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Musings by an Elder Statesman of Geekery, including such topics as, but not limited to: Comic Books, Captain Action, Toys of the 1960's and 1970's, Vintage Action Figures, Famous Monsters of Filmland, Fantasy and Sci-Fi TV, Horror Films, Universal Monsters, Classic Movies, Film Noir, B-Movies, Mystery Science Theater 3000, Public Libraries, RPGs, Superheroes, Saturday Morning Cartoons, Dr. Who, and the History of Southern Illinois.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Part 2: DC & Marvel Stop Before You Kill Again

Continuing from last post...

I used the 'V for Vendetta' image to begin the last posting because it's the film vision of a comic book series far afield from the pap generally being churned out by either of the Big Two at the moment.  Oh, 'V' is very dark, and it is very bloody.  But it is also very well-written despite all that.  If in no other manner, the current comics mentioned above and Moore's opus go their separate ways in that distinction.  Also, in the speech given, V says, '...and the truth is, there is something very wrong with this country.' 

The truth is, there is something very wrong with today's comic medium as represented by the Big 2.  Killing another Robin is part of that wrongness. 

But how can it be fixed?

Maybe it can't, not by the Big 2.  But having been a loyal reader of both for many years and as one who loves the enjoyable books they have produced, I feel compelled to start there. 

1.  When the going gets tough, the tough do not automatically re-boot.  Can they?  Surely.  Should they?  Likely not.  It took a long time for DC to need a Crisis on Infinite Earths to work through their continuity snarls.  Some say they did not need it then.  Just sayin', there are other options. 

2.  Which leads to 2., Stop Crossing Over Titles Company-Wide for the Sake of Creating 'Events'.  Because many of the problems in mainstream comics seem heightened by theses Events, with not the least being the need to kill copious characters to make a lackluster storyline even marginally Event-worthy.  It's a lazy way to 'shake things up'.  It's a lazy way to try to make a lot of cash, quick.  It inflicts itself on series runs that are not catering to the Ugliness mentioned last post, and impedes what may otherwise be a smooth and crafted story flow by forcing editors and writers who are getting it right to hold everything just so the Big Story of the Moment can be furthered.  Catching magic in a bottle that a good series, helmed in the right way, can do should not be mucked with.  And too many recent 'Events', even if popular with some readers, have pissed off a far greater number of avid, casual, new and old readers alike because they logjam or end good offerings.  And also because most recent Events have been painfully, unforgivably BAD.   If DC and Marvel truly want to build a solid support base of fans eager for new and ongoing series, they need to concentrate on -that- to build revenue.  Not a flash-in-the pan Event to boost momentary sales at the cost of future investments, monetary and emotional, by their customers. 

3.  Avoid the rush; act as if the company is ready to close it's doors tomorrow and let your writers & artists proceeds as if they have nothing to lose.  Defeatist?  Maybe.  But there is power in throwaways.  Ask Stan Lee.  Spider-Man was filler for a book destined for cancellation.  He took an approach he never would have for a character in an ongoing title because he felt free to do so.  Let your creative people have that kind of freedom and rein in your editors to get out of their way.

4.  Reject out of hand anything that clearly has as its foundation epics written by Moore, Miller, Waid, etc.  Making Captain Atom into Dr. Manhattan isn't clever or creative, no matter how much you love 'Watchmen'.  Stop trying to wedge the grim-n-gritty of a Limited Series like 'Kingdom Come' or 'Dark Knight Returns' into regular continuity.  Yes, they are great.  Leave them to their greatness and be original.  'New Frontier' was great, and less brooding than many such limited series...but you don't see people trying to expand on that in regular continuity.  Give the others a rest, too.

5.  If you must, prepare material as if appealing to a movie audience.  At first this sounds like appealing to the lowest comic denominator maybe.  But isn't it odd that, with the exception of the 'Dark Knight' films, the runaway movie successes (most recently by Marvel) hearken to less dark (though no less adult-focused), more creative and more positive themes?  Can the vast horde of consumers who made 'The Avengers' film number one at the box office be a bad demographic to shoot for just because they liked seeing conflicted heroes putting aside their differences to overcome a global threat?  There's a reason the 'Death of Supeman' film never came about...it was not in the vein most casual comics people could warm up to.  Yes, some comics fans will sneer, as they are more advanced in their tastes than what is found in this kind of material.  Produce less mainstream fare for them, too.  Set a feast that hasn't been seen in comics for far too long outside of independent release venues:  funny books, kid's books, combat books, crime books, superhero books, monster books, supernatural books.  Slade Grayson's mention of a proposed mini-series for Marvel, one that was summarily pooh-pahed, about Dame Agatha Harkness set in the roaring 1920's is just the sort of gamble that could pay off big.  Again, it's a gamble...the company could lose money.  But if things continue as they are, they'll lose money anyway.  If I held the keys to the kingdoms, I'd be happy to lock the doors, out of business, while still putting out quality, medium-expanding comics and not drivel that executives forced me to publish. 

