THE FOLLOWING has exploded onto Fox primetime, and we begin our exclusive look at the show that everyone is talking about. Creator Kevin Williamson along with actors Anna Parisse and Shawn Ashmore talk about just a few of the ways the series stands put from the rest of TV, plus as 30 ROCK prepares to say goodbye, we talk to cast member Grizz Chapman who thinks the exit might be a little premature. And did you hear that the old X-MEN Movie gang is getting back together?
Back in the 1960s and 1970s there was this publisher called Harvey Comics. They were in business to sell comic books to children: Casper the Friendly Ghost, Wendy the Good Little Witch, Hot Stuff, Sad Sack, Little Dot, Richie Rich… well, mostly Richie Rich. As in “I counted 47 different Richie Rich titles from Harvey Comics, not including the daily and Sunday newspaper strip.” Most were bi-monthlies and quarterlies, so to be fair I doubt Harvey released more than a four or five Richie Rich titles every week.
The modern-day equivalent to Richie Rich is Wolverine, who appears in dozens of Marvel titles each month. The sundry Avengers titles, the sundry X-Men titles, Wolverine, Savage Wolverine, Wolverine Max, Wolverine’s Bank Vaults, Wolverine Dollars and Cents… When it comes to that mad little bugger, well, no unemployment lines for him.
Batman is almost as heavily exposed: his various titles, his “family” titles including Batgirl, Batwoman, Nightwing, Robin, blah blah blah. He’s got Batmen stashed all over the world; perhaps the universe. Multiverse. Whatever.
Spider-Man, Iron Man, certainly Captain America… there’s no shortage of work for these guys, either. So why am I bitching? What, am I opposed to the free market?
Aside from the fact that the “free market” is a bigger fantasy than the multiverse, I do not begrudge a publisher its opportunity for success. However, there is the element of uniqueness that makes comics fun. That element is lost, rather rapidly, with overexposure. There are something in the neighborhood of 7200 members of the Green Lantern corps, and if I’m not mistaken all but the Moslem dude has his own comic book. Sarah Palin just found a power ring in her Rice Krispies.
When was the last time there was a truly original, a truly unique, successful superhero launch? Spawn and Savage Dragon? That was 20 years ago. DC Comics rebooted its universe 14 times since then. Before that? What, maybe Judge Dredd (depending upon your definition of “superhero”)? That was back in 1977, when Jimmy Carter was sworn in as President.
Have we lost our originality? No, we simply don’t have publishers with either the backbone or the resources to pull it off. So instead we clone ourselves. The major superheroes are little more than a fourth generation photocopy of what made them unique.
If the marketplace supports mega-multiple titles for its half-dozen most popular characters, why shouldn’t publishers meet that demand?
Because, today, Richie Rich is not being published at all.
Last night the whole family went out to dinner to celebrate my father’s 90th birthday. And as regular readers of this column know, this is a birthday to truly celebrate. Less than a month after suffering a stroke with seizure complications, less than a month from bringing him home to die, my father is up and about. Not only has he recovered 99% of the use of his left arm and leg, he’s able to dress himself and perform most of the ADL’s (that’s Activities of Daily Living for you non-medical types) without assistance. Yes, he’s walking with the aid of a walker, but let me tell you, folks, I wouldn’t place odds against him in a race against The Flash. He’s zooming down the hallways of the rehab center like a bat out of hell.
And the best sign of all? He’s grumpy again, turning around to harummph at my mother to “keep up, Laura” as he did a loop around the floor and complaining that he wants to go home. How miraculous is this? Well, last night at the restaurant – for those of you who live in the Cherry Hill, NJ area and are looking for a great dining experience, it was Caffe Aldo Lamberti, a very fine Italian restaurant at the intersection of Route 73 and Haddonfield Road – we bumped into one of my father’s doctors from Cooper University Medical Center, who didn’t even recognize him. “The last time I saw him,” the doctor said, “he was literally at death’s door.”
