Changing Things Up and Going From There

August 24th, 2008 by | Tags: , , , , , , ,

A few months back, I suppose inspired by the internet anger at One More Day, Tom Brevoort made mention on his blog how puzzled he was about part of the reaction. Back when The Other happened, people were annoyed as hell that Spider-Man had those crazy new powers, like his newfound wrist spikes. Now that they’ve gone back to webshooters and removed his new powers from the table, people are angry again. Why is that?

It brought me to realize that change in comics has two parts. One is the change itself. The other is the use of that change. Why was everyone annoyed? Because even though The Other was over-hyped and boring, it’s amplified when you realize that they hadn’t done anything with it. Peter David tried to use the spikes here and there in his Friendly Neighborhood run, but that was pretty much it. Not only did The Other make his powers seem stupid, Marvel made no effort to make us believe otherwise. They just shrugged and gave up on it.

It makes me think of how some people generalize The Death of Superman. Some say that any real comic reader knew that Superman would be back in a short time and that the whole thing was rather pointless. In that over-simplification, you ignore how that entire story (maybe without all the mourning issues) brought so much to the Superman mythos. First, it gave us a villain who, while used badly over the years, is still considered an iconic monster. One Superman villain was redesigned into a more fearsome and recognizable form, while another was redesigned into an interesting tweener character. Then we got two new superheroes with staying power and the groundwork for Hal Jordan’s descent into madness.

Hell, look at Hal Jordan! I mean he’s so handsome and dreamy and—sorry. Look at how many people frothed at the mouth at Green Lantern: Rebirth and the first few issues of his series. Without the return of Jordan, there wouldn’t be Sinestro Corps and the two Green Lantern series wouldn’t be nearly as fantastic. It paid off in the end.

I’m going to take a moment to look at four changes in comics, each an example of one of the four possibilities. A good change that worked out, a bad change that didn’t, a bad change that paid off and a good change where the ball was dropped. Maybe this will be a series. I don’t know.

Good Change with Good Use: The Return of Bucky Barnes

The fact that this is both a good change and it worked out in the end still boggles my mind. For years, the idea was that Bucky would always be dead and that any attempt to undo that would be an immediate disaster that we’d laugh about for years. Then Ed Brubaker dedicated almost the entirety of his Captain America run to it. And it worked! Really well!

I still remember being several issues into the series and thinking that maybe that guy in the stasis tube in the first issue was Bucky and that they were going to bring him back. Everything felt so natural and organic about the way it was written that it didn’t even seem like such a bad idea. Then after Bucky was revealed as the Winter Soldier, for the next year I noticed a polarizing reaction among comic fans. Anyone who had been told about it or saw Bucky on an issue’s cover acted offended. They couldn’t believe that Marvel had the balls and bad taste to actually bring Bucky back. The people who found out about it by reading it? They all enjoyed the hell out of it and usually verbally bitchslapped that first group.

It’s a testament to Ed Brubaker as a writer. I honestly can’t imagine anyone else making such a controversial change so effectively. Not Morrison or Bendis or Ellis or whoever.

The momentum has been strong since. We got the “Remember who you are” incident, the brief Cap/Bucky team-up, the neat fight against Wolverine in the printing factory and just about anything else that involved Bucky becoming the new Captain America. I hope he keeps the mantle for a long, long time.

Bad Change with Bad Use: The Return of Jason Todd

Here we go to the other side of the coin. With Bucky, a lot of the reluctance towards the idea came from it being a staple for 40 years that he was totally dead. It wasn’t nearly as long with Jason Todd, but at the same time, his death was based on public opinion. People paid money to see him killed off. That’s hate right there.

Judd Winnick’s decision to bring back Jason came from Jeph Loeb’s blue balls segment in Hush, where Batman fought Red Hood, who turned out to be Jason, who turned out to be Clayface. Winnick decided that Loeb should have gone full Monty and really brought Jason back in.

Now, I’m not going to full out hate on bringing him back. There were some cool bits, like when he beat Joker with a crowbar and then revealed himself. Or that time he held Joker hostage and got in an argument with Batman over killing Joker for revenge. Oh, and the time he fired a rocket with “LOL!” written on the side at Black Mask. Those were fine.

There were still a lot of smudges with his return. I seem to recall a bit where Red Hood fights either Black Mask or Batman and then gets killed and it turns out it’s just some other guy underneath the hood. I’m sure my details are off, but I remember it making zero sense. Then after all the set-up, the cause of his return is revealed to be the infamous Superboy Prime punches. This was our first introduction to everybody’s favorite retcon device and I remember it going over like a fat man with wings.

