Is it time to leave the past behind?

September 3rd, 2010 by | Tags: , , , , ,

Brian Michael Bendis has been writing Avengers-related books since 2004. Across three series, six years, and something like 100 issues, Bendis has been the main architect for the non-X-Men part of the Marvel Universe. A stray thought flickered across my brain earlier tonight and it kind of bothered me. I’ve read most of Bendis’s Avengers, and liked some of it, but this thought just wouldn’t go away. “How many villains did Bendis invent for the Avengers to fight?”

The answer is one. In The Collective, the third collection I believe, he introduced Michael Pointer, a man who was possessed by mutant powers and was also maybe Xorn? Other than that, everything else Bendis introduced is a new, or mediocre, spin on an old idea. Hawkeye becomes Ronin, skrulls shapeshift into heroes, and a Spider-Man villain causes problems. Luke Cage and Jessica Jones having a daughter should maybe count as being a new idea, which raises the total to two.

That’s a one new idea every fifty issues average.

The biggest takeaway from Darwyn Cooke’s interview the other day is about ideas and originality. His point about changing characters to pander to the audience is a good one, and sparked some interesting (and asinine) discussion in the comments. It’s also an argument I keep coming back to when looking at cape comics and trying to decide what’s worth buying. I think that legacies, and the kind of worshipful attention to continuity that legacies imply, is both interesting and odious.

Okay. For whatever reason, there are stories that matter more than other stories in the Big Two. They advance the stories of characters people are about, etc etc. You already know this, I’ve already called it dumb, and veered dangerously close into whiny “Why don’t people like what I like” territory at the same time. But it is what it is, and that is what sells. When you get a chance to play in the side of the Shared Universe playground, when you get to the point where you’re Geoff Johns or Brian Bendis or Jonathan Hickman or whoever, you want to 1) have your stories matter and 2) play with all the toys.

That’s the fun of shared universes. You get to contribute to this amazing tapestry that existed decades before you were born. You can reference all of your favorite stories and hopefully create new favorites for others. If you’re open to it, you can even create some new concepts or spin an old character off into a legacy character, thereby staking out your own claim on the tapestry.

If you’re coming into comics now, you’re coming into an industry with a history. Fans expect to see Dr. Doom in Fantastic Four, and more than that, they expect to see your take on Dr. Doom. He haunts every run on the book in a way that Paste Pot Pete doesn’t. This is true of the Joker and Batman, Lex Luthor and Superman, and Hypno Hustler and Spider-Man. There’s a reason that Grant Morrison threw Magneto into New X-Men the way he did. You have to use these characters because that’s who these heroes fight. This is established behavior.

The Avengers fight Avengers villains. Bendis’s run seems to show that this is how it works, isn’t it? Even the story about the new villain ended up being about Magneto in the end. But the breakout, Sentry origin, Civil War, Secret Invasion… they didn’t actually introduce much, did they? Skrulls invade, heroes beef, and the latest verse sounds a whole lot like the verse that came before it, doesn’t it?

I think that, past a certain point, telling new stories with old characters is going to end up being diminishing returns. If the Avengers only fight Avengers villains, where’s the new blood going to come from? Who are the next Avengers villains going to fight? Is there a good reason for the Fantastic Four to fight Dr. Doom once every couple of years beyond “Well, that’s how it is?”

I think legacy characters often have the same result. You trade a lot in favor of a little. Two simple, and fantastic, examples: Renee Montoya and Crispus Allen were two stand-out characters from Gotham Central, which was probably the best bat-related book on the stands at the time. Montoya self-destructed, Allen died, and the series ended. Later, Renee becomes the new Question and Crispus becomes the new, goateed Spectre.

We traded four characters for two, and I don’t think that was a fair trade at all. Montoya and Allen both had very interesting roles to play, and their new superheroic identities often don’t seem to have much to do with that. Allen was an upright and moral man, and his role as part of the Spectre is apparently to go “Hey hold on now do we have to turn this guy into an elephant and sell his tusks on the black market? That’s ironic, yes, but it’s also cruel. Also I miss my family.” Montoya had turned boozing into an art, and while her climb back to sobriety was a pretty good read, none of it actually necessitated her being The Question to get it done.

Would Montoya becoming a PI appreciably change any of her stories? I don’t think they would. The Question is pretty low-tech as a concept, so all you really need is a hat and a trenchcoat. Why not keep both? Why use Renee to revive The Question trademark? Why use The Question to prop up Renee?

