o “Distinct Identity”

At Comic Book Resources, Marvel editors Axel Alonso and Tom Brevoort talk about the concept of a given writer’s “vision” as it pertains to franchises like the X-Men or Avengers books. Alonso, who oversees the X-Men line, shares what it takes to write his flagship series:

“Whoever’s writing Uncanny X-Men understands when they accept the assignment that they’re writing the main X-Men book. They’re writing the book that, for lack of a better word, ‘counts’ the most. Major revelations and large plot threads always start from or intersect the title, so there’s a certain amount of responsibility—and flexibility—required of the writer.”

Brevoort, who’s been in charge of the Avengers line since 1997, talks about his approach to running the franchise:

“Within any particular franchise, for me, the key thing is making sure that each satellite book or tertiary book has a distinct identity and specific mission statement or reason for being other than just ‘more of this stuff.’”

What those approaches get us, evidently, are titles like the recently launched X-Men, whose “distinct identity” means that it’s, um, the X-Men fighting vampires, and which, presumably, Uncanny X-Men writer Matt Fraction will have to coordinate his own stories with, because he’s so flexible—not that it matters, since he’s already doing that with the 17 other X-Men books that come out every month.

And, of course, it gets us about three different Avengers and X-Men series each, give or take a few minis, that have Wolverine on the roster. Because that’s somehow the best way of ensuring that all those books are distinctively distinct.

In all sincerity: I’d love to read a genuine Matt Fraction X-Men comic, but contrary to what the credits and Mr. Fraction’s paychecks may say, Marvel is not publishing one right now. Which is kind of sad, because 10 years back they managed to publish a Grant Morrison X-Men comic that seems to have been pretty successful for them in a number of ways, and that people still talk about a lot.

So it’s not like it’s impossible to put out X-Men comics that taste like Morrison, or Fraction, or whoever. But it’s not happening right now, and it hasn’t happened for quite some time. Doesn’t this suggest that something’s maybe wrong with the way Marvel is approaching this stuff?

o “When I Was 15, Superman Didn’t Deal with Rape So Much, You Know?”

Over at GQ, Robert Kirkman discusses a whole lot of fascinating issues. His take on the current corporate-comics landscape seems particularly noteworthy:

“You make a good living writing Spider-Man and Superman, and you don’t really see how short-term that is. It’s all about—I don’t know, I kind of want to say ‘complacency,’ but that seems kind of insulting. I don’t know. It’s a hard thing to have kids and have a job and go off and do something on your own and break into something that’s independent and is a little more risky. But everybody’s gotta take risks, and that’s kind of how you’re supposed to do it, I think.”

There’s nothing to add to that.

o “A Reprint Is Realistically Possible or Not”

At Techland, Douglas Wolk runs down some comics he’d like to see reprinted.

Aside from the Grant Morrison and Miracleman comics he mentions, some of the books I’d like to see—mainly because I would like to read them but haven’t been able to track them down—include the sum of Steve Gerber’s Superman work (The Phantom Zone #1-4, DC Comics Presents #97, A. Bizarro #1-4, Superman: Last Son of Earth #1-2 and Superman: Last Son of Krypton), as well as Christopher J. Priest and Mark D. Bright’s Quantum & Woody (Dark Horse Comics, I’m looking at you).

o “You Can See from His Stance with the Broom That He’s Action-Oriented”

Tom Crippen, writing for The Comics Journal, turns out another refreshingly skewed, breathtakingly well-observed review of some North American mainstream comic, in which—the review, not the comic—every other sentence is eminently quotable.

Hey, comics reviewers: Please go and read and try to top that every single time you sit down to write a review, instead of discussing pointless and boring things like plot.

o “Made of Metal”

Shield-throwers, rejoice:

Also, I hear an upcoming correction will clarify that it’s, in fact, not 23”, but rather 2.5’ in diameter, and its inside will have a robust leather strap at the center. (Price may vary.)

o “Don’t Entirely Understand the Impulse”

Out now: a couple of quirky one-shots with promising creative rosters from Marvel. One is Daredevil Black & White #1, with contributions by Peter Milligan, Rick Spears, Ann Nocenti and David Aja, among others. The other is Deadpool #1000, which has a whopping 70 pages of new material by David Lapham, Peter Bagge, Howard Chaykin, Philip Bond, Michael Kuppermann, Dean Haspiel and a host of other folks, plus extras.

