Thursday, December 06, 2007

One post, six topics

1.) Meanwhile in Las Vegas...: Everyone’s talking about Garth Ennis’ new series for Virgin Comics, Dan Dare. And so am I. That’s the book featured in this week’s Las Vegas Weekly comics column. Go read it, if you like. I’ll wait here.

Back already? That was fast. Did you get the headline? It was supposed to be a play on “derring do,” but I have a feeling it could just as easily be read as “having sex with Dare” or “making another Dan Dare comic.”

2.) Rare first appearance of Bow-wow: In the corrections department, in discussing children’s book Bow-Wow Bugs a Bug on Monday, I mistakenly claimed that one of its creators, Mark Newgarden, is the author of a graphic novel entitled We All Die Alone.

That’s not exactly true. While Newgarden does have a book entitled We All Die Alone, it’s a collection of biographical information and old gag strips and cartoons by Newgarden, some sequential, but mostly one-panel. It's not a graphic novel. A lot of these strips are hilarious, some of them are tedious, and most of them are pretty avant-garde, making for an interesting book to think about, but not a terribly entertaining one to read.

Newgarden is a huge Nancy fan, he worked with Art Spiegelman and he is the inventor of Garbage Pail Kids. Yes, Garbage Pail Kids. For real.

One reoccurring strip idea Newgarden used was something called “Meet the Cast,” in which he’d fill a panel or series of panels with weird-ass cartoon characters, like Dampy the Effeminate Pancake, Sid The Sea Bishop, Noah the Unhappy Apple, Way Groovy Tom Peacenik of the Moon, and so on. In one installment, I couldn’t help but notice a dog named Bow-Wow…

Let’s take a closer look there…

Bow-Wow sure has mellowed out a bit since 1990, and I think he may even have had some work done to his snout.

Now I wonder if we’ll bee seeing a charming children’s book series starring Shithead O’Leprechaun or Joey Donutfoot the Misanthropic Dead Bakery Assistant in the near future…

3.) Ed Benes Isn't Very Good: Some people apparently like the work of Ed Benes on Justice League of America. I know this to be true, because I’ve read through plenty of message board posts at Newsarama, where you’ll always have a lot of guys saying how awesome it all looks or what a great talent Benes is. Seriously, check it out if you don’t believe me.

Now, everyone is certainly entitled to their own opinion, however I feel compelled to point out that if you’re of the opinion that Ed Benes is a good comic book artist, you are wrong.

I’m not familiar enough with Benes’ entire body of work to say how bad he actually is. I kinda liked a lot of his work on Birds of Prey for example, particularly at the beginning (after his run lasted for a while, his weakness in drawing more than two different body types—male and female—became clearer and clearer). I don’t think Sandra Hope’s inks necessarily do his pencils the best justice, however the pair of them can acquit themselves fairly well when doing big, posed shots, like that cheesy team photo in JLoA #7 (A badly scanned version of which is above). Benes may be a fine pin-up artist or cover artist.

But as a sequential comics artist, illustrating a script? The guy sucks. Now, JLoA is certainly harder than other titles in the number of characters that need dealing with. The team has, what 14 characters on it, now? (I’m not sure if Flash or Geo-Force are actually on the team or not). And in this storyline, they’re fighting about as many super-villains. That’s a lot of costumes to keep straight. So maybe Benes is just on a book too big for him (Well no maybe about it; the number of fill-ins we’ve seen in the first 15 issues shows that he’s definitely on a book too big for him).

But aside from the lack of backgrounds, the lack of variety in characters’ body types and faces, the poor “acting” he does, and the Liefeldian layouts full of characters breaking the borders for no reason, Benes has that one unfortunate tendency of putting a female characters’ butt or breasts or both in the focus of every panel he can get away with it in.

This week’s issue is chockfull of that, but here’s what may be the most egregious example. Ready? Here’s what I think may be the worst panel in a book full of bad panels:

Note Batman’s head sticking out of the top of the panel. Why? No reason. It just is. At least it’s not as hard to read as other border-breaks, like the Vixen/Rocky Guy Thing fight.

