THE FALL OF SUPERMAN
Could it be happening already?!?
The coming of the second Valiant Heroes Universe from Acclaim yielded books from Mark Waid and Kurt Busiek and Kevin Maguire and Christopher Priest. It didn't take long before that started falling apart. After about a year, Waid was long gone, Busiek was sharing scripting duties, and Maguire stopped drawing. (And has he drawn anything since, aside from a WILDC.A.T.s issue?!?)
DC's SUPERMAN titles were restored to their former glory last month as the new creative teams took hold of the books. Names like Loeb and Kelly and Immonen and McKone and Schultz made these books sound exciting again. Don't get me wrong; the first 5 weeks have been terrific. All of the books have been well produced and meaningful. There's plenty of interesting stuff going on here. But I wonder if the wheels are falling off the cart already.
Yup, I can hear it now: "You can never please those Internet people. They build you up to tear you down. They have the attention spans of fruit flies. They're never happy." It's not that. I really want to like these books, and I have so far and have no trouble believing I will continue to. But I like things as they are now and fear what's coming.
Losing Steve Epting is a bad enough blow. He's really underrated as an artist. Losing Stuart Immonen was pretty tough. One of the biggest regrets I've had in not following the Superman titles these past few years is that I've missed both Immonen's and Epting's great artistry.
Then Immonen leaves completely and DeMatteis steps aboard. Personally, this doesn't affect me one bit. Writing-wise, I don't particularly like or hate either of their works, so I'm keeping an open mind. (OK, DeMatteis' scripting on the Giffen-era JUSTICE LEAGUE was great, so maybe this change is for the positive.)
I question bringing Ed McGuinness in, though. His past may indicate a tough time with deadlines. His short runs on MR. MAJESTIC and DEADPOOL may bear that out. His storytelling is often lacking. But, sure, it looks great. I question McGuinness not so much because he's coming, but because it means Mike McKone would be leaving. I think McKone, particularly when inked by Mark McKenna, is one of the unsung great artists working today. His stuff most recently in the short-lived cult favorite VEXT was terrific. I began my original art collection with four pages from VEXT. (Thanks, again, to Mark McKenna.) We even had a double-dose this week with his work on the Marvel DOOMSDAY bookend book.
So when McGuinness comes in, McKone is out. This shouldn't be too bad, right? I mean, if Stuart Immonen isn't sticking around on art, why not just push McKone over there to fill in the gap? It would be a perfect fit.
No. On the horizon is the potential for true disaster for the Superman family of titles. Newsarama reported this week that a possible replacement for Immonen is Howard Porter. I hope someone at DC editorial had seen the late Pop Rocket website which once featured the 6 different faces Porter drew Superman with inside one issue of JLA not too long ago. Porter couldn't draw himself a bath, OK? He's the single reason I've avoided JLA. (I find it palatable only due to Morrison's outstanding writing, and am picking it up in TPB forms, where I cheer whenever a fill-in artist is mentioned on the cover.)
SUPERMAN SURVIVE Y2K
In case you didn't notice, this week's SUPERMAN issue sported the first 2000 triangle on it. The cover date is listed as "JAN 00." And the comic didn't explode. No bugs there.
Cliffhanger, a division of DC Comics, is still trapped in December. DANGER GIRL sports a December cover date, but that might just be because it's late.
I perused the offerings from other companies, while I was at it and found some interesting things. Most interesting is the realization that Marvel doesn't put a cover date on their comics anymore. You just get the issue number and price. That's it. The indicia gives you the publication date. HEROES REBORN: DOOMSDAY sports a "January 2000" date in the indicia. That book didn't implode on us, either. Heck, it even features the aforementioned art team of McKone and McKenna. X-MEN: THE HIDDEN YEARS is in the same time zone. DAREDEVIL and THE AVENGERS are still at December. One could theorize that those books are at least a week late, so it makes sense.
SAVAGE DRAGON is running slightly behind schedule these days. The cover date there shows September, but the month is shown on the cover. Also, Erik Larsen's cover dates are the same months as the book is (theoretically) released.
TELLOS #4 tells us that the book is likewise late. "October 1999" is listed in the indicia, but not on the cover.
Cartoon Books' STUPID STUPID RAT-TAILS is a December book, but I also believe that one's running late.
Basically, this is just one long summation leading to the point that this past week was a turning point - Marvel and DC books (that are on-time) will be Year 2000 books now.
X-MEN 2000 - OR IS IT 1986?!?
In reading all of the interviews with people at the X Office in the wake of the announcement that Warren Ellis is taking over as "Plotmaster" of several "second tier" X-books, I was struck by a realization. Warren Ellis, for those three books, will be fulfilling much the same position that Chris Claremont fulfilled at about 1986. (I wasn't reading comics yet back then, so that year is a guess based on bunches of back issues I've read and other commentaries. I'm open to debate on the year with any X-Philes who might want to write in.) Ellis is the guiding force behind those books. He's plotting them, keeping them all in line, controlling their fates, and keep everything consistent. That's much the same as Chris Claremont (and Louise Simonson) were doing at the time more than 10 years ago. They were creators who wrote and oversaw the whole line of mutant books, which at that point was only four books, really: POWER PACK, NEW MUTANTS, and X-FACTOR were the other three. WOLVERINE would shortly follow, then, with writing by Chris Claremont to start. Things really fell apart when the future-Image artists came to the line, but more on that another time. . .
Now Claremont is returning to both X-MEN and UNCANNY X-MEN and Warren Ellis is guiding GENERATION X, X-MAN, and X-FORCE. You have two gifted creators controlling the whole lineup of Marvel titles. Sound familiar?
Maybe Marvel is finally figuring it out? It isn't the editorial dictates that make a series of titles successful. It's the creators. Editors should help rein them in from time to time and keep things consistent, but the best way to do the latter is to let one creator's vision flourish. I mean - isn't that why you hire great writers?!?
Or is Marvel just following the trend? Look at what the SUPERMAN and BATMAN books are doing. They're hiring people to coordinate looks for their titles to keep everything consistent. In that case, you have Stuart Immonen redesigning cities, Dave Johnson redesigning vehicles, and Chip Kidd doing covers. With "Plotmaster" Ellis, you have one man plotting the books, designing characters, and keeping everything focused. You have firm differentiation between the separate books with all three lines.
But neither idea is new, is it? Rob Liefeld hired Alan Moore to do much the same thing with the Awesome Universe, which promptly folded into bankruptcy before completing any of it. Moore was to plot the first year of all the titles and script each book's first four issues. Moore wrote up bibles for the series, some of which finally appeared in an Awesome one-shot after the furor died down.
Of course, Rob Liefeld is looking to do it again. Ironically, he's redesigning the Awesome Universe this time around his failed proposal for the position Marvel eventually gave to Ellis. But you know what? I'm not on board for the ride anymore. I've given up on the Awesome Universe at last. Since the latest re-boot of the company started earlier this year, Awesome hasn't produced anything on any sort of basis. SUPREME: THE RETURN is still stuck on issue 2, most of the magic for me having left with Chris Sprouse. AWESOME ADVENTURES, which was supposed to publish all those scripts Alan Moore had already completed, is up to issue #1.
Most impressive. ::sigh::
In the end, maybe one of the saviors of the quality of comics will turn out to be new methods for creating them. It's not just a matter anymore of bringing in a new penciller or a new writer. Even a change in editors won't due the trick. Maybe what you need is new methods of creating comics, even if still loosely based on the assembly line strategy we have going now. Personally, the idea of a "Plotmaster" appeals to me. I wonder what's next?