that they were saints looking out for truth, justice, and the soon-to-be American Way. In reality, Thomas Jefferson had sex with his slaves and Benjamin Franklin, upon being asked for sex advice from a young friend, told that friend to go after older women and provided a list of eight reasons why, ending on “They are so grateful!

So you get Edward Kenways and Ichabod Cranes, men who came from a time when you could rape and murder people at your leisure, as long as they were inferior to you, being colored or of the fairer sex, but instead choose to be accepting and cool about everything. No awkward slip-ups, no uncomfortable conversations about why you can’t say things, just a lot of truth and justice. It doesn’t feel very true to me, exactly, it doesn’t feel very real, but I do know that if it were more real, I’d hate the characters for being human garbage.

The struggle continues.

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This Week in Panels: Week 218

November 25th, 2013 Posted by Gavok

It’s the, “Shit, I’m exhausted. To hell with it, I’m taking a nap first,” edition of This Week in Comics! This week I’m joined by Gaijin Dan, Space Jawa, Was Taters and Dickeye. I did try to get through Harley Quinn #0, but that wasn’t happening. It’s so desperate and blatant in its attempt to rebrand Harley as DC’s Deadpool with breasts that it’s kind of grating. Plus, you know, they want us to enjoy the adventures of a protagonist who just murdered about a hundred kids for no reason a month ago.

Speaking of DC aping Marvel’s style, here’s a really kickass article Chris Sims wrote the other day. He can go to Hell for dedicating an entire paragraph to insulting What If, though.

Stop. Panel time!

Afterlife with Archie #2
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla

Animal Man #25
Jeff Lemire and Rafael Albuquerque

Atomic Robo: The Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur #3
Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener

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Avengers #23 and the Joys of an Intergalactic Posse

November 21st, 2013 Posted by Gavok

This week gave us Avengers #23 by Jonathan Hickman and Leinil Francis Yu. It acts as chapter 14 in the 16 chapter event that is Infinity. Normally, I abhor comic book events (Fear Itself broke me), but Hickman’s been killing it here. It’s a wonderful space epic that mixes two unrelated threats and intertwines their stories. On one hand, you have the Builders, a cosmic threat based on killing to preserve life. On the other hand, you have Thanos, the cosmic threat based on his love for Death.

The whole thing has been filled with a ton of great moments. Speeches and actions come off as incredibly badass and satisfying while seemingly everyone gets their own moment to shine. In this week’s installment, there’s a wonderful moment based on Captain America leading his forces to Earth, which is being conquered by Thanos and his soldiers. Cap is assisted by various alien forces, who intend to help Earth as gratitude for the Avengers being so important in the war against the Builders. Before leaving, he tells Super-Skrull and the other alien warlords in the room, “You didn’t have to… What I mean is… I want to thank all of you for this.”

Super-Skrull responds, “Thank us when we’ve earned it, human. What good is effort if we fail? Do best intentions soak up the blood and bury the fallen? And if beaten, who remembers the conquered? Not I… So save your thanks until we stand over the broken bodies of our enemies. Save it until we’ve won.”

The problem is that Thanos’ forces have taken the Peak, a SWORD space station built to prevent invaders. The team of Manifold, Black Widow and Shang-Chi go off to shut it down and protect the Avengers on their journey to Earth, but it isn’t so easy. Black Dwarf, one of Thanos’ top henchmen, is running things and he’s able to dispose of Widow and Shang-Chi easily. Manifold teleports back to the base and sees that Cap’s already left, leaving only Super-Skrull and the others. The Avengers are doomed. Earth is doomed. What can they do?

Then this happens.

Super-Skrull, Ronan the Accuser, Gladiator and Annihilus vs. Black Dwarf. Black Dwarf talks a tough game, but he stands no chance. He already took a loss when he tried to invade Wakanda, so he isn’t going to do much better here. Lot of sweet smacktalk is said and in the end, he finds himself judged guilty by the Accuser and his hammer. It’s an enjoyable moment in a massive story of enjoyable moments.

What truly makes this great isn’t the galactic curbstomping itself, but why it’s happening. This isn’t like your average superhero team taking down a threat. This a foursome of enemies. Since the 60’s, these guys have been antagonizing everyone from the Fantastic Four to the X-Men on a regular basis. Super-Skrull and Ronan represent two races that have acted like the Hatfields and McCoys of outer space. Annihilus is borderline pure evil and went to war with everyone, including his brothers-in-arms here.

