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The Wednesday Waffle Issue 21: Punishing Times, but a Batman Returns to find the Way of X.

Well here we still are, still locked down but finding our feet and getting the invoicing/delivery system back up and running smoothly. Apologies to anyone who has had to wait for anything longer than they would have liked - last week's snow didn't help, and we're still more disorganised then usual in the aftermath of the Holiday Season and the fact that we were not really prepared for a full lockdown. Essentially, not everything is where it would ideally be, and we don't have access to all of the places things were when the hammer dropped. It's making life complicated, but we're getting there, and we thank you for your patience.


Obviously you can't come into the store and browse, but you can click here to see this week's rack, and you can click here to see this week's highlights in the latest "What's on the Rack?"


There's a lot to report this week, but with regret we must start with some sad news:



R.I.P. STEVE LIGHTLE 19.11.1959 - 08.01.2021


Perhaps best known for his work at DC Comics, Steve Lightle's first professional comics assignment was a five–page story in AC Comics' Black Diamond (February 1984), followed in April that year by his DC debut illustrating a ten pager in New Talent Showcase #4.

Cover to Legion of Superheroes #37 - art by Steve Lightle

Later in 1984 his big break came when he took over pencilling duties on Legion of Superheroes from the great Keith Giffen. He didn't keep the interior art gig for very long - but his art regularly graced the title's covers until 1988, and he co-created the Legionnaires Tellus and Quislet. He went on to work on several titles - including the revival of Doom Patrol in 1986, and was a regular cover artist at DC and Marvel throughout the nineties and early two thousands.

The Legion of Superheroes in action! Art by Steve Lightle

Lightle's son Matthew announced on 8th January that his father had passed away after suffering a cardiac arrest, possibly due to complications from C.O.V.I.D.-19. Our sincere condolences go out to his family and friends.




COMICS NEWS AND VIEWS


PUNISHING TIMES


One of the most problematic, most controversial characters in comics over the last several years has been Frank Castle, aka The Punisher and once again he's in the news, as his skull logo was prominently worn by several people involved in the insurrection at the United States Capitol last week.


Over the years I've had many arguments in the bar at cons about whether he can be called a "Hero" or not - and I hold firm to my conviction that he can't. Castle is a man who kills without mercy or apparent remorse. He is - at best - a mass murderer, and to my mind there can be nothing heroic about that.

OK, so he only kills "bad people". But who is he to decide who deserves to die? What if he's wrong? Even in a fictional world like the Marvel Universe he lacks the analytical skills of a vigilante like Batman, who in our minds we can perhaps view as somebody who is better placed to judge guilt or innocence than most, and he certainly lacks the sort of clear moral authority of a character like Superman. What Castle does is turn firearms into a super-power - and he's without question the most realistic vigilante character in the Marvel Universe.


To me, what makes the character so chilling is that there is nothing to stop him existing in real life. Castle requires no radioactive spider bite. He does not need to have millions of dollars worth of gadgets. He didn't study obscure martial arts under wise old masters. He has no magic. He is not an alien, or a mutant. He's just a man.


Yes, he's a man who has been well trained to be the best soldier humanly possible - but there was no Captain America style super serum involved, he is simply a very well trained special forces fighter. While I'll grant you that the vast majority of people could never reach that pinnacle of military perfection, the existence of Special Forces in the armed services of many nations around the world suggests that there are many, many people who can. And given the many bad things that can happen to a soldier once they leave the forces - because for all the "thank you for your service" style lip-service paid in the West, ex-forces personnel are often not well treated - it speaks to the discipline of our service personnel that there have been no real life versions of Frank.


So it's always concerning when trained people who routinely carry a firearm treat The Punisher as some kind of icon - which has happened on more than one occasion, with the famous skull logo seen being sported by on-duty officers in Milwuakee, and on police vehicles in New York amongst other instances.

BLM/Punisher shirt by artist Khalid Johnson

Way back in June, when demonstrations against the abuse and killing of Black Americans by law enforcement officers were taking place across the United States and elsewhere Gerry Conway, who co-created The Punisher with Ross Andru and John Romita Snr, set up Skulls for Justice, a fund raiser which sold T Shirts featuring versions of the Punisher skull which had been redesigned by artists of colour. The one show here is by artist Khalid Johnson, and was selected for this article partly because it was the easiest to find, but also because I liked the way it incorporates the BLM fist. Proceeds from the sale of these shirts were donated to Black Lives Matter in Los Angeles. The idea was to "reclaim" the logo and make it clear that its use by any branch of law enforcement was inappropriate.

Conway had strong feelings on the matter, telling presenter Jon Siuntres on the Word Balloon Podcast:


"I totally get why there are some people, progressives on the left --with me... I’m a leftist progressive -- who perceives The Punisher as irredeemable. But I think that’s a misreading of the character...

