REFLECTIONS: Reader Mail Bag

Sun, December 10th, 2006 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Robert Taylor, Staff Writer

Reflections, Volume 3, Number 9

Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen, to another installment of REFLECTIONS, CBR's weekly interview column. Oddly enough, this week there won't be an interview.

Say it with me: Huh?

Well, since this third volume of REFLECTIONS launched, the response in my inbox has been so large - so overwhelming - that I simply could not let all the questions and comments go unanswered, so in this very special edition, I'm going to reprint several of the letters here with my responses to them.

If you guys warm to this idea, perhaps we could devote a column evert quarter or so to this type of thing. Or, perhaps, in addition to answering letters sent in by the readers to myself, you could also send me questions that you want addressed by your favorite comic creators and I could go on the hunt to track down answers.

Sound like fun? Let's get started. Names have been deleted to protect the innocent.

"Dear Mr. Taylor,

I very much enjoyed your interview with Bryan Fuller. I went to elementary school with Bryan back in Clarkston, Washington, and I've been dying to send him a letter since I discovered that he's that Bryan Fuller during the Wonderfalls run. Do you have a contact address or email that I can reach him at? Perhaps through the studio?

Thanks!"

If I had a nickel for every time I interviewed a high-falootin' celebrity or comic writer for CBR and certain people emailed me wanting to know how to get in touch with them, I'd have thirty cents. Sadly enough, this industry is full of people who simply claim to have donated a kidney to Adam Brody's brother so that they can get his email address (seriously, that happened this summer). So I normally take these things with half a grain of baking powder, but just in case I forwarded it to Bryan, and, surprisingly enough, this guy was legit!

Yes, Bryan and the guy who sent me this email apparently used to pretend to be "Star Wars" characters at recess together everyday, and I had a hand in reuniting long lost friends, which makes me feel all warm inside.

I got this letter in response to my Danny Bilson/Paul DeMeo interview that was published about two weeks before it was announced that Marc Guggenheim was taking over writing the newly-relaunched "Flash" book from them.

"Excellent Interview! However: The first book sales have been great, but it is falling steadily and hard as this storyline is not doing anything to attract fans and losing old ones.

Also, these two have been getting killed, on boards and in every review I have read.

Why not mention this to them for a response.

Thanks for reading my comment."

In any interview a person conducts, there has to be a certain level of respect aimed at the subject to get him or her to open up to you as a reporter, and this is a great example of that. If I would have opened the interview (or any interview with a creator, for that matter) by asking them how they react to the fact that everyone is saying their book sucks, then that person is less likely to give you anything interesting to work with.

I'll admit that I was one of the fans that was let down by the first three issues of Danny and Paul's "Flash" series, but I was more interested in seeing why they approached the relaunch the way they did instead of asking them why they think readers hate them. The results I got from taking that approach, I believe, speak for themselves. Danny and Paul opened up about the difficulties with approaching such demanding continuity with their own style of storytelling and they did touch briefly upon critical reaction and their want to please fans.

And, for the record, I feel like "Flash" has been improving with every subsequent issue and that the creators have been taken off the title just as they are getting in their groove. I also highly recommend Danny and Paul (and Adam Brody's) phenomenal new miniseries "Red Menace," which is one of the best books I've read thus far this year.

Sometimes creators want to face their critics head-on, however, and Adam Beechen specifically mentioned wanting to talk about critical reaction to "Robin" in his interview.

And the interview got a lot of reaction. Here is the first letter I got, and since it is a bit long, I'm integrating my responses in italics within the letter.

"Hi Robert. Read your interview with Mr. Beechen. (Thanks, it's one of my favorites!) Being one of the most vocal critics of Cassandra Cain being evil (if some people in Newsarama like to think, one of the beings who started this), I have to say, this was a great article. (Awwww…)

My problem was never her being evil, but her motivation for being so.

My problem with the entire thing lays with the reason she turned to evil: Daddy issues. In all honesty, I felt Cassandra Cain given the last issue of 'Batgirl' be either going the route of Punisher or becoming similar in vein to an anime/manga character Aoshi Shinamori.

Silent, merciless, and who only cared for the kill. Which was what Adam had given us in part 2 with Cassie murdering her 'sister.' And even then, when he took liberties with the character's nature of not being able to read or write, I let it go because a part of me wanted to see the sort of Cassie that the final issue gave me.

