Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Courage (Marvel)
Where: Captain America #1 When: November 1996
Why: Rob Liefeld & Jeph Loeb [w/ Chuck Dixon]
How: Rob Liefeld

Strength: Capt. America 3 (Athlete)
Intelligence: Capt. America 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Capt. America 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Capt. America 5 (Marathon)
Agility: Capt. America 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting: Capt. America 6 (Warrior)
Energy: Capt. America 2 (Projectile)

Math: Captain America
Ranking: Captain America (#7)

'It's the content we produce.' 'We don't have to go around shitting on other people's content...'

This just happened to be the quote uttered as I was writing this paragraph -- one of over two hours worth of irony completely lost on the hosts of The Mighty Sabo And Son podcast as they lured and lambasted a blog prankster, this week. Unfortunately, they do not have a website that I can find and link, but if they did, I'm not entirely sure I would want to.

This is a pretty unusual way to open an entry on what is usually a comics review and discussion site centred around the conflicts of superheroes and villains. This year in particular we've been more about the comics than the subjects surrounding them, but I was so stunned by the Sabo podcast, I felt it worth discussing.

The controversy started with a prank pulled on Rob Liefeld, but let's go further back -- to the comics.

Superheroes and the medium of comics is arguably more in the public eye than ever. Films like The Dark Knight, Spider-man, Watchmen, and Iron Man, have all exposed a mainstream audience to the best things the medium and genres have to offer. Despite this prominent exposure, sales in the direct comics market are less than impressive, particularly when you compare them to the heady glory of the late eighties and early nineties. During that period, books were canceled for bottoming out with sales figures upwards of three times their current numbers.

During this period, visuals were king, and it was the images of Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen, Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri, and Rob Liefeld that produced these unrivaled sales figures. Together, along with Jim Valentino and Whilce Portacio, they broke away from their success at Marvel to create their own publishing entity, Image Comics, founded on a principle of creative ownership and rights for artists.

Keen to get a slice of the action, the Marvel administration of 1996 were able to lure back some of their prodigal sons, namely Liefeld, Lee, and Portacio, all to be part of a complete reinvention of their lagging icons. Heroes Reborn was the result, created out of an X-Men storyline that pitted them against uber-villain, Onslaught, whose destruction coincided with the creation of a pocket universe where the Fantastic Four and Avengers were to be reinvented with a modern interpretation -- a precursor to the Ultimate line, which did much the same.

The legacy of Image Comics remains a vital component of the creative landscape for the medium, providing a marketing support network and creative platform for writers and artists establishing themselves in the industry. This is in contrast to the legacy of the first comics produced by Image, which remain infamous points of contention for comics art enthusiasts and online jokesters.

Liefeld in particular has been the subject of much ridicule, his bombastic art style lampooned and commentated upon consistently since the era. Despite his many successes at the time, which included massive sales and mainstream attention (he even appeared in Levi adverts), he remains widely known for idiosyncracies of his art, and accusations of plagiarism and misconduct.

This twenty-year history was the premise for a prank pulled by Ryan Coons, aka; The Yellow Hat Guy, at a recent WizardWorld convention.
Coons approached Liefeld while he was sketching at a floor table, dispensed nervous pleasantries, and then requested an apology for the 1997 Heroes Reborn: Captain America series (featured in this article).

It was a fairly tactless and unremarkable act, but according to all accounts, was brief, and well ignored by the drawing artist. Coons returned some time later to deliver a bagged and personzlied copy of the iconic reference manual, How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way.

The humorous stunt was documented by a nervous Coons and his pals, made public later, with photographs and video, on his blog; Avengers Avenged.

The stunt has since seemingly attracted the attentions of a who's who of the comics industry, earning denouncements and harsh criticism from the likes of; Skottie Young, Cameron Stewart, Cully Hamner, Pia Guerra, Jamal Igle, Ron Marz, and Ethan Van Sciver. Their opinions, along with many others, have been scathing, with many choosing to interpret it as a personal attack on Liefeld and the fan-friendly institution of comics conventions.

Personally, I think this response is absurd.

To the rights and morals of the issue, this was a fairly harmless prank.
According to all reports; Coons took very little of Liefeld's time, and while the artist might not have been especially pleased with the inference, he handled it quickly and well. As a public figure, he's ripe for lampooning, and Coons wasn't particularly out of line in making statements dependent solely on Liefeld's art.

