Whatever Happened To… The Strangest Team-Up Ever?!?

The latest offering in our short series about comicbook characters that have been orphaned by the recent reboots in both the Marvel and DC Universes. Characters that were featured before the reboots, or even featured prominently during the Big Events (Secret Wars and Convergence).

After tackling 2 DC characters, we take a look at one of the most intriguing team-ups in recent years: Dr. Strange and The Punisher!
imageBefore we delve too deeply into this odd pairing, some short clarification of the rules for this exercise: the character(s) needs to not be featured in the post-event universe; a character’s status prior to the events is not the be-all and end-all. The former I bring up, because during our pitch meetings for this series, Winter Soldier was on the whiteboard as a potential headscratcher of an omission, but, then Marvel announced Thunderbolts featuring none other than America’s favorite sidekick turned mind-wiped assassin, turned man on the wall, and AoG Editor Mike had a nerdgasm. The relevance of the latter point will be discussed below.

The Strange-Punisher team-up is not one with a long storied history, having actually only come to prominence during 2014’s Original Sin event. But, oh, how sweet it was. Some research into this duo uncovered that the seeds for this idea have been in the collective hive-mind of Marvel editorial for some time.

The case for:

–     Dr. Strange is a revered Marvel character, who has had multiples iterations of a solo series, as well as having been a member of some teams and non-teams, significant and not-so-significant (Secret Defenders). As iconic as he is, finding a publication niche for him and sustaining sales seems to have been an issue on-and-off. Punisher of course was one of the original breakout anti-heroes of comics, having had numerous solo series, going into space, killing everyone in the Marvel U. and so on. Their team-up brought two very dissimilar characters together in fun and surprising ways, allowing both to shine, while at the same time putting them outside their comfort zone.

–     Although they were not featured prominently in any Secret Wars books, obviously I was not the only one tickled and intrigued by this new relationship, as they were brought together again in the first issue of the Battleworld anthology.

–     Punisher is an icon, not just Frank Castle, but the Punisher brand. Although he did not headline any Secret Wars tie-ins, he, or rather, the Punisher brand, was a presence in many: Castle makes an appearance in Issue 1 of the main series.

There is a Sheriff Punisher in King James’ England, a Punisher saved Wolverine in Old Town, the Egyptia Punisher who served at the Shield discovered an Ultron that should not have been, two Punishers faced off in Ultimate End, Punishers were an arm of law enforcement in Civil War and Old Man Logan. And if you have read the main series, you know that Doctor Strange was a prominent character.

–     The pairing of these two has been an idea since March of 1991: What If: Wolverine was Lord of the Vampires?

–     Punisher was a big brand for Marvel, and will be featured in season 2 of the Daredevil Netflix series.


The case against:

–     Dr. Strange has his own solo series.

–     Dr. Strange has his own (miscast) solo movie coming in the MCU.

 

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–     Frank Castle, the Punisher, is dead (see rules of the article, above: a character’s status prior to the events is not the be-all and end-all).

 


 

The fact remains that Punisher was a huge draw, and Strange could use the bump in sales!

The Winter Soldier “man on the wall” series was ambitious, the idea was solid, but with Bucky running the Thunderbolts now, I think it is safe to assume that this current iteration of the Marvel U. is ignoring that idea. But, the idea of Strange and Punisher tripping the realms astral, seems like an idea with so much potential in terms of art, storytelling, and developing and maturing both characters. Currently, Dr. Strange has his own title, and is “awesome facial hair bro” with Robert Downey Jr. Iron Man, and Punisher is still dead, as far as we know. But maybe Strange will run across him in his mystical travels? I would bet Castle will be back, but I wish it was teamed up with Strange. Strange needs his approach to problem solving dealing with all the mystical threats he is encountering and would mellow him out, while reigning him in. The new Marvel Universe is full of interesting choices (LBH, the new Spider-Man is just like Iron Man, and the stories feel like Iron Man stories), but I would implore Marvel to give Punisher and Dr. Strange a chance.

