Posts Tagged ‘Captain America’

‘Captain America’ Cries the Red, White and Blues

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Anyone out there who has remotely cared about how comic creators have been screwed out of even the tiniest morsel of the tremendous profits  generated by Hollywood’s superhero bonanza had to let out a huge guffaw after reading a recent Variety  interview with Chris Evans, who will star as Captain America throughout a contracted six film run for Marvel Entertainment. His commitment is now half completed with this past weekend’s blockbuster release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

The star spangled actor seems fairly constrained when talking about the trials and tribulations of portraying the famed First Avenger, careful not to raise the ire of Marvel studio execs but can’t help himself from peaking the nerves of their stingy bean counters with a little help from Avenger cast ring leader, Robert Downey, Jr.

Evans says Marvel will often send him pictures of “Captain America” action figures that are molded after his likeness, but that he doesn’t profit from the merchandising. “I see my nephew wearing underwear with my face on it,” says Evans. “I’m like ‘what’s going on?’ But for some reason, (no money comes) my way.” Adds Downey: “Nobody gets anything from the toys, and nobody ever will.” Then he promises: “I’m working on it.”

What if?

It’s a hoot seeing these mega-stars crying over the money they are not making especially after they all made such a big scene about renegotiating their contacts going into Avengers 2 after the original Avengers film grossed over $1.5 billion world-wide, ranking it number three in all-time box office sales. Adding fuel to the fire was the huge discrepancy of pay between stars. Downey made $50 million for his role as Iron Man while other Avengers  made as little as $200,000 for their silver-screen super-heroics generating comments like, “On what planet is that fair!”

True to form, Marvel continues to “strong-arm and bully” the talent, wether it is an aging comic book creator or a celebrated Hollywood actor, with threats of law suits and dismissal of service held against detractors. Marvel considers talent to be expendable so long as they control the Intellectual Property of their vast library which they protect with the might of Odin to the point that even Disney power suits stand clear.

As each new Marvel film exceeds expectations and rings up record revenue it becomes more apparent that Marvel is as mythic as its heroes and villains when it comes to sheer greed. Soon their brand will be synonymous with companies like Walmart and McDonalds whose employees require government assistance to survive because they are paid and treated so poorly.

Maybe the high profile whining of celebrities like Chris Evans, Robert Downey, Jr, Scarlet Johansson, Chris Hemsworth and others will bring attention to Marvel’s unscrupulously tight fisted business ethics. Maybe the stars and the public will finally gain sympathy for the Kirby family who do not see one red cent from all of the characters that Jack Kirby co-created, without which none of these actors would have a role to play or complain about in the first place.

Unions in Hollywood are powerful, they have the ability to freeze the industry. Should the writers and actors become sympathetic to the plight of comic creators and their heirs, some justice could still come to those that have been denied fair compensation for their contribution to both the Marvel and DC Universes for decades. Maybe the courts will finally recognize the injustices that they’ve been catering to as they suckled the teats of big business.

Let’s root for the Marvel films to be so successful that  the stars can’t stand watching the vast amounts of money that is sure to elude them. Put them in the shoes of Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, Steve Ditko, Jerry Siegle, Joe Shuster and a long parade of other comic creators that worked for a lousy page rate under the shackles of a work-for-hire agreement and never saw royalties when their creations became films, toys or underwear.

The stars representing beloved heroes will put an unmistakable face on the unfair practices of Marvel and DC that a comic creator hunched over a drawing board or typewriter never could. Maybe then the world will appreciate the injustices that many of us have known about for decades and some things will change in the comics industry.

A perturbed Chris Evans is a great start. His character, Captain America, represents the American Dream and has stood for all that is fair and good in this country since his creation by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon in 1941.

It is only right that Captain America should now lead this charge against the corporate greed and bullying that grips our nation, exemplified by Marvel, the self proclaimed builders of our modern mythology. There is more than a man behind that shield he carries, there is the heart of a nation that cannot be taken away. It is time we all stand behind that red, white and blue shield together to defend what we know  is morally right. It is time for a battle cry! America, Assemble!

Gerry Giovinco



‘Marvel Studios: Assembling A Universe’ – A Kit With Instructions

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Tonight ABC television airs a special, ‘Marvel Studios: Assembling A Universe’ that is being promoted as an exclusive look inside the world of Marvel Studios.

Marvel’s website succinctly describes the world premiere primetime event:

“Marvel Studios has pioneered and broken box-office records around the world, creating a cinematic universe unlike any other in pop culture history through its blockbuster films. Beginning with “Iron Man” in 2008 and continuing today through “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” on ABC and the theatrical release of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” this April, the Marvel Cinematic Universe presents audiences with some of the most groundbreaking and dynamic storytelling that brings an unprecedented vision to the world of entertainment.

In this exclusive primetime documentary special, audiences will be taken further into the Marvel Cinematic Universe than ever before, offering viewers a front row seat to the inception of Marvel Studios, the record-breaking films, the cultural phenomenon, and further expansion of the universe by Marvel Television.

Marvel’s first television special documents the exciting story behind Marvel Studios and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, featuring exclusive interviews and behind-the-scenes footage from all of the Marvel films, the Marvel One-Shots and “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Viewers will walk a clear path through this amazing and nuanced universe, featuring sneak peeks at the future of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” on ABC, new footage from Marvel Studios’ upcoming theatrical releases, “Captain America: The Winter Solider” and “Guardians of The Galaxy,” and a sneak peek at the upcoming Marvel’s “The Avengers: Age of Ultron.’”

Curiously, they never mention the words “comics” or “comic books” once in their own promotion of this marketing extravaganza.

