Arrow Season 6: same old same … old …

Arrow finished its sixth season limping to the finish line. Not in terms of ratings, though – it was once the CW’s top-rated show and was still in the top four at the end of Season 5. With Season 6 it remains a healthy #5.

But in terms of story ….

Eh.

I still love the show – its first three seasons were some of the best things on TV, especially for a comic book fan. But since then the Big-Bad-style, although popular, dragged the show down. I think for Season Seven they should abandon it.

Seven seasons is traditionally the final season for most shows – casting contracts last for seven years and are negotiated after that on a season-by-season basis. If Arrow goes on to an eighth season, do not be surprised if major members of the cast leave. Those that haven’t already left or been killed off …

To keep the show fresh they need to dump the Big-Bad storyline. That is, one major villain dominating the series for the bulk of the 22 episodes of the season. When it works, it is gripping and exciting! When it doesn’t, it makes for long, tedious stories with neither plot advancement nor real resolution until Episode 22. In other words, the last three seasons of Arrow.

“He’s one step ahead of us!” “This will work! We can defeat him!” Nope. Oh, occasionally the Big Bad has a set back and is even captured! But he will get back on his feet and escape. After a rare episode featuring a new or returning villain in a done-in-one show or a one-episode character study (“I’m leaving for good!”), we are back to the undefeatable Big Bad.

“Hoping this is their chance to stop (insert name of Big Bad) once and for all …” seems to begin the synopsis for 3/4ths of Arrow’s IMDB’s Episode Lists …

The Big-Bad style was done poorly over last three seasons of Arrow. By the time of the Big Finish, I stopped caring… And apparently, I’m not the only one:

Here is a website tracking Arrow’s ratings this season: https://tvseriesfinale.com/tv-show/arrow-season-six-ratings/

Pretty abysmal for a network show, although still respectable for cable/satellite channels. Click on any of the dates and you will usually see Arrow dead last among the networks selected (but note they are comparing, say, the CW to CBS …).

But the highest ratings over the last several weeks were from done-in-one shows: Roy Harper’s and Nysa Al Ghul’s return (Episodes 15 & 16), when we get back this season’s Big Bad, ratings tanked. Almost two hundred thousand viewers stopped watching.

The finale was the highest-rated show since January 25th and was the sixth-highest rated show of the season.

Sixth? The rip-roaring conclusion was only sixth?

Should that be a big enough hint for the producers?

The season began with Cayden James being the Big Bad: from the Arrow Wiki: “Believing Oliver Queen was responsible for the death of his son, the master hacker committed a series of attacks throughout Star City, wanting to avenge his son’s death and formed his own cabal to do so. It was later proven to him that Oliver was not responsible for Owen’s death, and James was subsequently taken into custody. Shortly thereafter, he was killed by the true mastermind behind his son’s death; James’s former associate Ricardo Diaz.”

The second half of the season revealed Diaz, played by the excellent actor Kirk Acevedo, as the true Big Bad.

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Unfortunately, Diaz was much like Adrian Chase (last season’s Big Bad): an Olympian-level (but not too super-powered) athlete who was always one step ahead, had the local law enforcement on his side … yadda yadda ad nauseum…

Season 6 was a cut and paste of Season 5. Both had an exciting conclusion but the dozen-plus episodes leading up to it was tedious television. I may have to treat Arrow Season 7 as I did Agents of Shield 2 & 3: watch only prime-numbered episodes (1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, etc.), the mid-season cliff-hanger, and the last two shows. I wouldn’t lose any of the plot.  And that’s a shame.

(Obviously this doesn’t count the line-wide cross-over. This year it was “Crisis on Earth-X” and got Arrow it’s highest rating of the year. The show had no sign of Cayden James or Ricardo Diaz. Hint. Hint.)

And don’t think we didn’t notice Arrow copying this season’s Flash plot with its “our-hero-is-on-trial” sub-plot – Arrow even copied the resolution – with Christopher Chance taking Ralph Dibny’s role!

(and hey, I’ve got to include this: I love Kirk Acevedo’s channeling his inner-Al Pacino as Diaz, but to bring in Rene’s daughter during the trial as a silent threat? Holy Vincenzo Pentangeli!

Google it…)

The solution? Only feature the Big Bad in half your episodes. Make the other 11 done-in-one or two-or-three-part (separate and resolved) story-arcs.