I’ve seen people argue that it’s better to have these characters in stories than not, so better that they change form than languish in obscurity, but I don’t buy that line of reasoning at all. I think that the value we get from having Montoya or Allen showing up once or twice a year these days isn’t worth the loss of the four characters that make them up. If characters aren’t appearing, then no one has stories to tell with them. Write stories with them or don’t write stories with them, rather than playing Dr. Frankenstein.

100 or so issues, one brand new villain. Four characters reduced to two, and the two that remain are decades old. Do you see how ridiculous that looks? That’s what happens when you have this kind of reverence for your shared universe. It’s stifling, isn’t it? If you don’t introduce new concepts and keep bowing down to the altar of old folks’ comics, all you’re going to make is old folks’ comics. It’s like if every third James Bond movie featured him fighting Jaws, or if Spike Lee kept doing movies about Radio Raheem.

A good story trumps everything, obviously, but the more I think about legacy characters, the more I feel like it’s time to jettison that entire idea. No New Legacies. We’re stuck with the ones we have, obviously, but why did Jaime Reyes have to be a Blue Beetle? Was Jason Rusch as Firestorm a choice that was worth it in the end? What if he were a different, all-new character instead? Why wasn’t he an all-new character? Why did he have to be an old character in new clothes? I know that if I never see Black (Established Hero) again, it’ll be too soon. I understand why it happens, both from a charitable view (Someone wants to add to the tapestry and had a good idea how to do it) and a cynical view (they want to trick colored folks into reading their comics by ticking a box on the Diversity Checklist), but I would absolutely rather see someone all-new, maybe with connections to the old character, under a brand new name, rather than a replacement.

Should you have to make thin connections to established heroes to make your character a minor success? I feel like if the Big Two can’t support new concepts, then the Big Two are broken. Is that unfair?

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42 comments to “Is it time to leave the past behind?”

  1. I’d almost say yes, but when I think about how many characters exist in each company’s universe, I suppose you could argue that the Big Two become self-sustaining, in a way. DC and Marvel could theoretically live off their established [and massive] libraries of characters for a while, as long as they use them in ways that their readers enjoy.

    That said, that’s not exactly a good thing. The problem with feeding on yourself, so to speak, is that you can’t do it forever. DC and Marvel would eventually have to figure out a way to create new concepts that actually catch on. Thing is, I think one of their big obstacles is the current size of the comics reading audience. Even good ideas can struggle to find success when there aren’t that many people reading comics anyway. Add to that the fact that comic readers are generally leery of new concepts (especially when many comics cost $3.99 per issue these days) and, well, brand new ideas may not look especially appealing to publishers.

    Getting rid of legacies might work; the “legacy” idea kind of ran its course in GL and Flash when Hal and Barry came back, right? Then again, I think of Sean McKeever’s Gravity, who was a completely new character, but struggled to find success. I think the best way to get a new concept going at the Big Two these days is to introduce it in an existing comic (“it’s Spider-Man’s friend, Gravity!), then give that concept its own series if its popular enough.

  2. I have to agree, with the condition that new characters shouldn’t automatically mean new superheroes.

    Fleshing out normal people with normal problems should boost both the believability of the continuities they live in, and the actual “Super” in superheroes. It always vexed me during major crossover events where a major supervillain starts killing dozens of normal people, destroying hundreds of peoples’ properties, and the time the superheroes really give a damn is when a fellow superhero gets wounded or dies. The latest stupidity in that fashion, the Prometheus/Green Arrow fiasco. Prometheus destroys two cities, and Green Arrow only loses it when Red Arrow gets amputated. Whuh? What the hell, should civilians start wearing masks as well when there’s danger, for superheroes to give a damn about them?

    Frankly, I’d rather see a non-superhero take on a super-villain, even if they spit blood and crack ribs to do it, or even do most of the job and get saved by a superhero in the end.

    Normal badasses, normal victims, normal standbyers. That’s what the big two should focus on right now. There’s enough superheroes to go around already.

  3. It’s a good question. I suspect the thinking (or fear) on the Big Two’s part is that any comic starring a character with nothing familiar about him/her–no name or costume easily recognized by both comics readers, and those with only a passing familiarity with the superhero genre.

