Warren Ellis’ Shoot

November 13th, 2010 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

In late October, Vertigo published Vertigo Resurrected, a collection of rare stories.  One of them was Shoot, a story about schoolyard shootings in America by Warren Ellis.  Before it was published, the Columbine shooting happened.  According to Ellis, DC wanted to change the story, he refused, they refused to publish, and that was that. 

The new people at DC had a different take, and obviously it’s been a while since Columbine, and so the story came out.  I don’t have any problem with Ellis refusing to change his story.  That’s his decision.  I have to say, though, that I think not publishing it, especially at the time, was the right call.  That’s a debate for another time. 

For now, I’m looking at the content of the story.  Reading Shoot left me feeling acutely annoyed.  On his blog, Warren Ellis says that he intended the story to be horror, not social commentary.  Reading the story, I’m not sure that’s true.  It’s a Hellblazer story, so it has John Constantine swaggering across the page, saything pithy and clear-sighted things.  In the last few pages, he gives a long speech about what prompted the shooting.  I can’t say the speech wrong.  What I can say, is the speech is completely off the mark.

Let’s see what we have in the paragraphs above.  The first two panels are Constantine ridiculing the woman for thinking there is any one thing that made the kid do it.  It wasn’t violent video games, or movies or music.  Those ideas are stupid and simplistic.

So what’s his take?

Second scan, second bubble:  “These are the end times.”

Second scan, fourth, fifth and sixth bubble:  “The sins of the father are visited on the son.”

Third scan, first bubble:  “Television is taking over.”

Third scan, second bubble: “Think of the children.”

Although the ‘raised by television’ argument is a new one, it harkens back to boarding schools, nannies, the modern novel, the internet, pacifiers, and any other invention that lets parents forget they’re parents every once in a while.  The rest are biblically old.  They were trotted out to explain everything from plagues to fires to pre-marital sex.  They’re not useful advice.  They’re not insight.  They’re not even observations.  They’re slogans.

And they’re slogans that can be used for anything.  I’m willing to bet the people Constantine ridicules used the same lines he does.  ‘Our society is crumbling’ is a set up used for any argument, from lowering taxes to distributing condoms in schools.  And  I know that the ‘raised by television’ bit and ‘parents asleep at the wheel’ bit were trotted out by people wanting to ban graphic video games and violent music.

To be honest, if asked to side with a person making Constantine’s speech or someone who wanted to start a campaign to tone down video game violence, I’d go with the latter.  Not because I think it would work, but because it’s something.  It’s some concrete step.  It’s some way to engage with kids.  And if it doesn’t work, it can be changed.

What Constantine is offering is a four word explanation for everything.  “Society is to blame.”  Well, okay.  Thanks for letting us in on that. 

Now what?

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This Week in Panels: Week 18

January 24th, 2010 Posted by Gavok

Welcome to this week’s edition of This Week in Agents of Atlas. We have a lot of Agents of Atlas this time around, so let’s get to the Agents of Atlas!

(Not shown: the Agents of Atlas backup story in Incredible Hercules)

Amazing Spider-Man #618
Dan Slott and Marcos Martin

Authority: The Lost Year #5
Grant Morrison, Keith Giffen and Jonathan Wayshak

Read the rest of this entry �

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Black History Month ’09 #12: Banned For Life (Spit the Real)

February 12th, 2009 Posted by david brothers


Yeah, that’s Vertigo’s longest running main character John Constantine getting his Kramer on right there.

I thought about getting tricksy and putting the rest of this entry behind a cut to get your interest and see what’s up with John C getting all British National Party on us, but I’ll just go ahead and say that there’s a plot twist toward the end of this post. Oops, spoilers!

I’ve talked about context before, but I want to revisit it with a slightly less flippant tone this time around. Do read that post, however, as I think it makes a very good point about lists of items with no discussion or commentary.

Tropic Thunder was one of my favorite movies last year, if not my absolute favorite. It was definitely the movie I saw the most, with three times in the theater and a few more times once the Blu-ray dropped. Part of it was that I cried the first three times I saw it from laughing so hard. The other part was that it was one of those features that butts right up against race and doesn’t back down, resulting in something brave and interesting.

The surface value reading of Tropic Thunder, the kiddy pool reading, is that it’s a movie that features blackface, an ignorant and offensive portrayal of a black person by a white person. It was used to keep black people from roles in motion pictures.

The problem is that, in the context of the movie, that isn’t what Tropic Thunder is about at all. Instead, it’s about the amazing self-centeredness of actors, a self-centeredness that allows an Australian actor to think that it’s a good idea to dye his skin and pretend to be what he thinks a ’60s era black man was like.

Brandon Jackson, who plays rapper Alpa Chino, comes into major conflict with Robert Downey Jr’s character throughout the movie. He calls him out regularly, even going so far as to say that there was one good role in the movie for a black man, and “they gave it to Crocodile Dundee.” It sets up an interesting and surprisingly deft commentary on race, actors, and Hollywood. Race is treated as a commodity, something to be bought and sold.

RDJ’s authentic impression of a man doing an inauthentic impression of a black guy probably hits its peak when he goes off about how he’s going to collar up some greens, y’all, you realize that he’s working from a stereotype and just didn’t bother to actually see what real black people are like.

John Ridley says this in response to a columnist suggesting that there is no situation in which a blackface performance is at all acceptable:

Really? Can’t imagine any circumstance to use the word Nigger? You mean, like in a Ralph Ellison novel?

Trustees of the Liberal Plantation aside, Downey Jr.’s performance is sharp, smart satire. Clever, but aimed squarely for the gut, in the way the New Yorker’s Barack/Michelle-as-radicals cover was aimed at some other Brahmin organ that giggles with delight when it’s self-manipulated.

Nothing’s taboo. I don’t know that there’s a single subject out there which isn’t worthy of examination. Some comics have dealt with rape in terrible ways. Others, like The Slavers, leaves you feeling angry and pessimistic because it’s real. Same with racism, sexism, or anything else. The only barometer for what’s appropriate or not is the level of quality. If it works, it’s fine. If it didn’t work? Try again, kid.

This brings me right back around to comics. When is it appropriate for John Constantine to say nigger?

hellblazer_083_p21 hellblazer_083_p22

When he’s speaking to a friend he has history with, both of whom have just been through hell in a very literal sense of the word.


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