There may be an argument that criticism and jokes are taken personally, and that this wasn't the best use of the accessibility afforded to fans at a convention, but at the end of the day, the common good was not violated, nor was Liefeld.

As a humorous blog post, the stunt was not only amusing (if unoriginal), but also far more harmless than many mainstream parody outlets. This didn't really go any further than anything I'm sure many of the harsh critics have themselves laughed at until hoarse. Those offended by the "cowardice" of leaving after the stunt, might consider that this was an efficient and unintrusive method of making the gag and leaving Mr. Liefeld to his day. Likewise, without this unfounded outrage, the controversy would not have been terribly intrusive to Liefeld's online movements -- and is still far from the worst the artist will ever get from geeks.

These opinions leveled at Ryan Coons may have been harsh and ill conceived, but the situation escalated to a completely unacceptable level on the podcast mentioned in the opening lines of this post.

Mark Brooks, Mark Walters, Lee Duhig, Scott Kurtz, Tim Fischer, and Freddie Avalos, were the line-up that appeared on the episode of The Mighty Sabo and Son, which at best, could be described as a juvenile and unsophisticated discussion forum for topical events.

Through the course of their six hour marathon, the chatting personalities arrived at the topic of Ryan Coons' stunt, beginning with similar sentiments to some of the comments made on the original blog. Thier purile bravado escalated far beyond disapproving conversation, however, after first recruiting Rob Liefeld for a more subdued portion of the case, before Coons himself called in for a grilling.

What ensued I can only describe as absolutely disgusting.

I personally fail to see how an intelligent individual could legitimately be morally outraged by the stunt pulled by Coons and his pals. Intelligence and morals were clearly never an issue on the podcast, however, as the group subjected Coons to what I would not at all lightly refer to as -- abuse.

For well over an hour, if not two, this young man was subjected to a completely misproportionate level of disdain. Throughout the course of the conversation he was viciously and personally attacked by the group, who took on an adolescent mob-like aggression. Any information volunteered by the blogger was quickly wielded for cutting personal insults by a group mystifyingly ignorant to irony of their merciless abuse in defense of a man they claim had been "dehumanized" (sic) by the convention gag.

Few of the vile isms levelled by the group could escape this irony, most, if not all, just as easily turned around back on the group for their own disgusting real-time behaviour. As they incited violence against the prankster, made references to hopes for his death, and unleashed a disgusting quantity and quality of abuse upon the young man, they undermined the few ultimately insincere references to repentence or perspective, let alone legitimacy to any argument against the prank.

I really cannot adequately describe my disgust for what has unfolded.
I consder myself a strong advocate of freedom to speech and strong opinion, but this was far beyond anything subscribing to those ideals. This was a young man -- who has copped a lot of dubious criticism for an ultimately silly joke -- fronting up to the opportunity to answer and accept his critics, only to be abused by men who had intimidation in numbers, and perceived authority. Unfortunately, they were too disorganized to make specific identification easy, but Scott Kurtz and Mark Brooks, artists who've been published by Image and Marvel respectively, completely abused any position of perceived authority their status brings with it.

Ryan Coons was inarticulate in his defense, either by nature, or by the opposition of numbers and volume that surely intimidated him. One call-in who attempted to offer support for the prankster was promptly muted by the controlling group, obliterating any chance of perspective interfering in this verbal lynching.
As flawed and immature as some of Coons arguments might have been, they were not nearly the embarrassment this self-righteous collective of ignorant fools positioned themselves to be.

Coons did not do well to defend himself as a blogger (or humorist) while the pack questioned his right to be so critical of Liefeld's work. He was unable to reflect upon the hours of verbal abuse directed at him when they accused him of having an agenda to dehumanize Liefeld. He did not reiterate that he himself is as open to criticism in the public domain as Liefeld. He never attacked their motivations for sensational gratifaction, while they accused him of pulling the stunt for hits.

For whatever reason, Coons sat and took every bit of unreasonable abuse leveled at him by these posturing imbeciles currently working in the industry.