    DC in particular worships anything they think can be labelled as “iconic.” The way I figure it, any time they launch a new book they have the gauge how big of a risk it is, how much money they could stand to lose. They know bat-books are gonna sell a certain amount, they know they already have a segment of readers who will pick up a book starring The Question or whoever, so it lessens the risk.

    I think they have a challenge in trying to present new characters to an audience who won’t feel like Poochie the Rockin’ Dog is being imposed upon them. When it comes to the Big Two, we’re all pretty much reading fanfiction at this point, and just like in fanfic, it’s an uphill battle to make readers give a crap about original characters. Doesn’t mean it’s never worth it, it’s just harder.

    Jaime Reyes and the Blue Beetle comic was one of the most all-around enjoyable superhero comics I’ve ever read. And it sold poorly and was cancelled (insert tangent about marketing outside the existing audience here). I honestly don’t know whether or not taking out the legacy aspect would have helped its success. You could potentially have the character exist independently of the Blue Beetle legacy–after all, they went from “magic scarab” to “tech geek” to “alien technology embedded in the spine.” The Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoon didn’t really need to delve into the legacy aspect of his origin in order to tell stories with him (though they did eventually).

    But when it comes to the comics, then you’d lose the relationships that tie Jaime to the rest of the DCU: Ted Kord, Booster Gold, Guy Gardner, etc. Granted, he made new relationships too, like with various Teen Titans (however many are still alive, that is), but I think those built-in relationships are often what encourage the existing readership to take a chance on a new character.

    The other problem is probably that they need to keep using their trademarked characters/superhero titles consistently in order to maintain their rights, I’m guessing? IDK.

    In theory, you’re right, but it seems to me DC/Marvel kind of have themselves backed into a corner. When new characters are created now, they probably start off as small, supporting characters, and if they catch on with readers, then they may take them elsewhere (like with Renee Montoya, for example). But they’re always 20 or 40 years behind their “iconic” cohorts and can’t catch up, so in some people’s eyes they’ll always be worth less. Sucks.

  4. I largely agree.

    Though I’d watch the shit out of a Radio Raheem franchise.

  5. I don’t think it’s that new superhero universes can’t be done. The Umbrella Academy is my favourite superhero title in years, and it’s a universe unto itself. Hell, Spawn was the same thing. Like the series or not, it was a shot at doing something new. Usually my breakoff point on a series is the crossover. Hellboy and The Goon got a reprieve from this one, but only because they made it an exception, not a standard. The two series shacked up for one adventure and never mentioned eachother again ever. But if Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker got together to write Dracula Vs. Frankenstein I would not have been a happy camper. That’s the kind of kitschy garbage to be kept to B movies and fan fiction. Big Two titles seem all about taking the lego out of the one set and jamming it into the other and trading the pieces around until there’s a lego bucket and the original kits have totally disappeared. No matter how long you pick through that bucket you’ll never build the Night Lord’s Castle or Slave One again, you’ll just have some grey pieces and some green pieces (I know this from experience).

    But yeah, I’d say the current system is completely broken. Dark Horse gets to start all the new continuities and series it wants, but if DC or Marvel had tried to do Umbrella Academy or Hellboy or Sin City without using an imprint they’d have been laughed at. The phrase DCU is very telling. A publisher should never be associated with just one Universe.

  6. “If characters aren’t appearing, then no one has stories to tell with them. ”

    That’s not entirely true, especially in an industry that has to be approved by overzealous editors first. Who’s to say that there aren’t 16 pitches for a Question series that have been dropped on the cutting room floor? Especially when it comes to DC who are absolutely notorious for dropping plans without a moment’s hesitation.

  7. I largely agree.

    Major superhero properties are like veteran rock bands. You go to their shows to hear the hits you loved in High School, or College. If they mix in a good new song or three, then it is a bonus. Expecting innovation from FANTASTIC FOUR is like expecting a hit song from the Rolling Stones.

    Legacies and (to a lesser degree) progression are fools gold. I love The Spectre and The Question, but nothing is going to really make them “new”.

  8. One of the problems I see, from a creator standpoint, is that when a writer creates a new character in a DC or Marvel book, that character then becomes property of DC/Marvel, which also means that they can’t use the character in any possible independent book they might want to write at some point in the future. That’s got to take away at least part of the incentive to create new stuff in the big two books.

  9. @Dean Hacker: Have you been reading Hickman’s Fantastic Four? I get what you’re saying, but we still do have innovation in some comics, despite them being nearly half a century old.

