Author: John Ostrander

Working Title #008: The Man

Working Title #008: The Man

So there I was, working on finishing up this week’s column, when I heard the news. Stan Lee had died.

I can’t say it was unexpected. The Man was 95, his health wasn’t great, but still – Stan the Man.

I never actually met him to say hello or shake his hand. The closest I came was at a convention; Kim and I were having dinner in the hotel restaurant and it turned out Stan was having dinner at a table near us. I could’ve said hello but he was eating and talking with someone. I got the shys and didn’t feel I could break in on his dinner.

However, in a way I did know him in a manner that all of us could and still can. Through his work.

It was in high school, my sophomore or junior year, when I first met him. I was idly looking at a comic book spinner rack in a train station. (Note to younger readers: there was no comic book stores in those days. It was spinner racks or nothing and you couldn’t always be sure that the next issue was going to show up or when.)  I was already a comic book fan. I came across a comic I had never seen before from a company I didn’t know. It was Spiderman 49; on the cover, Spiderman was being towed through the air, arms bound and mask ripped off by his enemy, a grotesque character I would come to know as the Green Goblin.

This was serious. I could tell. Nothing like that ever happened to Batman or any of the other DC stalwarts. The image grabbed me and I grabbed the comic. I knew nothing about Spiderman and yet I had no trouble keying into the story and the breathless climax where the real identity of the Green Goblin was revealed. That didn’t really mean much to me although I would later learn it had been a secret for years. Still I was hooked and haunted that spinner rack until Spiderman 50 came out.

Marvel comics used to have “house ads” on the interior of the books, pointing the reader to other characters and other books that the company sold. I sought them out on spinner racks and newsstands. Almost all of them were written by Stan (the Man) Lee. Look, I know that Stan would give a few sentences of plot to the artist assigned to the book who then worked it out and drew it. Stan would then dialogue it. How else was he going to write all those books in the time he had? It still makes my head spin.

I learned things from Stan. One issue started with Spidey in the middle of a pitched battle with a brand new character called the Rhino. In a caption, Stan told the reader not to worry, effendi, and that he would catch us up as the fight went on. He did, too. That taught me you could do exposition without boring the crap out of everyone.

In the same issue, Rhino tries to stomp Spiderman who is on the ground, rolling out of the way. As Spidey went, he admonished Rhino, “Uh uh! Kickies no fair!” I laughed out loud. You know how everyone loves how Deadshot motormouths his way through battles? Started here, folks.

In an issue of Fantastic Four, the team was trapped in the Negative Zone, heading to the exploding center of that dimension. Three of them got out safe but their leader, Reed Richards, was sacrificing himself so the other three could make it. They can’t reach him and that issue ended with Reed heading towards certain death with no way the others can save him.

I wanted that next issue RIGHT THEN and it taught me how you want the reader to feel when you did a cliffhanger.

His characters were more complex than DC’s, having real life problems and neuroses. There were themes and a greater depth to the stories. And, of course, there’s that single sentence that has transcended comics and has become pop culture wisdom: “With great power comes great responsibility.” It has been quoted and used by many folks outside of our comic book realm.

That’s how I know Stan Lee and that is why I think of him as still living. His work, the characters that he created, still speaks to people. There are living people in your everyday life who don’t do that. So long as his words are read and his characters survive, Stan lives on.

Excelsior.

I had to do that.

Working Title #007: Today’s the day!

Working Title #007: Today’s the day!

Vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote

Vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote

Vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote

Vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote vote!

You get the idea.

Working Title #006: The Uncivil War

Working Title #006: The Uncivil War

“Fuck civility!”

Chuck Wendig, an author of (among other things) Star Wars novels and comics, was working on a Darth Vader miniseries for Marvel when his editor informed him he was fired. Wendig said it was “because of the negativity and vulgarity that my tweets bring… It was too much politics, too much vulgarity, too much negativity on my part.”

It should be noted this is Wendig’s characterization. Marvel has not commented beyond confirming Wendig had been removed.

