So, one fallacy at the heart of corporate comics publishing is the belief that above all things, it’s the trademark that makes the sale. If Amazing Spider-Man starts selling well due to a change in the creative team, its nothing to do with that creative team, there must just be a random spark of interest in Spidey, and the best way to capitalise on this is to produce spin-off mini-series and one shots. Also not featuring any work by the creative team who get the book going up in sales in the first place, mind.
As any of you paying attention over the last couple of decades may have noticed, this never, ever works. Batman will always sell a certain amount, but stick Jim Lee & Jeph Loeb on the book and watch those pre-orders quadruple. Ditto Morrison & Quitely on New X-Men, JMS & John Romita Jr on Amazing Spider-Man. You get the idea.
Then watch as somebody in corporate decides that they know best what sells the book. They start pissing in the water bottle to make it taste better or worse, find someone who isn’t good on the same wavelength to start emulating the superficial aspects of the popular thing. Watchmen, to the low-minded, is a comic with nine panel grid pages featuring graphic, brutal violence and super-heroes having problems in real life, so Green Lantern gets a DUI and starts beating up homophobes with his magic power ring to copy that. League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, using that theory, is a comic that people enjoy because there’s a lot of what Will Elder called ‘Chicken Fat’ background detail.
Readers feel a bit better about themselves with LoeG because there’s a lot of in-jokes and references to be found if you examine the panels, and we all pat ourselves on the back when we recognise Steptoe & Son or Tharg, so Edge Of Spider-Verse is built around fangasming when we spot Spider-Prime in the background. Only the surface ideas are taken, under the mistaken belief that those elements are what’s appealing to the public. So it doesn’t matter if Grant Morrison leaves New X-Men for whatever reasons, because you can throw around the words ‘Quantum Physics’ a bit, continue the love affair between Scott & Emma, get in someone who draws a bit like Frank Quitely and even bring back Xorn as the readers liked him. J. H. Williams III leaves Batwoman over DC’s decision to remove the lesbian wedding angle at the 11th hour, but hire someone sympathetic to gay matters to write the book and an artist who can ‘do’ a Williams III riff if you squint a bit and the machine continues to produce the sausages.
‘Its the trademark, not the creator.’
Which brings us to what I’ve come to call ‘Pogo Larsen Syndrome’. A situation where neither side can look particularly good.
For younger readers, Pogo was a very beloved cartoon by Walt Kelly which started life in 1941 as a strip for Dell’s Animal Comics. It was a beautiful mish-mash of word play and political satire. The middle ground between George Herriman’s Krazy Kat and Berke Breathed’s Bloom County, if you like. Probably (sadly) most famous with comic fans today as being parodied in issue 32 of Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing, (A story drawn by Shawn McManus simply titled ‘Pog’.) but at the time of publication, Pogo was huge. A quality cartoon strip running in over 500 newspapers across the world that was also part of the political conversation of the day. In a better world, Kelly’s writing would have seen him ranked alongside Mark Twain or Jonathan Swift as a top-notch satirist.
But then time happened, and on October 18, 1973, Walt Kelly passed away. There’s more to this story, but the long and short of it is that the Kelly Family and associates continued to produce the strip under the title ‘Walt Kelly’s Pogo’.
To be blunt, it was not received with the same love. I have friends in this business who start to get angry at the mere mention of the non Walt Pogo strips. It looked the same, some of Walt’s inflections had been recreated, but without Kelly’s constant innovation and ability to react to the news as it happened, it was little more than a museum piece rather than a vital part of the global conversation and the true heir was and remains, to me at least, Berke Breathed’s Bloom County. Which proves to me that you can put a hose on a dog’s nose, but it still ain’t an elephant.
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s a fan reaction that I can only, rather unfairly. call ‘Larsen Syndrome’ . Erik Larsen is the writer and artist of The Savage Dragon, an Image book I love because of the love of comics that exudes from every issue Larsen creates. Larsen is also the only original member of the Image Seven to simply get on with creating his own comic and see it through without jumping onto other projects or starting a toy line. He just wanted to create an ongoing Savage Dragon comic and issue 206 ships in May, making him the only real contender to Dave Sim’s record set for most issues of a comic created by one person published independently on a monthly basis. (Cerebus finished on issue 300. ) Also, he drew an awesome Venom. And that’s important to me.
But Man, did Erik get a couple of unfortunate gigs in the 90s.
