Apr 172014
 

This week’s minorities in cartoons entry is a double one this week: Thunder and Lightning, a pair of superheroine sisters who’re the daughters of superhero Black Lightning.

Thunder

ThunderThunder (real name: Anissa Pierce) is the older of the Pierce siblings. Thunder possesses the ability of increasing her body’s mass while keeping her size the same, thus increasing her density. This allows her to become immovable and invulnerable, as well as generate shock waves by stomping her foot.

Anissa promised her father she’d wait until she finished college before taking up superheroics, which she did, becoming Thunder after graduation. As Thunder, Anissa had various superhero adventures, including joining the superhero team the Outsiders. There, she met fellow teammate Grace Choi, who becomes her close teammate and eventual lover.

Thunder first appeared in “Outsiders” (volume 3) #1 in August 2003. She was created by Judd Winick and Tom Raney.

Lightning

LightningLightning (real name: Jennifer Pierce) is the younger of the Pierce siblings. Like her father (and various other African-American superheroes), Lightning possesses the usual electrical-themed superpowers, including the ability to fly. After seeing Thunder’s more covert/less-than-mainstream superhero team (and the rough experiences she had there), Black Lightning decided his younger daughter needed a more formal training in her powers/becoming a superheroine, and had her join the Justice Society. There, Jennifer met and befriended fellow younger JSAers Stargirl, Cyclone, and Jakeem Thunder.

Lightning first appeared in the Elseworlds/possible-future set story of “Kingdom Come” in 1996, and was created by Mark Waid and Alex Ross. She entered mainstream present-day continuity in “Justice Society of America” (volume 3) #12 in March 2008.

For both Thunder and Lightning, the 2011 New 52 reboot saw their father Black Lightning reduced in age like everyone else (in the name of “younger and hipper”), thus preventing the superheroine sisters from existing. It remains to be seen if we’ll ever see the two again (and if so, in what form).

Outside of comics, the Pierce sisters and their father appeared in a pair of “DC Nation” shorts on Cartoon Network. Thunder was voiced by Cree Summer, Lightning by Masasa Moyo, and Black Lightning by Blair Underwood. Both shorts are available on YouTube: Short #1 / Short #2 In the shorts, Thunder and Lightning are cast as a teenager and a pre-teen (respectively), while Black Lightning seems fairly young looking. This would seem to disprove the need for the de-aging/rendered nonexistence of their New 52 counterparts.

Apr 032014
 

Rick and Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple in the WorldThis week’s minorities in cartoons entry is “Rick & Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple in All the World.”

Rick & Steve” is an animated series about the misadventures of the show’s stars Rick and Steve, a gay thirtysomething couple, and their extremely dysfunctional group of friends. The series is set in the fictional town of “West Lahunga Beach” in California. (The town seems to resemble the most stereotypical aspects of various famous gay neighborhoods, including West Hollywood, California and San Francisco’s Castro.) As the bad-pun name of their town indicates, the show’s humor style is quite “blue,” with their world at large, as well as the show’s plots and characters, resembling an LGBT version of “South Park.”

The show’s stop-motion animation style was done to resembles Lego or Playmobil action figures. Wikipedia claims the former sued the show’s producers to drop the Lego aspects.

Rick is of Filipino descent (as is the show’s creator, Q. Allan Brocka), and shown as smarter than his husband, Steve; the series shows this is to the point Rick joined a gay version of the intellectual group Mensa. Supporting characters on the show include Rick and Steve’s friends Kirsten and Dana, a lesbian couple. Dana in particular resembles the “butch” stereotypes of lesbians. Another pair of friends of Rick and Steve are Chuck and Evan. Chuck is a 50-year-old HIV+ man in a wheelchair, while Evan is his vapid 19-year-old Latino boyfriend who spends his time at nightclubs.

Plotlines on the series included Rick and Steve dealing with their respective families (Rick’s mother is gay-friendly, Steve’s mother isn’t), Kirsten and Dana’s attempt at having a baby, and other misadventures that play up or ridicule various LGBT stereotypes.

“Rick & Steve” ran from 2007 to 2009, for a total of 14 episodes spread across two seasons. The show ran on Logo in the US (an LGBT-oriented cable channel) and Teletoon’s “Adult Swim”-like nighttime block in Canada.