On October 6, Wendig tweeted: “There will be renewed calls for civility. Ignore them. They ask for civility as a way for you to grant them complicity in what they do…Civility is for normalcy. When things are normal and working as intended, civility is part of maintaining balance. But when that balance is gone, civility does not help return it but rather, destabilize it further. Because your civility gives them cover for evil. . . Note: this isn’t the same as calling for violence. But it is suggesting that you should not be shamed for using vigorous, vulgar language. Or for standing up in disobedience. Or for demanding acknowledgement and action in whatever way you must. . . Fuck Trump. But he’s just the ugly fake-gold mask they’ve put on this thing. Fuck all the GOP, fuck that blubbering, bristling frat boy judge, fuck McConnell, Ryan, Grassley, Collins, every last one of them. Fuck them for how they’ve shamed victims and helped dismantle democracy. . . They will tell you to smile, that we need to get back to business, that we gotta heal the rift and blah blah blah — but that’s the desire of a savvy bully, who wants you to stop crying after he hit you, who wants you not to fight back. But you can cry. And you can fight back. “

Basically, as some put it: ”Fuck civility.”  Continue reading “Working Title #006: The Uncivil War”

Working Title #005: My Own Private Film Fest

Working Title #005: My Own Private Film Fest

It’s starting to get chilly outside which makes it a good time to stay indoors, get cozy, and watch movies. Sometimes – usually by accident – I find I’ve created my own personal mini movie festival around a theme or a certain actor or genre. I have a Christmas mini festival and Mary is putting together a Halloween one.

I did it recently around a specific time and place; Britain just before or early in the Second World War. All the films were, in one way or another, historical movies. Some characters are repeated in more than one film although in different interpretations and, of course, the events overlap but without being repetitive. I wanted all four films to be of recent manufacture; time lends some perspective. However, we also have to remember that we as viewers know how the overall story turns out. When you’re a participant in the middle of it, you don’t, and that causes some anxiety. For example, we — at this time — don’t know how the story of the American adventure with the Trump Presidency is going to turn out and that is causing some anxiety.  Continue reading “Working Title #005: My Own Private Film Fest”

Working Title #004: The Doctor and the Judge

Working Title #004: The Doctor and the Judge

Two big events occurred last weekend: Judge Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed as a Supreme Court judge and the first woman to play Doctor Who (Jodie Whitaker) debuted. One event delighted me and the other appalled me. Can you guess which was which?

There is something that connects the two. Bear with me.

I’m a LONG time fan of the British SF show and this weekend the new season debuted on BBC America (and, indeed, around the globe). Lots of new things – new companions, new composer, new showrunner and chief writer (Chris Chibnall) and, most importantly, a new Doctor. Now, for those of you benighted souls who may not be aware, the show has had a very long run because of a very clever concept. The main character, the Doctor, is an alien, and every so often the Doctor’s body regenerates into a wholly new one with a completely different persona and this has kept the show fresh. This time, the Doctor also changed sex and became a woman, played delightfully by Jodie Whittaker.

Capsule review: I was very pleased. The show had mystery, suspense, humor, darkness, death and a sense of freshness. Mr. Chibnall’s script had a different feel than former showrunner Stephen Moffat that was very welcome and Ms. Whitaker makes a wonderful Doctor.

Not everyone will agree. How do I know? Because some fans were opposed from the moment she was announced, some going so far as to say they will never watch it. This is not altogether unusual; every time someone new steps into the TARDIS, a certain percentage of the fans voice their displeasure and/or anger and vow never to watch it again (their loss).

There was an undercurrent, however, to Ms. Whitaker’s selection and sometimes that current was not so under. It came down to her gender. A certain percentage of that certain percentage of fans said that the Doctor couldn’t be a GIRL. Eeeeuuuhhh!  Continue reading “Working Title #004: The Doctor and the Judge”

Working Title #003:  The Mandela Universes

Working Title #003: The Mandela Universes

Reality is a pretty strange place.