Seriously?

Fortunately early clips from the documentary shown on other sites quote Marvel Comics’ Editor-In-Chief, Axel Alonso saying,

“What Marvel Studios has done is very similar to what Marvel Comics did back in the day. They’ve built individual stories to stand on their own two feet, then they found a way to take those stories and weave them into a larger narrative.”

Thank you… I think.

Marvel Studios needs to pinch themselves, wake up and come to the stark (pun intended) realization that they are not creating anything. They are ADAPTING!

They are assembling this cinematic universe of theirs from a kit whose instructions were clearly established over a 73 year history by a ton of creative individuals whose professional careers were dedicated to making comic books!

Forget IRON MAN in 2008, let’s start with CAPTAIN AMERICA in 1941 and see where the Marvel Universe would be without their First Avenger that was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.

That’s right, the same Jack Kirby whose name pops up when you also mention the creation of, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Avengers and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. all of which  he collaborated on with some guy named Stan Lee throughout the 1960′s.

Stan Lee? Yeah, he was Editor-in-Cheif back in the day” and was probably the guy most responsible for finding a way to weave those stories into a “larger narrative” since he was sitting behind the big desk at the time, directing traffic and providing the final scripting on all of those comics.

Let’s not even get started on the Guardians of the Galaxy whose long list of creator contributors include the names of folks like Arnold Drake, Gene Colan, Steve Englehart, Steve Gan,  Bill Mantlo and Keith Giffen just to name a few.

By the way, there is one Guardian that has been lurking around the Marvel Universe since 1960. Yup! Groot made his first appearance in TALES TO ASTONISH #13 and is credited to – guess who? Stan Lee, and Jack Kirby along with a fella named Dick Ayers who also contributed to the creation of Iron Man.

Don’t be surprised if that alien shown in the T.A.H.I.T.I. episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. turns out to be Groot regenerating in that giant test tube. He is, after all, an alien plant species that was once held captive by S.H.I.E.L.D., became member of Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos and was later selected by the Kree to join the Guardians of the Galaxy to battle Ultron and the Phalanx where he sacrificed his life only to be brought back from the dead by Rocket Raccoon who managed to regrow him  by planting  one of his branches.

Nah!  That shit only happens in comic books.

Marvel Studios is working with a gold mine of material even after licensing out huge properties like Spider-man, X-Men and The Fantastic Four. Thanks to work-for-hire conditions in the comics industry the bulk of that material was produced for a  mere page rate and most of those creators that originally built that universe will never see a thin dime in royalties delivered to them or their heirs, especially not those of the late Jack Kirby whose creative genius is associated with most of this current crop of film and television that the Marvel Universe is built on.

Maybe, like Groot, there is hope that a seed, a branch or a twig could be planted and justice could grow from a bad deal that has been declared dead.

Remember, that without those comic books, none of these films and television shows will have ever existed and neither will have all the industry that is built around licensing and merchandising them, creating tons jobs that help support our economy.

What entertainment would we be enjoying this summer without Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and the rest of those comic book creators?

Without them there is no Marvel Universe to assemble.

Making Comics Because We Want to,

Gerry Giovinco



Joe Simon Deserves More Than a Concession

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Marvel superheroes are anticipating a big summer on the silver screen with four blockbusters waiting in the wings. Captain America, Spider-Man, X-Men and The Guardians of the Galaxy are all ready to prove that their real superpowers are their ability to generate billions of dollars worldwide from ticket sales and merchandising.

With all that cash soon to be whirling around, It was a wonderful feeling to discover from  Bill Mantlo’s brother Mike, that Marvel had come to an agreement that would compensate Bill fairly for his part in co-creating Rocket Raccoon, the expected breakout star of the Guardians of the Galaxy film due in August. It is a bitter sweet victory since Bill now resides in a nursing home a victim of permanent brain damage sustained by a terrible accident in 1992.

Marvel’s settlement with Bill Mantlo, though undisclosed, appears to be one that is quite satisfactory to his family and is indicative of other agreements that seem to be quietly negotiated with other creators whose characters were created as work-for hire and are now being featured in this wave of popular films. Creators appear to be receiving some type of small ongoing royalties from profits generated by their work.

For those of us that grew up worshiping Marvel and the creators that brought so much excitement into our lives,  it is a dream come true to see Marvel attempting to treat the creators fairly and compensate them for their contribution.

Unfortunately the realization of this dream is just a mirage.

In less than a month Captain America: The Winter Soldier will burst into theaters and the granddaughter of Cap’s co-creator, Joe Simon, celebrated it’s impending release with a lovely tribute intended to remember her grandfather’s most significant contribution to the world of comics.

Megan Margulies http://meganmargulies.com/ writes about how her grandfather, who passed away in 2011 shortly after Captain America the First Avenger was released, was always so proud of his creation. She subtly points out that he had reached a settlement with Marvel in 2003 that relinquished all of his rights to the character for a an amount of money so small it left the most meaningful part of the agreement being that his name and the name of co-creator Jack Kirby was required to be displayed during the opening credits of any Captain America movie.

She describes seeing his credit on the film as a great source of pride for her and Joe’s extended family as they all represented him at the LA premier of the film.

As much as anyone can appreciate being recognized for our accomplishments we all know that pride is wonderful but, at the end of the day, that and a cup of coffee ain’t getting anyone anywhere.

Dig a little deeper and read Megan’s 2013 Fourth of July tribute to her grandfather and you realize that, in her own poetic way, she wants the world to know that this man that co-created one of the greatest superheroes of all time lived a very modest life until his death at 98.

