So the night before the last day of winter, I see it raining outside; but the way it’s went this season, nobody’s putting away their cold gear yet. So instead, some spring cleaning as I lay some thoughts on you and we wait inside for that warm weather to get here.
We associate spring with rebirth, and I see Marvel is following suit by dumping another shitload of new #1’s and yet another origin/year one project on us. Instead of birds chirping outside, the sound effect that goes with this is fandom’s resounding cry of “WHY?!?”. Always touted as “a great jumping-on point for new readers!”, I instead see two things: a money-grab and more confusion; similar to the problems stemming from over-saturation I talked about (in that case, the multitude of Avengers titles) a few columns back. “Oh, you’re looking for more issues of Daredevil after enjoying the few you’ve read? Was that the original series that started in the 60’s? No? How about the one from the 90’s? Umm…maybe the one from three years ago? Uh, well, a new series started this year…sorry, can’t really help you, you’ll just have to buy a few of whatever and hope it’s the right one. Good luck!” That’s actually a pretty simple scenario. I honestly have lost count of how many times Moon Knight has been revamped before his current incarnation as a Rorschach rip-off. New readers are great but this is hell for any collector who derives their nerdly pleasure from completing story arcs in continuities they desperately want to understand and follow (and trust me, there’s a lot of us). Could you imagine the companies adopting a system as simple as having a tiny colour-coded box somewhere on the cover to identify something as coming from the same series? Naw, that would be fair and helpful.
Going the other way, what’s with a new #1 for titles barely into their existence? After an arduous 16-issue run, was Captain Marvel suffering from a burning need to ditch it’s baggage-heavy history and start fresh? With Amazing Spider-Man Year One: Learning to Crawl we get another revised history, this one promising to colour in scenes that happened during and between Amazing Fantasy #15 and issues 1-3 of his first series. Don’t get me wrong, this can be a lot of fun if done right, sharing a new perspective (Marvels is still the gold standard for this and you owe it to yourself to read it if you haven’t) and adding depth to lighter source material while being damn entertaining (see any of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s “early years of…” stuff for either Marvel or DC. It’s all brilliant). But how many times can you go to the well? Some of the magic in those early tales comes from their simplicity. The original audience enjoyed seeing how a teenaged kid coping with new spider-powers managed to figure out how to beat Electro the first time they met. This won’t be enriched by seeing if Peter Parker had a latte or cappuccino on the way there, or spiced up by having him make new double-entendre laden chatter with Betty Brant at the Daily Bugle. I don’t know about you, but when origin tales get “modernized” (i.e. inserting computers, smart devices, etc.), it actually kills their “timeless” feel for me.
With the new Cap movie opening in a few weeks, this is as good a place as any to make another point about checking out older source material instead of new #1’s, re-boots & tie-ins. I’m actually looking forward to the movie, knowing and accepting some continuity gets changed and some storylines get combined for editorial purposes, making everything manageable for a more casual viewer. But it still looks like it will be one helluva ride and I won’t say anything else to jinx it before the powers-that-be at Geek Hard inevitably review it here. But I will say if you leave the cinema happy, do yourself a favour and track down collections of the original story arcs it’s borrowed from. First and foremost would be Ed Brubaker’s Winter Soldier storyline, which finally found a plausible and satisfying way to resurrect Bucky Barnes after many other scribes tried for years and fell short. Then you can go deeper and unearth “true” character histories and see more than the glossed-over movieland versions. See for yourself, that the Falcon, like Hawkeye and the Black Widow, is more than conveniently an “agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, but has a unique origin and history. Try not to laugh when you see that his first costume didn’t even have wings and was primarily green, not the red & white most comic readers are familiar with. Now why Nick Fury is Samuel L. Jackson in the Marvel movies and shows instead of a grizzled, caucasian, WWII vet is a much more complicated story nobody has the patience to get into here…
