Wrapping up the holiday season, the rest of the holiday cards from the artists among our readers, at least those who wanted to share holiday cards. And thanks to everyone who sent me a card or email seasonal wishes; wish I had time to write all of you back or even send out cards (in any medium) of my own, but the clock keeps ticking down the last few minutes of this weird and mostly frustrating year, so let me just wish everyone happy whatever’s left of the holidays (whatever holiday you celebrate; I’m a Saturnalia fan, myself…) and a great new year. In the immortal words of Patti Smith, we created it, let’s take it over…
From Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener, Ronda Pattison & Jeff Powell Of ATOMIC ROBO:
From David Baillie:
From Gregory Giordano AKA “Flameape”:
From Darko Macan:
From Ken Haeser & Buz:
From Elbert Or:
From Sam Hart:
From Benjamin Holcomb:
From JJ Dzialowksi:
I’ve also got a couple that may have been intended for a wide audience but seemed a bit more personal, so if you wanted it run here and I didn’t, sorry about that. But in case this isn’t enough holiday cheer, you can also read a new (I think) Dr. Who Xmas story by author Paul Cornell here.
You’ll notice this week’s column is a day late. I only got word of holiday scheduling after I’d turned last column in. We may be a day late next week as well – I suppose it depends on how many lampshades CBR honcho Jonah Weiland decides to wear on New Year’s Eve – but after that, for certain, it’s back to Wednesdays regularly.
This being the final column of 2007, I suppose I should feel a bit nostalgic. But I don’t. On to 2008, and let the chips fall where they may.
I have to say: it was fun. Not exactly job security, but fun, and as educational as being thrown into the deep end of the pool. The really deep end.
This other writer and I got to talking. Among the things he mentioned were A) how my brief run (#185-187 & 189-190) on the first AVENGERS series were among his favorites but it was only recently that he realized I’d had anything to do with them (which isn’t uncommon, and there was never single moment ever when I was “officially” writing the book, I was just helping out) and B) it’s too bad that when people in comics publicly tell “behind the scenes” stories, especially stories involving talents better known and better received than they are/were, the raconteur usually ends up looking petty and jealous, and so many of the best stories never get told, except behind closed doors and out of public earshot. Which is true. I suggested we both write autobiographies to be published posthumously because, as he said, death or near-death are the only circumstances in which people are given a pass on accusations of pettiness etc.
Let’s talk about the Romans a second. The Romans were pretty good with their calendars, but the only way they could make them work in the long haul was to balance them out with a week at the end of each year and belonged to neither one year nor the next, nor to any month. (We solve the same problem with staggered numbers of days per month and an extra day every four years, like next year.) This evolved into a winter solstice festival, Saturnalia, during which time anything was said to go because it was a week that didn’t really exist in normal time, and everything that occurred during that week (I presume not everything, but within whatever the tolerated limits of deviant behavior in ancient Rome were) was forgiven and theoretically forgotten. The shucking of social mores was a sort of liberating event in Roman culture, a psychological steam valve, and Saturnalia continued until disgusted Christianized Rome stared it down.
I forget how it all got started. Roger Stern was AVENGERS editor at the time, while David Micheline was then the writer, picking up from Jim Shooter’s run. It might have been Jim who introduced a puppet-carving character called The Little Old Man From Vladivostok, who was slowly traveling around the world (in the wrong direction, if he ultimately intended to arrive in America) and intended to tell Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch the previously unrevealed truth about their parentage. Problem was: the Quicksilver/Scarlet Witch back story was a sodding mess, a horror show of contradiction on contradiction left by successive monkeying with or ignorance of established continuity. By that point, continuity had become an obsession with many fans, and they even had their own advocate inside Marvel’s halls: Mark Gruenwald, who’d come to prominent with a fanzine called OMNIVERSE, whose central thesis was that all comic book universes ran parallel to all others, so all were equally “real.” (Mark also confided on more than one occasion that he felt this was an accurate model of the structure of the real universe, and that – he was half-serious about this, half-not – all comics universes existed somewhere in reality alongside not only other comics universe but ours, a philosophy since enshrined in the CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS–INFINITE CRISIS–52–COUNTDOWN TO FINAL CRISIS–FINAL CRISIS arc currently running at DC.) Though not yet a full editor – I think he might have been editing WHAT IF? solo by then – Mark was doing some writing here and there and was unofficially the keeper of Marvel continuity, and continuity was his obsession.