And while we were out celebrating and toasting and laughing and stuffing our faces – so wildly boisterous, in fact, that our waiter came over to tell us that there was a complaint from one of the tables, to which I said “Screw them!” and my brother said, “My father is 90 years old, he was a death’s door, and if it wasn’t for him they’d be speaking German right now!” – yeah, we were all pretty drunk; even my father had a couple of sips of Glenn’s Kamikaze and my mother’s Pinot Noir – Isabel told me about two wonderful graphic novels she had just finished, Smile and Drama, both by award-winning graphic novelist Raina Telgemeir.
Smile is an autobiographical novel in which Ms. Telgemeir tells the story of the accident which led to the loss of her front teeth when she was 12 years old and its resulting agony of surgeries, implants, and false teeth. Parallel with all of this was Ms. Telgemeir’s experience with her corresponding puberty, with all the roller-coaster joys and terrors of that time in all our lives – crushes, maturing bodies, middle-school cruelties, and changing expectations in herself and from her family.
The New York Times Book Review said about Smile “It hits home partly because there is nothing else out there like it.” Kirkus Reviews said “An utterly charming graphic memoir of tooth trauma, first crushes and fickle friends, sweetly reminiscent of Judy Blume’s work. . . . Irresistible, funny and touching – a must read for all teenage girls.” And Publisher’s Weekly said “A charming addition to the body of young adult literature that focuses on the trials and tribulations of the slightly nerdy.
Drama is the story of a girl named Callie, who is a total theater geek. But she prefers the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd from backstage, so Callie is the set designer for her school’s production of Moon over Mississippi. And Callie is determined to bring Broadway-worthy sets to her middle school, even if the budget doesn’t exactly match that of Annie. And even if Callie doesn’t know a thing about carpentry. And even if tickets aren’t exactly selling like hot cakes.
And even if Callie’s crew isn’t what you could call a Band Of Brothers. Plus there’s all this “drama” going on between the actors, and those two realllly cute brothers who join the production.
Ada Calhoun of the New York Times said Drama has “an inspirational message for girls, and it’s communicated more subtly here than in Smile. What makes Callie happiest is not catching the eye of that week’s crush, but winning the coveted position of stage manager and finding her place in the world.”
Raina Telgemeir is also the author of four Babysitters Club graphic novels that made the American Library Association (ALA) Top 10 Graphic Novels for Youth 2007 list, as well as being selected by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) as a Great Graphic Novel for Youth that same year. Ms. Telgemeir also co-authored X-Men: Misfits, a graphic novel that was on the New York Times Graphic Books Bestseller list. She has been published by Random House, DC, and Nickelodeon Magazine, and her comics have been nominated for the Ignatz, Cybil, and Eisner awards.
Accolades that are all very prestigious. Accolades that are all very deserving.
So, a few weeks ago, I decided to give myself the night off. And in doing so, I granted myself the ability to indulge in a previously DVR’ed movie stolen during a free weekend some time ago. That movie was The Green Hornet by way of Seth Rogan. It was, to date, the worst adaptation I’d personally seen of a comic book(esque) character in a movie. The flick was so god awful, I spent the following evening searching for something to wash my mind out. And there, stuck in a marathon of its brethren, a movie I knew was a sure-thing.
The Wrath of Khanwas to my knowledge a near-universally beloved film of nerdtopia. Furthermore, I’d never seen it. (Gasp). Surely this shining beacon of Trekkie culture would cure my explosion-riddled mind from the misadventures of Kato and Bro-Hornet. My fellow ComicMixers… set your phasers to stunned. I loved it.
I loved every minute of it. And truly, that is saying something. I am by all accounts not a Trekkie. That being said, I’m not completely ignorant of the brand either. In my short time on this blue ball, I’ve watched dozens of episodes of Next Generation, a handful of Voyagers, a pair of Deep Space Nines (and, heck, I actually saw the one with the Borgs), and the 2009 Abrams’ flick in theater. But the original crew? My only exposure prior to Wrath was an old X-Men/Star Trek crossover comic book from 1996, purchased mainly as a joke. I tried, once, to watch the original series on TV. I was aghast at the production values (forgive me, I was but a child of 24 or 25 at the time). So, to go into this movie as cold as a Bantha on Hoth (I bet that’s pissin’ a few of you off…), I had expected to hate the movie.