Rick was voiced by actor Will Matthews, while Steve was voiced by Peter Paige, whose most prominent role was playing Emmett on Showtime’s LGBT series “Queer As Folk.” Kirsten and Dana were voiced by Emily Brooke Hands (season 1)/Jessica-Snow Wilson (season 2) and Taylor Dooley respectively. Chuck was voiced by actor Alan Cumming, while Evan was voiced by actor Wilson Cruz.

Mar 202014
 

AsokThis week’s minorities in cartoons entry is Asok, a supporting character in Scott Adams’ newspaper comic strip “Dilbert.”

Asok was first introduced in 1996 as an intern for “Dilbert”‘s nameless corporation, providing the strip with material based on Asok being an idealistic intern thrust into “Dilbert”‘s completely dysfunctional, soul-crushing workplace. As such, Asok will sometimes have higher-minded/more idealistic expectations than Dilbert, Wally, and company. Asok also is shown being stuck in his position as an intern despite his qualifications (so the company can exploit his manpower/talents for intern-level pay). Despite being one of the strip’s more optimistic characters, Asok will also (like Dilbert and Alice) point out the flaws in the company, including the office’s Pointy-Haired Boss. Recently, Asok’s been shown receiving “mentoring” and advice from Wally, a coworker who does virtually nothing besides figure out how to slack off and drink coffee (Wally’s perpetually shown holding a coffee mug).

Early strips had a few jokes related to Asok having studied telekinesis at the Indian Institutes of Technology.

In the “Dilbert” TV series, Asok was voiced by Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants.

A February 2014 strip was done in response to a recent Indian Supreme Court ruling that upheld an anti-gay colonial-era law. In the strip, Dogbert and Asok break the fourth wall to state their annoyance at the ruling, plus declare that Asok’s officially gay.

 

Jan 312014
 

Life With Archie #16This year’s GLAAD media award nominees have been announced. The awards are given annually to mainstream media productions that depict gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals or issues in a positive light.

For outstanding comic book, the nominees are:

  • Batwoman (DC Comics)
  • Life With Archie (Archie)
  • Young Avengers (Marvel)
  • Husbands (Dark Horse)
  • Fearless Defenders (Marvel)

Going over each nominee…

  • “Batwoman” got nominated this year, in spite of DC’s idiotic antics over the past year regarding not allowing the characters to get married…and, well, driving said creators off the book.
  • “Life With Archie” is presumably being nominated on the heels of Kevin Keller’s win last year, plus the adult Kevin and husband Clay’s storyline in this title.
  • “Young Avengers” and “Fearless Defenders” are two Marvel entries depicting LGBT characters.
  • “Husbands” is published by Dark Horse, and features the adventures of a newly-married gay couple. Originally a sitcom, the comic takes a more fantastical approach to the characters.

While I’ve not read all of them, I’m sure they’re all deserving of the prize, though I’d vote for “Life With Archie.”

The winning nominee will be announced this spring.

Jan 282014
 

Disney ChannelWhile LGBT characters have made inroads into various other areas of media as characters, children’s media seem to be the one area where gays have long been deemed off-limits. This is particularly so for children’s television. Basically, it’s OK for kids to see book-dumb kids with fairy godparents but said kid still subject to child abuse/neglect, and kids making strange creatures that can only say their own name engage in (basically) cockfighting, but a story about Uncles Roger and Bob stopping by for a visit has long been deemed a big “NO.” Gays have long been deemed not “suitable” for American children’s television, despite that kids see such characters in primetime sitcoms, children’s comics, etc.

At least, until now. Disney this week debuted a lesbian couple on “Good Luck Charlie,” one of its multitude of live-action sitcoms. The couple are neighbors of the starring family, and have a preschool child of their own (the plot has them stop by for a playdate with Charlie). However, don’t get too attached to them, “Charlie” fans—”Good Luck Charlie” has been cancelled, with the final episode to air shortly.

One Million Moms, fresh off their failed anti-Archie protest and protesting “SheZow,” got wind of this and tried to protest, to no avail.

For more on this, plus a video clip of the parents’ introductory scene, here’s an article on Zap2It:

http://blog.zap2it.com/frominsidethebox/2014/01/good-luck-charlie-debuts-first-same-sex-couple-on-the-disney-channel.html?aid=zap2it

The fact Disney’s willing to introduce LGBT characters on any of their shows suggests things are finally changing for children’s TV. It also makes seeing openly gay characters more likely in children’s animation, hopefully with better treatment compared to primetime/adult animation. Primetime/adult animation’s depictions of LGBT characters are (in my opinion) stuck where live-action TV was in the 1970s/80s—the characters are largely either some sort of stereotype, closeted, or non-existent altogether.