I suspect that’s why Roger brought Mark in to work on the AVENGERS arc that would tie up the Quicksilver/Scarlet Witch conundrums “once and for all” (famous last words) and plot a story for David to write. (Roger may feel free to contradict any of this; my knowledge of the situation is far from omniscient.) Though we hadn’t known or known of each other there (it’s a big place) Mark and I had bonded over both coming from Wisconsin (along with a couple others, we later got tagged as “The Wisconsin Mafia,” though this was a laughable misreading of coincidence) and I’d started writing stories with him. My writing approach then, since I rarely ended up with an assignment I felt a deep stake in, was to view all stories as puzzles to be solved. Since at that point there were few puzzles in the Marvel Universe more complicated than the Quicksilver/Scarlet Witch history, Mark brought me into the mix.
Here’s one of the two or three places where I sent Marvel Comics careening off at a right angle from where it was going, and where my one-time presence is still being felt there today, even if no one there knows it.
I used to theorize about a lot of continuity matters. I believe I was the first to suggest, based on an ill-placed sound effect, that it was Spider-Man catching her with his webbing and not the Green Goblin throwing her off a bridge that broke Gwen Stacy’s neck and killed her. That Reed Richards, not Doctor Doom, was the ancestor of Kang/Rama-Tut, because Rama-Tut stated that his ancestor created the first time machine, and Doom stole it from Reed. That Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch were Magneto’s children, and not mutants.
My argument for the last one was that their powers could be interpreted as expressions of magnetism, if you wanted to get comic book pseudo-scientific about it. Quicksilver, I reasoned, didn’t “run” so much as glide on lines of magnetic force, a notion supported by Roy Thomas’ decision, when he was writing the book, to have Quicksilver suddenly start flying. Quicksilver mainly ran because he didn’t know he rode magnetic waves. (I don’t believe in omniscient characters anyway.) If you really want to get pseudo-scientific about it, the Scarlet Witch’s “hex” power (at least before it was decided, much later on, to get all hyperliteral about her name and have her learn real witchcraft) could be seen, on a sub-atomic level, as her flipping something’s magnetic polarity. (A stretch, but one that works, given her context of the era, if you don’t think about it for more than five seconds.) Magneto and the two kids, who hooked up with him in the first UNCANNY X-MEN as members of the Brotherhood Of Evil Mutants, were all roaming the same backwoods part of Europe in that story, and it seemed logical that all three probably lived there, else why be there? And what would be the odds of three mutants with magnetic powers tromping the same remote areas without somehow being related?
Here’s what I learned from that: you’ll never see a mad panic in comics like the rush to make the implicit explicit. If there was one effect the story had, it was triggering a mad desire in apparently many, many people to write The Big Story where all parties, and the rest of the Marvel Universe, learns The Big Secret. From a marketing angle, I understand that. From a creative angle, it always struck me a beating a dead horse. It was much more satisfying, from my perspective, that none of them ever found out, something that could be pretty much endlessly played for ironic effect. But find out they did, and now I have HOUSE OF M as my legacy.
