marvel comics

Fandom Report for Thursday, April 13, 2017: “WTF, Marvel Comics?!”

Because I’ve been catching up on reviews of DC on TV, Loki, and My Hero Academia, and giving presentations on Japanese Spider-Man, Edgar Allan Poe in Bungo Stray Dogs, and representations of disabilities in superhero texts, there’s a lot of ICYMI news this week.

Oh, and Marvel? Diversity is not why you have a problem. Don’t you dare blame that for declining sales when your CEO works for a bigot.

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#NeMLA17 #S621: “DC vs Marvel in Japan”

Thanks to all who turned out for the Northeast Modern Language Association’s session on Edgar Allan Poe in popular culture! Now I’m about to present at 11:45 AM Eastern as part of the DC vs Marvel panel. Follow along with this linked slide presentation, and feel free to submit questions there or on Twitter, hashtags #NeMLA17 #S621.

#GeekGuide: Comics, Video Game, and Fan Culture Panels at #NeMLA17

Each year, the Northeast Modern Language Association’s (NeMLA) annual convention features presentations on comics and graphic novels, already long accepted as media worthy of critical analysis. And this year’s convention at the Marriott Waterfront in Baltimore, Maryland, March 23 to 26, also features sessions on related topics in anime, manga, video games, and fan culture.

And I would know–I’ve been proofreading this program repeatedly as part of my job at NeMLA.

I’ve compiled as many comics, video game, and fan culture presentations that I could find in the online schedule. I encourage you, if you are attending the convention, to check out these sessions and share your thoughts on social media. And check out the program online for more sessions!

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CFP: “Marvel vs. DC: Civil War?” (NeMLA Baltimore 2017; deadline Sep 30 2016)

Last year at the Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA), my colleague Mary Ellen Iatropoulos and I were happy to host Lisa Perdigao on our academic roundtable about the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This year, for NeMLA’s 2017 convention in Baltimore, Lisa is organizing a panel on rivalries, not just within Marvel Comics but as it pertains to its long-lasting competition with fellow comic book publisher DC Comics.

DC and Marvel have collaborated in the past for crossovers and amalgamations of their fictional universes, revealing the parallels between them, such as Batman and Daredevil (or Iron Man), Green Arrow and Hawkeye, Atom and Ant Man, Superman and Captain America (or Thor)–or just so we could see a fistfight between the Justice League and the Avengers, or watch Superman wield Captain America’s shield and Mjolnir.

This competition has moved off of the comic book pages and onto the silver screen. Whereas Marvel has embraced a fun, eclectic blending of various genres in its numerous film adaptations from Disney and other film studios, DC has remained fixed largely at Warner Bros and has persisted with a grim portrayal of superheroes that has appealed to some fans and irritated many others. It’s even inspired popular web parodies. This shift from comics to film production even resulted in a new bicoastal rivalry: DC Comics has moved to Hollywood, while Marvel Comics stays in New York City.

This CFP also has the potential for presentations not necessarily as to the rivalry between DC and Marvel, but a comparison of how the two comic book companies portray rivalries. How does the rivalry between Superman and Batman differ from that between Captain America and Iron Man? How are metahumans portrayed differently from mutants and inhumans? What is it about superhero stories that perpetuate the idea of rivalries rather than collaboration?

And that’s not even touching upon all of the other works that DC and Marvel have created but which are outside of the superhero genre, such as literary adaptations, The SandmanPreacher, and Lucifer.

Obviously, there are a wealth of topics for consideration to this CFP, and I strongly encourage interested scholars to submit to Lisa’s session, or to forward this CFP to interested colleagues.

The full CFP is below.


Marvel vs. DC: Civil War?

Northeast Modern Language Association
Baltimore, March 23-26, 2017
Chair: Lisa Perdigao (Florida Institute of Technology)
Deadline: September 30, 2016

Submit 300-word abstracts and short bios online at https://www.cfplist.com/nemla/Home/S/16494 

Released in spring 2016, Captain America: Civil War and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice converge on the narrative of a house divided. Marvel’s and DC’s staging of the wars between their respective superheroes is suggestive of a larger battle between the two franchises that dates back to the comics. These two films represent turning points for the companies, as they threaten to disassemble the Avengers and the Justice League as soon as—and even before—they are created. Adapted from the comics, the films’ narratives highlight central tensions within the individual universes as well as the ongoing rivalry between the two companies.

This panel will explore how the concept of civil war plays out within and between the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and DC Entertainment films and television series. Papers are sought that examine individual Marvel and DC works (comics, films, and television series), the expansive Marvel and DC universes, and the relationship between the two rival companies. Possible topics include the difficulties of assembling a superteam in the twenty-first century, the race to utilize new mediums in the digital age, and the conflicting ideologies represented by Marvel and DC.

