Friday, April 29, 2011

OTHER FICTIONAL CHARACTERS FOLLOW SUPERMAN'S EXAMPLE

Entertainment
This week, ACTION COMICS #900 revealed Superman's intention to renounce his American citizenship to become a "Citizen of the World."  Needless to say, this was a bit controversial.  However, the attention it has generated for DC Comics and their Superman character has been extraordinary and, as is the usual pattern in such things, apparently inspired other publishers to follow suit with similar storylines.  I found these 5 reports on the newswires this morning.





James Bond renounces British citizenship

British super-spy, James Bond renounces his citizenship in an upcoming new novel. The publisher announced today that they are cancelling all orders on the previously scheduled novel, CARTE BLANCHE, by Jeffrey Deaver and announcing a street date for an entirely different novel.

HER MAJESTY IS NOT ENOUGH, the new James Bond novel by acclaimed Hollywood screenwriter and director, Roland Emmerich will reportedly center around a controversial development in the life of the quintessentially British hero. After decades of successful missions in which the former Royal Navy Commander faced down global threats, including terrorist organizations such as S.M.E.R.S.H. and S.P.E.C.T.R.E., he comes to realize that he is tired of being perceived as a tool of the British government.
In a dramatic encounter with the British Prime Minister, Bond announces his intention to resign his commission, renounce his citizenship, and become an at-large agent of the United Nations.

God Save the Secretary-General!



Capt. Planet renounces Gaia

It has been over 15 years since the last new CAPTAIN PLANET & THE PLANETEERS cartoon aired. In that time, climate change has caused ever escalating disasters wrought upon the earth and the rise in global temperatures melts the ice crystals that entrapped Gaia, the earth goddess. She calls forth, once again, the great mullet of environmentalism called Capt. Planet. But his reaction to the modern world is one of disillusionment and despair.

This is the bold direction of the new CAPT. PLANET: WHEN A MULLET CRIES animated film recently rushed into production by Hanna Barbera and produced by Ted Turner and Michael Bay.

When Capt. Planet calls the Planeteers into action and none of them show up, he sets off to search for them. His worldview is shattered when he discovers that Kwame was set on fire when he returned to his African tribe and revealed that he wielded a magical ring that controlled plant life. Wheeler was delivering mail in the World Trade Center when terrorists flew planes into the towers on September 11, 2001. He did not survive the attack. Linka died in a Siberian gulag as an enemy of the state because she publicly expressed her disagreement with Putin's policies. Gi was consumed by a Great White Shark while scuba-diving off the coast of Australia. The most heart-breaking for Capt. Planet, was learning that Ma-Ti was killed in her sleep by her own pet monkey, Suchi, who it turned out was a sleeper agent for the Eco-Villains.

Sliding desperately into extreme and emasculated depression, Capt. Planet publicly renounces his allegiance to Gaia and leaves Earth to choose a planet without ecological diversity or humanity to protect.

Next stop...Mars.


Tarzan abdicates Lordship of the Apes

Tarzan, who ascended to the leadership of the Mangani tribe of great apes nearly 100 years ago has announced his intention to abdicate the position.

In the first officially sanctioned novel since THE DARK HEART OF TIME by Philip Jose Farmer in 1999, Tarzan returns in TARZAN, MAN OF THE PEOPLE by acclaimed Hollywood screenwriter and director Joe Ezterhaus.

The story involves Tarzan officially abdicating his position as Lord of the Apes and putting his Kenyan plantation estate up for sale to effect his return to assume his position as Viscount of the Greystoke estate in England. With Jane by his side, Tarzan mounts a campaign for position of Prime Minister under the Naturalist Party committed to principles of globalism and environmental awareness.

The Burroughs estate explains in a press release that this is the natural progression of the character and recommends people read the story before criticizing. They assert that Tarzan's creator, Edgar Rice Burroughs, always intended Tarzan to abdicate his Ape-ship and become a global political powerhouse.

All I can say is...."Un-GA-wa!!"


