Worlds will live. Worlds will die. And the… aw, you know the rest. Although you may not know everything…
December 8 on the CW– where legends live! ;-)
And if you want to read the original book, you can buy it here.
Worlds will live. Worlds will die. And the… aw, you know the rest. Although you may not know everything…
December 8 on the CW– where legends live! ;-)
And if you want to read the original book, you can buy it here.
For the past few weeks I’ve been discussing the stories contained in the upcoming volume of Suicide Squad reprints (Volume 7, The Dragon’s Horde, out December 22). I’ve been running down the stories in order but this week I’m jumping to the last story in the collection.
This last story was a tie-in issue to the War of the Gods crossover event that DC was running at that time. I’m jumping to it not because it’s my favorite story in Vol. 7 but because it isn’t.
I’ve had mixed reactions to Big Company Wide Crossovers. They do interrupt the flow of what you have planned but, OTOH, that’s like what we laughingly refer to as Real Life: big events happen and toss our best laid plans out any convenient window. It is said the gods like when mortals make plans; it gives them something to shoot at.
There are all kinds of ways of doing a crossover issue; it can be a vital chapter in the overall story, it can show how the Big Event is affecting part of the world, it can be a Red Sky story. That happened during Crisis on Infinite Earths, the granddaddy of Big Events at DC. One of the hallmarks of the events was the red skies. An issue of an ongoing series could qualify as a “crossover issue” if it featured red skies and some person said, “Ooh! The skies are red!” Something less than a vital piece of the narrative; I was a fan and not a pro at the time and I resented it.
However, the red skies stunt underscored one of the major purposes of a crossover – to lure the reader into trying other (or all) of the books in the line. Hopefully, they’ll see a bump in sales. Most of the time, the increase doesn’t last. So – you do another crossover and so on, ad nauseam, until you get fan burn-out. And then marketing tells you to do another.
I’ve participated in all kinds of crossovers, from doing the Main Event (Legends) to tie-in issues (hopefully none of which are “red sky” issues). Some were easier than others; some were nearly impossible. One we had to co-ordinate with all the other books out that week and I wound up with that assignment since I had two or three of them.
In the story in this volume, the Squad ties into the War of the Gods event. To be honest, I don’t remember what that crossover was about. My problem with the result is that it resulted in a not very good story, let alone a good Squad story.
Captain Marvel’s… excuse me, Shazam’s… Bad, Black Adam, comes calling on the Squad. He needs some warm bodies for an attack he is planning on a temple on an island in a lake in South America guarded by were-beasts and an offshoot of Amazons who live in the Middle East. Where? Somewhere.
Waller feels they’ll need a lot of warm bodies so she recruits a fair amount. The reader at this point probably expects most of them to die and they’re not wrong. We do, however, take the opportunity to get most of the Squad back into uniform. Black Adam claims that, when you go to fight gods, ceremonial garb should be worn. (The hold-out is Deadshot who recently killed the guy wearing his costume, shooting him right between the eyes. You can understand Lawton’s reluctance; the dry-cleaning bill on that would probably be steep.)
Oh, Kim and I (well, mostly me) threw in a new character called The Writer and then killed him off. He was supposed to be a well-known DC writer who had written himself into continuity. It was strictly a gag and, frankly, a puerile one. Apologies all around.
There’s a lot of yelling and fighting and characters die; not the sort of stuff Kim and I usually did with the Squad. It’s also incomplete; at one point in the midst of the battle, Black Adam vanishes into the temple followed by a few Squad members. Shortly afterwards, the island and the temple blow up. Why? Who knows. What’s in the Temple? Doesn’t tell you here. What was Black Adam’s agenda (he definitely had one)? To be told somewhere else.
There’s a block of white space on the bottom of the last page of the story in which the reader was informed where to go for the next thrilling chapter. The reader of this volume doesn’t have that and so they are left with an incomplete story with big gaps in it. And it’s the last story in this volume as well and I think leaves a somewhat sour taste in the mouth.
However, it may be someone’s favorite story. Years ago, I was on a panel at a comic book convention and was asked what was the story I’d written that I wished I could unwrite. I named it and ridiculed it and some poor guy in the front row looked stricken and said “But that’s my favorite story!” If this story was one of your favorite’s, I apologize.
But I have to be honest; it ain’t one of mine.
Pencilers are not always satisfied. Maybe they’re never satisfied. They’ll take a page or panel that they’ve drawn and if they don’t like it, erase the sucker and do it over. If they do it too often, it gets all gray and muddy. I got a page to dialogue once that was erased so often that I couldn’t really tell what the figures were doing. Based on the plot, I threw on a lot of sound effects and hoped for the best.