Personally, I could have lived very nicely without ever bringing The Knights Of Wundagore into it – I didn’t like them or the High Evolutionary in THOR, and I didn’t like having to deal with them – but I guess they were already part of it somehow. As I recall, it was Mark who wanted the story to get “cosmic” and deal with demons trapped under Wundagore Mountain; I dusted off a character named Chthon, from a science fiction series I’d concocted some years earlier – matter of fact, I’d enlisted John Byrne to draw it, just prior to his turning professional with Marvel and Charlton – and polished up the “demonic earth spirit” bit, turning him into the primordial life force of the planet; I don’t think anyone at Marvel, not even Mark, got that he was the Demiurge of the Gnostics, the God of Earth. My little joke. Mark saw the story as an opportunity to clean up other little bits of continuity. Modred the Mystic was introduced in a mid-’70s story that implied the Arthurian Merlin was villainous, yet Merlin, who’d had something or other to do with SPIDER-WOMAN, which Mark was just starting to work on, was good in that book, and Spider-Woman also had some sort of connection to Wundagore Mountain. Mark wanted to bring Modred and his magical Book Of The Darkhold into it somehow, to explain how Merlin could be both hero and villain; I suggested the easiest was to explain it away was to turn Modred evil. It stuck, but looking back I’m unsure any of that was necessary.
There were people who liked that run. There were people who hated it. From my perspective, it was a mess of too many details and two many storylines thrown into a blender; I can completely understand why David didn’t want to deal with it. My perspective may be wrong, though, a distortion from being too near to see the moon rather than the craters, and I hope that’s the case. It’s not so much something I’m proud of as something whose ripples over time continue to fascinate me. Even Chthon’s been dredged up a few times.
There was some weird fallout from those issues. I recall John Byrne pissed off some people while drawing an AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL by writing on a construction site sign “Grant & Gruenwald – We Build From The Ground Up” (which was nice of him to say, but it was more accurate to say “We slather with putty and duct tape”); the words are missing from the printed product. One of the covers, #187, which was the first time I did a cover design concept, and John realized it terrifically, got Jim Shooter into trouble with Stan Lee, then still publisher. Comics shops were still in their infancy, and much attention was focused on newsstands, where people flipping comics in the rack and often saw no more than the logos; Jim was called on the carpet for allowing a cover in which Captain America’s foot (he and the other Avengers are suspended upside down by a demonically possessed Scarlet Witch) obscured part of the capital A in AVENGERS. I didn’t see the problem and still don’t – there’s still enough of the logo to easily recognize it – but I wasn’t the one who had to eat crow over it. It didn’t help my already tenuous relations with Jim any.
Next thing I knew Chris Claremont was off the rails, wanting to know how I could belittle Deathbird like that. Turned out he had grandiose plans for Deathbird, which are known now but were totally unknown then. There was no way, he insisted, that a pissant little piece of crap hero like Hawkeye could possibly ever beat her. He told me he was already planning out a story where Deathbird comes back for savage revenge. I told him it was nothing personal, I didn’t know anything about his plans, I was given the character, and Hawkeye had to decisively win if we were ever going to change the perception that he was a pissant little piece of crap hero.
I always liked Hawkeye. At one point someone was discussing what Marvel hero they’d be if they were a Marvel hero, and John Byrne said he’d be Iron Man, because before Iron Man goes out into battle he’s smart and wraps himself in armor, with lots of weapons, and then fights. I thought about that a moment, then said if that’s the case I’d choose Hawkeye, which bewildered everyone, until I explained Hawkeye’s even smarter than Iron Man because, theoretically, he wouldn’t get within thirty yards of whoever he’s fighting, and that’s a fighting style that makes sense to me. I had a theory in those days that you could build a character’s character around what music they listen to, and I had Hawkeye fill out his record racks with rockabilly records. That was just the sort of guy I thought he was. (Years later, after Mark had hooked up Hawkeye and Mockingbird, and was editing AVENGERS, where Hawkeye was once again pretty much portrayed as a throwaway character, something that always dogged him, and had again been thrown out of the Avengers, I wrote a comedy story that was never drawn. DC had recently started up the BATMAN AND THE OUTSIDERS series, so as a joke I had Hawkeye decide he’d form a really cool group of superheroes, a clique everyone would want to be on the inside of, that he’d call Hawkeye and The Insiders. He spent the issue, when he wasn’t fighting off menaces, inviting heroes to join; nobody, including Mockingbird, wanted to.)