 

Whatever Happened To… The Rabbit Of Tomorrow

The next in a short series about comicbook characters that have been orphaned by the recent reboots in both the Marvel and DC Universes. Characters that were featured before the reboots, or even featured prominently during the Big Events (Secret Wars and Convergence).

This week we take look at the lovable lapin, and Earth-C’s writer and artist for the JLA (Just’a Lotta Animals) comic, Rodney Rabbit, a.k.a. CAPTAIN CARROT!

Created by Roy Thomas, Scott Shaw! , and Gerry Conway, Captain Carrot made his first appearance as a preview in the top selling comic at the time, the New Teen Titans, and had a well-loved 20 issue series in the mid 80’s. But are funny animal comics even relevant anymore?

The case for:

–       Captain Carrot (and his Zoo Crew) parodied the DC Comic character roster at the time, telling fun, lighthearted stories that are much in the vein of current DC You titles like Starfire, Gotham Academy, Bizarro, and Bat-Mite.

–      Captain Carrot represented DC’s awareness to the relevancy of funny animal comics being produced for more mature readers, a big comicbook trend in the 80’s.

–       Rodney was a writer and artist at the DC Comics of Earth-C (think of the parody possibilities: Dan Dog-dio, the hounding co-publisher!).

–       He was a star in Grant Morrison’s Multiversity, and a clear favorite to draw for many DC artists.

–       Zatanna’s pet rabbit Lucky is actually Rodney’s son.

–       Captain Carrot was a big part of DC’s Final Crisis, even having his own miniseries during the event.

–       He’s a founding member of “Operation Justice Incarnate,” and helps keep the DC Multiverse safe.

–       Is basically Superman, but with the cutest buck-tooth grin. (And his greatest weakness is that his powers run out 24 hours after he chews on a Cosmic Carrot.)

–       Marvel has had recent success with two anthropomorphic animal characters headlining their own series: Howard the Duck and Rocket Raccoon.

–       Wizard Magazine #151 already imagined what a modern retelling of the Zoo Crew might look like:

The case against:

–       His original name (Roger Rabbit) was changed to Rodney partway through his first series in an attempt to avoid a lawsuit from Gary Wolf (and later, Disney), which led to a fair amount of reader confusion.

–       Though he’s sprung up here and there in the DC Universe prior to Convergence and Multiversity, references to Captain Carrot were made mainly as an in-universe joke…

–      Except for that whole Threshold comic, starring Captain K’Rot. Yuck!

 

The fact remains that Captain Carrot starred in both a Convergence series and in the Multiversity miniseries…

And, despite the number of times he popped up in the backgrounds of almost every issue of Convergence, he’s not in the new DC Universe.

It seems unlikely that Captain Carrot or the Zoo Crew would show up in an ongoing series, even with the new, more humorous tone that many DC comics are taking on. Captain Carrot was never a one-off joke like other funny animal superheroes of the 80’s, and he’s had about as many series as Power Girl, Stargirl, or other B-list heroes. The most frustrating thing about DC’s apparent lack of Rodney is the fact that he seemed to be played up as an important character in Convergence, yet his crossover title with Harley Quinn ended up with the clown blatantly killing our hoppy hero. That’s not such a dignified way to go for a rabbit who represented truth, justice, and the Animerican way.

 

Mhani Alaoui Interview: Dreams of Blue Boots, Orange Blossoms, and Feminist Heroines

Maryam TairNot such a long time ago, in not such a faraway place, and yet a world so completely different, a girl was born. This girl is the heroine of Dreams of Maryam Tair: Blue Boots and Orange Blossoms, a new novel by Mhani Alaoui (published by Interlink Books).

Dreamy and otherworldy, the novel takes its reader on a journey through Casablanca, Morocco, Earth, and to a world that lies in between reality and stories. Dreams of Maryam Tair boasts a number of storytelling twists, changing perspectives, interlaced stories, and also offers up something different from your traditional fantasy novels: a queer, disabled, non-white, female hero.

