Fan BRIAN M. JOINES responds
Brian Joines is a preternaturally clever author, playwright, actor, screenwriter, etc.; all of which help explain his net sobriquet, The Temporary Guy. Some folks claim he's really two 13-year-old girls from Ohio who happen to have an Internet connection. He steadfastly denies this and asks you to ignore the multitude of Backstreet Boys posters on his wall. (RH)
DEAD GIRL TALKING
By Brian M. Joines
Marrina. Snowbird. Gwen Stacy. Katma Tui. Kole.
They are some of the most beloved characters in the history of comics. Okay, maybe not... but they could have been. They had the potential to be characters that others looked towards for inspiration and hope... or at least gain the much-loved descriptive phrase "fan-favorite". But this was not meant to be. Rather, they found themselves victims of an all-too common occurrence... the phenomenon known as, for the benefit of this interview, the "Women In Refrigerators" Syndrome. It strikes where you least expect it... at the tail end of an otherwise happy story, the beginning of a major plotline, in the pages of a magazine they have no business being in. They pay the ultimate price for the ultimate transgression in the male-dominated world of the comic magazine... they are strong women characters.
Through a bit of legal maneuvering and a good deal of creative writing, WiR correspondent Brian Joines was able to arrange a sit-down meeting with five of these victims... women who made the mistake of making a mark on the industry. We'll hear their comments about their lives, their deaths and a business that uses big deaths and big breasts to garner publishing gold.
WiR: Well, let me first of all thank you all for coming. I realize that getting her must have been difficult, with you being dead fictional characters and all...
Snowbird: Thank you for having us.
WiR: Let's start with the basic question... why comic books? You all seem to be bright, intelligent women... why demean yourselves in an industry whose leading lady has worn a glorified bathing suit for the last 50+ years?
Gwen Stacy: For me it was just the natural step to take. I had been working in daily features for a while... landing guest spots in Mary Worth and Apartment 3-G. One day, I think it was a Thursday, I got a call from my manager, Sid Lowenstein. Sid told me he'd lined up a small role in the latest Fantastic Four... I was going to do a scene with Johnny Storm, the Human Torch. I did a day's worth of work, and walked away with more money than I'd normally see during a week of dailies. I knew then that the real money was in comics.
Katma Tui: I'd just arrived on the planet some weeks earlier. I had come out to make it as a star, come hell or high water. My cousin Sinestro had landed a recurring role in the new Green Lantern series DC had launched. He was playing the new GL's archenemy. One day I was visiting him on the set when one of the girls, a blonde, got sick right before the big Green Lantern Corps shot. The director of photography, Gil Kane, pulled me aside and quickly had costuming whip up a GL outfit. Apparently I was a big hit, because the next day I was fielding offers from a number of comics. I decided to stick with GL out of loyalty. My mistake.
Marrina: I actually started out as a personal assistant... I'd been working for Aquaman for about five years. I had wanted to be a comic book heroine at one point, but I'd figured it was a pipe dream. Then, one day, I hear that John Byrne is holding auditions for an aquatic character in a new book he was launching, Alpha Flight. I used one of my sick days and caught a lift to New York, where the auditions were. I was so nervous, standing there in this room of about 300 water-themed characters. Finally, it boiled down to another girl and me. I decided to pull out the stops and nail them with a dramatic reading of "Crisis on Earth-2." Well after that, they just signed me on the spot. I think the other girl eventually became the Marine Marauder or something.
Snowbird: Much like Gwen, I too came from the grind of the daily strip. However, most of my early roles were relegated to playing the featured animal in that week's Mark Trail comic. I would be an owl or a wolf or something like that. One week, they asked me to play a sand lizard. When I tried to explain to the producers that sand lizards don't come from Canada, primarily due to the extreme lack of both sand and lizards, they grew indignant... accused me of trying to seize control of the strip and what not. I was fired. I wandered for a few months, working odd jobs... finally, my college roommate, Ororo, was able to land me an audition at the X-Men book. Apparently they were looking to introduce a new team of Canadian heroes. I went in and read and a week later... boom! I was employed again.
Kole: Marv Wolfman is my dad.
WiR: Ah. So now, you are all in comics, enjoying a great deal of success in your titles... Gwen, your tenure in Spider-Man is considered one of the high points of that series... Marrina and Snowbird, your book, Alpha Flight, debuted to strong sales and positive word-of-mouth... Katma Tui, you were beginning to get solo stories in various Green Lantern back-up spots... and Kole, New Teen Titans helped to revive DC Comics in the early-to-mid eighties. You were all at the top of your games. When did you first begin to suspect that something was going on? That your tenure on the titles might be a bit more limited?
