WarnerBros. television and Dc Comic came together over Martin Luther King weekend and held a pop culture event. The event explored comic books, culture, entertainment through a series of panels. Guests from including comic book writers, artists from DC Entertainment, joined by invited guests from politics, government service, and business. The venue was the Newseum – Walter and Leonard Anneberg Theatre, Washington DC. The Newseum promotes, explains and defends free expression and the five freedom of the First Amendment: religion, speech, press, assembly and petition. Headquartered on Pennsylvania Avenue, the Newseum has engaging exhibits, programs and education initiatives helping these fundamental freedoms remain strong both today and for the future generations.
Friday night saw the premiere of Batman by Gaslight, the new animated film provides a new take on Batman as a steampunk Dark Knight hunts Jack the Ripper through the shadows of turn of the century Gotham. The release date is 23rd January 2018, then available on digital download, Blu-Ray and DVD February 6th 2018. Scott. Patterson voices Commisoner James Gordon, whilst Bruce Greenwood voices the vigilante Batman. Batman indulges in detective work with the help of confident, capable Selina Kyle voiced by Jennifer Carpenter.
Saturday nights premiere was of the new Dc show which will air on the CW network of Black Lightning. This premiere was invitation only and was held at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, and National Museum Of African American History And Culture. With a red carpet arrival, cocktail reception and Q&A before the screening.
Black Lightning is based on the first African American DC super hero to have his own stand alone comic title. Cress Williams stars as the title character, and he Is wrestling with a secret. Jefferson Pierce is a father of two daughters, principal of a charter high school that also serves as a safe haven for young people in a neighbourhood overrun by gang violence. A hero to his community, but nine years ago he was a different hero as he was gifted with superhuman power to harness and control electricity. Jefferson used these powers to keep his hometown streets safe as the masked vigilante Black Lightning. After seeing the effects of the damage and loss that his alter ego had on his family, he decided to leave his super hero days behind. Almost ten years on Jefferson thought his crime fighting days were over, but with crime and corruption spreading throughout his community because of a local gang The One Hundred, Black Lightning returns not only to save his family but the soul of his community.
One of the highlights of this pop culture event was the panels as they were being live streamed on YouTube on the DC channel. As the USA is five hours behind me in the UK it was perfect timing for me to tune in and experience, i actually watched one of the panels on my iPad on my way home from work on the bus. Here are some of the highlights and discussions and thoughts from the guests.
The first of the panels on the Saturday was The Art of The Matter: from sketch to screen, the discussion was the creative side bringing characters from comic books to screen. Greg Berlanti executive producer of Arrow, Black Lightning, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, The Flash, Supergirl and upcoming Titans, felt that the process of bringing the Flash to television, technology helped in a big way. For Greg it was important and liked the idea that they could develop Barry Allen becoming or certainly calling himself the Flash slower then maybe they needed to on the big screen.
Geoff Johns, President and chief creative officer of DC Comics remembered as a child reading an article about the 90’s flash show saying “why can’t the flash just wear a grey tracksuit to make it more real” he remembers being upset by this and when it came to develop the Flash he made sure that Barry would have the red suit, Lightning bolt and agreed with Greg Berlanti that they should take their time in developing Barry Allen into The Flash. Geoff’s approach was the same when it came to developing the television show Supergirl, they wanted to make sure she had everything including the costume and Krypton. Geoff feels very strongly in celebrating the characters.
Arrow was another highlight for Greg Berlanti, developing something on television that they can’t do in movies. Twenty three episodes of an origin story, season five of Arrow was about the origin of the island, where in a movie it would of only been shown in the first act for about fifteen minutes. The excitement is not necessarily in how they build the universe, but the character of arrows and do it well. Greg felt there were so many great elements that worked very well for a television show, Arrow is a vigilante and more terrestrial then the power shows that came after Arrow.
Brandon Roth, Superman and The Atom from DC’s Lengends of tomorrow, looks at comic books as a different type of story telling, “All the characters are gateways to distinct origin stories, once you are sold on that you can go on a journey with that character”. Brandon also discussed how once you have got that you can pull people in, change and adaption just as long you keep that identical gateway of the story. All stories are great about saving the world, but it’s the real stories in comics, which are also brought to television Brandon definitely can connect with that. Brandon is all for the fight scenes but he prefers the one on one scenes which have the power, and creativity as an actor.
