by KC Carlson
This has been a weirder-than-normal week. Lately, it seems like every time I turn around, some corporation or other is doing something dumb to keep me from reading comics I enjoy, or saying something in print that flies in the face of established comic book history — which some might call outright lying, but instead I’ll play their game and call it “revisionist history”, just like they do.
None of these things are very serious offenses to my (or frankly, anyone’s) comic book psyche. But every little dig, every little slight, eats away at the once rock-solid fabric of what comic books mean to many long-time readers. And inevitably gets them to start thinking that either a) it’s time to get a new hobby, or b) I’ve already got plenty of comics that I love — why do I keep putting up with new stories that I don’t enjoy as much and never seem to end?
CASE #000625: MARVEL GRAPHIC NOVEL
Imagine my surprise when I read this year’s Marvel’s Free Comic Book Day entry and got to the short preview in the back for the upcoming (and admittedly awesome-looking) Warren Ellis / Mike McKone Avengers: Endless Wartime. It’s being advertised as “Marvel’s First Original Graphic Novel”.
C’mon! That’s not correct! Marvel has been publishing “graphic novels” in one form or another since 1982, when they launched a new publishing line of longer (usually 48 or 64 pages) comic book stories in a larger (magazine-sized) format, which came to be known as the Marvel Graphic Novel. They even have their own Wikipedia page! Although that page does not list all the unnumbered graphic novel titles Marvel has published over the years — just the original numbered (until they weren’t) ones, the ones branded Marvel Graphic Novel.
How do I know all this? Because I just unpacked a box of all of the Marvel Graphic Novels and put them on a bookshelf last week. I’m pretty sore from carrying this incredibly heavy box up two flights of stairs only to discover that everything in that box might be a figment of my imagination. Marvel, you got some ‘splainin’ to do!
Some of these graphic novels are quite famous. The very first one may be one of the most important — “The Death of Captain Marvel” by Jim Starlin. It’s one of the most moving and thoughtful works of the Marvel Universe. Not only does it break comic book tradition by having the character dying in bed, surrounded by all his friends and loved ones, instead of in a huge battle with an unbeatable foe, but remarkably, it’s one of the very few comic book “deaths” not to be undone years later, by some other, lesser, talent. (So far.) It’s a confirmed classic, and it’s the “real” first Marvel original graphic novel. Hands down. Plus, it’s a must read.
Other important Marvel GNs: X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills by Chris Claremont and Brent Anderson (inspiration for the X2: X-Men United film); The New Mutants by Claremont and Bob McLeod (the “pilot” for the popular 100-issue series and revivals); Daredevil: Love and War by Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz; The Sensational She-Hulk by John Byrne; and Amazing Spider-Man: Hooky by Susan K. Putney and Bernie Wrightson, mostly for his amazing art.
Many Epic Illustrated and other creator-owned projects were published as Marvel Graphic Novels, including Dreadstar by Jim Starlin, Void Indigo by Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik, The Swords of the Swashbucklers by Bill Mantlo and Jackson Guice, Marada the She-Wolf by Claremont and John Bolton, Alien Legion by Carl Potts, Alan Zelenetz, and Frank Cirocco, and The Death of Groo by Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragones. Early appearances of Walt Simonson’s StarSlammers, Dave Cockrum’s The Futurians, and Elaine Lee and Michael Kaluta’s Starstuck were also published as Marvel Graphic Novels.
Interestingly, the MGN The Shadow: Hitler’s Astrologer by Denny O’Neil and Michael Kaluta continued the creators’ adventures of the character from DC’s The Shadow series in the 1970s.
Marvel’s Tom Brevoort recently responded to the controversy at his New Brevoort Formspring with some great corporate doublespeak about the original Marvel Graphic Novel line, stating: “… none of them really fit the parameters of a Graphic Novel in the way the term is recognized today, for all that the line that they were a part of was called Marvel Graphic Novels. They’re really European-style albums, and not truly long enough in most cases to be considered a genuine graphic novel. So that’s the difference.”
So there you have it. Corporate handwaving at its very best. They’re not really graphic novels because they weren’t long enough… and because we said so. Also: Does this mean that Captain Marvel isn’t really dead? Or am I jumping the gun for next year’s big revisionist revelation? (Jeez, I hope not…)
CASE #000666: DC’s NEW 52
DC canceled Legion of Super-Heroes (one of my favorite series and one which I was proud to edit for many years for DC) a couple days ago, making it the first time since 1970 (aka 43 years) that DC hasn’t had an ongoing LSH title, or had announced plans for a shortly forthcoming one. Perhaps they do have something in mind for the future — SF time/dimensional travel may come in handy to dig out of the ever-downward spiral that is seemingly the “New” 52 — but then again, they might not.