...As bad a misreading of the character as the police who’ve tried to embrace it as a representative of their own,"


Conway regards the character he helped to create as "a sign of social dysfunction" going on to state that Castle is, if anything "intended as a criticism of society" and that far from being a character who would be supportive of the police, one of Frank's motivations for becoming The Punisher was that he "hasn’t received justice from society, from the [sections] of society that are represented by the police and the military."


Conway isn't alone in his disdain for both the appropriation of the Punisher skull and the idea that the character should be cancelled because of his adoption by law enforcement and elements of the American far right. Garth Ennis, a writer who has written a a huge swathe of Punisher stories to both critical and commercial acclaim also has little time for it.


In the wake of the Insurrection/Protest/Riot/Attempted Coup/Treason (delete in accordance with your personal view) at the US Capitol building last Wednesday where many of the people who stormed the building were wearing the logo, Ennis was withering about what he saw as their lack of understanding about what the character and his logo represent.


On the subject of law enforcement officers wearing the logo Ennis told SYFY Wire that:


"The people wearing the logo in this context are kidding themselves... What they actually want is to wear an apparently scary symbol on a T-shirt, throw their weight around a bit, then go home to the wife and kids and resume everyday life,"


He went on:


"They've thought no harder about the Punisher symbol than the halfwits I saw [during the attacks on the Capitol building], the ones waving the Stars & Stripes while invading the Capitol building."


Ennis, who is no stranger to controversy, as anyone who has ever read anything he's ever written will attest, also has no particular patience for people who suggest that the character be "cancelled" because of the perceived association with police brutality and the far right, saying:


"I doubt there’s anyone who would suggest that any of the clowns who wore the Punisher skull would have acted any differently in D.C. had it or the character never existed,"


I'm inclined to agree, and refer to Ennis's previous point about wanting to wear a "scary symbol" - if there were no Punisher they'd have found some kind of skull symbol, or something similar to use. There are plenty available.


Marvel has, of course, addressed this issue already - most notably in Punisher #13 published in 2019 and written by friend of the shop Matthew Rosenberg. In that issue Castle is apprehended by a group of cops who use his symbol. He reacts like this:

From Punisher #13 (2019) Words by Matthew Rosenberg, Art by Szymon Kudranski (c) Marvel Comics
From Punisher #13 (2019) Words by Matthew Rosenberg, Art by Szymon Kudranski (c) Marvel Comics
From Punisher #13 (2019) Words by Matthew Rosenberg, Art by Szymon Kudranski (c) Marvel Comics

I like this take. There is, in my mind, no place in law enforcement for any sympathy with the likes of Frank Castle, and in this extract there is no question that Frank is not a good guy, while there is equally no question that on this point he's right. The tragedy of Frank Castle is not so much that he was a good man who circumstances turned into a monster, but that he knows that he has become a monster, but can't see any other way to achieve the objective he has set himself. That means that he cannot tolerate anybody else following his path - he knows that there are monsters enough already.


So yes. Some not very nice people have adopted the Punisher Skull as a symbol of the not very nice things they believe and do. Frank Castle himself is not a hero, or a nice guy, but he is not them. If you read Gerry Conway's version of the Punisher, or Garth Ennis's, or Matthew Rosenberg's, or pretty much anyone else's - up to and including John Bernthal's portrayal of the character in the recent Netflix series you see a very different character to the one the far right and mis-guided cops think they have adopted.


That's not the character's fault, and there are still important things the character can say about the America he fins himself in.



NEW "WAY OF X" SERIES COMING FROM SI SPURRIER AS WE ENTER THE "REIGN OF X"!


Big things have been happening for Mutantkind lately. With 2019's House of X and Powers of X, Jonathan Hickman and the rest of the "X-Team" have staged a revolution amongst the X-Books. Well, the revolution is far from over.


The next phase of Hickman's vision will soon be upon us, with Reign of X! It all kicks off with Way of X, from the pen of Hellblazer and The Dreaming writer Si Spurrier, who has previously worked on X-Force and X-Men Legacy.

WAY OF X #1 cover by Giuseppe Camuncoli

Now, after a while at DC, Spurrier is returning to the X-Books and will take a new team, led by Nightcrawler, brought together to take on the darker side of the brave new world the X-Men are building.


Led by Professir Xavier and Magneto, the mutants have built their own Eden on the sentient island of Krakoa. But every Eden has its serpents, and Krakoa is no exception. Krakoa promised a home for all mutants, but some find it hard to fit in. Some react to that with violence. Some whisper of the Patchwork Man, who they hear singing in their hearts.