The titular Maryam is a powerful character in a way that contradicts fantasy hero archetypes; she is not strong of body, but strong of heart, and her words (and the words of the book) seem to hold much more power than anything else in the universe. The novel plays on classic mythos of tales from the Quran, the Bible, One Thousand and One Nights, and other stories, creating a narrative that is as much about storytelling as it is about telling the story of its characters. In a way, Dreams of Maryam Tair represents a new generation of fantasy novels that, in “deviating” from the norm, are creating a “new normal” one page at a time.

I was lucky enough to have a chance to talk with Mhani Alaoui about Dreams of Maryam Tair: Blue Boots and Orange Blossoms, storytelling, and creating feminist interpretations of ancient texts.

-Spoilers follow-

Acts of Geek: I’d like to start off by touching on the framing device you use with Sheherazade. The majority of her scenes seem to exist in a place outside time, and these chapters emphasizes how stories function in the rest of the book. Why did you choose to use this story-within-a-story style frame? What inspired your application of Sheherazade as both a major character and architect of the story?

Mhani Alaoui: Sheherazade, in Arabo-Muslim tradition (and this should be seen as encompassing North Africa all the way to the Far East), herself probably Persian or Indian, represents the Story Teller. She tells stories to stop a mad king from beheading her. I like that metaphor. Stories are a tool against uncontrolled, irrational power. And the storyteller, a woman, becomes herself the symbol of the resistance of words, imagination, creativity against brute, unthinking force and suffering. It’s nice, especially in a time like ours where violence threatens people everywhere.

One of the most beautiful stories I have ever read is the Mahabharata, one of the two main Indian religious texts. The Mahabharata uses the story within a story structure and I liked the immediacy, the ‘humility’ of this structure. It was also an enjoyable way for me to mingle the real and the magical, the past, present and future and allows the heroine ‘Maryam’ to acquire a knowledge no-one otherwise would have given her. Finally, it was a way, for me, to give a ‘cosmic’ dimension to the story of a ‘poor, little Arab girl’ whom everything in life predisposed to an inconsequential life but who acquires, through the story of a story, agency, power and meaning.

AoG: Another prominent story within the book is the biblical story of Adam, Lilith, and Eve, which plays out both in a more literal sense (with the given names of Adam and Shawg) and also in an interpretive sense (like Leila’s attempted divorce from Adam and the betrayal between the twins Shams and Hilal–who are parallel to Cain and Abel). However, you subvert the biblical story by presenting Lilith, in a sense, as the more heroic figure. What was your intention with having Maryam as the daughter of a traditionally “evil” (or at least witchy) character? Was this choice an intentional feminist interpretation/cooption of the Bible story?

MA: It was intentional. In fact, when the idea of this story first came to me, this was the initial part. It seemed to me that, whether we are atheist, agnostic or believers, those of us raised in Judeo-Christian cultures (and that, of course, would include Islam: people to forget the proximity between these cultures and religions), all know the story of Adam and Eve. And Eve, the woman, is, despite all progressive rereadings, the ‘temptress’ and inferior to a ‘purer’, corruptible man. In the US and in Europe, very broadly, the feminist revolution, the gay revolution and gender awareness all have contributed to advance women and minority rights. However, in my part of the world (the Arab/Muslim World), these revolutions have not yet happened, even though their premises are there. In fact, quite the opposite. For religious narratives continue to dominate and render inferior all other narratives and stories. As such, it is very hard for the ‘couple’ and the ‘individual’ to emerge as the core of society.

Lilith, in Jewish mythology, is both a she-demon and the first wife of Adam. She was his equal until she refused to submit. Her rebellion, in these myths, is what makes her a demon. It made sense to me, then, to trace the ‘new, first family’ from an equal, even though broken, couple. I wanted Maryam to have a mother she could be proud of, even if she was absent from her life.

