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Monday, September 21, 2020 

Newsarama continues to pay lip service to Brad Meltzer

So Newsarama/Games Radar's published another fawning interview with the loathsome novelist who's mainly disliked for penning Identity Crisis, and predictably, they'll ask no hard questions. A strange thing about it is that, from what's told here, it sounds like it was written up 15 years ago. Though the miniseries is mentioned at the beginning of the interview, what follows makes no mention of it at all, proving we've gotten to a point where they're so ashamed, because they realize how embarrassing such a screed can be in the post-Harvey Weinstein era. Most laughable is when they state:
Brad Meltzer is an uber-successful prose novelist, a non-fiction author, and even a TV show host - but he's also a comics writer. And more importantly to him, he's a comics fan.

An unabashed comics fan.

"I'm from the philosophy of: if you read comics, say it loud and say it proud," Meltzer says.
Gee, that's awfully rich coming from somebody who penned a story that can make one very abashed, because how is a comics fan supposed to explain to an outsider who finds out what a one-sided script Identity Crisis contains - minimizing sexual assault, almost entirely blotting out women's voices, sympathizing with villains, and stealthing in left-wing metaphors for 9-11 - that we don't all condone the miniseries' vision and do recognize why it's offensive? Though I will say those who do embrace Meltzer's little screed are doing the medium a lot more harm than good, and risk giving "fanboys" a bad name, recalling a message I saw posted on CBR's forums 15 years ago said the miniseries looked like fanboyish stuff. It'd be very bad if outsiders thought fanboys had lenient views on sex offenses, and that's exactly why anybody who considers the term "fanboy" (and "fangirl") positive has to distance themselves from supporting stories making light of serious issues. Now, guess what Meltzer's first comic to read was:
Newsarama: Brad, let's start back a while - take us back to your beginning in comics – when did you get into comics?

Brad Meltzer: If you ask me about the first book I read, I immediately think of a comic book.

My first comic that I remember getting that my Dad brought home was 'The Laughing Fish; – the Joker story in Detective by Steve Englehart and Marshal Rogers.

Nrama: Detective Comics #475.

Meltzer: My Dad used to work at a place where there was an old bookstore, back before there were official 'comic book stores' and he used to grab a handful of beat-up comics that the store had for ten cents or a quarter apiece. I remember he brought me that, and sometime later, he brought me Justice League of America #150, which was a story that involved the Key, and I remember just losing my mind over it. There was one splash page that had all the JLA members stuck in these Key 'prisons.' All of the members were stacked up one on top of another. I remember looking at that page and thinking, 'Oh my gosh – who should act first?' And the addiction was born.

I think that's how comic addictions are always born – just like drugs, the first couple are free, and then you know who to call or where to go if you want more.
I think the analogy to drugs is disgusting, particularly the way he makes it sound like a trafficker enticing somebody to get hooked with free samples. And while again, I'm as much a Bat-fan as the next person is, there is honestly something troubling about getting introduced to comicdom through the darkness. Of course, it's possible he's not being entirely honest, and maybe he read children's books before comics proper (should I say that I read children's books like Syd Hoff's "Danny & the Dinosaur" before reading comics per se?), but he decided to boast as though it's the real deal.
Nrama: So you were a superhero kid, growing up?

Meltzer: I was definitely the superhero kid, and back then, I was all about team books. I remember the first comic I really spent my money on – I got a $5.00 allowance, and all comics were priced either $.25 or $.50. I went to a book store/comic book store in Brooklyn, and would just divide my $5 by the cover prices, and my entire allowance went to that. I started buying every team book I could find, from Secret Society of Super-Villains to Justice League, to anything else I could find that had a group in it. To me, Green Lantern/Green Arrow was a group – Black Canary was there, and Speedy was there, so I'd grab those.
But Speedy wasn't there on a frequent basis. BC was, but Roy Harper only appeared 3-4 times when Green Lantern was teamed with Green Arrow. And in the first two, he wasn't even in costume! (In fact, when he did appear again at the time of the 100th issue in the late 70s, I think it was in a story where GA and BC appeared separately from GL, written by Elliot Maggin.) I think this is a clue how much Meltzer really knows about DC's history. On which note, I notice he doesn't mention Marvel books of the times here, even though Avengers was a big thing during the Bronze Age, with X-Men soon reviving to more success than it had in its first 7 years. That's decidedly telling too. And recalling Meltzer made Batman sound absurdly nuts in the miniseries, it's hard to believe he actually remained a Bat-fan for real, let alone a Justice League fan.

