Monday, August 12, 2013

Hey, look at me! I'm a pundit!

It has happened so very many times over the course of the last two years that it shouldn't come as a surprise anymore.

Yet ironically, the fact that it has happened so many times at this point is the very reason it is surprising: Surely DC Comics would have figured out whatever was broken or wrong within the editorial or management structure of the company by this point and fixed the problem by now, right?

I'm talking, of course, about sudden, drastic, counterintuitive (if not just plain crazy seeming) changes in creative teams on their New 52 line of books, including more than one instance in which the creative team of a book was rather radically altered sometime between the time the book was announced, promoted and solicited (i.e. was being sold) and the time the first issue saw release.

In this case, it's Kevin Maguire being kicked off of the upcoming Justice League 3000, which was to have launched in October, but has now been pushed back to December. (If this is the first you've heard of it, here's ComicsAlliance's coverage and here's Comic Book Resources').

While this isn't the first time an announced creator has been pulled from a New 52 book on the eve of the book's debut (it may be the first time it was an artist rather than a writer though; there's been so much of this of late I've honestly lost track), this move is particularly surprising for two reasons.

First, Maguire's inclusion on the book, along with the writing team of Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, was the (or at least a) major selling point of this fourth Justice League title. That is the very creative team that, of course, spun the troubled and tired Justice League franchise of the 1980s into one of the decade's bigger, most-admired, most-influential and most fondly remembered super-team comics; their run is still one of the most distinctive in the League's decades-long history, and one of the most immediately identifiable eras on the book (Giffen and DeMatteis lasted five years; Maguire didn't make it that long, but he's the artist most-associated with the run, and they've all reunited for several miniseries and projects paying nostalgic homage to their time on the book).

So having the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire reunion on a Justice League title, only minus Maguire? That would be a little like Marvel announcing a Chris Claremont/John Byrne X-Men book, and then, a few months later, announcing that it would actually be Fabian Nicieza writing.

Second, it's not as if Maguire is an unknown quantity. As I said, his run on a Justice League book occurred 25 years ago, and has been working steadily for publishers big and small on interiors and covers ever since, including several projects for DC during the time in which at least one of the current folks sort of in charge (Dan DiDio, currently a co-publisher) has been sort of in charge, including a 2008 Batman Confidential story arc, the Metal Men strip in the backs of the last volume of Doom Patrol, an issue of Superman/Batman, the DC Retroactive: JLA—The '90s special one-shot, the "Tanga" feature in some short-lived anthologies and even a New 52 book, Words' Finest.

It's frankly hard to imagine an artist who is even more of a known quantity at DC Comics, which makes his removal from the title for any reason having anything at all to do with his style or the quality of his work kind of insane sounding. Who at DC—hell, who among superhero comics readers—doesn't know what Maguire's art looks like?

What's particularly depressing about the move in the broadest terms—that is, beyond how frustrating it must be to Maguire himself, and frustrating to fans disappointed that he won't get another crack at a Justice League next month after all—is that one of the specific reasons he cited for his removal was that DC wanted a more "'dark and gritty'" direction and, well, just look at the grimaces on that cover.

This was a book being sold primarily by its credits and a single cover image. On that image, we have a Flash with a bandit-style mask, like an Old West train robber, a Wonder Woman who has not a magic lasso but some kind of magic mourning star, and a Green Lantern who is darker and scarier than the Batman, wearing what looks like a tattered, green burial shroud. That looks pretty dark and gritty to me; how much darker and grittier can you get, really? (And, as Maguire said, why hire that team for something dark and gritty? There's a reason their era of the Justice League is referred to by the sound of laughter: "Bwa-ha-ha").

Replacing Maguire is, of course, Howard Porter, an artist who helped define the Justice League the decade after Maguire did, drawing the Grant Morrison-written JLA (And yes, it is kind of ironic that to create a comic book about a Justice League 1,000 years in the future, those futurists at DC Comics hired a team who worked on the Justice League in the 1980s, and replaced one of them with a guy who drew the league 15 years ago instead of 25).