He lived in a small messy apartment that he shared with mice and a squeaky armchair. His most prominent piece of furniture was his ink splattered drawing board. The family found it necessary to sell off most of his art, a piece of which her fiancé bought for her from auction in remembrance of her grandfather.

This humble and loved man was proud of his creation but he and his family never had and never will benefit from the incredible wealth that Captain America is able to generate.

So, in my opinion, Megan’s tribute reads like an eloquent concession speech given by someone who has lost a great battle.  She took the high road and showed tremendous sportsmanship, choosing to focus on Joe Simon’s legacy rather than the ugly details.

Megan has taken the same road as the Kirby family who have finally lost a bitter war with Marvel over their father’s stake in not just Captain America but many of the characters in the Marvel Universe.

The Kirby’s, in defeat, have similarly focused on preserving Jack’s legacy by actively promoting a positive image of his contribution to comics, and managing a wonderful Kirby4Heroes campaign to aid the Hero Initiative.

It fascinates me that Marvel can pick and choose those that they are willing to compensate in an effort to manipulate public opinion while those that have been most responsible for their vast wealth are perpetually denied.

To me, it is a crime to march a creator’s family on to a stage to promote a film whose movie premier alone probably cost more than the settlement that Joe Simon received.  It is a travesty that the actors portraying the characters make more for one film than Joe Simon and Jack Kirby made in their lifetimes. It’s a shame that the profits generated from these films could support a small country yet the heirs of these creators find themselves selling prints on etsy, surely not for the fun of it.

CigarJoeDesigns

it is a huge mistake to read Megan Margulies tribute to her grandfather and get so overwhelmed by the tremendous respect and pride that she has for what Joe Simon accomplished that we fail to remember that he and his family are victims of an unscrupulous corporation that will deny fair and reasonable compensation to the families of their greatest creators.

Marvel, you had us going there for a second, but compensating creators needs to be more than a PR stunt. Make it a retroactive and significant part of your corporate strategy and then we will all be impressed. Until then, enjoy watching creators die in poverty while your execs and shareholders get fat at their expense.

Making Comics Because We Want to,

Gerry Giovinco



SUPERHEROES™: The Never Ending Bullshit – Truth, Justice and Corporate Greed Part 2

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

JUSTICE: in Part 1 of this series I took at look at how the  PBS documentary, Superheroes: The Never Ending Battle obscured Truth by omission, enforcing  the public perception that the only superheroes that exist in our global culture are the ones attributed to Marvel and DC. There is no Justice to the pantheon of creators, publishers and characters that have made significant contributions to the impact that the genre superheroes has made as a whole on our society

If only this was the sole lack of justice attributed to this documentary. The comic book industry has a long history of injustice when it comes to the treatment of creators. To its credit, Superheroes: The Never Ending Battle, does make an attempt to identify the major sin of exploitation of impoverished, immigrant, young men during the Great Depression. But rather than identify it as a significant moral failure  it was portrayed almost as a badge of honor.

Legendary late creators like Joe Simon, Jerry Robinson, Carmine Infantino, and Joe Kubert emphatically embraced the practice of sweat shop ethics and corporate ownership of all works defining it as as business as usual.

95-year-old Irwin Hasen barked into the camera that “The companies owned everything!” , “You got nothing but a page rate!”, and “we worked our asses off!” “That’s the way it was!”

This all aired almost as an eyewitness testimony to to the challenges of the Kirby Family who were seeking copyright revision of works co-created by their late father Jack Kirby for Marvel during the 1960′s. It seems no coincidence that just a week after the series was first broadcast the courts denied their final attempt to appeal holding to the premise that his creations were work for hire and were owned exclusively by Marvel.

Joe Shuster, Neal Adams, Jerry Siegel and Jerry Robinson celebrate their victory over DC Comics in 1975

The series focused only on the the battle of Superman creators Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster stimulated by the impending success of the first Superman movie in 1978.  They failed to mention that Seigel and Shuster had challenged DC continually since they returned from their service in  WWII and it was not until Neal Adams and Jerry Robinson led a campaign to publicly shame DC and Warner Bros. that the men saw any long term agreement that would prevent them from dying impoverished and guaranteed that they would receive credits as the creators of the character.

Jenette Kahn, former President of DC Comics,  proclaimed the Seigel and Shuster victory as a triumphant day in the history of comics as if a great blight  had been lifted from the industry when in fact it was just the tip of a huge iceberg that the audience is expected to be kept unaware of.

It is ironic that the parade of commentators  waxing nostalgic on the screen represented a number of creators and historians who have been very vocal in the area of creators rights. I can only assume that their words were taken out of context or left on the cutting room floor to create the impression  that all is hunky-dory  in Superheroland and potentially discredit their objecting positions.

Gerard Jones who wrote the scathing book Men of Tomorrow about the career spanning injustices toward Seigel and Shuster and the historic ties of comics and organized crime.

Arlen Schumer who just did a symposium at the Kirby Museum and who has been a long time vocal supporter if the Kirby contention.

Mark Evanier, a Kirby collaborator who was instrumental in supporting Jack Kirby’s  independent work and Jack’s battles with Marvel since the 1970′s

Joe Simon who settled with Marvel over rights to Captain America in 1968,

Neal Adams one of the first creators to stand up for creators rights who famously demanded the return of original art and attempted to for one of the first creator unions in comics. His Continuity comics line also stands as one of the early great independent comic book publishers if the 1980′s.

Jerry Robinson an outspoken creators rights activist who led the charge with Neal Adams to aid Seigel and Shuster,

Stan Lee who won a 10 million dollar settlement in 1992 over characters he co-created with Kirby but who has always been a self proclaimed “company man” and Marvels biggest mascot and cheerleader.

