You Better Be Prepared To Finish What You Start (JMS Wasn’t)

November 11th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

“Tune your ear to the frequency of despair, and cross reference by the longitude and latitude of a heart in agony.


Sometimes the newscycle doesn’t go quite how you expected. Wednesday was one of those days. DC announced a big new push for digital comics, which was clearly meant to open the news day and gain a certain amount of buzz, around 9 a.m. PST. Another post went up a few hours later about J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis’s sequel to the smash hit Superman: Earth One. Buried deep in the post was the news that Straczynski is quitting his position as writer of Superman and Wonder Woman, two major flagship DC titles where he launched major stories to much mainstream fanfare. Instead, Chris Roberson will now be writing Superman with issue 707 and Phil Hester is stepping in to script Wonder Woman as of issue 605. JMS will be working on a sequel to Superman: Earth One.

C’mon, son. Who you fooling? How dumb are we supposed to be?

It’s not hard to tell that this a bait and switch. Why hide the actual news to the point where you’re announcing something entirely different and then slip it in at the end? Why bring the Superman: Earth One announcement into it, especially when it isn’t an announcement at all? The release from DC says “It’s too early to talk art, story or release date,” which essentially says nothing, especially since the Earth One graphic novels were already announced as a series of books last year.

Superman: Earth One is a smash hit, and God bless Straczynski and Shane Davis both for getting that book out there to the masses. I even buy the idea that the sequel was fast-tracked due to the success of the first volume. What I don’t buy is the rationale put forth in the press release that Straczynski is just getting a bit busy, so he’s gonna let a couple of up and comers get their shot at the limelight while he works on the next Superman book to sell a kajillion copies.

When you look at Straczynski’s history of late comics, the delays and art troubles on his current comics, his comments regarding how far behind schedule he ended up, the timeline of when the books were announced and when they shipped, and perhaps most tellingly, his wish to take a one to five year sabbatical from monthly comics, there’s a lot more going on than JMS “getting busy” and putting someone else on.

His runs on Superman and Wonder Woman were announced in March 2010 and scheduled for July, on top of a run on The Brave & The Bold that began in Fall 2009 and Superman: Earth One, which had been announced in December 2009. That’s quite a workload for any one writer. Something had to give, and the first thing was The Brave & The Bold. Issue 36 was scheduled to ship in August 2010, but never appeared on store shelves. Its absence was not particularly notable at the time, considering that Superman 701 and Wonder Woman 601 shipped in July to great fanfare, but in hindsight, it was the first hint that something had gone wrong with Straczynski’s time at DC Comics.

Then Superman 703 shipped a month late. And on top of that, when Superman 704 arrived it wasn’t by Straczynski at all, but an unsolicited fill-in story scripted by G. Willow Wilson and Leandro Oliveira, which was announced on September 17 and rushed to stores in October. The artist lineup also hinted at more scheduling issues, as Wonder Woman artist Don Kramer ended up with a bit of pencilling help from Eduardo Pansica and Allan Goldman for his second, third, and fourth issues, despite being a typically timely artist. Having a mixture of artists in a typical comic is fairly rare; it usually means something gone wrong with the scheduling, and suggests that the scripts were late and Kramer had no chance of getting up to speed.

This supposition is bolstered by explanations Straczynski gave in a Robot 6 comments thread in September, shortly before the Wilson fill-in was announced. He mentioned being too sick to write for two months this year, covering San Diego Comic-con 2010 and Fan Expo in Canada. That means the two months were July and August. He admits to falling behind, causing the lateness of Superman 703, and expresses a plan to be “2 full issues ahead by NYCC” in October. It’s fair to assume that the fill-in creative team was solicited for Superman 704 due to his lateness and to give him time to get ahead again. If you put the puzzle pieces together, it appears that Straczynski’s runs were both behind schedule from the outset, and his sickness exacerbated the lateness.

This may seem unfair to Straczynski, and losing work due to sickness is a truly unavoidable and tragic situation, but that’s just part of the story. Longtime followers of Straczynski know that he has a history of being late or outright not finishing series that he’s started. His run on Squadron Supreme ended on a cliffhanger with its seventh issue. His run on Thor shipped 12 issues in its first 18 months and a total of 17 issues over the course of 28 months. Thor, of course, was solicited and advertised as an ongoing monthly comic. His much-hyped Thor Giant-Size Finale was twenty-three pages long, one page longer than your average monthly comic, which makes it definitely not “giant size.” Considering the events in the story, it wasn’t a finale, either.