I like Porter, and, frankly, I'm sort of excited to see a mix-and-matched JLA creative team on a JLA book, just as I'd be excited by a Morrison-written, Maguire-drawn book. I can't see this book being a big success at this point though, "Justice League" in the logo or not (Obviously, it's the "Written by Geoff Johns" that makes two of the three current Justice League books hits more so than the fact that they are League books).

Giffen's become a sort of utility player at DC, doing whatever's needed, often turning up in The New 52 as a last minute fill-in writer or artist, and he's coming off of a just-cancelled Threshold, which looks to be one of the least successful of the New 52 books, based on public numbers and how quickly it was canceled. DeMatteis' current project is Phantom Stranger, recently retitled Trinity of Sin: Phantom Stranger.

And Porter? Well, recent-ish credits have included Magog, DC Universe Online Legends, a few issues of The New 52 Green Arrow, pieces and parts of the He-Man and The Masters of the Universe miniseries and covers for...Giffen's cancelled Threshold.

More damning than the recent accomplishments of either of those three individuals, however, is the very fact that DC bothered to announce a team attached to the title, then change that team (without, apparently, adequately informing Maguire of the whys and wherefores immediately, so that he made it to social media with a degree of bafflement that does the company no favors). That is, DC Comics is obviously still trying to figure out what exactly Justice League 3000 is going to be, and they've given us a peek behind the curtain: They didn't really have a solid idea of what they wanted when they decided to do the title, they didn't like what the creators came up with, and so they decided to start over, one month before they had originally planned to ship it, but now they've given themselves three months to do it right.

Personally, I was kinda looking forward to getting to see Maguire, Giffen and DeMatteis reuinite on a Justice League book that gave them access to all of the big guns on the team (or at least versions of those big guns), given that the League they got to work with consisted of Batman and whoever else they were allowed to use, few of whom (Just Martian Manhunter, really) had much history or even vague association with the Justice League. It felt a little like they've earned the right to do a serious (or even just serious-ish) take on the Justice League, and to get to use Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash and Green Lantern in addition to Batman...and whoever the hell else they wanted.
These not being the "real" versions of the characters, I wasn't looking forward to it the way I might have if, say, Maguire were joining Geoff Johns for an arc of Justice League. For Maguire-drawn versions of DC's big gun Justice Leaguers, I guess we're gonna have to continue to settle for the covers of Justice League: A Midsummer's Nightmare and Fanboy #3).

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And that's not even the big, bad news coming from DC Comics this week! Maguire being rather publicly fired/removed from a new book of his before the first issue even shipped was just another example of a pattern of strangeness at DC Comics, they actually did something much more noteworthy and, on the whole, negative.

I used to work with a lady at my day job who, in one of her previous jobs, used to manage a coffee shop. One time she told me that someday she and I should open a pair of businesses, a door-by-door coffee shop and comic book store. She had the real estate all picked out, in a block of vacant storefronts next door to a tattoo parlor. Just think, a tattoo parlor, a coffee shop and a comic book store: That would make for a cool, eclectic little strip of locally-owned businesses, right? All we needed was a lot of money...

I pooh-poohed the idea, even though it was nothing more than a fantasy, as the city I currently live in (Mentor, Ohio) seems to be pretty well-covered by comic book stores: There are already two within or very near the city limits, and a third, superior shop the next city over.

But if I ever won the lottery, I have fantasized about opening a comic book store in my hometown, which has supported, over the years I lived in or around it, about five different comic stores, all of which came and went. But if I had millions to spend, certainly I could plop one down on the ghost town that was my hometown's main street, and afford to lose money on it for the rest of my life.

But then you hear about stuff like this DC 3-D cover debacle, and what starts as the sort of fantasy you day dream about when you buy a lottery ticket ends up sounding like the sort of nightmare you might wake up screaming from.

You've heard about this, surely? If not, here's Comic Book Resources. Here's retailer Brian Hibbs at The Savage Critic (Telling post title? "The staggeringly epic incompetence of DC Entertainment"; do note that as of right this second, there are exactly 52 comments). Here's ICv2.Here's The Beat. Here's Tom Spurgeon.