Caity Lotz, Sara Lance/ White Canary talked about how people need heroes. Comics are about overcoming adversity, as so many characters go on a journey overcoming something, people will read it and whatever they are going through in their life they need to overcome it, when they see someone else overcome it. It’s inspiring, especially right now. Caity feels the popularity has increased because we need heroes and to become heroes.
Cress Williams, Jefferson Pierce/ Black Lightning being a legitimate fan, as a child would see that the heroes had control that you didn’t possibly have in your own life, for example having super strong strength will take out a bully. Technology has caught up in telling these stories, and becoming a modern day pathology. Taking a 2d image and putting it up to feed people’s imagination, Cress loves it as a fan but to be now part of the Dc universe is the icing on the cake.
Danielle Panabaker, Caitlin Snow / Killer Frost The Flash, admitted that she is completely new to comic books and sees it definitely as a new way of story telling. Danielle sees that you can become invested, characters make different choices, they grow and learn.
Salim Akil, Director, writer and producer of Black Lightning calls himself the angriest man in Hollywood. Being a sensitive person and the crazy that is happening from day to day he can’t help but put it in his work, writing but what he is doing is a blessing. Salim stills wants people to have fun, and entertainment. Black Lightning is a platform to say something about what is happening.
Berlanti Productions President Sarah Schechter feels that representation matters, that’s why Black Lightning has arrived at a time when needed. Also a lot of strong women are on DC shows now, different religions, sexuality, variety back to the world we live in. Comics are one step from reality which allow us to take in the values and opportunities to show how great humans beings can be.
Many shades of heroism: through the African-American Lens, started with a sizzle reel of Black Lightning, which I have been looking forward to seeing since last year. The panel discussed the impact of their television roles has had on themselves as actors, writers and fans of the show in the community.
Candice Patton, John Ridley, Mara Brock Akil, Salim Akil, Cress Williams, Chris Chalk, Jamie Broadnax, Alice Randall, Denys Cowan and David Harewood. With a great amount of electricity in the air with the premier of Black Lightning, the panel host asked Cress Williams how did he feel when he landed the role of Black Lightning, “crazy dream come true.” He wasn’t aware of a Black Lightning script being written, Cress wanted to play him so badly and selfishy excited to play this character. For Cress putting on the suit for the first time made him want to run through a wall, ready to fight. The practical side of the suit have given Cress some war wounds, but it’s been a lot of fun.
Black Lightning is a sheer level vigilante, but has superpowers. Building the character before they are in the suit, who they are. They choose a vision, this is Salim Akil voice, but Mara Brock Akil, Salim wife also had a lot to say! Black Lightning was developed around the time a lot of Black lives were being lost in various parts of America. It was that time to put a black man comic character at the centre of it. A black superhero with authenticity. With Black Lightning it’s the cultural specifics of what it’s like to be an African-American man in the USA. Also a man who loves his children, community and wants what is best for them. Salim Akil feels that Black Lightning is the better part of him, what he expires to be.
Candice Patton who plays Iris West in the Flash, her character in the comics was not black. Candice sees this as breaking boundaries, Candice feels completely honoured to be put in this position. She fully appreciates that the network, Warner Bros. and DC want to make money, but her character has been successful in the part that her playing Iris is bringing in some kind of money. Generations to come will remember Iris West as black woman, which for Candice is a very cool thing. She has been playing Iris now for three years and is extremely proud.
All the guests at every panel were very thankful for Dc comics and Warner Bros television for putting on this event, John Ridley was no exception. He commented how events like this don’t normally come to Washington DC, and there aren’t enough events like this. To showcase Black Lightning over Martin Luther King weekend was treating it with the culture destiny it deserved.
The panel host then put a question to Chris Chalk, Lucius Fox from Gotham. The host sees Lucius as one of the coolest because who does Batman go to other then Alfred when he needs help? Lucius Fox that’s who! Chris Chalk’s Lucius is completely different to what they have seen compared to the comics, he is a savvy veteran who has an answer for everything. Chris gets to show Lucius from a perspective of Lucius learning the job, which gives a lot of freedom. The fun part of being on Gotham it’s an unexplored time in Lucius and Batman. Chris gets to create Lucius in the way that he wants, the best part for Chris is when kids come up to him and they are little scientists and know how Lucius made a particular item, where Chris doesn’t know how. It’s an accidental activist a black person being on television, the smartest person in the room who doesn’t fight anybody, who is kind, observe and the most empathetic person on the show. When people come up to Chris on the Brooklyn train and say how much they enjoyed solving a maths puzzle, rather then pulling a gun. It’s so important to Chris to see people in a different lights and types of heroes. Chris motioned to Cress as he is a hero in his principal life and Black Lightning, but Chris definitely agrees that Lucius is a smart dude.