And yet here they are. Fighting. Together. For us. A lot of times these superhero stories, especially in the big events, talk up how pointless and bittersweet these victories are. What good is Batman stopping the Joker when he’s just going to kill another dozen people the week after? Wonder Man even made a big stink about how the Avengers were causing more damage than they were worth with none of the writers ever really finding a good argument against it other than, “He crazy.” This, on the other hand, is kind of a beautiful thing. Former enemies to ourselves and each other are able to put their differences aside to make sure Earth can be protected all because of the ripples of Captain America’s actions.

I seem to recall Peter David’s Hulk: The End saying that the death of the human race would have led to the Kree and Skrulls burying the hatchet for the sake of celebration. Hickman’s storytelling impresses me far more.

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This Week in Panels: Week 217

November 17th, 2013 Posted by Gavok

Pretty light week yet again, though there’s some really strong stuff in there. The Ultimate Spider-Man tie-in to Cataclysm is absolutely hysterical and worth it just for the scene of Spider-Woman explaining to Captain America that she’s a clone of Peter Parker. The annual for Injustice: Gods Among Us hit the spot and it’s a funny and fun one-shot with good art for once. Then there’s Deadpool, which as far as I’m concerned, is the best storyline the character has had since Joe Kelly was writing. I wrote up a review here.

Also at Den of Geek US, I have a look at the history of WWE comics and an essay on why I think DC Comics should release a series for the Others from the pages of Aquaman.

I do really need to get back into writing more stuff, like finishing my half-written next installment of Crossover Celebration. Unfortunately, I’ve been suffering from some writer’s block lately. Maybe it’ll work itself out once I finish off Candy Crush Saga, which is like crack to me. In other news, Level 440 of Candy Crush Saga can go fuck itself. Goddamn tornadoes… What the hell do tornadoes have to do with candy, anyway?

This week I’m helped out by Gaijin Dan and Space Jawa. Imagine us doing the Charlie’s Angels pose and let’s do this!

Batman #25
Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo

Batman ’66 #20
Jeff Parker and Chris Jones

Batman: Li’l Gotham #8
Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs

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Who’lldoit: Dead Shredder Walking?

November 12th, 2013 Posted by guest article

Gavok note: This guest article comes from longtime ThWiP contributor MK Stangeland Jr., otherwise known as Space Jawa.

I could open with a bit about how great IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series has been, but I’ll let you read Gavok’s summary on the series if you need a real introduction.

Ready to move on? Good.

Let’s talk about Shredder, shall we? Because for all the things he may be – leader of the Foot Clan, the turtles arch-nemesis, ruthless as can be – he also happens to have some significant flaws.

One of these is a talent for making enemies who want him dead, especially in IDW’s current series. Which is kind of a bad deal since so many of theses people arguably have the ability to pull it off, too. At least, if you ignore his potential immortality. Which is why I can’t help but get the feeling that in spite of how hard it is to kill him, it’s not a question of if someone will snuff him out soon, but who?

So why don’t we take a moment to look at the likely suspects (and a few unlikely ones as well) and see just who might have what it takes to actually pull it off?

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It’s what you’re saying, and how you’re saying it

November 11th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

I like rap. I like the way rap feels.

It’s hard to quantify in human terms, but if you enjoy music, you definitely know what I’m talking about. It’s that thing that makes you nod your head to the bass coming out of somebody’s car, because even though you can’t hear it very well, you know exactly what Slim Thug’s “Get That Gwop” sounds like. It’s that thing that makes you dance a jig across your apartment in the dark, because Icona Pop and Charli XCX screaming “I DON’T CARE!” is super-motivational. It’s that thing that makes you feel momentarily brave enough to try to hit those same notes as Lauryn Hill when she goes “That thing, that thing, that thiiiiing,” even though you’ll never manage it, because you’re just feeling yourself so hard listening to that song. It’s why people get so hype for “Bohemian Rhapsody” at karaoke.

I really like the way “Pre,” the first track on Earl Sweatshirt’s Doris, feels. It makes me want to be a part of it, to own it. The beat feels slow and dragged out, like it’s been stretched. SK Laflare opens the song with “Baby girl, what you wanna do?/Hop in this ‘Cedes, girl/She like where we goin’ to/ A new life, new world”. It’s basic, but Laflare’s flow is tight, so full of confidence that I can’t help but get into it. Those bars, and a few more couplets down the line in Laflare’s verse, are what I’m talking about here, that je ne sais quoi that makes you grunt and run it back when somebody gets off a hot line.

