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Wednesday, November 25, 2020 

More about John Ridley's "Other History" of DC

The New York Times interviewed screenwriter Ridley about his new Other History of the DCU book, which I'd written about a few months before, where more hints at his fishy politics turn up. At the start, it's said:
When the screenwriter John Ridley pitched “The Other History of the DC Universe,” a five-part comic book series that looks at pivotal events through the perspectives of several nonwhite DC heroes, he knew Black Lightning would be at its center. Ridley was 11 when he met the hero in 1977.

“This was a Black man who ostensibly looked like me with his own series,” Mr. Ridley said during a recent interview. An added bonus: “He was a teacher in his secret identity as Jefferson Pierce, the way my mother was a teacher.”
Let me make clear that I too think Black Lightning is a valuable contribution to the DCU, and if I were a writer, I'd like to write stories putting characters like him front and center, but doing it all as part of an apparent political statement in context of what's been going on this past decade is not the way to go. If it comes at the expense of the white characters - especially heroes like Superman - that's where Ridley really goofs. Mainly because, look what he has in store next:
The first issue of “The Other History of the DC Universe” will be released on Tuesday. He is also working on a comic, to be published in January, that features a nonwhite Batman.
All part of the upcoming Future State, as is noted later. And I'm wondering why it has to be anything foremost involving Batman, given this'll doubtless be set in the dark? I'd noted some time ago that BL's own creator, Tony Isabella, expressed disillusionment with how Batman's bleak vision has almost singlehandedly influenced the DCU in nearly its entirety for more than a decade, and this has virtually ruined storytelling because it's gotten to a point where it's all about darkness, with almost no brightness to balance things out. And here, Ridley, who says Isabella influenced him, wants to spotlight a protagonist in the costume of a character the veteran writer's concluded wound up having a negative impact in the long run? Not a very good choice has Ridley made there.
“Other History,” which is drawn by Giuseppe Camuncoli and Andrea Cucchi and painted by José Villarrubia, begins with Jefferson Pierce and reads like a journal of his most private thoughts. Readers learn about his family and see him become Black Lightning. They also get his views on some of DC’s champions, including John Stewart, who became a Green Lantern in 1971 and has been heralded as the company’s first Black superhero, and the original Justice League, whose members Mr. Ridley pointedly noted were predominately white men.
And does that mean Martian Manhunter doesn't count, nor do Wonder Woman, Black Canary and Zatanna? What if there were several purple skinned alien members of Justice League? Would he say those were invalid because they don't reflect the "real world" scenario he believes is a big deal, even if they were meant to serve as metaphors? If the whole point is to make the League look like elitists, that's not getting very far.
Subsequent issues will spotlight other characters and will conclude with Anissa Pierce, one of Jefferson’s daughters, a heroine known as Thunder.
If memory serves, the daughter was introduced in Judd Winick's Outsiders volume of the mid-2000s (which followed on the heels of a terrible miniseries he penned, Titans/Young Justice: Graduation Day, which saw Donna Troy killed, however briefly, by an android duplicate of Superman), and I seem to recall Isabella didn't approve of Winick's retcon there, because it didn't reflect his visions for Jeff Pierce. It would've made more sense if the girl were BL's niece instead. For now, one can only wonder how this is respecting the scribe Ridley says he was influenced by.
GG: Jefferson also has pointed views on Superman. Did you get pushback?

JR: No, because it is not about Superman being a bad guy. We visit Superman and other heroes through the lens of these characters. Even though Superman is an immigrant and truly an alien, his passport is stamped because of the way he looks and because of the way he presents himself.

All of these characters have to reconcile how they view other people and whether they’re being fair. If I made Superman or Batman or Wonder Woman bad people, I’m sure we would have had pushback. But it was all fair game if it came from a perspective that felt real and grounded.
Here's another parroting of a leftist talking point: Superman is an "immigrant", and not a refugee, this despite his being transported to earth in a spacecraft his father Jor-El built when he was a mere infant. I can hardly wait to see them make these repeated claims about Supergirl too, if they haven't yet, based on the defense she was of a more mature age when she reached earth, even though she too was more or less a refugee who'd lost the alternate post-Krypton residence she'd resided on. You could even make the same argument about Starfire, since she'd been forced into slavery in her native Vegan galaxy, before escaping to earth at the start of New Teen Titans. Granted, at least Ridley didn't depict the Trinity as baddies, but it's still annoying he's latching onto that idiocy about an otherworldly humanoid character being an "immigrant" yet never a refugee from disaster. What's so real and grounded about that? And why have those two visions become far more important than entertainment value.
GG: How did the project initially come together?

