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Joss Whedon

Joss Whedon - My comic book questions are answered

By Jennifer Brummett

Friday 17 June 2005, by Webmaster

Anyone who says the Internet isn’t a wonderful thing is lying to you - really.

Self-proclaimed comic book geek and alert reader Julio Diaz of Melbourne, Fla., Googled "Joss Whedon" and found my questions about comic books - and answered them.

So now I know - and you can, too. Here’s his text.

E-mail to Jennifer

I read and enjoyed your article, which I found via a Google News update I get on stories that mention Joss Whedon. As a life-long self-proclaimed comic book geek, allow me to try to answer your questions:

"1. Why do the bios give the height and weight of the heroes and heroines, as well as, in most cases, hair and eye color? For Halloween costume production? Filmmaking purposes?"

Answer: Mostly, because fans are interested, and do use the information for costumes, role playing games, custom-made action figures, personal art projects, etc. It’s also done for the professional artists to help them keep the characters in scale to each other. I don’t think it matters to filmmakers, or the very tall Hugh Jackman would never have played the very short Wolverine.

"2. Why are most of the "cats," whether at DC or Marvel, women?"

A: Because, rightly or not, felines in popular culture are most often equated with females, much as canines are most often equated with males (and you don’t see many female "dogs" in comics, either).

"3. Why hasn’t there been a major motion picture done on Dr. Strange? I mean, yeah, there was the 1978 television flick called "Dr. Strange." How many people saw that?"

A: Nobody that has bought the rights has ever managed to get a movie to fruition. Frankly, there are many better-known characters that have also never graced the silver screen. I do think Doc Strange could make for a great flick, though.

"4. Why does the Wonder Woman movie I’ve been hearing about for the last 10 years or so keep getting stalled? Now, Joss Whedon is attached to direct such a flick. We’ll see how long that lasts. Where’s the love for the ladies in the limelight? ("Elektra," mind you, was a spin-off of "Daredevil.")"

A: A litany of bad scripts, funding problems, and false starts, like any Hollywood project. I’m actually rather surprised that the failures of "Catwoman" and "Elektra" haven’t stalled this latest attempt, which I’m quite looking forward to. It’s interesting that Hoolywood has generally had more success with completely original superheroines (Buffy, Xena, Ripley) than with characters taken from the comics (the aforementioned flops, Barb Wire, Supergirl, etc.).

"5. Why would a creator name a comic book character Umbra? Or Element Lad? Holly Go-Nightly? Abomination? Kang? Soldier X? Thunderbolt Ross? How do they come up with these, ummm, unusual names?"

A: Well, there can only be one Superman. :)

In the case of the first two, members of the Legion of Super-Heroes, the latter was created in the ’60s and nearly all the members of the team had "Adjective Gender" based names - Lightning Lad, Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, etc. - so he’s a throwback. Umbra is from a ’90s/’00s update of those characters - her original name was Shadow Lass, and she has darkness-based powers, so you can see the derivation.

Abomination, Kang and "Thunderbolt" Ross all spring from the unique imagination of Stan Lee and also date to the early ’60s. "Thunderbolt" is actually the nickname of Gen. Thaddeus Ross. The Abomination was a Soviet spy turned into a monstrous freak, so the appelation was kind of appropriate. Kang? Got me.

Soldier X was a reboot of the Cable title, and the name was simply because he was a mutant soldier, and all the Marvel Comics mutants are in some way affiliated with the X-Men. More descriptive a name than "Cable," anyway.

As to "Holly-Go-Nightly," that’s a new one on me. Where did you come up with that one from? Obviously a play on Holly Golightly...

Subsequent e-mails

In subsequent e-mails, Diaz added:

As to the goofy names thing, you barely scratched the surface. Heck, the Legion of Super-Heroes alone is a treasure trove of ’em - surprised you didn’t dig up the likes of Matter-Eater Lad and Antennae Lad ...