I give you all of those links because I don't entirely understand either the retail side of comics (like, in a factual way) or the collector/speculator/gives-a-shit-about-variants corner of comics, but if you click on all of those, you should get the basic facts explained from a few different directions by a few different individuals with various levels of investment in the health of the direct market.

Put as simply as possible, it sounds like DC sold more of those goofy (but oh so gif-able!) 3-D covers then they actually produced, either through, as Hibbs' post title put it, incompetence, or maybe through some sort of shady collectibles-market goosing stunt. The result being that there are more orders for the comics with those covers than there is comics with those covers, direct market retailers are going to have to re-jump (or un-jump, and/or then re-jump) through all of the hoops they have to jump through on a monthly basis in this crazy business and a whole bunch of people aren't going to get what they wanted...and, in many cases, those who aren't going to get what they wanted, won't even know how much or how little of what they ordered is going to get to them.

DC is publishing "normal," $2.99 versions of these comics, missing only the goofy cover.

I wish I knew that was going to be an option originally, but for a completely different reason. As you all know (because I harp on it constantly), $3.99 is more than I'm willing to pay for 20-22 pages worth of comics (I draw the line at $3.50) in serial format, and anything that costs that much I'll just wait for the trade.

So I sort of already wrote 52 books of DC's publishing slate in September off, not even considering purchasing any of the books. Now I find out that they're actually going to be available for a buck less than they were solicited, but now it seems awfully late to pre-order, say, a 2D version of a book focusing on a character I like (Scarecrow, Bizarro) or with creators I like. And I'm kind of afraid to even mention any of those books to my poor local comic shop keeper; I don't want to see him break down in tears or start screaming at the sky.

*********************

The New Republic did a long, mostly positive, "Hey, look at this pretty awesome guy!" story about Mark Millar, perhaps the most successful terrible writer in the field of comics (Here's a link to Spurgeon's post about it; start there and see if you want to give The New Republic your eyeballs' attention/your computers' clicks). Millar does have a rather interesting story in terms of the the arc of his career, in his meteoric rise from someone struggling to get co-writing gigs through friendship with a writer at DC Comics and, after scoring a few solo credits, earned a sort of mega-success at Marvel (in large part due to the way his writing and his vision aligned with the zeitgeist of the early '00s, in some small part by being in the right place at the right time—that is, at Marvel when the Ultimate line was being created) and, in short order, growing more popular than Marvel.

That is, Marvel needs (or would like) Millar more than Millar needs Marvel at this point.

Of course, whether that story is a tragedy or not likely depends on what one identifies as success in comics—Millar's writing has gotten worse in leaps and bounds as his popularity has risen, but I imagine there are a lot of creators and/or would-be creators for whom having Hollywood movies adapted from your comics and, more importantly, getting big, fat checks for development deals (whether your Superior or Nemesis movies ever actually get made or not), is the acme of achievement (Millar sure seems to think so, which is good for him; after all, he is the person whom he has to please the most, and it's not like what I personally think of someone or their work should be important to, um, anyone but me, reallY).

After reading a few more hagiographic profiles of Millar in the past, I was glad that writer Abraham Riesman at least reached out to critics of Millar about some of the more noxious aspects of his work, including the inclusion of rape. There, Riesman got a quote from former ComicsAlliance editor Laura Hudson (whose link to the article is how I originally knew it existed, because who reads The New Republic...?)

I gave up on Kick-Ass about half-way through (the comic book; I made it through the whole movie, which rather considerably turned down the racism, violence and strange-ass identity politics of the comic it was adapted from and/or inspired by), and certainly never made it to Kick-Ass 2 so the, um, gang rape and bit about "evil dick" was all news to me. (But geez, gross; I guess all those gory Geoff Johns books don't seem so bad compared to that).

