Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Wha... huh?

I still try to keep somewhat of an ear to the ground of comics, and often will flip through the trades at Barnes & Noble or wherever. I also fantasize about getting back into collecting, and made a quickly aborted attempt a couple of years ago before realizing it was way too daunting and the price way too high. The last time I regularly read comics was right before the endings to Civil War and The Ultimates Volume Two, if that tells you anything.

Now I know what it feels like to be one of those then-annoying guys who come up and say "I haven't read since blahbittyblah, what do you think?". I mean, from my understanding Batman found his kid, died while killing Darkseid, the DCU is still chugging along after anywhere between two to four criseses because I guess editorial is too scared to reboot the universe and piss off old readers. As for Marvel, Tony was head of SHIELD then not, Skrulls invaded, got their asses kicked, now Norman Osborn is the head of SHIELD and leading an evil-Avengers team-which is way beyond the capabilities of a guy that just started out as a pissed-off middle-aged father of one of Peter's loser friends. At least in my opinion.

Getting back to DC, remember a few years ago when they were all ready to overtake Marvel? It looked like they would have them on the ropes for a little while. They hired away the Kuberts and Bagley, got Geoff Johns, Jeph Loeb and Grant Morrison all exclusive, were going to do a "final" crisis and were starting up an ambitious, weekly comic series that would shake up the universe and explain to readers what had happened. I was really psyched for 52: focusing on cool, but obscure characters like the Question, Black Adam, Booster Gold and Steel? Killing off one of them? Back-up origin stories by the best artists in the biz? Covers by J.G. Jones? Still haven't read most of it and online reviews have been mixed. Definitely not the world shaker I thought it'd be.

But what happened, DC? Dan DiDio was supposed to be your Joe Quesada. Apparently he's just good at pissing off creatives and alienating Ed Brubaker which in retrospect turned out to be dumb, very dumb. Morrison's run on Batman has been met with mixed reviews, All-Star Batman was met with shitty ones. JLA now stars Vixen of all people, completely ignoring Morrison's ahead-of-its-time premise of only big names and only big threats. The revamp of Wonder Woman went nowhere, and she remains a missed opportunity. Obviously things aren't all bad, All-Star Superman is thought to be one of the alltime great Superman stories, and Green Lantern is in the midst of probably the apex of its influence and excellence. Geoff Johns is probably the John Byrne or Frank Miller of Green Lantern.

But nonetheless DC remains in a distant second place, despite having the number two movie of all time based on one of its properties and the financial backing of one of the largest corporations of the world.

Marvel seems to be doing better in some regards, but they have commited a screw-up so godawful I almost think they did it on purpose. You'd have to.

In late 2000, Marvel realized that no one could decipher the complicated and often-crappy backstories of its media-friendly properties Spider-Man and the X-Men, so they tasked two largely unknown writers to revamp them, Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar. Those two became the definitive writers of the '00s and helped usher in the emphasis on scripts over pencils from the reverse situation in the '90s. What's even weirder is that the books were good. Really good. Peter Parker went from a married guy seemingly in his 30s to a nerdy high-schooler again. The X-Men became the older teenagers they started out as, with the added bonus of mixing up familiar tropes, such as Wolverine working as an assassin for Magneto and Colossus being a gay. The Ultimate line became so successful that Marvel soon launched Ultimate versions of the Fantastic Four (which brought us the popular zombie craze) and the Avengers, which brought us the most interesting variations of Cap, Iron Man and Thor in a while before Marvel updated the 616 versions. Of course, all sales on books fall after awhile. Peter Parker talking like a Mamet character loses its shock value, and Marvel certainly didn't help things by replacing Millar and Hitch with (ugh) Loeb and Joe Mad. As for the other books, you'd think they would have continued to try to follow big name with big name, like when Ellis took over for Millar on Ultimate Fantastic Four or when Bendis took over for Millar on Ultimate X-Men. Instead, they seemed to throw a lot of middling-to-unknown/new names on the books, thus losing the cool, superstar "edge" that they once had.