To the best of my knowledge, Deathbird never did get her revenge on Hawkeye. Too late now, I guess.
On the final page of that issue was a little inside snipe. We cut back to the Avengers, where the government moves yet one more time to take control of the Avengers. Peter Gyrich, the government agent who at the end of the issue shuts the group down, had an interesting double pedigree; named for Jim Shooter’s cousin (if I remember correctly, this was Jim’s idea and meant affectionately) he was intended to be the grown-up version of a ’50s Atlas Comics DENNIS THE MENACE knockoff called PETEY THE LITTLE PEST. Around that time, Jim had put together a pecking order list of writers for editors’ consideration, with several categories from most employable to least. As I mentioned, Jim and I had butted heads a few times before then, and our philosophies on what made a good story were, let’s just say different. The lowest ranked category on the list was the “Long Shots,” and that’s where my name was. (At least I made the list.) On that final page, when Gyrich orders the Avengers disbanded, some character says “This isn’t over – not by a long shot.” It was one of those jokes no one could possibly get without already knowing what it meant.
The Grey Gargoyle Strikes!
The Fate Of The Avengers!
The Return Of David Micheline!
BACK TO THE STONE AGE!”
Roger gave me a dirty look and cut out the third blurb. Probably the wisest move.
Ah, the ghosts of Saturnalia past. Plenty more stories where that came from, but you’ll probably have to wait for my posthumous autobiography. But that’s not likely for another seventy or eighty years…
A couple quick letters:
“Funny you should mention resonance. I am reading “The User Illusion” by Norretranders, and he just got through explaining his ideas of communication. He conceptualizes a “Tree of Talking”, where the leaves of all your memories/emotions/sensations are gathered into a trunk of an idea, then sent over to someone else in the form of words, which will then, hopefully, blossom into the same tree in their head.
All attempts at communication – verbally with people present or written for people who are not there – are attempts at resonance. The “I” inside our head has no way of actually perceiving someone else’s “I”, so all we can do is replicate our triggers and hope they swing the same way. Fanfic is no more about resonance than any other artform. The problem is, as you say, you are already expected to know about the characters involved. Fanfic is lazy, trying to get by on already established memes rather than building its own. Fanfic is an old married couple, finishing each other sentences. But bad fanfic never says anything new, it relies entirely on an existing vocabulary, and the goodwill engendered in the reader by the earlier writer. Good fanfic may still use that crutch, but at least it has something to say
beyond “You remember that time Spider-Man was in the sewers? That was cool, wasn’t it?”
And how did I know that the Toshiba story would catch your eye…?”
” An anecdote that may amuse you, based on something in this week’s column, regarding Marvel reprinting golden age material.
One of the things Marvel is finally reprinting, as solicited in this
month’s catalog, is the 1950s Captain America series. Back when I worked at Captain Blue Hen about 10 years ago, we would get a call every week from our Marvel rep at Diamond to do re-orders and he would always ask us, “what would you like to see reprinted?” Every week, without fail, we would tell him “50s Commie Smasher Cap.” So, finally, our diligence has paid off.
I don’t know if you read the Death Valley Driver board, but one of the things they’ve been working on a giant compilation of Mid-South/UWF matches. They finally announced the results the other day. 150 matches, 6 discs, for I think $40. That’s got to be a better purchase than anything the WWF library can crank out.
Speaking of, I’ve heard that the World Class DVD is okay, but not great. The documentary (apart from having the Freebirds [Hayes, Buddy, Garvin] back together, it’s full of usual WWF spin and apparently ignores most of the deaths. If you saw the first World Class DVD from a few years ago, don’t bother with the new one.”