    The options seem to be “take old characters in new directions” or “make new characters.” I’m a fan of either of these as long as the old characters are actually having good or interesting things done with them and that the new characters aren’t just cheap throw away characters.

    Then again, my favorite books right now are Morrison’s Batman (where we’ve had a slew of newer villains or reappearance of old obscure/unknown ones), King City, and Atomic Robo. I like what is being done with Fantastic Four, was pleasantly surprised by The Gauntlet in Amazing Spider-Man, and I still buy Green Lantern because it is generally good space fighting fun (and we *do* get newer characters in Corps).

    But I’ve found that I’m only buying 8-10 single issues a month anymore. Rather than keep buying something that I’m not interested in, I usually give it an arc after my interest wanes, and if it doesn’t impress (like ASM), it’s dropped. So, I guess that while I have no problem with the problems being presented here in theory, I obviously need them to be well written for me to spend money on them.

  10. I don’t care about all that. The question I ask myself is simply “Am I enjoying it?” If yes, I read it.

  11. @Olivier: It’s nice that you don’t care about any of my post, and the question you ask yourself is fine, but what does that have to do with anything I’ve said? I mentioned that the quality of the story trumps all, but it’s worth pointing out something that is a problem now and will be even more of a problem in the future.

  12. What got me interested in Morrison’s Batman/& Robin and Rucka’s Batwoman/Detective work was that they were creating new characters with new rogues in a familiar setting. It felt tangibly different.

    Montoya & Allen as the Slam Bradley and Jim Gordon to Grayson’s Batman & the new Batwoman would have added to that feeling even more.

    now that Rucka left Batwoman and Morrison’s focus on Bruce Wayne has gone from an undercurrent to the focus, my interest is gone again.

  13. Great column David. I’ve been harping on this for a while, and perhaps I’m particularly sensitive because I’ve been reading comics for so long, but I find myself frustrated by this all the time. Particularly given the quality of writers in comics these days, it seems ridiculous that they aren’t given more leash to come up with some new and interesting concepts/characters.

  14. @ bairfax:

    Maybe my choice of bands was too old, or my choice of comics was poor.

    I am not saying that long-running titles can never be innovative, it is just that there is less room. Titles that change core elements tend to falter over the long-run. Casual readers hear that a big name creator is joining, say, TEEN TITANS. They are understandably surprised to not find Dick Grayson, Donna Troy, Cyborg, Starfire and Beast Boy in its pages. It is not what they expected, so they are more likely to drop it. Over time, that shrinks the customer base down to just the hard-cores.

  15. Maddy and Space Jawa hit on two big non-creative issues: Publishers want to exploit existing intellectual property, and to own any idea they publish. Creators want to make the most money from their best ideas, so when they go for Big Two work-for-hire, they work with the stuff they don’t own, anyway. Never mind “Would DC have published Umbrella Academy,” the real point is that Way/Ba wouldn’t have given away their entirely original creation to DC.

    Another problem is the fans: New universes, new heroes, even new twists on legacies (Jaime Reyes, for instance) struggle to succeed. Marvel, DC and Dark Horse have all failed to launch new superhero lines/universes, Wildstorm only succeeded on the strength of hot artists back in the Image “glory” days, and even damn solid Image books like Ron Marz’ Witchblade sell for crap. While I agree with the idea that if you market new ideas beyond the tired old core crowd, you might have better success, I’m not holding my breath for publishers to look past all their half-assed failures and decide to do it right.

    Those are some factors pushing against “new ideas.” But I’d also question your thesis, David: Does only “new character” equal “new idea”? I didn’t read Avengers ’cause I hate all the linewide crossovers, but doing the Avengers as outlaws in hiding, that’s new, isn’t it? Imagine some total ass (and I don’t put it past JMS) wrote a Superman story in which Lois divorces Clark because she’s in love with Lex Luthor. Horrible idea, yes, but it would create a new dynamic, open up some new story possibilities, and all without creating a new character, or a concept beyond “what will the existing characters do next?”

    I’d say there can be diminishing returns, as you say (hence the “need” for the occasional cosmic reboot), but a lot of good stories can be mined from the existing pieces, too, especially when you throw in a new legacy twist like a Jaime Reyes or a Cassandra Cain. Assuming you then don’t botch the marketing or turn the character into some kind of half-assed villain for no reason.