David Harewood gets to play three iconic Dc characters J’onn J’onzz, Director Hank Henshaw and Cyborg Superman who is from a Mars which was changed to a black character in the 60’s, which was the civil right era. As a character that is a shapeshifter he chooses to be black as he understands injustice. As one of the most powerful he chooses to stand with people who are fighting injustice, for David being part of the Dc Universe is a wonderful experience.
The Wonder Women panel was in-depth discussion on how women have been writing comics for a very long time, it’s a huge honour to see female characters come alive in the big screen and television. Now that is happening it’s time to be grateful, with freedom to update and modernise the times have change. Actress from the Dc shows came together, Camren Bicondova, Jessica Lucas, Erin Richards (Gotham) Candice Patton and Danielle Panabaker (The Flash) Caity Lotz(Dcs Legends of tomorrow). The discussion started with how The Wonder Woman movie made them feels, Caity Lotz felt when she left the cinema that she could take on anybody. Erin Richards definitely agrees that the Wonder Woman movie has started a dawning of a new day. The movie made a lot of money which talks, up until now there wasn’t really any females, now hopefully it will be flooded.Television does lead the way you can’t hang all your hopes all on one type of person, this is important in different communities.
Jessica Lucas feels this has been an important shift as when she has played characters to make them more likeable, but Tabitha is very snarky, sarcastic, she doesn’t smile a lot, and doesn’t apologise for anything she says. Jessica admitted she felt maybe that she needed to make Tabby more likeable for the audience, but it wasn’t needed and great to have that freedom.
Camren Bicondova, talks about what allows them to play their characters and unite characters and the acknowledgement from the audience. There is more understanding from everybody, social media seems to have this inter communication. Camren feels that’s why Wonder Woman did so well and why all the female characters in the DC universe are loved. When Camren got the role of Selina, people started questioning the choices that they had made. The character of Selina has made Camren grow as she is naturally an introverted person, playing this independent character has really helped Camren become a stronger person.
Costumes definitely tell a story, Jessica feels very comfortable with her wardrobe department at Gotham because she can tell them that if something is too low or doesn’t want to wear it. Erin tells the audience of the panel about a time when one of their executive producers wanted Tabitha and Barbara to torture a man whilst wearing their underwear because they didn’t want to get blood on their evening gowns. So they were asked how do you feel about that, both Jessica and Erin did not want to do it, their executive producer was absolutely fine with their decision. Erin felt to be given that choice was a wonderful thing.
The Pride of DC: The Art of LGBTQ inclusion was the second to last panel on the Saturday. Freedom Fighters : The Ray made history when it debuted on December 8th 2017. A new animated series on the CW seed, part of the CW network, a digital channel which featured the first gay Super Hero to lead a show. Russell Tovey a great British actor (Being Human, Ray Terrill from The Flash and Legends) who voiced The Ray, says the response from social media was phenomenal. He had expectations but it was overwhelming, he didn’t realise how important it would be and exciting it would be to be The Ray. Carrying that torch as the first gay Superhero, which is an honour and The Ray as a character went down well with people and he was liked. Russell didn’t know of The Ray, so when Marc Guggenheim sent him a care package so he could read the older comics, to understand his different origins, so when it came to settle on this new version of The Ray. As an actor Russell wanted people to connect and spend time especially as a gay superhero, so people can have someone to project onto and have their hero. Russell felt a huge responsibility to make him above all entertaining, likeable so you would want to spend time with him. The fact that The Ray is gay just becomes a byproduct and doesn’t define him. Through the writing of him, the animation, especially exposes that it fleshes The Ray out and gives him total truth and backstory. For Russell that was something he wanted to get right, and not let people down.
The Aftermath: Battle and Trauma in comics was probably the panel i kept thinking about the most. PTSD is something i know very little about, but my knowledge of watching characters in television and film got through it has given me some understanding. Certainly watching this panel, then gonig back over it to being you some of the highlights has now given me an understanding what it is like for someone to live with PTSD.