Yet something clicked. Immediately after absorbing the film, I went to YouTube to digest the original appearance of Khan in the episode Space Seed. I also set my DVR to record the once-a-week rerun of the retro-upgraded Original Series on cable. Subsequent discussion with actual Trekkies gave me insight as to why I’d suddenly become enthralled in the series. I discovered that one of the motifs of the show was the war of morals versus logic. Bones vs. Spock, with Captain Kirk in the middle. It’s a great concept, one that gave me perspective to enjoy what I previously thought was banal. Where I believe much of The Next Generation is rooted in the expanded (and better looking) aliens and psuedo-science driven plots (and again, I could be wrong, but this is based on the episodes I’ve seen…) the Original Series is more focused on the characters themselves. To be fair, each concept has merit, but it’s taken me until now to find the hook necessary to really sink my teeth into TOS.
And what of James T. Kirk? Removed from the stereotypes I was used to seeing in countless spoofs and parodies stood a Captain who was very much the product of a pulpier age. He fights. He makes love, apparently a lot. He battles his giant space ship with equal amounts of abandon and cool calculation. And in Wrath, it was a treat to see nearly all of these things happen. Suffice to say, without the prejudice of “He’s no Piccard,” I’m finding just why so many people are smitten by Shatner.
For what it’s worth? My money (and new found respect) is on Bones. Prior to my Trek-Immersion therapy, all I knew of the man was “Damnit Jim, I’m not a (insert something), I’m a doctor!” In a single scene during Space Seed, I found a character so compelling, I’m kvelling a little. In Seed, Khan awakes, steals a scalpel, and bates Bones to his bedside. He grasps his neck (with a strength supposedly five times a normal man) and puts the knife to it. Bones, without a flustered yelp to his name, suggests to Khan he should either choke him or just slit his throat, making sure to point out he should tighten his gasp a bit or slit right behind the ear to make it quick. Bones has balls. Amazing.
But let’s all be real; Wrath of Khan is all about Khan. The character himself is a brilliant trope – he’s a conqueror out of time. Following his first appearance via Space Seed, Wrath plays brilliantly. The fantastic turn that Kirk has in allowing Khan a planet to rule, was fascinating. And to use that as the catapult for the movie – where the best intentions are ruined by careless happenstance, and terrible luck – breeds a villain that we can almost sympathize. Even in Seed, we get that air of mystery to the man. He’s a product of another age, superior physically and mentally… but he’s still fallible against a man three centuries ahead of him. And while Wrath of Khan did not allow for the titular terror to match his still-amazing pecs to Kirk’s greying temples, we’re still treated to what makes the Star Trek universe so appealing to me now: Stories are built around savory plots and moral ambiguity, not action sequences and special effects.
So, I am on the verge of a new thing. A respect, and genuine interest in something I truly was never before intrigued by. Something that allows me access to a new sub-culture to both explore and debate with. Something that might just make me boldly go where so many others have gone before. But what could be next? Doctor Who?
Not likely. But that my friends… is a topic for another week.
I think tomorrow I’ll call up Merriam-Webster and suggest a new word for their dictionary. That word? Geeklitism. (Not to be confused with Geekleetist, which posts fun stuff).
It should be in the dictionary, because it certainly is a thing that exists. But how would I suggest they define it? Damned if I know, although I guess the short version could be: “claiming you’re a ‘real geek’ and other people aren’t; claiming you’re the superior geek.” But really, the various aspects of both this attitude and of being a “geek” generally are so broad that I’m not sure they can be encompassed in a dictionary definition.
The reason for this, and the funny thing about “being a geek,” is that it’s a different experience for everyone. For instance, I’ve been a geek probably all of my life; but I don’t know that I ever really knew it until adulthood, when, thanks to the increased ease of finding like-minded people via the internet, it suddenly turned out it wasn’t such a bad thing to be. As far as I recall, no one called me a geek growing up. I had no idea I was part of this mysterious group of people called “geeks.”