Finally, Straczynski stopped writing the The Twelve on its eighth issue of a 12-issue run, leaving artist Chris Weston high and dry. Around once a year since he left the series, Straczynski insists that the series will be done soon, or “come hell or high water,” with the clear implication that Weston is at fault for the lateness of the series. Weston, on the other hand, has written a one-shot prequel to The Twelve and helped craft the visual style of the (pretty good!) Denzel Washington film The Book of Eli while waiting on scripts from Straczynski. Straczynski recently took to the press again to talk slick about his collaborator in public, prompting Weston to remark that The Twelve WILL be finished, apparently.”

What we have here is a pattern of Straczynski beginning projects and wandering off once he gets bored. He’s completed several projects, to be fair, but aside from Amazing Spider-Man, many of his major works (Midnight Nation, Rising Stars, Fantastic Four, Squadron Supreme, Thor) have been punctuated by lateness or simply not being finished.

JMS and DC both prioritized Superman: Earth One over Superman and Wonder Woman’s ongoing series due to the fact that Straczynski fell behind on his ongoing series to the point where maintaining his position became untenable. The reality is that JMS was (again, judging from available evidence) heinously late with his scripts and had already passed the point where the very high profile relaunches of Superman and Wonder Woman were either going to be creatively compromised by the presence of rushed art and scripts or slip from the schedule entirely. These are two launches that got enormous news coverage outside of the comics journalism bubble and managed to galvanize both the comics-reading audience and people who don’t read comics into having opinions about the stories. They are big, people care about them, and they matter in a certain way that a lot of comics stories do not. Something had to be done.

Comics fans aren’t stupid. We know about late comics, we know that sometimes health gets in the way, and we know when someone’s trying to pull one over on us. The problem isn’t JMS being late, sick, or needing help getting his stories done. The problem is the way that this news was announced, which attempted to scrub clearly obvious facts from history in favor of a fairy tale that makes everyone involved look pristine. A little spin is fine, and to be expected. Spinning to this extent, however, is absurd and borderline insulting.

When Chris Claremont got sick and couldn’t complete his work on Exiles and New Excalibur, Marvel straight up said so and brought in writers to tell stories until he could come back. They didn’t try to bait and switch their audience. They kept it honest: this is going to kill the schedule, but rather than compromise our quality and schedule, we’re going to bring in these other guys. The original writer will be back as soon as he’s well again. That’s the sensible choice.

Doing it DC’s way taints the entire story. The response to JMS surrendering his series has been overwhelmingly negative, due in part to the abysmal quality of his Superman work. Fans, journalists, and pros have snarked about his reasons for leaving. Instead of the news being Chris Roberson and Phil Hester getting a shot at the big time, the news is “JMS Quits Series Again, Some Guys Are Gonna Wrap Up His Work, News at 11.”

That’s awful. Roberson and Hester are talented guys and more than deserve their time in the sun. They don’t deserve to have their announcement overshadowed by JMS being up to his old tricks again. Now they’re sandbagged with not only cleaning up his mess, but also dealing with whatever ill will this press is going to generate.

The purpose of PR is to sell comics and to present a certain face for the company. The face you see here is one that’s okay with being intentionally misleading in a really crap way to its fans. It’s not a lie, exactly, but it’s spinning so fast it’d make a politicians head spin. This is a textbook example of what not to do.

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This Week in Panels: Week 56

October 17th, 2010 Posted by Gavok

Whew! Big week this time around, thanks mostly to TEAMWORK! I got a bunch of panels in, David threw in a couple, as did readers Was Taters and Space Jawa. Even David Uzumeri made me use a damned Superman panel here.

In other news, our very own Esther now has her own Twitter. Start following and she might start Tweeting stuff!