Given the new public attention to wrestling deaths in the wake of Chris Benoit and others this year, I imagine it’s pretty touchy putting together historical DVDs, considering how many now-dead wrestlers have to appear in them for a coherent picture of any given promotion. Congratulations on the CAP collection, though; I guess all things do come to those who wait… but I don’t have the time…
“Picked up CIVIL WAR SCRIPTBOOK loaded with commentary on why they did what they did, which also supports assertions you had on what happened and why – interested in feedback in your column.”
Errrr… what did I assert about CIVIL WAR again?
“‘Art snobs and creationists aside, genius by accident is in no way inferior to genius by design. Results, not intentions, are all that ever really matter.’ Terrific point, which is often forgotten or overlooked. Basing judgments on intentions is fundamentally faulty, anyway. How often do we really know the creator’s intentions? Fans of any genre tend to make positive assumptions about those creators, and negative assumptions about all the others. But they’re usually just assumptions.”
“I started reading comics when I was about 7 or so, back in 1987. I continued until around about 1993 or so, then decided I was too old. This was mostly because everyone I knew stopped reading them, and I had no one to talk to about them. I picked the habit back up a few years ago, starting with some independent publications (mostly JOHNNY THE HOMICIDAL MANIAC, etc.) and some of the Dark Horse STAR WARS books. Eventually, I discovered that comics could be had through the magical wonder of bittorrent, as well as the fact that there is a vibrant online community wanting to talk comics with my nerdy ass. That was a breath of fresh air in and of itself.
Let me tell you… nothing gives the sense of nostalgia that holding a comic in your hand does, but… online comics in the .cbr or .cbz format… the quality is astonishingly good. The images are clear as day, the size of the image depends entirely on the size of your computer monitor (mine is quite prodigious, thank you very much) and most scans actually remove the annoying every-other-page ads that are necessary in order to successfully publish the paper versions. I’m not totally without moral compass; I’d be happy to sign up for Marvel’s online comics shindig. However, I have a few issues that would need to be addressed first:
1. Not a great selection. Incomplete storylines, incomplete series, nothing very current. It seems that Marvel is unable to decide if they want this to be a database or a temporary dump. Suggestions: Marvel needs to make up their collective minds, and start offering current issues.
2. No permanent downloads. I like to go back and read over stories or series all in one sit-down. Discovering THE WALKING DEAD when they were Already over 30 issues in was wonderful. It’s nice to go through the issues already downloaded and reread, say, ULTIMATES. Without being able to store them on my hard drive, who knows when I’d be able to view them again? Marvel needs to research some encryption methods. My money is on the idea that it wouldn’t be all that spectacularly hard to encrypt files with some form of DRM.
3. Quality. For the love of all that’s holy… I know Marvel has people staffed to digitize books for them. There are people getting paid to do this. So why is it that the books that I download, which the scanners bought with their own money, scanned using scanners bought with their own money, uploaded on an internet connection they pay for with their own money, etc, etc, are so much more user-friendly and easy to read? Suggestion: Marvel needs to reach out in a nonthreatening, peaceful way to the scanners that are already hard at work doing digitizing books simply for the love of digitizing books and offer them a salary instead of a cease-and-desist order and threats of lawsuits.”
