DC News & Views 01.27.04

For those of you worried about going yet another day without a dose of my feeling on the term “decompressed storytelling” worry your pretty little head no longer. My little op-ed piece follows the letters section in this issue. For those of you who couldn’t give a damn (read: 99% of you) you have some news pieces on Wonder Woman, comic book editor extraordinaire Julius Schwartz, Coup D’ Etat and a brand new comic book holiday. Admit it, you’re a little intrigued now. Well, don’t wait for me to stop my prattling, dig in and serve yourself a heaping pile of News and Views.


Schwartz Hospitalized Following Fall

The great comic book editor Julius Schwartz is back in the hospital again. He was in for pneumonia, then he went home, then he fell in his home and…well, let’s just say he’s not in great shape but he’s still with us. Julie is 89 (here’s Don Markstein’s bio of him) and had been living alone since his wife Jean passed away some time ago. Apparently, his days of living alone are over and he’s going to be moving in with family or some sort of senior residence.
View the story and find out where to send your regards at www.newsfromme

As always with such occurrences, all of us in comicdom are pulling for Schwartz and his family. As mentioned above, anyone wishes to send their regards to Schwartz can get an e-mail address to a special account set up by Mark Evanier. According to Mark, the plan is that he will print up the messages every few days and send all of them (with the exception of the inappropriate or overlong) onto Mr. Schwartz himself, who is not set up on the net himself. So if the spirits move you, shoot him a line. I am sure your fond wishes will put a small on his face.


The Hype Machine Carries Rucka Into the Station as Wonder Woman #200 Arrives

Greg Rucka is the type of writer that many storytellers wish they could be, both in terms of critical recognition and commercial success—inside and outside of the comics industry. At present, his work is available at Oni Press (Queen & Country), Marvel (Wolverine), and DC Comics (Wonder Woman, Gotham Central, Batman: Death and the Maidens and very soon The Adventures of Superman). Next week marks the release of Wonder Woman 200, an important milestone in the series itself, as well as a pivotal issue in Rucka’s run (which started with issue 195) on the book. With the issue’s release fast approaching, Rucka recently took some time to discuss Wonder Woman, as well as his perspective on other matters. SBC wishes to thank Rucka for his time and thoughts, as well as DC Comics’ Adam Philips for helping facilitate this interview.

Read the interview at www.silverbulletcomicsbooks.com and pick up the book on Wednesday because… ZEUS DEMANDS IT!

Remember a few months ago when my column was dominated by Rucka and Wonder Woman #200 news and I was praying the issue would just come out so I could read it and stop having to write about articles about it? You know, in the time before the Brubaker blitz? With the past two issues features Rucka/Wonder Woman stories, but no sign of the arm-wrestling writing superstar, it is just like back in the day. The times, they are a-changing. Or reverting. Or…whatever.

Rucka does a great job, in this week’s interview, as well as last week’s (to a much larger extent), on discussing the lack of violence in this arc and separating that from a lack of action. I appreciate that he does not pussyfoot around on the topic, attempting to satisfy all fans, all the time. He is honest and forthright and has well reasoned out his justification for the lack of fighting in his first arc. Whether you come down for or against his storytelling approach, one must at least respect the fact that Rucka writes what he does because of how he views Diana and her role in the DCU.

Another positive is Rucka’s refusal to shy away from politics. As stated before, his storytelling approach and view on what “action” is works for me, at least in part because I am a sucker for political drama. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that I disagree with the conventional wisdom that politics and comics shall never meet. Some of the best comic stories of all time (as considered by many, not just yours truly) dripped in politics. Take the Denny O’Neill Hard Traveling Heroes (Green Lantern/Green Arrow) stories, for a quick example. They positively dripped in politics. Same with the comic book Holy Grail, Watchmen. And countless other examples from multiple companies apply just as easily. Does an excess of politics hurt a book? Certainly, as does an excess of anything. Can a heavy-handed liberal or conservative diatribe dressed up as dialogue undermine a comic’s entertainment value? Once again, of course. However, the idea that mixing comics and politics is somehow like mixing oil and water, that it can never and should never be done is just silly. History has bore out that it enriches the dramatic arc of a story if written correctly.

Finally, dig that Rucka response to whether or not artist Drew Johnson is important to WW’s success: “That’s like asking if printing on paper is vital to publishing a comic book.” That is just a great, very gracious line.


You Cannot Resist Jim Lee Art

DC has provided Newsarama with 10 pages of next month’s Coup D’Etat four-issue miniseries that’s set to turn the Wildstorm Universe on its ear. The story starts when The Authority takes over the world, and the ripples are felt throughout the rest of the WSU, as characters and groups have to pick sides.

