Comic Fodder

The Signal Watch - Pilot Installment

Welcome to the first installment of what will, no doubt, become the internet’s most successful weekly column ever. Your eyes (or screen readers) are now reading The Signal Watch (with Ryan).

(For those of you who are confused, I did rename the column formerly known as "Routine InfoCom". This is the same column. I've selected the name "The Signal Watch" in honor of Jimmy Olsen's device of the same name.)

For regular readers of Comic Fodder (thanks to both of you, TonyJazz and that other guy!), you may know me as the guy who writes long-winded op/ed columns on all sorts of topics. I’m somewhat proud of this trail of wreckage I’m leaving behind, but as those columns tend to stick to one area or another, I didn’t feel that I was getting as much of a snapshot of comics on a regular basis as might otherwise be useful.

The content here may be comprised of that which I’d like to write upon in my standard column, but there’s not my usual word-count there to justify a stand-alone column. Or, I may just want to join in the gawking with everyone else online at the latest embarrassment/ travesty in comics, and that does not a full column make. Occasionally I may also want to point out something nifty, but it’s just a sentence or two. So… this column will be something with a different format than what we’ve had of late at Comic Fodder.

Don’t worry..! I’ll also continue to write longer format pieces as well. So those of you who rely upon reading my analysis of Batman R.I.P. to put you to sleep at night, those pieces are still coming.

This being the first column, feel free to write in with suggestions, items, whatever… and we’ll make this up as we go along.

Kryptonians Apparently Have Melanin

There was some note that went as far as MSNBC that recent issues of Superman have featured Kryptonians sporting flesh-tones that do not all come in ragin' caucasian (it's also worth noting that MSNBC either now owns Newsarama via Imaginova or Imaginova is syndicating. Column for another day.)

DC and Superman comics were late to the game of multi-racial inclusion. That's not really a matter of dispute, and like so many attempts by white creators, attempts to step outside of what had been a fairly homogeneous portrayal of Metropolis and Krypton was often a failure of epic scale.

I'm not a fan of trying to assign modern social mores to anyone from generations past (although I'll be rather strict about it in the here and now), and its worth noting that for the shock embedded in Brady's article, by 1971 schools were just entering into forced integration in some parts of the country, so a little context is helpful. Keep in mind that Dr. King had been assassinated as recently as 1968.

I'm not sure Kryptonian race relations will be high on Johns' or Robinson's list of issues to tackle. Most likely more will be made of the various houses of Krypton in the upcoming "World of New Krypton" by Kreisberg. Whether race will be associated with any particular house... I kind of, sort of hope not.

Given what we know about melanin in human skin and genetic hand-me-downs, I'm not even sure why this is a deal other than the novelty of the "hey, look! Black Kryptonians!" factor.

Willingham states he's going to instill heroes with morals.

Over at a newish website championing conservative voices in left-tilting Hollywood, Bill Willingham managed to stew up some controversy by thumping his chest and proclaiming that he was no longer partaking in an "Age of Superhero Decadence". He cites himself as one of the founders of the age (which... you know, whatever), and then goes on to oddly tie the ever shaky concept of American-ness with sure-fire moral fortitude and a lack of sex, drugs and rock and roll in comics.

What I'm confused about is what, exactly, Willingham plans to cut out of his stories.

If we're talking Willingham's lack of desire to show partially eaten teen-agers, a la that Teen Titans sequence from last year, then super. I'm all behind the guy.

What I would point out is that in the past 25 years, superhero comics have come a long way in storytelling, structure, and expectations of an older audience for the characters in the comics they read to no longer act as children's book characters living in a world of moral absolutes. In fact, as Willingham takes a pot-shot at the Man of Steel in his opening, criticizing the now defunct part of the old oath (the "American Way" bit), I realize I'm not going to be able to follow him in his definition of "moral", and maybe that's the crux of the issue. I love America, mom and apple pie, too. But... honestly, if I have to waste the characters on this, we're not going to agree, anyway.

What I can get on board with is a recognition that too often superhero comics developed by lesser creators can disappear into a mire of noodling plot, exploitation seen as "grim n gritty", and mistaking taking action as a moral compass. But surely part of what we can enjoy as adult comic readers are not simple morality plays where we know our hero will do right? Surely there's ground to use these characters to do more than give a chance to provide big explosions and cheesecake drawings of improbably proportioned women? Surely as adult readers we can appreciate the nuance of characters as something of an exploration of moral choice rather than assuming there's a list of rules which, if our heroes follow them everything goes swimmingly?

We'll see what Willingham's declaration actually translates into in his work. I'm not trying to be a jerk about anything, but I never got into Fables (never read a single issue, in fact), and he's not a writer I particularly follow. But I'm also not going to quit reading JSA when he comes on just because I read his column with a crooked eye-brow.

It's worth mentioning the completely irrational discussion which exploded all over the interweb and reminds one that whether liberal or conservative, we're all a bunch of accusatory jack-asses when it comes to a post in the comments section.

Pregnant Tigra

I honestly think I think about Tigra about once every two years for about 15 seconds. She's just not on my radar.

So my informed opinion on her pregnancy revelation?


Look, I don't know where comic fans get off suddenly acting as if we're living in some Victorian era of chastity and virtue whenever a writer decides something like an unwanted pregnancy can occasionally occur, and that people do not speak of such things in polite society... but, seriously. Grow the @#$% up.

If you can read comics with murders and decapitations occurring without batting an eye, you can be an adult and deal with adults having sex with unintended consequences, too.

Oh, its a Skrull baby? Well... how do you like that? Is finding that idea kind of funny an inappropriate reaction?