Gaining new viewers in a seventh season will be very hard to do. This might make for a good jumping-on point for what may be its last season.

But what do I know? Who am I?

I may be one of the two hundred thousand viewers lost, that’s who…

 

Original material copyright 2018 Michael Curry

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Metal Men #49. January 1977

 

BEHOLD!

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“The Dark God Cometh”

Cover: Walt Simonson; Editor: Joe Orlando, Story Editor: Paul Levitz

Writer: Martin Pasko; Penciler/Inker/Plotter: Walt Simonson

Colorist: Carl Gafford; Letterer: Ben Oda

Robert Kanigher is given a creator credit.

The god Umbra increases Eclipso’s power and he unleashes it on the Metal Men, turning Lead to molten slag! Eclipso captures Mona, but Gold and Iron mold Lead into a magnifying glass and aims him at Eclipso. The bright intense light changes Eclipso back into Bruce Gordon.

We learn that ancient aliens landed in Peru and were considered gods by the prehistoric natives before being banished by white magic. Generation after generation of witch doctors kept the alien cult alive until the last servant/priest Mophir died battling Bruce Gordon. Mophir scratched Gordon with the Black Diamond – a segment of the jewel in Umbra’s forehead – used in their Umbra worship, turning him into the Umbra’s new servant, Eclipso.

Back in the cave where Gordon first fought Mophir, the Metal Men find another parchment, this one a Spanish translation of the Incan scrolls. Magnus reads what he cans, reviving Umbra who attacks!

Umbra sends death bolts to kill off the human companions – bolts that criss cross to get to their intended targets and … eclipse each other. Gordon changes to Eclipso who joins the Metal Men in battling Umbra. Magnus orders the Metal Men into specific configurations to create a giant laser beam emitter to focus Eclipso’s Black Diamond beam into Umbra’s forhead jewel and shatters it. Umbra explodes and sloughs back into the ocean.

The bright light from the explosions turns Eclipso back into Bruce Gordon. Doc Magnus uses the parchment to recreate Umbra’s undersea prison and, with the Metal Men’s help, trap Umbra again.

***

The letter column explains that Gerry Conway has moved back to Marvel with most of his books going to Joe Orlando and a series of assistant editors. The letters were positive with suggestions of guest heroes and villains.

***

Walt Simonson’s dark and gritty style was perfect for Umbra and his brethren – Cthulhu-esque kaiju but of mezzo-American design. Pasko did a fantastic job finishing this semi-revival of Eclipso.

The comics really is getting better and better! This is Simonson’s last issue as the series artist …

***

About the author: Michael Curry is the author of the Brave & Bold: From Silent Knight to Dark Knight, The Day John F Kennedy Met the Beatles and the award-winning Abby’s Road, the Long and Winding Road to Adoption and How Facebook, Aquaman and Theodore Roosevelt Helped.  Check his website for more releases! Thanks for reading!

Legends of Tomorrow Season Three – a review

The third season of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow premiered on October 10, 2017, and concluded on April 9, 2018 with 18 episodes. To date it is tied with Supergirl as the fourth-highest rated show on the CW.

Allison Keene of the website Collider did an excellent summary of this season’s Legends of Tomorrow. You can read it here: http://collider.com/legends-of-tomorrow-season-3-finale-explained/ but I will share it in full below. Thank you, Allison and Collider for allowing me to share it.

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***

It’s not every TV show that can pull off a Wild West showdown in a temporal blindspot that includes pirates, a Roman legion, a gigantic Beebo, a death demon, Jonah Hex, Leif Erikson’s sister, and a Themyscira-trained Helen of Troy, but by golly Legends of Tomorrow can and did. It was a marvelous way to tie together the show’s many adventures this season and recycle some costumes to save on a budget so we could enjoy a major CG battle between a cuddle bear and a hell demon (“Malice, you idiots!”). But in true Legends form, it was also surprisingly emotional, juggling several heavy narrative storylines with its trademark joy while never becoming glib. It’s an extremely fine line to walk, but Legends landed beautifully. For those who thought nothing could top “Beebo the God of War,” “The Good, The Bad, and the Cuddly” was a real treat.

Legends of Tomorrow is (as I have written about before) the only Arrowverse show to get better with each season. The series has never been afraid to change up its focus or its cast to better suit the story. Every crew member on the Waverider plays an important part, and each role is distinct. As Captain Cold, Jax, and Stein, and the Hawks exited, the crew only became stronger with the advent of Zari, Wally, Nate, and now Constantine. Even Ava and Gary have been welcome additions from the Time Bureau rather than Rip, who never quite worked with the levity and tone the series has cultivated.