I knew I should have recognized Holly Go-Nightly, but it wasn’t quite registering. She’s a supporting character in Catwoman comics - not a superhero, but a civilian like "Thunderbolt" Ross. She used to be a prostitute, hence the nickname, which I don’t think she uses anymore - I think she just goes by her "real" name, Holly Robinson.

"6. Horror movies have crossed the Pacific, as has anime. Could manga be next?"

A: Umm... been in a bookstore lately? Manga outsells American comics in bookstores by a significant margin, and has for a few years now. Moreover, it’s a lot more popular with women and girls than American comics are.

In a subsequent e-mail, Diaz added:

Walk into any chain bookstore here in Florida and go to the Graphic Novels section, and you’ll find three to four bookshelves full of manga to every one filled with American and (occasionally) European comics. My understanding is that this is true on a national level for the large bookstore chains - graphic novels are one of the fastest growing categories in bookstores, largely due to manga. Mainstream publishers like Del Rey are even getting in on it.

Conversely, manga doesn’t sell in huge numbers in most comics specialty shops. ICV2, a site for retailers that specialize in pop culture merchandise, covers this pretty thoroughly - it’s online at http://www.icv2.com.

"7. Comic Book Legal Defense Fund? Huh?"

A: The CBLDF protects legal aid to retailers and creators on free speech issues. They also provide friend of the court briefs on many free speech/First Amendment issues that don’t directly relate to comics. It’s a fine organization that is one of many working to ensure our freedom of speech.

In a subsequent e-mail, Diaz added:

I should have mentioned the URL for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, too - it’s http://www.cbldf.org/, and there is a lot of information there on the good work those folks do. The comics industry as a whole does a lot of charity work, from ACTOR, an organization that helps aging comics creators that have fallen on hard times, to individual efforts like the charity raffle my local comic shop did with artist Ethan Van Sciver last month, raising over $500 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Most folks in comics are good eggs.

"8. Who makes the time for something like this - www.uky.edu/Projects/Chemcomics? Oh. My."

A: Obsessive fans. Every form of media has ’em. Is this any worse than the people that quit their jobs to stand out in front of the court during the Michael Jackson trial?

"9. Do superheroes and superheroines sweat? Hey, there’s a whole lotta skin-tight hero-wear going on in the comic books. Is it comfortable?"

A: Depends on who’s drawing ’em. Some artists will put in the detail, others won’t. As to comfort, I’d suggest asking someone like David Lee Roth that wears this kind of stuff on a regular basis!

"10. I keep reading about a film featuring Batman versus Superman - like, for years and years I’ve been reading this. Why is this interesting? I mean, Batman doesn’t have any super powers, per se - just cool equipment, an extensive knowledge of the martial arts, and know-how about detective processes. Superman, coming from another planet, does have superpowers - flying, super-strength, enormous speed. Wouldn’t he whip Batman’s butt?"

A: Read "The Dark Knight Returns" by Frank Miller for a good example of why fans would be excited about something like this. Batman has a keen mind. Think outside just physical prowess. How do you think Lex Luthor has managed to give Superman such a hard time for decades?

OK, having exposed my geekdom once and for all, I hope this was worth your time to read. If nothing else, I hope you got a chuckle out of it - I certainly got a chuckle out of the original article.

About Diaz

I live in Melbourne, Fla., and have been here for five years. I’m originally from Tampa.

I spent some time in the ’90s working in retail comics and for the major wholesale distributor, and later for a large retail bookseller, and while I’m not in the industry anymore, I still keep tabs on it. I’m a regular at the local comic shop, where I also help out occasionally as a favor to the manager, a good friend. I write about comics and other pop culture on a few Web sites when I have time, which isn’t as often as I’d like. And I have a 5-year-old daughter that I’m introducing to comics - she loves the Teen Titans, Justice League and Powerpuff Girls comics. I’m not quite as obsessive as the Periodic Table guy or the Michael Jackson die-hards, but I’m not exaggerating when I say I’m a geek. :)