AoG: Your book is an absolute sensory delight. There were moments when I was reading out where I craved the food described or felt the sensations written in the pages, like bread with olive oil and honey or riding a rickety bike. The sensation with the greatest emphases seemed to be smell. Why does smell seem to play such a major roll (like the scent off Maryam as opposed to Shams and Hilal)? And what made you choose orange blossom as the emphasized, titular scent?

MA: I had a dear friend, who passed away recently, who once asked me what was the most important sense for me. I answered ‘vision’. He said it was ‘scent’, it had to be ‘scent’. Without it, we could not be sensual or sensuous. There would be no pleasure or taste. We would not know nostalgia and would forget our past. And when I thought about it, I agreed. Very often, scent triggers sensations or memories we think we had forgotten. Scents allow us to day dream, in all senses of the word. A story, like this one, that is a kind of dream, would have been incomplete without the predominance of scent. Scent becomes the condition of being of the dream and of the story-as-dream.

I chose the orange blossom scent because it is usually associated with marriage, purity and innocence. Perfumes and scents are also associated with saints. Saint Theresa of Avila was said to have a
natural perfume that signified her presence to others, in special circumstances.

In a way, for me, Maryam both transgresses all these symbols and epitomizes them. Her quest is a ‘saintly’ one but her physical presence is disturbing, unchaste, may be considered by some as not
beautiful and not innocent. She is a superheroine. For me, a superheroine is the modern expression of the ‘saint’. He or she who fights for causes, despite all odds, and is there to protect the weak.
The powers of saints and superheroes ( and of Maryam) are in hiding, camouflaged. They only appear at times of great stress or need.

Maryam is a modern saint/superheroine.

The scent of Shams and Hilal (who are Cain and Abel) is the scent of the earth, of wet clay. They are of the earth, but an earth of violence and roughness. They are, also, the sculpted clay before it is
fully moulded. As such, they are imperfect. I chose their scent to contrast with the lighter, more delicate scent of their sister, Maryam.

AoG: That’s really beautiful, thank you.

I wanted to touch on the magical realism in Dreams of Maryam Tair. So much of the story is grounded in real-world happenings, like the 1981 Bread Riots in Casablanca, but supernatural demons play a major role in how the societal unrest is handled and punished. What made you choose Casablanca as the major setting, and why do demons play a co-antagonistic role alongside figures of male power?

MA: Casablanca is my city. I grew up here and spent the first 18 years of my life here. After twelve years abroad, I came back and rediscovered the city, its many paradoxes, beauties and terrors, anew.

In Morocco, whether in the countryside or in the major cities like Casablanca, there is an entrenched belief in witchcraft. People of all classes and education levels believe in witchcraft and sorcery. At various degrees, of course: from light superstitions (do not throw salt down the drain, you may scorch and anger a djinni living there, to the profound belief that adultery is the cause of a witch and financial problems the work of a jealous enemy). Anthropologists study witchcraft as though it were ‘real’. By real, I mean that because people and a society believe in it, they build a reality around it, and in that sense, witchcraft becomes real, a fact of society. This belief in witchcraft encompasses such diverse practices as talismans, the power of djinnis, witches, she-demons, omens and love potions. In a way, then, they become ‘real’ in so far as they are a part of people’s imaginaries, choices and actions.

AoG: How does the power of humans like Zohra, a sort of mystical midwife, figure into the magical landscape? What about the human/divine romance between the inhabitants of the Tair household and Hamza?