We like to think of it as solid, dependable, unchanging. . . “real”. It’s funkier than that. An electron evidently can be in two places at the same time. They are both particles and waves. (Flip floppers! Pick one or the other and be it, sez I!) Let’s not get started with string theory.

And then you have the Mandela Effect.

There is a phenomenon where some people collectively misremember certain things. Its name comes from Nelson Mandela. Some people absolutely remember that he died in prison in South Africa in the Eighties. The more sane among us remember that he died in 2013.

There are other examples – is it “Sex in the City” or “Sex and the City”? Is your bologna’s name Oscar Meyer” or “Oscar Mayer”? When you were a kid did you read “The Berenstain Bears” or “The Berenstein Bears”? True or false – in the movie Casablanca Rick says, “Play it again, Sam.” Does Kit Kat have a dash? Is the dash in Coca Cola a hyphen or a tilde?

Maybe they’re all electrons.

There are all kinds of explanations people have formulated to explain this. Some follow along the concept of The Matrix and we’re all in a computer that occasionally has a hiccup (maybe an electron being in two places at the same time).

One theory uses the concept of alternate universes and that we “slide” between the two (or more). The universes are enough alike so that we don’t really notice it except for these minor changes. It sounds weird EXCEPT that the UK’s Royal Astronomical Society MAY have some evidence. There’s a “cold spot” in the universe where the radiation spewed by the formation of the Universe occurred back in the Big Bang. No, I don’t understand it but that’s what they say BUT they can‘t really explain it. It shouldn’t be there and nothing drives scientists more wiggy than having something that shouldn‘t exist actually exist and they can’t rationalize it. One possible explanation (not the official one just yet) is that another “bubble universe” bounced off ours (or we bounced off them – whatever). If that were so, it would prove the existence of alternate universes of which there is an infinite number.

Of course, those of us who are geeks already know all this. Star Trek, for example, long ago discovered the Mirror Universe. And alternate universes are a stock in trade in the comics. If you lived on Earth One in the DC Universe, your reality will have changed a gazillion times. The folks at Marvel claim they have never done a real re-boot of their universe (at least they used to) but I remember issues of the Fantastic Four where they met JFK and later President Johnson. Marvel just doesn’t refer to those anymore; they aren’t part of the official canon. Mandela Effect.

Me – I’d be happy to be in one of those alt universes. If I can pick, I’d like the one where Al Gore won the presidency. The events of 9/11 might still have occurred but I don’t believe Gore would have gotten us into the Iraq War. And I think he would have taken steps to solve climate change while there was still time to do it. And, needless to say, no President Cheeto. He would never have won the Electron. . .sorry, Electoral. . . College.

Sigh.

DC and Marvel are inherently Mandela Universes. If you lived in either of them you would, on a regular basis

Working Title #002: Art vs the Artist

Working Title #002: Art vs the Artist

Last column I talked about James Gunn and how he was fired by Disney from the third Guardians installment for some really stupid tweets he published about a decade ago. They were appalling, no questions about it, but I wondered if Disney really needed to fire him for it. Gunn himself has renounced them and apologized. I was further aggravated by the fact that it was a right wing troll who engineered the whole reveal basically to punish Gunn for being anti-Trump.

However, lurking beneath that question is a bigger problem – can you separate the art from the artist? SHOULD you?  Continue reading “Working Title #002: Art vs the Artist”

Working Title #001: Outrage for Outrageousness Sake

Working Title #001: Outrage for Outrageousness Sake

Intro: I’m the new kid around here and, at my age, it’s nice to a new kid anywhere. I’ve been a writer, primarily in comics, for some 30 odd years, some years odder than others. I used to do a weekly column elsewhere and the good people here at Pop Culture Squad has invited me to their sandbox to play in. I tend to go where my interests lead me so you may never know where I’ll head. If it’s any consolation, I don’t always know either. Let’s see where I went today.  Continue reading “Working Title #001: Outrage for Outrageousness Sake”