“What??” I can hear a geeklitist out there crying out in triumph. “No one called you a geek? That must mean that you didn’t get bullied by the “cool kids” in school! Haha! You can’t understand the suffering and hardships that I went through in my formative years because of my love of stories about hobbits! You are not a real geek like me!” (This is the kind of thing geeklitists say, don’t you know. Sometimes they also add, “And all the girls made fun of me!! I’ve never gotten over that! My life was so hard!”)
But that’s not really what I said, is it? Of course I got picked on. Most kids do. For instance, when I was in first grade and all the cool kids in my new school had moved on to jeans or whatever was in fashion, my mom, bless her, still dressed me in cutesy pastel sweatsuits with big decorative (but pointless) buttons and bows on them. It follows that one of my first memories of my new school is three girls in my class making fun of my clothes on the playground – at which point I probably said something mean.
I was a well-read little child, who could creatively insult other children with words that none of us really knew the meaning of; but they sounded like insults, so it all worked out. For example, at some point in my primary school years, one of the biggest insults I remember using was, “You’re corroded!” (Which makes no sense under the real definition but sounds like maybe you have a gross skin condition?) My favorite of the weird words I personally transmogrified into an insult when young was “You’re a transubstantiationalist!” No one else had any idea what it meant, but I managed to convince the kids I was using it on that it was a really horrible thing to be. Mwahaha. But I digress. Anyway, at that point, we all got in a fight. Like a physical fight, of the kicking and punching and hair and decorative bow-pulling variety. Yowch.
“Whatever!” the geeklitist is saying. “That’s not what I meant. That’s just fashion. You were only a geek if you were ostracized because of your offbeat hobbies and/or love of genre fiction as a child! That’s what makes you a real geek like me.” Well, yes. I was that, too. I used to sit by myself at lunch and read giant books that were too “old” for me, like Clan of the Cave Bear and The Mists of Avalon, propped up in front of me as I ate with painful slowness (something else for which I was occasionally teased, but which turns out to be the healthy way to eat. Take that!). I’d walk down the school halls reading A Swiftly Tilting Planet or maybe The Deed of Paksenarrion without looking up (during which I developed a great sixth sense for not running into people while looking down, which is very handy these days when texting while walking to work).
I was definitely called weird, and often, annoying (because I used big words and talked a lot) more times than I can count. I engaged in some geek activities that probably would have been thought cool by at least the little boys in my class, like watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and X-Men cartoons, but I never realized that, because at that point in my life, boys had cooties. (Of course.) I’m not saying I didn’t have friends; I did, and they were a lot of fun. But I also got made fun of; and as far as I knew, most of my friends were not actually interested in The Lord of the Rings or Batman: The Animated Series. I don’t even know that I ever thought to ask most of them.(Or if I did, and received blank stares, I probably never brought it up again. This is why I’d never make a good Whedonvangelist, another word I’ve decided should be in the dictionary.)
Those were the sorts of things I often enjoyed alone, and didn’t really talk about that much, and that was fine. I knew (from others telling me, repeatedly) that I was a weird child, and I guess I just kind of assumed that was how life was and would continue to be for me – having some interests that nobody around me shared. Of course, that feeling of being alone in one’s interests is often cited as part of the experience of geekdom; and of course, in truth, lots of other people also had those interests; I just hadn’t discovered them yet. But I guess that’s all part of being a geek.
“Ahaha!” an entirely different brand of geeklitist is chortling. “But none of that matters! That’s just kid stuff! You’re not a real geek like me unless you can list, right this minute, in reverse alphabetical order, every superhero who turned out to be a Skrull during Secret Invasion! And until you can name at least three obscure continuity errors in [my favorite comics character’s] ongoing storyline! And unless you can tell me your three favorite fighting tactics for the video game character whose costume you are now wearing!” But, second brand of geeklitist…the water is wide, and the world is large, and I might like a different character than you do, or I might focus on something for different reasons than you do. Are you saying your viewpoint and favorite genre things and factoids are inherently better and geekier than mine, and are the only things that can bestow upon all of us admission into the uber-exclusive society of geekdom, just because they are yours? …Well, yes, yes you are, and that’s pretty self-centered. We can all be geeks in our own ways, with our own specific areas of interest and knowledge. Right?
