A interesting Joker. Who would have thought it?

February 8th, 2011 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

My eyelash fluttering crush on Paul Cornell and all his works continues in this month’s Action Comics.  In issue #897 he has done the near-impossible.  He has made the Joker interesting.  I would never have guessed that such a thing was possible.  The last person to do it was Grant Morrison, and that only lasted for a paragraph or two. 

Almost every other Joker story for the last twenty years has mixed up ‘interesting’ with ‘awful’.  The Joker did things like steal everyone’s babies and throw them around for fun.  He showed up in a story and gagged Robin before taking him on a joyride and running down Christmas shoppers.  He was the guy who shot the hero’s daughter, father, sister, school friend, or best friend.  He wasn’t made interesting; he was just given enough gore and horror to have a vague, sick, car-accident-type fascination for the readers.

This most effusive of characters, the guy who seriously can’t keep his mouth shut, never really had anything to say.  He shot someone, said something cold-blooded and with the word ‘joke’ scattered in somewhere, and then he’d laugh.  He’d be obviously killed off – killed off to the point where Superman could find no trace of him after an explosion, and always come back.  He made no sense, and without some sense to balance on, no joke can work.

Cornell takes the usual tricks and make them work.  (Or most of them.  Joker makes reference to boiling a baby, which is think is both distasteful and silly.  No one who picks up this comic thinks that The Joker is an okay guy.  He doesn’t have to prove how bad he is, and the line, “I’m frequently NOT in this box,” is a credible enough threat without any follow-up threat.) 

There’s the mystic thing that is impossible for The Joker to know/do, that he somehow does anyway.  Unlike most comics, the thing is explained, instead of just being slide because The Joker doesn’t have to make sense.  There’s the balance between sanity and craziness.  The Joker alternates between jokes meant as goading and actual explanations phrased in clever ways.  There’s the connection with Batman, hinting that one feeds off the other, without being too literal.  (At one point, Lex points out that if he killed The Joker, everyone would be happy and he’d get off free.  The Joker replies, “No.  The Bat would come after you.”)  And finally, there is unpredictable behavior.  A lot of comics about The Joker stress that, “Anything could happen,” but generally are very predictable.  The Joker kills, The Joker makes the most heart-wrenching scenes, The Joker causes pain in particularly gruesome ways, The Joker Makes Things Personal.  This happens every Joker comic and it’s never a surprise. 

If the hallmark of The Joker is the random behavior, if that marks him as truly different from Batman, then that character hasn’t really shown up in years.  He shows up here, and it’s actually interesting.  Pair it with a strong, logical character as Lex Luthor and you get the fascinating spectacle of seeing two characters look at each other, understand each other, and say, “You’re out of your mind.”  What’s more, we agree with both of them.  It’s nice.

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When what you want will destroy what you want

November 24th, 2010 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell

Let me start by saying, “All hail Paul Cornell.”  Between Action Comics and Knight and Squire he is rocking books set on both sides of the pond.  Each book takes an unconventional look at superhero comics.  Knight and Squire looks at a superhero team set in the English country side.  Things are incredibly civil.  The heroes and villains hang out together at a bar protected by a kind of truce magic, and both sides enjoy it.  Everyone in town knows who Knight and Squire are, but no one says anything because that would be rude.  It’s a relaxed look at an adventuring team. 

Action Comics, which chronicle’s Lex Luthor’s quest to get the black lantern ring, is definitely not relaxed.  It follows the most brilliant, driven man in the world, and that man has a chip on his shoulder.  It’s a great read because Lex Luthor achieves real grandeur in his quest.  His intelligence shines through, as does his moral code, which is a very primitive and appealing one; he has to be in control, and he won’t ever stop fighting to get control.  He won’t back down.  While it’s clear he’s not actually a good person, he has a greatness that lets you understand why people would follow him.

I just wish he’d stop killing people.

But he won’t, because he’s Lex Luthor.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that the character could be spun so enough that there is a comics series about how he’s just trying to do good and the conflict with Superman is a grudge match fueled by unfortunate misunderstandings.  It’s just that stringing those misunderstandings together will result in making this character – the embodiment of strength of will – look ineffectual, and Superman – the embodiment of kindness – look petty.

I mean, I’ll still buy it.  For crying out loud, I’m still checking out Green Arrow solicits trying to see some sign that they’ll bring Conner and Mia and Dinah and even Lian and Roy back.  I buy comics long after they make me miserable.  Pretty much every fan does.  It’s just that sometimes we’re the cause of our own misery.

Deadpool started small and climbed up to multiple titles per month.  People noticed a quality drop and didn’t like it.  So Marvel started a poll to cut a Deadpool title and people didn’t like that either.

Batman was the lone vigilante in the night.  Unwavering and infallible, he was a solitary soldier.  But people liked that solitary soldier, and so he was put on team, in charge of teams, as an adversary or backer to teams.  His world was crowded with followers and sidekicks and lovers and old friends, because people wanted to see more of him.  And through it all, the writers struggled for that same, solitary, infallible persona.  Eventually it got ridiculous, and it’s a good thing that Grant Morrison is ushering a Batman who embraces the group dynamic, because that “I am the night” thing wasn’t cutting it any more.

Comic mentality is often junkie mentality.  People want more, faster, more intense.  And then when they get a steady stream of stories artificially twisted around a marketable concept instead of one or two new takes, it’s never as satisfying as it should be.  Everyone ends up frustrated.  Fans because they aren’t getting what they want, and creators because they’re giving people exactly what they always said they wanted.

Sometimes we’re our own worst enemy.