  16. @ Guy Smiley:

    Selling truly new superhero characters and concepts to existing fans is an uphill struggle. They are probably spending close to 100% of what they want to spend on comics every month already. Adding something new means dropping something they already care about. That is a tough sell.

    The people who are open to new concepts are the ones that are not already buying comics on a regular basis.

  17. @ Dean: Totally agreed. But it’s a problem that perpetuates itself because no one’s willing to put the money (in marketing beyond the core, and in sustaining a low-selling series long enough) to turn it around. So I guess I’m saying that until the editorial will is there, there’s not much point in creators coming up with entirely new material for the Big Two. It’s sad, because there are a lot of great non-big-two books out there, but not so many that scratch that super-action-adventure itch.

    I guess things like the recent David/Tucker reviews of that Black Panther series give me hope — there’s still a lot of really good material out there that I’ve never read …

  18. @Guy Smiley: Of course, I should have specified that I mean Umbrella Academy as a closed off universe unto itself, which DC would never allow as is. That joint universe kills me, mixing all the palettes just makes everything ugly and gray. Id’ve been a much happier Marvel reader if Spiderman didn’t exist in the same universe as the Fantastic Four or Daredevil ever. Evolution happens way better when species are apart.

  19. I mostly agree.

    And where I disagree, it’s with calling Gotham Central “probably the best bat-related book on the stands at the time”. There’s no probably about that. In fact, if it’s still not the best bat-related book ever, it’s in the top three.

    I miss Allen and Montoya, and definitely feel cheated by how DC worked things out.

  20. Crispus Allen as Spectre was a trainwreck. It came out of nowhere, was mishandled by everyone, and Rucka seemingly took on a Final Crisis tie in miniseries, the only time he wrote the Crispus Spectre, for the sole purpose of undoing some of that mishandling (it wasn’t really worth it).

    As for Renee as the Question, which is much more organic, I took that as his really desperate need to make Renee, clearly a favorite among his many pet characters (Sasha Bordeaux, Lupe Leucadio from Adventures of Superman, etc), into as top tier a character as he could manage, and finally realizing he could only do it, in that “universe,” by making her a “cape.” Which, I now realize, really does prove David’s point. And those recent Detective Comics backups sucked.

    Still like Jamie Reyes and, to a lesser extent, Ryan Choi, though.

  21. Re: Bendis’ creations. Layla Miller? Daisy Watserface? The Secret Warriors? I guess you could argue that none of these appeared in his Avengers titles, but they were Avengers-related storylines. Not that this invalidates your point; I’m just spit-ballin’.

    Besides, I think Bendis is more interested in reviving characters than making new ones, like the Sentry, the Hood, Echo. It does seem silly to create a new minor-gangster-with-demon-powers-to-become-new-kingpin character when there’s a perfectly good one sitting around unused. I’ve always admired him for this attempt to spotlight obscure characters, even if I don’t always like what he’s done with them.

    Re: your larger point, I think there’s a reason the Brand New Day team spent a year only using new villains. But people bitched about that, too.

    I know that if I never see Black (Established Hero) again, it’ll be too soon.

    Ah, come on, you know you’d read the hell out of Black Batman. Especially by Morrison.

    Evolution happens way better when species are apart.

    This… doesn’t sound right? I’m no biologist, but wouldn’t competition with other species create a fitter species?

  22. @clay Morrison already had a race fail in his Batman run when he had a genuine “magical negro” character show up in one issue. So as much as I enjoy the run overall, I’d rather not see his Black Batman! Of course I speak only for myself.

  23. I was pretty happy that they took an Animated Series character and made(?) her gay, and that they took an old Batman character and made her gay. Because, honestly, that’s what history is like, and that’s what life is like for people older than the last couple generations: going back and retroactively inserting the gay people that were ignored or hushed up to tell a complete story.

    In the case of Kate Kane, I was super-glad because no one really knows who Batwoman is – so a lot of readers would be forced to think of her as on the same plane as Batman for at least a short time before she was established in “who can kick who’s ass”.

    It’s really different, to me, than making a new character who’s a person of color and naming him or her after a white character. It’s more as if we found out that Hawkeye’s mother was black, but he’s so light-skinned that he can pass. Not that anyone wants or needs that to happen, but it’s a world apart from making The New Black Hawkeye Who Looks Up To White Hawkeye.

    One of the best things Rucka did was establish that Batman’s world has “always” had gay people in it. It’s hard to imagine a good street-level book that wouldn’t go down this road as soon as it was culturally possible.

