“he’s all right, but he’s not real”

November 2nd, 2011 Posted by david brothers

Here’s the solicit for X-Men #20, on sale digitally and in finer comic shops nationwide:

Guest starring Iron Man 2.0! The fallout of Schism pushes the X-Men and War Machine at each other in Eastern Europe asSsentinels are being traded on the black market.

Here’s me earlier this year (it feels like forever ago) in an interview with Tom Spurgeon:

And look at Marvel’s upcoming Iron Man 2.0. The cover artist, title, and logo are all intended to make it look like it’s part of Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca’s successful run on Iron Man. The twist? It stars James Rhodes as War Machine. The same James Rhodes who was just in a series a year ago that bit the dust with issue #12. How is that anything but a vote of no-confidence for black characters in comics? Congrats, Rhodey! You’re a major co-star in a big Hollywood blockbuster and Marvel knows that the current comics audience won’t even look at you without someone else’s logo on the cover.

Related, but maybe not: Bleeding Cool is saying that Iron Man 2.0 is canceled as of #12.

I read a few issues of Iron Man 2.0. It was a Nick Spencer/Ariel Olivetti book at the beginning, but Kano and Carmine Di Giadomenico (who I like a whole lot) pinch hit a bit. I was unimpressed. I was actually sort of annoyed when Rhodey slipped further and further into the background. I hit one issue where Rhodey wasn’t in it at all, or on one page or something ridiculous like that. And then Fear Itself hit and the book turned into Cast-Off Iron Fist Characters Monthly (sometimes featuring War Machine). Chris Eckert did a pretty good job of breaking down why that sucks over here.

I’m not one of those comics hardliners, either. People who are like “It took Stan and Steve six pages to do Spider-Man’s origin and yet Miles Morales isn’t even in costume yet in issue three!” are morons. Fights don’t have to happen for an issue to be good. “Nothing happened” is a crap complaint. You take a story on its own merits, not by the standards of some time before any of us were born. You could probably build a very good story with the hero/titular character flitting around the outskirts of the book. I think Brian Azzarello and Marcelo Frusin did that pretty well on their last arc of Hellblazer. You can build dread.

The problem with Iron Man 2.0 is that there was no narrative momentum. I never bought the premise of the story. Spencer didn’t stick the landing when he was setting it up. As a result, rather than building a mystery, an entire issue about some dude I don’t care about or some rip from Chinese mythology was an intrusion, rather than an infiltration. Does that make sense?

If the story is good, you can do whatever you want. Even pirate comics and lengthy essays.

But that’s all a sidebar for what I really want to get at, which is referring to Rhodey as “Iron Man 2.0” in solicit text. Yeah, they call him War Machine later, but he’s introduced as Iron Man 2.0. He’s branded as Iron Man 2.0.

And I don’t think anything speaks to the state of colored folks and comics as well as that. Marvel has been astonishingly good at keeping their black characters around. They’re miles ahead of their nearest competition. Barring a couple breaks of maybe 18-24 months combined, we’ve had an ongoing Black Panther comic since like 1998 or whenever Priest started. Bendis turned Luke Cage into a superstar (but still no solo series). Misty Knight has starred in three separate Heroes for Hire/Daughters of the Dragon series in the past what, six years? And she’s getting relaunched again this week? Marvel clearly wants this to work. They’ve thrown everything at the wall and nothing appears to be sticking.

Their new tactic is stripping a character of his own identity and hitching his cart to another character. Iron Man 2.0‘s entire outward appearance is meant to emulate Iron Man and confuse consumers into thinking it stars a white dude or something, I dunno. Rhodey has been around for decades. He has a fanbase. But it isn’t enough. So Marvel is pretending like Rhodey is a subset of Iron Man rather than letting him stand on his own two.

And that sucks. Readers (hopefully) aren’t that stupid, and it’s so limiting in scope. Rhodey spent the ’90s (and several other brief periods of time) attempting to escape Tony Stark’s shadow. I’m far from a superfan, or even an average fan, and I know that. To pull him back under that shadow in the name of goosing sales and then to make him a sideliner in his own comic… I dunno. Maybe there just shouldn’t be War Machine comics. Or maybe I misread and Iron Man 2.0 is about Tony Stark’s world and not War Machine at all.

I’ve been trying to think my way through how you could spin turning Rhodey subordinate as a positive. I don’t think you can. There will always be a connection between him and Stark. That’s unavoidable and totally an avenue worth exploring. But at one point, in the text and without, he was his own distinct person. Sacrificing that, in any way, on the altar of hoping to goose sales… I dunno. It seems like such a waste.