Rip has left the show before only to return, and since we didn’t actually see him perish in “The Good, the Bad, and the Cuddly”  I’m not sure that he’s really and truly gone. But if he did lay down his life for the Legends then and there, it was the right time. There wasn’t much build-up to it, but then again, there didn’t need to be. Rip hadn’t been a major part of the show in a long time, but that short line — “I would very much like to see my wife and son again” — packed enough emotional punch to make the moment land. It’s that kind of narrative work the Legends does so well; because it lays the groundwork for these moments episodes and sometimes seasons in advance, it doesn’t need to force a storyline or a mini-arc to explain a particular plot point it needs to get to. It happens naturally.

The same was true of the quick death of Damien Darhk, which was almost lost in this battle-intense finale. But it was a noble death for a character that Legends single-handedly redeemed through the Legion of Doom and in his alliance with his daughter and Mallus this year. Again, the emotional build-up to that moment happened in the episodes prior to it, where it was clear that Damien cared more about his daughter than any potential power grabs, especially after her death. I have a suspicion that we haven’t seen the last of the now-alive Nora Darhk (who in real life is married to Brandon Routh!) and that’s a good thing. She and her father were responsible for a great villain arc this year, and provided us with one of the best TV moments of the year with that fight sequence set to “Return of the Mack.”

The sacrificial deaths really were overshadowed though by a few key reunions, including an alive-and-well Kuasa (in Vixen gear) and the return of Jax. While the Legends have been cruising through time, 5 years have passed for the former half of Firestorm, who is now married and has a daughter (who, for all we know, could be the mystery girl from The Flash). It was really nice to incorporate him in the finale along with almost every character we’ve met along the way this year; it was not only suitably epic, but thematically relevant for a show about a motley crew of heroes. It was a reunion, truly, of the good, the bad, and the cuddly, and if you hadn’t guessed that the team would be creating a Beebo gollum once they introduced that possibility, then you haven’t been paying attention.

And yet.

The fact that the true break-out star of Season 3, Beebo — the purest good — would reappear as a kind of ninja warrior Stay Puft Marshmallow Man who is both hungry and really wants a hug, ultimately exploding (and killing Mallus) in a blue heart-shaped nuclear cloud went above and beyond all expectations. It was the marquee moment of this crazy season, and a thematically on-point, perfect way to wrap things up. Love wins, so kill ‘em with kindness!

The Aruba-set epilogue then took us back to the beginning, where everything kicked off this year, and instead of Julius Caesar it included a Constantine trolling by Gary (the set and the lighting was so distracting here, but I’ll forgive every cost-saving measure because of that Beebo fight). Sara and Ava are still working things out, Wally is fitting in great (and finally getting to use his powers the way a speedster should as part of a team), and Zari has a weird crush on Jonah Hex that is somehow adorable. But Nate also said goodbye to Amaya (and looks like the show is as well), in a way that — like with Damien’s departure — capped off many episodes’ worth of personal struggle. We didn’t need to see a drawn-out farewell from these two, because they’ve spent most of the season fighting their feelings, acknowledging them, and coming to the realization that they can’t have a future together. It was sad, but not maudlin — perfect for Legends.

So after an episode full of amazing references to Voltron, the “chicken people,” Wonder Woman, Vietnam, Blackbeard, and just about every throwaway line from the season (not to mention the sweetness of Mick remembering Ray’s song, and the hilarity of High Nate), we got a new setup for the season to come. “We broke time!” is now “We let out all the demons,” according to Constantine, and the hunt to put them back into the same realm Mallus came from is the right way for Legends to move forward. But what Legends proves above all is that drama can just as potently come from joy, triumph, and friendship as it can from sadness, violence, and death. Legends includes both sides exceptionally well, but regardless, it choose to stay optimistic — an important and crucial distinction that sets it apart from its Arrowverse brethren. Ultimately, the show’s exceptionally fun yet also narratively complex third season was a cuddly explosion of love conquering death. It was, fittingly, legendary.

***

She liked Season 3 better than I did. I liked it, and frankly it is (so far) more satisfying than the other three CW shows (Supergirl, Flash and Arrow; it is unfair to compare Black Lightning, in its inaugural season, to the others). I’ve come to accept that this show is of a sillier bent than the rest; I don’t like it but I accept it.