  24. As a caveat, the one problematic thing I did find about Batwoman was not that she was a lesbian, but that she does have a hint of “black hero names self after white hero” in her origin – that is, she’s a woman, and she named herself after a male hero who rescues her. In part, her orientation actually mitigates this, because at least we can assume she isn’t erotically obsessed a la Kathy Kane.

    Nevertheless, the heft that comes with Batman as a cultural icon isn’t even comparable to, say, Mr. Terrific, or Amazing Man, or even Green Lantern. If you call a character Batwoman, you are FORCING people who aren’t steeped in Wikiedia articles to sit up and take notice, which is exactly what happened.

  25. Jaime Reyes being Blue Beetle gave him Ted Kord as a figure to look up to which I felt was one of the stronger parts of the series. If he had looked up to, say, Superman it would have been a different dynamic because he would have actually had a chance to meet with him. There was a bit of being inspired by family history aspect to it. Granted they could have invented some hero and retro-actively inserted him into the past and just pretend that said hero was mates with Guy Gardner or whoever, but there are some story reasons why you would want to have Jaime be Blue Beetle instead of a new name.

    Top notch article by-the-way.

    Personally I think its just a symptom of work for hire stuff because it usually makes more sense to put your awesome ideas into a creator owned series.

  26. @clay: I was firing off the cuff on that one, but what I mean is it would suck if we had the same animals everywhere. The Galapagos Islands are separate from everywhere else on Earth and the way animals evolved there is really incredible. No lions in North America, no Jaguars in Europe, no bears in Australia (Koalas don’t count). Ecological diversity is what I’m after, only in comics.

  27. David, I wanted to ask how your preference for creativity squares with, say, your admiration of the Marvel cosmic books? (Annihilation, etc.) Do these get a pass because a) most of the characters were un-utilized and obscure, or b) the stories are so kick-ass and fun that it doesn’t matter?

  28. You just perfectly explained why I love Morrison’s Batman run. Its overflowing with new ideas. Not all of which will stick but at least he is throwing as many at the wall as he can. Hell I think that is part of the reason he told Arkham Asylum at the start of his Batman work so he could do a story with all the classic Batman foes so they wouldn’t hinder his run on the character when everyone was expecting a Killer Croc story or whatever. Its all new villains all time and the Joker because he is the JOKER.

  29. I think that there comes a time for readers to leave the past behind, not for publishing companies. It’s natural to fall in and out of love with certain types of storytelling and characters, etc. And at some point, I feel that readers need to accept that the types of stories they’ve loved are no longer the status quo, especially superhero comic book readers. I’m not saying that I’ll always feel this way about Big Two publishing, but this is certainly how I look at things right now, especially in light of Cooke’s reaction. I know that comic book fans are notoriously loyal, and even to a degree entitled. But just because Marvel and DC published superheroes a certain way years ago and certain fans loved it, that doesn’t mean that Marvel and DC should still be doing it that way. How does that opinion apply to a discussion about continuity? Because just like the maturity of storytelling content can change, the influx of new concepts can change. The fact is that Marvel and DC are primarily profitable as the caretakers of established intellectual properties. And executives and shareholders and editors have on more than one occasion decided that the most profitable path is to maintain a certain amount of inflexibility for the lucrative characters. Marvel and DC don’t have any reason to “move on” when it comes to history of their big IPs — they’ll continue to sell t-shirts and toys and movie rights and animated adaptations and all other manner of products regardless of continuity. And their publishing, as the respective IP backbones of the companies, will stay fairly rigid and self-reflexive in order to back up all the other more financially profitable initiatives. To me, this just seems logical. These are businesses. Yes, they’re creative businesses, but businesses nonetheless.

  30. Gonna commit the cardinal sin of of posting a comment having only read half the comments thread for the piece I’m commenting on. My thoughts are pretty much all directed at the article anyway, but apologies if I’m duplicating points that have already been made. Anyway…

    As with Cooke’s comments in that video, I agree 100% with the sentiment, disagree pretty much 100% with the specifics of what you’re saying.

    What it boils down to is: you’re attacking the wrong target. The problem isn’t what the creators are doing, it’s why they’re doing it.