Gerry Conway who recently reached out to fans to help him receive royalties owed by DC Comics.

Marv Wolfman who has struggled with Marvel over compensation for the creation of Blade which has become one of Marvel’s early successful film franchises.

A shout out to Jerry Ordway for his suggestion to kill Superman which led to the Death of Superman event that rocked the industry in the 1990′s mocked his recent plea to get any kind of work in the current market.

The use of video of Jack Kirby, as heartwarming as it was, also belied the battles that Jack had with the industry, especially Marvel.

But the most  galling segment was video of Alan Moore quoting from The Watchmen intended to create the impression that Moore who has been adamantly unhappy with the treatment of his work and how DC has exploited his contract  and who is now watching Marvel do the same with his work on Marvel Man is somehow happy about the current conditions of the industry.

Any one who has paid any attention to the comics industry knows that Alan Moore is so disgusted with DC and now Marvel that he refuses to allow them to use his name on their products. Though it is impossible to ignore the influence his works have had on the industry it is also a mockery to show him almost gleefully quoting from his script without detailing his conflicts with the industry which are as legendary as his comics.

Intentionally ignored was an entire movement to establish creators rights in comics and decades of work by independent publishers to produce superheroes and alternative comics that are owned by their creators. According to Superheroes: The Never Ending Battle only one small band of insurgent creators ever found industry practices so unpleasant that they splintered off to form Image.

Many, Many, creators ventured away from Marvel and DC to pioneer independent works long before the boys at Image even began working in comics. To even begin a list would be a monumental task.

Justice was ignored in this documentary that focused only on a band aide applied to an open sore while a cancer looms beneath the surface. Creators continue to get a raw deal in the comics industry just as they did 75 years ago. They create heroes that represent Truth Justice and the American Way but they are victims of obscured Truth, denied Justice and Corporate Greed. Actions all masked  to conceal their true identity in this series, like the colorful superheroes they intend to glorify.

Next up is Corporate Greed. Is it really the American Way?

Gerry Giovinco



Superheroes Held Hostage as Trademark

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

There is no doubt that superheroes represent modern mythology. Face it,  we are fascinated by folks with super powers and cool costumes. Why not? Super human characters have captured our imagination since the days of the ancient Egyptians. Who wouldn’t want to have a super power? Most of us at least have dreamt about flying or possessing super strength. Superheroes are permanently ingrained into our culture. They are a fantasy  representation of ultimate traits that we admire. They are who we all would like to be.

The concept of superheroes is so pervasive in our society that many are surprised to learn the word, superheroes  and all variations of it are actually trademarked jointly by  Marvel and DC. These two parent corporations are undoubtedly responsible for most recognizable superheroes in the world today but should that be enough to grant them ownership of the use of the one word that distinctly represents an entire genre of creative works depicted in all forms of media including comic books, novels, video games, film and television not to mention a plethora of merchandised products?

Marvel and DC entered into the rare joint ownership back in 1979, though some suggest that this may have occurred as far back as the 1950′s. It was necessary for them to share the ownership to protect their rights to the word or risk losing it. They renewed the trademark registration as recently as 2006 generating much discussion at the time. A clear explanation of the ramifications of the registration was posted on Comic Book Resources by staff writer Brian Cronin who is also a lawyer in New York City. The post titled, The Superhero Trademark FAQ did a a wonderful job of succinctly answering all of the obvious questions, especially the big one, “How can they trademark the word superhero?”

Apparently, all they had to do was prove, through surveys, that people identified the the word superhero specifically with their product.  Asked, “name a superhero” and any random selection of the general population undoubtedly would have ran off a steady stream of, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-man, Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America; a list of the most iconic superheroes, all owned by Marvel and DC.

Case closed.

Of course there are tons of other superheroes. There is a rich three-quarter of a century history of superheroes that were published by a myriad of other companies but by the late seventies they were all gone and forgotten except by a few diehard fans of the medium and pop culture enthusiasts. The mass market was being funneled into the Direct Market and when a sudden wave of new superheroes emerged in the 1980′s they were corralled into a restrictive market that catered only to enthusiasts that could spot a superhero a mile away if they were labeled one or not. New publishers were frustrated by their inability to use the word on covers and in advertising but were happy to distance their product from the big two in an effort to establish their brand if only in the confines of the local comic shop. The rest of the world was exposed exclusively to Marvel and DC characters.

Nobody could have imagined the scope of the internet then or the future of computer generated special effects.  The impact they both have had on  the new explosion of interest  in superheroes has changed the game. The concept of the superhero has become bigger than the individual characters. Show a generic picture of any man, woman or child in a costume with a mask and a cape and they will easily be identified as a superhero and distinguished as NOT one of the major players in the field. Generic superheroes abound throughout advertising, media and entertainment. Everybody calls them what they are, superheroes.  The people that are in the business of creating new superheroes, other comic publishers, cannot call a spade a spade, however,  without receiving the dreaded cease and desist letter from both Marvel and DC.

This is just another example of how Marvel and DC gang up and continue to put a stranglehold on the growth of the genre and the medium of comics. As an industry we let it happen by not contesting their dictatorship at every turn. One little guy has stood up to fight the good fight. Ray Felix , the publisher of A World Without Superheroes, is taking a stand and challenging them with amazingly little support from others. He needs help from those that care about superheroes. He needs help from us.