But I liked this season – at times it is the best season of the show so far! Highlights included:

The return of Constantine.

The shorter season forces the conclusion of the season-long story arc from continuing long past its expiration date (which has plagued all of the other three CW shows this season as well as last year’s Flash and the past two seasons of Arrow.

The return of Constantine.

After a season full of episode after episode of Damien Darhke and the eye-rollingly overused trope of his snatching defeat from the jaws of victory from the Legends; we are finally shown another side in the season’s last episodes – just as he was turning into the Agent-of-Shield’s-Ward of the CW-line (every week for three years being constantly reminded he is the unredeemable and undefeatable villain) he does something unexpected and (more importantly) un-telegraphed (compared to, say, Marlize DeVoe ‘s inevitable redemption on this season’s Flash).

The return of … well, you get the idea…

Themyscira exists in the CW-verse. Is Wonder Woman (or perhaps Donna Troy) a possibility?

The return of Matt Ryan (see how I sneaked that in there?).

The Elvis episode was one of the best DC/CW shows to air so far.

Constantine playing Dungeons and Dragons.

Kid Flash joins the cast. Last season Eobard Thawne snatched victory away from the Legends every week. Every. Week. Now it’s the good guys’ turn. Not overdone, but Kid Flash was only in the later episodes. But beware: it could be as overused a crutch as it was for the Legion of Doom last season.

John Noble’s return as Denethor (it makes up for the shameful Tolkien “homage” of last season)!

I didn’t much like the ET homage episode, but the Legends trick-or-treating with a young Ray was a fun scene!

Did I mention Constantine?

Legends has been renewed and I look forward to its new direction. Join me in watching!

Michael G Curry

Kobra #3, July 1976

Behold, the Bronze Age!

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“Vengeance in Ultra-Violet” written by Martin Pasko, art by Keith Giffen. Editor: Gerry Conway, Inkers: Terry Austin and Dick Giordano, Colorist: Liz Berube, Letterer: Ben Oda

Cover by: Ernie Chua (Chan)

Synopsis: Kobra and Jason Burr plummet to their deaths after the cliffhanger of the previous issue. Perez throws a line to save Jason. Burr grabs the line and watches as his twin plummets to earth. He braces for death, due to the empathic symbio-link between the twins: one feels what the other feels, even, presumably the sweet kiss of death.

But … Jason lives! And is convinced that Kobra is dead!

Until Kobra breaks into Jason’s apartment and enlists his aid in defeating Solaris. Jason agrees, and while he changes into his Gemini suit, Kobra and Melissa share an emotional and mysterious moment (that Jason also feels). Apparently, Melissa and Kobra had a relationship some two years before…

Dig this beautiful Giffen art …

Giffen art Kobra 3

While invading Solaris’ stronghold, Kobra tells Jason about Natalie, his former love: they met while both were convalescing in a hospital. Kobra quit his Cult to travel with Natalie, who is shot dead by Interpol agents in Picadilly. Seems she was a murderess and jewel thief. He later says he returned to the cult to conquer them and mold them into international terrorists bent on destroying the law enforcers who killed Natalie.

Meanwhile, Kobra stops Solaris’ mechanical guard as Jason negotiates a laser trap by communicating telepathically with his twin who controls Jason’s movements through the maze (we never see the twins use this trick again in the series).

Kobra and Jason attack Solaris and his men. Jason realizes Kobra not only wants to stop Solaris, but also to snag the Heliotron for his own! In the midst of the battle between the brothers Perez blasts his way in with his fellow CIA agents. CIA? Yes, Kobra reveals that Perez is really CIA and trying to get back canisters of cobra venom (stolen by Kobra) – venom that should have been destroyed six years ago!

Burr feels betrayed, punches Perez, rips off the Gemini costume and goes home.

A nice way to conclude the magazine – the letters page says this is likely the last issue, despite the blurb describing issue four on the last panel.

***

This July 1976 DC comic was not part of the “DC Salutes the Bicentennial” collection of issues in which one collected the cigar band upper covers to get a coveted Superman belt buckle. But it was in good company – issues of Flash and Wonder Woman weren’t part of the promotion either.

