The latest installment in the nearly 4 decades old Star Wars franchise, Rogue One, released last week and it has been generating a lot of very specific buzz. It is no secret that often times the franchise overall is seen as a sausage fest, i.e., just a collection of dudes doing some things while the women are relegated to the sidelines. And such a criticism is justified because while there are countless secondary media where the roles of women in Star Wars have been magnified and given center-stage, the movies have made no progressive decisions outside of the norm.
Today, while on Facebook, I came across a post from a female friend who saw the movie and was put off by the dismal representation of women in Rogue One. I cannot blame her for that. Despite having a strong female lead in Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso, she really is the only woman who is doing anything significant. The post has generated a lot of feedback from both sides of the aisle on representation in the movie in specific and in Hollywood at large, and I wanted to take a different tactic here, talking about how what we did get was still a bold move, and why it all matters moving forward.
Note: There are some spoilers from Rogue One here so if you wish to avoid those spoilers, please do not read the article. If you want to read my (spoiler) review of the movie, you can read it here.
The comics industry is no stranger at all to controversies of various kinds. Last year’s two big controversies had to do with the outing of several prominent male comics creators as sexual harrassers and DC’s much-maligned-but-successful 3D covers for its Villain’s Month titles. A controversy flares up every now and then, whether on a small scale or big scale, and often times the coverage given is either blatantly dishonest or just massively uninformed. Sure, sometimes the controversies and the responses to them are entirely justified, but mostly I just shake my head and move on because I can’t understand it when people raise a stink for absolutely nothing.
Last week’s Future’s End #4 featured on its cover Michael Holt aka Mr. Terrific with the word “Fair Play” tattooed on his back and working out. I didn’t see any negative responses to it at the time but when I woke up this morning, it seemed to be everywhere and I was pretty stunned because people were equating tattoos and working out with big weights-equipment as indicative of prison culture as it is in the United States presumably and commented that DC had “thugged out” Mr. Terrific. My jaw dropped. Worse happened when people lambasted the comic and they hadn’t even read the previous issues, or weren’t even reading any DC at the time!
Reading Aquaman #30 (review) and Justice League United #0 (review) the other day got me thinking about what kind of team-ups I would like to see in comics, whether as part of new ongoing series or a limited series. Team-ups are a very old concept in comics and currently you look at most publishers, you will see a smattering of some kind of a team-up happening. DC, Marvel, Valiant, Dark Horse, Zenescope, Dynamite, IDW, etc, they all do team-ups, many of these in their own ongoing series or in special event series. Team-ups are fun because in a single book you get the chance to interact with a whole bunch of characters, each with their own attitudes and personalities and beliefs.
So, in that vein, as a fan of team-up comics, I thought I’d put together a list of some comic book team-ups that I’d love to see in the next five years from the various publishers. The idea started off as involving superhero comics from both DC and Marvel, but then I thought about it and decided to go broad spectrum, and so have included several other publishers as well. Part of this list is because of the comics fan inside of me and part of this list is because I genuinely want to see something different from the current spate of comics that are being offered on shelves. We all need diversity to sustain ourselves, in one form or another, which is yet another reason for this list.
Last year, news arrived that Disney had bought Lucasfilm and that once the deal was done with, the company owned full rights and licenses to anything involved Star Wars, Indiana Jones and other properties that were under the purview of Lucasfilm. At the time, there was absolutely no news about future Star Wars movies, and the license for all related comics was with Dark Horse Comics, who’ve had that specific license under contract for almost two decades and have done their share of adding to the Expanded Universe over the years, building on what Marvel originally did. But then, as expected and dreaded, it was announced a few days ago that by the end of this year, the license would be shifted back to Marvel and that Dark Horse would no longer publish any new Star Wars materials.
Part of this entire move has been that within weeks of buying Lucasfilm, Disney announced plans to do a third Star Wars trilogy of movies, Episodes VII to IX, and even plans to do several spin-off movies, most notably involving the Bounty Hunter Boba Fett, one of the most iconic characters in the Star Wars setting. The big question now is how much of the Expanded Universe would Disney adhere to, and whether it would just chuck out all of it. Details are starting to emerge on this front and there has been a lot of talk about it recently. Here is what I have to say on the matter, as someone who has been invested in the setting since early 2001 and has really come to love everything about it, whether good or bad.