The LSH has no major film in the works. No TV series. The last (only) animated series was deemed a failure despite many (but not enough) fans. Word on the street is that its concept is “too complicated” for mass success. (To which my personal reply has always been, “And the X-Men isn’t?”) In a corporate sense, the Legion of Super-Heroes is probably dead in the water. Long Live the Legion!
The idea behind the Legion is quite old-fashioned, after all. A bunch of kids from different planets, each with a talent that isn’t anything special where they come from, team up and discover that they can do more together than apart. They form a club, with weird entry rules and tests, that leaves out as many people as it lets in (who then go on to form their own club). As the series continued over the years, there was a whole platoon of various characters and powers and planets, a lot to keep up with — but that was also part of the charm. Maybe all those ideas just require too much work from the reader these days.
Or maybe the concept’s regular retreat to the reboot gave it all the problems of a long-running history without the benefits. If you liked something, it might no longer exist — but you still knew about it and wanted it back. Keeping things straight was difficult, and there was a nagging uncertainty that they could pull the plug again at any time.
Plus, their last writer was from a different generation. Long before he was Publisher or President of DC Comics, Paul Levitz was a big fan of the Legion of Super-Heroes, ultimately becoming one of the series’ most important and influential writers. He was especially active in the era in which the LSH was extremely popular (second only to the peak of the New Teen Titans). Later, as Paul rose up the corporate ladder, he instinctively knew that the culture in which creative and memorable comic books were developed would never flourish in an overly corporate structure, and he strove to keep the growing “Hollywood” pressure out of the heads of as many comic creators and editors as he could (mostly by keeping the DC comic book office in its historical home of New York City during times when Warner wanted it in California).
After leaving his position as an executive of DC Comics, Paul went back to his first love, writing the Legion, ironically becoming perhaps the Legion’s last guardian, given seemingly lackluster editorial support.
As for the New 52, I’ve been very vocal about it not being very much fun to read, at least for me. I read all of the first issues, immediately dropped at least half the titles, and continued to drop two or three more every couple of months, after realizing that they were not living up to their potential. The obvious and not-so-obvious editorial tinkering, indifference, or the rapid replacement of notable creative talent with people that I’ve never heard of — and whom I assume work cheaper than the creators that they replaced — didn’t help.
In more recent months, I haven’t had to keep cutting back on titles — DC is now providing that service for me! (So I can’t say that they haven’t done anything nice for me lately.) Unfortunately, they’re rapidly getting down to the few I still enjoy.
I would not be surprised to see, within a year, DC only publishing new comics starring the Big 5 characters, the JLA (and maybe a rumored potential spin-off — Justice Legion?), and whatever they’ve got going in TV, movies, and videogames at the time.
And maybe not even that many. Let’s remember that Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. is the company that can’t get a JLA project going. Can’t figure out a Wonder Woman project. Keeps fumbling the Superman franchise. (We’ll find out for sure very soon.) While DC keeps playing “Why so serious?” with their media projects, Marvel’s fun and action-packed films pile up millions of fans and box office receipts. How embarrassing will it be for DC if Marvel’s underdog Guardians of the Galaxy film is a major hit, and DC still hasn’t got a Wonder Woman or JLA media version announced? Need I go on?
READING IS FUN… DAMENTAL!
I need to remind myself of the key rule of comic fandom: If you don’t like what you’re reading, read something else! Every comic book that you are losing interest in (or has been canceled out from under you) frees up the money you need to try a Steve Canyon collection, or an Uncle Scrooge hardcover, or some classic Simon & Kirby stuff. (I just got the forthcoming Simon & Kirby: Science Fiction book from Titan. Yay!) Or maybe even some classic Marvel (Masterworks and Essentials) or DC (Archive and Showcase Presents) stories. There’s a lot of really great (and time-tested) material out there. Disappointed about what you’re reading? Don’t go away mad! Just read something different!
KC CARLSON: Should probably go re-read my favorite old Marvel Graphic Novels before Marvel erases my memory of them. They have that technology, right?
Um… what was I just talking about…?
WESTFIELD COMICS is not responsible for the stupid things that KC says. Especially that thing that really irritated you.
Classic comic covers from the Grand Comics Database.