Look at the people involved in this issue – they should all be part of a comic book hall of fame: Giordano? Terry Austin? Keith Giffen? Martin Pasko? Yeesh! For a C-list comic this has a lot of talent! Granted all but Giordano are early in their comic book careers, but STILL …

Pasko does a fine job showing us Solaris’ insanity. He is almost child-like and we almost pity his demise at Kobra’s hands.

 

***

About the author: Michael Curry is the author of the Brave & Bold: From Silent Knight to Dark Knight, The Day John F Kennedy Met the Beatles and the award-winning Abby’s Road, the Long and Winding Road to Adoption and How Facebook, Aquaman and Theodore Roosevelt Helped.  Check his website for more releases! Thanks for reading!

“Comics are for everyone”: St. Louis’ Lion Forge!

 

Jeanette Batz Cooperman is a staff writer for St. Louis Magazine. She is also an accomplished author – her latest work is a chilling nurder mystery and available at Amazon here. I asked for – and received – her permission to reproduce her latest magazine article about a Lion Forge comics!

Thank you Jeanette and St. Louis Magazine for allowing me to share their article. You can read the original here.

***

With Lion Forge, David Steward II is reshaping comics, exploding stereotypes, and reinventing the superhero

The only thing that’s stereotypical about a Lion Forge comic is its refusal to give in to stereotype.

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Comics used to be for boys, the stereotype said. White boys with muddled social skills who hung out at comic book shops, letting their brains go soggy.

In truth, those kids grew up a long time ago. Comics turned dark, edgy, and adult back in the ’90s, and now they’re morphing again to reflect a wider swath of society. “Comics are for everyone,” insists a little St. Louis company called Lion Forge that’s growing at supersonic speed.

Granted, the rest of popular culture is making the same assertion—and the push started well before T’Challa took us to Wakanda. But Marvel only “inadvertently got it right” with Black Panther, says Lion Forge co-founder and CEO David Steward II. Most of the time, the industry’s heavy-handed attempts to “do” diversity are about as subtle and real as sex with a robot.

But why should you—a grownup who prefers real books, their big words packed dense and gray on the page—care about any of this?

Because Lion Forge intends to woo you.

You don’t want to read about masked white men who fly? Maybe you’d like to read about a Jewish lesbian astrophysicist who doesn’t even want her superpower. Hate the neon jangle of comic book colors? Check out delicately detailed washes of earthtones in a sea of white space. If you despise shallow caricature and retro cheesiness, try the 528-page graphic novel Lighter Than My Shadow, about a young woman’s battles with trauma and eating disorders. And if you’re sick of heterosexual opportunism, there’s Mooncakes, a Chinese-American queer love story with an almost entirely female cast…

The only thing that’s stereotypical about a Lion Forge comic is its refusal to give in to stereotype.


Origin Story


It’s near the end of the millennium. David Steward II, a photographer with a degree in international marketing and a consuming love of pop culture, meets Carl Reed, animator and illustrator. They merge their studios into a full-service shop. Then each, in turn, goes off to Hollywood, Steward to produce a movie, Reed to do TV animation. They come back and join forces again, this time to pursue what they love most: comics.

In 2011 and 2012, Reed and Steward walk every square foot of the biggest cons: C2E2 in Chicago, Comic-Con International in San Diego, and New York Comic Con. Brushing past Spider-Men and stormtroopers, dodging steampunk Dr. Whos and zombies, they analyze books, costumes, action figures, animation. What’s being done wrong? What isn’t being done at all?

The world’s still a little too white, they decide, its audience a little too predictable. They will publish comics for everyone. Digital first, because that’s the future.

They choose the Wizard World St. Louis Comic Con, March 2013, for their debut. As fans mob the legendary Stan Lee—a white guy who co-created Black Panther back in the ’60s—for his autograph, Lion Forge is across the convention hall offering previews of its authentic, inclusive digital comics.

With a staff of seven, the company publishes more than a dozen digital titles in the next year. Both the industry and its audience resist, terrified of closing comic book stores and losing that slick, addictive smell of fresh ink on pulp. Skeptical fans won’t buy digital until a comic is already in print. Digital plateaus at 10 to 15 percent of the market.

Lion Forge changes gears fast.

By 2015, it has a full print infrastructure, the books of the highest quality. Fans whisper online: “Who’s behind the scenes?” “This is obviously a Hollywood company!”

Nope, just some guys in St. Louis. But Hollywood’s about to sprinkle a little stardust on them.