“No no,” chides another, lone geeklitist, standing apart with one brow raised and pointing a finger at each of us in turn. “You will never, ever be a real geek, because you didn’t watch Firefly until it came out on DVD! You only like the newest Doctor Who! You never participated in the drive to keep Chuck on the air via purchasing mounds of Subway sandwiches. You’ll never be a real geek, not any of you, because (cue dramatic music and Iwo Jima flag-raising reenactment) I was here first, and I claim this geekdom in the name of Geekmoria! It’s mine, all miiiiine!!!!!”
…What? No, really, what? That’s just asinine.
“Well…maybe,” says the lone geeklitist doubtfully. “But I was here first.”
How do you know, lone geeklitist? Did you turn on your TV to a new show before anyone else in the entire world? Acquire an ARC of the first book in a now-beloved series? Hold in your excited hands the very first copy of the very first appearance of a comic book character? And even if you did…why does that give you any more claim to an appreciation of it than anyone else? Why does timing somehow make you more passionate about your geekdom than all the other geeks?
So, any other geeklitists out there want to make a stand about how they’re the real geeks? I just ask because I don’t like to exclude people, although I realize the irony of saying that to you, geeklitists.
I’m hearing a lot of silence out there. Guess I’ll just wrap this u–what? I’m sorry? What did you say?
A chorus of low, angry, guttural voices rises from the deep to repeat itself, as one last group of geeklitists has its say:
Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening, my ComicMixers! I hope you all had a merry Christmas, a sassy Chanukah, and grumpy Festivus if you were so inclined. So, with Father Time about to hit the retcon button on our daily calendars… I thought it would be apropos to reflect a bit on those amazing and terrible things that made my year. Please note: this isn’t ALL about comic books; you’ve been warned.
Because I like to start on a dour note… here’s The Worst!
5. Avengers Vs. X-Men Vs. My Sanity: Simply put, this stands up as yet-another-example of what makes me hate the mainstream comics business. No matter how many times they lather us up with “we’ve got the best talent on this”, “this will change everything”, and “you won’t believe what happens!”, they always end up the same. Bloated, predictable, and unending. Every Marvel event since the dawn of Brian Michael Bendis has finished up in deeper doo-doo than when they began. His boner for “shades of grey” is unnerving. We get it; making our favorite characters wail on one another is why we buy comics. But, hey… guess what? It isn’t. I’d much prefer a well thought out story that ends instead of a non-stop soap opera.
4. The 2012 Election: Not the result, mind you, but the unending nature of it all. For what felt like nearly the entire year, we were privy to 24 hours a day coverage of not only our POTUS but everyone vying for his seat. It brought out the worst in the candidates and the politically charged masses along for the ride. In the worst case, certain louder-than-usual politico-creators became so unnerving I was forced to hide them from my feeds. First world problems? You bet. But no less annoying on my life and times this year.
3. Wizard World Conventions: The movie definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. So Wizard World changes the guard on high. They attempt to make sweeping changes on the floors of their traveling circus, making D-List celebs the premier attraction. They continue to maintain the second highest per-show cost for visiting artists. In short? They continue to drive away the very thing that started them out so very long ago: comics and the people who make them. While my li’l studio always sells well at these abominations… rarely are we joined in celebration at the end of the cons. Hence, my finger of shame this year.
2. Green Lantern: Another finger of shame… a ring finger! Geoff Johns has taken Grant Morrison’s Five-Year Plan model and Michael Bay’ed it to death. As I’ve been forced to note several times this year, the continual event fatigue on the entire line –which shouldn’t even be a line – is too much to bear. And while the majority of 2012 was spent with Sinestro and his gal Friday Jordan traipsing around the universe righting wrongs… this Rise of the Third Army is the emerald icing on a sheet cake of excess. Too many McGuffins, too many predictable plots, and a brand-new Lantern who thus far is more a caricature of “not-a-terrorist” than a fleshed-out legacy ring-slinger. One I’ll happily predict will last in prominence half as long as the last not-ready-for-prime-time-player, Kyle “Costume Change” Rayner.