Nov 142013
 

DawnstarThis week’s minorities in cartoons entry is Dawnstar, a DC Comics character and member of the 30th/31st century superhero team the Legion of Super-Heroes. Dawnstar (her real name, not a Legion codename) first appeared in “Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes” #226 in April 1977, and was created by Paul Levitz and Mike Grell.

Dawnstar’s backstory states she hails from the planet Starhaven, a world first settled by Native Americans that were abducted from Earth during the 13th century by unknown aliens. Said aliens activated the abductees’ “metagenes,” a gene that allows them to gain superpowers. Said superpowers of Starhaven denizens include: growing angel-like wings; surviving in space without a spacesuit; and flying at faster-than-light speeds. Dawnstar also possesses a strong tracking ability that stretches across vast distances, including interstellar space. She initially used her powers to help her parents’ business in guiding spacecraft through dangerous regions of space.

Said abilities allowed her to receive an invitation by Legion bankroller R.J. Brande to enroll in the Legion Academy, and eventually join the Legion itself. During her time with the Legion, Dawnstar had various adventures, including participating in the Crisis on Infinite Earths. She also entered a relationship with fellow Legionnaire Wildfire, an energy being contained by his suit.

During the “Five Years Later” period of the Legion, Dawnstar was possessed by an evil entity, which forced her to amputate her wings and use her powers for evil purposes. Dawnstar eventually regained her rightful self, but soon was erased from continuity by the 1994 “Zero Hour” storyline (and its reboot of the Legion’s continuity).

However, Dawnstar eventually returned. The late 2000s saw DC re-introduce what’s basically the original pre-Zero Hour Legion into continuity, including Superman’s participation with them as Superboy. Along with the reintroduction came the revelation that Dawnstar had a brief relationship with a female on the planet Thanagar (Hawkman and Hawkwoman’s homeworld in Silver Age stories), in a storyline where some Legionnaires came back to the present day for a mission. Dawnstar eventually returned to her own time and resumed a relationship with Wildfire.

Dawnstar and the rest of the Legion survived the New 52 reboot relatively unchanged. She was a featured character in the new title “Legion Lost,” about a group of Legionnaires stranded in the 21st century. With the title’s cancellation and DC’s future plans for the 31st century not including the Legion (DC’s decided that making a Justice League series set in the 31st century somehow makes more sense than any Legion of Super-Heroes comics), Dawnstar’s future seems currently uncertain.

Dawnstar’s also appeared in media outside of the DC Universe. She made a few non-speaking appearances in the late 2000s “Legion of Super-Heroes” animated series. However, she was much more extensively featured in the series’ spinoff comic.

Oct 182013
 

I’m a bit late posting this, but October 17 was “Spirit Day,” the annual day (spearheaded by gay rights group GLAAD) where various people wear purple (or change their online avatars purple) as a way of taking a stand against anti-LGBT bullying. This year, GLAAD made Archie’s Kevin Keller (this year’s winner of its comic award) its fictional ambassador for Spirit Day.

Along with this came an interview in USA Today with creator Dan Parent. Among other things, Kevin will be gaining his own superhero identity a la Arche’s “Pureheart the Powerful” and Betty’s “SuperTeen”: a hero known as “The Equalizer.” Interesting, even if it reminds me of that old 80s TV show of the same name, or of the guy on the “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” sitcom whose job it was to “equalize” stuff/actions/etc. magically.

Here’s a picture of what Kevin’s superhero outfit looks like.

Kevin Keller as the Equalizer

Oct 102013
 

Mark SlackmeyerThis week’s minorities in cartoons entry is Mark Slackmeyer, a character in Garry Trudeau’s comic strip “Doonesbury.”

Mark was introduced in 1970, the strip’s first year of publication, as one of Mike Doonesbury’s friends and classmates at Walden College. Mark was the most outspokenly liberal member of the cast, including engaging in a few protests. As the years wore on, Mark eventually became a student radio station DJ, to the dislike of his conservative businessman father. The two not seeing eye-to-eye with each other on, well, anything, became a recurring theme in the strip.