Time Travel


At NBCUniversal, the elevators have news feeds. As announcements of the studio’s deal with Lion Forge hit rival CBS, Hollywood ReporterVarietyUSA Today, and every comics website out there, the guy in charge of licensing and TV picks up his ringing phone. “What’s this about a deal we did with Lion Forge?” his boss’s boss asks. “It’s everywhere. Everywhere! Good work.”

Steward and Reed walk around the licensing show without a single preset meeting and manage—in bursts of nostalgia combined with business acumen—to negotiate licenses for Miami ViceKnight RiderPunky Brewster, and Saved by the Bell.

The year before, one of the first important writers to sign on with Lion Forge, Brandon Easton, invited other creative types to a Lion Forge brunch at the San Diego con. Hardly anybody showed. News of the licensing deal breaks two days before the 2013 Comic-Con, and now Easton’s flooded with messages, people wanting him to hook them up with “that company you mentioned…”

“I don’t want to talk to any of y’all,” he says. “I told you last year.”

The strategy—to lure readers with titles they already know, then hook them with the new comics—continues. Lion Forge creates a Voltron: Legendary Defender series in homage to the St. Louis–born robot knight; it adopts Care Bears and Disney’s Packages From Planet X; it bases superheroes on real celebs. In the paws of Lion Forge, mixed martial arts fighter Quinton “Rampage” Jackson becomes a super-werewolf empowered by a meteor. “He wanted to wolf out and fight aliens,” Steward tells reporters with a shrug.

In 2016, Lion Forge designates two new imprints, CubHouse and ROAR, to lure young readers back to comics. It’s been quite a while since the comic book burnings of the 1950s—when a psychiatrist testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee that comic books caused juvenile delinquency, sadism, and a Superman complex—and there’s some catching up to do. ROAR publishes Taproot, a queer romance ghost story for young adults. CubHouse plays with whimsy (in This Is a Taco, a funny little squirrel is convinced he’s a taco) and subversion (in The Little Red Wolf, it’s the wolf who’s in danger from humans).

Two years later, DC Comics (which, alongside Marvel, has dominated the industry for decades) announces…two new imprints for younger readers.


Prime Universe


When Lion Forge first launches, writer Cullen Bunn is living in St. Louis, but he’s just signed an exclusive two-year contract with Marvel. Nonetheless, he and Steward meet for burgers at Araka. Steward’s ambition zags across the table like a lightning bolt. He wants Lion Forge to start its own superhero universe.

That might be a little too ambitious, Bunn thinks. They’ll get lost in the noise of DC and Marvel. But Steward has the quiet confidence of a real businessman, not a dreamy kid. He even has the universe’s name: Catalyst Prime.

And, sure enough, on Free Comic Book Day 2017, fans grab the beginning of a new universe called Catalyst Prime. Steward entrusted it to Christopher Priest (who reinvented Black Panther as a king and statesman back in 1998) and Joseph Illidge (who edited Batman).

Fans will catch on easily: Catalyst Prime is set in this world, with no special language or elaborate backstory, and its superheroes are quite human: They bathe and snack, struggle and suffer consequences.

“In classic DC and Marvel universes, every character is ramped up so high that you have to create villains who are super-strong,” Steward grumbles. “To really exist in that universe, they would pretty much tear up the world.”

He and Reed have vowed to avoid lazy writing: No inventing extra superpowers or resorting to time travel to extricate their superheroes from dilemmas. Superpowers will be distributed across a wide band of humanity, and not everyone will use them well. Characters will die only once; jaded fans won’t get to say, “Oh, DC will bring him back.”


Beyond the Dark Knight


As a kid, Steward didn’t have a comic book store nearby; his initiation came later. Reed contented himself with white superheroes, because the black options were so…limited. “Cyborg’s catchphrase was this archaic slang word, ‘Booyah!’” he remembers, wincing. “Luke Cage said, ‘Sweet Christmas!’ He wore a butterfly-collared bright-yellow shirt, and his catch phrase was ‘Sweet Christmas.’”

Supposedly, we’ve moved on. Iron Man has been replaced by an African-American woman, and Ms. Marvel is Pakistani-American. There’s even a female Thor—with breast cancer, her chemo’s toxins washed away by her superhero transformation. And there’s an Afro-Latin Spider-Man, but white-bread Peter Parker is still published alongside him, hasn’t even had the grace to die. When the Big Two, DC and Marvel, “do” diversity, they just pop somebody who’s not a white man into an existing role.