Around the time of New York Comic Con last month, one lyric from this song kept running through my head. Earl starts his verse with “I’m a problem to niggas,” which is already one of the hardest things I’ve heard all year. But toward the end, Earl delivers these eight bars:

Hard as armed services, y’all might have heard of him
Escobarbarian, best call the lawyers up
Bruh, the broad aryan, know the squad loiterers
Not with the grain and these bitch niggas’ wishes
Dealt with addiction, fell for the bitch with the
Pale butter skin who just packed up and dipped
In the land of the rent-less, stand with my chips
In a stack and a grin, fuck ’em

“Bruh, the broad Aryan” killed me. He’s referring to his girlfriend, who is white, and the scansion of that line matches with the first half of the previous line, “Escobarbarian.”

Something about that combo, Escobarbarian and bruh the broad aryan, has stuck with me. “Bruh, the broad Aryan” has a “cellar door” feel, in that it’s pleasing to say and a pleasure to hear. It’s smooth, despite the hard D in broad and snap of the bruh.

There’s an easygoing glide in there that I enjoy a whole lot. I love rap music as a whole, from the culture on down to the weird samples, but I spend most of my time talking about the content of the lyrics. The truth is, the lyrics are hugely important to me, but so are the beats and how the rhymes shake out, the performance aspect of things, what the rhymes sound like. What everything feels like. Delivery and flow are harder to explain, but they’re so vital.

Saying “My girlfriend’s white” is one thing. “Bruh, the broad Aryan” shows a keen understanding of the fact that language can be pleasing to the ear, musical above and beyond the fact that it’s set to music…rap music, y’all. There’s so much to appreciate, so many songs that have moments of greatness lurking just under the surface.

More on Earl’s Doris (and Janelle Monae’s The Electric Lady) here.

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This Week in Panels: Week 216

November 10th, 2013 Posted by Gavok

Pretty light week this time around, which is all right with me, since I’ve been at work for too much of it. I’m helped out by Gaijin Dan and Space Jawa. Jawa has a really sweet guest article about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that will be going up tomorrow. Stay tuned for that.

At Den of Geek US, I did a little thing the other day about all the Deadpools who died in Deadpool Kills Deadpool. At least all the Deadpools who have appeared before.

I saw Thor: The Dark World the other day. Definitely in the top 3 of the Avengersverse movies. Kind of crazy that we’re eight movies into this continuity with a weekly TV show, a bunch of upcoming Netflix shows and at least four more movies. Meanwhile, the Superman vs. Batman thing Warner Bros. is working on sounds more pasted together out of desperation by the day.

Also, since the Marvel movies are starting to emphasize the space aspects more and more, I hope that means it would come off a lot less weird when an alien horse-man shows up in the next Thor movie to accidentally steal Mjolnir. As long as he isn’t Scottish. The Beta-Ray Bill episode of the Silver Surfer cartoon was weird.

Batman ’66 #19
Jeff Parker and Chris Jones

Batwing #25
Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti and Eduardo Pansica

Bleach #555
Tite Kubo

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“A tree never grown, shade that was never known”

November 8th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

I’ve got a rep.

Actually, I have several reps depending on who you’re talking to, and some of them are actually pretty cool, but the one that always bugs me is my rep for being negative or pushy. I bristle at that description in part because I think it unfairly turfs the vast majority of stuff I’ve written in favor of focusing on a small aspect of my work. And yeah, I have gotten in fights and damned things I thought were worthy of eternal damnation and being removed from the sight of God forever and ever amen. I freely and proudly own that. But the entirety of what I write about, my “body of work” if I can sound like a real writer for a moment, feels overwhelmingly positive to me. But that’s my rep, amongst a certain group of people: negativity.

I know why this is my rep. Spending five years writing about the intersection of black culture and comics every day for a month doesn’t really get links, and neither does writing about how much I like Katsuhiro Otomo or Frank Miller. But pointing out that a comic has some mildly racist undertones or is tone deaf in some way? Hoo boy does that get people talking. So if they see that, but not the other stuff, I can’t really blame them for how they perceive me. They only know me that part of me.

It still grates, because I spend a lot of time thinking about how I approach writing, especially racial issues. You’d be hard-pressed to find anybody in comics I’ve called a racist. I spent a long time only associating that word with acts, not specific people. That was a purposeful choice on my part. I know how people—white people, specifically—react to the word “racist,” so I’ve avoided it. I’ve made sure to structure my arguments in such a way that they weren’t purely inflammatory or pointlessly insulting, included context and history and excuses and disclaimers and things that would soften the blow of saying, “Hey, this thing you did? It’s ugly and hateful and you should be ashamed of yourself for even thinking it.” I mean, count how often I’ve cussed here on 4l!—less than fifteen times since 2005, probably? I do quote a lot of rap songs, though, so maybe it evens out. Anyway.

