Wednesday, October 27, 2021

DC Comics villains who headlined their own series

This is simply a gallery of the first issues of DC Comics ongoing series or limited series starring a villain. (Bold character names = ongoing, albeit most did not ongo for long.)

I did not count one-shots, teams (Secret Society of Super-Villains, Suicide Squad, Crime Syndicate), or anti-heroes who have had their own ongoing series multiple times (Catwoman, Deathstroke, Harley Quinn, Lobo). 

Am I missing any?

The Joker 1975 (of course he is the first)

The Joker 2021

Man-Bat 1976

Man-Bat 1996

Man-Bat 2006

Man-Bat 2021

Kobra 1976

Deadshot 1988

Deadshot 2005

RaŹ¼s al Ghul 1988 (reprints only)

Eclipso 1992

The Shade 1997

The Shade 2011

Anarky 1997

Anarky 1999

Lex Luthor 2005

Black Adam 2007

Solomon Grundy 2011

Penguin 2011

Larfleeze 2014

Sinestro 2014

Klarion 2014

Bizarro 2015

Bat-Mite 2015

Poison Ivy 2016

Bane 2017

The Batman Who Laughs 2019

Black Manta 2021

King Shark 2021

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Peter Scolari, Emmy-winning actor, 1955-2021

Emmy-winning actor Peter Scolari, who co-starred with Tom Hanks in Bosom Buddies and later appeared on Newhart, Girls, and the Batman-adjacent show Gotham, died 10/22/21. He was only 66.

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Peter about his guest role on Family Ties. This man had 1,844 more important things to do yet he took the time to leisurely answer questions about a 24-minute show he appeared on once in 1986.


After, he wrote "Do you think you could send me a copy of that book about Mr. Finger? Think of it as a late birthday present...oh, and if you could sign it, that would be so cool." 


Then he actually read it, and made a point to tell me. What's so cool now?

Of the hundreds of pop culture figures I've interviewed, he was one of the most genuine and most gracious. A bosom buddy I never met in person. Thank you and RIP Peter.

Friday, October 22, 2021

School visit in an underpass

I feel so fortunate that my job has enabled me to travel to a dozen countries to speak, yet after the past 18 months, I already look back at this as equally memorable: presenting at a school 25 minutes away...outdoors...in an underpass.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Booze and picture books?

Today, which happens to be three years to the day when Thirty Minutes Over Oregon: A Japanese Pilot's World War II Story was released, I learned that the book was (coincidentally) part of an event held last night at the annual conference of the Virginia Association of Teachers of English.

A wine/chocolate/book pairing.


I'm told passages of the featured books were read while wine was sipped and chocolate nibbled.

Picture books and booze don't normally go together. 

But, of course, this was an adults-only affair. 

I don't know why my book was chosen, but I am honored by its inclusion, especially because it is among such distinguished company (meaning the other authors/illustrators, though I'm sure the wine and chocolate were also great).

Saturday, October 2, 2021

The first picture book about the creation of Wonder Woman

In the DC Comics universe, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman have become known as the Trinity. The first time DC officially used that word for the Big Three may have been the 2003 miniseries Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman: Trinity, though please don’t quote me on that.


Since then, two other Trinity series (to date) have come out.

2008

(Side note: at first it seemed odd to me that only one character graced the cover of the first issue of a book called Trinity. But turns out this was setting up a pattern: for most of the series, only one of the three headliners would appear on each cover, though sometimes with other characters. The first time all three—in their most commonly recognizable form—appeared together in full on a cover was #48. The series ended with #52.)

2016

Meanwhile, my book Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman released in 2008.

My book Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman released in 2012.

Over the years, at almost every school visit, a young person has asked if I am going to write about any other superheroes. I said the only other one I would do is Wonder Woman. Before the 2017 Wonder Woman movie, there would be a smattering of claps or cheers, but after, the room would erupt with enthusiasm.

I did start the project. I read Jill Lepore’s superhumanly researched The Secret History of Wonder Woman. And several years before that, I conducted introductory interviews with two grandchildren of William (Bill) Moulton Marston, currently the only person officially credited as the creator of Wonder Woman.

One is Christie Marston, granddaughter of Bill and his wife Elizabeth.

The other is Nancy Wykoff, granddaughter of Bill and Olive Byrne, a woman Bill and Elizabeth welcomed into their home…and their marriage. Not typical picture book fare!

Bill fathered two children with Elizabeth and two with Olive. After he died in 1947, Elizabeth and Olive continued to live and raise the kids together. Speculation persists about whether the two women also had a romantic relationship. In any case, more on this below.

As of last month, the picture book version of the Superman/Batman/Wonder Woman trinity is finally complete—but not thanks to me. A True Wonder: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything comes courtesy of Kirsten W. Larson, illustrated by Katy Wu.


Kirsten kindly blogged about other books for young readers that celebrate superhero creators, and I was honored that she included mine.

The subtitle of A True Wonder certainly describes Wonder Woman—it echoes her aforementioned theme song, “change their minds, and change the world”—but not uniquely so; it could also apply to others including Superman (first superhero), Robin (first superhero sidekick), Black Panther (first mainstream Black superhero), Storm (first mainstream Black female superhero), and Northstar (first openly gay superhero). I would have liked the subtitle (or title) to allude to Wonder Woman’s gender, which would be consistent with the book’s emphasis. 

(Side note: firsts—especially in a vast medium like visual storytelling—are often up for debate. Though this includes the ones above, they seem to be the most commonly cited groundbreakers.)

