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March 10, 2008

A Certain Phony Politeness

Circ wrote:
"Comics are in a mostly sorry state, I welcome your scribbles."

This is the second or third time I've heard this. Browsing around the shops, there an ENORMOUS amount of product out there. How can this be true? Browsing the covers, at least, it looks like Excitement City. I'm recognizing fewer and fewer of the names, but, from a cursory glance, it looks like comics are back and going strong.

My whining on ComicBookResources said:
"...comics are extremely personality-driven, and around the time I bowed out—burnt out, to be more accurate—the deal seemed to be that only guys with TV deals were being actively courted, which made not much sense to me and seemed fairly insulting. With all due respect to the TV writers, comic books are a profession. We’re professionals who worked hard to develop our craft, and many of us are being swept aside because Joe WordProcessor sold a pilot to The CW. I’d go to comics shops and just get angry, and I didn’t like feeling that way."

So my industry observations remain few and far between. But, to me, this seems like The Great Experiment: replacing veteran comic writers with TV guys. An urban legend circulating tells the story of how an old school writer (older than my school) called one of the top editors at one of the majors asking what was available. This guy is a major name who had, himself, held a senior position at one or both of the majors. He was always a friend to freelancers, and had been friendly to this now-major editor who'd been a shipping clerk when this old school writer was a boss at the company.

But the guy isn't a shipping clerk, he's a boss, now, and he told the old school writer, "Well, gee, I'm sorry. I'm just used to working with higher-profile talent."

Talent branding is a perhaps unavoidable and therefore legitimate part of competing for assignments, but I believe it's just gotten way, way out of hand. The main difference between Hollywood and Comic Books is, Hollywood has a certain phony politeness to it: even major studio bosses are incredibly polite to nobodys like me. Mainly because Hollywood insiders understand the first rule of the game: you never, ever, know when some no-name schumuck will, overnight, become your boss.

In comics, there's this kind of ego myopia going on, where these guys think they're set for life. They've got this desk and this phone and they're the man (or woman) and they're going to sit at that desk and answer that phone for the rest of their lives. Which is cripplingly stupid thinking. Only enormously talented people have much longevity at these places. Talented in terms of craft or talented in terms of politics--really smart folk. But, 90% of these guys come and go. 18 years ago Joe Quesada was this skinny kid tapping his foot in reception hoping Joe Rubinstein could get him a gig. Now I've got to take a number and get in line to talk to him (actually, I have his home number, but I digress...).

Times change. Nothing is forever. And the disdain that seems so common these days really is childish and inexcusable.

Meanwhile, the mindset that brought in all of this new talent post-Kevin Smith, the industry somehow getting the notion TV guys are better than comic book guys, was intended to raise the bar and improve the overall quality (and, therefore, sales) of the industry as a whole.

How's that going?



"This is the second or third time I've heard this. Browsing around the shops, there an ENORMOUS amount of product out there. How can this be true? Browsing the covers, at least, it looks like Excitement City. I'm recognizing fewer and fewer of the names, but, from a cursory glance, it looks like comics are back and going strong."

It's not a secret that quantity rarely equates to quality. Most comics I have seen is made up of the same ole stuff with a 2000+ cover date. It's like most, if not all, comics read to me as someone doing their version of something they liked with some brilliance, or perceived brilliance sprinkled within. The work of those I respect is either non-existent or blatantly pathetic amidst the usual mess that passes for 'awesome' these days. Bob Gale was set to do something with DD some years ago, it went south, and he was quoted as saying to the effect of "not working for Marvel again." Now, (surprise!), he's back with some Spider-Mess that I have to wonder about. Wonder as in: Is this an olive branch of appeasement or a gotcha! for that previous DD debacle. I don't see the "name" game as a tool to help the industry grow, I see it as a tool to keep some people in their jobs. When I see horse manure from a big name on a big name character that is clearly a paycheck gig, that's more confirmation. Meanwhile, comics remain in specialty shops for the most part and out of the hands of those outside the quirky, clickish few still supporting this industry. An industry that reminds me of the bush Administration: they appear to be their own worst enemy.

Matt Adler:

Couple of points:

Comics aren't in a sorry state. There's ALWAYS the temptation to say they are, but that's just the tendency of comic fans (I include myself) to focus only on what we don't like. It's hard to honestly assess eras as bad until you're beyond them (eg; Harras-era Marvel). But right now we've got a lot of great books (Ex Machina, Captain America, X-Factor, Booster Gold, Fables, Brave & The Bold, Damage Control, Thunderbolts, Spider-Girl, The Boys, Dark Tower, Fallen Angel, to name my picks). Of course, a Priest-written book would be a welcome addition.

In regards to superstar other media writers, I think we're finally seeing that fade, due to high-profile problems with guys like Kevin Smith, Allan Heinberg, and Damon Lindelof. It does no good to hire these guys if they can so easily tell you where to stick your deadlines. And the old idea that the sales will still be where they are after months of delay is changing.

So instead, we're seeing promising talent coming up from within the ranks; Brian K. Vaughan, Jeff Parker, Christos Gage, etc. The industry is coming to the realization that its better to have people are both talented and committed to comics, than a big name who flits in and out. So I think comics are in a pretty good place right now, and I think the time is right for you to return (as evidenced by all the calls you've been getting).