What Marvel and DC have done with the trademark of the word, superhero, is a travesty. If anyone has diluted the trademark it is them. When they originally registered the word, a superhero had distinct wholesome qualities that were governed by the Comics Code Authority which was still in effect, though in  weakened sense, in 2006 upon their renewal. They have continually changed their characters rebooting everything from their costume, to sexual orientation. Characters have been killed, re-killed and killed again. Any moral code that was attributed to superheroes has long gone astray. There is little that another publisher could do that would harm the term superhero more than what Marvel and DC have already done. They are not good custodians of the word!

Under their stewardship an entire industry of superhero pornography has been allowed to flourish under the guise of parody. Their trademarked term, superhero, is all over the covers of those videos.  One company has an entire line of them titled “Vivid XXX Superheroes” that features all the major superheroes doing the “nasty.” OK, a parody is a parody and it is protected. Superhero Movie was a parody. There was one of them!  The porn industry uses the trademark “superhero” over and over again with no contention.  There’s even a performance spray for men called Superhero!  What’s the deal?

Imagine Coke-a-Cola standing by idly while a porn film features everyone running around with a Coke bottle hanging out of every orifice. It wouldn’t happen!

Now there is Superhero Play. No, it is not some type of pornography. (See the dilution) It is a term coined by educators describing little kids running around pretending they are superheroes and it is raising concern because it inspires aggressive behavior because superheroes “fight” evil.  Will Marvel and DC want to distance themselves from the word superhero when it becomes a witch-hunt-buzz-word like Horror and Crime comics did in the fifties?

The word superhero is being held hostage as a trademark by Marvel and DC. They protect it when it is convenient and when it offers an opportunity to bully small publishers, toy companies and business owners. They enforce the illusion that all superheroes are their product only  and for any other reason this is why guys like Ray Felix need to be supported, because the world needs to know that all superhero comics do not come from just Marvel and DC.

Making Comics Because We Want to,

Gerry Giovinco


Mark Millar is Right!

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

Mark Millar’s assertion that a Justice League film is “an excellent way of losing $200 million” is dead-on but not for the reasons he stipulates.

The idea that the characters that comprise the membership of Justice League of America are outdated is insane. The core group of founding members of the JLA; Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter, are not only iconic characters, they have literally established and defined the entire superhero genre over their 75 year history.

Where the powers-that-be at DC and Warner continually fail and why a JLA film would tank is that, for some reason, these classic characters are considered by them as never good enough, never mature enough, never edgy enough. The properties are constantly the subject of reboots to make them more relevant, more gritty, more believable. In the process these characters have become unrecognizable to generations of fans that have an idealized passion for the originals.

Marketing geniuses that license the DC properties understand this passion and that is why classic images of these characters adorn every product imaginable from Converse sneakers to slip covers for car seats. You don’t see licensees rushing to conform to likenesses of these characters from DC’s New 52. Why? Because the reboots of these characters are a bastardization of the classics whose only purpose is to distance copyright and trademark enforcement from the original creators.

There is a reason that these characters have been around for as long as they have. Something about them has struck a deep cultural nerve that has allowed them to be ingrained into our society. They are beloved.

Leave them alone already!

I was watching a designer on the Rachel Ray show the other day who was expounding on the enduring virtues of classic design. Classics never go out of style. Update with accessories! This has been lost on DC.

Stan Lee has always said that a great character should be easily defined by a simple statement. The JLA lineup has that in spades to the point where just the name of each character defines most of them. These are the characters audiences want to see in a film not a convoluted mess like they saw in the film Green Lantern.

That movie should have been about a guy with a ring that gave him superpowers. Boom! Instead we had to suffer through the history of the Green Lantern Corps and be introduced to more characters than we were ready to digest. Seriously. I just wanted to see Green Lantern fight some bad guys and save the day with his bad-ass ring!

Marvel Entertainment gets this. They do a great job of embracing the original source material and simply defining their characters. Look at The Avengers. Iron Man – guy in a metal suit. Thor – god of thunder. Captain America – super soldier. Hulk…now there’s a study.

The Hulk was in two films that audiences could not embrace. Those films were too much about what made Bruce Banner tick. Inner conflicts. Fancy cinematography. CGI. They strayed away from what was simple yet great about the character: Make Hulk mad and Hulk will smash. Oh, and he’s green.

Director Josh Whedon understood this and gave us the Hulk that we saw in The Avengers. Suddenly the Hulk was a breakout character again. Hulk was there. Hulk got pissed. Hulk smashed. Ta-da! The audience ate it up.

The Avengers was brilliant in its simplicity regarding character development. Every character was easily defined, relying heavily on what people knew and expected from them, not from their previous individual movies as much as what we knew about them from their decades of existence in popular culture.

With The Avengers film, Marvel Entertainment had a plan to market each character through their own feature film then combine them as a super group in The Avengers capitalizing on the exact marketing strategy that Stan Lee exploited with the comic books featuring the same characters. Stan, ironically, borrowed this strategy from DC who’s success combining their own banner characters to form the JLA, in part, instigated the creation of The Fantastic Four, miraculously giving Marvel a new life.

DC would do well to reverse engineer this marketing plan by giving us a Justice League film that gives us highlights of the classic characters as we know and love them in a dynamite team adventure then spinning each character off into their own film after audiences have re-embraced the characters. This would work best if they were sure not to convolute the characters and dramatically depart from the institutions that they already are.

Good luck with that.

Maybe DC would be less likely to over think their characters if the film was titled Super Friends.

It may be that the only producers capable of making a profitable Justice League film are those in the porn industry. Those superheroes are always recognizable, even with their clothes off.

More on this rant next week.

Gerry Giovinco


The Big Bang Theory: Is the Joke on Us?

