Life throws some strange twists at you, doesn’t it? For the longest time I had a comfort level here, as every thirty days I’d get my new issue of Thunderbolts and anxiously await the opportunity to throw my jabs at Fabian Nicieza. But now, as my comic malaise continues, I can’t even find the strength to jab at Brian Bendis anymore. I just don’t care. His Avengers, all 27 titles it seems like, bore me to no end. They’re everything his early work such as Jinx, Goldfish and Fire are not. His character studies, though wordy, hit the spot. Hell, his art wasn’t half bad either. I think perhaps that’s why his Daredevil, for the most part, worked so well, as did his brief Alias run–they were character studies. One character at a time. With the Avengers, he’s got too many balls in the air at once, and I just don’t think Bendis juggles particularly well.
But Bendis isn’t my focus this time. Today, I want to talk about Warren Ellis. I generally enjoy Ellis. I was on board from the beginning with StormWatch. The original series was the Avengers done right. A United Nations-sponsored super team with great stories and dynamic art. At some point, they lost their way. Too many operatives, too scattered in focus. Then Warren Ellis came in. I didn’t know the guy, didn’t care, and StormWatch was on the bubble for me. And then Warren did some something I thought only Friedrich Nietzsche could do: He killed God! Of course, in Nietzsche’s case, God killed him right back. Ellis deconstructed StormWatch and superhero comics in a way that had not been seen since The Watchmen. His stories were WAAAAAY out there. British sensibilities to a degree, and a strong dose of Vertigo. Imagine the mainstream Marvel or DC suddenly becoming MAX or Vertigo. It was that thrilling, that titillating. It was like that point in your life when you first spouted a string of obscenities that would make a Tourette’s patient blush and got away with it. As Carson would say, it was weird, wild, wacky stuff.
But it wouldn’t last. It couldn’t. How do you follow killing God? What is the encore for that story? Kill God again? Well, he more or less did. A few times actually. But once the novelty and shock wore off, it wasn’t so impressive anymore, like figuring out how a good magician does his tricks. But Hell, I like the British vibe. I followed him over to Vertigo and discovered Warren’s masterpiece, Transmetropolitan. How in the Nine Hells has this thing not been made into a movie? Tremendous, invigorating stuff. Especially if, like me, you’re sensitive to politics and the media (and how f*cked up those institutions are). Yeah, I stuck around StormWatch and even stayed through the bitter end. That might be the first time, in all of comics, that characters from one company were killed off by characters from another company–the Aliens from Dark Horse stopped by to stomp the team. Soon after, the Authority rose from the ashes. I never felt like the Authority needed to be separate. It did much the same thing: Apply, kill God, rinse, repeat as necessary. And then eventually Mark Millar and Frank Quitely took over, and I realized almost immediately that I was done with that title.
Ellis has bounced around to several projects since then, including overseeing a relaunch of the “minor” X-Books for Marvel. Decent idea, so-so execution, but I don’t blame him. Marvel and execution haven’t met on common ground for years. And there’s Planetary, a slick little book that I miss a great deal (I don’t think it’s over, I believe Ellis and artist John Cassaday are just to busy with other projects to get any more issues out these days). Let’s fast forward to the recent Ellis-infused Marvel offerings. As a fan of the “old” New Universe, particularly Justice, I have been delighted with Ellis’ take on things in New Universal. My only regret is that it takes as long to come out as it does. Great takes on the old characters, some more re-invented than others. His Justice is good, so I’m happy.
On the flip side is Thunderbolts. Man, it’s been awhile since I’ve ranted about this book. Recapping for those of you who haven’t read my column from the beginning: I loved Busiek’s run, Nicieza’s stuff was uneven early on, wretched in the middle and pretty well entertaining at the end, when it dovetailed with the Civil War, and “Fight Club” T-Bolts never happened, like Highlander 2. From the Civil War came the all-new, all-different Thunderbolts. But not that different.
Some of the faces are the same. Songbird and Moonstone (or whatever her name is this week) are still around. Radioactive Man, late from Fabian’s run, is still around. And then there are some new faces, like the Mac Gargan Venom and Bullseye. They’re all still mostly villains (and one masochistic hero in Speedball), but the spirit of the book is gone. They’re not looking for redemption anymore. Hell, they’re not even working to take of the world by pretending to save it anymore. They’re working for the man. The man being Tony Stark and his proxy, the Green Goblin. And that is a whole ‘nother story. So hey, what am I bitching about? They shook up the team a little, they did something a little different and it’s not Fight Club part 2. And it’s not Fabian’s sister-murdering Swordsman story either. So why am I not happy?
Because I have half a long box of this story already, from the late 80s, when it was called SUICIDE SQUAD. The government sponsored team of supervillains working off their time in incarceration by doing jobs with “plausible deniability” has been done before. And to tell the truth, I wouldn’t even mind if Marvel did that, but couldn’t they launch it as something altogether new? The Initiative is taking forever to really become a visible part of the post-Civil War landscape. Where’s the Idaho team? Where’s the Delaware heroes? They had Ellis ready to go, but they hijacked the Thunderbolts to do it. They could have had a nice little niche on the shelves with two villain-centric books. Thunderbolts, as we’ve known them, with perhaps a little roster shakeup (I’m not opposed to that) and what more or less would be Marvel’s equivalent of StormWatch Black. Oh dammit, wait…that’s been done before too.
The House of Ideas is fresh out. They can’t seem to find anything new that DC hasn’t already covered. Identity Crisis? They did the Identity Disc in an obvious ploy at sale by misdirection. Civil War? The Golden Age, by James Robinson and set in the Elseworlds continuity (or at least it used to be), was based on the notion of superheroes unmasking for a paranoid government. The Squadron Supreme is the JLA, Thunderbolts is the Suicide Squad, and if I wasn’t so tired tonight I’m sure I could think of others.
In fact, while Elseworlds is probably an idea that sprang from the Marvel “What If?” title of the 70s, the only thing Marvel hasn’t purloined from their Distinguished Competition is an Elseworlds format to let their creators play in a continuity-free sandbox. Instead we get Ultimates, we get the fifth or sixth random Iron Man retooling, and we get as many DC rip-offs that Marvel can get away with. Hey, DC probably isn’t that mad. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Just don’t ask me to buy the same gimmicks twice. I used to expect more from Marvel. I still expect more from Warren Ellis. Until they prove me wrong…
Welcome to my nightmare.