I haven’t read the comics yet, and I’ve only skimmed through the discussion by the Techland crew I’m linking to above, but given who made them, they’re going to be very worthwhile oddities, at least.

Marc-Oliver Frisch writes about comics at his weblog and at Comicgate. You can also follow him on Twitter.


  1. From the Kirkman interview:

    “When I was reading comics when I was 15, Superman didn’t deal with rape so much, you know?”

    Uh…they don’t deal with rape now, either, Rob. Instead, they deal with Superman either standing around New Krypton or….walking.

    As far as “corporate comics” go, how do Kirkman’s comics differ from them in any significant way? If someone slapped a Marvel logo on his Invincible or Astonishing Wolfman comics, you’d never know you were reading anything “non-corporate”. Same with Walking Dead. Slap a Vertigo logo on it, and you’re reading Edgy Corporate.

    I love these self-styled outsiders who make stuff identical to the work they’ve supposedly transcended.

    Re: Tom Crippen:

    So the Comics Journal is reduced to critiquing broom stances? I thought CJ established long ago that superhero comics were artistically corrupt, incorrigibly unhip and beyond redemption….so why are they still whipping the same dead horse?

    It almost reminds me of hipster kids who keep loudly complaining about their chronically unhip parents…..as if mom and dad ever would change enough to suit their hipster requirements. Or, in an odd way, do the hipster kids NEED their parents’ square, unchanging ways as a foil to define their own hipness?

  2. I liked Fraction’s “NATION X/Uncanny X-Men” book, but it seems like he’s handcuffed compared to his work on the comparatively smaller INVINCIBLE IRON MAN.

    It’s really hard to tell people about a relatively simple story and having to reference three to five different books.

  3. Hey Kirkman – back when Superman was selling in the millions he was dealing with lynching and corrupt politicians and yes – even domestic violence. Learn your hisory.

  4. Sure am tired of reading Kirkman pat himself on the back. I mean, that’s great he broke off and is doing his own thing and is successful, but no, Robert – not everyone is necessarily in a position (or has the desire)to go off and take the same “risks” he took.

  5. Mark Engblom:

    It’s Astounding Wolf-Man, not Astonishing.

    So, what you’re saying is, if it’s successful, no matter how it’s produced, it can’t possibly be any good, and might as well be from a Big Corporation?

    I love how many people make that Indie vs Corporate Comics argument, when THE ENTIRE COMICS INDUSTRY is essentially an Indie industry compared to EVERY OTHER form of entertainment for sale anywhere.

  6. Someone:

    No, that’s not at all what I’m saying. That’s a pretty spectacular misinterpretation.

    I was taking issue with Kirkman and his disparaging of “corporate comics”, when in reality, the comics he creates are indistinguishable from them. The only difference, I guess, is that he owns the properties….which Kirkman gleefully points out at every opportunity.

  7. Re Kirkman: Maybe Superman comics should have dealt with rape more (not that it does today anyway). Maybe then we would read fewer comments from fans referring to characters as “ruined” or “unusable”.

    Also, I read his Wolfman and, while I found it quite entertaining, there is nothing risky about it. It is pretty much the same as anything produced by the Big 2 with the same clichés, stereotypes and story trappings.

  8. Sean:

    “FYI – Valiant Entertainment owns the rights to Quantum and Woody, not Dark Horse. Not much Dark Horse can do about it ;)”

    Dark Horse are in the process of relaunching several Valiant properties right now, aren’t they? If those properties are owned by the same people who own QUANTUM & WOODY (which I’m not sure about right now), at least, then they probably know who to talk to.

  9. Right, but as far as content and presentation, Kirkman is doing nothing “anti-corporate” or creatively cutting edge…which was presumably the reason he took his leap of faith into creator-owned stuff.

  10. @Marc-Oliver:

    “Dark Horse are in the process of relaunching several Valiant properties right now, aren’t they? If those properties are owned by the same people who own QUANTUM & WOODY (which I’m not sure about right now), at least, then they probably know who to talk to.”