You can do that as a writer as well. You can worry a plot or an idea to death, to the point where nothing really makes sense. At that point, it would almost be better to scrap it and start over.
Comic book companies (we’re talking about DC and Marvel) can do the same thing with their universes. For decades, DC had a stable universe – to the point of static. It was easier; the stories in one book were rarely if ever connected to any other story in that book or the larger DC Universe.
Marvel changed all that; their universe was very interconnected with stories and characters from one book often appearing or referenced in another. However, they were also proud of the fact that the continuity, once laid down, didn’t change (in theory if not lf not always in practice) even when that continuity creaked and groaned with age, begging for change.
These days, the universes (and some of the characters on them) flit by, get trashed, re-written, usually in a great company-wide crossover that promises that “Nothing will ever be the same again!” I’m not saying change is not a good idea; DC’s Crisis On Infinite Earths was a landmark event that DC desperately needed at the time. Marvel desperately needed barnacles scraped off its editorial hull.
It seems to me, however, that these “events” are simply marketing ploys designed to make the reader buy as many tie-in books as necessary. They’re not born out of a need for anything but sales.
The problem (again, it seems to me) is there appears to be no plan for where they want to wind up. Even Crisis suffered from the fact that there was no clear concept of who the characters would be at the end and what the DCU would look like.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been doing a fine job of connecting the dots that are their movies and have had a real plan for where they were going and how each film fit into and furthered that plan. The DC Cinematic Universe… less so. They opted for dark and broody, broody, broody. Man of Steel, for any other faults it may have had, suffered from a Batmanization of its worldview.
Now Warners Bros (DC’s parent company) has announced that, in the future, not every film will fit together with the other films; in other words, like the DC Comics University of old. Some will fit together but not all and that seems to me to be a mistake. That invites confusion and there’s one thing that the general public will not appreciate is confusion.
The comics themselves, both DC and Marvel, also seem to be wrapped in confusion. It doesn’t help when the origin or the nature of the character is radically changed or the whole universe is re-stacked and changed. I think you run the serious risk of losing readers. You can erase things and redraw them so often that you turn it all to mud. You don’t grow the audience and, with the success of the superhero franchise films, you should be able to add readers. However, the event-driven books these days are not very accessible to new readers. Maybe there should be a line of a limited number of books that would be accessible and thus draw readers into the respective comic book universes. Even I, an old hand, am finding it hard to get into what’s going on. Constant change just becomes constant noise.
Find a good story. Tell it in as few issues as necessary. Otherwise, the reader starts to suspect you don’t have enough good stories to tell.
Unlike the movies.
That thought of a 9-year old girl being intimidated by her local comic shop has not left my mind, kiddos.
I said what I could on the subject just a few weeks ago. Beyond the local comic shop being the culprit for the stagnation we as fans feel for the specific love of the pulp and paper side of comic bookery, there’s a plethora of other barriers to entry. Little mountains that stand in the way for people of all ages, shapes, sizes, and level of declared geekery that make the journey to our shores feel not unlike the one those halflings took from their little town, to that live volcano. And much like that epic, the damned eagles were there all along if anyone would have thought to ask for a quicker trip.
Epic Back Catalogs
“I like Captain America!” the little tyke exclaims. He’s taken to his local comic shop, allowance in tow. Where, oh where does he begin? If he gets the current issue, he might be wondering why Steve Rogers is an agent of Hydra. Or why Sam Wilson isn’t Falcon. And just how many issues does he need to go back and buy to catch up? Of which volume? And what about trades vs. floppies? Or what if, by chance, the book falls in the middle of an epic crossover?
Touched on lightly in my aforementioned article, the advent of the epic crossover has been a thoroughly exhausting trend weaved into the modern comic book production schedule. It seems once to twice a year now, the big boys of comics (who are the specific targets I’m aiming at here) are hellbent to change the status quo. Grand schemes crawl and sprawl across special mini-series, and dump into the pages of dozens of titles – all in the effort to tell a larger story.
When it was done with years in-between, it was great! Crisis on Infinite Earths, Civil War, or The Infinity Gauntlet each stood as massive touchstones for years to come. Their larger-than-normal villains had massive plans, which required the multi-tentacled reach of an editorial Cthulu in order to come to the final catharsis. And in their wakes? New rules, new books, and time to let what transpired breathe.