Blondie divorces Dagwood

An icon of the institution of American marriage is coming to an end this year. Blondie and Dagwod Bumstead will dissolve their marriage of 78 years with a dramatic change. Blondie, tired of decades of sub-middle-class life with the bumbling and selfish Dagwood dumps him and returns home to her upper-crust parents' mansion.

Retaking her maiden name, Blondie Boopadoop parlays her family name and her experience as a middle-class wife and mother into a global reality TV-series. Dagwood will be written out of the strip after his marriage is shattered, his children turn on him, and even his dog Daisy rejects him in a controversial panel where she intentionally pees on his leg.

When asked about this change, longtime BLONDIE writer, Dean Young, explained that it happened because a Hollywood screenwriter approached him with a proposal for a new film franchise possibility. The approach in the film is one that recognizes Blondie's global appeal as a woman of beauty, wealth, and intelligence who steps out from under the oppressive thumb of her shiftless American husband to become an avatar for women's rights everywhere.

"How could I turn down such an important and monumental opportunity?", Young declared.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Legal Win for Graphic Artists

Entertainment
This post originally appeared on THE ILLUSTRATORS PARTNERSHIP ORPHAN WORKS BLOG and is reprinted here in its entirety with permission.

Graphic Artists Guild Lawsuit Dismissed

Last week the New York State Supreme Court, New York County, dismissed all claims in a million dollar lawsuit brought by the Graphic Artists Guild (GAG) against the Illustrators' Partnership of America (IPA) and five named individuals.

In the lawsuit, GAG asserted claims for defamation and interference with contractual relations, alleging that IPA had interfered with a "business relationship" GAG had entered into that enabled GAG to collect orphaned reprographic royalties derived from the licensing of illustrators' work. GAG alleged that efforts by IPA to create a collecting society to return lost royalties to artists "interfered" with GAG's "business" of appropriating these orphaned fees.

In her decision, Judge Debra James ruled that statements made by the Illustrators' Partnership and the other defendants were true; that true statements cannot be defamatory; that illustrators have a "common interest" in orphaned income; and that a "common-interest privilege" may arise from both a right and a duty to convey relevant information, however contentious, to others who share that interest or duty. 

Regarding a key statement at issue in the lawsuit: that GAG had taken over one and a half million dollars of illustrators' royalties "surreptitiously," the judge wrote:

"Inasmuch as the statement [by IPA] was true, [GAG]'s claim cannot rest on allegations of a reckless disregard of whether it was false or not. Truthful and accurate statements do not give rise to defamation liability concerns."  (Emphasis added.)

And she noted:

"The plaintiff Guild has conceded that it received foreign reproductive royalties and that it does not distribute any of the money to artists."

Labor Department filings provided as evidence to the court document that between 2000 and 2007, GAG collected at least $1,581,667 in illustrators' reprographic royalties. GAG admitted to having collected similar royalties since 1996. GAG's officers have repeatedly refused to disclose how much money their organization has received to date or how the money has been spent.

DUTY AND COMMON INTEREST 
The judge concluded that this situation justified an assertion of common interest by IPA. This means that "the party communicating [relevant information] has an interest or has a duty" to convey that information truthfully to others "having a corresponding interest or duty":

"The duty need not be a legal one, but only a moral or social duty. The parties need only have such a relation to each other as would support a reasonable ground for supposing an innocent motive for imparting the information. Here the plaintiff Guild's factual allegations demonstrate that the defendants' statements were both true, and fall within the parameters of the common-interest privilege." (Emphasis added.)

We hope this decision will end the two and a half years of litigation during which GAG pursued its claims against IPA and artists Brad Holland, Cynthia Turner and Ken Dubrowski of IPA, as well as attorney Bruce Lehman, former Commissioner of the US Patent Office and Terry Brown, Director Emeritus of the Society of Illustrators.  