First, through burn out and having a million guest stars thrown at him on a bi-weekly schedule, Todd McFarlane, maybe one of the five most popular and influential artists to draw Amazing Spider-Man, quit drawing Amazing Spider-Man. Marvel teased Todd was up to something else but as far as Marvel fans were concerned, the sheer outrage of Colleen Doran infusing her fill-in on ASM with Ultra Girliness and THEN Marvel failing to find a way to chain Todd The God to the drawing desk of Spidey forever more. SOME poor sucker was going to be the whipping boy for these awful sins.
Enter: New Amazing Spider-Man artist Erik Larsen, who was vilified in the Fan Press at the time for simply….not being Todd McFarlane. Nothing wrong with his anatomy, his composition, his perspective, he just wasn’t Todd The God. I think the readership only really forgave him for his NotToddness when Marvel announced they were publishing a new, adjective-less Spider-Man drawn (YAAAY!!!) and written (Um….Okay?) by Todd McFarlane. Which Todd stayed on for 15 issues. And then left. To be replaced by…..Oh, you can work it out….
Now, neither state of mind is very objective. It’s obviously massively cynical (and usually a mistake.) for any publisher to think they can replace the talent who create the content that makes the book connect with the fans with anyone who can ape their style and get the same results. On the other hand, the fandom hatred of anything involving change can be so short-sighted as to be staggering, whether it be the almost feral reaction to the idea that Thor could be a woman, Bill Sienkiewicz’s experimenting with various art styles on the pages of Moon Knight or New Mutants and being drubbed in the pages of Comic Buyers Guide for it, Grant Morrison being ‘All weird and pretentious on “Doom Patrol” and I don’t get it so its bad.’, the ‘How Dare Peter Parker Not Be Spider-Man!’mob, the downright hilarious reaction to Milligan & Allred’s run on X-Force (common decency prevents me from taking photographs of the letters pages of those books, but they’re up there with the infamous ‘Man Of Action’ letter from Punisher 19 for sheer ‘Written With A Crayon Using Feet’ rage .) or any other number of things that turned out to be a good idea despite the crowing of people who hadn’t actually read all of the comics so didn’t really have an informed opinion to offer yet.
Which brings us, finally to All-New Hawkeye 1 and Howard The Duck 1
There’s no way of saying this that isn’t going to sound bitter, as the previous volume of Hawkeye was one of my favourite Marvel comics of the last decade but All New Hawkeye 1 is out on the shelves way, way too soon. Aja & Fraction’s run hasn’t actually finished yet at time of my writing this, so there’s no way of not comparing the two series. I totally understand that Hawkeye is now a commodity due to the character’s newfound popularity and Marvel must be wanting to get a regular dose of Clint action out there, but a wiser choice of action might have been to have him pop in a series of cameos across various books for a few months to slowly build up the anticipation for ANH 1, which could probably have waited until after the dust settles with Secret Wars before publication.
In this debut issue, we catch up with Clint and Katie, attacking a Hydra outpost in modern times juxtaposed with memories of Clint’s childhood in a flashback sequence telling us a bit more about what motivated Clint to run off to the circus in the first place
As it stands…All New Hawkeye is…okay. Its alright. There are some nice touches, like the painted artwork used for Clint’s flashback sequences, and the modern stuff looks enough like Aja’s art on a superficial level that it won’t be too jarring for people who wanted more of the same but on a more regular schedule. Some panels seem designed with the hope of being reposted on Tumblr as an exercise in coolness rather than reading as part of a flowing story. For me, though, I’m with Gil Kane, the good is the enemy of the better, and the last thing my house and budget need is to start on one more competently produced super-hero comic. I’ll hold out hope that it develops its own unique style, voice and direction as it starts to dig its own path away from satisfying the readers who just wanted something that looked like Fraction & Aja’s book on a more frequent basis.
And then there’s Chip Zdarsky and Joe Quinones on Howard The Duck.
Okay, I’ll be straight with you. In my head, anyone who isn’t Steve Gerber writing Howard The Duck is tantamount to comics blasphemy to me. Like anyone else doing Calvin & Hobbes, or Gavin Rossdale fronting Nirvana, or The Manic Street Preachers replacing Richey Edwards with Shane Richie. It could be done, sure, but the levels of karmic damage such a thing incur would have set me off like the Westboro Baptist Church at Boy George’s funeral.
But then I saw Chip Zdarsky was writing it, and that stopped me in my tracks. I have a total crush on Chip, or his online persona at least. His ongoing romance with Appleby’s, the contribution to the letters page of my beloved Sex Criminals and his comic ‘Prison Funnies‘ gave me pause to think.