Now? Not so much. Every book becomes mandatory reading, and before you blink, new series are given birth, fail to catch on, and are chucked into the ethereal pit from whence they came. How could a muggle traipse into their local comic shop, cash and enthusiasm in hand, be told in order to jump on board they’ll need to drop serious coin, and spend the remainder of their afternoon reading Wikipedia to make sense of it all? This, of course, leads me to…
A standard comic, all-in-all, isn’t that expensive… until you compare it to similar media. A weeks’ worth of books for me (back when I bought books weekly) ran me $15-20 for a small haul. Left on the back of my toilet for easy-reading and metering out, I was done just in time for a whole new set the following week. For roughly the same amount of money I can have both the WWE Network and Netflix… which combined provide me thousands of hours of entertainment I don’t even need to read to enjoy. Apples to oranges you say? Correct, padawan. But tell that to an 8-year old.
Make no bones about it: kids do love comics. The static art being produced in any number of styles, slaved over by teams of passionate creators should be beloved, cherished, and sought after. For Rao’s sake, that is why I toil nightly to produce my own books! But I’d be lying if I didn’t feel like it can be a bit of a hard sell when the average comic can be absorbed in 15 minutes. The economics of it are depressing.
And, to my knowledge, publishers-at-large haven’t exactly solved how to compete. While Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, and their next-of-kin pony up money for solid, respectable original content in addition to their bread-and-butter second-hand material… they have all found the panacea to their pricier counterpoints (cable TV, and the movie theater). Simply put, they found a price so low that people can barely argue about their subscription. For roughly ten bucks a month, their consumers have more content available then they can consume.
So, why haven’t the publishers figured this out?
Epic Conclusions on Infinite Earths
As it stands, there are no easy answers. Netflix and the like all started in different places – Netflix as a mail-order rent-a-DVD catalog, Hulu as pricey YouTube – but would up in the same business. DC, Marvel, and the other major publishers each offer a maddening number of ways to consume their comic content. Floppies or trades? Printed or Digital? Direct market, subscriptions, ComiXology, Comix Blitz, or any other number of other ways I don’t know? Because the original content is printed (but doesn’t necessarily need to be), it simply stands to ask the biggest question of all:
In the land of plenty, is the niche market of comic books too splintered to be as profitable as it needs to be… to sustain real growth? Are there simply too many choices out there for a truly casual fan to make a choice they can feel confident in, when it comes to their consumption? And is the looming specter of a digital device being so ubiquitous, how far off are we truly to even needing paper books? It’s why vinyl records made a comeback, and CDs are nearly non-existent. It’s why DVDs and Blu-Rays are slowly being discount-binned into-oblivion. And why we all have at very least… free Spotify or something similar on our smartphones.
In my estimation, the only way comics can truly save the day, is to match what their brethren in other industries have done. There needs to be a singular wave of content accessible, available, and bingeable… offered at a price so low it can’t be argued with. Weekly comics need to still create an eco-system in the direct market… but come packaged in such a way that it allows new readers to have their cake and eat it too. The ocean of content that exists in long boxes needs to be set free, where all publishers can coexist. The eagles are soaring over our heads. We need only ask for a ride into the mouth of the volcano.
So Mike Gold, our old and grumpy and sly editor, threw down the gauntlet last week, challenging the marvelous Marc Fishman and the grammatically incorrect me to read the same comic and opine on it. That comic was DC Rebirth #1, the umpteenth revision of the company’s four-color mythos. Marc had his turn on Saturday. Today is mine.
Unlike Marc, I didn’t have travel a long and hard road 45 minutes from my suburban home to another suburb “to make a transaction.” Unlike Marc, I live in a city and the nearest comics store is three blocks away. However, I’m not a particular fan of this four-color emporium – I used to have a fantastic shop six blocks away where I browsed and hung out and bought for many decades, but it closed because of the owner’s illness – so I downloaded and read the e-comic version.
First the positives:
The artwork, by Gary Frank, Phil Jimenez, Ivan Reis, Ethan Van Sciver, Brad Anderson, Jason Wright, Joe Prado, Matt Santorelli, Gabe Eltaeb, and Hi-Fi Colorists, is brilliant, breathtaking, and inspiring. It’s clean, it’s sharp, and it’s spectacular. The storytelling is so fantastically good that no writing is even necessary to follow the story, and every emotional nuance is there in the faces of every single character, from cameos to supporting characters to the “all-stars.”
That writing, by Geoff Johns, is no less than anyone would or could expect from a man who is a master of his craft. As Marc said, and as I concur, “Geoff [Johns] made his career (in my humble opinion) – and also im-not-so-ho, and c’mon Marc, don’t be so modest or polite! – on harnessing emotion and sewing it into the rich tapestry of DC’s long-standing continuity.” Geoff also has the writer’s gift of building tension, that all-so-important command of plot that keeps the readers engaged and turning pages, while not forgetting those common-to-us-all integral and humane emotions that unite us with our fictional avatars, doppelgangers, and heroes.