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

There has been a lot of rumblings among comic fans about the stereotyping of Geek Culture in the hit television show The Big Bang Theory. This seems to have really come to a head after the episode The Bakersfield Expedition” where the female characters went to the local comic shop advertised as “where no woman has gone before.” The conclusion being that all involved with the production of the show must hate comic book fans because of what was interpreted as negative stereotyping of comic shops, comic books, and comic fans.

This reaction surprises me because I assume, and I’m sure this is a stereotype itself, that comic fans have a keen sense of popular culture, and would recognize that, as an outrageously popular sitcom, The Big Bang Theory most likely would employ all the usual conventions of the typically successful sitcoms which generally include, stereotyping and low brow humor. Since comics and cartoons have a long tradition of capitalizing on stereotypes through characterization literally and visually, I expect that comic fans would at least be accustomed to its use.

Is the pot calling the kettle black?

Humor is generally rooted in something painful. Our ability to laugh is a primal reaction that is soothing to the anxiety of dealing with what hurts or causes fear. We fear things that we do not know or understand as much as we fear things that we are sure will hurt us. Stereotypes are a false but identifiable veneer that keeps us focused on the superficial, preventing our awareness of the distinct particulars that define the true structure of the subject. The stereotypes used in sitcoms preserve their humorous impact by maintaining the mask that prevents a more complete understanding of the subject.

Occasionally, through sitcoms, our laughter accomplishes its primal goal and soothes cultural fears.

Vice President, Joe Biden received a lot of attention when he credited the sitcom Will & Grace for its impact on social mores regarding gay lifestyles during his appearance on Meet the Press. “When things really began to change is when the social culture changes,” He told host David Gregory. “I think Will & Grace probably did more to educate the American public than almost anybody’s ever done so far. People fear that which is different. Now they’re beginning to understand.”

No character could have fit the gay stereotype more than Jack, played by Sean Hayes yet the show was beloved by viewers throughout its eight-year run.

Last week Charlie Sheen walked on the stage of The View to a rousing ovation. He was credited by Barbara Walters as being “loved by America.” His character on the insanely popular sitcom Two and a Half Men, produced by Chuck Lorre who also produces The Big Bang Theory, was an often drunken, drug induced louse of a playboy whose sexploitations of women were the focus of the show, representing the ultimate cliche of the male chauvinist pig.

Sheen’s character was a frightening mirror of his actual life which exploded into public view during the antics of his tirade when he was fired from the show in 2011. Yet, he was welcomed into the open arms of Barbara Walters, Whoopi Goldberg, Joy Behar, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, and Sherri Shepherd, the five co-hosts The View who are powerful morning voices of women all over America.  Joy Behar even flashed him her reportedly perfect tootsies in response to his foot fetish. I suspect he is loved because somehow people feel they can relate to him now because of their familiarity with his character on Two and a Half Men.

Because of this phenomenon of cultural acceptance induced by sitcoms, I think it would do Geek Culture some good to be able to laugh at itself and simply accept The Big Bang Theory for what it is, a successful sitcom that is, not intentionally, paving a road of acceptance for a subculture that is not fully understood.

I am personally watching this phenomenon play out in my own house. My twenty-year-old daughter, Jenna,  whose eclectic interests  have never included anything remotely influenced by science fiction or superheroes ( with the notable exception of Captain Underpants when she was in third grade) is a huge fan of The Big Bang Theory. Her bedroom wall, which was once plastered with posters of the Jonas Brothers, now displays images of her currrent favorites: Junior Middleweight boxer, King Gabriel Rosado, rap star, Lil Wayne, movie star John Travolta, iconic beauty, Audrey Hepburn, and Big Bang’s character Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) barking “Bazinga!”

She named her cat Dr. Sheldon Cooper and her horse Leonard Hofstadter as homage to the show. Though she never read comics,  she now proudly proclaims her favorite superhero to be Green Lantern and has a shirt with his logo, and a plush version of his character. She has actually ventured into comic shops unaccompanied by me or my son presumeably to shop for us. And though my own comic book swag was once a source of overwhelming embarrassment to her, this year, beneath the Christmas tree, was a Justice League belt, a Captain America wallet and a DVD of the animated Ultimate Avengers. All were gifts from her to me.

I can only imagine that her affinity for The Big Bang Theory has softened her attitude towards a culture she had formerly vocally denounced as “dorky.” She has more than accepted the characters, she has embraced them and opened a place in her life that is willing to accept a subculture that before was alien to her.

My final suggestion to comic fans is, though it is fine to be critical and analytical of The Big BangTheory, look around at everyone laughing.  We know that the stereotypes are not a true representation of the sub culture but they represent what the general public sees on the surface. Laugh with them and invite them beyond the veneer where they can be actually laughing with you than at you. If we can’t laugh at ourselves we can’t expect others to take us seriously.

Making Comics Because We Want to,

Gerry Giovinco

Superheroes Defenseless Against Porn Parodies

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

There has lately been a rash of porn parodies featuring superhero characters stripped from the pages of comic books, television, and the multiplex. Now, it is safe to say that most of these characters have grown up and appeal to a much more mature audience than the 9-12 year old demographic that they were originally intended for. They reflect a darker, grittier motivation for their deeds and are far more fallible in their actions and judgement. They are no longer  the Dudley Do-Rights of a bygone era when their exploits were performed with a scout’s honor and a righteous smile.  Despite the graying tenant of fighting for “truth justice and the American way,” superheroes still represent a moral fiber that justifies them as heroic to audiences of all ages. So why are the owners of these characters allowing their trademarks to be tarnished under the guise of parody by pornographers?