JR: I was very nervous when I pitched it. It was a kind of arrogance, maybe, to come back and say, I want to look at your entire history and shift the lens a little and have some real talk about some of these characters. To their credit, DC saw the value. This was long before the current reckoning on race and representation.

When you’re dealing with stories about race, otherization, people outside of the prevailing culture, unfortunately, it’s going to be relevant almost any time it comes out.
If he's interested in relevance, might he be willing to consider say, Joe Biden's condescending views on race, which may still be very relevant today? And might he be concerned about the otherization of conservatives, which has led us to the divisive atmosphere we're in now?
GG: Let’s talk about your upcoming Batman comic and your tease that it would highly likely be a nonwhite Batman.

JR: Let me confirm that it is definitely a Black person under the cowl. It was an off-the-cuff line, meant to be humorous. Comic book fans are the best fans. They will go through everything and check it and recheck it. It was the quip heard around the world. Definitely, without a doubt, the next Batman is a Black Batperson.

GG: I love that you’re saying “person” and not “man.”

JR: I have to have what fun I can. There’s no reason in the modern era to think that the person who is representing Batman is a man. But whoever it is, it is an interesting opportunity to populate the world around this new Batman. We’ll have some interesting characters coming in and a lot of representation. It was really important to make sure that this Gotham City was well represented.
Oh good grief. This talk only suggests he favors all this modern anti-gender propaganda, another problem that's done serious harm to society. Such political correctness has only leads to ruin.
GG: Do you read a lot of comics? Representation has certainly increased since we were kids.

JR: It has. I certainly don’t read as much as I did up until I was about 30. I still buy probably too much. My wife is a little like, “it’s OK to grow up at any moment.” There’s so much more representation than when I was growing up, but is there ever enough? When you talk to a young Latinx, they’re going to say no. If you talk to someone from the L.G.B.T. community or young Black people or young women or people of any age who are looking for inspiration, there is never going to be enough.

But there’s more, and more importantly, not just on the page, but the folks behind the scenes: the writers and artists making the stories. It’s great to have more representation. When you create it, it’s an invitation to people to join in — with their time, their money and sometimes with their talent. I’m more excited about the representation that these companies are trying to carve out behind the scenes because that’s the biggest difference.
See, that's the problem: for a huge number of these SJWs, it's never enough, not even if you got rid of the white, heterosexual cast wholesale. He does admit in the interview he can't please everyone, but what's sad is if he believes those he does happen to be the left-wing crowd. In any case, he's screwed up when he uses the slang "Latinx", because as I'd noted before, it's not a popular one at all; just another example of political correctness in motion. And "sometimes" talent matters? I'm afraid that's just another hint political posturing is going to prevail here.

Ridley was also interviewed by Newsarama, and they're not much different from the NYT's sugarcoating:
Launching this week, this five-issue prestige format series teams Ridley with artists Giuseppe Camuncoli, Andrea Cucchi, and Jose Villarrubia to explore the mythology of the DCU and offer a different, more diverse, perspective on the major events in DC superhero history.
As if that makes this artistically successful right out of the gate. The emphasis in italic on diversity gives it all away. And "different" hasn't been the case for a long time, let alone entertaining. In the interview paragraphs, the following comes up:
Newsarama: John, from what I've read of The Other History of DC Universe #1 it looks like this is a pretty sweeping take on DC history.

Were there any particular events or moments that cried out for reevaluation? Did you look at something like Final Night and say 'Oh, that may have been how it went down, but that's not how folks would have seen it'?

John Ridley: It's a pretty exhaustive look at the DC universe. Obviously, we're talking about a storytelling arc, a narrative arc in the history of DC, National Periodicals, and all that going back more than 80 years. It's certainly not an 80-year dive, but what I believe you can tell from the first issue - we do want to set this up as though it were a real timeline that these were real mortal people that their combined histories are going to run from about early '70s with Jefferson Pierce as a younger person through the mid-'00s with Anissa Pierce and her dealing with her life and her career as a hero.

In terms of how I chose to look at certain events... I believe in the first issue, Supergirl's arrival, there are other events – Supergirl's death, the death of Superman; very large scale events in the history of the DC universe - Wonder Woman killing Maxwell Lord, things like that. But what was more important to me rather than just drop these events into history and say 'Oh, this happened,' but really try to examine them from the perspectives of these characters.

So, some of these events, we may see more than once and the characters comment on them. Some of the views of the characters represent different views of the same similar moments in history. So, it was less to me about just putting in obelisks on a timeline and saying this happened, but more importantly, how do these events - how are they contextualized? How are they absorbed? How is the meaning expressed to the lead characters in each one of these stories?