And weaving through all of this is an understanding of the complexity of the DC universe since the hallowed days of Crisis on Infinite Earths collapsed it all into a ball of wax, and playing on his loom to bring it all back into one single tapestry.
B-I-G! S-P-O-I-L-E-R! C-O-M-I-N-G! U-P! S-O! S-T-O-P! R-E-A-D-I-N-G! N-O-W! O-R! T-O-U-G-H! L-U-C-K!
The climatic and emotional moment in which Wally West reconnects with Barry Allen, his uncle, his idol, and his mentor, is so! right-on! bro! that even I, jaded and cynical and world-weary, felt a wee bit of the emotional lumping in throat. Barry Allen was the Flash I knew and loved, the symbol of the Silver Age of DC, that – if you’ll excuse the expression – golden era of my life in which I discovered and fell in love with comics and their universes of imagination and adventure.
His was the lynchpin that kept it all together, and when that lynchpin was pulled from its place, it all fell apart for me. Supergirl was gone, the Legion of Super-Heroes were strangers, and Superman and his family (Superboy, Krypto, Ma and Pa Kent, Lois, Perry, Jimmy, Lana, Lex Luthor, Lori Lemaris, Lyla Lerrol, Jor-el, Lara, Lex Luthor, Lena Thorul, everyone! – along with his hereditary planet of Krypton, were all just one disjointed mess of a fallen soufflé. It was, in too many ways, just one big funeral.
Okay, here come the negatives.
Though I realize for purposes of plot, for purposes of story, for emotional climatic wallop, and for purposes of cleaning up the mess of the fallen soufflé that the DC Universe has become, it was (and is) necessary for ReBirth #1 to wind its way through the many layers of said soufflé, giving acknowledgement to everything that has come since 1985 and Crisis – especially the “Dreary52.”
However, the almost biggest pitfall of the storyline is that Wally, struggling to survive in and escape from the Speed Force before he succumbs to death, isn’t immediately drawn to the man who gave him everything that he was and became, not only as a man, but as Kid Flash and then as the Flash. Given that it is this rich, undying love and bond between the two that saves both Wally and Barry from the Anonymous “what and who” that threatens on the nearing horizon, it just doesn’t make sense.
If the answer to the “Big Bad” is, as Marc said (and to paraphrase) “hope, optimism, love, friendship, kindness, and heroism,” then doesn’t it seem that all of Wally’s attempts to “reach out and touch someone” are useless fodder that merely stuffs 81 pages with folderol? As I read it, it is really Wally’s soul, not truly his physical body, his very being, that is being torn apart and filtered into the Speed Force (art not withstanding); and if that being does not want to go, fights for survival, would not it first and foremost search for that anchor which means the most to it, that gave it meaning to exist in the very, very, very, very first place?
But of course that would have been a different story.
My absolute B-I-G-G-E-S-T problem with the story is the inclusion of the Watchmen. Okay, okay, I know, all we see is the blood-dropped Smiley Face. But Watchmen was, and is, a singular novel, existing outside the DC Universe – in fact, it was Alan Moore’s adaptation of the old heroes of Charlton Comics which had been acquired by DC Comics. It had, and has, absolutely nothing at all to do with the mythos of the DC universe. It stood, and stands, on its own, and is considered by many critics as one of significant works of the 20th century. It was chosen by Time Magazine as one of the “All-Time Novels” published since the magazine’s founding in 1923. Here is what critic Lev Grossman wrote when the list was published in 2010:
“Watchmen is a graphic novel – a book-length comic book with ambitions above its station – starring a ragbag of bizarre, damaged, retired superheroes: the paunchy, melancholic Nite Owl; the raving doomsayer Rorschach; the blue, glowing, near-omnipotent, no-longer-human Doctor Manhattan. Though their heyday is past, these former crime-fighters are drawn back into action by the murder of a former teammate, The Comedian, which turns out to be the leading edge of a much wider, more disturbing conspiracy. Told with ruthless psychological realism, in fugal, overlapping plotlines and gorgeous, cinematic panels rich with repeating motifs, Watchmen is a heart-pounding, heartbreaking read and a watershed in the evolution of a young medium.”
And though, yes, Time Magazine is part and parcel of that “huuuuge” – I just had to get my Trump dig in – mammoth known as Time-Warner, of which DC Comics is also a flea in that mammoth’s wooly hide, it’s pick to be on that list was not influenced by its publishing house. There are many books on that list without “Warner Publishing” on their copyright pages.