When part 3 and 4 hit, I felt a little cheated on that. That instead of Bludhaven and Steph Brown being the reasons her turn to evil, we instead got daddy issues, her finding out David had another child besides her.

More than that I expected that given the nature of the meeting that a name would be brought up; Steph Brown. That Cassie didn't want Tim or herself to be given that sort of fate and in truth Beechen tried but wrong in execution. (I humbly have to disagree here, while I feel that the idea of turning Cassandra evil is a wrong editorial move, I felt Beechen approached it the right way. Instead of giving her newer motives that are fairly easily to reverse, Beechen went all the way back to the character's origins and changed something the reader had always assumed was one way and turn it on its head. I find it interesting to parallel how hostile readers were about the plot development with how hostile Cassandra was about the plot development)

Then came the three biggest grievances I had: her choice of wording. It was a lot. Too much. You can give the cheap way of Cassie learning in a year but given #73 issues of her noting be able to read or write and form as delicate sentences as she did when speaking to Robin was a shock. For lack of a better way she talked like villain from a Bond movie. She laid everything out for Tim and just kept going on and on giving Tim ample time.

Then the other sin, Tim was landing punches on her. Coming down to it, Tim just doesn't have a prayer against her. The logic Adam gave him of just continuing to hit her just didn't sit well with the arc. (I agree with this) I mean Tim's been using his brains throughout the entire arc and he just decides to use brute force? Why not go for the mental blows like Cassie did to him earlier? I mean Tim could block and lay the guilt even further on what she had become. Mental blows can be helluva lot more tough then physical at times.

The final one was the aftermath with the next issue. Tim and Bruce just smirk and go along happily with no fear in the world that, "Oh another very good friend who was almost like a sister to me just became my worst nightmare. And she knows our secret ids plus is behind a group of people who kill for a living." Wouldn't that be kinda scary? And instead Bruce and Tim just smirk and roll their eyes at what happened. That above all else ticked me off. (Allow me to promise you there will be major aftermath in the DCU, though I wouldn't dream of saying more)

Though of all things I did enjoy Adam wrote of villainous Cassie which I hope he picks up on later (if given a chance) of her shooting Cain and him not being dead. To me, this shows that there is still some good in Cassie and she cannot fully commit to the life she has chosen.

I think the biggest reason Cassandra Cain fans are peeved is one of the reasons I was peeved and another which I ignored: that she talked like a Bond villain, her past of being able to not read or say complex sentences was ignored, and she didn't have the motivation fans where expecting.

Plus, bear in mind it was but a few months just after her own title was canceled. Yes, OYL hit and logically that makes sense. But when you hear rumblings of a Batwoman debuting in a new series. No doubt many fans of Cassie felt DC was kicking her to the curb. Even more, the timing was more like a gut check. If this storyline was switched after the Capt. Boomerang one maybe the impact would have been less. (That is an interesting thought, but to see Cassandra slowly unravel would lessen the impact of her turnaround. Part of the reason the development works as well as it does is because it hits you in the gut.)

Still, these actions are easy to fix. No doubt they would settle a lot of the Cassie Cain fans who where peeved at it all. No doubt that is why DC is allowing Geoff Johns to write her to cushion this. After all if you want a compelling villain written to perfection in the DC Universe you ask Geoff. Still I understand that Adam didn't mean to anger the fanbase, but I just wanted to give you my own perspective on why some fans are peeved at him. Thank you for your time. (Thanks for writing).

Some people were less nice. Here's some of the comments that popped up on the CBR Message Boards.

"Here at CBR is a new interview with Beechen. But the interesting thing is that the interviewer says he is the guy who wrote the '10 Reasons Why 'Robin' Rocks.' article on Wizard online. I was one of the people who was outraged by this article, and now he says he was totally surprised by the similar reaction he got from other 'Batgirl' fans and feels like the victim of a witch hunt. (I don't feel like the victim of a witch hunt, though I feel like those who actually halfway enjoyed the book are getting pummeled)

Now, I admit some Batgirl fans have expressed their feelings in an unpolite, even threatening way, and I certainly did not like this, although I share their views.

But I resent that Mr. Taylor gives the impression that all Batgirl fans are a mob with flaming torches. (Oh crap)

If he reads this, I am more than happy to explain why I was rather insulted by his "10 Reasons Why 'Robin' Rocks."