In a move away from the frozen timeline status quo, Trudeau finally allowed the cast of characters to age and graduate in 1983, as seen in “Doonesbury: The Musical,” a stage play version of the strip performed during the strip’s then-two-year hiatus. After the strip came back from hiatus, it was revealed Mark had become a talk show host for NPR, the job he still holds to this day. Since the strip’s advanced in real time since 1983, Mark’s brown hair has become all white by now (the picture I used in this post probably dates from the 90s). This was pointed out in one of the strip’s fourth-wall-breaking “mail silo” letter-answering sequences, where a (fictional) reader writes in to ask why Mark hadn’t aged as well as the rest of the strip’s Baby Boomer-aged cast.

Besides being Jewish, Mark also was revealed as being gay in a mid-1990s storyline, where he decides to come out after a dream sequence featuring Andy Lippincott. Andy was an openly gay secondary character who’d died of AIDS-related complications in a storyline several years earlier. Since then, Mark spent a period of time in a relationship with Chase, a conservative Republican, though the relationship eventually ended.

 

Sep 052013
 

BatwomanEarlier today, it was announced that the writers of the “Batwoman” comic, J.H. Williams III and Haden Blackman, have walked off the book. As The Mary Sue outlines, it seems to be the same micromanagement by DC’s editors/head honchos that’s driven off a disturbingly large number of other writers and artists in recent months. Among the micromanagement aspects this time, however, is that DC had forbid the writers from showing Kate “Batwoman” Kane marrying her beau, Maggie Sawyer.

While this decision probably stems from DC’s current bizarre (and adolescent) aversion to showing any of its rebooted New 52 characters as married (save, for some reason, Aquaman and Mera), it also comes off projecting an anti-gay marriage image, even if unintended. Thus, there’s a lot of headlines online today about “DC against lesbian superhero from marrying!,” which probably aren’t the headlines DC was hoping for. This is also on top of the already-present negative press about losing yet another pair of writers.

Of course, if DC had more thoughtful management, they’d recall that weddings tend to see a spike in sales in superhero books, just as they’re ratings spikes for long-running TV shows. Gay weddings in particular have been a boon for DC’s rivals Marvel (with Northstar) and Archie (with the adult Kevin Keller in “Life With Archie”), including garnering lots of positive goodwill from gay rights groups. They also received a lot of media attention; surely the wedding of a Batman-related openly gay character would garner such, especially given how over-reliant DC is on Batman.

For that matter, “Life With Archie”s whole premise is in the adult Archie being married to Veronica or Betty (in two alternate futures), and the title’s nearing its third year anniversary. So far, “Life With Archie”‘s readers haven’t found the idea of a married character as “unrelatable,” “old,” or “boring,” as marriage is sometimes accused of being for superhero titles. If it’s a superhero setting that matters, the premise of “Love and Capes” also mainly revolves around the Crusader and Abby’s relationship, and that didn’t hurt its popularity one bit.

With DC’s ongoing and clearly embarrassing problems with retaining creative talent, as well as their lack of attention to fixing what’s truly wrong with their business model (having Ultraman of the Crime Syndicate snort Green Kryptonite like some 80s yuppie snorting cocaine isn’t fixing things), I have to wonder how much longer all this will go on. Given the boom in indie comics, webcomics, etc., DC certainly isn’t the only game in town anymore, especially when one can use one’s own best ideas for their own comics. I suppose at this point, sales will have to decline to the point that there’s a shake-up in DC’s higher management (read: DiDio leaving). In the meanwhile, I’ll stick with DC’s trade paperback reprints of Bronze Age comics (just bought “Crisis on Multiple Earths, vol. 6″) and their usually well done digital comics (“Batman ’66,” “Adventures of Superman,” etc.).

Aug 282013
 

NAACP - The Future Is In Your HandsToday marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the African-American civil rights march held in Washington, DC that saw Martin Luther King give his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. I thought I’d make this week’s post a compilation of previous posts about the Black civil rights movement:

Aside from the “Histeria!” reference, I wasn’t able to find any other mention of the March on Washington in comics or animation. Nor have I found much mention in comics or animation of Bayard Rustin, a gay African-American man who was the key organizer of the March, as well as a major figure during the civil rights movement. Rustin also played a role in the gay rights movement in the 70s and 80s. One mention of Rustin is in Keith Knight’s comic strip “(Th)ink.”

I did find one major new addition to the comics side of things. John Lewis, a keynote speaker at the March on Washington (and currently a Congressman) has written an autobiographical graphic novel titled “March.” Lewis is the first sitting person in Congress to author a graphic novel. “March” was published by Top Shelf Comics and released earlier this month. Lewis also appeared at this summer’s San Diego Comic-Con to help promote “March.”