Donald Trump under the microscope

Donald Trump is an idiot.

Yes, of course that’s obvious. He has always been an idiot. Anyone who lived in New York and witnessed his revolting activities over the past four decades could have told you that. And, believe me, we did try to tell you. Really, we did.

But it takes a very special kind of stupidity to land yourself in this kind of mess.

Yesterday the Chicago Tribune reported that “Two years after Donald Trump won the presidency, nearly every organization he has led in the past decade is under investigation.”

Trump is under siege from all sides, his every action, his entire history being vigorously dissected by Special Counsel Robert Muller, by numerous other investigations, by the incoming Democratic majority of the House of Representatives, and by the press.  As the pressure continues to mount his sycophantic followers are at last beginning to jump ship in order to save their own skins.

Trump could have, should have seen this coming way back in 2015.  But no, as always, he just had to be the center of attention. He just had to run for President, consequences be damned.

donald-trump-election-caricature

I don’t know if Trump actually wanted to win. More likely, as others have reported, he never expected to win, and he believed that his candidacy would give him a massive public profile on the far right, and that when he lost he could claim he was cheated, and then parlay all of the attention & anger he had cultivated during his campaign into a highly successful ultra-conservative “news” channel where he could spend the next four years criticizing “Crooked Hillary” and boldly claiming that if he was President he would be doing a much better job.

Whatever the case, it really demonstrates a grotesque combination of arrogance, stupidity, and short-sightedness for someone with as many skeletons in his closet as Trump, as many blatantly illegal actions & associations in his past, to seek out the most high-profile, critically scrutinized position on the planet. It’s astonishing that he could not foresee that this would lead to every single one of his dirty little secrets being examined under the microscope, which is exactly what is now occurring.

It would almost be amusing, if it was not for the horrible damage that Trump has already inflicted on this country, and the further harm he is certain to cause now that he is the equivalent of a rabid animal cornered by his pursuers, violently lashing out at everything around him.

Certainly it amply demonstrates the ideological rot, the sheer naked lust for power, the wholesale embracing of racism and misogyny and homophobia and religious fanaticism and anti-intellectualism and runaway greed, and the abandonment of any interest in the democratic process that has steadily consumed the Republican Party over the past half century, that they could foresee what an utter inevitable train wreck Trump would be, but they nevertheless embraced, and then attempted to shield from justice, a narcissistic, sociopathic con artist in order to ensure their own personal short-term gain.

I hope that Trump finally lays bare for everyone to see the festering disease at the heart of the Republicans, that his downfall at long last serves as the bullet to finally put down the monstrosity the GOP has become.

I also pray that Trump has finally served as the wake-up call for America to at long last acknowledge the pervasive racism and misogyny that pervades our society, the sick worship of wealth & fame, the rejection of reason and science that has taken hold of a good portion of this country’s population.  Trump’s election is but a symptom, and unless we confront the causes, there will inevitably be many more like him.

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It Came from the 1990s: Black Canary “New Wings”

A couple of years ago I sent a friend request to writer Sarah Byam on Facebook.  I had enjoyed Byam’s work in comic books in the early 1990s.  Having seen this blog, Byam asked me if I was interested in discussing her work on it.  I agreed, and she mailed me several books she had worked on.  Among these was the four issue Black Canary miniseries she wrote that DC Comics published in late 1991.  I read these back when they came out, but since then I sold off a lot of my collection.  So it was nice to once again have them.

Soon after Byam sent me those books life sort of got in the way.  I had to move into a new apartment, and find a new job, and so on.  Byam’s package ended up at the bottom of one of the countless boxes of stuff that I threw together during the move, and only recently did I finally dig it out.  So here, at last, is my retrospective on that Black Canary miniseries.

Black Canary miniseries 1 cover

Written by Byam, the Black Canary miniseries has Trevor Von Eeden contributing pencil layouts, with the finished artwork by Dick Giordano.  Lettering is by Steve Haynie, and coloring by Julia Lacquement.