    Take Renee Montoya; I would dearly love to read Renee Montoya: PI written by Greg Rucka. Would such a comic be greenlit by DC in the current climate? Fuck no, not in your wildest dreams. I love the Question, and Rucka clearly does too. By combining the characters, he found a way to get to tell stories with both that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Not because he didn’t have ideas for stories to tell with them, or was “too stupid” as Cooke so charitably put it, but because if he wants to play with those toys he has to accept the rules of their owners… and those rules are completely bugfuck crazy right now. Slinging insults at Rucka from behind a con table while doing nothing himself to solve the problem just makes Cooke look like a buffoon.

    Which is a separate issue, but come on- if Cooke wants to work on superhero comics with new concepts aimed at kids, he’s one of a small percentage of people the chops and the star-power to actually make that happen, and without having to be at DC or Marvel to do it. What’s he doing? Adaptations of 50 year old books about a violent misogynist. And hey, they’re brilliant, and he obviously enjoys doing them, but he’s hardly walking the walk that he’s talking, is he? Which wouldn’t devalue his point if he hadn’t made it personal in the first place by attacking specific creators rather than the environment they have to work in.

    Creators at the big two have to work within the space that they’re given. Here’s the rules: do your best. I’d love to see the kind of comics Cooke talks about, but do you think they’d get past the pitch stage? Who’s fault is that? The writer, or the publisher?

    Within the confines of the rules that they have to follow, I think it’s fair to say that there are some great comics being put out at Marvel and DC right now, even if personally I don’t care for Bendis or Johns’ writing. Morrison, Fraction and Remender are all doing great work, and Rucka’s Batwoman was absolutely phenomenal. Are any of them doing the kind of super hero comics I think the big two should be focusing on producing, or targeting the audience I think superhero comics should be targeted at? Fuck no. But that doesn’t make it bad work, they’re doing the best they can with the tools they’ve been given.

    To return to your point about Montoya & Allen/Question & Specter- the only reason that the merging of these characters in one story stops anyone from using them as they were before is again down to editorial mandate. I could do a Vic Sage Question story tomorrow, and it could be the greatest thing in the world (assuming my cartooning improved by an enormous order of magnitude overnight) but DC still wouldn’t publish it. That’s not Rucka’s fault.

  31. …or to put it another way, blaming individual creators for this problem is like giving a burger king employee shit for not making you teriyaki chicken.

  32. I’ve seen a lot of people mentioning that no one wants to create for WFH, they’d rather create and own their own work. But, creating concepts under WFH these days isn’t what it is in Kirby’s days. You get creator participation deals, royalty checks, and so on. You join companies with your eyes wide open these days, and I feel like fewer people get cheated.

    I think Hickman has an interesting point of view when he says he talks about hoarding ideas. Further, I’d say that if you’re a writer, you sign on to write, and you don’t want to use your ideas? That’s lazy. Maybe you keep your Umbrella Academy or Ben10 in your back pocket, but you’re supposed to be creating new stuff, not just regurgitating the old.

    @clay: I’m not sure how I’ve inadvertently dissed anything the cosmic books did? Silver Surfer is still Norrin Radd, Nova’s Nova, and they’ve collectively fought a whole lot of weird villains, both old and new. A good story trumps all, anyway.

    @David Wynne: It’s worth noting that Cooke has had several pitches for all ages series, usually in collaboration with J Bone, rejected from both Marvel and DC. He’s not just talking here, and it’s hard to walk the walk when there’s someone blocking your way.

    A comics industry that won’t publish concepts like Renee Montoya, PI, or kid-friendly superheroes, or can’t make a series or character survive without strapping it to a superhero is pathetic.

    For your Burger King point–creators, fans, and publishers are all culpable. BK employees don’t have the creative leeway that comics creators do. BK employees follow a program. Creative follows a prompt.

  33. If Cooke is having his pitches turned down, then how does anyone else stand a chance? That’s my point about WFH guys working in the parameters they’re given illustrated perfectly.

    But I’m betting Image or Dark Horse would snatch his hand off if he offered them an all ages series. If he’s clinging to the old raft while it sinks then he’s part of the problem.

    And yes, I agree that it’s pretty pathetic that the big two can’t step out of their comfort zones. But I still don’t see how slinging mud at anyone other than the boss is in anyway helpful on that front.

  34. I am honestly hoping that Robert Kirkman, who made similar comments a few months back, actually comes out and produces a line of all ages books at Image. Supposedly he’s got one in the works after Wolf-Man wraps up, but wouldn’t it be great to see a Cooke/Bone book or a series by Landry Walker or J. Torres (maybe even the Family Dynamic) in there? It’s the kind of thing his new Skybound imprint would seem tailor made for.

