The Sherbet Gallery
Some of you who have been following me for some time probably know by now that I write a comic called Sherbet, about a female pastiche of Sherlock Holmes who lives in the future, takes lots of drugs and solves paranormal mysteries. Some of you may also know that I am plotting a Kickstarter to crowd-fund the publication of our first Sherbet trade paperback, compiling all of the old stories and the new ones that the artist Josh Mathus and I have been slaving away on over the last two years. The time is almost upon us.
To remind you why you should care about the totally awe inspiring adventures of our favourite Baker City resident and the evil, ugly, sometimes sexy and often just weird things she encounters, I decided to share this equally exciting Sherbet pin-up gallery that I’ve been slowly cobbling together with the help of several of the best comic artists and illustrators on this little blue planet we call Earth.
LEILA DEL DUCA:
ALICE MEICHI LI:
JOSHUA MATHUS JR.
LISANDRO DI PASQUALE:
SIR JOSHUA MATHUS III:
If you’re interested in contributing to our little kickstarter and owning a book (containing each of the above treasures), then add me on Tumblr and watch this space for details!
P.S: The Sherbet logo was provided by none other than Jared K. Fletcher, letterer extraordinaire.
Anonymous asked: Your ukulele looks SO nice :)
Thanks! It was a gift.
Should Superheroes Be Paragons, Or Renegades?
*Contains Marvel Movie Spoilers*
There has been much ado about what makes a good superhero lately with some people claiming that characters like Captain America aren’t interesting unless they’re portrayed as jerks (see; Ultimates) and others claiming that the wholesome Captain America (as portrayed in the recent Marvel movies) is a sorely needed return to form, after movies like last year’s Man of Steel (certified ‘rotten’ with 56% on Rotten Tomatoes) have missed the mark.
To paraphrase the immortal Rust Cohle; you all need to start asking the right questions.
To make the claim that all heroes should be one way is right or wrong severely limits both the writers and the audience. The reason Marvel comics changed the face of superheroes in the first place is because Stan Lee & co railed against the cookie cutter perfect ‘upstanding citizen’ depression-era superhero model that audiences had previously been exhausted by. If all heroes are perfect role-models, they lose what makes them special and become boring. However, if all superheroes are wise-cracking jerks, the entire comic book universe turns into a bad ride on the New York Subway.
You need a good balance. Even in ‘the Winter Soldier’ you have that, with more morally ambiguous characters like Black Widow and Nick Fury providing the yin to Cap’s wholesome, corn-fed, all-American yang.
I personally like a lot of grittier superheroes, but my favourites lately tend to be those rare gems of good guys (i.e; Superman as depicted in All Star Superman, or movie Captain America) who are decent down to their very core. I like them because they exist as shining examples to the readers AND to the other, crazier, stranger and meaner characters in their worlds. Certainly, Peter Parker may be closer to who we are, but there’s nothing wrong with a character like Captain America existing to show us who we ought to be.
This would be why the first Captain America was instantly my favourite solo marvel movie, and one of my favourite superhero movies in general. There’s something nice, in a world where we’re used to seeing the broken narcissists like Tony Stark clown around and entertain us with their biting Venkman-esque wit, about seeing someone in the costume you would actually want protecting you in the real world.
None of which is to say that I want to see Stark become a paragon of morality either, I like him just the way he is. The fact that he’s such an egomaniac makes him compelling in his own right and is the very thing that makes his interactions with Cap in Avengers worth watching. If both takes didn’t work, these characters wouldn’t be at the forefront of two major movie franchises.
So the question shouldn’t be; 'should superheroes be decent, or should they be jerks', because either is fine. Maybe, as my friend Tintin Pantoja posited earlier today, the question should be;
Q: What Makes a Good Superhero?
What common elements appear time and time again in successful superhero stories? I believe there is one resounding answer. It might sound a little mad at first, but bear with me, because you can plug any successful hero into this formula and it works.
A: A good superhero needs to believe in a higher power and be willing to sacrifice for it.