“New Wings” was, according to the text piece by editor Mike Gold in issue #1, the very first solo series to star Black Canary.  This was in spite of the fact that the character had been around, in one form or another, since 1947.  Serving as a longtime member of both the Justice Society and Justice League, the Black Canary also had a lengthy association with Green Arrow, cast variously as his girlfriend, partner and sidekick.  Nevertheless, it took 44 years for Dinah Laurel Lance to finally receive how own book.

Decades are an artificial construct, and truthfully there is very rarely a sharp delineation to separate them.  That’s certainly true of the 1980s and 1990s, with the end of the former and the beginning of the later serving as a period of gradual transition.

This miniseries certainly straddles the two periods.  In one respect it is very much rooted in the mid to late 1980s of DC Comics, which saw both the aftermath of Crisis on Infinite Earths, with its revisions to long-term continuity, and the one-two punch of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, which motivated a shift towards “grim & gritty” street-level characters.

It’s also very much of the early 1990s, when the comic book market was experiencing a huge boom, resulting in both DC and Marvel flooding the market with new books.  As a result of those market conditions, the Black Canary miniseries got the green light, something that might not have occurred a few years earlier.

The 1987 miniseries Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters by Mike Grell had revamped Oliver Queen as a traditional archer, an urban vigilante based in Seattle, WA.  That story had also seen Dinah Lance brutally tortured, causing her to lose her “Canary Cry” sonic scream.

Although taking away Dinah’s superpower was undoubtedly an attempt to more realistically ground her alongside Green Arrow, in retrospect it is also an example of the “Women in Refrigerators” phenomenon, in female characters being reduced to helpless victims.

Black Canary miniseries 1 pg 10

The “New Wings” miniseries has Byam picking up those threads.  Dinah is still recovering from the trauma of being victimized, and of losing her powers.  She has also growing tired of constantly being in the shadow of the headstrong, arrogant Green Arrow, of playing the role of responsible adult to Ollie’s hotheaded thrill-seeker.  Angrily tossing the accounting ledger at Ollie’s head, Dinah at last asserts herself.  She informs him that it’s his turn to figure out how to pay the rent & bills, while she goes off to the mountains of Washington State in an attempt to find herself and regain her inner peace.

Visiting her “Auntie Wren” at the Quinault Indian Reservation, Dinah is introduced to Gan Nguyen, a reporter, radio talk show host, and social activist.  Gan’s activities fighting against Seattle’s drug dealers have made him very unpopular with certain powerful people.  On the trip back to the city Dinah is forced to change into her Black Canary identity to save him from a pair of racist assassins.

“New Wings” is, in certain ways, a very prescient piece of writing.  The drug operation that Dinah and Gan are pitted against is run by rich, powerful men with connections to both politics and private industry who utilize the people from poor rural communities to do the dirty, dangerous work.  The center of the cocaine distribution network is the town of Sandbar, which Byam describes thus…

“Sandbar is one of those quaint little seaside towns, too sleepy even for tourists to bother with. A little too ‘Mayberry’ for some, it’s a good place to raise your kids. A safe place.

“In Sandbar, people love the Fourth of July, and the old men press up their uniforms every Veterans Day.

“How does a town like that go bad? Stagnate? Lose its sense of purpose?

“Traditions of protecting freedom, of sacrificing, son after son, becomes traditions of protecting property, sacrificing truth after truth…

“Because the only thing more terrifying than the enemy… is change.”

Sandbar sounds very much like one of those Red State communities that in the last few years have wholeheartedly embraced Donald Trump.  Their economy is in ruins, devastated by trickle-down economics and corporations shipping jobs overseas.  Yet instead of recognizing who is actually exploiting them, they are all too easily distracted by the racist dog-whistles that scapegoat minorities, immigrants and non-Christians as the causes of all their problems.

Byam was clearly observant enough to perceive this burgeoning phenomenon way back in 1991, in the years immediately before the GOP, the Koch Brothers and Fox News would commence to enthusiastically fuel the fires of racism, xenophobia and paranoia among white rural communities over the next two decades, eventually bringing about the rise of the Tea Party and Trump.