    Dark Horse are relaunching Gold Key characters that they licensed from Western Media, just as Valiant did back in the 90s. Valiant never owned Magnus, Doctor Solar, or Turok, they just licensed the characters to release the comics. All of the other Valiant (and Acclaim) characters belong to Valiant Entertainment outright.

  11. “Dark Horse are in the process of relaunching several Valiant properties right now, aren’t they? If those properties are owned by the same people who own QUANTUM & WOODY (which I’m not sure about right now), at least, then they probably know who to talk to.”

    in other words, you had no clue what you were talking about, and still do not!

  12. How dare Robert Kirkman be proud of himself for being successful and giving creators a small light and the end of a very dark tunnel. What a self-indulging asshole.

    “Corporate Superheroes are for kids.” Jesus! If I want my kid to read about heroin induced, limbless, prostitute-loving characters so be it. It’s called a “grey area” ladies and gentlemen.

    [cough. cough] Sorry…just choking on my sarcasm.

  13. The Crippen review is awful. The sooner this hipster-stank ‘reviewing without reviewing, only snarking’ style retreats back into well-deserved obscurity, the better. The only reviewer working in that mode who ever got anywhere near being funny or insightful was Abhay Khosla, but even his current stuff has devolved in to ‘haters gonna hate’-style weaksauce.

    Still, at least Khosla came close to not sucking once or twice. Crippen, Tucker Stone, and the Hooded Utilitarian have not, nor will ever be, anything more than proof that diarrhea of the typing fingers is legit and serious illness afflicting the comics blogosphere.

  14. Mark, Gene & J.K.:

    Just curious: Did you guys miss the part where Crippen offers astute dissections of the cover composition and the storytelling in a key scene, or do you refuse to acknowledge the bulk of his review for some reason?

  15. In 2001, Random House and Classic Media acquired Golden Books Family Entertainment for $84 Million. Random got the publishing assets, CM home video. Before this, Random House had distributed Golden Books’ classics, like the Pokey Puppy.

    That is why Dark Horse is publishing so many archive editions of Gold Key comics, not just Turok and friends. (Licensed properties, like much of the Four Color comics line, require additional contracts.)

    The Acclaim/Valiant comics… that’s a bit murkier. There is a company called “Valiant Entertainment” which seems to be publishing collected trades, but there is no information in Books In Print, and the latest book on Amazon is dated 2008. Since Q&W appear on that website, they probably own the rights. I suspect they’ll have a collection soon. (The Acclaim Comics era, when Marvel imploded, has some big name talent, which is easy to market.)

  16. Torsten:

    “Since Q&W appear on that website, they probably own the rights. I suspect they’ll have a collection soon.”

    Doubtful, according to an interview with Christopher J. Priest a few months back, which suggested that the rights situation for QUANTUM & WOODY was rather complicated.

    I wasn’t aware of the distinction between the Random House/Gold Key stuff and the Valiant/Acclaim stuff — I always assumed Valiant/Acclaim owned those Gold Key properties, so I somehow mixed all of that up and thought the new Dark Horse books were a new development that was relevant to the status of QUANTUM & WOODY.

    Since they’re evidently two completely different sets of properties, though, I guess we’re back to “rather complicated.”

  17. “Just curious: Did you guys miss the part where Crippen offers astute dissections of the cover composition and the storytelling in a key scene, or do you refuse to acknowledge the bulk of his review for some reason?”

    Well, first of all, the term “bulk” is hard to apply to what’s actually a pretty small article. To me, the entire thing read as yet another drive-by hit on mainstream superhero comics from the Comics Journal.

    Let’s break it down:

    The cover composition (quoted from Crippen):

    “The cover is evocative, meaning it makes you feel like you’re feeling something.”

    Right, not really feeling something, because who ever heard of a superhero comic cover actually generating real emotion?

    “Add them all up, with the right colors and a good touch with the faces, and you have a sense of sober foreboding, a feeling that matters of weight and tragedy are poised to get underway. But the events, on arrival, turn out to be all about how someone is using a superhero costume without permission and how he is Harry Osborn’s long-lost half-brother, son of Norman Osborn and the (I think) clone Gwen Stacy.”,/b>

    Again….the notion that it looks like something important is going to happen, but…hah!…of course, it’s just some silly superhero something going on. Haw haw!