It is crass and mercenary to me, not to mention oh-so unimaginative, that DC has the chutzpah to claim literary ownership (if not copyright rights) to a work that is included with such masterpieces and classics as Animal Farm; To Kill a Mockingbird; The Great Gatsby; The Grapes of Wrath; One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; On the Road; Mrs. Dalloway; Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret; and Beloved.
Blood-spattered Smiley Face also telegraphs to me that the “Big Bad” will have something to do with the machinations of Adrian Veidt, a.k.a. Ozymandias, of whom Dave Gibbons, artist of Watchmen, said: “One of the worst of his sins [is] kind of looking down on the rest of humanity, scorning the rest of humanity.”
Hmm. If I may digress here for another moment of Trump-O-Rama: “Sounds familiar.”
*sigh* Sorry, Wally. Sorry, Barry. I’m feeling jaded, cynical, and world-weary again.
SPOILER WARNING: In talking about the season finale of The Flash TV show, I’m going to tell a few secrets. If you haven’t seen it yet and are planning to watch it later, then you may want to also read this column later.
GEEK WARNING: if you have no interest in superheroes or superhero TV shows, well, if you DO feel that way, what are you doing on ComicMix in the first place?
The CW’s The Flash wound up its second season this week and has re-affirmed its place in my heart as the best superhero show on TV. Well, I don’t watch all of the superhero shows but it’s my favorite of the ones I do watch.
The show has a great cast, strong writing, and a great love of the source material. This comes out in little “Easter eggs.” They’re details that, if you know the reference (in other words, if you’re a geek), it’s an even better moment. If you don’t know, it doesn’t matter; you can still enjoy the story, but knowing it is more fun.
A case in point is the actor John Wesley Shipp who, for these past two seasons, has played the father of the Flash, aka Barry Allen. The greater resonance comes if you know that John Wesley Shipp played Barry Allen, the Flash, in the earlier TV version. It’s a nice tip of the hat.
This season the TV show has dealt with Earth-2, a long venerated DC Comics concept. There are many Earths (the concept is referred to as the multiverse) and they are separated by different dimensions. The people on Earth-1 have doppelgangers on Earth-2. For example, “our” Barry Allen is not the Flash on Earth-2. The Flash there is a guy named Jay Garrick, who, in comics, was the original Flash when the character first appeared in 1940.
On The Flash this last season, Jay Garrick comes to Earth-1 to help Barry and his crew deal with this season’s Big Bad, another speedster named Zoom who is bent on stealing the speed from Barry and has already done so to Jay. At one point, we see that Zoom has a prison and in it is a man in an iron-mask being kept captive whose identity is a mystery for most of the season.
If you’re not a geek and not into the show, you probably have a headache at this point. I did try to warn you. And it will get worse.
Big reveal: we eventually learn that Zoom is, in fact, Jay Garrick. I won’t try to explain how that works; it’s all narrative hocus-pocus. It works in context of the show. And Jay is a sociopathic serial killer who now wants to destroy all the Earths in the multiverse save the one he intends to live on as ruler.
Oh, and one other thing. Zoom isn’t really Jay Garrick, either.
Zoom, in fact, is Hunter Zolomon who also has a doppelganger on Earth-1 and to whom we were introduced earlier in the season. The Earth-1 Hunter Zolomon is really kind of nobody, just like the Earth-2 Barry Allen. It turns out that the real Jay Garrick, the Earth-2 Flash, is that captive Zoom has in the iron mask. Dampers in the mask keeps him from using his powers.
In this season’s penultimate episode, Zoom kidnaps Barry’s father (John Wesley Shipp, remember; try to keep up) and kills him before Barry’s eyes in an effort to get Barry to race him. The race will power a doomsday device that will destroy the multiverse save for Earth-1. Well, the bad guy has to hang his mask somewhere.
That all happens and it includes a really sweet shout-out to how Barry Allen/the Flash died in Crisis on Infinite Earths. (He got better; this is comics, after all, but the moment is legendary.) Zoom is outwitted, defeated, and destroyed in a most satisfying manner.
At that point, we meet the real Jay Garrick, an important character in DC lore. And he is played by… John Wesley Shipp! It turns out that Barry’s Dad had a doppelganger on Earth-2 and it’s Jay Garrick. What’s really nice is that, by the end of the episode, we see Jay Garrick in a Flash costume which is terrific because it’s a shout out and a salute to the fact that Shipp played the Flash in the 1990 TV series.