I don't blame him if he likes Robin OYL, although I certainly disagree. But he wrote something like "also Cassandra Cain now gets an incredibly complex and great characterization" (I am paraphrazing from memory).

Mr. Taylor, I don't know if you ever read the Batgirl series. (I have three trade paperbacks, and own all the Puckett/Scott issues, but dropped the book after the creative changeover) But it looks that you were not impressed by the character before. (Quite the contrary, I love the fact that Batgirl is such a complex character with a background so deeply rooted in existing DC continuity) That's OK, that is your right.

But if the title character is turned evil in a way that a lot, if not most of her fans regarded as ridiculous and history-contradicting, please don't call it 'great character development.' At least admit that this is a retconned, totally different character. Otherwise you sound like either you don't know what you are talking about or intentionally want to insult us Batgirl fans, like someone laughing at a funeral 'Great! I'm so happy this guy is dead now!'

(The way I have always viewed Cassandra as a character is that she comes from a dark background that deeply affected her in ways that haven't been completely explained yet. Batman has referred to her as a living weapon before, and even in the early issues of her ongoing series, I felt like she was always on the edge of becoming an unwitting villain. It would have been so easy for her to just give in. Like it or not, this was always part of her background, and I enjoyed that DC was finally using that.)

If you still consider Cassandra OYL was well-characterized, I recommend you to read the threads here dealing with the matter where we discussed this extensively.

Here's only a short version: Mr. Beechen again claims Cass was fighting against her upbringing her whole life. That is just not true. (I disagree) The first time she was supposed to kill, as a child, she was so shocked by the dying man's body language, that she ran away from her father and lived on the streets for ten years until she became Batgirl to seek redemption. So you see, she was never "struggling for so long for her entire existence to overcome the way she was brought up" - the decision not to kill was an inevitable, natural reaction for her.

You call the character change 'surprising yet inevitable, and excellently handled.' Well, introducing an as yet unknown sister so that Cass is suddenly so jealous that she is not 'special' anymore so that she starts killing although she knew perfectly well before (and did not care) her father had trained other children - that does not sound 'inevitable' to me, sorry.

I know that if Alan Moore had used the 'real' Question and the other original characters their fans would probably also have been outraged. But Robin OYL is not "Watchmen," and evil Cass looks to me like a cheap, melodramatic villain, even ignoring her previous history. Some people might find it interesting to read stories of an alcoholic Superman who beats his wife. But please don't call something like that 'inevitable.'"

I'm still standing by all my comments in the story, and please allow me to remind readers how much more interesting Hal Jordan is now that he is a "reformed" supervillain. It gives the character deeper history, and Cassandra does not have to remain a villain forever.

And finally, a more general question.

"Hey! I want to do some of my own interviews for another Web site and was wondering how you go about conducting the interview itself."

Aside from the set list of questions I ask every creator at the end of every interview, I write down zero questions to ask the creator. Seriously.

Instead of that, I write out a list of six major topics I want brought up in the interview, not specifying how to phrase the questions or in what order to bring them up. It is only when I begin to conduct the interview that I write down follow-up questions and such next to the original topics. Often enough, each topic and follow-up gets me about eight-10 minutes of talking from the creator, and the rest is complete spontaneity.

I think that the impulsiveness of the conversation puts the person being interviewed more at ease and more willing to open up about whatever they want to talk about because I'm not trying to cut him or her off before he is done with his thought. The results, I hope, speak for themselves.

Of course, I don't think this is the way most interviewers should go about conducting interviews. Especially when you are just starting out. I've been doing this for five years now and have found a comfortable way to approach interviewing. When I just started I would write down a list of topics and sub-topics to address (again, I suggest you don't write down questions, that way you can integrate the query into the context of whatever is being talked about with as much ease as possible) and throw in two really off-kilter questions that the person being interviewed has probably not been asked before.

When I interviewed Kristen Bell over the summer (who I love!) the interview went as well as could be expected given the time constraints (Kristen had ten minutes before she had to get back to set) until I asked her how her life would be different if she had gotten the role of Chloe on "Smallville." She acted floored and gave me an honest, spontaneous response that didn't seem calculated and rehearsed whatsoever.

And when I met her at WizardWorld Chicago a few weeks later, she remembered the interview - and me! So try to inject as much of you into the interview as you can without overwhelming the subject.

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