As an atheist, that is an odd sentence for me to utter, but I don’t mean God when I say ‘higher power’, I mean that they need to believe that something is more important than they are. That can be a being, or it can be a code, a greater good, a cause, an emotion, or some combination of these sorts of things. They need to believe in something and they need to be willing to make sacrifices for it. There is not one successful superhero, no matter how decent or jerky s/he is, for whom this does not apply.
Let’s look at someone from smack in the middle of the Paragon/Renegade spectrum (to borrow terminology from Mass Effect). The Mighty Thor (Movie Version). At the beginning of the first Thor movie, he is a self-centred blaggard who doesn’t seem to believe in anything besides his own awesomeness. Because he doesn’t respect Odin’s rule, his father sends him to Earth to teach him this very lesson I’m talking about and by the end of the movie, Thor isn’t fighting for himself; he is fighting for Asgard, for Earth and for his hastily written love affair with Jane. Mainly he answers to a literal higher power, a literal god; Odin. His ‘higher power’ is a blend of these things and in the second Thor movie, we see him sacrifice his born right to rule Asgard for them.
Now Iron Man; the ultimate narcissist, Stark believed only in himself and his brilliance, until he was kidnapped and trapped in a cave and met a brave man who changed his perspective. After that Tony begins to fight for the concept of freedom and to protect the innocent bystanders of war. So strong is his belief in the public’s right to safety, that he shows he is willing to sacrifice his own life for it (most notably at the end of avengers).
Wolverine is the archetypal ‘badass’ murderer superhero, but the reason he endures where others of his ilk fail - and the reason we all accept him is because however savage he is capable of being, whether or not he fully comprehends it; Wolverine has given himself over to Charles Xavier’s dream (sometimes by-proxy of the love he feels for Jean). A greater good that he and all of the X-Men fight for.
Spider-Man’s origin classically shows how he started off as an asshole, trying to use his powers to benefit himself, only to learn through the loss of his uncle Ben that the power he has comes with responsibility. Uncle Ben is Spidey’s higher power. He sacrifices a great many things because he believes in Ben’s teachings. If you look at the first Sam Raimi movie; he sacrifices his relationship with Mary Jane, because being with him would endanger her (for many, the biggest problem with Amazing Spider-Man was that Parker failed to make that same decision with Gwen Stacy after making a promise to her father on his deathbed).
Captain America is perhaps unique amongst the characters on this list, because he doesn’t undergo an arc on screen (or in the comics generally) to figure out what to believe in. Captain America’s higher power is America, and specifically the values Americans held dear in the Second World War. He starts out in the first movie ready to sacrifice his own tiny asthmatic life for America and gives himself to the Super-Soldier project. At the end of that movie, he sacrifices his life to preserve the thing he believes in. He proves himself willing to do that again in later appearances.
In Batman Beyond, the canonical future of DC’s animated Batman, we see that he is still fighting his crusade against crime well into his old age (albeit primarily in a support capacity), having sacrificed love, happiness and friendships along the way, all in the name of his higher power. We can debate his wisdom and mental stability as much as you like, but the point still stands!
There’s a great arc on the Justice League cartoon (featuring the same Batman) where the League encounter alternate/potential future versions of themselves called the Justice Lords. The Justice Lords version of Batman is content because he and his allies all gave up on their individual higher powers, deciding to become humanity’s higher power. They no longer operate outside of the law to protect people, they are the law. They all stopped sacrificing and they are happier for it. But in taking control of the world and crossing the paper-thin line between superheroes and fascists, they have become the villains.
This is actually a theme echoed in many other DC stories like ‘Superman: Red Son’, ‘Kingdom Come' and 'What is so Funny about Truth, Justice and The American Way'… which is part of what makes their recent Man of Steel and Injustice takes on Superman so hard to digest.
The worst ‘gritty’ superheroes of the 80s and 90s all missed this entirely. The ones who wandered around with heroin needles dangling out of their arms, sleeping with prostitutes, carrying way too many guns and monologuing about how they really enjoyed the sound of bones crunching under their fists? They didn’t answer to anyone or anything, they wanted people to answer to them. We aren’t making movies out of those guys, because those weren’t good heroes. They weren’t even heroes.