Less about just revisiting a big event and saying 'Remember when Superman died? Great, let's move on.' But more about other characters saying, 'Wow, I'd always thought this about Superman, but when we lost him, I had to re-examine how I felt or what it meant to the larger universe.' If the universe was real, what happens when we lose a really remarkable individual, maybe had a troubled past, maybe we felt differently about them, but that loss - how do we collectively feel about it in that moment?
Wow...this sure is quite an eye opener alright. So he thinks the Death & Return of Superman from 1992-93, one of the most overblown events at a time when crossovers were taking up too much room in mainstream superhero fare - a story where Cat Grant's son was murdered by the Toyman and Silver Age Green Lantern's original residence of Coast City was destroyed pre-Emerald Twilight - is such a big deal? Along with WW breaking Max Lord's neck? Even the part about Supergirl decidedly calls for some pondering, and that's beside the suggestion this takes a confusing stance on pre-and-post Crisis DCU. If the cast of Ridley's book needs to reflect on something, how about Cat Grant's misfortune? And Hal Jordan's? Why just the Man of Steel? Say, will Ridley's book also be exploring how the non-white cast views Emerald Twilight and Zero Hour? They certainly did mention 1996's Final Night, another crossover that wasn't very good either. Why must stories that were mediocre or worse in merit count? What good does that do for the protagonists spotlighted, or anybody in the DCU, for that matter? It won't change the fact that some of these stories are just very bad, and not worth dredging up even as an afterthought.

One thing, however, that's surprising is Ridley's willingness to allude to an important tragedy from the 1972 Olympic games held in Germany, when members of a PLO-affiliated jihadist group took Israeli athletes hostage. However, the text remains extremely ambiguous about who actually committed the crime, not acknowledging that Islamic adherents were behind the obscenity. But of course, this is a company that in the past decade or so has taken to pushing Islamic propaganda more openly, with Geoff Johns' own contribution one of the worst they came up with, so I guess it figures they wouldn't have the courage to be clearer about the identities of the monsters behind the Olympic tragedy.
Nrama: What was the decision behind making this part of the Black Label instead of DC's regular line?

Ridley: When we started this, almost three years ago now the Black Label was new. I'll be honest, I'm only half-joking, when we sat down and talked about the Other History of the DC Universe, and at the time it was Jim Lee and Dan DiDio and they said 'We really liked this idea. We want to find the right format for it,' and they came back and they said we got this thing - Black Label. And I was like, 'Oh wow, they're giving me my own label. It's for a black guy.' Then they explained it's just premium black - best that it can be.

This was one of the first series that was announced for Black Label. I think it's really a terrific space for it. I love the concept of what DC is doing with these very premium books that are certainly there for people who love graphic novels, love comic books, but are also targeted towards a wider audience. An audience that may not normally go to their comic book shop on a regular basis.

But this was a concept and format that both arrived simultaneously. Obviously, this is coming out a lot later now that DC has had an opportunity to work with Black Label. It was like Reese's peanut butter cups. It was chocolate and peanut butter. If you're old enough to remember the old commercials, people tripped into each other and said, 'Oh this is a great thing.' It was more of an accidental arrival to this than a sharply planned, this kind of story can only work in this format.
Sure, this could be an out-of-continuity tale, though when you consider the collapse of serious continuity over the past 20 years or so, that's why it becomes moot. What's even more telling, however, is who originally greenlighted this project - a disgraceful editor/publisher no longer working for DC, one who alienated tons of readers with repellent elements in the past 15 years or so, and an artist who's just as leftist as the former. It's pretty naive to assume an audience that may not commonly buy at comic stores will actually buy into this either.
Nrama: What do you feel is the most misunderstood part of DC's take on superheroes, and is there one particular element that you wanted to address in this very first issue?

Ridley: I would say maybe not misunderstood, but if people separate universes, one of the things I think people talk about particularly now is that DC is an amazing universe - it's a fictional universe. It really is fictional, it's fiction on top of fiction, it's Metropolis, it's Gotham. It's these places that aren't quite real and therefore it's this extra bit of separation from the audience.

One of the things that I really wanted to do was to try to marry the Other History of the DC Universe with real history, as much as possible. Whether that's additional locations, Jefferson in the first issue talks about spending time in Milwaukee, talks about being in real places, certainly real moments in history from the Munich massacre to the Iran hostage situation. Where, hopefully, if we've all done our jobs correctly, it feels like you can track these characters through a real history and what it was like to be an individual with extraordinary abilities and be faced with challenges that are not just portals opening in the sky and aliens dropping in, but real challenges.