All defendants were participants in a public presentation sponsored February 21, 2008 by 12 illustrators organizations. The presentation was disrupted by GAG's officers and their attorney. A videotape of the event proves that statements which GAG alleged to be defamatory were made only in response to GAG's intervention, and that until that time, no speakers had mentioned GAG or GAG's longstanding appropriation of illustrators' royalties. 

Last year, on January 12, 2010, Judge James issued a prior ruling dismissing nearly all of GAG's causes of action. This left only a claim asserted by GAG against Brad Holland. But in a response filed with the court February 4, 2010, attorney Jason Casero, serving as counsel for IPA, pointed out that GAG's remaining claim rested on an allegedly defamatory statement that Holland never made. When confronted with evidence, GAG was forced to admit it had "inadvertently attributed" the statement to Holland.

GAG subsequently filed new motions in an effort to revive its claims against IPA and the other defendants. Last summer the judge consolidated GAG's multiple motions and on April 18, 2011, she dismissed all ten causes of action against IPA and all the defendants.  

REPROGRAPHIC RIGHTS AND ORPHAN WORKS
GAG served the lawsuit on IPA October 10, 2008, seven days after Congress failed to pass the Orphan Works Act of 2008. The Illustrators' Partnership and 84 other creators' organizations opposed that legislation. GAG had lobbied for passage of the House version of the Orphan Works bill. Mandatory lobbying disclosures document that GAG spent nearly $200,000 in Orphan Works lobbying fees.

In our opinion, the issues behind the lawsuit are greater than whether an organization should be allowed to benefit from the millions of dollars that, collectively, illustrators are losing. We believe the reprographic rights issue is linked to both orphan works legislation and the Google Book Settlement, which Federal Judge Denny Chin dismissed on March 22, 2011.

Each of these developments involves an effort by third parties to define artists' work and/or royalties as orphaned property, and to assert the right, in the name of the public interest or class representation, to exploit that work commercially or to appropriate the royalties for use at their sole discretion. So far, judges have affirmed that copyright is an individual, not a collective right, and that unless one explicitly transfers that right, no business or organization can automatically acquire it by invoking an orphaned property premise. Now the challenge for artists will be to see that Congress does not pass legislation to permit what the courts have so far denied.

We'll have more to say about this issue in the future. For now we'd like to conclude by thanking our attorney Jason Casero, who provided us with a strong, incisive and heartfelt defense; his law firm, McDermott Will & Emery, which provided us with his services; the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts of New York and its Director Elena Paul. We'd also like to thank Dan Vasconcellos, Richard Goldberg, and the over 700 artists and illustrators who in 2008 signed a petition asking GAG (unsuccessfully as it turned out) to drop the lawsuit; the support of so many colleagues was a great tonic at a low time. Finally we'd like to thank the representatives of the 12 organizations that comprise the American Society of Illustrators' Partnership (ASIP). ASIP is the coalition organization IPA incorporated in 2007 to act as a collecting society to return royalties to artists.  

- Brad Holland and Cynthia Turner for the Board of the Illustrators' Partnership 

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Superman Quits America and I Quit Superman

Entertainment
I've been wondering for awhile what would be my breaking point.

Superman renouncing his American citizenship is it.

I didn't know until now.

There was a time when "anniversary" comics were considered a celebration point.  I remember looking forward to them with great anticipation.  They were opportunities to sort of wallow in the love of the characters and the stories and, hopefully, get a classic rough-and-tumble between hero and villain and maybe even some nice pin-up art from great artists.  DC management, on the other hand, thinks celebrating the milestone publication of ACTION COMICS #900 is the time and place to have the character upon which DC Comics was built revoke his citizenship in the United States of America.  Henceforth, he will fight a "Neverending Battle for Truth, Justice, and the International Way!"

Doesn't quite have that archetypal ring does it?

Short-sighted idiocy seems to be the philosophical stance at DC Comics management these days and this one is a doozy.  The implications of a citizen like Superman publicly renouncing his U.S. citizenship at the United Nations is nothing short of treason unless he also publicly unmasks his Clark Kent persona and retires it.  You can't have a non-citizen vigilante contravening laws in the United States with an unspecified allegiance and also have that character continuing to live under false citizenship under a secondary secret identity and receiving the benefits and Constitutional protections due him as a citizen.