…No, I’m sticking by that metaphor. Fuck you.

I know Winnick was basically mandated to use the Superboy Prime thing to explain how Jason came back. He himself wanted to just take the easy way out and say that it was the Lazarus Pits, which he used for the latter part of his return origin. That part confuses me because I seem to recall the comic previously going out of its way to show that it probably wasn’t the Lazarus Pits, but something bigger.

After all that, Jason… hoo boy. Poor guy. After all that, Jason took part in the opening One Year Later arc for Nightwing, written by Bruce Jones. I’ve enjoyed some of Jones’ stuff before, but around the time this arc came out, Jones was writing way too many comics for DC and they were all absolutely horrible. Nightwing, which had every right to be a breakout hit due to the controversy going on during Infinite Crisis, was the biggest, most laughable dud. I should be more detailed here, but I’ve blocked a lot of it out of my mind. I know there was some bad art, some awful dialogue (“_____ THIS!” seemed to be Jones’ favorite) and something about Jason mutating into a monster briefly.

There was a Green Arrow arc that I never got around to reading and then Jason became a major player in Countdown to Final Crisis. Man. Need I say more?

I wonder if they can improve on this attempt when they bring Azrael back in the upcoming months.

Bad Change with Good Use: Speedball Becomes Penance

Every now and again, someone working at Marvel or DC takes a look at a comedic character and decides to add some tragedy and darkness. Sometimes it’s straight up murder, like with Blue Beetle. Booster Gold had to deal with that murder. Plastic Man turned out to be a deadbeat dad and then spent 3,000 years underwater, living in undying fragments. Speedball became the fall guy for the deaths of hundreds, became the most hated man in America, ended up in prison and ended up becoming a whiny shell of a man in spiky armor.

What a ridiculous turn of events. All the Robbie Baldwin segments in Civil War: Frontline were hard to read, mostly because the readers’ eyes would roll and they wouldn’t be able to see the paper anymore. Dan Slott even went ahead and made fun of this evolution in one of the Great Lakes Initiative stories. Keep in mind, this is the same Dan Slott who turned Slapstick into a near-homicidal maniac.

Those DC examples in my first paragraph all moved forward into better stories. To my surprise, Penance is no different. Writers have been bringing in their A-game when it’s come to him. He’s become less whiny and more aggressive, actually moving forward with character development to escape the horrors of his bad design. Gage’s Penance/Bullseye one-shot, Jenkins’ Penance Relentless miniseries and Ellis’ latter issues of Thunderbolts have seen to this.

I find myself interested in seeing where Marvel will be taking him next. Good show.

Good Change with Bad Use: The New Avengers

All right, all right, all right! Just hear me out on this. Hear me out.

After Bendis took apart the Avengers in Disassembled, his new series was heavily hyped. New Avengers was a big deal, with their unorthodox roster of Captain America, Iron Man, Wolverine, Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, Luke Cage, Sentry and the mysterious Ronin. It was controversial. Scott Tipton likened them to the much-hated Detroit incarnation of the Justice League, but I thought it was a cool turn of events. I was down with the idea. Then I read Sentry’s miniseries and I was REALLY down with the idea.

The series, naturally, turned out to be magnificent. I have no complaints about the writing or anything like that. The problem is that with Bendis’ decompression style, he writes things so slow that things end up going too fast.

It took six issues for six of the members to join together. Then it took four issues to get another member to join in. Then three more issues to get that last member to join, if you would even call Echo/Ronin a member of the team. Then a couple more issues to establish that they’re a team.

A cool annual issue came out and there was that storyline where they fought the Collective, but around the time of those starting up, Bendis made the announcement that he was going to disassemble his New Avengers. What the fuck? Really?

I get that the Avengers are destined to alter every other day. I know that Hulk left the original team by the time the second issue ended and that after sixteen issues, the entire original roster was replaced. But this roster did virtually nothing. Yes, sure, they made a couple cameos long enough for Spider-Man to say, “Wow, that Apocalypse sure is tough! Hope the X-Men can stop him,” but there was so much lead up. It’s like a kid who spends weeks building something with his Legos, only to take it apart the minute he finishes his work.

I don’t know, maybe I’d feel different if they didn’t stick Sentry and Ronin on so many covers early on. I just feel that there was lots of story potential unused.