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Black History Month ’09 #02: You Can’t Win

February 2nd, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Here’s a few tips if you want to write black people in comics.

1. Find a quiet place to write
2. Use a laptop– they’re easy to get comfy with and you can research and write at the same time. Also? Music.
3. Keep a hammer by your laptop
4. Hit your laptop with the hammer, and then your hands, because you’re gonna get it wrong.

Still with me?

You’re going to piss somebody off. That’s just the way love life goes. If your character is too thuggish, he’s an idiot gangbanger thug mandingo. If he’s too bookish, he’s an Uncle Tom. If he’s not black enough, he’s just a white dude with black skin. If he’s too black, you’re just reinforcing negative stereotypes.

You can’t win. This is the unspoken rule of creating or writing black characters. Someone, somewhere, is going to hate what you do and how you did it. It could be something in your approach, dialogue, or technique. It could be nothing at all, you might have just pushed someone’s buttons on accident. You’re co-opting, appropriating, and destroying.

With that said, all of that’s no reason to not do it.

If you’ve got half a brain, you’re smart enough to write black people. You know that every black person is different, but that there are still similarities in all of us. If you’re really unsure, you’ll run it by a black friend or two. If you don’t have any black friends, go find some.

faizaPaul Cornell is a pretty smart dude. When he created Faiza Hussein, a British Muslim, he consulted actual Muslim women. Why? Because he knows that there are intricacies or in-jokes or experiences that he may not know about. It was an amazingly respectful, honest, and (to be frank) obvious move. When you’re writing detectives, serial killers, crazy people, or scientists, you do a bit of research to make sure that your ideas are sound. Same goes for race. I respect G. Willow Wilson for similar reasons– it’s clear that she’s willing to do the research necessary to make the story real. A little research goes a long way.

Scared money don’t make money. If you’re so scared of criticism that you’re going to choke when writing black people, you shouldn’t be doing it. If you’re going to seize up at the first sign of criticism, you shouldn’t do it. You’ve got to have the smarts and guts to be able to plow on through and pray that you’re right. It’s a touchy subject, and with good reason, but if no one ever tries, it will never stop being a touchy subject.

Sometimes, creators turn out to be so great at it, no matter their race and upbringing, that I’m willing to read anything from them that involves touchy subjects. Garth Ennis is probably number one on that list for me in everything but religion. He dared to try and tackle things that other people glossed over, and turned out to be pretty great at it. The man has an honestly startling grasp of character, be it white, black, or whatever. The Slavers arc of Punisher MAX was one of the saddest things I’ve ever read, and probably one of the best stories to ever come out of Marvel. It’s something that a lesser writer would have bumbled and botched. Under Ennis, it was honestly terrifying in a very sad sort of way. It makes the stupid superhero fights the Punisher is going to be getting into for the next however many years look worthless.

And that’s how you do it. You do it right, you do it well. It doesn’t matter what the subject is. Put in some work, do some research, and get it done.

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Yallah, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

May 5th, 2008 Posted by david brothers

Found via LitG today.

“So, yeah, you’ve got this Arab chick… she gonna blow any dudes up?”
“I heard that there’s a black guy in the comic. Which white girl is he trying to get with? Does he play basketball at all?”
“This Asian girl you have on the team… I’m just gonna put this out here, see if I can get a response. Two words. Happy. Ending. Hey? Yeah?”

Faiza is one of the most interesting new characters to come out of Marvel. Cornell gave an awesome interview about her a while back that sold me in basically one paragraph.

Thanks, Newsarama interviewer Benjamin Ong Pang Kean, for reducing her to being the “British Muslim” who is probably gonna kill some dudes while screaming about infidels and building mosques.

Is an apology forthcoming? I doubt it.

Funnybook Babylon let their mad dog off the chain. Jon disassembles it here.

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Paul Cornell on Real Characters

March 10th, 2008 Posted by david brothers

From Comic Book Resources – CBR News: SUPER SPY WEEKEND: Faisa Hussain

A Muslim, Faisa’s faith is very important to her. “I have two aims here: to make her a real person and not someone who has to represent the entire British Muslim world all the time — I think superheroes are too prone to being standard bearers for whole communities — and to make her an everyday religious person who you won’t hear anything religious from until it would naturally come up. Which is hardly ever. She’s not going to be letting anyone down, though. She’s the young hero who will win through. And we’ll play out some of these pressures and fault lines in the comic itself. I want people to adore her, not to be pleased she’s there as part of a quota system.”

There are a few things I like here:
1. Paul Cornell is a great writer, judging by the Wisdom miniseries he did a year or so ago. His new book looks great.
2. Pakistani female character written by a great writer.
3. Religion treated as religion is treated in real life. There are few people in life who are representatives of their religion (or race) and go around talking like “Well, in Leviticus 2:10, blah blah blah.” I can’t wait to see this.

Good on you, Paul Cornell.

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From The Mouth of Babes

May 24th, 2007 Posted by david brothers

Quick post while I wrap up some other things–

Ultimates 2 #13 was a letdown. I mean, come on, how many of those pages had like one word balloon on them? And the wrap-up? It was blah. I don’t really want to spoil it if you haven’t read it, but you aren’t really missing anything, just another Millar anticlimax.

You want to see an ending? Read Wisdom #6. Paul Cornell and Manuel Garcia knock it so far out of the park it isn’t even funny, and manage to work in an origin story for a new Killraven all at the same time.


Anyway, the ending is pretty good. It wraps up the loose ends and ends on a kind of really low-key scene that’s a great payoff if you know the character. Very recommended! It is the anti-Ultimates 2 #13.

Later tonight, I hopes, look for some more reviews.

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