  35. Is it time to leave the past behind?

    It was time to do that twenty years ago when the market collapsed.

  36. Interesting article, David. I tend to disagree with the intensity of the response you advocate, but I do so in most cases where the answer suggested is a total scorched earth abandonment of a concept which has been poorly or over-used. I agree that more new concepts in these universes are needed and direct legacies can be as much a crutch and a millstone as a help when introducing new personalities into the story. However, there are also benefits and when well-handled, the connection lends weight.

    Taking Rucka’s two recent contributions, for instance: Would Kate Kane be as big a deal without the bat on her chest? And even taking marketing out of it, would the story work as well without the connection? I submit that it wouldn’t, because the larger meaning that symbol’s taken on within the universe gives it credence as something she’d grab onto when what code she’d previously clung to is taken from her.

    And the Question. First, I find it equally ridiculous to consider it silly for a superhero line to be hesitant to spotlight a non-cape character as a lead in the long term. And the Denny/Rucka take on the Question, the philosopher, the knowledge seeker, is a concept that fits nicely with the arc Rucka took Renee on. So the passing of the mantle is a good way to show that she’s still on that path and has largely recovered from her downward spiral.

    Over at Marvel, we’ve got Bucky as Captain America, which is also a logical extension of his character development.

    Just because these ideas have been used haphazardly and possibly too often, doesn’t mean that the good examples become not good. It just means that editors and publishers need to be more sparing in when they let such ideas go forward and less so when new ideas cross their desks.

    Don’t throw the babies out with the bathwater.

  37. I know it’s a dead thread (been sick), but I wanted to reply to David’s reply to my question. Hopefully he’ll see it.

    I guess I misunderstood your point. I thought, from your Bendis/Avengers statements, that you thought it was uncreative of him to have such a long run without really creating anything new. He’s just reshuffling the deck, so to speak.

    I have been reading the recent DnA cosmic TPBs (which I’m loving), so they were on my mind. And it occurred to me that they’re not really adding new characters either, simply rearranging and reusing older and obscure ones. So I was wondering why it was bad when Bendis does it, but okay when DnA do it.

    The obvious answer, perfectly legitimate, is that the cosmic books are so awesome that it doesn’t matter that they don’t have new characters in them, that their re-purposing and revitalization of older concepts is part of their appeal. Which is basically what you said.

  38. @clay: DnA have struck a good balance between using new characters and doing new things with old characters in their cosmic books.

    Most of the various allies/antagonists that the Guardians have at Knowhere are new, as is Knowhere itself and Cosmo (telepathic Russian dog cosmonaut – there is nothing whatsoever in that concept that isn’t cool).

    And bringing Thanos, champion of Death, back in order to deal with the threat of a universe where death no longer exists is just cool.

  39. Can’t believe I forgot about Cosmo. Yes, he rocks.

    Look, I wasn’t actually arguing that DnA are doing anything wrong, far from it. I was just playing devil’s advocate to David’s post.

    Upon further reflection, I think the true strength of this run of books (started by Giffen, lest we forget) is that it takes concepts from all over the Marvel U: the FF (Annihilus, Inhumans, Blastaar), X-Men (Phalanx, Shiar, Vulcan), Avengers (Ultron, Kree), etc., and mixes them all up.

    In fact, nowhere do any villains face their ‘traditional’ foes, which means we don’t get the same old dynamic. Everything feels fresh.

  40. […] David Brothers asks, Is it time to leave the past behind?. Kalinara responds at Pretty, Fizzy Paradise, explaining Why I Love Legacy […]

  41. Late, late comment, but I think there’s something here that nobody’s commented on, and it’s this: that using the same name doesn’t mean it’s all the same ideas.

    I mean, look at Jamie Reyes. He’s *made* of new ideas. He gets to have his own turf, his own supporting cast, his own villains, his own powers… *and* he gets to have a link to the greater DCU, a reputation to live up to, and heroic tales to inspire him.

    For my money, the real problem with Bendis’s New Avengers was that nearly every idea in it, new or old, was wrapped up in some crossover. The Sentry, the Hood, Civil War, Secret Invasion – they were constantly in the middle of *something*.

  42. […] his post on re-using old characters, David Brothers mentions that in 6 years writing the Avengers, Brian Michael Bendis created only […]