“It’s a gimmick,” mutters Reed. “It’s obviously temporary. And it’s insulting.”

One of Lion Forge’s secrets is hiring such a wild mix of folks that when a book’s written about a character from a certain group, if it’s not true to the lived experience of someone in that group, somebody on staff will correct the portrayal.

“Because we’re not coming from the outside to do a book starring a woman or a Latino character, that takes away from the stereotyping and exaggeration,” says Reed. “It’s very easy to go there, to say, ‘This character is a girl with a gun,’ and that’s it. You don’t know that character; you can’t write for that character. The emperor will be shown to have no clothes.”

The emperor, I point out, has had a good run. “The emperor has had a great run,” he agrees dryly, and leaves it there.


“The Pride Is Growing”


Today, Lion Forge calls itself a trans-media company, developing content across comic books, TV, film, and interactive gaming.

“The pride is growing,” the website quips. Freelancers are scattered around the globe, and that initial staff of seven is now 45, with another 20 hires in progress. They work behind a narrow, brightly colored door in a vast and desolate strip mall on Manchester, near Hampton.

In one of its simple conference rooms, Steward and Reed sit down to talk.

Steward looks a little professorial, a little Saturday-schlubby—glasses, jeans, receding hairline, a dark sweater with a gray tee peeking from the bottom of the V-neck. It’s not the costume you’d draw for an MICDS alum whose father founded the $10 billion World Wide Technology.

Reed, who has even less hair than Steward, looks like a benign Buddha who’s dropped some pounds and started working out. They talk like two guys who do a podcast and know the rhythms of each other’s speech. “We’re definitely yin and yang,” says Steward. “I’m a little OCD about stuff. I always like the new projects.”

Reed agrees that he’s “a little more grounded,” adding, “but I get in the weeds a lot—and call for help!”

Senior editor Joseph Illidge describes him quite differently: as “a person of calm mind and calm spirit.” Asked what Reed’s role is at Lion Forge, he says, “The right-hand person who has to help the leader protect the empire.”

That leader, meanwhile, is “unbelievably intelligent,” says Lion Forge president Geoff Gerber, who was once Stewart’s intellectual property lawyer.

“Dave sees connections and opportunities most people don’t,” Gerber says. “He moves rapidly from one thing to another and remains optimistic about everything at all times.”

He’s also “a huge fan of goofy, cheesy pop culture,” Gerber adds, bemused. “He’ll come out of his office to talk with staff about a reality TV show and what’s going on with the love life of so-and-so and who the next celebrity chef is. And he loves toys and collectibles.”

Yet there’s depth beneath these enthusiasms. Like his sister, Kimberly Steward (who produced the Oscar-nominated Manchester by the Sea), Dave is drawn to the creative side of business. He’s also a serious philanthropist. After Hurricane Maria, Lion Forge published Puerto Rico Strong, using Puerto Rican creators and donating all profits to hurricane relief.

How’d they pull it together so fast? “At big companies, you have 40 white guys sitting around, and their friends are all white guys,” Steward says with a shrug. “If we wanted to make a book about any group on this planet—”

“It wouldn’t be six degrees of separation,” Reed finishes.

The diversity of their network has become their superpower. If Reed could have another, all for himself? “The ability to slow down time. It’s really hard to get one over on someone who can slow things down.”

Steward’s grinning; he knows how often Reed is up working at 4 a.m. For his own superpower, Steward is torn: “Being able to fly would be lots of fun. What would be useful is having Wolverine’s healing factors. You could live life without fear.” But wait—he’d also like the Purple Man’s ability to convince people to do stuff for him. “That kind of character, he could take over the world in minutes.”

So is that what Steward wants to do in the comics world? Surpass the Big Two?

He shakes his head. That’s apples to oranges. He’s aiming for something more like a Big Five book publisher, because that’s where the industry is shifting, as bookstores sell more and more (12 million in 2016) graphic novels and comics collected in trade paperbacks. The new reader would rather binge on an entire series than traipse into a comic book store every Wednesday.

Lion Forge does enjoy taunting DC and Marvel, though. “Both companies are well aware that we are here,” Illidge murmurs. “At least one of them tried to convince one of my artists to defect. At the New York con, a high-ranking editor from Marvel was lurking by our booth, looking at Catalyst Prime. And we beat them out on a variety of Best of 2017 lists.”