I did and do that extra legwork because of how I was raised and who I am. I mentioned on tumblr the other day that I’m worried I might have a near-pathological fear of being seen as an Angry Black Man. That’s because I learned that Angry Black Men are someone to be avoided, someone that’s easily discounted and dismissed because he represents loudness or anger, instead of knowledge or power. I didn’t want to be that guy. I want to be taken seriously. It’s an insecure stance, but it’s one I can’t shake.

I bite my tongue a lot, I take great pains to avoid a certain type of offense even when throwing a jab, and it doesn’t work, because I don’t get to decide how people feel about me. They’re gonna feel however they’re gonna feel, and if that’s going to affect my personal and professional lives…been there, done that, and came out the other side with twin middle fingers, a mean mug, and a bad mood. But the idea that I can’t control the reaction to my work is a hard lesson to learn and an even harder one to internalize. I’m still not there yet, so I balk whenever I see it.

This thing, biting my tongue to avoid offense, is part of a concept called “respectability politics.” This recent post by Maurice Dolberry is a good primer. The short version is that respectability politics is a system in which you sand down your rough edges (pull up your pants, cut your hair, erase your accent, dress differently) in order to appeal to the majority. In America, that means white men, nine times out of ten.

It’s common, super common, and I can’t really blame people for buying into it. If you don’t have power, you don’t want to alienate those with power, because that just makes your life worse. Respectability politics argues that you should hide your light under a bushel because it might make somebody who doesn’t know you and will never care about you turn up his nose. It makes sense, because it’s basically “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” But it still doesn’t do any good, because it requires a level of control and equality (in power, in position, in dialogue, in society) that simply doesn’t exist. Respectability politics blames the powerless for their powerless status irregardless of history, and prioritizes the comfort of others over your own personal comfort.

You can’t win. The only thing you’re doing is diminishing yourself at the unspoken behest of someone else. It’s a “love me please” that tends to fall on deaf ears.

A few weeks back, I let a young black dude use my phone on BART. After I handed it over to him, he laughed and said that he knew he had to ask me, because none of the white folks around us would have let a young black guy hold their phone. “You know how that go,” he said, and I laughed, because I do. Some of them would have, but for the most part? Even money on a very high chance of getting a rude response.

A big part of being black in America is being constantly aware of how your blackness affects others. It’s being aware that you might could get away with something in one situation, but you’d get murdered trying that same thing in another situation. The guy knew he could ask me because, even if I still had a bunch of internalized racism (I do, it’s killing me inside), there’d still be a good chance I’d have a voice in the back of my head telling me I’m the same as him and should treat him properly. Our shared experience of being suspicious first, of being not-normal, was what made that transaction possible. I’ve been on both sides of similar interactions with other black folks, both out here in Oakland and in Georgia.

I got a flat tire on my bike last week, so I had to take to riding the bus to and from work until I was ready to fix it. One morning, while walking to the bus stop, I saw a car at a stop sign with the hood up. I looked in as I walked past and there was a lady just sitting in there, doing nothing, but obviously upset. Her car’s busted, it’s pushing 0900 so she’s probably late for work, that’s a bad scene.

My bus stop was across the street from her, catty-corner, but close enough that I could see her sitting in the car at the sign and watch as cars paused in confusion before looping around her. I got to the stop early (full disclosure: late for the bus I wanted, early for the bus I settled for) and I had plenty of time and nothing to do but look around.

I saw that there was space for her car in a red zone just around the corner, maybe 15 feet away from where she was. It’d take her out of traffic, it’d be less embarrassing (I’ve been stuck in traffic with a busted car—it’s awful, especially if you don’t know how to or cannot fix it), and it’d be safer when whoever she called showed up to help her. I had ten minutes on the bus, and I could’ve easily pushed her car over there for her. I’ve done it before for friends and family. It’s easy. It would have taken longer to convince her to let me push her car than it would to get it where it needed to be, particularly since she was at the bottom of a hill, but still on the incline.

But again: I’m very aware of who I am and where I am. Strange black dude knocking on her car window in a moment of distress? Maybe it would’ve been okay. But as a counterpoint, my beard’s mad scruffy lately, my hair’s slowly getting longer, and I was probably in a t-shirt, jeans, and a backpack, because waking up blue means just throwing on clothes that sorta match and leaving the house. I was dressed “regular black guy,” not “respectable black guy with a decent job,” and a lot of times, “regular black guy” is not good enough to avoid people looking at you as a threat.