Now as you peruse your collections, maybe to pull out some old faves or trim the fat, do you ever come across a title/character that makes you wonder “whatever happened to…” or why they just never caught on (I’m looking at you, Mad Dog)? For me, that’s the Legion of Super-Heroes. Essentially a club of super-powered, interplanetary teens who modeled their exploits on Superboy and gave him someone to hang out with in the future, this title eventually found its’ legs and stood on its’ own when Superboy left the scene, becoming one of DC’s best-sellers. It even got the “prestige format” treatment on Baxter paper (!-remember how technicolour inks looked on that stuff?) along with Wolfman & Perez’s classic New Teen Titans. With its’ giant roll call, there was a member for everyone to support (I was a Wildfire and Timber Wolf fan myself) with memorable storylines like the “Great Darkness Saga” vs. Darkseid and a war against the Legion of Super-Villains. Members even died when that was still a big deal. Then somewhere along the lines, the wheels came off. Like the Titans, they fell out of favour; but unlike the Titans they haven’t really mounted a comeback. Even major shifts like having Legion adventures in “present” time haven’t worked. Two recent great storylines by Geoff Johns had them meet the J.L.A./J.S.A. and Superman rejoined them as an adult in the future for one more case; but these turned out to be blips, an homage to their storied past instead of a return to excellence. Not one, but two Legion titles were some of the earliest casualties of the New 52 line. Does anyone have any insight on how the Legion dropped from A-list to C-list? I guess if DC could put their finger on it, it would have been fixed by now. For something that used to be loved by so many, it’s really a shame…
I could give a deeper historical rundown on the Legion, but they had such a devoted, almost cult-like fan base that many publications have already done a thorough job of this. A suggestion I can give you in this area is to head to twomorrows.com. Two Morrows publishes a lot of industry-respected mags including Alter Ego, Back Issue and the Jack Kirby Collector. Loaded with behind-the-scenes anecdotes (often from original creators still with us or from one of the last interviews they gave) and original (sometimes never seen before) art, they are a valuable resource on comic history that deserves to be known. The good folk at Two Morrows have made a bunch of back issues available for downloading, so all it will cost you if you want to start learning more is your time.
In more unfortunate news, it was recently brought to my attention that the comic license for Star Wars is going back to Marvel in 2015, so all current related Dark Horse projects will be wrapping up; and their trade collections will slowly become harder to find as they go out of print. I know this makes sense from an ownership stance, but it’s still too bad. With source material that could have been bled dry by umpteen deviations , fans were instead consistently treated to quality original books by capable creators who showed they respected the legacy of where it came from. I myself am enjoying The Star Wars, inspired by George Lucas’ original screenplay, with art that borrows from Ralph McQuarrie’s original concept art for its’ look. The same, but very different. One example: Han & Chewie are there, but not as partners and both in reptilian form! In comic form, Star Wars has been in good hands with Dark Horse. Hopefully, Marvel realizes the bar was reset by them and will strive to stay at that level.
As warm weather allows you to venture back outside, remember that there are other local comic shows near you besides the “biggies” you circle and wait for. I re-learned this lesson when I passed on the latest Toronto ComiCON while holding out for Fan Expo in August. Too late I learned I missed out on an opportunity to get work signed by an old fave of mine, Kevin Maguire (the master of facial expressions, his late 80’s Justice League group shot covers are iconic). I’m sure I’ll eventually catch up with him, but keep an eye on those guest lists for events right up until showtime, because you never know!…
Finally, in a comics version of a New Year’s resolution, I’m taking a class! If “those who can’t, teach”, they haven’t met Ty Templeton, a prolific writer/artist for various companies over the last 25 years. He’s been running a Comics Bootcamp out of Toronto and I’m taking one of his comics writing workshops (forget any drawing, I’m pencil-challenged and won’t be an artist in this lifetime). As a novice, it’s not my place to review it, but hopefully I can report more on it as the weeks unfold; and maybe, just maybe tell you about anything I end up working on that this class helped give life to…stay tuned.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!!!