Snowbird: I was called into Bill Mantlo's office about a week before it happened. I remember Bill going on about how Guardian's death in issue 12 and Sasquatch's death a year later were such big sales boosters. The series had hit a bit of a slump since John Byrne had moved on to the Hulk, and the home offices were willing to try just about anything to get readers back on. Bill never came out and said it, but I knew that something was up when I left his office... Shaman so much as confirmed it when he mentioned he'd seen Mantlo the night before, drunk, muttering that Shaman was safe because of Thunderbird or something like that. I should have just quit... but I was a young and foolish goddess at the time.
Kole: I had just gotten the script for Crisis on Infinite Earths # 12. I was generally happy with the way my character was portrayed, but I felt the scene with the Robin and Huntress of Earth-2 needed a little more bang, you know? I mean, I lived and everything, but I really hadn't done anything too heroic. I made some suggestions to my father... and it was quite easy to see that he did not care for that at all. Basically, we had a big fight and the next day, as we were setting up the big scene, I saw Dick (Nightwing) Grayson reading the script for the next issue of Titans. I asked to take a look and saw that I didn't have any lines... or that I wasn't even mentioned. That's when I knew something was up.
Marrina: In an attempt to get higher sales, the producers had hired the Sub-Mariner to do a three-issue guest-spot during the new Master of the World storyline. Well, they thought it would be a big draw to have a romance between me and Namor... especially after all the gloom and doom surrounding Guardian's death. So Namor and I went off into the sunset... or, actually, we went off into the Avengers, where Namor had just been hired as a regular. Now this was during the Dr. Druid issues, so you know the writers were throwing anything they could think of into the fray in a desperate attempt to make the book seem interesting. They had read about my race's history in Alpha Flight and, figuring me to be an expendable character, decided to incorporate that into a storyline. I was okay with that... I mean, hey, I was working... but they had me turning into some great big, Godzilla-sized thing... totally different from what I'd been before. I think when I read that... that's when I knew something was going to happen. Such a dramatic departure from the norm is never a good thing. Just look at the whole Spider-Clone thing.
Gwen Stacy: Don't talk to me about Spider-Clones. Been there, done that. Okay, so I'm the female lead in the Amazing Spider-Man, at the time Marvel's best seller. There had been a lot of attention paid to the growing war between Peter and Norman Osborn, the original Green Goblin. I remember going into a staff meeting with Peter and Norman and Harry and Flash and the others and listening to Stan talk about sacrifices needing to be made for the good of the product or some kind of glad-handling nonsense like that. Stan was sentencing one of us to death, pure and simple. I figured it would be Flash... I mean, why should Peter Parker have somebody to butt heads with? Isn't it enough that he fights villains every month? Of course, what do I know? I'm not a writer or anything... Well, Flash was signed for another year that very day... and I realized that killing off the girlfriend was a perfect way to generate tension between the protagonist and the antagonist. That's when I knew.
Katma Tui: To be honest... I didn't know until the day it happened. I was actually having coffee with John and Star Sapphire when we got some rewrites... apparently our profile in Action Comics (remember, this is when it was a weekly book) was being overshadowed by every other serial but the new Secret Six and the producers felt they needed something to shock the audience into reading the book. Well, John had the whole race thing going for him... and Star Sapphire was too valuable as the girlfriend/villainess to lose. That left me... I don't know. I still don't know. I mean, they had Arisia... why not her? I remember reading it, then running to my trailer and crying for about four hours... I mean, I had given them some of the best years of my life... and this is how they treat me? It didn't seem right.
WiR: That brings up a good point... beyond your personal stories, what are your thoughts on the entire "Women In Refrigerators" epidemic? And how is that changing the face of comics today?
Marrina: Well, the women characters are a lot more bitter, a lot more cynical and violent today. Sure, people can say that it's just an extension of the society that creates these things, but really... when was the last time you saw a character like Vampirella or Angela die? I mean really die... a permanent death. They're vicious and cruel... and they bring in the money.
Snowbird: That's right. A character like Ororo... she wouldn't be able to survive in today's marketplace if she were introduced as a new character. The producers even had to toughen her up... do that whole Morlock/mohawk storyline... to keep her from becoming stale and boring. Probably the closest thing to a modern-day take on Ororo out there is Shi... who has no qualms about killing.