There’s a long tradition of corporations hiring on the people who’ve hacked their security, so it wouldn’t exactly be setting a precedent. I wonder, though, if those scanning the works already wouldn’t simply be opening themselves up to major lawsuits by letting Marvel know who they were. Even if at the top of the corporate level Marvel (or DC) decided the scanners were best used being put to work for them, I’ve no doubt some lawyer would press the case for prosecuting them instead, in order to scare off all other scanners. In a climate crawling with lawyers, anonymity is the best defense. As for DRM, the problem with DRM in any medium is that it’s intrusive; it’s raison d’etre is to make it difficult for the consumer to interact with the product, because that also makes it difficult for the pirate. Most people don’t like DRM because the technology is almost always shoddy, faulty, and, like many computer programs, not capable of adapting to individual environment and technology constructs. The success of DRM really depends on all consumers interacting with the product in the same way – the way that’s best for the DRM technology – and they don’t. The only DRM that’s likely to be widely embraced is DRM that adapts to the habits of the user, and that’s the DRM most likely to fail at its primary function. So DRM’s an audience-alienating mess, pretty much by nature…
Notes from under the floorboards:
No real notes this week. No politics, since it’s Saturnalia so I’m ignoring the real world for the most part. Saw both NATIONAL TREASURE 2, which is good fun and I think Nicolas Cage has found his niche and DOCTOR WHO XMAS SPECIAL 2007: VOYAGE OF THE DAMNED, which, while very enjoyable, was considerably darker than earlier Xmas specials and suggests a possibly nasty turn in the next series, which the special presages at the end with a variety of clips. Next week, at minimum, I’ll be wrapping up the 2007 comics and books reviews, but there’s be much else besides.
Congratulations to Pete Roncoli, the first to recognize that all the scenes depicted on covers in last week’s Comics Cover Challenge portrayed simultaneous action on three planes: foreground, middle ground and background. Pete, who’s one of the administrators at Conan.Com, cordially invites all of you over to the site to chat about Dark Horse Comics’ current CONAN series and other Conan-related issues. Let’s not disappoint him, y’hear?
For those who came in late, almost every week I run a Comics Cover Challenge: the covers of seven seemingly unrelated comics (thanks to The Grand Comic Book Database for the covers) from throughout comics history are spread, usually not in any particular order, down the column. But a secret theme – it could be a word, a design element, an artist… anything, really – binds them together, and the first one to e-mail me with the correct solution can promote the website of their choice, subject to my approval. There’s a secret clue cleverly hidden somewhere in the column, but you’ll have to find it yourself; I’m not going to just hand it over. Good luck. (Art in the column that is clearly not a cover has nothing to do with the Comics Cover Challenge, by the way. Accept only genuine covers.)
TOTALLY OBVIOUS. Collecting all my “Master Of The Obvious” columns from 1998-2000, with still relevant commentary on comics, culture, creativity and the freelance life, revealing many previously unvoiced secrets behind all those things.
HEAD CASES. A collection of comics scripts from work done c. 1992-1995 for various companies, including an unused script. Annotated.
And Happy New Year, or else.
Those wishing to comment should leave messages on the Permanent Damage Message Board. You can also e-mail me but the chances of a reply are next to nil these days, given my workload, though I do read all my e-mail as long as it’s not trying to sell me something. IMPORTANT: Because a lot of people apparently list it in their e-address books, this account has gotten a slew of virus-laden messages lately. They’re no real threat but dealing with them eats up time I don’t really have, to the extent I can no longer accept unsolicited e-mail with attachments. If you want to send something via attachment (say, art samples) ask me first. If I say okay, then send. Unsolicited e-mail with attachments will be wiped from the server without being read.
IMPORTANT PUBLIC NOTICE OF COLUMN POLICY: any email received in response to a piece run in this column is considered a letter of comment available for printing in the column unless the author specifically indicates it is not intended for public consumption. Unless I check with you or the contents of your e-mail make your identity unavoidably obvious, all letters are run anonymously.
Please don’t ask me how to break into the business, or who to submit work to. The answers to those questions are too mercurial for even me to keep up with.
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I’m reviewing comics sent to me – I may not like them but certainly I’ll mention them – at Steven Grant c/o Permanent Damage, 2657 Windmill Pkwy #194, Henderson NV 89074, so send ’em if you want ’em mentioned, since I can’t review them unless I see them. Some people have been sending press releases and cover proofs and things like that, which I enjoy getting, but I really can’t do anything with them, sorry. Full comics only, though they can be photocopies rather than the published version. Make sure you include contact information for readers who want to order your book.