Wimmins in Comics

Ho boy. Look, I DO have a whole column in me about this, and I don't want to say I can't be bothered, but I'm not sure there's anything left to say at this point.

The mess didn't actually start with the now infamous post at Cinema Blender. It started elsewhere, with female superhero fans asking for movies with female superheroes. Good movies.

Because its the internets, the discussion immediately went into critical meltdown, with some uncharacteristically ugly comments popping up at The Beat, and a lot of people calling Wall-E "preachy" (one does not have a hard time imagining the folks one sees at the comic shop becoming easily offended by the suggestion that people should get off their ass and do something. Oh, shut up. I'm a miserable tubbo, too).

What's unfortunate about the Cinema Blender piece is that it might have been an opportunity to explore what went off the rails with the movies he sites as examples (hint: Catwoman was directed by someone with almost no experience on a major motion picture and who knew nothing about the character). And what points he could have at least attempted to back up with data, he relied on not-particularly reliable stereotypes and trying to be wacky (and failing).

What seems to be getting missed in any of this conversation is that a good chunk of even the post Spider-Man adaptations have been awful (you cannot defend FF2 and retain your credibility), and that there's been exactly one movie like Dark Knight out of all of the superhero movies to hit the screen.

And, yes, it seems entirely likely that studios may have learned the wrong lesson from the failure of Catwoman, but with recent hints that WB has decided to halt production on their DC properties until they can begin to approximate the audience and critical reaction to this summer's Iron Man and Dark Knight double-whammy. This could be a good sign for female characters, too, as WB executives note that, maybe (just maybe) it really is about story and characters, and that uni-named directors may not be the right sort of person to head up their projects.

Again, I'm fairly aghast at the comments section in posts such as those at The Beat, and the He-Man Wimmin Haters Club mentality that comes flowing out of these discussions. I'm not going to defend every pro-women's argument for comics and superhero movies, and, in fact, find Thera Pitts' arguments to be highly, highly debatable.

Interestingly, Val D'Orazio, who should know a little something about both being a fangirl and working comic editor/ writer/ what-have-you, piped up today with an interesting column.

And, of course, the first comment is some hi-larious comedian borrowing a line from a movie trailer from about ten years ago.


So long to Melbotis

In addition to all of this comic hubbub, I would also like to take a moment to mention the passing of my dog, Melbotis, for whom my personal blog was named. While Mel didn't exactly read comics, he did enjoy spending time with me while I read them, tolerated the cape we made him wear at Halloween, and proudly wore various Superman tags on his collar over the year.

He was a super dog, and he will be missed.

In conclusion

So that was it for my first attempt at this shortened, perhaps more opinionated format.

Feedback, etc.. is greeted warmly.

Questions? Comments? Hate mail?

Come on, I can take it.


Ryan is an Op/Ed columnist for Comic Fodder. He keeps his comics and himself in Austin, Texas where he manages the long running blog League of Melbotis.

He likes Superman.

You can reach Ryan (aka: The League) at

Man, I'm so sorry to hear about Melbotis. I know how much love a pet can hold for someone. Condolences, Ryan.


-- Posted by: tpull at January 15, 2009 2:02 AM

I appreciate it, Travis. He was a good dog, and he is sorely missed.

-- Posted by: Ryan at January 15, 2009 12:12 PM

The Krytonian issue is laudable but lazy - Asian Kryptonians? Really? Here's an idea, how about having them look like ALIENS since ya know that's what they are?

Bill is also confusing morals with cardboard characters that have little variation in tone. His Fables characters are all interesting one-note wonders. His skill comes into play in that he can handle the large cast so that actually developing them beyond their premise becomes secondary to the fairly (no pun intended) interesting story he's telling. I am not happy that he is moving to JSA.

I do think what he is railing against is simply bad writing. Heroes wallowing in the worst parts of humanity without returning to their core concepts of heroes isn't just grim and gritty, it's crap. Not everyone can write an effective hero story and just dumping in a bunch of murder and mayhem and having the hero stand tall above it all would only ring true if this was 1964.

Sorry about your pooch.

-- Posted by: David at January 15, 2009 1:38 PM

David, I hope what you're saying about railing against bad writing is true in Willingham's case. I've never been much interested in the body count comics (which is why, for better or worse, I can't ever get interested in Punisher or Wolverine for very long.). At this point I truly feel its a matter of wait and see with Willingham, and frankly, I'm interested to see how he implements his new policy (again, not that I'm that familiar with his other work, so...).

Anyway, I think in his own way, Mark Waid already cast the first stone on all of this issue with Kingdom Come, which did more for the rebirth of the heroic ideal in comics than any public statement ever will. And that was well over a decade ago.

As per "lazy" with Asian Kryptonians... Maybe. I mean, yes... from a certain viewpoint, yes. It doesn't make 100% sense that the Kryptonians we see look like anglos or that aliens would necessarily evolve with the same skin tones, etc... of Earth. Especially with a different frequency of light coming from the sun, environmental conditions, and all of the infinite factors that drive the evolutionary process.

By all rights, Superman shouldn't look like Charles Atlas, he should probably be some sort of cuttlefish in a cape or something.

Yes, it would have been interesting to learn Kryptonians are different enough from earthlings that their equivalent of melanin led to blue skin tones, or even paisley skin tones. But I guess DC didn't feel like going down that particular pathway. And that question alone may be why we've seen mostly anglo-rific Kryptonians, rather than have to deal with this question.

-- Posted by: Ryan at January 15, 2009 6:46 PM

I'll give him a chance. JSA is my fav team book (at least until the real Legion comes back into print). But if he doesn't deliver then I'm gone.

-- Posted by: David at January 20, 2009 5:45 PM