Personally I'm enjoying a great number of titles. More then I have in almost a decade. Runaways, X-Factor, Booster Gold, Incredible Hercules, The Order (sadly ending soon), Captain America, all three (!) of the Avengers books (generally, Bendis continues to improve his super-team writing skills, but there are occasionally off issues) and more that I'm drawing a blank on.

The big-management driven events are the largest problem for the industry right now in my opinion. Civil War was some good moments with poor execution and worse ending. World War Hulk was ok but again, disappointing ending. The less said about One More Day the better. A couple years ago DC had a great idea to jump all their books ahead one year after Infinite Crisis so that they would all be new-reader friendly, but now so much of what's going on is tied into their weekly Countdown book that for the most part the DC Universe, at least in a meta-sense, has become completely Greek to me. Individual titles are ok (mostly), but I have no clue how anything connects in the big picture.

The event stuff sells comics, but because it has to be so big an epic it means some sort of change that ends up annoying someone. You either have a lot of build-up with little payoff like World War Hulk, or you get so many changes that you alienate the fanbase.

There have been some good event crossovers, while I haven't read either of them personally I've heard some good things about X-Men's Messiah Complex and Green Lantern's Sienestro Corps, but those were mostly self-contained stories regulated to X-titles and GL/GL Corps books.

The big-company wide ones set the bar too high and trying to get a gaggle of writers with different styles, approaches and goals for the story to tell such a huge thing is an uphill battle that rarely pays off like people want it too.

Plus you just get tired of it all, when you know that several months of your favorite book is going to be tied up with an event you might not care about.

Some of the comics born out of those events after it's over are quite good though, when the story that was forced on the writer is over and they can afford to stop and be introspective and tell good character driven stories. So it's not all bad, but bad enough the way they're being done currently.

As for Hollywood writers, there are some really good guys from Hollywood working on comics right now. While there are a few that I suspect aren't cut out for comics, the biggest problem is that these guys have so many commitments with Hollywood that comics seem to get put at the bottom of the work pile. Damon Lindelof from the TV show Lost was writing a Ultimate Hulk vs. Wolverine book that had two out of six issues come out in the last two years. Kevin Smith's delays are legendary. Allan Heinburg's Young Avengers was fantastic but it's first 12 issues had several delays and is currently in hiatus until he could work on the next story arc, he then went to DC and did Wonder Woman, which the last issue was so delayed that they dumped it on a cliff hanger to the next writer and finally resolved months later in an annual. All of Joss Whedon's Marvel stuff has been delayed (though to be fair, he claims this isn't his fault as he's only had one late scipt, and his Buffy stuff over at Dark Horse has been all on time).

I suspect the industry needs to give these Hollywood guys some sort of test before they put them on a monthly ongoing book. Have them do a mini-series that can be published once all the issues are turned in. If they can get that in with a minimum of fuss then give them a shot with an ongoing. Because there are talented Hollywood guys who can work both fields in timely manner (Christos Gage and Marc Guggenheim come to mind) but they tend to be the exception to my mind.

Sorry for rambling.

Jason: rambling welcome. I appreciate the roadmap and recap on what I've been missing.

No problem Priest.

By the way, I'm not sure if you're aware or not but I read that Junta will play a role in Joe Casey's "The Last Defenders" mini-series. Glad to see your characters continue on in some manner. Now if only Kasper Cole or Josiah X would pop-up.

Are they still alive? I thought Josiah got retroed out somehow. Triumph-ed if you will.

Josiah got a brief mention in Young Avengers, which has the grandson of Isiah Bradley picking up a shield and red, white and blue costume and fighting under the name Patriot. The whole story is rather complex, but basically a kid from the future gets files from Vision about the "Next Generation of Avengers." They presume it's this kid, Elijah, but when they find out that he's been taking Mutant Growth Hormone and made up a story getting a blood transfusion from Isiah, he comes clean and says that Vision was actually talking about his uncle Josiah who has been missing. As far as I know that's all that's the last he's been mentioned.

There's a new White Tiger related somehow to the orignal, so don't know much about Kasper. Tom Brevoort said that if he had remembered Kasper he would have included him in the Civil War follow-up book and listed him as a "potential recruit" for Iron Man's Initiative superhero training program.


The super-hero industry is less TV oriented, now. Only Joss Whedon, Paul Dini, and John Rogers - who's writing some of my favorite dialogue today on the criminally underappreciated Blue Beetle series - come from TV or movie that immediately leap to mind, and the last on the list worked his way in like anybody else. The current trend is for tentpole writers to do the big books and crossovers - Bendis and Millar at Marvel, Johns and Morrison at DC, Waid and Busiek bouncing back and forth between the two as they please - with the ancillary books being filled in by a couple of other names I recognize and a lot of young writers that I, well, still recognize because I'm a dork in that way. So pretty much the same as it ever was, just with different names.

From an outsider's perspective, it seems to generate more interest than it did back when I was a faithful reader, but for most of it I can't really be bothered to care. The Blue Beetle book is pretty good, though.


Comic books ALWAYS need you, but I'm biased.

That said, the new Iron Fist book is quite good, and adds more to the K'un L'un mythos.

Makes me wanna dig up some back issues of your run on PM/IF.


According To Me

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