I decided, rather than going full on mental about it, to that the adventures of Chip’s Howard were actually the further adventures of the clone released into the Marvel Universe from Savage Dragon/Destroyer Duck 1. That way, Gerber’s legacy would remain untarnished and a whole new bunch of fun could be garnered as long as nobody tried to contradict what Gerber had said since he’s not around to argue back anymore.
So, with that in mind, I popped it open and…..
Its actually properly funny. The story concerns Clo-Ward, as I’m dubbing him, taking on a case in his ‘job’ as a private detective to retrieve some stolen jewellery and running afowl of some of Marvel’s best and brightest (I’m not going to spoil the full cast, but I will say Chip writes the funniest Spider-Man since Rick Remender’s take on the wall crawler over on my favourite crossover event ever, Axis.) There’s an obvious question raised in the first issue that I can’t wait to see the resolution to, a script chock-loaded with brilliant gags, a ton of respectful nods to the history of the title, some beautiful art by Joe Quinones whose perfect grasp of design and body language feed back into the story, a new companion and a full mark out cliff-hanger setting up a concept everybody would have wanted if only they’d thought of it.
What makes a Howard The Duck 1 as revolutionary in 2015 as it was in 1976 is that Chip (I keep using his first name as if I know him, but the truth is my spellcheck is throwing up at his surname. Which is fair enough. It took me 6 years to teach it ‘Skrull’.) isn’t letting the shadow of Gerber’s work influence what he writes here. The character works in context of the story being written, rather than a preconception dragging HTD into being a period piece. This isn’t a karaoke misanthropy act but a Duck angry at the world WE live in, now. That’s worth far more than maybe Marvel realises, and I hope when Chip Z (hmm, got away with that one without the dreaded red underscore of Doom.) has said what he has to say with Howard, the book isn’t assimilated into Interchangeable Marvel Output Quota For March Fulfilled ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ….
Truly, Howard The Duck 1 by Chip & Joe is the Fifty Shades Of Grey to the Twilight that was Steve Gerber’s Howard The Duck 1.
(Thanks to John Lees for being another comics fan who doesn’t go to bed at any reasonable hour and provided feedback and suggestions on this review. The 1st collection of his series ‘And Then Emily Was Gone’, drawn by the astonishing Iain Laurie is out now to buy on amazon.com or if you can’t wait to read what I called one of the best books of 2014, pick it up on comixology now.)
If it were up to me, Peter Parker would stay dead.
Same for Jean Grey, Damian Wayne and Professor X. I would have left Johnny Storm in the grave, Along with Janet Van Dyne, Captain Marvel, Steve Rogers, Norman Osborn, Elektra, Thor, Bruce Wayne. Clint Barton is the exception that breaks the rule.
I’ll go one further. The next issue of Batwoman would open with Kathy Kane telling Mr Bones that she was done with the whole gig and going off to get married, with Bones then finding some other lady to become Batwoman until some point where DC could find a way to create a Batwoman comic that J.H. Williams III was happy with working on. That issue of New Avengers where Tony Stark sat down with Nov-Harr and gave him a very stern lecture on how to behave now that Grant Morrison wasn’t writing him anymore? Nov-Ahh would have kicked Iron Man up the arse, shouting ‘I’M NOT TAKING LIFE ADVICE FROM DRUNKS WHO THROW THEIR MATES INTO THE NEGATIVE ZONE, YOU TOM SELLECK LOOKING TWAT!’ and then stayed there until either Grant or maybe Brendan McCarthy decided to start writing him again.
In fact, while I have no desire to write comics at all, I do have an idea for a cross company crossover pitch which would read roughly like ‘Fred Hembeck Kills The Marvel Universe.’ (perhaps drawn by Nathan Fox or Eric Powell.) in which Deadpool and Harley Quinn would wander through time, popping up just as any of the above characters were coming back to life and promptly shooting them in the head. And then dismembering them. And then burning each limb. On Earths Two, Three , Shazam and Prime.
There’s a cardinal sin in the world of Sports Entertainment Wrestling, known as the ‘No-Sell’. Most wrestling matches (and superhero comic crossovers, for that matter.) work on this formula: Good Guy (Face) shows off how cool he is and gets some of his popular moves in. At some point, the bad guy (Heel) gets in some kind of sneaky attack, and gets the advantage in. The Heel spends a considerable amount of time beating on the Face until the Face until the Good Guy can rally it together and launch a comeback. The Face and Heel exchange their more dangerous moves until finally, against the odds, The Face pulls it out of the bag, executes their winning combination and the crowd goes nuts. It’s a winning formula that has made Hulk Hogan an international star. It’s the process you’ll get every time you watch The Undertaker defend his unbeaten streak at Wrestlemania. Which is one of the main attractions to Wrestlemania now.