I guess one of the reasons I decided to write this up is a discussion I got involved with involving Amazing Spider-Man’s Brand New Day. As you may recall, I really hated the hell out of One More Day and refused to follow what was going on in Amazing out of protest. I would just look at reviews and if things sounded good enough, I’d give it a look. I was originally going to sit out the current New Ways to Die storyline, but hermanos has been pushing me on it and, damn it all, I love Eddie Brock too much to say no.

Yet in the end, I find the same reaction from so many about the good parts of Brand New Day: all that Mephisto/Mary Jane crap has shown to be pointless. These may be good stories, but Quesada’s insistence that the marriage needed to be dissolved in a convoluted way in order to tell these stories is stock full of bullshit.

I do think that we need more Venom stories written by Mark Waid and drawn by Adi Granov. Santa Claus, make it happen!

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9 comments to “Changing Things Up and Going From There”

  1. One thing that makes the Brubaker change work really well is that Brubaker takes the time to let you know why Bucky is important to Cap. He gets you invested in the idea so much that even if you never read a comic about Captain America or Bucky, you can’t but help want Bucky to come back so him and Cap and be homies. He gets you to buy in. I don’t think they ever did it with Jason Todd, I still think outside of the costume issue of Front Line, the Speedball bits were interesting and built fantastically towards getting me to care with what was happening to speedball.

    I think people keep missing out on the point of One More Day, it’s not that you couldn’t tell stories like this with a Married Spider-Man, it was that they had started to make the character overly complicated and they wanted to strip him down to something that was simpler.

  2. Then I suppose they screwed up on that. A localized Crisis story for one character is not a good idea to make things less complex.

  3. Fuck you. Granov needs to do more Iron Man.

  4. Granov’s good on Iron Man, but, Viva Las Vegas looks like weird photos.

  5. What category do you think Captain Skrull-Vell falls into? Or is it to early to say just yet? Personally, I’m hoping for another Brian Reed written series.

  6. Wow man, nice freakin’ article. I’ve read up on all these comics you listed, and you labeled them perfectly. I really wanted Jason Todd to be great, I really wanted to give him a shot. But that Annual story that explained how he came back… my God, I never found anything so bad yet for a “return” story.

    As for your Superman example, I’d like to add something to that. The Death of Superman TPB was the first TPB I ever bought, and it almost made me stop buying comics. I thought it was so dumb that this creature came out of seemingly no where, wrecked everything in its path, and punched Superman to death. I felt Superman’s sacrifice a little, but overall it had no pull for me. HOWEVER, the stories afterward covering people dealing with the grief and loss of Superman, that was gold. People still get choked up about the Bumpo story, where he’s helping the survivors of Doomsday’s attack, and later praying to God to trade places with Superman. That was powerful stuff because the loss these people felt was palpable. I’d say I felt similar emotions when Captain America died. Sure, you know he’s coming back, but he was built up so you’d care that he died, because he death had meaning, and there were real consequences to him being out of the picture.

    It’s a fine line, but if I don’t feel happy when a character returns, or somewhat sad when a character dies, it screams marketing to me. But like I said, it’s a subjective process.

  7. Well, yeah, with OMD/BND, for me, at least, it was that they didn’t do shit with Spidey as a public figure other than have his ‘women’ get shot at and then have him rant and rave about how he was going to finally kill the Kingpin, which, of course, he couldn’t do, and then not only did his public identity get changed but they altered a whole bunch more continuity that had nothing to do with the potential storytelling problems of everyone knowing who Peter is. The Mephisto story ERASED years of REAL character development.

    A year or so of black-suited, fugitive Spidey doing his thing while MJ and Aunt May hide and Tony Stark keeps looking the other way would have kept me hooked. As it is, I still haven’t bought a single non-Ultimate Spider-Man, and apparently they’re trying to lure readers like me back with . . . Anti-Venom?

    I’m nostalgic, but not for 1993.

  8. This Anti-Venom storyline because of the whole Osborne/Venom – Mr Negative/Anti-Venom setup, though Anti-Venom and Venom do seem pretty forced… I don’t really care, it doesn’t really bother me. And it doesn’t seem like they’ve twisted Osborne too far from what he’s become in the Thunderbolts and as a person.

    Mostly, I want to see the parallels between Billy Kane and his boss Geese Howard contrasted to… uh, M. Bison and possibly Sagat?

  9. @Pedro Tejeda:

    Right Because jugling women and trying to land dates is less complicated then just going home to your wife.

    Their arugment is the opposite of yours, that he is less exciting married (simpler) and that for him to have good stories his life must be more complicated.