1. Comics News Coverage: Well it finally caught up to us too, didn’t it? CNN begat CNN, and from them spawned the 24-hour news cycle that has extended to comics. Between Newsarama, Bleeding Cool, Comic Book Resources, and others (hold your tongue for a second, please) all looking for an audience… We’re left scouring trash-bins and date books in order to report anything about our beloved industry. I waive the white flag. And now to those who think I hold this very site on the fire? Nay. ComicMix is about writers expressing their opinions, and that’s enough for me to remove us from said blaze. Simply put, the news is important, but the environment we’ve built to report and sustain it is sickening. Marvel, DC, and the like can’t sneeze without us finding out about it… and then creating a backlash over it before the press releases have hit an inbox. Enough is ‘nuff said.
And now… The Best:
5. The Dark Knight Rises: Three cheers for Christopher Nolan’s magnum opus. Yeah, I know… The Avengers was more fun. But it wasn’t close to TDKR’s level of sophistication. Neither movie was flawless, but Batman kept me on the edge of my seat pretty much the whole way through. The depiction of Bane was as good as it will ever be – menacing, big picture villainous thinking, and an actual brain amidst the brawn. But Bane wasn’t what made the movie. Bale’s Wayne was nuanced, angsty without being annoying, and above all else… visibly human. Nolan, in spite of Frank Miller and Grant Morrison showed that you don’t have to depict the God-Damned Batman to show the world a fantastic caped-crusader. Add in a brilliant turn for Selina Kyle, and it added up to one of my favorite flicks of the year. I would have put Django Unchained in this spot, but I haven’t seen it yet.
4. Marvel Now: If you read my reviews over at Michael Davis World (and I know you do…), then you’d know just how much I’m loving the House of Mouse these days. Fantastic Four / FF is proving thus far to balance the whimsy the series used to be known for with mature overtones. Iron Man, while nowhere near as good as Fraction’s run, is still entertaining. Superior Spider-Man has me legitimately interested in the wall-crawler again. Mike Gold has tried several times to recommend Captain America to me. My Unshaven Cohort is reading an X-Men book for the first time ever. And Avengers? Epic as I’d ever want it to be. Marvel looked at DC’s retcon-reboot-whatever, and opted instead to play it safe. Frankly, it’s proven to me that it was the right thing to do. Sales spikes or not. By choosing not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, Marvel is stealing me away one book at a time
3. The Baltimore Comic-Con: Unshaven Comics took the 13-hour drive to the East Coast, and boy howdy was it ever worth it. We sold an incredible amount of books. We rubbed elbows with industry giants at the Harvey Awards. We got to hand our book to Phil LaMarr. We had dinner with Mark Wheatley, Marc Hempel, Glenn Hauman, and Emily Whitten. And at that dinner? We had crab cakes as big as softballs. Frankly? It was a weekend of a lifetime. Such that we’ve already registered and purchased our table for 2013. It’s the most comic-book-centered convention we’ve been privy too. Charm City? Color me charmed.
2. Unshaven Comics’ Sales: Hate to get all self-promotional here, but screw it. Unshaven Comics had a simple goal. With no distribution, no investors, and nothing more than our blood-sweat-n-tears… we wanted to sell 1000 books over the course of a year. After attending a dozen shows, and doing our best work ever? We sold 1406. We made amazing connections, saw fans actually seek us out at shows, and gained over 300 Facebook fans without purchasing an ad or doing anything more than hustle. By hook or crook, we’re making the smallest impact known to man on the comic book industry. But I’ll be damned—it may actually be working. All it’s done is fuel our fire for 2013. 1,667 books moved next year will mean we see the shores of San Diego in 2014. Beards on.