Only Kurt Wagner, the mutant known as Nightcrawler can sense the oncoming darkness. Embroiled in questions about love, law and death, he is the only mutant who can save Krakoa's soul. Together with the team he builds around him (Marvel's press release says who they are, but c'mon, we don't do spoilers here) he sets out to defeat the inner darkness of the mutants and show them a new way to live. Truly, this is the Way of X.


This is new, spiritual territory for the X-Books. In the official press release Spurrier said:


"I should probably just tell a lie for the sake of a neat elevator pitch and say that Way of X is a story about the creation of a new mutant religion. But it's not - not really. That's kinda where it starts... Nightcrawler realises something's wrong with the hearts and minds of mutantkind and sets out to fix it. But as he quickly discovers, this isn't a job for priests and prayers... the question is what do they have to become in order to fight it? Preachers? Cops? Executioners? Or something entirely new?"


Spurrier continued


"Way of X is a smart, psychedelic tale about faith, science, culture, love and law. And Bamfing. Bamfing just for the joy of it."


Spurrier's words will be augmented with art by Bob Quinn, one of Marvel's rising stars, best known for his work on Captain America who declares himself to be "incredibly excited" to be working on the book, saying in the press release:


"Nightcrawler is one of my favourite X-Men, and he along with the recent developments in the X-Men Universe really gives us the opportunity to explore some pretty wild concepts and ideas."


The Reign of X begins in April as we all begin to learn the Way of X.



FROM PAGE TO SCREEN


We toyed with the idea of only reporting comics stories in the Waffle, but in normal times we live under the stairs in a cinema, so film is important to us, and in any case the links between comics and entertainment on both the big and small screen are so close these days it seems foolish to ignore the crossover.



MCU DELAYS NOT A BIG PROBLEM


It's no surprise that the C.O.V.I.D.-19 pandemic forced Marvel Studios to delay pretty much all of its projects. 2020 put everybody's lives on hold and even super-heroes were not exempt. In fact Marvel had to push many projects back more than once. In a universe as inter-connected as the MCU now is, that can be a problem - if one piece of the puzzle is missing it messes up the whole picture.


Studio boss Kevin Feige seems relaxed though - perhaps relived that the "great pause" hit after Avengers: Endgame and the conclusion of the story arc that started with Iron Man and not before.


Comicbook.com reported comments he gave to the New York Times:



“If the run we had in 2018 and 2019 had gotten disrupted this way, in the buildup to Endgame, it would have been a bigger headache... With these projects, it worked well."


And changes have certainly been made. Before the pandemic the plan was that we'd have seen The Falcon and the Winter Soldier back in August, with WandaVision coming later.

But given that WandaVision was very close to being wrapped when everything shut down last March, it's WandaVision that will drop first. (This Friday - 15th January on Disney+, as it happens...) with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier coming (probably...) in March. That doesn't seem to have messed up the narrative structure, so it's all good.


Marvel Studios also lucked out in that they're at the beginning of a new major arc - and just as you didn't need to have seen Iron Man to understand what was going on in Captain America or Thor, is seems unlikely that you'll need to have seen The Eternals in order to understand Shang-Chi. It might be that this new phase of films will eventually attain the interconnected complexity of Avengers: Civil War and Black Panther, but they're not there yet. Essentially, if they were ever going to have to shut down because of a world stopping global pandemic they couldn't have picked a better time.


It's good to now that it worked out for somebody, eh?


HE'S BATMAN! KEATON CONFIRMED AS THE MAIN BATMAN FOR FORTHCOMING DC MOVIES

I think we can agree that the history of Batman in the movies is a chequered one. Adam West and Burt Ward were camp and goofy in 1966, and it worked because that was the mood of the time. I love that film, but it's more of a spoof than a "real" batman movie. A little more than two decades later Tim Burton's original Batman was the first superhero film since Superman 2, almost a decade earlier, to even attempt to take the subject matter seriously, and it was absolutely pitch perfect for its time - as was it's slightly slicker sequel Batman Returns.


The following attempts - Batman Forever and Batman and Robin were in essence the start of Warner Bros messing up genre movies by not understanding what they had and forcing things into the plot so that they could become toys. I have massive issues with both films, although each has its highlights. Val Kilmer and George Clooney were both pretty decent both as Bruce Wayne and Batman, but few recognise that because the films themselves were so objectively bad. (They each have their high points, but c'mon, there's no argument for them being good.) Christian Bale then took on the mantle in Christopher Nolan's popular but flawed trilogy and again, did a decent job.