If some kind of change does not happen, we as readers will be stuck with the current state of affairs, and worse.  Or, as my friend Mike Curry put it...and I hope he will not mind my using his meme...hang on for more of this:

Mike also reminded me recently that death in comics should not be avoided always.  This is very true.  The crafted and careful story in which a character (mainly thinking heroic characters here) dies can be very moving and very powerful.  Company wide crossovers with 'IN THIS ISSUE!  A TEAM MEMBER DIES!!!' trumpeted on the cover or through all manner of social media is not the same critter.  Captain Marvel's death under the guidance of Jim Starlin was touching, moving...epic.  Tim Drake's death as Robin had impact and consequences that echoed through the DC Universe even though how it all came about and was executed might not have been ideal.  Thunderbird's death in the fledgling pages of the New X-Men, not so much.  Hippolyta's unseemly death in World War over at DC, a travesty and possibly the worst example ever of the odious Crossover Event Fatality to make a sale.  Sue Dibny's death in 'Infinite Crisis'...words fail me at how anything so distasteful and unappealing ever made it past a quickly-shouted down comment in a writer bullpen session. 

Lastly on how to make things better, just a side note:  IF YOU KILL A CHARACTER IN THE RIGHT WAY, FOR THE RIGHT REASONS, LET THAT DEATH STAND AS FINAL.  Have the guts not to bring Barry Allen back.  Don't write some excellent stories about how everyone is impacted by the death of Tim Drake only to return him and make a new character in him as The Red Hood.  The clutter will be enormous and you'll need another Crisis to pare things down again.  Don't go there. 

Some will say that these things can't be done.  They're wrong.  These things can be done with various degrees of self-restraint and difficulty.  They probably won't be, but they could.  As for what I, personally, would like to see comics become again?  I've given it quite a bit of thought since starting this, and recollections have not travelled back into the misty past very far, actually.  It morphed into this:  What pitch could be made for a comic book that, if written and illustrated well, I would enjoy reading today.  The short answer was, 'I want to feel the wonder and anticipation this cover inspired':

New Gods.  Old Marvels.  JSAers.  New takes on established characters.  Charlton's finest.  All together for the first time!  This made me feel young again, even if the stories were a bit too slapstick as the series continued.  Give me that kind of wide-open canvas for the imagination again.  So here's what I'd try, if I held those golden keys to the DC kingdom.

First, unwritten rules to the writer and artist who embraced this project:  You get a minimum of 12 issues to start with.  No cancellation.  No firings.  No distracting crossovers.  Second, during that time, no hero dies.  Suffers, sure...meets harm, without question.  Is unsure of the final outcome, to be certain.  But everyone makes it back, if the worse for wear.  Third, present JLA #47 'Queen of Fables' as a template of how good writing for a team book should be done.  Fourth, you go with these characters, revised and recruited.  You do not make any new heroes in that first year, you use established folks from the DC tapestry.  Villains may be created as needed, if needed. 

The Hook:  Captain Atom takes on the task (on his own, no government sponsoring) of organizing a team based on the abandoned L.A.W. template he served in once.  The purpose is to make a force that can be deployed in response to a serious global threat, supervillain dust up, etc.  Or deployed in a preemptive strike.  Or in the aftermath of a catastrophe.  And comprised of a roster fully capable of adjustment to fit the mission.  His first recruit:  Deadman.  Because they aren't going to reach out to like-minded agents around the world, they're going to reach out to like-minded agents around 52 worlds, and Boston Brand can go through those doors better than anyone.  Any given team roster follows a standard pattern.  One member each to fill these mission roles, and Wild Cards/Specialists if the situation or locale calls for it.  Captain Atom is the Director and Supreme Field Commander.  Otherwise, each force has one agent designated:  Tactician.  Blaster.  Infiltrator.  Heavy Ordinance.  Brawler.  Science/Engineering.  Specialists as required.  Some members will be used a lot, some occasionally.  There are several members able to fill the mission role so that no one needs to be on every outing or constantly on-call, making this a better option for those who can't hang out in the JLA or Outsiders all the time.  Once the recruitment is done, the L.A.W. group is as follows:

The L.A.W.