If Lion Forge wrote itself into an epic superhero battle? “We’d be fighting a hydra,” says Reed. Two of the monster’s heads would belong to Disney-owned Marvel and Time Warner’s DC, and a third would be Diamond Comic Distributors, the colossus that bought up all the indie distributors and reshaped the industry.

While it nudges Diamond toward fairness, Lion Forge pushes ahead on technology; Reed says the industry’s production process needs the kind of tech revolution that saved American animation in the mid-’90s. Also, wages haven’t been fair. “There are legal things you can do as a business, and then there’s the right way,” Steward says. “People will say, ‘It’s only business.’ No, you’re being an A-hole. That’s one thing my dad instilled.”

Above all, there’s the Lion Forge prime directive: Comics for everyone.

Penguin recently announced that it was spinning off a diverse imprint. “Oh?” says Steward, quirking an eyebrow. “You’re going to put all your diverse content in one little section?”

“Years from now, it’s going to seem outrageous that we had to have a line featuring diverse characters,” says Reed. “We’ll be saying, ‘Well, there was a time that it mattered…’”

“Comics for all” is now a hashtag on Twitter, and the push for inclusion’s now broad enough and strong enough to get blowback from old-school fans who resent what they call forced diversity. But Lion Forge isn’t forcing anything; its content is diverse because the creators are. Nor does Steward make a big deal out of its being a black-owned business, or indie, or anything other than smart.

Gerber was pained, though, when Steward took the entire marketing team out for a celebratory dinner in New York and the waiter kept turning to Gerber, the older white guy, for decisions—even after he pointed out that Steward was their host. On another business trip, a driver tried to give Gerber the seat with legroom—even though Steward towers over him.

“It’s something wealth does not insulate you from,” Gerber observes. “Dave is a black man in America. The fact that he doesn’t appear militant doesn’t change the world in which he lives—or his desire to see it change. And he is working very hard to change the world.”

As is the rest of Lion Forge. Illidge points out that there are more women than men on staff—and not just in low-level clerical roles but actually at the CFO, VP, and executive editor levels. “Until now, comics have had a limited perspective—not only male-dominated but white male–dominated,” he remarks. “A more rounded worldview will ultimately be a more mature world view.”

A formal and meticulous thinker, Illidge calls superheroes “the aspirational mythology of our times. Someone will tell you superheroes are not real. Nothing in fantasy is real. The criterion for merit is what it says about the human condition and what insight we can gain about ourselves as human beings.

“One thing I like about the characters in our world is that different people consider themselves heroes for different reasons,” Illidge adds. “You read Noble, and various characters see themselves as having noble intentions, and the definition of that varies from person to person. And you ask yourself, ‘What does it really mean to be noble?’ Am I noble?’

“It speaks to the fact that human beings are trying to do their best every day,” he finishes. “They get up, and they keep trying. That’s heroic.”

 

Mister Miracle #21. December 1977.

Behold, the Bronze Age!

bronze-age

Cover: Marshall Rogers, Managing Editor: Joe Orlando

“Command Performance!”

Writer: Steve Englehart, Penciler: Marshall Rogers, Inker: Vince Colletta

A blurb on the splash page announces this is the creative team from Detective Comics.

Colorist: Liz Berube, Letterer: Ben Oda, Editor: Larry Hama

From DC Wikia:

Granny Goodness has conditioned Big Barda to believe she will die unless they are together. To free her from this spell, Mr. Miracle goes to Apokolips to challenge Darkseid. At the Terrorium, Mr. Miracle must escape from the greatest deathtrap of all–the Necro-File!

***

A return to Apokolips brings back the fantastic storyline and art you expect from this team. Although in these later days it is odd seeing Darkseid NOT be as big as a wall – in some panels he seems almost thin.  The plot and dialogue is Kirby-esque in its strange exositions: “We must serve Darkseid!” Rogers’ art shows action as well as Kirby but in a different way – more menacing and less Wagnerian. The Necro-files swirling blades looked genuinely lethal!

***

About the author: Michael Curry is the author of the Brave & Bold: From Silent Knight to Dark Knight, The Day John F Kennedy Met the Beatles and the award-winning Abby’s Road, the Long and Winding Road to Adoption and How Facebook, Aquaman and Theodore Roosevelt Helped.  Check his website for more releases! Thanks for reading!