A character as powerful as Superman who has functioned not only as a citizen but, over the years, as an agent of the Executive Branch of the U.S. government cannot just renounce his citizenship and expect to continue to function within the boundaries of the U.S. without it being construed as a potential enemy invasion.

Effectively, Superman has placed himself in a position of adversary to the U.S. regardless of what the character says nor what DC claims.

I am afraid this finally puts the character of Superman in FUBAR territory.

The thing is, Superman has always been seen and recognized by readers as a "Citizen of the World."  But it was also understood that you can't really address it within the stories and continuity because of the ramifications involved in terms of Clark Kent's status as an American citizen.  However, as soon as a short-sighted writer makes this a major plot point then the sinkhole takes hold and it is nearly impossible to pull out of it.

The truth of the matter is that we all have to make certain concessions to accept the fantasy of Superman.  We can't dwell too long on the fact that sexual intercourse between the character and his love, Lois Lane, would inevitably be a one-night stand because she would not survive the night.  We don't dwell on the fact that he obviously can't have normal bowel movements like us humans or the sewer pipes would explode trying to break apart his invulnerable stools.  We can't dwell for very long on how utterly stupid everyone around Clark Kent would have to be to not see through the glasses disguise.  We don't dwell on the missing birth or adoption certificates of young Clark.  And we surely do not have Superman publicly renounce or even claim U.S. citizenship.

I was trying to think back through my last 40 years of reading Superman comics to the pathway that led to this development and what I came up with was this.

In the '70s, there were occasional stories I remember that began dealing with social injustice and international concerns.  For example, there was the unintentionally racist story where Superman turned Lois Lane into an African-American so that she could infiltrate Metropolis' "Little Africa" section and enlighten the black people that "whitey" could be trusted.  There was a story addressing overpopulation.  There were stories where Superman lost his powers whenever he took off his costume, so he decided to live for a week as just Superman and a week as just Clark Kent and eventually realized they can't really be separated.  There was a story where he got sent back in time to the Revolutionary War as a celebration of the Bicentennial.  I remember seeing stories where the President would send Superman out on a mission, and Superman did so, I guess as a good "citizen" would.


I don't remember a story dealing with his immigration status.

Roll forward to the late '80s.  Superman comics got rebooted with the MAN OF STEEL mini-series which attempted to "update" Superman for the modern era.  In the new continuity, Superman was apparently rocketed to Earth while he was still a fetus, and his rocket ship was sort of an artificial uterus so that when he arrived here he was "born" in Kansas.  So, somebody at DC at that time must've realized that Superman  needed to be "born" here to satisfy the legal requirement for him to be an American citizen -- even though it was not explicitly stated as such.

Otherwise, that change was pointless.


The character of Superman has been on a downward trajectory ever since (ALL-STAR SUPERMAN notwithstanding).  Within a couple of years of the modernizing, he had outright executed 3 Kryptonian villains.  Then he went crazy because of the guilt.  Then he sort of meandered around the DC universe pointlessly for a number of years.  With KINGDOM COME, a more classic version of the character got thrown back into the forefront, but darkened by an apocalyptic vision of the future and massive indecisiveness.  This was followed through on in JUSTICE where, once again, Superman is indecisive and ineffectual.

SUPERMAN RETURNS hit the movie screens and we saw a messianic version of Superman who fathered a bastard child, stalks Lois Lane, and is once again racked with indecisiveness.   This was also the first time that "the American way" was noticeably removed from "Truth" and "Justice" (a change I attributed to Hollywood).