Of course after Bale we got Affleck and Pattinson, and a world of controversy. "He's too fat!" said many people when Batfleck was announced. "He's a sparkly vampire!" said many of the same people when Robert Pattinson was announced. Obviously we haven't seen more than a trailer from The Batman to judge Pattinson on. On this evidence though, I'm going to suggest that the doubters are wrong:

Afleck is, of course a trickier proposition. To my mind he has the same problem as Kilmer and Clooney - he was a perfectly good Bruce Wayne/Batman in the style of Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns, but he was never really given a moment to shine. Yes, he got more outings in the suit than Kilmer and Clooney, but they were in Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Justice League and Suicide Squad.


I know that these films have their fans, and there are people who are very excited to see the fabled "Snyder Cut" of Justice League, and all I can say to those people is "you do you". Because I've tried to watch all three of them, and the only one I've managed to sit through to the end was Suicide Squad, and that was only because Margot Robbie is so captivating as Harley Quinn.


In short, I'd really like to see Afleck play Batman in a movie with a good script. Or even a mediocre script that was at least coherent. I think he really could be great.


And it seems we will see him again as Batman in The Flash, which is widely supposed to be basing itself on the multiple reality Flashpoint storyline which increasingly seems to be being used as an opportunity to reboot the DCEU. And it's in The Flash that Michael Keaton will also return as an older (Keaton is sixty eight) Bruce Wayne, and it has been confirmed by multiple sources that it is Keaton who will carry the cowl forward, serving in "several" films in a "Nick Fury" type role.


So, are we getting a "Kingdom Come" style older Bruce, a leader who directs heroes and rarely dons the suit himself, or the "Batman Beyond" version of older Bruce, who takes a single young man under his wing and mentors him to be the new Batman? Or both? Both, as the saying goes, is good.


From my point of view, this is great news. Keaton is an excellent actor and, perhaps just because he first took to the cape when I was a teenager, he is also "my" Batman. All we need now is for Warner Bros to make some decent Batman films...



DEADPOOL 3 WILL BE "R" RATED AND PART OF THE MCU

When Disney bought Fox and acquired the screen rights for Deadpool a lot of people were unhappy. Their fear was that Disney would sanitise the character who had been firmly established as a foul mouthed, ultra violent, highly sexualised killer, so that he would fit more neatly in the much more cleanly cut MCU.


I always thought that those fears were unfounded, for one very simple reason. Fox made the first two Deadpool films on relatively small budgets (by studio standards, I meant they didn't shoot it on their 'phones or nuffin'...) and both films went on to make roughly a gazillion* dollars in theatres. And you know what Disney likes even more than clean cut, family friendly heroes?


Money.


Disney really likes money. They're not ever going to change an established high earning property that still has earning potential, which Deadpool clearly still does. So, it came as no surprise to me when Kevin Feige confirmed that the character was going to migrate from Fox's X-Men Universe to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which he already had one foot in anyway - that is a S.H.I.E.L.D. hellicarrier in the scrapyard at the end of the first Deadpool after all...) and keeping his "R" Rated status - meaning it will be an "18" rating here in the UK.

So. He'll still get to swear, make inappropriate innuendos, be ultra violent and do all the other things that the audience loves him for.


There are lots of theories online as to how they'll explain this move, and I find myself wondering why they'd bother doing anything clever. With any other character they would need to come up with some kind of "in-universe" explanation, sure. But Deadpool? They just need to have him turn to the camera and say "So. I hit the MCU big time!" and leave it at that.


Filming for Deadpool 3 is not expected to begin until 2022, so probably won't hit theatres until 2023.


*This figure is exaggerated for effect, and because I'm too lazy to google exatly what they took at the box office...



T'CHALLA WILL NOT BE RE-CAST


It has been confirmed that Marvel Studios will not re-cast the role of T'Challa for future Black Panther movies following the sad death of Chadwick Boseman. During press interviews for WandaVision Kevin Feige suggested that Black Panther 2 would concentrate on other characters and areas of Wakandan lore that have been previously explored in the comics.


This suggests that the mantle of the Black Panther will likely fall to T'Challa's sister Shuri - who has been the Black Panther in the comics when T'Challa has been elsewhere. How they'll explain the absence of T'Challa - whether they'll open the film with the character's funeral, or whether he will be absent for some other reason. A recent comics storyline had T'Challa going into space, for example.


One thing is for certain, unless they use pre-shot footage, in the way they brought Carrie Fisher back for The Rise of Skywalker, we won't be seeing Boseman in the sequel. Marvel executive Victoria Alonso was clear that they won't be giving Boseman the C.G.I. treatment, saying:


"No. There's only one Chadwick, and he's not with us... Our king, unfortunately, has died in real life, not just in fiction, and we are taking a little time to see how we return to history and what we do to honour this chapter of what has happened to us that was so unexpected, so painful, so terrible, really."


Black Panther 2, like Deadpool 3 will hit theatres in 2022.




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