On the cover, Wonder Womans costume is tweaked to avoid a copyright or trademark claim. (For the same reason, the covers of my superhero creator books show Superman and Batman in silhouette. Inside, however, under the fair use doctrine, we did show the licensed characters in detail a few times, whereas A True Wonder doesnt.) I wonder if “Wonder Woman” is not in the subtitle (or the title) out of caution.

A standout factor of A True Wonder is that it honors both Bill Marston and women who later contributed to Wonder Woman’s development—writers, editors, a director, and an actor. In other words, it’s not a biography but rather a broader contextual look at her history, through a predominantly female lens. Kids of all genders will be dazzled, validated, and inspired. 

I especially love that the book mentions the educational “Wonder Women of History” feature that ran in comics in the 1940s. 

Larson cites sources for most dialogue in the book, but a few statements (or thoughts) are invented, which calls to mind a 2021 School Library Journal article about ways informational texts incorporate fabricated elements, yet remain nonfiction. (Of course, fabricated elements are not the same as fabricated “facts.”) Infusing a true story with a fictional aspect (narrative bookends, a Greek chorus throughout, etc.) can make nonfiction more appealing to some readers. Librarians make a judgment call to classify the book as nonfiction or historical fiction, depending on the nature of the fictional ingredients. I maintain that there is no such thing as pure nonfiction anyway!

Wu’s art is aptly striking for a character as fierce as Wonder Woman. Ribbons, stars, and other colorful flourishes give the book a sense of fluidity and propulsion. My favorite image shows the hero dangling from a helicopter (a memorable scene from the TV show). 

In my assessment, Wonder Woman was created by four people; in this book, only two of them are part of the story proper: Bill and Elizabeth (though Elizabeth appears on only one page). The other two appear only in the back matter and also only once: Olive Byrne (the basis of Wonder Woman’s iconic bracelets and allegedly her overall appearance) and original artist Harry G. Peter. I consider both of them (and Elizabeth) to be the “Bill Fingers” of the Wonder Woman origin—inextricably significant but officially uncredited. 

Neither Elizabeth nor Olive wrote or illustrated the first Wonder Woman story (or any subsequent stories that I’m aware of). But being part of a “creation” can mean being there at the beginning in other capacities. Given Bill’s outspoken position on female equality, if any male comics creator of his time would have given credit in print for inspiration, it would’ve been Bill. Yet alas, he didn’t, and as of yet, DC hasn’t, either.

Larson importantly points out that the people who birthed the superhero industry were almost exclusively white men. It bears repeating that the book does a stellar job showcasing the role of women in Wonder Woman’s evolution. It also beautifully brims with people of many colors. As such, I was surprised that the book did not take the next step and show that this diversity (eventually) extended to the fictional world of Wonder Woman, which features nonwhite characters including Nubia and Yara Flor.

Speaking of the fictional side, many kids would have been fascinated by a glimpse of Wonder Woman’s backstory. The opening spread references Greek mythology but the book does not elaborate on the connection. It also does not bring up that Wonder Woman hails from a thriving all-female society, which would intriguingly reinforce the “girl power” message.

On that topic, I feel one passage in the book stumbles. In discussing Wonder Woman editorial changes of the 1960s, the text reads “They took away all that made her a wonder: her costume, her lasso and bracelets, her superpowers.” It may sound nitpicky—and I realize the author didn’t mean it this way or even notice this possible interpretation because every writer encounters this sort of thing at times—but to me “all” comes across as superficial. What makes Wonder Woman a wonder is more than her appearance and enhanced abilities. It is what she does with those abilities. 

Had I followed through on a Wonder Woman book, I was intending to focus on Bill, Elizabeth, Olive, and later Harry. I might not have gone beyond the 1940s, addressing the rest of Wonder Woman’s vital history in the author’s note. (I took this approach in Boys of Steel.) 

Before completing research, I was already so excited that I wrote a possible opening:

Superman. Batman. Sandman. Hawkman. Hourman. Starman. 

Notice anything about that list of superheroes?

A professor named William Moulton Marston did. And did something about it. 

But like those heroes, who formed the Justice Society of America so together they could accomplish what individually they couldn’t, William also needed a team. 

Unlike the Justice Society, which was originally all men and then all men and one woman, William’s team started as all women and one man.

I was further intending to gently introduce polyamory, the act of loving multiple people (not to be confused with polygamy, or marrying multiple people). 

Yes, I know some adults would vehemently disapprove of a book for young readers trying to destigmatize polyamory. There would be banning (or attempted banning). But Bill, Elizabeth, and Olive were in a consensual relationship—no deception or betrayal involved. I feel Id owe it to their memory...and their bravery.

In recent years, picture books for young readers have made tremendous strides in covering topics that were once considered taboo for the format—from transgender and non-binary people to white privilege to tattoos. In my vision, the interpersonal adult dynamics of Wonder Woman’s creators would not have been the main thread, but because the unit of Bill, Elizabeth, and Olive influenced the “love is love” essence that Wonder Woman often embodies, I feel it would be critical to touch on it in an age-appropriate way. Others agree!

This is an excellent take on the imperative to throw the Lasso of Truth around ourselves and acknowledge both the full list of people who should be credited for Wonder Woman and the unconventional yet no less respectable relationship among three of those creators. The article speaks to not only the nobility of the hero but also the notion of tolerance—which goes full circle back to the nobility of the hero.

Wonder Woman would trust in us to rise to the occasion.

Thank you, Kirsten and Katy, for telling this story. Let’s get the picture book trinity together for a panel!
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