1. Bennett Reed Fishman: Simply put, no other moment, comic book or otherwise, is worth a hill of beans in my world. On January 27th, 2012, I became a father. Ever since, every single thing I’ve done has been for the betterment of his life. Having been an ego-centered bearded ne’er-do-well for far too long, suddenly became moot. In his eyes and smile, the world around me means nothing. And when at 5:30 every day he stops whatever he’s doing, and smiles ear to ear when Batman: The Animated Series comes on? It tells me this kid is my kid. And my worldview is 100% different. Sorry, comics. You never stood a chance.
Happy New Year to all of you who read my articles week in and week out. May 2013 prove to be a safe, prosperous, and amazing year for you all.
The 1990s “X-Men” cartoon holds a special place in the hearts of many a fan, but that theme song– great the first 50 times, but if you’ve ever been at a comic convention next to a dealer that had the thing playing on a loop, you wanted to tear down their booth with your teeth after an hour.
Anyway, the team of Kyle Roberts, Nathan Pope, Zach Zellar and Colin Nance have created their own take on the famous opening. Take a look:
We used to be the bastard child of our American culture.
We were embarrassed by our public image. As we aged, we demanded our pastime mature along with us. We started to infiltrate the means of production, bringing our all-important ideas and ideals along with us. After all, the comics field skipped a generation – few could enter a business that, in the 1950s, was rapidly shrinking. Besides, the Reader’s Digest and the Saturday Evening Post were painting comic book writers and artists as child pornographers. Better to write for the torrid magazines where buff, all-American manly men were saving all-American buxom brunettes from Uncle Joe Stalin and his legion of rodent-faced S & M fanatics, leaving the comics door open for those starry-eyed youngsters who knew no better.
Nature abhors a vacuum, and publishers facing diminished profits understood that our generation worked for a lot less money than the cranky old geezers who wanted to unionize. This same generation was also entering the rest of the public media. Together, we took pleasure in the modern media adaptations of our favorite characters because at least they took our childhoods seriously.
Then we got legitimate. It’s all Richard Donner’s fault. He made Superman – The Movie, the first massive attempt to portray the American comics medium as a serious, legitimate part of our cultural heritage. It was as successful as it was straight-forward, well-produced, well-acted, and well-written. Heroic fantasy took hold of a greater percentage our culture and hasn’t let go.
Comics were taken seriously. The stuff was taught in colleges and in art schools. A decade later Batman came out, upping the ante all the more. Then the Spider-Man movies, the X-Men, the Avengers Universe… Our pastime was generating more revenue in theaters and on television in two years than it had on the newsstands in the previous fifty combined.
And then the people who owned the movie studios that always offered style over substance – style über alles – began to understand there was money to be made in them thar hills. Talent was discounted as necessarily expensive bait. Warner Bros. realized they actually owned a major comic book company, a fact that was purposely kept mostly hidden from them for decades by that very comic book company. Disney understood that the House of Mouse lacked a relevance to the 21st Century audience and their subsequent creations, as popular as they were, weren’t the cultural icons that were found at the House of Ideas. So the Mouse bought them.
And now, more than ever, its employees are being treated as cogs in these massive corporate machines. They need to be oiled and dusted and maintained for a while, but you can replace any or all of the cogs without damaging the icons, without diminishing the shine on the family jewels.
And so we grieve and we fret each time another massively talented creator gets replaced. But that’s how it works in the legit world.
The notion is simple and appealing. The more the merrier. When DC launched “The Justice Society of America” back in 1940, the ideology was clear. Put more heroes into the book, and children would be more likely to buy it. And the children flocked to it for 57 issues. The rest, they say, is history. Lately, team books have been on my mind. What better way for a company to showcase many of their stars in a single place? And better than that? Where better to shove barely loved tertiary characters for the sake of filling a roster!
But with this notion comes obvious shortcomings, the biggest of which is what I plan on pissing and moaning about for a few paragraphs. Simply put? There’s too many teams, and too many shifts in the rosters for team books to be more than big distractions… and it’s starting to get under my skin.