    On to the art critique:

    “Superhero artists fall into these crackling poses for people doing the ordinary. The artists get boxed in, since everyone they draw has the V-form (shoulders, then tapering down to the waist) and the defined muscles, not to mention pretty much the same height (a tight range with a few outliers). If you’re a superhero artist, that’s the sort of person you’ll draw, regardless of costume. So why change the poses?”

    Can you almost hear Crippen’s contempt for “superhero artists”…as if none of them are capable of subtlety or unable to resist doing stock hackwork? Seriously….Crippen is reading all of this into a shot with Harry using a broom? How should Harry have been positioned to convey a more legitimate humanity…or whatever Crippen feels is missing?

    Crippen goes on to analyze another page:

    “This moment is played as if it were giant. But it just winds up that way. Harry’s big rub-forehead panel is there to balance the girl reporter’s big look-at-me panel (blond Asian chick, short skirt), and either panel is there just because original art sells for more when it’s centered around a showcase display of a character.”

    Oh, no….Crippen’s on to us! He cracked the code! The Comics Journal is just too smart for us. Maybe we should just learn our lesson and adapt the standard nine panel grid from the navel-gazing indies (see? stereotyping sucks).

    And that’s pretty much it, Marc. Where are these “astute dissections” you’re referring to? To me, it just came off as random notepad jottings lazily arranged into barely coherent paragraphs…yet with enough smug superiority to satisfy the still-hatin’-superheroes CJ reader.

  18. Re: Quantum & Woody

    It turns out that particular property is a bit more complicated than the rest of the Valiant/Acclaim properties. According to Priest, there was a reversion clause in the contract with Acclaim, so the rights would revert to the creators if the book wasn’t published for a certain amount of time, which it wasn’t.

    To further complicate things, there may have been a time limit on the ability to reclaim the characters that Priest missed, so Acclaim may have legally retained ownership (not sure about this). To add to it, these properties were sold in a bankruptcy sale, which tends to do strange things to existing contracts.

    So yeah, it’s complicated.

  19. Mark,
    The facing splash pages Crippen called out are hardly an example of innovative storytelling. That was, to lift a phrase from JK, “weaksauce” in the 90’s. As to the knock on superhero art, are you saying that drawing people in clothes isn’t a problem for superhero artists? Really? Let’s face it, most reviews summarize the plot, quibble with a plot point or recall a cool moment, say the art was pretty, and chalk it up to good. At least Crippen held the material in high enough esteem to render a judgment.

  20. “How should Harry have been positioned to convey a more legitimate humanity?”

    Leaning on it with eyes lidded like T. Montmorency Jughead, using it to chase dust bunnies, duck-walking air-guitar in the mighty Chuck Berry manner, practising his stand-up/lapdancing routine (“What’s the deal with horny businessmen?”), giving it Donnie Yen (and trying not to smash the crockery), pretending it’s his Dad’s old Goblin Rocket, pretending he’s Cedric Diggory, scrabbling for the Hufflepuff snitch, cossack dancing, putting it away, getting it out, using it as a spinning post to anchor his high forehead while he twizzles round and round until he goes all wobbly, walk around with it held between his legs like it’s a gigantic willoy/tail/tumpsey, put a shoe on the end and perform “Jake The Peg” by Rolf Harris, create a new supervillain called “Broomhandle,” rip the head off a mop and create a new superheroine called “Broomhilda,” clear the cobwebs off the ceiling (along with any rogue spiders that should accidentally scuttle into his eyeline), limbo, standing jump, Dalek, Thunderbolt Ross, reach the TP in the next stall, operate the television in lieu of the remote, prop the soor shut when Norah Cheesegrater shows up, tell off an imaginary Norman, scratching his back and Dry Curling.


  21. Mark:

    “How should Harry have been positioned to convey a more legitimate humanity…or whatever Crippen feels is missing?”

    Like someone holding a broom, mostly. I think Crippen made that point pretty well.

  22. Well, looks like the artist succeeded, then. Geez, it’s not like Harry was in some crazy Kirby contortion. He was holding a broom with his legs a few feet apart.

    Ever swept a floor?

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