I'm Just Sayin'…#15


I think I would’ve liked working for Jim Shooter.

I’m gonna come back to that in a second, because I just checked my watch and realized that I haven’t taken a potshot at Mark Millar’s FANTASTIC FOUR in…what’s it been – two weeks?

SOLICITATION FOR FANTASTIC FOUR #561: The Death of the Invisible Woman” concludes, with…well, the death of the Invisible Woman!

I hope Mark has a plan, here – especially considering Karl Kesel and Lee Weeks already went here two years ago…

…and gave us a touching story centered around the relationship between the Torch and the Invisible Woman, and gave us a look at just what might happen if – you guessed it – the Invisible Woman died. And through that death, you get to see, despite his goofy ways, just how much Johnny loves family, and particularly how much his sister means to him. If you haven’t read this story, go find it in the back issue bins. It’s well worth your four bucks, and makes you wonder why these two aren’t on the title right now. How could Marvel miss out on the perfect promo campaign? The Kesel Run? C’MON, people – in this world, very few things write themselves!

And let’s not forget – let’s not forget, Dude – FANTASTIC FOUR #511, the conclusion of Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo’s HEREAFTER storyline, where the Thing was the one who died, and Reed, Johnny and Sue actually went to Heaven to get him back. In the course of the story, the Four are actually given the opportunity to meet God himself, and…

So, yeah – the bar’s already been set pretty high, and I don’t think that Anti-Galactus suit’s gonna reach.

Looking at another solicit, I have to say…

…I really hope this isn’t the finished cover. This looks like it’s been traced heavily from another source; faces look lopsided, the airbrushing is off…this just doesn’t look like Salvador Larroca’s usual work to me. Maybe a new inker and/or colorist is in order, because this just doesn’t pass muster.

Now, back to Jim Shooter. That may have seemed like a random thought, but something did touch that off – namely, the sudden news of Chuck Dixon’s departure from DC Comics. With both DC and Chuck Dixon saying very little over what exactly happened that led to him leaving, an article over at Newsarama.com has collected what Chuck has been willing to say about the whole situation:

“DC, currently, is run from the top down in a way that makes Jim Shooter’s aegis at Marvel look like a hippie commune.”

“Shooter was very dictatorial with strict rules for writing and drawing superheroes…The difference between his reign at Marvel and the current one at DC is that Shooter was successful at raising circulation and longterm planning.”

“Though I saw Shooter in full fledge psychotic editorial rage a couple of times, he did provide leadership at Marvel and didn’t change the company’s direction five times in one day. And the company climbed out of the red and became vital again under his stewardship. I disagreed with many of his ideas when it came to continuity but he was at least consistant and you knew where you stood. And merit was rewarded back then. If you sold well and handed the stuff in on time you’d never go without work.”

And finally… “I’ve worked under tyrants and I can say that I’d prefer to work under a talented, knowledgeable tyrant with a successful plan than a directionless gladhander with a ouija board any day of the week.”

Man. Makes ya wonder just what in the hell’s going on over at DC right now, huh? Ah well – at least Chuck resurrected Spoiler before he took his leave.

But I think the main point behind Dixon’s references to Jim Shooter’s period as Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics, was that it was a tightly run ship, based largely in a deep understanding of the universe he was working with. From what I’ve read of Shooter-period Marvel comics, there was a great sense of consistency and respect for the tapestry. Something that I’m not seeing a lot of lately, in either of the Big Two.

For instance – I bought ACTION COMICS #866 last week, and y’know, I have said in the past that the borderline mythical, larger-than-life nature of DC’s characters and universe can allow for a lack of consistency in details and continuity – I mean, in the 69 years since the fateful night the Batman was born, Martha Wayne has gone from being shot by Joe Chill, to suffering an instant, fatal heart attack from witnessing Joe Chill shoot her husband, back to being shot by Joe Chill again – but now even I’M starting to get annoyed…

Jeez. When Christopher Reeve played Clark Kent – as he suddenly very heavily resembles – even he didn’t play the wuss role this hard. It actually makes me cringe a little. Well, maybe that’s the point of the scene with Cat Grant, but still…

But to really illustrate my point, let’s take Jonathan Kent. From the Post-Crisis reboot up until as recently as 2002 and the conclusion of OUR WORLDS AT WAR, Big Blue’s beloved Pa looked like this:

Then, just last year, he looked like this:

No mention of the Kents owning a General Store, nor Pa’s burgeoning senility…at least, none that I could find (Can anybody help me with this one? Holla!). And now, in the September 2008 solicits for DC – specifically, ACTION COMICS #869 he looks like this:

Could someone please pick a set of details and stick with them?! I mean, the way they keep going back and forth like this, you’d think Hypertime were still in effect…

…uhm, is Hypertime still in effect?

And then there’s Marvel. IRON MAN: DIRECTOR OF S.H.I.E.L.D. #30 opened with a flashback from the days when Stark Industries still developed weapons; specifically, a meeting between Tony Stark and a central character to the current storyline, named Nasim Rahimov…

Hey…what’d Nasim say just then?

My passion, like yours, is miniaturization.”