Tom King talked about his inspiration for the comic Mister Miracle, he sees it as deep cut nerd thing created by Jack Kirkby who to Tom is founding father of all comics. Mister Miracle is Jesus analogy, if God had given up his son to the devil to raise. Because he was raised by the devil he was tortured psychologically having been given up by his father and tortured physically in a pit of fire. What Jack Kirkby does by creating child vision metaphors which fit in real life, the idea of someone who feels abandoned and a tortuous childhood. A metaphors who has to deal with trauma in their life and translating that getting through their day. That is where Tom started with a guy who has got a smile on his face, always performing, a good guy but what is underneath that churn of being given up by your father, raised in a place where you didn’t want to be. It’s the founding documents, how do you deal with it keep moving forward in life.
Mitch Gerards who is the illustrator of the Mister Miracle, discussed how he took Tom Kings words. With their version of Mister Miracle they took the trauma of Scott Free and how he is dealing with these things, the illustrations show you actually going through the PTSD with Scott. For Mitch its been really interesting to find Scotts voice in the illustration and portray it in a manner, the best part is getting responses on Twitter where people recognise in the character that has been their biggest goal and that is what they have been trying to do with the comic.
For Tom King it also comes from personal experience of PTSD. One of the problems with PTSD you don’t know what it is in your life. Tom felt on top of the world, everything was going well, kids and wife were healthy and happy. Tom described it as a classic panic attack, it feels dramatic that maybe the world is going to end. April 2015 the world seemed a little off to Tom as things were happening in society that he didn’t understand and didn’t recognise. The first page of Mister Miracle goes through a traumatic experience he wakes up and he can’t understand the world around him, buts is it his trauma that is doing it or the world responsible.
How goodness is portrayed by PTSD, Tom continued to discuss that for himself that PTSD is more then about guilt on what you did and didn’t do. To look back through what he has come through and become makes him proud, it becomes something that you take strength of. Mister Miracle is about two people because of what they have done they found each other. Tom feels lucky enough and Mitch are both in love with their wives, Toms wife got him through his PTSD. He definitely has to put that in the comic book because that’s what its all about. Mitch loves how people can see not an answer to PTSD but they can see it happening through a fictional character. Mitch wants to see that they are not alone, what they are talking about is an open book and be recognised you are not the only one.
Dr Vivek Murthy was another guest at the panel, he commented that it was a really unusual invitation, but the most fun he has had talking. The question Dr Murthy was asked How well does comics and television portray PTSD? Dr Murthy was extremely fascinated to join the panel and the discussion because he does think there is a really powerful role in comics, platform of media, television can help to inform people about and help concern about this condition like PTSD. When you look what is out there you see that PTSD is referenced and almost danced around. People often don’t delve deeply into it, a subject that you are not always sure about, and to go about handling it. The truth is if you think about PTSD, most people think it’s results from combat situations members of armed forces. It is certainly the most concerning of PTSD. People who don’t serve in the military go through traumatic experiences that can lead to PTSD, 7-8% of the USA population will experience PTSD at some point in their life. It is important to talk about this experience, learn about this experience, whether you are effected or not. The people around you are affected and the understanding of PTSD have a profound impact on their recovery.
J.W Cortes, Detective Alvarez from Gotham, with his military experience what does it bring to the table concerning his acting? For J.W. it serves a unique opportunity too having worn uniform of USA Marines for 13 years of his life, to serve actively. To be still serving as a NYPD Officer, and when he does get to play Detective Alvarez, drawing any experience can help to confirm your character choices it’s a blessing as it doesn’t always happen. J.W. feels a tremendous responsibility because he knows that his fellow brothers and sisters and their family members are watching, may they draw some kind of inspiration, find means to get through their day. The words he feels are not his ammunition to empower to knock down some of these comics, misconception of all you want to do when you come home is slay bodies, do drugs but you can do that when you work on a hit television show like Gotham.
Exclusive signings took place on the Friday and Saturday, many Dc fans were fortunate to get tickets for this event. Jim Lee did a solo signing in the DC pop up shop at the Newseum on the Friday. Jim Lee was joined by Geoff Johns on the Saturday, Tom King and Mitch Gerarde also appeared the DC shop for signings and where you got purchase exclusive DC items. The cast of Black Lightning also got the chance to meet Dc fans who were eagerly waiting to see the premiere of the show. The tickets for the two Gotham signings sold out, the cast were divided into two signings the Heroes of Gotham and the villains of Gotham.
Here is the link to all the panels that were streamed on Youtube. Enjoy!