Black Canary miniseries 1 pg 24

There are a couple of reasons why I have now finally got around to spotlighting this Black Canary miniseries.  One is the emergence of the hatemongering “Comicsgate” trolls in the last couple of years, angry white male fanboys who claim that diversity is destroying comic books, who want to return to the time when the industry was supposedly apolitical.  There is innumerable evidence to disprove their lies.  This miniseries, published in 1991, is certainly one example of how very wrong they are.

“New Wings” features a female character, Black Canary.  It introduces a Vietnamese American supporting character, Gan Nguyen.  It is written by a woman, Sarah Byam.  It is penciled by a black man, the Guyanese-born Trevor Von Eeden.  It is an extremely political story, tackling complex issues of racism, economic injustice, drug dealing, gun control and political corruption.  It raises some difficult, uncomfortable questions.

The other reason is the 2018 midterm elections.  This week over one hundred female candidates were elected to Congress.  This is important. It has been less than one hundred years since women finally gained the right to vote nationwide, when the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified on August 18, 1920. And, as the last few years have vividly demonstrated, there is still so much work to be done in safeguarding equal rights, in making sure that they aren’t stripped away, in protecting women from once again being reduced to second-class citizens. We need to recognize that the struggle against sexism & misogyny, as well as all other forms of injustice, is ongoing.

Black Canary miniseries 1 pg 18

In additionally to being very well written and thought-provoking, the artwork on “New Wings” is exceptional.  The collaboration between Trevor Von Eeden and Dick Giordano is extremely effective.

Von Eeden’s layouts are dynamic, superbly telling the story, both in the action sequences and the quieter conversational scenes.  The finished artwork by veteran artist Dick Giordano is beautiful, with his characteristic slick, polished work on display.

“New Wings” did well enough that an ongoing Black Canary series was commissioned.  Byam and Von Eeden returned, with Bob Smith coming onboard as inker.  Byam continued to write stories that addressed political & social issues.  She was one of those writers in the medium who very much helped my teenage self begin to broaden his perspective, to consider the intricacies of the world and the people who inhabit it.  Regrettably the ongoing Black Canary title only lasted 12 issues, but the majority of them were very well-done.

It would be another few years before Black Canary would once again gain the spotlight.  In late 1995 she was paired up with Barbara Gordon / Oracle in the Birds of Prey special, which soon led to the long-running, very well-regarded series co-starring the two characters.

Black Canary miniseries 2 pg 19 and 20

Both the Black Canary miniseries and ongoing were my introduction to the work of Trevor Von Eeden.  I instantly became a fan of his art.  I was immediately struck by both his stunningly beautiful depictions of the title character, as well as his amazing layouts & storytelling.

It’s very much worth noting that Von Eeden has been vocal about the fact that he never felt any real affinity for the character of Black Canary.  I say this because it definitely speaks to both his talent and his professionalism that he nevertheless did superb work on the series.

One other note: Whoever designed the series logo did a great job.  It looks amazing.

It’s unfortunate that “New Wings” and the subsequent twelve issue series have never been collected in a trade paperback.  However, it should be easy enough to find these in the back issue bins, or for sale online.  They are well worth tracking down.

Hopefully in the future I can offer a detailed look at the 1993 series, as well as some of Sarah Byam’s other works.  Cross your fingers!

Comic book reviews: X-Men Black – Magneto

What if Magneto was right all along?

Magneto, mutant master of magnetism, has been a central figure of the X-Men mythos since the very beginning. Frequently an adversary, but sometimes an ally, Magneto is a figure who has often found himself in the grey area between villain and hero, terrorist and freedom-fighter.

Initially conceived in the early 1960s as a one-dimensional megalomaniac determined to conquer the world in the name of mutant-kind, Magneto was later re-conceptualized by writer Chris Claremont.

It was revealed by Claremont that Magneto was a Jew from Eastern Europe who spent his childhood imprisoned in the living hell of the Auschwitz concentration camp.  Having seen his family murdered by the Nazis, and subsequently experiencing further discrimination after World War II ended, Magneto became convinced that humanity would never be able to accept the emerging mutant race.  Magneto was certain that another Holocaust was inevitable, this time with mutants facing extermination.  Resolving to never again be a victim, Magneto believed that the only way to prevent a mutant genocide was to preemptively conquer the world, to crush humanity before they could attempt to wipe out mutants.