 

New Podcast: LokiCast, “Agent of Asgard” Issue #1 (2014)

As I wrap up work my next publication, I want to spend the next few weeks sharing my thoughts about recent and popular interpretations of Marvel’s god of mischief and lies, Loki.

This is a new podcast: this is the LokiCast.

Episode #1 of the LokiCast is available for free on SoundCloud. Below is the script for this first episode, in which I look at Loki: Agent of Asgard Issue #1 by Ewing and Garbett. The podcast sticks mostly to this script, so if you don’t have 20 minutes to listen, feel free to skim the script below.

I’m going to record a few more episodes as I wrap up work on publishing about Loki. Let me know what you think about the podcast in the comments section or on Twitter.

(There is a short gap without audio early in this track; skip over that dead air.)


Loki: Agent of Asgard Issue #1 is certainly a product of the Marvel film adaptations, reconciling the newer cinematic portrayal of the character with his classic origins. The first issue in many ways replays details from the first Avengers film, whether the use of Stark Tower rather than Stark Mansion, this iteration of the team consisting of their cinematic counterparts, Hawkeye, Iron Man, and Captain America dressed in the same outfits that they wear in the films, even Bruce Banner offering an incomplete form of the “I’m always angry” line.  

It can rangle fans to have a more attractive, younger, more Hildeston-esque Loki on the pages, a point not lost upon Clinton Barton who describes the newer character as “One Direction-y.” The attractive smooth skin of this Loki is accentuated in contrast to the illustrations of Loki Classic, who arrives on the last page of Issue #1 and who pops up in a flashback in his first fight against the Avengers. This Loki differs greatly from how Jack Kirby was drawing him: the wrinkles and dead eyes are exaggerated, his gleeful smirk transformed into a frightening gaping maw.

Initially, this contrast in physical appearance seems like a cynical attempt to make New Loki look all the more interesting than Loki Classic. But, thank Odin, it’s not. Loki’s two sides are going to be front-and-center to this series. That structure to Agent of Asgard touches upon a point I traced in my earlier article, and which I’m working on in a new publication: what is Loki’s role? Issue #1 of _Agent of Asgard_ summarizes how Loki wrestles with his past self and his future potential, when he imagines his initial fight with the Avengers, way back upon their formation, as like a play:

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Steve Rogers is not a Trump voter: On Marvel Comics and the dangers of neo-fascism in America

At a time when My Hero Academia brings such optimism to the superhero narrative, it is disappointing that today brings news that Marvel Comics will have Captain America Steve Rogers be revealed to have been a Hydra spy. Not only does this storyline borrow from the Winter Soldier film adaptation–years too late–only with Cap rather than SHIELD as having always been Hydra, but the article suggests Cap’s work within Hydra will be repeating the xenophobic talking points of Donald Trump.

While my colleague Keith Friedlander points out very well that Marvel actually could be using Rogers as representative of a divided America, with he and fellow Captain America Sam Wilson identifying two approaches to United States identity, I cannot stomach such a portrayal. I cannot accept a story that, rather than immediately and without equivocation condemn Donald Trump and his voters, instead gives them a voice.

Since he announced his presidential run–no, earlier, when he, solely out of the racism and xenophobia that is at his core, dared to doubt the citizenship of the first black president–Donald Trump’s xenophobia and fascism has deserved no voice. And yet this madman, thanks to a feckless cable news media thriving on sound bytes, fake controversy, and reducing politics into a goddamn horse race, already dominates television screens 24/7, as if interviewing an incoherent, ignorant buffoon will yield new understanding of his madness, hatred, and bigotry. And this madman will be the nominee for a Republican Party that has thrived on feeding such prejudice for decades, culminating with bigotry against our fellow human beings on the basis of their gender, not to mention unfettered misogyny. Such violence deserves no respect, and anyone who votes for Trump deserves to be mocked for their vote.

Regardless whatever sound goals Marvel’s team of creators had to make Rogers into a Hydra agent, and I see hardly any that are worthwhile at this time, the words of Donald Trump deserve no platform: his ideas must be knocked down as a part of dangerous movement and should be mocked as unrealistic, unpragmatic, and un-American. To have Steve Rogers speak for Trump, rather than speak against Trump, is a disservice to that character, to that comic’s legacy, and to all of us who do not want to see our nation further collapse into rightwing nonsense.

Shame on Marvel, shame on its Trump-fundraising CEO Ike Perlmutter–and God help this world should any of us vote for a fascist like Trump.

And if My Hero Academia reveals All Might to be a fellow Hydra sleeper agent, I’m snapping my Kindle in two.