Nothing against porn, but it is what it is, and for every person that enjoys it there is another that finds it offensive. Porn is entertainment that comes in the form of videos and magazines the same vehicles as comic characters and they currently share a similar demographic of sexually active young adults. Superheroes have run around in skin tight costumes since their inception and have always been accused of arousing some form of sexual fantasy of the reader. As the target age of comic readers has matured, sex has become a more significant theme in mainstream comics with major characters fornicating on rooftops and defining themselves with a variety of sexual orientations. Pornography featuring these characters may be less of the parody that they are described as being and more of a logical extension of the fantasies of the, now, more mature fan base of superheroes.

In the past few years, Porn Parodies of Superheroes has practically established an industry in and of itself. So why are porn companies able to produce video after video featuring “parodies” of these trademarks that are so accurately detailed to match feature films, television shows and comic books  with no contention from the trademark owners?

Superheroes are extremely valuable trademarks, each representing a character franchise for some of the biggest corporations in the world. These trademarks are worth billions of dollars and are licensed to endorse products sold to everyone from toddlers to adults. They are trademarks that generally avoid being offensive in any way, like the omission of Nazi Swastikas in the Captain America movie, in an effort to broaden their appeal. Marvel and DC even jointly own trademark of the word Superhero and variations of it in an effort to protect it.

Marvel, Disney, DC and Warner Communications are all pit bulls when it comes to protecting their valued trademarks most recently unleashing the dogs on a California birthday party company rented out characters wearing unauthorized, counterfeit costumes depicting their well known characters despite a disclaimer on the company’s site that read, “Look-a-like Characters are not officially licensed. We DO NOT USE OR HAVE COPYRIGHTED OR LICENSED MATERIAL, COSTUMES, OR NAMES. We also aren’t affiliated with any companies that hold copyrights so don’t ask for characters relating to copyrighted names.”

This disclaimer resembles the similar disclaimers used on the porn parodies that read,  “This movie is not sponsored, endorsed, or affiliated with any entity owning the rights to the characters parodied therein or the work being parodied. Specifically, this movie is not sponsored, endorsed, or affiliated with DC Comics, Warner Communications Inc., E.C. Publications, Inc. or Marvel Characters, Inc.”

The key word here seems to be Parody which protects the potential copyright or trademark infringer under the veil of “Fair Use” in copyright law. Does the claim of parody hand over the keys of a valued copyright or trademark to any Tom, Dick or Harry? No. Though the line that constitutes what is acceptable as parody is very shady, each case should be judged uniquely to determine if any harm is being caused to the trademark. Issues that weigh heavily on the court concern how much commercial value the trademark adds to the work of parody and does content that is sexual or distasteful potentially harm the trademark. Hmmm….you think someone might have a case?

Ben & Jerry’s did just last month when they tackled the Ben & Cherry’sseries of exploitive porn films using parodied names of their famous ice cream flavors. The porn company chose to pull the series from the shelves and destroy them.

DC itself battled pornographers way back in the seventies when a company tried to produce a porn parody of Superwoman. Their challenge forced the pornographer to change the costume and the name of the character to Ms. Magnificent.

Also in the seventies Disney legally crushed the Air Pirates, a group of underground cartoonists that published comic book parodies of famous Disney characters exploiting sex and drugs.

Why the sudden hands-off position regarding these porn parodies now? Some say the big companies don’t want to create publicity that might promote the porn. One would think that their lack of action would appear to be tacit endorsement of the product, despite what the disclaimer on the films might state.

I have not seen these films but a quick look at the safe for work trailers shows impressive attention to detail, great costumes and props and decent enough production quality to make these films, at least momentarily, easily mistaken for the regular film or TV productions of the originals. Now there are even animated porn parodies to mimic the cartoons of superheroes.

Its hard to imagine that these films with all their special effects, production quality and hardcore sex don’t present a greater threat to the public image of the superhero trademarks than the unauthorized costumes of a party company who sends costumed performers to a five-year-old’s birthday.

Some might say, “Who cares? It’s parody, get over it! Don’t be a stick in the mud! Freedom of speech! Boo!”

Shut down for trademark infringement.

I’m sorry, but I’m offended. Not by the pornographers, but by Marvel, Disney, DC and Warner Communication because they have proven that they are willing to relentlessly pursue anyone else who would infringe on their trademarks to the point of ridiculousness as shown by this very  brief rundown of challenges:

DC’s assault on Fawcett Publications claiming that Captain Marvel infringed on Superman.

Disney going after Marvel arguing that Howard the Duck infringed on Donald Duck forcing Howard to have to wear pants forever more.

Marvel going after WWF for the use of Hulk Hogan.

Not to mention the millions of dollars that Marvel and DC spend on legal fees to guarantee that they will never have to pay royalties to writers and artists that created characters that have made billions for both companies.

If they do not go after the pornographers These trademark owners make a mockery of everyone else they ever targeted and they imply that they either condone the treatment of their characters or are somehow invested in the production of these pornographic films. I think they owe it to all the little guys that they have trounced over the years because they infringed by hand painting a bat on their shingle or Mickey Mouse on a daycare wall. They owe it to all the creators they have robbed of fruitful twilight years. They owe it to all the fans who have emotionally invested  in wholesome entertainment. They owe it to every little kid that went to bed in superhero pajamas to at least pretend to protect their IP from infringement from pornographers so that we can believe that they at least tried to preserve the integrity of characters that have idealized heroism for three quarters of a century.

If Ben & Jerry’s, ice cream manufacturers, can stand their ground, why can’t  Marvel, Disney, DC and Warner Communications, the stewards of iconic superheroes, grow a pair and at least TRY to defend their precious property?