Black Panther has a touch of this, having stepped into Daredevil’s shoes in terms of title and gimmick. I dislike it for different reasons, though. Black Panther has always been at the forefront of that comic. I think the book is dreadfully average right now, with the occasional dip into stupid (but the art tends toward fire), but that’s beside the point. Becoming the Man Without Fear and running a Denny’s feels like a step all the way out of the Black Panther’s gimmick (king of a technologically advanced isolationist nation who is also smart enough to supply Reed Richards with gadgets), but at the same time, Francesco Francavilla was born to draw him. I mean, can you imagine a hard espionage tale featuring the Panther with art like this?

“The Most Dangerous Man Alive.”

It’s so strange to think of two decades-old characters who have to step into a white man’s shoes in order to boost sales. I called Iron Man 2.0 a vote of no-confidence for black characters, and I think that holds true. If they were genuinely viable in and of themselves, they’d star in series of their own, not ones that are strapped to someone else’s back. Neither story feels like a particularly organic transition (though Rhodey’s status quo over the past however many years has been wildly uneven to begin with). Honestly, I don’t buy that either of them are good fits, either. But I can see what Marvel’s attempting to do, and in a way, I get it. In another way, it grosses me out.

It seems like you can pull off great portrayals of black characters in team books. Thunderbolts is a treat, and New Mutants, last I checked, was majority non-white. But once you get down into Soloville, you start hitting road bumps. Depressing.

Let them dudes have their own names and identities. Or let them die.

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mama can’t tell me nothing

September 9th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

All of these are taken from the first five (seven, in one case, but I forget which) pages of Scott Snyder’s most high profile work: American Vampire (with Rafael Albuquerque, Daniel Zezelj, and Dave McCaig, Detective Comics (with Jock, Francesco Francavilla, and David Baron), and Swamp Thing (with Yanick Paquette and Nathan Fairbairn). Snyder’s had fifty or so comics published thus far, but all of these hit in the last 18 (or so) months. American Vampire is 18 issues deep, his run on ‘Tec was 11 issues, and Swamp Thing just started.

Do you see what all of these have in common? “[Aged male mentor figure] used to say [anecdote relevant to the plot].” He switches it up in American Vampire 12 with “Someone once told me”, and he pulls out families and tv shows for another. The real twisty one is ‘Tec 875, where Harvey Bullock, the aged male mentor figure, talks about how kids these days just don’t get it and AM radios are a thing that exists and here’s how to survive in Gotham. Never a mother, interestingly. Always either dudes or groups that are traditionally led by dudes.

All of these are basically the same thing. Anecdotes to kick the story off and show what sort of things the issue’ll be dealing with. It isn’t a bad technique, exactly, but it’s in half of ‘Tec, a quarter of American Vampire, and the first issue of Swamp Thing. It’s substantial, and it’s noticeable, when what it really should be is invisible.

It’s like Garth Ennis and Ireland or (expletive)(facial feature), Brian K Vaughan and stupid trivia, Chris Claremont and BDSM, Brian Bendis and his style of dialogue, Greg Rucka and characters like Sasha Bordeaux/Rene Montoya/Tara Chace/Dex Parios/what’s her name, the lady cop from Adventures of Superman/Elektra/maybe the newlywed widow from Punisher I dunno/the marshal from Wolverine/etc, Mark Millar and really specific numbers and/or really out of place diminutives, Frank Miller and hardboiled/Dirty Harry-style heroes, Warren Ellis and his hard-drinking British dude or lady who takes no guff off anyone and comes up with clever insults while moblogging all the way up and down the Web 2.0, Alan Moore and rape, Nick Spencer and writing terrible comics, Grant Morrison and dead cats, Frank Cho and impeccably drawn but super out of place boobs/butts, Ed Brubaker and women being arm candy for troubled dudes, Peter Milligan and identity issues/questions, and Bruce Jones using “______ THIS!” as a response entirely too often. It’s a tic, and once you notice it, you can’t not notice it, and it yanks you out of the story. It’s the FedEx arrow.

I don’t know how I noticed it, or how whoever told me noticed it (it was my man Luis, as a matter of fact), and his editors didn’t, but man. I opened Swamp Thing 1 and immediately rolled my eyes.

It sucks, because Snyder is a pretty good comics writer (American Vampire is definitely ill), but this is just so… lazy. Like “How to setup history and foreshadow a resolution to a cliffhanger for dummies” lazy. If this was some wack writer who kept trotting this out, I wouldn’t care, because I wouldn’t be buying his comics.

edit: from Amy K, here’s an example from Severed, Snyder’s creator-owned book, where a kid doesn’t have a father to tell him stuff like “Don’t take wooden nickels” and horrible things presumably happen to him as a result of taking a gang of wooden nickels off some demon-possessed hobo or something:

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Ten Point Program: On Black Panther 513

October 18th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Hey, let’s judge a comic that isn’t out yet!