MA: In this novel, it seemed to me that magic realism worked well with what I was trying to portray. There is always a part of the ‘magical’ in the way people go through their days. But it’s also more than that, there is a political component to this choice. Demons are not just demons. They are the emanation of a repressive system. Whether the repression occurs through the police, the failing judicial system or society itself with its very traditional, bigoted, closed judgement of the world. The Tair household comes to represent a microcosm of Casablanca, of Morocco itself. It is a universe with its own cosmic laws and myths. In Morocco, we have a real problem with ‘child maids’, as they are called here. These are very young girls (they can be as young as 8 years old) who are sent to work as housemaids by their families, desperate for money and stuck in the poverty cycle. Zainab is one of these children whose childhood was taken away from her. By imagining a romance between her and the most powerful of beings, Hamza, I try to rectify the unfathomable injustice done to all the children robbed of their childhood. It may be silly, part of a fantasy, but it was my way of bringing in this aspect of our society without making Zeinab into simply a victim. Women like Zohra have always existed in Morocco collective imaginary. I think she may be one of the forgotten remnants of an African, matriarchal past. Morocco is as much an African country as it is a Muslim and Arab one, which people tend to forget.

AoG: And finally, there are moments when the book shifts tenses, most notably giving readers the first person perspective of Maryam or her mother Leila. It’s an effective tool to put the reader in the protagonist’s shoes, but you keep it from feeling jarring by having the transition feel like a natural journey into that moment. Why did you use first person on occasion, and was it meant to intentionally emphasize something about the passages where it is used?

MA: The shifting of tenses is linked to [the forgotten matriarchies of the past]. I believe that history is always among us, that we play and enact it daily, without even knowing it. We are both in the past and in the present.

Finally, I am not sure why the first person narrative popped up in the novel. It just seemed appropriate. Sometimes the characters want to have a life of their own, slip away from the control and authorship of the person writing the story… Maybe it’s like a play, where the story sometimes pauses to allow a character to put his/her own imprint on the stage.

Whatever Happened To… The World’s Weirdest Hero

This is the first in a short series about comicbook characters that have been orphaned by the recent reboots in both the Marvel and DC Universes. Characters that were featured before the reboots, or even featured prominently during the Big Events (Secret Wars and Convergence).

This week we take look at that most pliable, polymorphic, anti-pedantic crusader for good, Plastic Man!

Jack Cole’s creation, who has been the focus of study by prestigious Pulitzer winning author and artist Art Spiegelman has not yet made an appearance in the DCYou. Is it a crying shame? Who cares about Plas anyway?

The case for:

–       He is one of the first superheroes still around, introduced three years after Superman, and arriving on the scene before Wonder Woman and Aquaman and well before Martian Manhunter.

–       Had his own cartoon.

–       Is a favorite of Alex Ross, Ethan Van Sciver, Grant Morrison, and Frank Miller.

–       Was profiled in The New Yorker.

–       His solo series by Kyle Baker won 5 Eisner Awards and 1 Harvey Award.

–       Cool enough to be namedropped by Alan Moore in The League of Extraordinary Gentleman: Black Dossier.

–       Frequent animated Brave and the Bold team-ups.

–       Is very, very powerful, this according to Batman.

The case against:

–       When DC editorial forgot they owned the rights to Plastic Man, Elongated Man was created, filling much of the same niche. And even with all the reboots, they still haven’t gotten rid of Dibny! A case could even be made Dibny is more significant to DC history, his inclusion pivotal to several major storylines.

–       Prior to Convergence, was not a significant part of the DCNew, although he had some appearances.

The facts remain though, that Plastic Man headlined a Convergence series.

And now, he is gone, like so much of DC comics interesting history. It is, of course, possible that he has yet to make an appearance, but I am not particularly hopeful. Personally, I most enjoyed his time in the JLA after Morrison’s introduction, and would love to see him used in a similar capacity: seemingly a goofball, but behind his doofy demeanor lies an incredibly deductive detective; a powerset and level of power matched by few (when Martian Manhunter went bad, Plas was the only one who could stop him!); visually fun to look at.

The insistence on tying him to the Freedom Fighters and often other C-List (in terms of name recognition and story-line significance) Gold and Silver Age heroes means that more often than not, he is doomed to obscurity.