That’s what I’m talking about. If you don’t know all that it doesn’t affect enjoying the show but knowing it only makes that moment the sweeter. The 1990 series only lasted one season and the producers of the current Flash would be entirely justified in ignoring it but they keep faith with it. They honored it, the actor, and the fans who watched the show and remember it. You know; geeks like me. And I’m deeply appreciative. It’s that level of thought, of consideration, that makes me love this show.
There’s a lot more I could say about the finale and maybe I will in some future column. You have been warned.
I’m eagerly awaiting what comes next.
Run, Flash. Run. Forever.
Somewhat less than helpful, I know.
The truth is that I don’t know how to break into comics. I don’t think most of you can go the path I took. I had an old friend – Mike Gold, who you may have seen hereabouts – and he knew I loved comics and he had liked something I had written for the stage and offered me a chance. When Mike had first gone to NYC to work for DC Comics, I pressed on him a sample script I had written for Green Lantern. He dutifully did but the script didn’t go anywhere and it shouldn’t have. I was very keen but very raw in those days (although I did use elements of it eventually; writers are forever cannibalizing themselves).
Fast forward a few years. Mike left DC to return to Chicago and eventually co-found First Comics with Rick Obadiah. The first comic that First Comics was going to print was an adaptation of the play Warp!, produced by the legendary Organic Theater of Chicago. The play trilogy described itself as “the world’s first science fiction epic-adventure play in serial form”. The director and co-writer, Stuart Gordon, freely acknowledged that he was very influenced by Marvel Comics. (We’re talking late 60s, early 70s Marvel. The primo stuff.)
I was – and am – a huge fan of Warp! Heck, I was a huge comic book geek at the time as well. Peter B. Gillis was hired to adapt the play but I got a call one day from Mike (who was now supreme editor and High Poohbah of First Comics) asking me if I would like to try my hand at writing an eight page back-up story.
Of course, I said yes.
And so began the process of picking one of the characters from Warp!, figuring out a story, working out the plot, breaking it down into page and panels, doing it and re-doing it, learning the tricks of the trade as I went. I had written plays which are similar to comic-book scripts but comic book writing has its own practices and demands. I’d write it up, Mike would give me notes, I’d re-write it, I’d get more notes and so on until one day Mike finally called me and congratulated me – they were going to use my story as the back-up feature in the first issue of Warp! which was going to be the first comic published by First Comics.
“Oh,” I replied, “great. Uh … do I get paid for this?”
“Of course, you sap,” Mike replied and gave me the page rate.
As a side note, I’ll mention that at that point I hadn’t written anything for a year or more. I felt I had a bad case of writer’s block. I discovered that there’s nothing like getting a paycheck to dissolve a writer’s block.
I went on from there to write more back-ups. Then I got Mike Grell’s Starslayer as a regular assignment and from there I originated GrimJack thus creating my career or sealing my fate, whichever you prefer.
The fact that I have a career is largely Mike Gold’s doing. As my first editor, he taught me not only the tricks of the trade but how to be a good writer. When Mike returned to DC, he brought me with him. Thanks to Mike, I got the job plotting Legends which was the first big DC crossover following Crisis On Infinite Earths. It may not sound like so much in these days of constant company wide crossover events but it was big back then. (Len Wein did the dialoguing and John Byrne did the pencils.) At Mike’s suggestion, we debuted Suicide Squad in the pages of Legends.
Mike also famously drafted me into doing Wasteland (we brought Del Close along). It was Mike’s idea and I wasn’t sure about it or at least my doing it at first. However, Mike is persuasive and I’ve learned when Mike has an idea to just say yes; at the very least, it will be interesting and potentially it will be some of my best work (as with Wasteland).
Mike has also been a very old, very loyal, and very good friend.
It boils down to this – if you like what I’ve done with my career, hey it’s all due to me.
If you don’t like what I’ve done, blame Mike.
Superman: C’mon, Kara…don’t give up. You’ll make it. Pl…please…please stay with us.
Supergirl: I can’t. B…But’s it’s okay…I knew what I was doing…I wanted…wanted you to be safe. You mean so much to me…so much to the world.
Superman: You succeeded in destroying the machines.
Supergirl: Thank heavens…the worlds…have a chance to live…y-you’re crying…please don’t,,,you taught me to be brave…and I was…I love you so much…for what you are…for…how good you are…
The Death of Supergirl, Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 October 1985, Marv Wolfman and George Perez
I watched the teaser. And though I generally don’t watch them because of their usually really bad quality, the bootleg version of the pilot episode mysteriously showed up in my e-mail box the other day; by the time you read this I will not have been able to resist. You are my favorite super-heroine of all time.