X-Men Black Magneto cover

Claremont, the co-architect of many classic X-Men storylines, returns to Magneto in the new special X-Men: Black – Magneto.  “The Stars, Our Destination?” is penciled by Dalibor Talajic, inked by Roberto Poggi & Belardino Brabo, lettered by VC’s Joe Caramagna, and colored by Dono Sanchez-Almara.  The cover artwork is by J. Scott Campbell & Sabine Rich.

As the story opens, Magneto is in his civilian guise of “Erik,” sitting in a café near San Fernando TX, drawing in his sketchbook.  The waitress, a teenage African American named Kate, comes over to talk to him.  The two converse, and Kate explains that her family has owned the café for generations.  Her family also has a long tradition of military service; Kate’s mother tragically was killed while deployed overseas.

Their conversation is interrupted by a television news report that the government’s Office of National Emergency has opened a “detention center” outside of San Fernando to house mutant children who “are being detained for their own safety, as well as the security of the general public.”

Magneto is, of course, aghast, immediately seeing parallels to his own childhood imprisonment in Auschwitz.  He is further disturbed by the reactions of the café’s other patrons, who vocally approve of the government’s actions.

Kate is the only one present who perceives the terrible injustice in imprisoning children who have committed no crimes, arguing “It isn’t fair, it isn’t right!”  Unfortunately her protests fall upon deaf ears, with one customer angrily snarling “How can liberals be so stupid?” and another arguing “They’re talking civil rights, we’re talking the survival of the human race!”

Magneto, seeing how ugly the mood in the café has become, excuses himself.  Kate follows him outside to apologize for how the customers treated him, and she accidentally observes him beginning to use his mutant powers.  She isn’t afraid, though, and Magneto tells her “Today, child, I’ll wager you’ve made your mother proud. Never lose those ideals, Kate.”

X-Men Black Magneto pg 6

After a brief stop at his orbiting asteroid base, Magneto returns to Earth, where he approaches the Detention Center.  He is quickly attacked by ONE forces, including a woman in Sentinel armor.  Although his is briefly caught off-guard, Magneto soon gains the upper hand.  Using his powers, he destroys all of their weapons.  However, in an act of mercy, as well as so they will pass along his message, Magneto does not kill any of the government agents.

Magneto frees the children in the Detention Center, offering them sanctuary on Asteroid M.  The children ask if their parents and families will also be coming, and Magneto has no answer.  One of the children then tells him that they cannot run away, that they need to stay, to fight for the principles the country was founded upon.

Sad, but understanding, Magneto uses his powers to destroy the Detention Center and spirit the children away from the authorities.  Before he leaves, he addresses the prison officials:

“Your actions betray the bedrock ideals of your nation. You should be ashamed. Mutants are not your enemies. They are your friends, your neighbors, your family… Act as oppressors, you’ll be treated like them.”

Regrettably his words fall on deaf ears.  The ONE agents, completely disregarding Magneto’s act of mercy in sparing their lives, instead resolve to fight that much harder to kill him next time, genuinely believing that they are humanity’s first line of defense against extinction.

X-Men Black Magneto pg 7

In the past I have written about Magneto on this blog.  I have expressed the opinion that he is a man who let his childhood traumas and fears completely warp his thinking.  He is so terrified of another Holocaust occurring that he has become the very thing he despises.  As I saw it, Magneto’s good intentions had paved the road into his own personal hell.

But was I wrong?  Was Magneto right?  The events of the last several years have led me to question my certainty.  Chris Claremont’s story has given focus to my doubts.

Reading the X-Men comic books in the 1980s and 90s, I recall thinking that the anti-mutant racism and hysteria shown in the Marvel universe was depicted in a very overblown manner.  It seemed exaggerated and unrealistic, in comparison to our own real world.

Growing up in the 1980s, I believed that racism was mostly a thing of the past.  Yes, I acknowledged that there were still bigots out there, but I thought that they were now the exception rather than the rule.  I believed that so many advances towards equality were being made, that most people in this country had moved beyond racism… or maybe I should say that is what I wanted to believe.