Unfortunately, it doesn't sound like Millar got the opportunity to respond directly to Hudson's rather direct criticism of his assertion that rape is just one more bad thing a bad guy can do to prove how bad he is ("It's using a trauma you don't understand in a way whose implications you can't understand, and then talking about it as though you're doing the same thing as having someone's head explode," she says."You're not. Those two things are not equivalent, and if you don't understand, you shouldn't be writing rape scenes.")

And Colin Smith, "a comics scholar who is writing a book about Millar's work," says that "Millar does indeed have a history of producing work which represents less powerful groups in an insensitive, and often deeply insensitive, manner."

But that's about it, which is sort of disappointing in that the Riesman acknowledges the problems a lot of people who aren't Hollywood producers seem to have with Millar's work—especially his creator-owned, "Millarworld" work—without giving it a whole lot of room for discussion.

For example, saying—or having someone else say, actually—that Millar "represents less powerful groups in an insensitive...manner" isn't quite the same as saying that Millar treats black/white race relations in such a bizarre manner in Wanted that it's hard to tell if the writer himself is racist, or if only most of the characters in the story are racist, especially when taking into account how the first Kick-Ass miniseries apparently ended.

Or that in one miniseries he uses the word "retarded" so many times that a reader might understandably wonder if Millar thinks it's not a word that's in bad taste to use, or if he's simply a poor enough writer that he gives multiple characters the same un-PC verbal ticks.

I'm personally sort of surprised that Millar isn't also called out for his appropriation of characters and concepts from mainstream comics and films, from the opening in Kick-Ass biting off Condorman (of all things) to Superior essentially being his pitch for a Superman movie to his selling of Nemesis as a Commissioner Gordon-versus-an Evil Batman movie (Something the New Republic article uses in its lede; although by then "Tony Stark" was added into the pitch to dilute the obviousness of the appropriation).

I'm not sure what to make of this part of the profile:
It’s come not just from moral crusaders but also diehard comics fans who say that, instead of deconstructing superhero comics, he’s actually reinforced some of the genre’s worst impulses. Indeed, the criticisms often come from the liberal end of the political spectrum: His work has been called classist, racist, and sexist.
Have any moral crusaders ever said anything bad about anything in any Millarworld comics? The only objections to a Millar script I've ever heard from outside the world of comics has been about Midnighter and Apollo kissing; in fact, nudity and, for lack of a better term, "gay stuff" seem to be the only thing "moral crusaders" outside of comics ever object to (See the recent news of Fun Home).

I'm not sure what that "liberal end of the political spectrum" means, exactly, either. Like, can't conservatives call someone classist, racist and sexist too? If you use those words, does that automatically make you liberal?

Okay, two more and I'm out.

The headline? "'You're Done Banging Superheroes, Baby': How the sickest mind in comic books became their biggest star."

The sub-head sounds fine, but I don't know how on earth you can define Mark Millar as comics' biggest star, as his Millarworld comics only sell well for creator-owned comics (Fun fact: At a circulation of 50,000, according to Wikipedia, The New Republic sells more copies of each issue serially than many issues of Kick-Ass have).

Millar's one of the more successful writers in comics, but only when he's writing corporate superheroes; his miniseries are decent mid-list performers at best, performing phenomenally only once qualifiers are added. And one has to consider the fact that a lot of the people who show up for Secret Service or Jupiter's Legacy do so because of Dave Gibbons or Frank Quitely, not Millar.

I guess you could make the sub-head more accurate by softening it to say "one of their biggest stars." (As for the sickest mind? I know one New Republic writer who is missing out on a lot of great comics, and oughta google "Johnny Ryan" ASAP).

The main measure by which one can consider him "comics' biggest star" is his success rate at having his creator-owned mini-series, the "Millarworld" stuff, optioned for possible film adaptation. And framing success in one medium by the interest in adaptation by another medium is a pretty damn backward way of saying someone is a "star" in the former medium.

Finally, this:
The latest film adaptation of one of his comics, Kick-Ass 2, hits screens on August 16. The Avengers and the Iron Man trilogy were profoundly shaped by his work. And last year, he became Fox’s chief creative consultant for all of its Marvel superhero flicks, including the entire X-Men and Fantastic Four franchises. By decade’s end, he’ll have had more of his creations translated into movie form than any comics writer other than Stan Lee.
Well that's obviously bullshit.