How many times have I mentioned you, Maid of Might – one of your nicknames back in the day – on these pages in the last two – or is it three – years? The last time was just two week’s ago in Occam’s Razor.
I was heartbroken when Marv and George decided to end your life in Crisis. I mourned both for you and for the death of my childhood dream. And I mourned for the end of an era – of all the changes that Crisis wrought, this was the one that struck me at my core, this was the one that felt real, felt irreversible.
And I felt old.
And even though you came back, you didn’t come back the same. You were no longer your cousin’s secret weapon, you were no longer hiding in an orphanage as an ordinary Earth girl named Linda Lee. You didn’t have a Linda Lee robot to cover for you when you were off doing super-missions on your own or for your cousin, and you didn’t have a best friend in the orphanage named Lena Thorul, whom you didn’t know was actually the sister of Lex Luthor, your cousin’s arch-enemy.
You didn’t have a cat – the only thing I didn’t like about you, because I’m a dog person – and you didn’t have a super-horse named Comet – which was another reason I loved you, because I’m a horse person – for the “strange brand” marking his hide. You weren’t a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes, and you didn’t have three boyfriends: the 31st century green-skinned, brilliant Brainiac 5, the Atlantean fish-tailed mer-boy Jerro, and ordinary Earthling and fellow orphan Dick Wilson.
Fred and Edna Danvers didn’t adopt you, and you didn’t rescue them from certain death, blowing your secret identity, which of course your cousin agreed you absolutely had to do. And the people of Earth never celebrated and honored you when your cousin finally said that you were ready to graduate and step out on your own, so you never met the President and you were never honored at the United Nations.
Well, there is one good thing. You were never kidnapped by Lesla-Lar of the bottled Kryptonian city of Kandor and brainwashed into believing you were she, living her life as a respected scientist in a city in a bottle kept by your cousin in his Fortress of Solitude while she lived your life on Earth.
All that history, and more, wiped out of existence as if it never happened, never inspired the imagination of one little girl and, I bet, thousands, maybe millions, like her, who read comics and dreamed of things that never were but could be.
All that history to draw from, to borrow, to homage, to even reinterpret…all the things that could be….
…when you, Supergirl, make your first debut on network television this fall.
I don’t know whether to laugh and cheer…
…or to cry and mourn once again.
Yesterday I ran into a friend from high school as I was leaving the supermarket. He told me that he is moving to a smaller place and so he’s trying to sell off his comics collection, which runs into the thousands and thousands. He’s going to keep some of them because he loves them, and for posterity, and for hopefully great value in the future. But he hasn’t been able to offload most of them – which I said probably has something to do with the economy, because even if the Dow is over 18,000 and the unemployment rate is under 5.5%, most everyone is keeping their Washingtons and their Lincolns and their Benjamins in their wallet or under the bed. He also told me that once DC’s two-month limited series Convergence is done in April, he’s also going to be done with comics.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because all it is now is one big cataclysmic event leading into another,” he said. “It’s boring, it doesn’t mean anything, and I’m not wasting any more money on the shit.”
Yeah. I get it.
Back in the eighties the comics industry was experiencing a boom in great visual storytelling that was busting down all the preconceived notions about comics. No more pop-art balloons. No more women whose only aim in life was to become a Mrs. fill-in-your-favorite-single-super-guy here. No more “*choke* *gasp* *sob* How ironic!” neatly wrapped up endings. Stories became more complex; the superheroes weren’t always red-white-and-blue American good guys who always saved the day.
Yes, Marvel had been doing this since the introduction of Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy #15, cover-dated August 1962, but across the country there was an explosion of energy in the eighties: the independent market took root and prospered, the Comics Code Authority seal vanished from covers, the Brits launched a second pop culture invasion, and people were openly reading comics on the subways, on the buses, at work, and at school. The story ruled, man!
Comic historians can tell you when it exactly happened, but I know that it was after Crisis on Infinite Earths and Secret Wars and, especially, The Death of Superman, that the story disappeared and the event took over.
Ah, The Death of Superman – everyone was buying multiple, multiple copies and stowing them away in attics and cedar chests and shoeboxes because everyone knew they would be worth $$$$$$ someday. Only of course millions of issues were printed and of course DC wasn’t going to really ice their licensing giant and of course the public’s ability to be sucker-punched was infinite (pun intended). So of course it will be about 500 million years before a mint copy of the issue will be worth gazillions. But of course DC made money, lots and lots of money, and generated lots and lots of publicity, including a Time magazine cover.
And so of course, the people at the top of the corporate DC ladder wanted to do it again. And again. And again. And again.
And so they did.