Making Comics Because We Want to,

Gerry Giovinco

Betrayed

Monday, May 7th, 2012

Has the comic book been betrayed by the Earth’s mightiest heroes? It’s a sad question to pose after probably the most geek filled comic book extravaganza the world has ever seen with the opening of The Avengers movie and Free Comic Book Day all happening in the same weekend. Comic book fans worldwide have been celebrating universally like never before, gathering at the multiplex and local comic shops in droves, dressed in their favorite comic book swag and costumes.

Free Comic Book Day itself has become a huge annual event, now in its tenth year it attracts over a million people to comic shops more than double the number from just five years ago. Comic fans and potential comic readers can’t resist the offer of free comics and continue to make this promotion a growing tradition. This is a good opportunity to point out that comics here at CO2 Comics are free to read EVERY day so if you are sill wallowing in all the free comics you acquired this weekend, just remember the buzz does not have to wear off!

Marvel Entertainment could not have picked a better weekend to launch The Avengers movie, especially with all the comic book love in the air generated by Free Comic Book Day. The Avengers could have been released in the dead of winter and still been a mega hit. A bona fide blockbuster, The Avengers will be the Titanic of all superhero movies and may even give that sunken barge a run for its money. Though I might be giving them too much credit for something that could have been a wonderful coincidence, it was sure nice of Marvel to remember its roots and tie into the comic fans’ big day and make it tremendously more special before they throw them to the curb.

I know I sound like an insufferable old bore but as much as I love super heroes, I realize that I loved the medium of comics even more. For me, comics are a  visual medium of incredible creative freedom and opportunity. It is one of the few mediums where the reader can relate directly to the literal and visual expression of a lone creator without the influence of  a long list of production personnel, editors, actors, etc. Comic books, graphic novels, comic strips, all mean a lot to me just for this reason and I would love for more people to be aware of these wonders of the medium. I would love to see comics everywhere, read by everyone.

So why wouldn’t I expect this Avengers movie to be a huge vehicle to promote comics? Isn’t Marvel in the business of selling comics? Surely they would seize the moment. Right?

Nope.

I was just in my local Walmart, you know, America’s Store. It’s being reconfigured, fittingly for this blog post, into a Super Walmart and right in the middle of the store is a huge cardboard Marvel kiosk featuring Thor, Hulk, Iron Man and Captain America leaping across a city skyline. Marvel Mania! On the display was every Marvel video you could imagine, Spider-Man, X-Men, Woverine, Electra, you name it! There were cartoon videos, even the old Bill Bixby Hulk videos, a video candy store of everything Marvel.

Then it hit me. There was Marvel merchandise in every department.  The toy aisle was loaded with Marvel action figures. There were Marvel hats, shirts, pants, shoes, even underwear. Marvel PEZ dispensers, floor mats for cars, posters, greeting cards, fabric and more only began to round out the list of everything that could bear a Marvel logo in Walmart.  Everything except… comic books.

What?! Comic books aren’t good enough for Walmart?! Marvel doesn’t have enough clout to get comic books or graphic novels into Walmart?! Do comic book shops have some exclusive deal that I’m unaware of to prevent comics from being sold at Walmart?!

Outside of comic shops apparently, Marvel doesn’t even think comics are worth giving away. Here’s a website that has a long list of all the premiums that Marvel is using to promote the movie from action figures, to cups and cars but you never find a comic book used as a promotional item. Why? How can comics be such a great medium to have spawned all of these great characters only to be shunned by a company that built its empire by exploiting this magnificent sequential art of words and pictures?

I have a theory. Marvel fears the comic book. Marvel views comics as a threat because they are too easy to make and distribute. They know from experience. Comics abound on the internet, nearly anyone can publish and sell online. Anyone can create the next big comic book sensation. Just as Marvel dethroned DC in the sixties with their ragtag reinvention of the superhero, toppling juggernauts like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, even the mighty Avengers are vulnerable to a new character birthed in the pages of a mild mannered comic book. I’m sure the powers at Marvel and Disney see different shades of green every time they hear the name Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, four megastars that climbed out of a sewer in the slum of a black and white independent comic book.

When I was researching the use of superhero parodies in the porn industry for my blog post Seduction of the Ignorant I discovered that that industry is struggling to stay afloat, beaten by easy access to porn on the internet, cheap homemade porn their most threatening competition. Porn producers have turned to expensive, special effect laden parody productions that are harder for the average Dick and Jane to make in their bedroom studio.

Marvel Entertainment is doing the same thing. They are focussing now on marketing their IP through blockbuster films budgeted in the mega millions. They have corralled the hardcore comic book fan into a niche market that can barely support sales figures that would have been an embarrassment thirty years ago. They have willfully created an atmosphere that has forced competition to meet suppressed quotas to even be considered for distribution into this niche market.

DC has taken full advantage of this abandonment of the comic market by Marvel with their onslaught of the New 52. They too are actively boxing out the little guys by flooding their IP into the comic market but they realize that comic books have the same power they always had and they are redesigning their universe and working out the bugs without risking millions on a film that could flop at the box office.

If you are a fan of comics, support your local comic shop, explore the internet for great new comics like the one’s here at CO2 Comics and download those comic apps for your mobile devices. Keep an eye out for the next big sensation to be created in comics and don’t be surprised if it does not come from marvel or DC. Be vigilant comic fans because despite the rise of the superhero in cinema, comic books are still the bastard child of the entertainment industry and even the Avengers betray them.

Celebrating Thirty Years of Comics History!

Gerry Giovinco



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