So let’s start at the top. Too. Many. Teams. In a few months time, we’ll be privy to three Justice Leagues (and one alternate Earth Society), four (or more, it’s hard to say) Avengers teams, five X-Teams, Team Seven, Teen Titans, The Ravagers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and a new batch of Thunderbolts. How does a fan even begin? The problem is clear to me. While the appeal of jamming every available hero into a team is palpable for the sheer marketing of it all… all it’s doing is lowering the property values neighborhood wide.
One thing about team books is that they are truly hard to pull off well. Solo adventure books have a freedom to explore and expound. The plots can expand lengths of time, and space, or be confined to a single room and altercation. In team books, the ease with which one can be lazy is palpable. It’s simply par for the course to check in on all the pieces of your puzzle… advance the villains scheme a half step… rinse and repeat until the climax. Bring together the whole team. The McGuffin is found / the super-move is unleashed / the villain makes a crucial mistake. The day is won. Then end with some witty banter, make a few people kiss, and call it a day. I know I’m making sweeping and irrational generalizations here… but as I looked over the last batch of team-based books I’d read? This is exactly what they boiled down to. It’s also why the mainstay of my pull list are solo-outings, and indie books.
Let’s be clear, there have been (and will certainly continue to be) great assembling of teams. Joss Whedon, long before his box-office behemoth days, penned the single greatest X-Book I’ve ever been privy to. His Astonishing X-Men was layered, nuanced, and so beautifully written that it made me believe I could like the X-Men.
And I tried. One arc post-Whedon and I was back out. Why? Because of this modern mentality of the ever-changing team. It’s not enough that both the Big Boys churn out dozens of teams, but now each of those teams changes membership like I change ironic tee-shirts. I recall, in the late eighties, Marvel used to put the heads of the team members in the upper right corner… so you could tell the teams apart. Nowadays, they might as well link to the Wikipedia page of the comic on the inside front cover. Maybe they could text you mid-issue as the team roster changes.
What happens when you continually shift a team based on the needs of your arc, as a writer, I believe it shows your hand. Like the always-entertaining Justice League Unlimited cartoon where the League expanded to such depth that each episode could only follow a handful of heroes (something Jonathan Hickman is obviously turned on by), the team was obviously selected for very specific moments. It lessoned the impact when it came down to brass-tacks. And when a new writer picks up a team book and gets free reign to recruit, it’s becomes painfully obvious where the book will head. Whedon stuck to a core group of five muties, and only added one additional when it made complete sense to the narrative he was exploring. By limiting his team across four volumes of stories, he was able to truly explore the dynamics across the board, and present a total package. It was a time where in fact, the book was better because of the sum of its parts. This is in direct opposition today, where the Justice League, X-Men, and Avengers titles play Russian roulette with their ranks every six issues.
In essence, when you change the guard, you give away the ending. After the first arc of Astonishing, all the cards had been played, so-to-speak. By sticking to that roster? Whedon showed (like in the best ensemble sit-coms) the pudding is in the cracks. It’s not enough to use, abuse, and move on. When you’re stuck with one cast, you’re forced to explore relationships. When you can change stars on the fly? You’re telegraphing everything you plan on doing. And if you dare not use one of those shiny new toys from off the shelf? You’ve angered the fans who signed up in the first place. I can’t wait for my best friend to curse the heavens when Darkhawk is wasted in the upcoming Avengers: The Hunger Games in a few months. But I digress…
Is it too bold to ask for a great disbanding? Would sales truly plummet if Vibe doesn’t get to be in a book? And would Marvel simply cease to profit if Wolverine had only a solo title and a single X-Book? I tend to believe that in the world of team fiction… less is always more. Grant Morrison’s Justice League followed the Magnificent Seven ideology and lasted damn near four years. Try keeping the same smattering of supes for that long today and people might just get antsy. But then again, neither Marvel or DC will be happy to maintain a status quo for four months, let alone four years. Call me cranky, but the seams are starting to unravel a bit. It took five feeder movies to assemble a team worth two billion dollars.
Perhaps the powers-that-be should get the hint. A championship team takes time to build. Keeping them together is what makes a dynasty.