And Marvel did it as well. I think they started (but again, ask a comic historian for the exact stats and dates) after Secret War I with the expansion of the X-Men line, which led to crossovers, which led to X-Men crossovers, which led to Iron Man and Thor, and Punisher expansions which led to crossovers and then to across-the-line events.
Oh, and let’s not forget the variable covers with Mylar and special graphics and holograms. And there were “3-D” pop-up pages, and double-page fold-outs and…
Dig it, man. These were all events.
But what happened to the story?
It went elsewhere…to the comics that nobody really noticed (and so got cancelled), to the book publishers who started graphic novel lines, and, especially in Marvel’s case, to the movies and television. (Although, as Marc Alan Fishman recently noted in his column last week, DC’s Flash is gettin’ it.)
John Ostrander’s column yesterday reflected on the wonderful world of robotic (computer) storytelling. He noted that these stories, and I’m using shorthand here, suck big time. Grammatically correct and all that, but no heart. No soul. No emotion.
But the Cylons evolved, and I’m guessing so will these programs, John.
Maybe not in our lifetime, old friend, or yours, but one day there will be an X-Men or a Superman or a Daredevil or a Batman written by a computer.
And it will be an event.
Starting April 1, DC Comics is launching its new meta-Crisis series, Convergence, in which characters from different planets and timelines will be thrust together on the Blood Moon to fight fight fight. In May, all of Marvel’s multiverse will go blooey with bits and pieces being recombined into a single place called Secret Wars: Battleworld and, no doubt, every one will fight fight fight. Worlds/characters will live, worlds/characters will die, and nothing will ever be the same yet again.
It’s the same concept as DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths back in 1985 (and Convergence, at least in part, is a thirty year Anniversary celebration of that event). For you young’uns who weren’t around, COIE was a 12 issue maxi-series with a very real purpose – to modernize and re-boot the DC Universe and continuity.
To be honest, I think that’s a necessity every so often for every continuity. Over the years, narrative barnacles form on characters and concepts and its good every so often to scrape them off and get back more to the basic concepts that attracted us to the characters/books/universes in the first place. That’s what the movies and TV shows made from comics have been doing – they take what is essential, respecting the source material without being bound to every bit of it, and re-interpreting it and presenting it fresh for a large audience, as if those stories were being created today. Fanboys may protest, fanboys may cry, but nothing remains the same.
IM-not so-HO (to steal from Mindy Newell), that’s a very good thing. It makes the characters and stories accessible to a larger audience, usually a much larger audience. It has the potential to grow the audience for these characters – except that the versions they see on TV or in the movies bear no resemblance to the versions they find in the comics. For example, if you like Chris Hemworth’s Thor and go to the comics, you’ll find Thor is now female. Remember that cool character the Falcon in the last Captain America movie? He now is Captain America.
It’s hard to make the comic characters track with their movie/TV versions but not impossible. When Jan Duursema and I were doing Star Wars set on the time between Episodes II and III before III came out, we had access to an early version of the script for III. We had to sign stiff non-disclosure statements but we were able to make our stories work within that time frame.
Of course, DC has said that the cinema versions of their characters do not match up with the TV versions but Marvel has gone out of its way to make TV and movies all part of one version of the Marvel Universe.
Marvel Comics has always disdained the reboots that DC has done, claiming they don’t need them but, in fact, they do. One of the really interesting aspects of Captain America is that he was frozen at the end of WW2 and wakes up in a modern world. That became a trope that you couldn’t keep repeating as the comics aged; it was no longer the Sixties and having Cap whine about being out of time for 50 years would be very tiresome. But being able to say he was thawed out in our day revives that trope and that makes it interesting again.
Continually re-inventing the characters can make them fuzzy and blurred. I’ve heard artists talking about “noodling” a page to death or erasing your pencils so often that you only get muck on the page. Doctor Strange has suffered that as every new writer coming on wanted to give their version of his origin with the “Everything you thought you knew is wrong!” schtick.
Crisis on Infinite Earths suffered from not having a clear idea of who the characters should be once you finished deconstructing what you had. To my mind, reboots need to get back to core ideas – what is unique about a given character or concept. Write them for modern audiences while capturing their essence which is what many of the movies and TV shows have done.
What will be most important about the two events – Convergence and Secret Wars: Battleworld – is what comes next. How will the companies and their writers and artists re-interpret their classic characters so they seem fresh and new and relevant for the here and now. Capture our loyalty again not with stunts (which may fuel sales but not imaginations) but with new visions of who these classic characters are. Make them familiar and yet new.
Good luck, Marvel and DC. Sincerely. Good luck.