Go ahead, don’t go to Newsarama and see new Lee art. I dare you.

What can you say? These guys (Lee, Portacio, D’Anda, and Garza) certainly know how to do their job. Too bad I have no real idea what is going on here, but I kind of expect that that is the point. Wet the whistle and all that.


Morrison Sheds Some Light on the Coup

Robbie Morrison, writer of The Authority, Nikolai Dante and White Death, has provided THE PULSE with an exclusive script excerpt and artwork from Part 4 of Coup D’etat, the explosive mini-series that changes the face of the Wildstorm Universe forever. Morrison said, “The corrupt actions of the American President have brought Earth to the brink of inter-dimensional war with the Vigil, a powerful alien race, and forced The Authority to launch a coup d’etat against the U.S. Government. The Vigil have launched a series of attacks across the globe …”

Seek and ye shall find at The Pulse

Ha, no sooner do I mention that the art was pretty, but didn’t give me much of an idea about the path of the story then Morrison shows up to save the day. Err…well sort of. At least I have some dialogue and stage direction to go along with the art. And apparently those giant samurai robot things are really aliens called the Vigil. Beyond that…yeah, I got pretty much nothing to offer.


Ellis Really Wants to Tell You about His Work…Like, a Lot

Warren Ellis has updated his BadSignal mailing list about some of his upcoming projects including: Desolation Jones, Jack Cross, Ocean, Stealth Tribes, and more.

Check out what semi-retirement looks like at The Pulse

Goodness, no wonder Ellis is scaling back his workload after this year. Between this week’s update and his posting about projects a few weeks ago, the man must be writing, I don’t know, 70, 80 titles.

Without seeing the stories, quality is impossible to tell, but idea-wise, he does not seem close to burning out. Desolation Jones, Jack Cross, Stealth Tribes, and the heretofore untitled prose novel are all great ideas. You know you’ve done your job as an idea man when a single paragraph gets me more interested in your work than an interview with preview images did for someone else. And did I mention in the past that I am all about Planetary? Oh, I did? Alright, just making sure.


On April 24th, You Will Be Challenged. 24 Hours, 24 Pages. Can You Handle It?

The comics community gets a new holiday this April 24th with the introduction of 24 Hour Comics Day, a day to not only celebrate but to engage in the creation of comics. Based on the creative experiment created by Scott McCloud, this holiday encourages everyone from comics fans to big-time pros to try to create their own full 24 page comic book in 24 consecutive hours.

Accept the mission at www.silverbulletcomicbooks.com

This is such a cool idea that I, unfortunately can never participate in. That is, unless, you think I could get away with 24 pages of FishHeads (Pac-Man looking fellas with lots more teeth) and stick figures. Hell, even I am not arrogant enough to try and pull that trick.

Anyway, my eye burningly poor drawing skills aside, I just I am all sorts of in love with this holiday. First of all, I think it is cool that anyone would attempt to create a comic book holiday (and leave it to Mr. McCloud to be that cool). Secondly, what an interesting challenge of a holiday. Sure, it isn’t like Free Comic Book Day which means free stuff for us without doing anything (which certainly has its appeal), but it might just get you more involved in the comic book process, even if it is ultimately just for you and a few friends. If you have the art skills and writing skills (or are friends with someone who can do what you cannot) then I say go for it. Who knows, it might just be your big break, or at the least, you can set up your own website and show off it and other future strips. Speaking of which, take a look at 144anima.com to see our very own Daron indulging in just such a dream.


SHOOTING BACK AT THE GRIMACE

Okay…you want a lame end to a series?

How about Azrael?

Yeah yeah the book stopped being good like 60 issues before then when the got rid of Brian Bryan and the rest but that’s neither here nor there.

The series ran for 100 frickin issues and they didn’t even have the guts to give the title either a final kick in the rear and “don’t let the door hit you on the ass” or to give it a proper burial, instead the final issue just sort of stopped.

It’s like they were writing a 4-part story for a trade and ran out of money after the first part comes back from the printers but decided to publish it anyway.

THAT sucked. At the very least the character deserved a decent send off, either a real confrontation with Batman and his subsequent committal to Arkham or some sort of “Jean Paul finally finds peace with himself and gives up the sordid hero biz” thing.

-Todd McCracken

Wow…that is an excellent example. There truly was some badness to that title limping towards its finish. Although, I have to say, Azrael was always a bit…inconsistent. Does anyone else recall when Azrael spent 3 or 4 issues monster fighting, like he wandered onto the Universal Studios backlot by accident? Brr… that arc still gives me chills.