This interpretation rooted itself into the comics for the most part, except for a short run by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank that glimpsed the Superman of old.  But then readers had to gag through over a year's worth of stories about everyone except Superman filling the various Superman titles culminating in the well-publicized "Grounded" storyline.  Yes, "Grounded", where self-righteous, Thoreau-spouting Superman took off for a year to "walk" across the country and figure things out.  "Grounded" was easily the worst thing I'd ever read involving Superman up until the point Chris Roberson took over.  He somehow took this awful idea and turned it into a celebration of Superman past, present, and future.

I had hope for the future.

Until now.  Roberson was not asked to continue writing SUPERMAN after the "Grounded" storyline.  And now, ACTION #900 comes along and answers the question "What was 'Grounded' ultimately about?"

It was about making the implicit explicit.  And by doing so, they have created a mess of confusion for the future because, once it's out there in print, it's impossible to truly erase it.  Readers can use selective memory and application, but it doesn't change the fact that the more you bring realism into your fantasies the more the implications and ramifications of those decisions are forced to mind.

In this case, Superman becomes enemy of the state.

And that's not any sort of Superman I care about.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

GREEN LANTERN may be a Secular Religious Experience!

Entertainment
The world is a funny place these days. What's funny to me is that while the world at large (especially the Western world) falls further and further from an overtly “religious” society, we find ourselves substituting the craziest things for whatever it is within us that craves that transcendent religious experience. We see it at Lady Gaga concerts where the throngs whip themselves into a religious furor worshipping at the altar of their modern pagan goddess while throbbing repetitive techno-beats induce altered states of consciousness. We see it every year in the nation-wide unofficial religious holiday known as “Super Bowl” where everyone's lives are sacrificed on the altar of the modern gladiators battling over dominance in the grid-iron game of “keep-away” known as American Football. In the ever-increasing world of the geeks and nerds, the San Diego Comicon is as close to a secular “Mecca” as we have seen. And just as the faithful Muslim who hopes to trek to Mecca at least once before they die...likewise the average geek prays to Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth that one day...even he (or she) may make it to San Diego.

This weekend marks another lesser Comicon, this one is “Wondercon” and it is held in San Francisco. However, Wondercon has garnered much attention in the realms of the geekstrati online for Wondercon is the place that glorious footage from the much-anticipated GREEN LANTERN film was finally unveiled (and subsequently placed online for all to see).

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For those not in the know, GREEN LANTERN is a film adaptation of a popular comic book super-hero who wields a magic ring that can turn his thoughts into physical form.

I realized after I watched these 4 minutes (repeatedly), that the closest I could come to explaining my reaction was that I was having a secular religious experience. I don't mean that I touched the mind of God or anything, but I am not kidding that the first time I watched it I got choked up and literally found a tear welling in my eye. In my life, that's only happened a handful of times over something this silly and inconsequential– not counting the death of Mr. Spock in STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN because if you didn't cry when you saw that in 1982, you have no soul– and it led me to write this.

Here's the thing with me, myself, and I. I don't remember when I started reading comic books. I've always read them. I remember when I started “collecting” them in Jr. High, but “reading” them? They were just always a part of the mix of books, magazines, and comics that I read. But I am and always have been an unabashed fan of the super-hero. The visual appeal. The archetypal imagery and mythological construct underlying them. The fun factor. The fantasy factor. Even the silliness. I love it all. And that's not to dismiss comics or graphic novels as just super-hero stuff either. While it may be the bread-and-butter end of the business, there are works of literature and art done in comic book form that far outstrip and surpass most prose literature. But super-heroes are what this is about today.

GREEN LANTERN specifically. Since at least third grade, I have proclaimed GL to be my favorite super-hero. I have huge love and appreciation for my other top heroes, Superman, Capt. Marvel, Iron Man, Thor, Capt. America, and lesser knowns like Metamorpho and Dr. Mid-Nite. I remember playing super-hero with my friends back then and us choosing heroes. There was always the smart-ass who quickly declared himself “Superman” so he could be the most powerful. I, the bigger smart-ass, always came back with “Green Lantern.” To which, and this was back in the early 70s, the reaction was usually a bit of ridicule as they snickered “Green Lantern?? Haha! Why him?” And I would respond that “He's the most powerful super-hero of them all.” They would laugh more and start throwing super-hero names out and I would quickly inform them how GL would take them out, then eventually they'd throw out “Superman!” and smirk. I confidently declared that as GL, I would use my ring to make “Green Kryptonite” and kill Superman. Which always left them unable to come up with a retort. Battle done and won and I smirked on the inside and led the way as “Green Lantern.”