 

She Can Fly: Resolutions

New Year is always a time for resolutions. As I get older, my resolutions are more and more becoming nebulous things I should do, as opposed to concrete things I should stop doing. In the spirit of ringing in the new, here are my five resolutions that I think any woman, nerd, geek, or dork can apply to their lives to have a better year:

 

Always Ask for More

There are more female centric comics being published now than ever before. There are two upcoming female-led superhero films. There are three female-led superhero shows. Heroines are the stars of television, tough girls are kicking ass in dystopic movies, and women are the focus of YA fiction.

That’s all good. It’s good, but it’s not great.

NYCC was all about asking for more—there were more female, queer, and racial-focused panels this year, and all those panels emphasized the fact that people should never stop asking for more representation.

There will never be enough representation. And that’s why you have to always keep asking.

 

Get Angry

Sometimes I feel like all I write are angry, nagging blog posts about how difficult it is to be a woman in nerd culture.

Here’s a secret: it is really difficult to be a woman in nerd culture.

Here’s another secret: I should be angry. And so should you.

It’s okay to be angry. It’s great to be angry. Look at how women are treated in nerd culture. Look at Gamergate. Look at Brian Wood and Tony Harris and Scott Lobdell. Look at cosplay harassment and the fact that PAX and San Diego Comic Con don’t have rules against harassment. Look at how women are treated in media. Look at how Wonder Woman is Superman’s “hot girlfriend,” and how young women are told they should be “in training” to be Batman’s wife. Look at how female fans are trivialized with fake nerd girl memes and the mockery of fanfiction.

So get angry, but do something with that anger. Write a blog, make a post, join Holla Back, join the board of a con and create an anti-harassment policy.

Don’t just stew, take action.

 

Stop Saying “Sorry”

I love that the women of geek culture are embracing the fact that there is nothing they need to apologize for.

Look at Gamergate: Zoe Quinn was told she should apologize for her relationships. Anita Sarkeesian was told she should apologize for her feminist critiques. Brianna Wu was told to apologize for saying people should stop harassing women.

Whether their stances are “right” or “wrong,” these women didn’t apologize. They fought back.

Amy Poehler’s Yes Please emphasized the fact that saying “sorry” is something that is societally engrained in modern women. Yes Please also emphasized that women should stop saying “sorry” all the time.

With comics like Bitch Planet and Boom’s Curb Stomp (among many others) embracing tough women who don’t do what they’re told and don’t comply with society’s rules, and creators like Kelly Sue Deconnick (telling fans to “fuck shit up. Speak up, stand up for what is important for you.”), Kelly Thompson (defending her critique of the Teen Titans cover, despite death and rape threats), and Danielle Henderson (whose essay on race, gender, sexism, racism, and the willful ignorance of those topics was featured in Bitch Planet #1) not apologizing for their opinions and standing up to bullies, it seems like the world is waking up to the fact that women don’t have any reason to apologize for every little thing they do.

 

Be the Boss

I wrote my thesis on Power Girl, so when some guy told me I was wrong about the year she was introduced in (1976), I simply laughed and shrugged and said “oh, maybe I’m wrong.”

Don’t stand for that sort of nerd policing.

When you know something is a fact, don’t act shy and don’t hide your knowledge. If you know the correct combo sequence for Chun Li’s Tensei Ranka, don’t let some dude tell you it’s down+down+kick. If you know all the Doctor’s companions in order, don’t let someone insist that Romana came before Leela.

Be smart, and be the boss. Tell people what’s what and fight for yourself.

You won’t regret it.

 

Keep Learning

At the same time, if you don’t know something, be honest about it. Who can keep track of all the Batgirls, and does Helena Bertinelli really count as one because she wore the Batgirl costume briefly in No Man’s Land?

Be willing to say “I have no idea.” But also follow that up with “but I want to know.”

That’s really what it means to be a nerd or a geek: to have an insatiable appetite for knowledge.