Amazing Spider-Man #645
Mark Waid, Paul Azaceta, Matthew Southworth, Stan Lee and Marcos Martin

B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth: New World #3
Mike Mignola, John Arcudi and Guy Davis

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Fourcast! 65: Apocalypse

October 11th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

-Movie review!
Superman/Batman: Apocalypse is out.
-It’s an adaptation of Jeph Loeb and Michael Turner’s Superman/Batman, Vol. 2: Supergirl.
-Overall? We both think it was a mixed bag.
-Too short for what it was trying to do, too full of stuff to have anything but problematic pacing and editing.
-There were great bits (the last fight)
-There were awful bits (Lashina’s brand new backless costume)
-But yeah, 50/50 over here.
-6th Sense’s 4a.m. Instrumental for the theme music.
-See you, space cowboy!

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This Week in Panels: Week 53

September 26th, 2010 Posted by Gavok

Welcome to another week of This Week. Not as many comics from my end as usual, but I have David tossing me a couple, as well as contributors Was Taters and Space Jawa. As I start these off in alphabetical order, I find myself asking: what tracks does Emma Frost have in her earrings?

Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis #3
Warren Ellis and Kaare Andrews

Avengers #5
Brian Michael Bendis and John Romita Jr.

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Cripes on Infinite Earths Part 1: Superman’s Metropolis

September 15th, 2010 Posted by guest article

(Gavok note: On the heels of Marvel announcing What If #200, it’s fitting to take on the topic of alternate reality stories. Truth be told, the idea of doing an Elseworlds list much like how I did one with What If has been a looming menace hanging over my head and for years I’ve been afraid of forcing the other shoe to drop. Thankfully, Fletcher “Syrg” Arnett was inspired enough to fight the dragon in my stead and has offered to do a series of guest articles on the subject. You might remember Syrg from his fantastic take on the comic disaster Marville last year. If you don’t, go read it anyway. He’s good people. I plan to throw my hat into his series here at least twice before he’s finished, since there are a couple Elseworlds that I feel the need to talk about. This includes one that I’ve considered to be the worst comic I’ve ever read that I’ve been putting off writing on for years. But enough about me. It’s Syrg’s show. Enjoy.)

Marvel has their What If…?s, and DC has their own brand of “But what happens if we take X and change Y?” tales, called, depending on when you ask, Elseworlds/”Tales of the Multiverse”. (Juuuuust kidding. I don’t think anyone aside from Dan DiDio has ever used that last one seriously.)

The thing is, though, Marvel’s usually (I added the qualifier for a reason, Gavok, I know about that Timequake crap) come from a formula of “take big event/origin of character, change outcome slightly, go from there”. DC runs a little looser with the format, like that one where Bruce Wayne is an amnesiac immortal and Alfred is actually Merlin. Or the time the Justice League had to mount an assault on the Planetary Organization to break their shadowy hold over the planet. Maybe you know the one where Lex Luthor, singer-turned-record executive, sold his media empire to Darkseid?

Elseworlds are almost always entertaining, intentionally or not, because before 2010 and a run of titles like Rise of Arsenal and that other trainwreck I forget the name of*, you never thought you’d be buying a DC book where Superman got turned into a gender-swapped nazi centaur. (We’ll get to that one. Later.) Point is, the fact that so many of these are out of print and forgotten is a damn shame, and so just like Gavok running through all the What If…?s in the world, I’ll hit every damn Elseworld I can get my hands on, and probably a few other eccentric DC projects that didn’t earn that banner, usually because they were written too early or too late.

There’s going to be a lot less order to this than Gavok’s project. For one thing, I don’t think there’s any way to come up with a coherent set of criteria/checklist to hit for all of these, and I’m unsure as to what the “Peter Parker Dies” of Elseworlds is. Probably “Martian Manhunter Out of Fucking Nowhere”, that dude shows up a lot in the otherwise-grounded stories (and it’s usually to inspire Superman to go use his goddamn powers, that guy takes pacifism way too seriously in these).