“Daddy Don’t Get Scared!” Gender Problems in Ant-Man

The film presents its two fathers, Scott Lang and Hank Pym, as acting on behalf of their daughters. But their actions are also on behalf of themselves—to the detriment of developing one female character. And the word I repeat too often below is “frustrating.”

Ant-Man (2015, directed by Peyton Reed) is a bizarre film to watch, not only because of its complicated production history, its momentary immersion into the Microverse, or the fact that freaking Ant-Man is getting a film before Black Panther, Runaways, Captain Marvel, or Ms. Marvel. 

No, the film is also bizarre given its approach to representing men and women. 

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“This looks bad”: Reading comics on tablets can compromise layout

In which I kinda disagree with Noel Murray, and whine about how Amazon and Marvel format their e-comics. 

Hawkeye #6

Hawkeye #6

At The AV Club, Noel Murray writes about opportunities provided by appreciating the layout of comics when they are removed from the page and to digital e-readers, such as mobile devices like tablets and smartphones. Murray’s experiment centers largely around only Issue #6 (the Christmas issue) of Hawkeye (December 2012 / February 2013), published by Marvel Comics, written by Matt Fraction, illustrated David Aja, colors by Matt Hollingsworth, letters by Chris Eliopoulos. Murray reads the comic on his iPhone to demonstrate how the dimensions of a smartphone screen enhance some parts of the comic, sticking to only a few panels of one page as they appear on his phone—that’s it, that’s the only visual example given. His iPhone has technology called Guided View, which as he reads intuitively crops portions of the original comic book page (which tends to be a little bit less than the usual 8.5 by 11-inch page—more like 7 by 10.5) to just a few panels at the time to take up the full space of his phone’s screen. 

Murray writes:

“I’d never contend that Guided View is superior to reading a print comic. There are aspects of the experience that are annoying, such as how different panel shapes and alignments leads to a lot of flipping the phone 90 degrees to get the best perspective. And a lot of the best comics art doesn’t really work in this format. I’ve already mentioned Adams; but it’s also impossible to do a two-page Jack Kirby splash justice on a phone (or a tablet, for that matter).

“But sometimes changing the frame for a piece of art can change the way we look at it. I’ve sat in film classes and seminars where the professors or moderators pushed students to pay attention to sound design by switching the soundtracks for two movies; or where they’ve cut the volume entirely to get us to notice the visual storytelling. Sometimes when I fast-forward to a favorite scene in a movie I’ve watched a bunch, I spot camera moves that had never really registered before, because I’d been too distracted by the dialogue or performances.”

I don’t write the following to disagree with Murray’s thesis: indeed, mobile devices, including smartphones, have provided contexts for reading sequential art to uncover new facets to their formal elements. However, I am bothered by how much praise Murray gives to the mobile device technology that I think is still lacking, especially with major publishers. I think Murray does very well at identifying the potential of e-reader technology for comics, but Murray also oversells such technology when major distributors like Amazon and Marvel have designed unintuitive platforms that get in the way of reading comics that come in a variety of shapes and sizes. 

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Call for Papers at Northeast MLA: Failed Film Adaptations, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Superheroes of the Households, and More! (Deadline: September 30, 2015)

Conferences are keeping me busy.

Not only will Keith McCleary at UC San Diego and I be hosting the roundtable “Developments in Comics Pedagogy” at the January 2016 meeting of the Modern Language Association in Austin, Texas, but I get to work on additional panels about comics, graphic narratives, and now film adaptations at another convention.

The Summer 2015 newsletter for the Northeast Modern Language Association, that I co-designed and edited, is arriving soon in members’ mailboxes, with a long list of 400 CFPs for sessions the organization is hosting at its March 2016 meeting in Hartford, Connecticut. You can read (and submit to) the CFPs online now, I’m scheduling daily tweets of CFPs @northeastMLA

But I also want to share some CFPs for sessions I’m co-organizing or that I have discussed with colleagues. I have included links and descriptions of those CFPs below. The deadline is September 30, 2015:

The Marvel Cinematic Universe as LiteratureWith dynamic individual superhuman characters populating a world of complex, interwoven mythologies and origin stories, the films and television series of Marvel Comics Studios experiment with long-form transmedia storytelling. With twelve films and three television series released in less than a decade, all adhering to the same continuity and fictional universe, how can the Marvel Cinematic Universe reveal or offer fresh insight into the ways in which modern cinematic storytelling functions as literature? Approaches may include analysis of one or more films; storytelling across genre and medium; adaptations of the original Marvel Comics to film and television; and applications of various schools of literary and media theory to MCU properties.

The Monster in the House: Domestic Ideology in Superhero NarrativesIn worlds full of superhuman heroes, mythological imaginary creatures and battle narratives of epic scope, what is the role of the domestic? This session seeks proposals investigating the ways in which domestic spaces and domestic ideology function within superhero narratives as sites of union and/or conflict between the human, the subhuman, and the superhuman.