Of course, after that it did improve for a time. I even enjoyed some of the Agent of the Bat stuff with the new costume during and after No Man’s Land. But that last issue. Truly a disappointment. I would have even settle for a “life goes on” style ending where Valley hits the road (so we don’t have to worry about writing him in every Batman story) to wander the country for a bit. But the whole death/psychic manifestation to Batman/is he or isn’t he/now Batman has another thing to feel guilty about conclusion was rushed and oddly inconsequential. A shameful exit for a character that outgrew his flavor of the month roots.


The Problem With Labels
Or
Why I Hate That Damn “Decompressed Storytelling”

(Disclaimer: For the sake of fairness I should point out that I read and enjoy many of the titles that have been labeled “decompressed” including, but not limited to, Daredevil, Flash, Ultimate Spider-Man, Batman, etc)

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, decompressed storytelling refers to…well, therein lies my first problem. What the hell does it refer to?

In theory, it refers to the practice of taking a comic book storyline that would traditionally be told in a few issues and drawing it out over the course of…well, more than that. In practice, however, that definition proves rather problematic.

A more accurate one might read something like this: “any story that I, as a fan, feel is not moving fast enough for my tastes.” There is a variety of reasons a fan might draw this conclusion: the hero whose title it is failed to appear in costume in one or a few issues, there was a lack of action (or violence depending if you buy Rucka’s interpretation or not), there was too much talking, or Stan Lee told the same story in four pages.

“Decompressed storytelling”, like the term “Nu-Marvel” or “liberal” or “conservative” is a shortcut term used to indicate a fan’s displeasure with a story’s direction. Boiled down to its essence, it means nothing, it says nothing.

A quick glance at the variety of tales which have been painted by this label reveals this.

For example, fan favorite Geoff Johns was accused of this out of the gate when he began the Ignition storyline in Flash. After the first issue, fans were anxious to label it a “decompressed storytelling” arc because it did not move at the same clip as the issues prior and the only appearance of the Flash was on a poster in the background of the cover. How can a storyline be accused of “decompressed storytelling” after one issue? Well, your guess is as good as mine.

Anything Brian Michael Bendis writes also gets this label, mostly because of the lack of “action” attributed to the books he pens. On Daredevil, it was also because Matt didn’t wear his costume for four issues which prompted the calls of “I don’t want to read about Matt Murdock, I want to read about Daredevil,” a declaration which I am sure would prove problematic to the identity crisis prone hornhead. This was despite the entire purpose of the arc being that Matt could not put on the costume without endangering himself or his loved ones. Another favorite Bendis issue of the “decompressed” auditors is the “Aunt May talking to a psychologist” issue of Ultimate Spider-Man. This one, I expect, is labeled as such because she talked a lot, since Spidey did appear in costume, and did get in a one or two page fight. Perhaps there is a ratio of talking to costumed ass-kicking that all comics must meet?

You start to see a pattern developing here, or at least I do. These are unique storytelling approaches to comics, presenting tales about our superheroes differently than the stories we were raised on. To dislike it is perfectly acceptable. It is, however, infinitely more useful to dislike it by pointing out the problems with an issue or arc rather than attempting to create a whole new genre of storytelling and dumping it in there.
Take, for example, The Incredible Hulk. This book, I would argue, is the inspiration for the application of “decompressed storytelling” as a comic book slur. In over thirty issues, (can you believe that, thirty issues?! Almost three years, Jones has written this book), Jones has crafted a tale that closely resembles the U.S.’s troubles in Iraq, he just doesn’t seem to have an exit strategy. What was at first an intriguing conspiracy tale returning Bruce Banner to his “on the run” roots without falling into the Byrne trap of imitating the TV series has become so muddled (in story as well as coloring that) that it is impossible to guess if this is the way Jones wanted the story to go from the start or if he is just making all this stuff up on the fly. In the same way the X-Files collapsed under its own mythology, Hulk has done the same…just in less than half the time.

Now, you have no doubt what pisses me off about Hulk, right? You know it isn’t the lack of the big green guy (for me, Bruce Banner is Hulk so if he is in issue, the Hulk is in the issue, large and green or not) or the paced for trade 4-6 issues arcs. And clarity is key. If enough people complain about the progress of an arc for the same reasons, companies will take notice. However, if you’re just dashing off a quick series of buzzwords, (perhaps including the word “sucks”), it seems like you just don’t care. And if you don’t, why the heck will the company?

So yes, I do admit, I like a lot of what gets labeled decompressed storytelling, so perhaps I am biased against the term already. But more than anything I hate the simplicity and opaqueness of the term. Nobody can fix anything, no one can debate anything, if they find themselves up against something so nebulous it essentially equals, “I don’t like it because I don’t like it.”