Also note the fact that Batman gets off a whole sentence in the time it takes The Joker to fall a few inches. Reading old comics today, we all like to laugh at how Captain America could say paragraphs of dialogue while executing a flip or two, but a) that was a generation or two ago, b) those comics were made for kids and c) Jack Kirby can get away with that shit because it would have been one of the ten thousand panels he drew that month.

This is 2007, and Benes is drawing a comic book read almost exclusively by adults (at least, I hope kids aren’t reading this thing) who read a lot of comics. Why not draw The Joker already on the ground? Or still in Batman’s hand? Why choose to draw the fall in mid-air, if the script tells you there are two sentence of dialogue that will pass the time in which the image is supposed to capture?

But I already know the answer to that. If he drew The Joker on the floor, or being dragged along it by Batman, he might have had to lower the "camera" angle a bit, and then wouldn’t have been able to draw Black Canary’s ass in the panel, or perhaps not as much of it.

And, let the record show, Benes’ guiding principle when composing an image is whether or not he can draw a woman’s ass in it. I mean, look at this image; it’s almost 50% Black Canary’s ass. No one’s talking about her ass, her ass has nothing to do with the story. The subject is Batman disobeying Black Canary’s orders and having gone off into the swamp to retrieve the escaping Joker.

Anyway, it wasn't my intention to turn this into Benes bashin week at the EDILW or anything; I actually drew the previous post a while back, and was saving it for the second Batman's Christmas List post because Wonder Woman's his second best teammate or whatever. It's honestly just a coincidence that I've talked shit on Benes for, like, four posts in a row.

4.) Although Benes is still better than Liefeld: Have you read this article headlined “The 40 Worst Rob Liefeld Drawings” yet? If not, make sure you check it out when you’ve got some free time and are in a place where it’s okay to laugh out loud. I’m not sure if the headline is meant to be taken literally, as there are some very, very bad drawings in here, but I kept expecting to see the Cap With Boobs image, and it never came, and I’m pretty sure that’s worse than some of these. Maybe not.

I’ve always felt a little sorry for Liefeld, on account of making fun of him is just so easy, it feels a little like making fun of the foreign exchange student for talking funny during lunch period or whatever. (And I have very little personal experience with his work; there are exactly two comic books containing Liefeld art work in my long boxes—Darker Image #1 featuring the most shameless rip-off of another character I’ve ever read by Liefeld [Plus, a Sam Kieth Maxx story, the reason teenaged Caleb bought it], and that one Superman Christmas issue by eight different artists, one of which was Liefeld.)

But man, writers “Hanstock and B” (what kind of names are those?) show no mercy, and it gets pretty hilarious. After a while, I began just giggling myself silly at the images themselves, before the commentary would even begin. I mean, look at that panel up there. I was alive and reading comics in the ‘90s—did people really think stuff like that looked cool back then?

5.) I will now comment on that one thing everyone else will also comment on: So J. Michael Straczynski’s not crazy about the latest J. Michael Straczynski Spider-Man story either, huh? Does that make it official? Does everyone hate the idea of rebooting Spider-Man continuity to magically undo his marriage to Mary Jane? Everyone except Marvel Editor-in-Chief and the story’s penciller Joe Quesada, anyway?

If they don’t undo the marriage magically now, I’ll be pretty surprised, because whatever the decision was—to do it or not do it—it must have been made months and months ago, since the new, tri-weekly schedule for Amazing Spider-Man is dependent on the outcome, and, if Marvel’s as on-schedule with ASM as they claim, then the first story arc of that book at least was finished before “One More Day.”

They can still de-re-boot Spider-continuity, as I’m fairly certain they will, given fan reaction, but it may not be for a while yet.

What I find perplexing is that Quesada even took it this far. He’s been talking about his problems with the Spider-marriage for years on Newsarama. No other issue gets talked about as much as the Spider-marriage in this formerly weekly interview columns, Joe Fridays, not even his ban on smoking in Marvel Comics. And his opinion has always been universally disagreed with.

Of course, he is right, a married Peter Parker ages the character and makes him easier for adults to relate to then children—having him marry Mary Jane in the first place may have been a mistake, and should have been undone. But it would have had to be done in, when was it, 1987?