As a middle class white male in suburban New York it was all too easy for me to ignore the widespread, institutionalized racism that still existed in the United States.  It was foolish and naive of me to believe that a nation that was founded upon the genocide of Native Americans and the brutal enslavement of blacks, a country that after the Civil War saw African Americans subjected to nearly a century of segregation and violent oppression, could completely turn away from racism & intolerance in just a few short decades.

X-Men Black Magneto pg 9

It took the events of the last ten years to finally open my eyes.  The election of Barack Obama to President brought to the surface all of the bigotry that had gone underground over the previous 40 years, but which had been quietly, persistently simmering just out of sight.  The idea that a black man was now occupying the Oval Office resulted in an eruption of vile, paranoid hatred, in the peddling of insane conspiracy theories and cries that the “white race” was in danger of extinction.  The Republicans were more than happy to cynically exploit the racism of their base, utilizing that blind hatred to obstruct Obama and the Democrats at each & every turn.

And then came Donald Trump, who wholeheartedly embraced the racist fear & anger of America, riding it straight into the White House.  Trump, a racist and misogynist who praises neo-Nazis and white supremacists.  Trump, whose administration is engaged in ongoing attacks on the rights of blacks and women and Muslims and the LGBT community and civil liberties and science and rational thinking.  Trump, who has separated thousands of children from their parents, and who has put those innocent children in cages, to the enthusiastic approval & applause of his many followers, who hate anyone who is different from them.

The idea that Magneto was wrong is predicated on the idea that another Holocaust would not, could not occur here in the United States.  However, the last several years have demonstrated that the institutions of democracy & liberty in our country are alarmingly fragile, and that we could very easily follow the evil path that Nazi Germany took 80 years ago.  Some would say that is exactly what we are doing right now, and perhaps they are correct.

And if that is the case, perhaps Magneto was right, and Professor Xavier was wrong.  Perhaps peaceful coexistence is not possible, simply because there are too many willfully ignorant, hateful bigots in this world, people who will not be swayed by appeals to reason or pleas for empathy, people who will happily see their neighbors sent to the death camps.  If that is so, then a man such as Magneto, for all his flaws and zealotry, might actually be a necessity.

X-Men Black Magneto pg 20

In any case, X-Men: Black – Magneto is an effective utilization by Chris Claremont of real-world contemporary issues to tell a compelling comic book story.  To anyone who wants to argue that in the past comic books were not political, Exhibit A for the defense could be Claremont’s original 17 year run on X-Men, which was frequently political, with mutant-kind serving as an allegory for any number of persecuted minorities.

Marvel Comics has been very reluctant to openly address Trump and his followers in their stories.  I am not surprised, given that Marvel is now owned by Disney, which has always endeavored to avoid controversy.  Certainly the recent firings of James Gunn and Chuck Wendig, both of whom have been extremely vocal in their criticisms of Trump on social media, demonstrates that Disney has no desire to overtly wade into politics.

Under those circumstances, the allegorical approach favored by Claremont is probably the best, at least if one is writing at Marvel, or DC Comics for that matter.  I have often commented that science fiction is an effective vehicle for addressing contemporary political & social issues, because the genre enables writers to utilize analogues for real-world controversies.  Claremont is certainly adept at this.  If he submitted a plot concerning the government putting young Hispanic children in cages it would undoubtedly be rejected flat by Marvel.  Instead he writes about a fictional government agency imprisoning mutant children, but it is very obvious what he is really talking about.

If there is one message that we can take from X-Men: Black – Magneto, it is that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.  Democracy is not easy.  It requires active participation from its citizens.  We must vote in every election.  We must contact our government representatives to let them know how we want them to act.  Like both Magneto and Kate, we must loudly, angrily protest whenever injustice occurs.  If we do not, our freedoms will certainly be taken from us.

Donald Sterling: It’s All About The Money

“Everything good that is not based on a morally good disposition, however, is nothing but pretense and glittering misery.” – Immanuel Kant

Time for one of my rare political posts.  I do not do these too often, because I usually want to make sure that I actually have something intelligent to say, and that I’m not going to make a fool of myself.  Would that others were capable of such self-restraint!

