Comic Fodder

2008: A Year That Was (Part 2)

So... I thought I could play along with what most sites are up to this time of year and cook up Ten Items of Which I Did Not Approve in 2008.

Comics is always full of tom-foolery, mistakes, and epic failures. These were not the greatest or worst moments inc omics in 2008, but they were the first ten that popped into my head.

Some things that didn't work for me in 2008

#1: Secret Invasion

I can't believe this series lost my interest. Aliens invading Marvel Earth should have been kind of keen. And unlike the fickle folks of much of the rest of the internet, I will not say I don't like Bendis. I quite like Goldfish, Torso, Powers, Ultimate Spidey and some of his other work. I just haven't found his Avengers-centric work my cup of tea.

If we turn on the way-back machine to last summer, the story was kind of different. The interwebs were ablaze with why I should love Secret Invasion's straightforward telling versus the continuity heavy story of Final Crisis. But for all the arguments about the brilliance of the high concept equating to success (seriously, guys... that was kind of a dumb argument), Secret Invasion really wasn't terribly simple and required that one bought into (a) a complete lack of recognition that it was, in fact, tied to decades of Marvel continuity across many, many titles, (b) that if the series was as simple as they claimed, the reader was happy with what would basically be "Invasion of the Body Snatchers in Tights", and (c) the idea that the human race could put up any kind of fight against a highly technologically advanced race that has the ability to look like like anyone, right up until they kill you. And their plot was to impersonate superheroes...?

Why not someone with real power, like politicians, CEO's or Oprah?

#2: DCU Universe #0

DC pitched its $0.50 ad as some sort of narrative beginning to Final Crisis. But it was just a really choppy ad that did nothing but throw fuel on the fire of the anti-DC online forces looking for a reason to complain.

Lesson learned: do not advertise an advertisement as being a crucial storytelling device.

#3: The All-New Newsarama

Things kind of culminated with the abrupt departure of the Blog@ crew over Thanksgiving, but the real change had started with the sale to Imaginova and subsequent reformatting of the Newsarama site and a seeming lack of focus as the distinction between comics and other media fell out the bottom. And, really, any edge (read: journalistic courage or integrity) Newsarama had in interviews, etc... was officially lost as the site turned into little more than a clearinghouse for geek-related press releases.

And while I know the new Blog@ crew is new, there's just something off, non-journalistic and oddly entitled about some of the crew. I won't name names, but coming to Blog@ now feels curiously more like those awful conversations you get stuck listening to at the comic shop about why Thor is stronger than Superman while all you really want to do is check out.

And, honestly, I can tell I've got 10 years on half these whipper snappers from their comments, which sort of makes me feel old (I often have to remind myself that if you were in grade school during the 1990's, then, yes... that was a long time ago for you).

On the whole, I simply feel that 2008 was the year that Newsarama lost its status as a "must read" site and left a void in its place. I'll be curious to see who steps up in 2009.

#4: The DC Insider

Seriously... what happened and why were people so tight lipped about it? Add in the "if you dare even think about this blog, you are a sad, pathetic person" tone that was taken by the people making a long, pointed case about how they weren't talking about it, and it reminded you what a small, paranopid place the comic industry really is.

I'm not bagging on anyone's decision, but the internet is based on rubber necking the sublimely awful. It was all a bit like saying "Oh my God, there's the most amazingly awful, horrendous thing right back here behind the curtain, but if you want to see it (and it is seriously bizarre. I can't get my head around it), you're some sort of weirdo."

Seriosuly, internet. You can't do that to me.

#5: Watchmen movie

There will be two camps on this. I think the trailer looks like it's going to be a middling movie which misses the point of the series altogether, even while, like From Hell, it will hit the beats enough that trying to explain to folks who never read the book all that was missed will be a fruitless endeavor. I'm still on the fence about seeing this thing or not.

But I find the fanboyish belief that this movie will deliver from the guy who directed the abso-ludicrous "300" (a graphic novel which I loved, by the way), shows those comic geeks still have a ray of hope in their souls where I now have a cold, dark piece of coal.