Who Gives a Shit About Wonder Woman?
Lately I’ve heard a lot of kvetching about how barely known characters like Marvel’s Rocket Raccoon are hitting the big screen before DC’s Wonder Woman does; a movie that fans have been expecting for a long, long time. I believe I have the answer.
DC often likes to make a fuss about their ‘Big Three’. Their three most iconic, most beloved and most special characters. The core members of the JLA, who have starred in titles with names like ‘Trinity’. You have Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. But does she really belong in that line-up? I don’t think so, and if you’ll bear with me, I’ll explain why.
About a year ago I witnessed the unaired pilot for the live-action Wonder Woman series. I say witnessed, because that’s what people say when they see a particularly egregious act of vandalism. In it the titular character of Wonder Woman seems to have about three personas and she beat up and unapologetically tortured innocent guys in hospital beds because she suspected they knew things. I think Liz Hurley was in it, but you could tell she really didn’t want to be.
It struck me that whoever made that mess had no idea who Wonder Woman was - and neither did I. I know who she is in the JLU cartoon (which I loved), but can’t say I ever saw that character echo through any of the comic books where I have read about her adventures.
A fair few people do love her. One of my favourite comic artists Phil Jimenez is a Wonder Woman fan in a big way and I regularly see people nodding in agreement with him on his facebook page. So it’s not as though she doesn’t have some clout. But I’ve found that people I’ve met who really DO like her, generally like vastly different interpretations for vastly different reasons.
So is she really one of DC’s top three iconic characters?
Superman and Batman most certainly are - and they have a string of live action and animated movies and TV shows, radio shows, parodies, merchandising lines, clothing lines, video games and more stand as testament to that. They are two of the three most recognizable and iconic comic book heroes in the world (the third being Spider-Man over at Marvel). So who is DC’s third most iconic character, if not Wonder Woman?
Sorry, I don’t make the rules!
Before you jump in to correct me; it doesn’t matter which of the several characters to have donned that domino mask, because it’s the Robin brand that I’m referring to. Robin is a character that has appeared in almost as many things as Batman. If you plucked the average kid, or adult, or old person off of the street and asked them about these characters, they’d be able to tell you a damn sight more about Batman’s sidekick than they ever would about Wonder Woman.
Most people don’t even know what Wonder Woman’s power-set is. You might know about her lasso of truth and bullet-stopping bracelets, but what about strength? Probably? Flight? Maybe? Super Speed? Even characters like Captain Marvel (Shazam!) are easier to define in these terms. I have been in rooms with DC staff who don’t even know what Wonder Woman’s power set is. Twice or more, I’ve heard iterations of this conversation;
Guy One: Wonder Woman can’t fly right?
Guy Two: Yeah, I think she can actually.
Guy One: Really? Why does she need an invisible jet then?
Good fucking point! Actually, if anyone should be flying a big weird jet, shouldn’t it be Hal Jordan? You’d think he’d find it way more comfortable to fly around in something like that.
But power stuff isn’t why we read these books. It’s about the Characters. Although there may be notable exceptions to the rule It’s also very easy to explain who Batman, or Superman, or Robin is. You break them down to the common threads that run throughout their various interpretations and you’ll find that more often than not; Batman is a dark and broody rich man whose parents were killed in front of him. Superman is an extra-terrestrial immigrant god who is dedicated to truth and justice. Robin is a faithful, jovial and heroic youngster who, generally speaking, was orphaned by criminals. Wonder Woman is… a… lady?
A lot of people know she’s an Amazonian princess, but what does that say about her? Does Wonder Woman kill? Or is life sacred to her? Does she believe in fighting, or is it a last resort? Is she compassionate or aggressive? Smart or naive? Who is her alter-ego and what is she like in that life? Why does she dress the way she does? What does she think about our culture? Where does she live? What city? Is she rich? Poor? Does she have a regular on-again off-again romantic partner? Does she have a day job?