How to fix it? How about rebooting the series that were reboots just nine years ago! We've gotten a total of thirtysomething-to-fortysomething issues with some of these characters, so we already know all we need to know about them! Let's all have them killed in gruesome ways, just to give those fanboys shit! Let's have them all be eaten and exploded and all-around mutilated! Then we can reboot the long, complicated histories of characters and titles that have been around alllll the way back since 2000!

With all due respect... are you fucking high, Marvel?! What the fuck?! Are you gonna find a creative team as talented and in-sync with each other and the zeitgeist of the times like Bendis and Bagley and Millar and Hitch? The Ultimates had two volumes of pure awesomeness and now it's not good enough. Honestly, with these titles that have lost their way, how hard would it have been to do a "soft reboot" and hire new teams to handle the books? Maybe get rid of the repetitive cover designs where every issue looks the same. Make a big convention announcement and throw a few grand at Wizard to get a ten-page advertisement/article. It seems like Joe and Bill and the creative teams spent a lot of time and effort coming up with archetypes, boiling down the characters to their essence, forgetting all the crud that's accumulated and having each hero down to their peak. Tony Stark is an alcoholic playboy wanting to turn his life around after a near-death experience. Peter Parker is an awkward nerd who can't catch a break. Steve Rogers is a man out of time, even more poignant given the greater distance between 1945-2002, versus the 616 '45-'63. Wolverine is once again scary and bad-ass. Creating characters to care about and root for/against for a long, long time.

And it's all getting rebooted. Again. By teams that probably won't be anywhere near the ability of the originals.

Boy I hope they spend a lot of time reading 616 and Ultimate incarnations of super-heroes, so that they can streamline each character in expectation to the big reboot of 2011.


DC might have the most screw-ups, maybe the biggest as far as missed opportunities go, but Marvel by far had the most idiotic.

I hate you, comics.


Duncan said...

"And it's all getting rebooted. Again. By teams that probably won't be anywhere near the ability of the originals."

The three writers rebooting Spider-Man, the Avengers and Iron Man for the Ultimate Comics line are - in order - Bendis, Millar and Ellis. So I'll probably buy an Ultimate comic again; the difference is now they're $3.99, if that's grist to yr mill, but that's basically the only three decent writers that ever wrote an Ultibook.

Seethe Rogers said...

Interesting... what are their reactions to rebooting their own material?

Is Ultimater Wasp still going to be Asian? Is Ultimater Iron Man still going to have the same suit? Is Utimater Spider-Man regressed back down to 15, or is he getting aged up to college?

And yes, I totally forgot to mention $4 books now.

Duncan said...

I don't know, actually - I think it's more a soft reboot? I have been illegally reading USM, so shit looks FUBAR and obviously you've a pic of the Blob eating the Wasp up top there, I think.

So she may be an Asian corpse; the Pacheco cover to ultimate Avengers has Hawkeye in his Grifter, Madureira-look (which is actually imo pretty cool) which leads me to think soft reboot... Spidey appears to be dead, but I suspect will not be? Err, oh, Iron Man - there's a Steve Furth, I think, cover kicking about somewhere for Ultimate Armor Wars (oh, also! Foilogram cover incentives, a dream I'm sure Warren Ellis in particular has long held for his work) and the suit looks a bit different, maybe. The last Ultimate book I bought was Ultimate Human (Iron Man vs. Hulk, essentially, but with a spy-fic twist) by Ellis and that was pretty decent.

Seethe Rogers said...

Wow, all this sounds... still weird and unnecessary. I can't imagine that dead characters will stay dead, as when the inevitable movies begin on a lot of these guys, they'll need that alive Asian Wasp.

I imagine also that the characters will have no memory of what happened in that penultimate story either.

Odin, I'm confused. Here's hoping there's some clarity at San Diego...