The thing is, for that story to work, The Heel HAS to look dangerous. He has to look like his offense is hurting our hero to a point where..actually, he might not win. This could be the night we see Hogan…lose? That’s why the No-Sell is such a terrible thing. We’re well aware that what we’re seeing is pre-orchestrated in terms of what the finish will be, and rarely will you see something onstage that hasn’t been discussed 1st but the selling of the Heel’s offense is what creates the suspension of disbelief. To No-Sell is shrug off your opponent’s offense as ineffectual, Current WWE Champion John Cena is particularly bad for this, with a career of no-selling that includes particularly ‘You…just don’t GET it, do you?’ moments as being driven face 1st into a concrete floor and then taking out THREE wrestlers within minutes or being lamped with a leadpipe and shrugging off what ought to be a career threatening assault to prance his way to another win. Cena is the most polarising Top End WWE star ever, and I suspect a degree of that dislike he draws from the fans is the instinctive knowledge that he is shattering the illusion with each match. Not in a clever, Fourth Wall bending way, but just out of sheer ignorance of the craft.
Funnily enough, you know what John’s nickname is with people who don’t like him? Super-Cena.
LOLZ NEVZ, WTF? What does wrestling psychology have to with superhero comics?
Glad you asked.
I was trying to work out why I’m quite so opposed to crossover event comics, beyond the cynical decompressed story-telling that requires too many comics to tell not enough story (And really, if I never have to see Tony Stark make a speech about anything ever again, that would be good. In fact, I wish Wanda’s last act had been to say ‘No. More. Speeches.) and what I concluded is a couple of things:
Following my metaphor, Death ought to be the most dangerous offensive move in comics. The Kimura Armbreaker slowly, painfully grinding the hope and fight of our hero before they pass out and that horrible, final ‘CRACK!’ rings out, telling us that whatever we hoped would take place, it’s over. Special funeral mini-series. Sound off the Ten Bell salute, Monologues about only having seen them a week ago, etc. Every crossover for the last decade has purported that our heroes will face The Ultimate Kimura Armbreaker this time, and everything before that has been a build-up.
Except, and here’s what I think my problem is, Death is no danger whatsoever. How many of the people populating the ‘Okay, this is The MacGuffin Of Doom, it’s coming to Earth, and we have to deal with it…Or Die Trying.’ have already died? Older readers may be aware of the joke where people would watch the opening credits of Dad’s Army and point out how many members of the cast had passed on. The opening act of most comics events is the reverse of that. And I don’t understand how I’m meant to suspend my disbelief that The Earth, The Multiverse, The Time-Space Continuum, Clapham South can be in any danger when the heroes treat Death like a particularly efficient revolving door. The Avengers should rename themselves The Kamikaze Warriors.
Let’s be honest, when you heard Wanda and Rogue snuffed it in Uncanny Avengers, did you believe it? Deep down, did you honestly think ‘Wow. Marvel will never, ever publish a comic featuring The Scarlet Witch again.’? I bet you didn’t, really. You may well have been pissed off that the only two women in the team had snuffed it, but never for a second did you think ‘They’re done.’ You probably thought ‘How are they going to bring them back?’
If I don’t believe there’s any danger to the Hero, why should I care what the Big Bad’s plan of Doooooom is?
Here’s the 2nd thing:
Most resurrections tend to be a bit….well, I can’t think of a nice way to say this, but..cheap.
One of the best things DC has done is to totally leave James Robinson’s Starman stories alone, unless James himself is writing them. The Starman saga remains, for me, the best superhero story that they’ve published in a very long time. It’s the story of Maturing, really, via a huge backdrop of a city, incorporating James’s obvious love of DC history whilst never making people unfamiliar with it feel like they should have read All-Star Squadron 36 to fully understand what’s going on. It ends very definitely, but the story is rich enough that more opportunistic editors could have piecemealed out various mini-series and such to lesser creators and sold them on the back of the Starman brand. James knew the deal going in that he wouldn’t own or have any say in what happened to Jack Knight and I open each issue of Previews with a dread that The Mist has joined The Ravagers or something.