I'm writing this as a person who has been on all sides of this argument.
I've experienced how fickle fans and creators can be. I've produced creative work as a critic, commentator, and writer, and would like to attain a higher role in any of these fields. I do these things very aware of the scrutiny I'm putting myself under. As much as I've dealt with my fair share of unpleasant opinions from both fans and creators, I've been fortunate enough to not incite such a response. I shudder to think how Mr. Kurtz and his gang might receive this blog, should it come to their attentions. I wonder what methods of torture or death they might wish upon me, or if I might be exempt for the many undertakings I've ventured in ten years of very public, if obscure, online projects.

Unfortunately, as many of us have found, and as was vividly displayed in this situation, the comics industry isn't terribly accountable. For whatever reason, there are a lot of undesirable personality types involved, with a lot of fickle and unreasonable attitudes condemning many individuals who attempt to enter the ranks. Coons has apparently been blacklisted by the union of individuals that even included a representative of Wizard Magazine, Mark Allen Haverty.

In this case, Ryan Coons has been unlucky enough to suffer the collective ire of people who have not apparently paused to consider the broad perspective of the issue. He has been made accountable, where these disgusting podcasters will likely not be. In fact, bizarrely, the cult of these men might actually grow thanks to the same anonymity and online bravado that created this situation.

EDIT: Personal attacks have gone far beyond Ryan Coon's website, further emphasising how inappropriate the current course of action has been. I don't see how anyone could honestly describe his prank as unreasonably malicious, but the same simply cannot be said of the reaction of those outraged.

I don't know what punishment I would claim fitting for these podcasters.
Other industries show a precedent of canceling their endorsements for these types of outrageous incidents, but I just can't see Image or Marvel becoming involved. I honestly cannot describe how disgusted I am by the three hours of listening they have prepared for download, and am not even sure if effectively blacklisting them is a suitable answer, either. I just hope, with cooler heads prevailing, readers and the men themselves can reflect upon "The Mighty Sabo" without the tolerance afforded by pubescent online bravado, and recognise that it is now them who owe a very public and very sincere apology.

It would seem like an unfortunate parody to press this very serious discussion up against a review of a Captain America comic. Given the strong ideals that Captain America represents, it might not be entirely inappropriate, but I'm just not in the mood right now.

As you've seen from the usual panels littered throughout this post, the first issue of the Heroes Reborn Captain America series features an exciting and idealistically driven battle between Steve Rogers and the Nazi henchman of Master Man and Red Skull.

The villains want Captain America and his shield, but Steve Rogers has no memory of his heroic past, having lived multiple lives under the watchful eye of SHIELD and their mind-wiping technology. Like scenes from Total Recall, the unassuming laboror is confronted with his secret past by Abe Wilson -- Heroes Reborn father to the hero of our universe known as Falcon. When Abe finally convinces Rogers of his past, the Nazi bad guys destroy his house, and kill him.

Cap escapes the rubble to battle the bad guys to a successful triumph.
To read more about the Heroes Reborn universe, I'm sure you'll find information by following links in this post, or checking out other great websites. Some of the Heroes Reborn material has been collected, but I feel it would be inappropriate to include specific purchase links in this post, as we normally would.

The Fight: 5 The Issue: 4.5
Winner: Captain America

If you have opinions on the subject discussed today and wish to comment, I would suggest you refer to the original blog of the matter. I'm sure any support or disagreements you have with the situation would be better channelled there. I would also request that you try to remain civil, regardless of your position. This has become a very ugly storm in a tea cup, and while I feel I'm commentating on important details, I do not wish to escalate the situation unduly. That might be an ironic statement given the strength of my assessments, but it is sincere.

This blog was written August 15, but inserted into the usual Infinite Wars review schedule, which is currently two months behind.

You can also find Yellow Hat Guy's response to the furor on his blog and distribute comments there. In his podcast appearance, he apologised for potentially making Rob Liefeld feel unsafe, and takes his foot of the gas somewhat with the post. I believe he was quite probably brow beaten into doing this, and hope he can remain safe and healthy after this.

I'd also direct any undecided readers to an exceptionally well and calmly written blog on Destroy the Cyb.org, offering additional perspective for the posse that's formed around the event, and the thoroughly mild circumstances of the prank. It's a great overview of the point, much less specific in reference than mine.

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