Kole: Wonder Woman is the exception to that rule. Although she has been known to embrace her warrior instincts, she remains a pacifist at heart. Of course, that didn't keep the powers that be from stripping her of her mantle and giving it to a violent Amazon warrior for the better part of a year. And as I recall, the sales on the book shot up dramatically during that time.
Katma Tui: Darkness sells. It's just that simple. Catwoman is about a villain... a villain! And she regularly outsells Wonder Woman's book. And before you throw out the whole "Well, she's part of the whole Bat-mythos" line of crap, let me just say that Wonder Woman places ahead of the Azrael book just about every month. And then books like Witchblade show up and outsell Batman for some reason.
Gwen Stacy: I believe the marketplace on a whole is a sadder place. You have your crippled Batgirls, your maimed Black Canaries, your alcoholic Warbirds and your embittered Sharon Carters... you can mark it down to character development if you want, but I think that most of these were blatant shock tactics and could have been avoided if the directors had just put a little more effort into developing the character's personality and traits. And if they can't... then they need to bring in somebody who can. It's just that simple... it should be that simple, but the politics of the business get in the way.
WiR: You have now died in your books, be it for sales or character development or what not. What happens then? Where do you, the characters, go from there?
Snowbird: Well, there's always the chance you'll be brought back to life, like Jean Grey was. Unfortunately, the turn-around rate is a lot higher for men than it is for women. Every audition I go to is basically the same 30 women, Captain Mar-Vell and that Bucky kid from Captain America. It's depressing. But, if that doesn't happen... you do what you have to do to get by.
WiR: And what does that constitute?
Snowbird: Well, I did come back for a short time in Alpha... or at least my body did with Walter Langowski's soul in it. Just another stroke of Mantlo genius. Right now I'm doing a one-woman show of "Dazzler" off Off-Broadway... hoping to catch the occasional flashback... you know how it goes.
Marrina: I'm running a counseling center for characters that are suffering the same sense of loss we are. Right now, we have fourteen members... men and women. We have a pretty high success rate... even though some, like Tomorrow Woman, seems to think that the door is a rotating one. I certainly understand, though. It's a rough road to travel.
Gwen Stacy: I did some work as the Gwen Stacy clone there for a while... had a brief shot during the "Age of the Apocalypse" storyline in the X-Books... I'm writing a book right now about my life and death... and you can see me occasionally in Mary Worth.
Kole: I actually got cast as the Mouse character in Catwoman. It's a good gig, it pays well... I don't know how long it's going to last. Hopefully, Devin Grayson, the new Titans director, will read this interview and decide to bring me back... especially with this whole Hypertime thing.
Katma Tui: I've been finding work in science fiction comics... a lot of the Dark Horse Star Wars books. I really owe a lot to George Lucas... I couldn't have afforded my new condo without the residual checks. I'm doing okay... but every once in a while, I forget I'm not wearing the ring and try to create a giant green fist or a hammer or something... it's hard to let go once you've had something like that at your fingertips.
WiR: Okay, we have time for one more question... what is your best memory of comics... your worst comics memory... and what can you tell to young women comic characters coming into the business.
Kole: Let's see here... Best- Landing Titans. Worst- Finding out that my big rescue in Crisis 12 wasn't going to be used. As for advice... I'd say remain true to yourself... as long as the script allows you to.
Katma Tui: Best- Marrying John. Worst- Getting slashed to ribbons. My advice to young women- If you can... land a villain job. You won't work as much, but you'll be happier.
Marrina: Best- Marrying Namor. Worst- Being defeated by Dr. Druid's lame-ass Avengers. My advice- Be a mutant. I cannot stress this enough. You will live longer.
Gwen Stacy: Best- Being a part of one of the greatest stories in the history of comics. Worst- Working in all of those stupid clone stories. My advice to young people... start small. Try to land a Strangers in Paradise or a Bone... avoid girlfriend roles in superhero books at all costs. If you're not going to wear a costume or have a power, then you're automatically at the top of the "Who Can We Kill" list.
Snowbird: Best- Alpha Flight gets it's own book. Worst- Having to walk around pretending to be Walter for a year. Advice- Don't do adult comics. It'll come back to haunt you, I guarantee it.
WiR: Have you ever done adult comics?
Snowbird: This interview is over.
WiR: And so it is. I'd like to thank all of the participants for this interview. This is Brian Joines reminding you that you can't keep a good heroine down... only slightly chilled to be served at room temperature.