That’s an example of a creative type pouring their heart and soul into creating a character and world that is rich, fitting within the framework of what’s been defined, and selling enough to sustain itself, and a publisher having the option to exploit the brand for short-term gain but choosing not to employ it. It’s an ideal situation.
And then there’s Elektra.
While I’m quite happy that there will be an ongoing Elektra comic next year, just because I believe one more female lead mainstream comic book that’s both well-done and has top talent that could lead to it selling well (Which is still entirely up to you, by the way, dear reader. If it doesn’t sell, it’s not because Marvel didn’t publish it nor us retailers didn’t order it, but because you didn’t buy it. Bear that in mind before composing tweets of outrage.) , the thing is…
Carrying on the Sports Entertainment analogy, Resurrection in Comics is what would be called ‘A Cheap Pop’. Someone like Mick Foley would come out to interrupt the Heel and cut off their monologue to say something like ‘And I don’t think you’ve taken into account the good people…RIGHT HERE, AT BLEEDING COOL!’ For some reason, people really like it when you mention the name of the town you’re in. I’ve never understood it myself, but nonetheless, it’s a tried and tested formula for getting people on your side.
In Comics terms, those final few pages where the tomb opens, or the monologue from the Big Bad reveals that it’s been The Red Skull or The Winter Soldier or Johnny Storm all along are a Cheap Pop. Everyone gets excited in a ‘OMIGOD! BUT HOW?’ way. Then there’s the explanation of exactly how Steve ran through Time or that The Green Goblin had been hanging about in ‘Europe’ or whatever. But then…what?
Has there ever been a comic published featuring any resurrected character that had any of the emotional impact or in-depth characterisation that made their death so powerful in the 1st place? Is there anything Elektra has done since her return that any number of scowling dark-haired Marvel Ladies With Knives couldn’t have done, considering no one has touched on her personality beyond ‘Being Quite Good At Stabbing People Quietly.? Ultimately, what I’m asking is…was it worth it? Maybe someone will produce a comic with the imagination, scope, range, subtext and morality of Elektra: Assassin featuring someone who had been dead, but as it stands, could every appearance of Elektra since ‘Fall from Grace’ been replaced with Psylocke or Lady Deathstrike or such?
What i think I’m saying is, while it is legal for Marvel or DC to say ‘Well, Frank Miller created Elektra as part of the Daredevil story, which we own.’ or, more recently DC to say ‘We are more interested in our perception of Batwoman than J.H. Williams III’s vision.’, I think it’s been proved, historically that certain characters are clearly driven by the people who work on them, flesh them out, give them life, and they might not be the action figures that can be theoretically be passed around to any freelancer kicking about for a gig and get the same results, creatively. This is my nice way of saying I think Batwoman will be cancelled within a year because J.H. Williams III isn’t working on it.
So Problem A: The lack of consequence of Death has obliterated any suspension of disbelief that’s required to properly invest in The Big Crossover Events
B) Most resurrections haven’t been worth the effort as they’re generally not done by the person who created the character and after the initial ‘WTF!’ Buzz moment. Within a year of their return, they might as well have not died, meaning the whole signifiance of their death was a total waste of time.
Here’s a possible solution:
New standing rule: If you’re going to kill someone, the publisher isn’t allowed to use them in any form for say, 20 years real time with the person most responsible for their current state of popularity being consulted on how and if they should be brought back. So if Hawkeye dies, Matt Fraction is asked what he thinks about the resurrection. Deadpool? Joe Kelly. No toys, no movies, no Elseworlds style minis. (One of the things that totally took away from the impact of Batman’s death a few years back was seeing him alive and well in the Kevin Smith minis, Batman Confidential, etc. I can’t miss you if you haven’t gone away. ) That character is retired for anything that would create revenue from their appearance. Obviously, there’d be some leeway for someone writing a World War 2 story if Cap had died or suchlike, but if I knew coming in that the rule was in place and Darkseid twatted Dick Grayson in the 1st chapter, that would give me pause to think, given how much money is tied up in the brand of Nightwing. Because as it stands, I’m all too familiar with ‘Last Act, Heroes appear to win. Final MacGuffin kills a Hero. Fall out One-Shot/Mini-Series dealing with Death. Period Of Time passes. Character returns in expensive comics.’ I understand what you’re selling, and I’m not buying it.
I’m really not buying it.
So, it’s an idea. Am I wrong? Come argue with me on Twitter. I’ve seen the message boards and I don’t think I’ve had enough inoculations to survive extended periods in that swamp.