Now, here’s the kicker, comic fans… you can all think of five iconic Batman or Superman, or Spider-Man, or X-Men, or Robin Comics (we’ll count Batman stories heavily featuring Robin if not headlining him). If you’re not that into the comics themselves, you can pick from other media. I challenge you to do that right now. I’ll wait.
Good! You’re back! I bet you could, right?
Can you remember just three truly iconic Wonder Woman stories?
You might remember her origin, so you probably got at least one.
The thing about those other guys is that you can be aware of their stories even if you’re not a fan. My wife, for instance, isn’t a fan of Spider-Man, but I bet you she knows five Spider-Man stories. It’s because the really big characters are large and memorable whether they resonate with you personally or not.
Please understand that none of this is wishful thinking on my part. I want Wonder Woman to be the strong female character some people claim she is, but Wonder Woman is generally so under-written that she has become entirely open to interpretation. And real Wonder Woman fans out there may know who she is or was in a given interpretation of the character, but she is recycled so frequently and changed so drastically that it’s nigh impossible to isolate any of the common elements that make her who she is any more. No matter how well one writer writes her, when that writer leaves, she becomes just an empty costume waiting to be filled with the new person’s ideas.
The costume though? Now that’s iconic. If there’s one place where Wonder Woman seems to thrive, it’s in merchandising. She’s like DC Comics’ version of ‘Hello Kitty’. People buy Wonder Woman bags, sneakers, dresses, costumes, jewelry, watches, T-Shirts and more. Wonder Woman’s appeal is predominantly superficial and there’s nothing wrong with that. She’s the iconic poster child for geek femininity. She’s a fashion statement. A perfectly good one.
When you think about it, there are several more popular female characters (even if they don’t have merchandising lines that are as strong) in comic books. Look at the women of the X-Men for instance? The regal, yet edgy Storm, the psychotic Phoenix, the spunky Jubilee, Rogue; the forlorn southern belle - and so on. And on the DC side? There’s a reason that the horrible New 52 reinterpretation of Starfire (of Teen Titans fame) got more coverage than anything anyone has done with Wonder Woman in a long time. It’s because people knew her and cared about her on a character level, so they knew what felt right and what felt wrong. Even Barbara Gordon is a more well defined and iconic character, in both her Oracle and Batgirl forms.
In fact, if DC has a number one female character who is SIGNIFICANTLY more popular than Wonder Woman, then I know exactly who it is. There IS a popular character every bit as compelling as Batman, with an excellent gimmick, costume and a personality and back-story we’re practically all aware of. We’ve all just been looking in the wrong place.
Harley Quinn, the clown princess of crime, has a cult fan following that spawned a million cosplays, and people have known EXACTLY who she is ever since she bounced onto the scene in the 1990s Batman cartoon. We even exactly what her voice sounds like (it’s always Arleen Sorkin… or Tara Strong’s perfect imitation of Arleen Sorkin). As a tragic figure forever tormented by her abusive boyfriend The Joker (yet another DC character who is better known and more popular than Wonder Woman), I understand that Harley may not be the role model you want, but you can’t argue with her impact or her marketability.
Every year I go to NYCC and anime shows and so forth and Harley Quinn has actually become a strange genre of cosplay. I see droves of women (and occasional men) sporting a bilateral red & black jester/clown look, often one of their own design. When asked to pose for pictures, they act like Harley for the Camera, because they know how she acts. It all just goes to show that people care. For whatever reason, she resonates with the audience.
This is just a guess, but I think if you put it to an anonymous poll (which I would do right here if I knew how), asking people whether they wanted to see a solo Harley or Wonder Woman story on screen (big or small); more people would want to see Harley. Hell, I bet a Harley solo comic series wouldn’t be a hard sell.
In conclusion; the assertion that Wonder Woman is a primary colour of the DC universe is a false one, and I just wish we could all be honest about it. DC have better female characters they could be promoting. I wish we could all agree that, yes, Wonder Woman was good in that George Perez run, and we loved the old TV show, but that DC have been pissing in the wind with that character for decades and now she’s basically become the Nike swish.
And who wants to see a movie about that?