Director/Supreme Field Commander: Captain Atom


BLASTER- Division Leader: Air Wave. Goldstar, Sebastian Faust AKA 'Faust', Eclipso (revised Bruce Gordon), Jack O' Lantern, Geo Force, Argent, Aztek (revised), Silver Scarab (revised)

INFILTRATOR- Division Leader: Nightshade. Deadman, Beautiful Dreamer, The Question, The Atom, Shakira, Argus, Blue Jay, Element Woman (revised, Emily Sung), Plastic Man (revised, Chris King), Zan & Jayna

TACTICIAN- Division Leader: Peacemaker. Manhunter (Kate Spencer), The Question, Mr. Terrific, Spy Smasher

HEAVY ORDINANCE - Division Leader: Mon-El. The Eradicator, Superwoman, Miss America, Jemm of Saturn, Captain Atom

BRAWLER - Division Leader: Judo Master. The Creeper (revised Duela Dent), Blue Beetle (revised Dan Garrett), El Diablo (revised, descendant of Lazarus Lane), Nightmaster, Lagoon Boy, Congorilla, Wildcat, Lady Blackhawk, Guardian (Mal Duncan), Azrael

SCIENTIST/ENGINEER- Division Leader: The Atom (revised Ray Palmer). Multi-Man, Man-Bat (Kirk Langstrom), Steel, Bruce Gordon (revised Eclipso), Alanna Strange, Dr. Double X, Robotman (Charles Grayson/Robert Crane revised), Mr. Terrific

WILD CARD/SPECIALIST- B'wana Beast, Enchantress, Black Alice

I cannot imagine any writer worthy of the title needing anything more than this cast and that pitch to create something worthwhile and fun for almost any reader age demographic.  Or, to put it into a graphics presentation, would you pick up some books fielding these characters? 


I would.  And I don't think I'm alone.  The hardest part would be finding an editor, a writer(s), and an artist with the vision to come up with a villain worthy of even one of the possible teams to challenge heroes of this variety and from various DC settings.  Some of the possible mission teams that thrill my geeky heart:

Eclipso, Beautiful Dreamer, Mr. Terrific, The Eradicator, Wildcat, The Atom, Enchantress

Goldstar, Zan & Jayna, Peacemaker, Mon-El, Blue Beetle, Multi-Man, B'wana Beast

Jack O' Lantern, Deadman, The Question, J'emm of Saturn, The Creeper, Man-Bat, Black Alice

There would, indeed, be a very long arm to this L.A.W.!!!  OK, Ruminations over, all feedback welcome.  Meanwhile, just in case we lump all retcons and re-starts into the 'Bad' category, I have to think that Superman might not agree...


  1. Excellent! And I am honored you used my meme! haha!
    I applaud your thoughts on dealing with death in comics and LOVE the teams! If your Hanna-Barbara team ever takes flight DC will surely take this idea and hope lightning strikes twice!
    Unfortunately, sales are the be-all and end-all; we voiceless minority may not see the kinds of comics we hope to while the majority of comic-buyers eat up the brooding sociopaths and annual line-wide events. But darkness makes the stars shine even brighter. I just wish there were more stars.
    Suggestion? Unless copyrighted, you should blog about your recent experiences with the Avengers and the Bible!

    1. Very true! In the darkness, the starshine sets your safe and steady course. Unfortunately, both in a figurative way and in a literal sense, comics creators today largely seem to be wandering aimlessly in endless night. Somewhere along the line, the industry and fans did start calling 'superheroes' simply 'supers'. Never has that been a more accurate reflection of the place too many main characters occupy. Not heroes, just powered people often behaving badly. No copyright issues on the 'Gospel of the Avengers' material...I'll have to dig up some highlights. :) The last focus was on Captain America and our pastor set up an obstacle course for would-be Living Legends to traverse shield in hand, while Hydra agents showered nerf arrows and grenades down on them. It ain't easy being Cap!


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