And that’s what bothered me about the whole premise behind Warren Ellis’ EXTREMIS storyline, which has shaped the overall chain of events in the Iron Man comic since the post-Disassembled reboot. Even before he was Iron Man, Tony Stark has always been about miniaturized technology. So…

…does this sound like a problem that Tony Stark has ever had? Our Tony Stark? Or does it sound like the kind of problem this Tony Stark would have?

I don’t think that’s being too nitpicky to note that it simply didn’t make sense for 616 Tony Stark to ever have need for a hangar (or a pit crew, as was the case in IRON MAN Vol. 4 No. 1) like he apparently did at the start of the post-Disassembled reboot. Or if that detail was even necessary to the plot that led to Tony exposing himself to the Extremis virus. Do you?

As you’ve probably already gathered if you’ve been reading my columns fairly regularly, I believe in continuity in comics. I think it gives that comic book world a value that is almost impossible to measure, and creates a history that fans truly appreciate. However, it looks like we’ve entered a period where that school of thought is losing its strength. And it’s not as though I can’t see reasons for it. It’s perfectly conceivable that this trend could be a long overdue backlash from scores of writers and artists and editors tired of working under such strict rules; scores of writers and artists tired of being unable to have the creative freedom to tell a story that they’ve always wanted to tell, or draw a character in a way they’ve always wanted to see.

But the way things are right now is not working. Both DC and Marvel are trying to have it both ways by giving the fans something they think they’ll like, while keeping their writers and artists happy by letting them flex their muscles creatively. But by letting this all take place in the main universe of each company, it’s just creating a mess of things. Longtime readers are getting frustrated because they feel like they’re being abandoned as customers, and creators are getting defensive over the inconsistencies that the longtime readers can’t help but point out. And nobody’s able to just sit down with a comic and have fun reading it anymore. Which is something we should be able to do now more than ever – I mean, have you seen how much the things cost nowadays? And comics shops don’t do refunds!

It doesn’t have to be this way. Now, I’m of the school of thought that if you’re going to be called upon to work on a property that doesn’t belong to you, then you should be able to have the talent and discipline to look beyond your own desires and do what’s best for the property. If your artistic ego is that big, then create your own property, take your chances and quit bellyachin’. But it’s 2008, this is America and last I checked there’s actually a Channel #1,000 on my cable box. So you know – you’ve gotta have options.

That said, I’ll tell you one thing that could easily solve this problem: all you have to do is apply a solid definition of purpose to the All-Star imprint at DC, and the Ultimate imprint at Marvel. That purpose: to treat any and all titles in the All-Star/Ultimate imprints as anthologies, where the stories are told as though the characters were 100% public domain. No continuity whatsoever. There’s no shortage of creators OR fans who’d love it if DC and Marvel would just take ELSEWORLDS and WHAT IF…? respectively, and publish them regularly! And isn’t that what the All-Star and Ultimate imprints are, basically? And don’t we all know somebody who has said that they wouldn’t have minded IDENTITY CRISIS or CIVIL WAR if only they’d happened out of continuity?

If someone wants to tell a Superman story using the style and backstory of the Richard Donner movies, then they do it there. If another person wants to write a story where Superman is married to Wonder Woman and Lois Lane is sleeping with Bruce Wayne, then they do it there. If the very next story features a Superman that exists in Metropolis circa 1908 and Clark Kent finds his pen pitted against the monetary might of robber baron “Boss” Luthor, then so be it. But let it happen in ALL-STAR SUPERMAN, and NOWHERE ELSE.

Same with Ultimate Marvel. If somebody wants to write a story that reveals the source of the Red Skull’s undying hatred for Captain America is that, despite being the respective icons of two opposing ideologies, Johann Schmidt is secretly, deeply, madly in love with Steve Rogers, then go for it! But do it in ULTIMATE CAPTAIN AMERICA. If one storyarc in ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN is set in the 70s, and features a Peter Parker that sports a black costume, is still in high school, is dating Liz Allen AND the Black Cat on the side while trying to find the cure for a zombie bite that threatens to turn him into the living dead? Okay! If someone else wants to write a story where Ben Parker was the one who lived, and Spider-Man is an unofficial mascot to the Avengers and has become the Wasp’s boy-toy behind Hank Pym’s back? Great! But leave THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and anything else that happens in the 616 universe ALONE, and do it in ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN. Every story, whether it’s a done-in-one or a multiparter would exist in a world IN AND OF ITSELF.

What I’m getting at, is this: if you want to indulge in some kind of fan fiction wank-off where anything goes, then we need to create a playground where that can happen, and that the fans can say “Ohh, okay – continuity doesn’t apply here. Sign me up!” Let that be All-Star DC and Ultimate Marvel – where creators can go nuts and get it out of their system. Whatever they want to do, let them do it there and KEEP IT THERE. And build a friggin’ CONCRETE WALL around it, if necessary. No bleeding allowed.

And that’s how you make everybody happy. Well, it would certainly make me happy, anyway. At least then, when I open a Superman comic and Jonathan Kent’s black, I’d have an explanation of some kind.

Even if that explanation were, “it’s just for this story. Next month he’s going to be a Vietnamese lesbian.”

Just sayin’, is all.

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