Race and Comics: The Politics of Representation in Sequential ArtThis panel welcomes papers that examine the treatment of race and racial relations in comic books, whether in superhero narratives, graphic memoirs, web comics, or other forms of sequential art both inside and outside the United States. How are comics used to document and represent racialized identities? How have the medium and its surrounding fan communities adapted earlier content to speak to current topics?

“Ruined!” On Failed Adaptations from Page to ScreenThis session will explore adaptations that fail in some way. Among our goals, we would like to identify what could be productive about failed adaptations. How do such failures identify what not to do, and can an adaptation that fails to be faithful to its source material still produce a valuable, worthwhile text? We are particularly interested in proposals that look at the adaptation of older artistic and literary forms in online and/or interactive content.

In addition, I’m happy to see NeMLA feature more panels related to comics: this has been helpful for anyone with an abstract that is related to graphic narratives, as it increases the chances that interested persons can find a session on comics related to their topic, or can find a session that would be more than happy to feature presentations that use comics as their primary texts. I want to see this practice continue at NeMLA, and I am happy to see it take hold at other conferences. 

The deadline is September 30, 2015. Remember that NeMLA now accepts abstracts only submitted to their web site; the links above take you directly to each CFP, and all you need to submit is to register for a free NeMLA user account, for which you may sign up at those links. If you know anyone interested in submitting, please forward these CFP web links via email or social media. 

Comic Book Artists and Rights to Their Work

A recent interview with Stan Lee with Playboy (NSFW link) brings up the discussion of how rights have been negotiated between comics artists and major publishers such as DC and Marvel.  Michael Dean at the Comics Journal reported on how comics’ art, upon return by publishers, was treated as “gifts”–the artists’ own works returned not as their creations only.

When Marvel decided in 1984 to offer the return of its backstock of original art to creators, its offer to Kirby was able to account for only 88 pages of Kirby art out of a total of more than 8,000 pages that the artist had done for Marvel between 1960 and 1970 — approximately one percent.

 

As Marvel had returned new original art from 1976 on, artists had been required to sign brief release statements, about four lines long, and the 1984 offer to return the stored original art was also accompanied by the requirement that a one-page release form be signed. The form described the art return as “a gift” from Marvel to the creators. By signing the form, the creators agreed that the art had been work for hire and that Marvel was “the exclusive worldwide owner of all copyright” related to the art. Creators were required to grant Marvel the right to use the artists’ name and likeness in promotions.

 

The form’s language was reminiscent of the contracts that had been instituted in 1979, and some creators objected to both the wording and the coercive tactic of tying it to the return of original art. Neal Adams told the Journal at the time, “Anybody who signs that form is crazy…. You dangle a carrot in front of the artists’ faces, saying, ‘If you want your art sign this form.’ It’s not true; you don’t have to sign it.”

 

Most artists signed the form and received their art, and even Kirby said he would’ve been willing to sign it, but that was not the option that Marvel offered him. If some artists had found the one-page release objectionable, Kirby was outraged to find that he and he alone had been sent a four-page document that multiplied the obligations of the creator and the rights claimed by the publisher. Even the nature of the “gift” was qualified in the form sent to Kirby. Where the one-page form offered creators “the original physical artwork,” Kirby’s form offered “physical custody of the specific portion of the original artwork.”

 

Always careful not to acknowledge that the artists had any right to the art, the one-page forms made clear at least that the artists would be the owners of the art once the “gift” had been accepted. The gift to Kirby, however, was nothing more than the right to store the art on behalf of Marvel. Though it would be in his possession, there was nothing that Kirby would be allowed to do with it: “The Artist agrees that it will make no copies or reproductions of the Artwork, or any portion thereof, in any manner, that it will prepare no other artwork or material based upon, derived from or utilizing the Artwork, that it will not publicly exhibit or display any portion of the Artwork without Marvel’s advance written permission, and that it will not commercially exploit or attempt to exploit the Artwork or any material based upon, derived from or utilizing the Artwork in any manner or media, and that it will not permit, license or assist anyone else in doing any of the foregoing.”

 

While Kirby was forbidden from so much as displaying the art in public, Marvel was to have ready access to it for whatever purpose it deemed desirable: “Upon Marvel’s request, with reasonable advance notice, the Artist will grant access to Marvel or to Marvel’s designated representatives to make copies of the portion of the Artwork in the custody of the Artist, if Marvel so needs or desires such copies in connection with its business or the business of its licensees.” The artwork was also subject to “revision” and “modification” at Marvel’s discretion.

(Links H/T Comics Alliance)