But even more telling could be his citation of SSoSV. Does this suggest an unhealthy fandom for villains? Well at least that gives a clue why Identity Crisis was sympathetic to villains.
Nrama: Given that you were heavily into comics as a kid, how would you say that has influenced both the stories you now write as well as the way you write them?

Meltzer: In terms of writing novels, there is no question that when I write a chapter in a novel, it is based on years of reading 22-page stories.

When Green Arrow was announced, there was a reporter for the local city paper here in D.C., and it was the first time a comic fan had ever read my work and reviewed it. He went through it and said it was so blatantly obvious to him that I read comics just by my pacing. I haven't hid that for years – it's just that no one who's read comics has ever put that together with my books.
No kidding. I thought it was more the other way around - his approach to comics writing is more like a sloppy attempt to take the approach of a novel and apply it to a genre incorporating science fiction elements, to say nothing of stories casting established characters, and put them in situations that were out-of-character even on a simple level, tinkering and tampering with past renditions to suit a politically correct present one. But hey, this is clearly somebody who likes to boast as though he's the biggest genius in the world, so no surprise he's bragging like this.
Nrama: As you got older, did your views of what comic books were expand beyond superheroes?

Meltzer: Sure, and I remember the comics that did it.

When I moved to Florida, I couldn't drive to the comic store, so I had convinced the comic book guy to deliver the comic books to my house. He used to leave them on the doormat. He would call me with the total, I'd leave him the money, he'd leave the change under the doormat, and the comics at the door.

One week, he put Miracleman on the doormat. I remember losing my mind when I read it. It was around that time when Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen hit as well, and I remember reading those that they were different. Even the old Titans stuff that I loved – Terra and 'The Judas Contract' run, and the stories that led up to 'The Judas Contract' – all the Marv Wolfman/George Perez stuff, all the old Paul Levitz Legion stuff, anything JLA - all of those were different from what I was reading in Miracleman and Dark Knight.

Again, it was the old pusher analogy – the comic book guy had thrown in Miracleman for free, and I wanted more. From there, I started finding more Eclipse, and other small publishers that were not putting out traditional superheroes, even if they wore the costume.

In comics today, there are what I call the 'boy' fan – who's your typical teenage boy, and more power to them – they still like the battle and the fight of the month; and then there are those of us who grew up on that, and now want something different. It's great when they overlap in something like Ultimate Spider-Man, but it's great also when you can go off and read something like Dork! or whatever else is out there for when you don't want to read about superheroes anymore.
Well, I guess this is telling too. IMO, there's something wrong when somebody considers really dark stuff like Watchmen and DKR the absolute best (along with Miracleman), but won't say Superman was an entertaining science fantasy adventure or cite the best moments to be found there. And when he brings up Spidey or a Marvel comic, it's connected with modern PC-laden pretensions, like what Brian Bendis brought about. I don't see that as signs of a true fan who enters with an open mind. I see that as signs of somebody who can't expand beyond a narrow vision of what any showbiz medium should be like. But of course, you could never expect them to actually admit it. Not even that there's far less teens reading comics in any capacity today, or that mainstream are built less around battles of the month, and more around social justice. Something Meltzer was an early example of foisting on the medium, based on the stealth politics seen in Identity Crisis, which included liberal blame-America themes. Meltzer's comments on boy fans also suggests he doesn't have a high opinion on superherodom like those who are into the genre do.
Nrama: What about fans of your novels?

Meltzer: There are some people, and I'll see them at a book signing now or then that ask what I'm working on next. I tell them Green Arrow, and they look at me, and say, 'Huh.' Then comes the polite nod, and I know they don't approve, but you know what? I don't really care about that person - they're not who I've ever written for. I've never written for anybody else but myself, and I write what I like to read, and what I want to read.
I think that's the problem too. He's clearly not concerned that what he's writing could be alienating to people concerned about sensationalized violence. Not even the scene in IC #3 where Zatanna is bashed in the stomach by Deathstroke and it causes her to vomit, for the sake of shock value. What Meltzer says here suggests he doesn't have much respect for whatever audience foolishly bought into his books years before thinks. But, it's not necessarily a surprise.
Nrama: Do you think that your fame as a novelist will help add legitimacy to comics in the eyes of outsiders to the industry, and help it reach out to new readers?