That powers alone are not always enough to combat the challenges that people face in the world. If the primary word in that question is 'misconception,' I don't know if this answer is correct, but if I'm going to look at concepts that people may ascribe to the DC universe as a negative to me - I'm not saying it's a negative, but it was certainly something I wanted to try to juxtapose against reality or realities to try to hopefully make this series of books feel as seeped in reality as possible. I wanted to do that with everything, with these characters, it's much more about them as characters. Jefferson Pierce, Mal, Karen, Tatsu Yamashiro, Renee, Anissa - not Black Lightning, not Katana, and not the Thunder. Certainly, they're represented as those characters in these stories wanting to try to make these stories feel as real as humanly possible.
As mentioned before, the panel alluding to 1972 says nothing about the exact background of the culprits, and the mention of the Iran hostage situation suggests this is going to be one of those kind of projects that risks minimizing real life events, if superheroes are supposed to be around in the particular time setting Ridley's project alludes to, rather than keeping things more metaphorical. In that case, why should we believe this is as real as possible, when you have situations where superheroes are present yet don't do anything about what's going on across the ocean?
Nrama: You've mentioned before that you sought outside perspectives when it came to working on characters like Renee Montoya. With those outside perspectives in mind, what do you feel you brought personally to those characters who don't share your background?

Ridley: Well, honestly, I hope and believe as with all these characters I bring my absolute best work. On the one hand, you never want to, whether it's intentionally or unintentionally, write something that's just - particularly in the world we live in, it's just patently offensive. Even if you're careful - people are going to love it. They're going to hate it. Even if you're writing something where you're being very careful and being very responsible more than just great, we wrote this. We didn't offend anybody. We want to inspire people. The reality is that when you create something, there is an implicit invitation for other people to join in with their time, to join in with their money. But hopefully more than anything that at some point they'll join with their talent.
Correction: they didn't offend anybody on the left, or didn't try to. Just on the right. As the following hints, and which we'll focus on before commenting on the part about Montoya:
Nrama: What character did you really want to include as a perspective character, but just couldn't find the space for?

Ridley: You can almost pick any character of color, almost any female character, an LGBTQ community character. I could not find a Muslim character. I really think that that would have been very important to include in the work. I mean look it's five issues. We have our lead characters. We have other characters that we blend in. But it's never enough. I hope it was representational. I certainly didn't want to go, here's one from column A, one from column B. I wanted characters whose history I was familiar with, characters whose histories spoke to me.

It wasn't just me blindly going let me try to interpret this character as a character. I feel a closeness to the overall history, but any character who's not in here, any group that's not represented, is a group that I wish that had been represented. Hopefully, if the series does well, DC will go to other creators and say there are still yet more Other History stories to be told.
Despite their being at least a few Muslim characters in the DCU more of recent - who for some reason he failed to locate despite the aforementioned Johns being one faux-writer who introduced one such character who stands out as particularly forced in characterization - Ridley couldn't find one? How odd. But still nothing compared to his confirmation he believes the Religion of Peace would make for perfect use in his looking to be very pretentious tale. Making me wonder why he even bothered to mention the Munich massacre? If he's got a lenient position on the Religion of Peace, he has effectively lowered himself to the same level as Steven Spielberg, who offended the widow of Moni Weinberg, Mimi, something most liberal press sources at the time obfuscated, because it's not like they're any different. This certainly does hint quite a bit about the politics of the twosome in charge of DC at the time the project was first approved though, and why one who's no longer there won't be missed.

And Ridley speaks of not "blindly going"? If he won't connect the dots honestly, and be clearly factual, he is. On the matter of Montoya, I suppose he's going to stick with Greg Rucka's shoddy retcon to a lesbian?
Nrama: This is one of two high-profile DC projects you've got coming soon, the other being your Future State: Next Batman series. How do the thematic concerns of that project differ from this one?

Ridley: The thematic concerns of the other one is that it really needed to fit into what's going on in Gotham - in the Bat universe now. And, yes, this is 'Future State, 'so all of these comics, they're jumping ahead a little bit, but there's a real plan. There are certainly things that I can't give away and can't talk about.
Oh, no worries about that. Since it's all ultimately part of a trivial company wide crossover, that's one more reason why it's meaningless to virtue-signal so absurdly. That's the "real" plan they have in mind.
Nrama: We often see the Justice League as a team of altruistic heroes coming together for the greater good, but we see a lot of their faults here too, at times making them feel more like Congress than a superhero team and all the pitfalls that label carries. If you could make one fundamental change to the Justice League and how they operate, what would it be and why?