Black Panther: Man Without Fear #513, Marvel’s latest attempt at breathing some life into a character, this time courtesy of novelist David Liss and artist Francesco Francavilla. I ran a preview on Comics Alliance last week. There’s also an interview with Liss where he talks about what he wants to do. Here’s the story summary:

The smoke has cleared from the ruins of Shadowland and a new protector of Hell’s Kitchen is on the prowl. His name is T’Challa, the Blank Panther! In a city without Daredevil and a dangerous knew foe called Vlad the Impaler consolidating power in the underworld, the Black Panther must learn to become a new type of hero. Without his riches, his technology, and his kingdom can T’Challa truly be the man without fear? Find out in Black Panther: The Man Without Fear #513!

This comic has an uphill battle for me to even want to read it. Here’s a list of some thoughts on the upcoming run.

Francesco Francavilla is a monster. The guy is an absolutely astounding artist, and I think that he’s going to be one of those guys that you absolutely have to pay attention to in a year or so. In any other situation, I’d be all over a Francavilla-drawn Panther book.

Been there, done that. We’ve seen Panther as a schoolteacher in Harlem as “Luke Charles.” Guess what? It blew. It removed Panther from where he works best and lowered a king to commoner status. Don McGregor and Billy Graham’s classic Panther’s Rage was a response to that story and restored T’Challa to where he belongs. Not to mention that he’s retired/been removed as Panther before, so you’d think he’d be used to it instead of running off like a crybaby.

T’Challa has to find himself? The Black Panther is the most well adjusted black man in the Marvel universe. He ran his own country, he married the love of his life, and he has been royalty since he was a child. What about that screams “Needs to come to terms with himself?” He isn’t Batman, but he is the closest Marvel has (or needs) to Batman.

He’s the most capable black dude in the Marvel universe. When Reed Richards has trouble, he hits T’Challa on the two-way like “Doom is causing trouble with sonic waves, you got a sonic wave disrupter?” And yes, T’Challa will have one, because he’s that dude. He was the smartest man in the world’s gadget guy. Black Panther with no tech is absurd. It’s in his DNA. It’s like Mister Miracle not being able to get out of traps. To strip him down to “basics,” where those basics are “is basically Daredevil,” is gonna bore me to tears. He outclasses everyone who ever lived and fought in Hell’s Kitchen. It’d be like Mike Tyson beating up a grade schooler. There is no “out of his element,” that’s his whole point.

He has to find himself in Hell’s Kitchen? He’s African, man. If T’Challa needs to find himself, he needs to do so among his people, not in New York City. I’ve spent a decent amount of time in New York and LA, and I love them both, but if I had a nervous breakdown and had to find myself? I’d take my depressed behind back to Georgia. You want to show him finding himself? Have him intern in the Techno-Jungle or one of those villages from Panther’s Rage. Hell’s Kitchen should be nothing to him.

Panther is African. Divorcing him from that context turns him into a generic superhero. Turning him into the protector of Hell’s Kitchen lowers his profile even further. It makes him sub-Spider-Man, in terms of beat (it ain’t like Spidey only protects Forest Hills) when he should really be global class. Just the very fact that he’s from an African country that has never been conquered (which apparently made them corrupt and lazy) is something that is rich with possibilities. Why avoid it? The best runs/the only runs worth reading (McGregor, then Priest, then Hudlin, full stop) embraced it and played with his global nature. You wouldn’t see Cap digging ditches in Liverpool after screwing up huge.

He’s fighting scrub gangsters. Black Panther versus gangsters is like Superman versus bank robbers.

This is a story perfectly suited for Kasper Kole. It’s boring with the Panther because he’s above it. It fits Kasper because it’s basically already his story, and you still get the bonus of being able to involve the Panther. It’s Batman, Inc.–the Panther is franchising, and Kasper gets Hell’s Kitchen.

The pitch is boring. It’s essentially an Iron Man story (“Oh no, I have lost access to my absurdly vast store of resources via an unlikely series of events!”) stitched onto a Daredevil story (“I am the protector of Hell’s Kitchen!”). Rather than organically saying something about the Panther, it sets up a situation where you can fit all kinds of things onto the character. David Uzumeri pointed out that it’s like JMS’s Superman: Grounded, another story where a hero strips himself of his prestige to find himself amongst the common man.

The first issue is called “Urban Jungle.” Really?

This book has an extraordinary uphill battle to convince me to pick it up. I love the art, but the story is making me real uncomfortable over here. I’m gonna have to get a guinea pig to read it for me, or flip through it in the store or something, because as-is, it sounds like exactly the kind of Panther story I don’t care to read.

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