A weekly digest of thoughts on fiction, non-fiction, and all the news I see fit to print.
Highlights from SDCC 2016
The annual San Diego Comic-Con has once more come and gone, and while I wasn’t free to attend this year I kept a pretty close eye on things from afar. As expected, there were numerous announcements and first looks in the comics, film, and television worlds, but there were also thoughtful examinations of the role pop culture media plays in shaping society, the importance of representation, and the value of kicking back and having a good time. Here are some of my favorite news items that came out of this year’s SDCC:
- How comic books engage student interest and improve the education experience
- The accessibility of comic books—not just for readers but for creators
- Ryan Coogler and the cast of Black Panther talk representation and superhero films
- Henry Cavill runs around Comic-Con in a Guy Fawkes mask
Shutting Down Cyborg?
When DC comics launched their DCYou initiative last year (right around the time that Marvel was debuting Secret Wars 2015 and the All-New All-Different universe), I decided to do something that I had never before done as a comic book reader. I decided to add some DC titles to my pull list. New initiatives, lampooned as they often are by old school readers, provide good jumping-on points for readers unfamiliar with the material, and my interest in DC characters had greatly improved through my belated exposure to the DC animated universe. I chose three titles (largely based on writer-preferences) to sample: Gail Simone’s Secret Six, Brenden Fletcher’s Black Canary, and David Walker’s Cyborg. The results were somewhat mixed.
I loved Simone’s Secret Six run all the way through, but I felt that Fletcher’s take on Black Canary—despite a strong start—kind of went off the rails during the second (and final) story arc. Walker’s run on Cyborg, however, was absolutely phenomenal, and the book was engaging and thought-provoking right up to the point where DC took Walker off the book in the middle of a story arc and put Cyborg-creator Marv Wolfman on. Now, obviously, I have no way of knowing why Walker left the book mid-story; I have no way of knowing if it was his choice or DC’s. I do know that Walker asserts that there was no animosity on either side. Nevertheless, I cannot help feeling that there’s a strong possibility Walker left because his story got a bit more political than DC might have liked. Reading the series’ final story arc from Walker’s beginning to Wolfman’s ending, I very much felt that DC had pulled the fangs from what was growing into a very topical and powerful story.
Walker’s arc starts off with a strong undercurrent of racial subtext—the US government decides to enforce the registration of any and all cybernetic technology in the wake of a (failed) technosapien invasion, even going so far as to declare that title character Vic Stone, a black man, belongs to them. The person spearheading this initiative is an old, white, male senator, who is clearly cast in the role of story’s villain and whose claim to Vic Stone’s body echoes the ideas about ownership of black bodies that have defined racial politics in the United States. In Walker’s final issue on the series, Vic Stone is taken into custody by government agents (most of whom are white) and brought to a secure facility for interrogation. Then Wolfman takes over, and from that point on the (old, white, male) senator disappears almost entirely from the narrative. The situation suddenly becomes a convoluted plot on the part of the not-quite vanquished technosapiens, who were manipulating everything from behind the scenes unbeknownst to the human actors. The convoluted plot is then quickly resolved and the registration act element of the tale—the aspect of the story arc with strong racial subtext—is pretty much never mentioned again. There is no fallout as a result of Vic’s discoveries, no word on whether or not the Cybernetic Registration Act will reevaluated, and we never see that senator again.
It seems pretty clear what happened there, and it (perhaps unfairly) gave me some second thoughts about continuing to read DC titles. I brought my concerns up in conversation with a friend of mine who is much more conversant with the DC Universe than I, and he noted that DC’s comics tend to be less political than Marvel’s on balance. This may indeed be true, but there have been some politically challenging stories told under the DC banner in recent years. Scott Snyder’s take on the shortcomings of the US justice system in Batman 44 immediately comes to mind. (Of course, Batman was a top-selling title, and Snyder a writer with an established history at DC, and Batman 44 a one-off story in a much larger tapestry.) Was Walker’s story simply too political? Too raw in light of mounting racial tensions? Was Wolfman just not picking up what Walker was putting down? Whatever the reason, the bottom line is that Cyborg ultimately did not tell the best story of which it was capable, and that is a great shame.
Final Thought: On the Maintenance of Principles (and Habits)
You must know that it is no easy thing for a principle to become man’s own, unless each day he maintain it and hear it maintained, as well as work it out in life.
~ The Golden Sayings of Epictetus
I’d say this also applies well to the development and maintenance of useful habits. For what is life but the daily reaffirmation of self through the practice of habit and principle?