Ridley: The fact that you make it sound like Congress, that's like hyper depressing, they'll never get anything done. You pose a really interesting question. And how, if the Justice League were real, How would you make them better? How would you make them more responsive?

I don't know that I have a good answer to that. I think ultimately if I thought of them as a real super team, I think there are some things that are the obvious emergencies that they're going to respond to, aliens from outer space.

No two ways about it, but when it comes to things that are a little bit more political. How are they going to feel about it? What would they really do? And I do think that historically creators have put that into the storytelling at certain times. You see that with the formation of the Outsiders where Batman is like 'You guys are too worried about borders and things like that.'

This may not be straight with the Justice League, but when Wonder Woman did kill Max Lord and she's like, 'I got to do what I got to do. I'm a warrior and I'm going to do it.' People freaked out about that, and that's something that we do talk about in this series. Did they freak out because Wonder Woman did it, or did they freak out because a woman killed a man on live TV? There are other male heroes killing male heroes.

I don't know that I have a good answer to your question. What would I do to make the Justice League more responsive? Sometimes as we see in democracies, democracy is great, but the more that voices are added, the harder it is sometimes to get things done. If the Justice League were autocratic. If they were in some ways like the Authority - that's an interesting story. The Authority stories were always great, but that's a whole other kind of super-team where it's like we're going to fix the world whether you like it or not. So, I don't know what could be done, what should be done - to marry the fun storytelling with the challenges of real life.
He fails to understand why any audience found it offensive WW would terminate Lord's life: because while the guy was never portrayed as an outright hero, he was far from a murderous criminal when he debuted in the late 80s, and the whole shift Max took to becoming cold blooded killer of Blue Beetle was a spit in the face to many fans of the superior material from its time. Speaking of BB, how interesting Ridley didn't think to bring Ted Kord up, since this is a character who had his fans years before, and all he cares about is a sick moment in publication history where WW is bizarrely made out to look bad? But what's also annoying is the part about heroes killing heroes. It could be a typo, but if he's actually implying there's nothing wrong with heroic characters slaying each other, that's gross and disturbing. What is going on here? His citation of the Authority as a great series is also galling, because it was built on some irritating leftist ideologies (and let's not forget the taint creator Warren Ellis now casts over it because of his reprehensible acts with women), and if they have a problem with Congress, something tells me it has nothing to do with the Democrats' failure to offer up anything positive, concerning themselves instead with the phony Russian collision nonsense.
Nrama: What can you tease about the perspectives and concerns of issue #2 and how they differ from issue #1?

Ridley: The big change in perspective is that you have a couple, Mal and Karen, sharing the same story. In the first issue (and some of the subsequent issues), it's one person with their view of history. What I thought was kind of fun, or at least it was very fun for me was - it's kind of like the Newlywed Game, that whole issue. You have a couple that's sitting down together telling their shared story. And one of them is like, wait 'No, that's not the way it was. It was like this.'

And I did want the second issue also to be a little lighter than the first issue. Trust me, I knew coming out of that first issue, even though I think there are moments in it where you see Jefferson Pierce finding a greater level of humanity within himself. It's a tough way to start from the Munich massacre all the way to John Stewart accidentally blowing up a planet - whether it's real or imagined, that's some tough stuff.
Whoa, this had me jumping in alarm too! I found the disaster John caused in Cosmic Odyssey to be just as terrible a story as Hal Jordan slaughtering opposition in Emerald Twilight, and maybe even more. This 1989 embarrassment is also cited in Other History? Ugh. It's just so disrespectful of John as a character as Emerald Twilight was of Hal. How can I enjoy the casting of Mal Duncan and Bumblebee in this miniseries when you have horrendous moments like Cosmic Odyssey's casting a pall over the proceedings?

I think what we have here, in addition to the questionable politics and poor choice of past stories for a setting, is a missed opportunity to offer up character focused stories set in a present era spotlighting many of the DC casts seen in this miniseries. The older 90s and mid-2000 stories this miniseries draws from are largely worthless, and no matter what the approach to the politics in the background, they aren't something to waste money on. What a huge disappointment when various writers totally fail to make distinctions between what's good or bad in past history.

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DC is over.

" 'it’s an invitation to people to join in — with their time, their money and sometimes with their talent. I’m more excited about the representation that these companies are trying to carve out behind the scenes because that’s the biggest difference.'
"And "sometimes" talent matters? I'm afraid that's just another hint political posturing is going to prevail here."

He didn't say sometimes talent matters. He says sometimes people contribute talent. In other words, some people become readers, buying the books, and a few people contribute their talent by writing or drawing books themselves.

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