I had to choose whether or not doing something to help someone, which wouldn’t have involved going out of my way or anything resembling actual work, was worth the risk of getting dissed and dismissed first thing in the morning, whether that was a curt “no thank you” without eye contact or her jumping in fear when I tapped on the window.

I chose to go to work.

Renisha McBride was murdered in Dearborn Heights in MI recently. She had a car accident and was walking door-to-door looking for help. She knocked on a door, the man inside saw her and recognized a threat, and shot her in the head. She was nineteen and unarmed. He has not been charged, and the prosecutor’s office says they need more information before they decide to file charges.

Jonathan Ferrell was murdered by the police. In a cruel twist of fate, he had also experienced a car accident and was looking for help. He went door-to-door, looking for it. A woman opened the door, thinking it was her husband, realized it wasn’t, slammed it shut, and called 911 to report a home invasion. The cops arrived, Ferrell ran to them, and was tased, shot, and killed. The charge is voluntary manslaughter, and the cop who killed him is free to walk the streets after posting bail. Ferrell was twenty-four, unarmed, and had been in a wreck so bad he apparently had to crawl out of the back window.

These are recent incidents, but they are far from uncommon. These situations? These are my mother’s worst nightmare. A lot of what she taught me—including the respectability politics—was delivered with the intent of preventing my early and sudden death or a trip to prison. Like anyone else, I have a right to my anger, to my frustration, but I know that that frustration, no matter how eloquently I express it, will be seen read differently than anger from a white man or white woman, and I will be treated as more dangerous by default. It’s not my fault—it’s the result of centuries of white supremacy—but I have to live with it.

ComicsAlliance EIC Joe Hughes tweeted some things recently that were the truest tweets ever wrote:

Renisha McBride was shot in the back of the head for the crime of being a black woman who asked for help in a white town. She was 19.

We won’t talk about it enough. The story won’t go viral. Because as much as this country hates black men, it hates black women even more.

I doubt Jonathan Ferrell’s family will ever actual know justice, but at least we TALKED about his story. I doubt Renisha will get even that.

Every day I fear being shot to death while unarmed, my family going through a media circus that ultimately leads to nothing. Every day.

And so I’ll sit here and fear for my life, and my sister’s. And I’ll feel horrified and enraged for Renisha McBride’s family.

And when I’m done working, I’ll head home and hope to god that no one shoots me dead, knowing full well that they’d get away with it.

And somewhere, my sister will do the same. Because that’s what we do. Every day.

This is real life. This is truth. It sounds like paranoia, but paranoia suggests irrationality, or that you’re at fault. This is fear, and more than that, justified fear. If there’s a shooting near my area, or near places she knows I frequent, Mom will email me to make sure I’m okay. She knows that white America hates black bodies, and that colored life isn’t worth too much. She shouldn’t have to live under that burden. We shouldn’t have to live under that burden.

Killer Mike, one half of the duo Run the Jewels with El-P, said this on their cut “DDFH” (“do dope, fuck hope”):

Cops in the ghetto, they move like the gestapo
Drunk off their power and greed, they often hostile
My lil’ homie talked shit back and they beat him bad
That boy in the hospital now, he lookin’ bad
and I’m with his mama and dad, we lookin’ sad
My own mama called me said, “Baby, I’m just glad
“They ain’t put they hands on my child and kill his ass
“Please don’t rap about that shit ‘fore they murder yo’ black ass!”

And this situation is fictional, it’s storytelling raps, but every line of it is drawn from real life.

Vince Staples on “Versace Rap:”

I asked my mama what’s the key to life, she told me she ain’t know
She just try to take it day to day, and pray I make it home

I don’t quote these songs to prove a point so much as to illustrate how we think about the fact that we can get dropped any day of the week. Some of it is typical parental concern, but there’s a morbid edge, a fatalism, tucked in there. We prepare for this, train for it, because it is a real enough possibility that we worry about it. And in that sense, we accept it. We reject the violence, we reject the post-death smear campaigns that always follow, but we accept the reality of the situation, which is that we might just get killed by the people who are theoretically responsible for our safety or total strangers who fear our skin. Sometimes it’s glib, a lot of times it’s a joke, but underneath the gallows humor is the truth: “Please, God: any one but me or mine.”