Meltzer: Hopefully, the industry is always reaching out. The problem is that sometimes the best fun from reading a comic comes from the nostalgia from the fact that you've been reading it for ten years. For instance, I can give anyone JSA - it's a great book and very enjoyable, but they're never going to get the enjoyment until they read the 50 years of back history and know all the players involved. It's just impossible.

I gave my wife Dark Knight, and she loved it, but when Frank Miller wrote, "And Hal left for the stars," she didn't know who Hal was. The line was lost on her. It doesn't take anything away from the book, but on some level, that's going to be the limit of her enjoyment.

That said though, I think legitimacy is a game that's silly to play. There is no legitimacy that's needed – comics have legitimacy. We don't have to pander to anyone for recognition. It's kind of like popular fiction pandering to the literary fiction people of the world because they feel that they need legitimacy.

It's like popular fiction writers feeling like they have to be writing for the New Yorker before they can be 'real' people. I always feel when I see authors do that, why pander? It's only those people who think it's a hierarchy that goes up and down. In reality, it's a line that moves side to side and is a function of taste. It's the literary marketplace that wants to put it in a pyramid with the ultimate literary novel at the top and then somewhere at the bottom, just below the daily cartoons, are comic books. That's silly to me – we get that because we act like that and because we hide behind comics. Produce good work, and you'll get the legitimacy. You get a Neil Gaiman, an Alan Moore, Warren Ellis, or Brian Bendis banging out fantastic books that 13-, 30-, and 60-year-olds are all reading and enjoying, and you get legitimacy. It's there.

I think that on some levels, people who read comics at some point in their life had self-esteem issues to deal with. That will be forever built into our characters, and make us feel like we have to fight back in some way. It's probably why we like the good versus evil thing of superheroes – we've always felt it in our brain, whether it's reality or not.

Not to psychoanalyze every comic fan, I think on some level, we get that lack of legitimacy, because we own it as our own experience. But I'm from the philosophy of: if you read comics, say it loud and say it proud. If you want to hide it, and make sure you read it in a brown bag, and never read it in public, and when your friends ask what you're reading, you always call it graphic novels instead of comic books, you're always going to have those issues, period.
Again, when somebody like him says it, the statement falls flat when you get a closer look at the record this interview isn't clear about. Just look at how he babbles on about pandering, when that's what he was doing under the table - pandering to 9-11 Trutherism, based on the victim-blame-game that turns up in Identity Crisis. On which note, who in the right frame of mind would want to read a miniseries like that in public if they knew the offensive portrayal of anal rape - not even clearly referred to as such in the script - could disgust sensible people who notice it? And if the story is sympathetic to the villains, then Meltzer's not one suited to talk about good versus evil if he can't distinguish properly.

As I'd mentioned at the start, this interview might be a reprint of one published back in the mid-2000s, and it was conducted by Matt Brady, who was the former EIC when Newsarama was still its own domain. It's hard to tell when it could be from, but the lack of mention of Identity Crisis suggests they now realize what a long term embarrassment it is due to the one-sided approach to sexual assault in the story, and like various other interviews on comicdom reflecting upon the past today, they decided to skirt around the most controversial items, even if it prevents people from being able to get some information that can make them think about industry conduct this past century.

And whether this interview was written in the past or present, Meltzer's citation of Ellis and Bendis sure is telling of what an accepting view he could have of their work. I can only imagine what he must think of Avengers: Disassembled, even if it wasn't as repellent in its approach as Meltzer's loathsome little roach of a story was. But, what could he think of Ellis, now that the industry's distancing themselves from ol' Warren after his sleazy acts against at least a few women in the past was made public? There's a question we may never get a clear answer on.

For now, it's really disgusting Newsarama in its current form had to give any kind of continued lip service to Meltzer, won't approach the subject objectively, or come to terms with how they've been promoting only so many faux-scribes who're overrated and not genuine experts on the medium, any more than the news site themselves. All these years, Meltzer never helped comics gain validity in the wider public, and his 2004 screed should explain why. It's also why almost no new readers have come about.

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  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
  • I was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. I also enjoyed reading a lot of comics when I was young, the first being Fantastic Four. I maintain a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy in facts. I like to think of myself as a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. I don't expect to be perfect at the job, but I do my best.
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