I'll confess now, at 44, that even then I knew I was blowing smoke because I knew GL couldn't really make “Green Kryptonite.” He could make a green rock, but that's all it would be. But I always relied upon the collective ignorance of my Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man obsessed friends to NOT know that.

And I was always correct.

Well, after this summer, the collective ignorance surrounding the Green Lantern character will go by the wayside as he enters the zeitgeist in a huge way if this amazing piece of 4-minute footage from the film is any indication.

Now as to my reaction to that footage. Why did I tear up? It has to do with seeing something visualized for real that I never expected to ever see in my lifetime. And in GREEN LANTERN, there is so much more, in terms of concept, than just a magical ring and the best super-hero costume ever designed (by the late, great artist Gil Kane). Hal Jordan is an adventurous former Air Force pilot who is “chosen” to receive a gift of what is essentially access to absolute power limited only by his will and strength of character. The story of GREEN LANTERN is about overcoming fear, it is about the seduction and abuse of power, it is about the conflict between totalitarianism and individualism, it is a story about sin and redemption, and it is about hope and collective goodness and good-old-fashioned super-hero action and cosmic space-opera.

To me, he is the ultimate in super-hero concept and to see it so perfectly visualized as if it were real...it is a transcendent experience.

I did believe a man could fly!
As a super-hero nut all my life, this isn't the first time this has happened, but it may be the most fully satisfying time (I have to wait until June to find out)! Back in December of 1978 was the first time I encountered something I never thought I would ever see. At 12 years-old, I had myself dropped off at the first showing of SUPERMAN on December 16th (Saturday) and sat back and felt myself choke up the first time I saw the opening sequence with the “Daily Planet” sphere on top of the skyscraper fully lit up and revolving and then the bursting into space for the bombastic flight to the planet Krypton. I was in another world for 2 hours. When it was over, I walked out the doors of Cinema 6 in Temple, Texas and bought a ticket for the next show starting in a half-hour, and went back in and sat back down to wait for it to start again.

I can never regain that 12 year-old's sense of wonder ever again, but I am hoping for as close to it as a 44 year-old can get this summer.

It wasn't until the first teaser trailer for the BATMAN film came out in 1989 that I got another tingle of excitement. By this time, I was out of college and into my adult life, but I remember the first time that trailer played. My fiance and I were at a movie in Austin at the Arboretum theater (which is now The Cheesecake Factory) and the trailer came on and the entire audience erupted into thunderous applause when the trailer was done. This was Batman....done....seriously? I knew at that moment that “super-hero” movies were about to become a reality as never before after those in charge of the SUPERMAN movie franchise had let it deteriorate into the embarrassments of SUPERMAN III & IV.

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The first time I saw Sam Raimi's SPIDER-MAN swinging his way through the skyscrapers of New York City, I felt that little tickle of a choke in my throat seeing something I thought was impossible. The opening credits of WATCHMEN (a film I truly thought was unfilm-able but was proved wrong) that established the background and history of the world of WATCHMEN while Bob Dylan's “The Times They Are A-Changin'” plays.

video

That brought a tear to my eye the first time I saw it. The upcoming CAPTAIN AMERICA and THOR movies are thrilling as well. The first time I saw Asgard visualized and it looked like Jack Kirby's art come to life, yeah, I got choked up.

  
But nothing has hit me like the first SUPERMAN movie until these 4-minutes of GREEN LANTERN hit the web this weekend.

“In Brightest Day; in Blackest Night. No Evil shall Escape My Sight. Let Those Who Worship Evil's Might....Beware My Power....GREEN LANTERN'S LIGHT!”