Millar has had two movies released based on his work, so far: 2008's Wanted (an adaptation in little more than name only; a character name, a few lines of dialogue, the title and maybe one scene are all that remained of Millar and artist J.G. Jones' comic) and 2010's Kick-Ass, with Kick-Ass 2 pushing it up to three movies when it sees release in a few days.

That's one feature film fewer than those based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird (although "by decades end" there may be more), the same number as have been based on writer Marv Wolfman's Blade character and one more than has been based on the work of writer/artist Mike Mignola (again, so far) or a single Warren Ellis-written miniseries (Red).

Meanwhile, writer Alan Moore has had four films adapted directly from his work: 2001's From Hell, 2003's League of Extraordinary Gentelmen, 2005's V For Vendetta and 2009's Watchmen (Despite taking the opposite tack as that of Millar when it comes to film adaptation; Moore rails against the movies and has asked that his name be removed, while Millar writes comics miniseries as movie pitches and openly courts Hollywood's attention).

Riesman seems to be counting the three Iron Man movies and The Avengers as Millar adaptations, due to some similarities between them and The Ultimates, which is a little silly. Millar's main contribution to those films was in the casting of Samuel L. Jackson, which had at least as much to do with Bryan Hitch's ability to draw celbrity likenesses than it had to do with Millar.

I'm not sure how one considers those movies based on Millar's "creations" more so than they're based on the creations of the guys who created those characters; for all four of those movies, Millar was little more than one of the more popular recent "caretaker" creators to have worked on the franchises for Marvel Comics.

"Creations" is a little broad too, because, by that measure, writer Bob Kane and writer Jerry Siegel have had more movies based on their creations than Millar has too, and that's not likely to change "by decade's end."


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(Wait, surely the villain rapist guy means to say "It's time to find out what evil dick tastes like" rather than "It's time to see what evil dick tastes like," since one doesn't see taste, right?)

*********************

Hey, remember this comic?
Every mainstream media outlet that wants to do a profile of Mark Millar should ask him about Mark Millar's The Unfunnies. All I remember about it was the part where the lady bird is going to have sex with the landlord because she can't afford to pay the rent this month, he says he'll accept, but only if she allows him to have sex with her kids as well (?!?!??!!!!) and then she murders him. And feeling like maybe this is a comic book that I shouldn't have bought with money and kept in my home.

So yeah, mainstream media? Next time you interview Millar about all his movie development deals, make sure you ask what the fuck was up with Mark Millar's The Unfunnies.

10 comments:

mordicai said...

Ha ha ha ha ha I grew up in that town. Sorry, this post ruled, but I fixated on that part of it. Where were you talking about buying a comic shop? Capp's Comics, that was where I got my...well, comics, but also anime vhs tapes & roleplaying books...

Nick Ahlhelm said...

Couple things on Millar:

I think you misread the quote. By the end of the decade Millar WILL have more movie adaptations than most other creators because of Superior, Nemesis, Secret Service and (probably) KickAss 3 and Nemesis 2. I think you may have overlooked the "end of the decade" part of the statement. (Also the writer may be ignoring Bob Kane in the list of creators, but I digress.)

Secondly, it's hard to argue from a publishing standpoint that he's anything but one of the top two writers in comics just by looking at actual BOOK sales. The only titles Marvel can keep on a bestseller list are from Millar. Generally, only Robert Kirkman has more books pop up on that list and those are all different volumes of Walking Dead.

Continued resale is probably a better indicator of continued popularity than any monthly sales of any kind, especially when you're talking about a writer that everyone knows they will be able to get his book in trade.

Akilles said...

Give `em Hell, Caleb.

David Charles Bitterbaum said...

Villains Month is a mess, Millar is clearly CAUSING a mess in that he makes comics look like they make light of rape (which sometimes it seems they do "thanks" to Millar and some other writers), and lastly comics in general is a mess. Comics always have been though, a glorious, confusing mess that I put up with because every so often the horrendous monstrosity known as the comic-book industry releases a really good comic that makes me think, feel, and otherwise feel alive. It just sucks those kind of comics feel rarer and rarer.

collectededitions said...