I am also aware that nothing could match my expectations, so why bother? I've got a very nice, hardcover edition of the comic I can read at my leisure. (also: fan press, quit saying Watchmen is the bestest comic book ever. It's really fantastic, but... you're embarassing yourselves.)

#6: Warner Bros. Unable to Settle Up with Siegels
I don't know if Warner Bros. has a legal ace card up their sleeve, or what the story is... But in early - mid 2008, it seemed like we were getting a barrage of stories about the Siegel's (heir to Jerome Siegel, original Superman writer) lawsuit against DC for ownership of Superman and Superboy. From a legal standpoint, the Siegels seem to have won. Kind of. At least the contents of Action Comics #1, which would include Superman, Lois, and Butch, the thug. Superboy also seemed to go back to Siegel.

Anyhow, DC and WB have plowed on ahead as if nothing has changed, and there's no real sign of reconciliation despite the vast fortunes that have been made with Jerry and Joe's creation. In a few years, full copyright is scheduled to revert back to the Siegels, and at that time... I have no idea what WB's gameplan might be. But I bet it involves a big, old novelty check and Paul Levitz in a photo-op with Joanne Siegel.

Personally, I don't know who is right or wrong here, that's for lawyers and judges to sort. But I do know believe there's a happy solution here that could keep DC as the custodians of the characters while the Siegels get a payday and some say about control of the character. But we probably won't see that for a few years.

#7: The Discovery that Martian Manhunter is disposable

I've been pretty fond of J'onn J'onnz since I picked up my first issues of JLI, enjoyed the heck out of the 90's-era series, loved how Morrison used him in JLA and DC 1,000,000, and felt Darwyn Cooke's depiction in "New Frontier" was a surprisingly fresh take on the concept without really adding any signifcant change. While also supremely powerful like my other favorite alien refugee of the DCU, I liked J'onn's "stranger in a strange land" vibe, and the mythology around the character. I even really liked Joe Kelly's use of him in JLA.

Unfortunately, I think in the wake of Kelly's monkeying with J'onn, and with Meltzer seeking to place Red Tornado in the same mental/ emotional space which J'onn usually fills in JLA, and a completely botched One Year Later mini-series, DC didn't think it really mattered if Morrison killed him off in Final Crisis.

My beef isn't with the fact that Morrison killed J'onn, or how it was done. I don't buy into those fan arguments. It's that the DCU moved on so easily and fluidly without Manhunter. Kind of bummed me out. I enjoy reading about Martian Manhunter and it'll be a while (if ever) before he appears anywhere again.

#8: The Final Crisis, Death of the New Gods, End of Countdown Debacle

I've already written about this at length. Moving on.

#9: My alienation to the Spider-Man books with "One More Day"

I've been a sporadic reader of Spider-Man since I was a kid, and I was still just sorting out comics when Spider-Man and Mary Jane were married, which, as a kid, seems kind of normal when two people have been dating. Even fictional people.

I'm in my 30's, so I was a bit confused by the fan hubbub talking about how much better Spider-Man had been before Spidey and MJ tied the knot, and how much richer it made the Spidey books. I had grown up with a married Spider-Man. I never, not once, paused to think "I can't relate to Spidey because he's not on the dating scene like a swinger like me". If I wasn't reading Spidey, it was because I found the obsession with Venom in the 1990's to be, honestly, kind of dumb.

So I was unaware that Marvel fans were these older guys who, apparently, really like the idea of Spidey not confined to one woman, and wanted it back to a lifestyle they could relate to. Unmarried.

I'm sure the logic worked out much better at Marvel HQ, but the final pages of One More Day meant I spent 2008 Spidey-free. I didn't really care that Marvel wanted Spidey and MJ split, but I did care that they did it in such a ham-handed way that it was kind of embarrassing for everyone involved and reeked of intellectual laziness.

The past few years of Spidey books had seemed kind of goofy, anyway. The last major event I recall really blowing me away was May's realization that her nephew was Spider-Man (and it didn't kill her). Marvel's done a great job of late with certain items like this, updating old notions while keeping them in continuity.

But I didn't buy that Peter would reveal himself on TV (I mean, really, if May wasn't shot then, it was going to be something else later). And the whole "Iron Spider" thing sort of half worked.