By now I’m sure that you have all heard the news. Actress Gal Gadot has been cast as Wonder Woman in the upcoming Man of Steel sequel movie. To use the big cliche going around the interwebs, the movie still does not have an official title. It is being referred to as both Man of Steel 2 and Batman vs Superman. Complicating that somewhat is the fact that we know Wonder Woman is going to be in the movie in some capacity and there are rumours going about that we might see Batman’s protege Nightwing in the movie as well, and that there might even be Doomsday, the big bad alien bio-construct who killed Superman in one of the most popular comic events of all times. So there’s a lot to handle.
But the focus of this editorial is the casting of Gal Gadot as the iconic Amazon Princess, who is the most recognisable and most popular female comics hero in the world, despite her 71 year history in the medium. She’s the only female comics hero that I know of who has sustained her own solo title for high triple digits, something like around 650 issues or so, not to mention all the other titles she’s been a part of, or the fact that together with Batman and Superman, she forms DC’s Trinity, the three most important and central properties the publisher and its parent company Warner Bros. owns.
This Fall, Marvel/Disney marked their first major step together outside of movies with Agents of SHIELD, the first live-action TV Show based on various Marvel properties. The show has seen six episodes so far, with varying rating reactions, and it will be going on for a full season at least. You can read my reviews of the show here. Set in the aftermath of last year’s Avengers movie, the show could be said to have been a success thus far, although for me, it has been struggling to define itself and maintain a consistency in tone and mood.
However, it appears that Marvel and its parent company Disney are not about to let that stop them. Recently, the rights to making live-action adaptations of a number of properties were reverted back to Marvel. Most people, including myself, thought that Marvel/Disney would leverage these returned properties by adding some of these characters to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and make brand-new movies out of them.
Turns out, Marvel has had bigger plans.
Over at her blog, Helen Lowe has had an interesting discussion taking place of late on the topic of what makes epic fantasy what it is. Its been quite an informative discussion to say the least (more). The descriptions and definitions that people attach to this seemingly simple 2-word phrase have provided a lot of new perspectives, many of which I have never considered before.
And that made me think about how I define “epic fantasy”. What are the components of it? What are the essentials? Like with any other discussion about the definition of genre categories, there are no easy answers here either and that has a lot to do with personal biases and preferences. I’ve seen a lot of books come out in the last few years that have been hailed as epic fantasy but that I wouldn’t necessarily classify as such, since for me there are some basic requirements for a book to be hailed with that genre label.
Which is what this post is about.
Yesterday evening, I read an article on the geek news site The Mary Sue, which touched on an interview that ToonZone had with James Tucker recently (link to article). In this interview, he was asked by Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara’s recent comments that the studio really needs to get on with making a Wonder Woman movie because it is too big a thing to miss out on, essentially. Tucker is a supervising producer of the studio’s DC Animated division and as such, what he says should carry some weight in the discussion that has surrounded this topic of late: Wonder Woman getting her own live action movie, or at least the failed television show being given the go ahead.
I’ve been quite frustrated with all the non-news about the topic, particularly since DC and WB seem to be dragging their heels on the subject. What little comments that have filtered down to the masses, other than Tsujihara’s somewhat positive take, have all been about gender inequality and this notion that Wonder Woman can only work if she has THE perfect script going for her because she is, in a nutshell, too difficult a character to bring to the mainstream cinema audiences. Tucker’s comments fueled that fire further with his own brand of such silliness.
So, in a fit of frustration, I took to Twitter to talk about it and had a very interesting discussion with a few people about what is happening. This post is an offshoot of that entire discussion.
I’ve blogged about diversity in comics before. I’ve even talked about it extensively on Twitter and Facebook as well. As an Indian comics reader, comics diversity is something that I think about a lot, and being a reviewer has helped me to think about it in several different ways that I didn’t quite consider before. Diversity doesn’t just stop with gender, or race. It is much more. It is about religion, geography, physical attributes, mental state, health disorders, etc. One point I’ve iterated on again and again is that today, comics readers aren’t just white males in their teens and twenties and living in UK/US. They are much. Comics readership crosses all sorts of boundaries today. All sorts of people, from all walks of life and with all kinds of backgrounds read comics in this day and age.
Hell, comics aren’t just print anymore. They went digital and they have only been growing despite the ridiculous scaremongering from those who dislike the medium or are hopelessly wedded to their print collections to the exclusion of all else.
In a world like this, diversity is an important topic to discuss. And there are no better agents to discuss this topic than the Big 2, Marvel and DC. They are the giants of the industry who together make up about 67-75% (give or take a couple percentage points) of the market in terms of unit sells and market shares in any given month. They have the longest legacies, and thus the most material to contribute to such a discussion.