"I wish I knew that was going to be an option originally ... $3.99 is more than I'm willing to pay for 20-22 pages worth of comics ... and anything that costs that much I'll just wait for the trade ... So I sort of already wrote 52 books of DC's publishing slate in September off, not even considering purchasing any of the books."

Kind of hard to know which way to jump in this Villains Month thing. I'd be disinclined to spend $3.99 for one of these issues, too, but Dan DiDio recently announced via Twitter that not all of the Villains Month issues will actually be collected, short of the massive omnibus collection (see-for-yourself Twitter link and then my commentary). Begins to sound more and more like a situation where the casual reader ought wait six months till the dust clears and all of these issues inevitably go up for a $0.99 digital sale, right?

David page said...

forget the unfunnies someone needs to take him to task for Sam slade robohunter in the nineties where he took a fun and quirky tale about a robot hunting detective and turned him into a 90s fame seeking super violent attention whore.

basically the ultimates years before the ultimates....but worse

Rev'd '76 said...

The Millar plagiarism segment overlooks the brazen lifting of story elements & dialogue from the (admittedly cumbersome, spot-the-reference-heavy, cut & paste plotted) LOST for the intro of 'Jupiter's Legacy'.

I've no idea if any further LOST material has been sublimated in subsequent issues as I tried, really tried to fake interest in the first ish but blech.

Caleb said...

Mordicai,

I shop at Comic Heaven in Willoughby. There's currently a shop in the Great Lakes Mall in Mentor, and another, tiny one up north near the Lake, the name of which I can't remember. That might be Capp's, or might not. I heard there was a comic shop that has since closed in the past decade or so...maybe that was Capp's....?


Nick,

Oh, I got the "by decade's end" part, I just don't know how accurate a gauge that is. Just because Millar has had the rights optioned or has some of those films in some form of development doesn't actually mean they'll all get made though, nor does it mean there won't be more OTHER movies made (like, three more Ninja Turtles movies, maybe, or a handful of Ellis or Morrison films, or a few more Frank Miller movies to push him over the top).

You have a good point about book sales and long-term sales value, but, again, that requires a bunch of qualifiers that aren't there. Like, maybe Millar and Kirkman have done really well in selling trades over the past few years, but is Millar now bigger by that metric than Frank Miller or Alan Moore? Or Masashi Kishimoto or Eiichiro Oda?

Basically, the writer just made a statement that doesn't stand by itself, and needs some qualifiers in order to ring true...WITH 'em, it could ring true, of course, but he just sort of asserts Millar's biggest stardom based on...I don't know what, really, the assertion...?

Rev,

Having not watched LOST and not read Jupiter's Legacy, I am the least qualified person in the world to speak to that, although I suppose I'll check out the latter when I see it in a library some day.

Caleb said...

Kind of hard to know which way to jump in this Villains Month thing. ...Begins to sound more and more like a situation where the casual reader ought wait six months till the dust clears and all of these issues inevitably go up for a $0.99 digital sale, right?

Oof. I actually wondered about that while reading the solicitations. I assumed MOST of the books would be collected with their parent titles or, in the case of that "Dial E" book, their "true" parent titles, and that some might be collected into their own trades (Like, there are enough Bat-villain specials for a trade or three dedicated just to those).

I guess there are some that might not fit in their parent titles (the Cheetah book will be super-out-of-place in a Wonder Woman trade, for example), and does a Lobo one-shot REALLY have anything to do with Justice League...?

Hmm...

SallyP said...

DC has been doing a pretty spectacular job lately...of screwing things up! Could they possibly BE more incompetent?

Between misspelling their female creators names, making them sound like men, to the DC Villains covers debacle to FIRING Kevin Maguire...which is the ultimate idiocy in my book, they have been just outdoing themselves lately when it comes to screwing things up.

And Millar...well, he's just a twit.