Also: no order, no rankings. Some of these are books I haven’t even looked through since I picked them up, and this project is good motivation to finish looking at the beaten-down copies of a couple. There’s no way I’ll be able to come up with a full scale to judge them on and pick a favorite. (Even if I did, people would bitch at me forever because technically, Kingdom Come is an Elseworld, and lord knows the kvetching if I put that below something like Speeding Bullets.) In fact, let’s just say it: I’m skipping a lot of the big ones. Kingdom Come/The Kingdom, Red Son, Destiny (since Gavok covered it a while back), Dark Knight Returns/Strikes Back. (I want to skip True Brit because it’s rather awful, but I suppose I’ll play canary in the coalmine for people who might go “John Cleese? Sold!”) I leave myself wiggle room on this as I go, but rest assured I’ll give you more than those and then some in extras by the time we’re done.

This is getting to be a bit text heavy. Let’s dive into the first book, Elseworlds: Superman’s Metropolis.

Superman’s Metropolis is an interesting book for a variety of reasons. It’s why I started off with it. But first, let’s look at the stats:

Superman’s Metropolis
Focuses on: Superman (for now)
Self-contained/Multiple books: Multiple (trilogy)
Published in: 1996
Central premise: Superman and cast as placed into Fritz Lang’s Metropolis
Martian Manhunter Out of Fucking Nowhere? No

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This Week in Panels: Weeks 48 and 49

August 29th, 2010 Posted by Gavok

Due to extenuating circumstances, I wasn’t able to do ThWiP last week, so it’s been accumulated into this week’s update. For last week’s picks, I’m disappointed in David for choosing that specific Avengers Academy panel when the true honors should have gone to Reptil asking a disgruntled Cain Marko if he can say, “Nothing can stop the Juggernaut!” for his amusement. Was Taters rejoins the show once again, unable to choose between panels for Superman/Batman, so we went with both.

Warning: there is something really fucked up going on with Hal Jordan’s hands in the Legacies image and you won’t be able to stop yourself from staring at it.

Action Comics #892
Paul Cornell, Pete Woods, Pere Perez, Jeff Lemire and Pier Gallo

Age of Heroes #4
Elliott Kalan, Brendan McCarthy and others

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Summerslam for Comic Fans

August 15th, 2010 Posted by Gavok

Tonight we have what I guess would be considered the WWE’s third most important show of the year, Summerslam. I mean, on paper, it’s supposed to be the secondary Wrestlemania, but everyone and their imaginary friend loves Royal Rumble more. I look forward to the show despite the roadblocks it sets up. There are only six matches signed. One of these matches is a throwaway Divas match I couldn’t care less about. One of the championship matches is Rey Mysterio vs. Kane and while I love Kane and don’t mind Mysterio, I don’t need to be reminded of their abysmal, “Is he alive or is he dead?” feud.

So why am I so jazzed about the show? Team WWE vs. the Nexus in an elimination tag match. The Nexus has been one of the better wrestling storylines in past years, despite its own set of roadblocks (Daniel Bryan/Bryan Danielson being fired, Wade Barrett’s visa problems, Ricky Steamboat’s injury). I can only hope the storyline doesn’t get killed as of the end of Summerslam, yet at the same time, I don’t want them to last long enough to get destroyed by a returning Triple H. God, I really don’t want to see Triple H involved with this in any way.

For those new to the big main event, here it is laid out DC Comics style.

(click for bigger version)

Let’s see who we got on here…

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4×4 Elements: Superman: Birthright

July 28th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Superman: Birthright. Words by Mark Waid, pencils by Leinil Francis Yu, inks by Gerry Alanguilan, colors by Dave McCaig, and letters by Comiccraft, Superman by Siegel and Shuster.

I didn’t like Superman until I read Birthright. I’d read a few as a kid, most notably the Death and Reign, and the cartoon was okay I guess, but he never clicked. He was generic and boring. Here are four ways why Birthright convinced me otherwise.

Superman gets angry. Most popular interpretations of Superman portray him as fairly long-suffering, good-humored, and kind. He punches robots and rescues children and goes home satisfied. In Birthright, he’s a little different. He’s a little edgier and, as this scene shows, a lot angrier. This isn’t your stereotypical “This ends now!” anger. It’s something smaller and much more personal. I like this, in part because it makes Superman a little more human.

Kryptonian or not, Superman was raised as a human being by human beings. There’s no way that he grew up to be completely emotionally stable at all times. Something has to piss him off at some point. This time, it was a young girl looking down the barrel of a gun because of a man’s negligence. This kind of thing puts me in mind of Action Comics 1, where Superman throws a wife beater up against a wall and generally operates on a completely different level than he does these days.