I really don’t follow sports, so until a few days ago I had never heard of Donald Sterling, the billionaire owner of the LA Clippers basketball team.  However, Sterling made the headlines in a big way when taped voice messages for his mistress, a part-Hispanic, part-black woman who apparently goes by several names, including V. Stiviano, were leaked to the press.  The 80 year old Sterling was caught on tape criticizing the 31 year old Stiviano for posting photos of herself with African American basketball legend Magic Johnson on Instagram.  According to CNN, Sterling told Stiviano “In your lousy f**ing Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with — walking with black people.”  He went on to add “I’ve known (Magic Johnson) well, and he should be admired. … I’m just saying that it’s too bad you can’t admire him privately. Admire him, bring him here, feed him, f**k him, but don’t put (Magic) on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don’t bring him to my games.”

Well, the shit immediately hit the fan, and Sterling has been up to his neck in a public relations nightmare for the last several days.  The mostly-black line-up of the Clippers showed up on the court with their warm-up gear inside out.  Over a dozen corporate sponsors made the decision to pull their support for the Clippers.  It all culminated in NBA commissioner Adam Silver banning Sterling for life, fining him $2.5 million, and urging the Board of Governors to force Sterling to sell the Clippers.

Following Silver’s announcement, former NBA player and current Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson publicly praised the decision.  He announced that “it delivered a statement about where we are as a county.”

Oh, yes, it delivered a statement, all right.  It declared, loud and clear, that the god of the American people is the almighty dollar.

Donald Sterling cartoon by Chip Bok

Let’s take a look at Donald Sterling’s long, sordid history.  He is a serial philanderer who was most recently carrying on a relationship with a woman young enough to be his granddaughter, apparently showering her with $2 million in gifts, all the while undoubtedly bringing embarrassment to his wife & children.  Sterling was unsuccessfully sued in 2009 by former Clippers general manager Elgin Baylor for age & racial bias.  In that same year, Sterling paid $2.725 million to settle a housing bias suit brought against him by the Justice Department, which alleged that he systematically drove blacks, Hispanics and families with children out of apartment buildings he owned.

All of this is in Sterling’s past.  But none of it previously seemed to bother the NBA, the players on the Clippers, or the team’s corporate sponsors terribly much.  Hell, even the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP gave Sterling a lifetime achievement award after his contribution of $45,000 to their coffers.

However, once Sterling was caught on tape making racist remarks, causing a huge PR debacle, seething anger among the Clippers line-up, and sponsors to start fleeing from him like he’s come down with a case of the bubonic plague… then, and only then, does the NBA decide that Sterling is a reprehensible human being.  Yes, it took the looming threat of a gigantic loss of revenue to finally cause the NBA to cut Sterling loose.  Oh, yeah, and the NAACP is now keeping their distance.

This entire situation reminds me of what happened back in February in Arizona.  The state legislature had passed the controversial SB 1062, which would have allowed businesses in Arizona to deny service to gay & lesbian customers if that decision was “substantially motivated by a religious belief.”

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer was a week away from deciding whether to sign or veto SB 1062 when all hell broke loose.  Companies such as American Airlines, AT&T and Marriot voiced concerns over the bill.  Apple, which was in the middle of building a plant in Mesa that was expected to create hundreds of new jobs, urged Brewer to veto SB 1062.  The state Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Phoenix Economic Council and a number of local businesses all came out in opposition to it.  Even three of the state legislators who had originally voted yes for SB 1062 were suddenly back-peddling furiously, urging Brewer to exercise her veto power.  The general dawning realization among many seemed to be “Wait a second, if this thing goes into effect, we could lose a shit load of money!”

In the end, Brewer did veto SB 1062.  But while it was the right decision, it was quite clearly done for the wrong reasons.  Instead of making her choice for reasons of social justice, Brewer’s motivation was financial.

It is a terrible tragedy when freedom and liberty are at the whims of economics, that the defense of civil rights is predicated on whether or not it is financially judicious.  Sadly, though, that has often been the case.  One of the most powerful tools of the African American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s was the economic boycott.  Now more than ever, though, it seems that significant social progress is unlikely without a monetary incentive behind it.

As the old saying goes, money talks and bullshit walks.