Respectability politics are a self-defensive move. I modulate my self. I avoid police as a general rule, I avoid the appearance of wrongdoing, and I’m very careful and discreet when doing something I know I shouldn’t in a way that none of my white friends have ever been. I don’t ever lose my temper in public, I’m polite, and I’ve never thrown the first punch.

But it’s gonna be what it’s gonna be. I can’t fix any of this. I can’t make anyone feel better. This is the kind of problem that manifests itself in major and minor ways. You could get murdered for being black or dissed in a store. Both results are unacceptable to me. But all I can do is try to figure out how to survive and steal a little happiness for myself without simultaneously diminishing myself.

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The Top of Your Intelligence: My First Two Years at Upright Citizens Brigade

November 6th, 2013 Posted by Gavok

This week was kind of a landmark for me. I got a notification that I’ve completed my Sketch Writing 301 class at UCB. This is big for me, as it means I’ve hit all the core curriculum classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. There’s far more for me to do and I intend to do it, but for now, I’m pretty glad to have reached this goal.

Outside of their Comedy Central show from years back, I knew of UCB via a friend inviting me to a couple shows back when I was in college. At the time, I was going through some major depression and seeing ASSSSCAT (the main UCB show) took a lot off my mind. The show itself featured Amy Poehler, Jack McBrayer and Rob Riggle and was seriously hilarious. Someone brought up that they had their own improv comedy school, but that wasn’t happening for me. I didn’t have my shit figured out at the time. I was jobless and no way was I going to be able to be making regular journeys into New York City, let alone paying however much the classes were.

Time passed and while my financial situations got better, I totally forgot about my desire to do an improv class. Then my brother enrolled me into Improv 101 as a Christmas present back in 2011. My class would begin in February of 2012.

My teacher was Tim Martin, known these days as the voice of the dog from the Optimum Hotspot commercials. That took me aback when I first realized it because that’s his regular speaking voice and I didn’t pick up on it for a while. Kind of like how it took me forever to realize that Colin Ferguson was Roddy from Freakazoid. Anyway, Tim was a really cool guy and the class was completely laid back. There were 16 of us with 12 of them being ladies. I turned out to be the most eligible bachelor as the other three were either married, dating or gay. Not that it did me any good.

It was a lot of basics, mainly focusing on the idea of “yes and.” That’s the term for taking what somebody says and agreeing with it while building on it with another piece of information, like a verbal game of ping-pong. Agreement is the key here and it was rather funny how one woman in the class, Cintrella, just didn’t give a damn and did whatever she wanted, even if Tim had to interrupt. Like someone told her that her ankle was broken and she immediately said, “No it’s not. It’s totally fine.” She did whatever the hell she wanted, but she did it with such gusto that we kind of let it slide at times.

We’d get eight classes for three hours each, followed by a graduation show. At 30-years-old, this was my very first time performing on stage and I was nervous as hell. In the footage of the show itself, it’s blatantly obvious because I’m completely overwhelmed with desperation for the first few minutes. The way the show would work is that we’d get a word from the audience and someone would walk forward and do a monologue about that word. Some kind of story that it reminded them of. Then we’d do a series of improv scenes based loosely on that, someone else would step forward and we’d get another monologue. Rinse, repeat.

During that first monologue, I’m in the background, looking like I’m trying way too hard to come up with a concept. My scene turned out to be a fun opener, where I played a babysitter who was enraged with the mother after I found a taped football game in her closet, without the expressed written consent of the National Football League. It turned out well, but it also showed off my biggest weakness as a performer, which I’ll get to later. The whole show came out pretty good for a first show by a bunch of people who learned the basics.

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This Week in Panels: Week 215

November 4th, 2013 Posted by Gavok

I don’t know. Just seemed weird that Invincible and Saga would have generational arm-wrestling matches weeks apart.

This week I’m joined by Gaijin Dan and Space Jawa. Jawa and I both realize that the world is now better for having Bebop and Rocksteady fully join the cast of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic.

I know I’ve probably said this before, but I really wish DC would just give Ostrander an ongoing for the Others from Aquaman. It would only last a few issues before being cancelled, but I’d read the hell out of it. Besides, it has diversity and stuff without running into the legacy quagmire that’s been shooting them in the foot.

Plus the Prisoner-of-War is one of my favorite things about the New 52 and I want to see more of him.

Aquaman Annual #1
John Ostrander, Geraldo Borges and Netho Diaz

Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Search Part 3
Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru

Avengers #22
Jonathan Hickman and Leinil Francis Yu

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