I'm not even holding out for Peter and MJ to get back together or some such. It just made me realize that if the Spidey books are going to be handled with that lack of effort, I just really don't care, either. (And I hear the continuity issues leave some odd ripples for longtime readers.)

At some point I'll read a solicit for a Spidey book that may get me back in the game. I do still like the wall-crawler, after all.

#10: Complaining about Continuity

It's one thing to note that a lot of continuity must be gathered in order to understand a universe of comics, or to understand a series (possibly, for example, Final Crisis). It's quite another thing to behave as if Continuity just happened. Or that DC is responsible for it. Or that it's even bad for monthly superhero comics.

Marvel was pushing continuity as early as their first titles, with Spidey swinging in to meet the Fantastic Four and Johnny Storm shaking down Spidey at school. And when you do come across those early, awkward attempts to tie in the X-Men, its painfully clear that even then the X-Men didn't make a huge bag of sense in the Marvel U.

DC's greatest sin has been that they drew attention to their continuity with Crisis on Infinite Earths, and what was basically an editorial mandate by way of story, it set an odd precedent for management of continuity as the kind of story that might go down at any time in the DCU (Zero Hour, Infinite Crisis, what have you...). Throw in the vast array of characters DC owns through their own development, acquisitions, various periods of publishing (Space Cabbie?), and longer publishing history, and you run into, perhaps, a steeper learning curve as to what IS the DCU than the NYC based heroes of the Marvel U.

I think this issue really resolved itself to an extent this year as in comparison to, say, 2006.

So that's it for the "bad" of 2008, at least as far as my brain wanted to process when I sat down to hammer out this column. I didn't really want to talk too much about specific titles or creators that I felt were not up to par. Honestly, once I would start down that road, it's a long and winding path, and I have to exercise some restraint here. Plus, you know, someone out there probably actually found Ambush Bug really funny, but who knows...?

What's been keeping me from going to DefCon 1, turning the key and launching this column is the absolute certainty that I will think of five more Things of Which I Did Not Approve of in 2008. So I reserve the right to revisit this in another column all the way into the second week of January.

On a personal note:
I am not sure comics took a step backward in 2008. Too much good happened. But I can't point to any particular title at the Big 2 as pushing boundaries into new territories or pushing the envelope intellectually. Or, at least, not really from writers I didn't expect that from. I'm hoping the Big 2 take a few more risks next year.
So what drove you beserk?


Questions? Comments? Hate mail?

Come on, I can take it.

=======


Ryan is an Op/Ed columnist for Comic Fodder. He keeps his comics and himself in Austin, Texas where he manages the long running blog League of Melbotis.

He likes Superman.

You can reach Ryan (aka: The League) at theleague.cf@gmail.com

I agree for the most part on all you said with these exceptions:
DCU #0 - I never thought it was anything else but a pump up, as opposed to an essential element, and on that it delivered.
Newsarama - Still visit it every morning.

-- Posted by: ultraaman at December 19, 2008 2:35 PM

Hey ultraaman. Yeah, I think I was pretty skeptical of the DCU #0 release. But i was, honestly, a bit shocked that it was so... useless.

I still check Newsarama every other day or so (I think I still link back to it fairly regularly). But where I used to read more than half the headlines, I now read only one or two articles per visit. I don't understand what 3D Star Wars cartoons or Jeffrey Katzenberg interviews have to do with sequential storytelling. There's a just afr higher noise to signal ratio these days on the main page. As per the Blog@ crew... I think they'll be fine in six months if they stick with it. But I'm surprised Newsarama picked a fresh batch of bloggers instead of poaching experienced bloggers.

Like it or not, I guess I realized I look for a little bit of gravitas (such as it is) in my comic blogging. I wouldn't want to be here, side-by-side with Travis if I didn't think he showed experience, judgment, maturity, and insight. I think once these guys settle down, have had a few bruises, and the initial rush has worn off, they'll be fine.

-- Posted by: Ryan at December 19, 2008 10:22 PM

#11 Batman R.I.P.

-- Posted by: Simon MacDonald at December 23, 2008 2:05 PM