This manages to ground Superman (“He gets angry at injustice, just like us!”) without butchering him or tearing his character to bits. He has a very reasonable reaction to something horrible happening, and he wants to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. “I want you to know how this feels, because your complete lack of empathy is what allowed it to happen.” Superman is a power fantasy, and a tremendous part of the appeal of power fantasies is that they can do things you wish you could do, but cannot.

Superman has super-empathy, feeling great respect and love for all creatures. One wrinkle Waid and Yu added to the mythology is that Superman is a vegetarian. It sounds a little goofy, and is minor in the overall scheme of things, but it makes a lot of sense. If Superman really was as kind and gracious as people say he is, that obscene level of kindness would extended to all life.

What matters here isn’t that he eats rabbit food all the time. What matters is that the idea that Superman is a vegetarian shows that Waid put a lot of thought into Superman. He went deeper than “Superman is a good guy and does good guy things.” He started with one idea, “Superman is a good guy raised by loving parents,” and extrapolated from there. Superman has a deep wellspring of love for life->Superman is an alien, and is therefore as different from humans as humans are to animals->Superman would consider all life the same->Superman wouldn’t want to kill animals for food. One thought, followed through to its logical extension.

Thought counts.

Lois Lane is annoying. This isn’t the Lois who has settled down with Superman and knocks out Pulitzer Prize-winning articles twice a week. This is the Lois that has had a few minor hits, has gained a well-regarded reputation, but hasn’t quite made her name what it would later grow to be. Except: she’s very, very good. Perry White knows it. Clark Kent has known it for years. Everyone knows it. The worst part is that she knows it.

Have you ever met a really talented person who knows that they’re talented? Lois Lane is that person. She knows she’s good, and she knows that her talent lets her get away with a whole lot of stuff. Yes, she will critique the paper to her boss in excruciating detail. Yes, she will put herself into dangerous situations just because she can. Yes, she will lie and cheat her way into a building to get a story. Yes, she will hit Lex Luthor’s doomsday machine with a lead pipe.

“If you got it, flaunt it,” said the late great Notorious B.I.G. Lois has got it. She flaunts it. And she can, because she’s got the talent to back it up.

This isn’t especially deep or profound. This is just something else that wraps up Superman’s origin in a nice, neat bow. Superman gets to talk to his parents. Originally, Superman was just an orphan. He knew where he was from, he knew his history, but he didn’t know or ever talk to his parents. He was a baby.

At the end of Birthright, a wormhole through time lets him see his parents just after they launch him into space. They’re worried about his future and caught in the despair that can only come when giving up your child. And in the end, when he finally gets a chance to speak to them, he says, “Mother… Father… I made it.”

It’s sweet and it gives a certain measure of closure to a story that you probably didn’t even realize needed it. Later stories would build upon Superman’s relationship to Krypton (“Great Rao!” for some reason took off even though dude was probably raised Methodist), but this right here is the first step, and honestly the only step I need. His parents died at peace. He started his life as Superman and soon managed to make contact with his past. It’s nice.

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Improving Superman #701

July 16th, 2010 Posted by Gavok

These days, Superman is strolling through the country, acting like a smarmy douche to most people he comes across. I think it has something to do with how people slip in the shower and Superman’s not there to help them because he’s too busy making sure monsters from the planet Apokalips aren’t enslaving all existence. You know, minor, self-serving stuff like that. So when a random citizen asks him about why he’s essentially focusing on saving people from slipping in the shower and letting the cosmic threats go unchecked, he quotes Henry David Thoreau for the sake of saying, “Because I’m Superman. You go deal with Doomsday, Poindexter.”

Not good enough, I say.

“What’s that mean? Hey! I asked you a question! What does that mean?”

That guy’s lucky, though. Imagine if he tried the same badgering on the Plutonian.


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This Week in Panels: Week 37

June 6th, 2010 Posted by Gavok

Week 37? In a row?!

Pretty ho-hum week this time around. Only a handful of comics on my menu.

Avengers Prime #1
Brian Michael Bendis and Alan Davis

Avengers: The Origin 3
Joe Casey and Phil Noto

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