Now, there’s just too much momentum to the marriage, and it’s played too big a role in too many Marvel Comics.

But to stop thinking like a fan and reader for a second, un-marrying Spider-Man no longer makes a lick of sense.

Ultimate Spider-Man (indeed, the whole Ultimate line) was launched specifically to appeal to new and young readers, to bring the spirit of the original Spider-Man comics into the 21st century, and it succeeded wildly. It remains one of the better Big Two comic books being published. It also features a young, unmarried Spider-Man.

Marvel Adventures Spider-Man overlaps with USM quite a bit, in terms of being focused on younger readers and telling stories with much easier jumpingonability, and it also features a young, unmarried Spider-Man.

As does Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane. And large swathes of the stories appearing in anthology Spider-Man Family.

The only version of Spider-Man who is a little older and married is the Marvel Universe one, the one whose primary audience is the dwindling, graying Direct Market crowd, all of whom overwhelmingly prefer a married Spider-Man to a single one.

Making Marvel Universe Spider-Man more like the USM and MA ones just undercuts what makes those books special. So Marvel is risking alienating it’s shrinking Direct Market fan base to make their line of Spider-Man books less diverse, is that it?

But back to JMS, it is pretty weird to see a Big Two Marvel writer, even one as influential as him (he is safe and secure with an exclusive contract at the moment, right?) saying he doesn’t like the direction the story’s going in.

It also strikes me as incredibly insincere. As I mentioned last night, JMS could personally be in some trouble over the poor quality of this story—what’s going on in it aside, those first two issues constituted some of the worst comics writing I’d ever encountered—so it’s understandable that he’d want it on record that this wasn’t all his bright idea.

But at the same time, there’s no gun to his head here. If he thought it was a stupid idea, he didn’t have to write it in the first place. Likewise, if he pitched an idea for a story in which Gwen Stacy’s and Peter Parker’s grown children are the villains, but gets it shot down, he could have just scrapped the story and told another one, he didn’t have to change the father of Stacy’s children to Norman Osborne. If there was any form of compulsion to write the dumb-ass story his boss wanted him to write, it would have been financial and fairly minor (I’m assuming; he was leaving ASM anyway, which means the only “at risk” book would be Thor, right?). Isn’t turning down one story’s arc worth of paychecks worth not looking like a chump?

6.) Countdown to Checkmate getting cancelled :And speaking of popular comics writers speaking out against the grind of editorial fiat, long-time DC writer Greg Rucka isn’t renewing his exclusive contract with the company. In a second post responding to the original post which set off Internet response, Rucka essentially says that if there’s any dirty laundry regarding his relationship with DC, he’s not going to air it.

Fair enough.

Rucka got his comics start after a few prose crime novels, then had a very successful Oni mini Whiteout and, next thing you know, he’s writing Batman for DC, including part of “No Man’s Land” (the last really good Batman crossover?) and a long, successful stint on Detective Comics. After working on DC’s biggest star, he then got to work on their other two biggest stars, Superman (which he actually wasn’t very good at) and Wonder Woman (a title he was kind of mediocre on, but being mediocre on the Wonder Woman monthly is the same as being brilliant on other titles).

He was heavily involved in the Infinite Crisis build-up, including the really shitty OMAC Project, and was part of the 52 team, giving DC one of it’s biggest hits in, what, ever? (Seriously guys, that thing sold 90 to 100,000 or more every single week!)

But since then, it’s clear he’s been somewhat, um, underappreciated by the company. His only ongoing monthly is Checkmate, which seems to be a title he’s well-suited for, but also a title that’s on the verge of cancellation, and seems to be getting monkeyed with quite a bit (I can’t imagine Rucka thinking, “Oh sweet, I love Judd Winick and his goddam stupid book Outsiders! Let’s do a crossover!” Or “Sure, by all means, use these characters I’m supposed to be writing to set up your stupid fucking Salvation Run series; sounds faboo!”*)

He’s publicly mentioned that he wasn’t thrilled to see Renee Montoya, a character DC owns but he’s adopted as her primary writer since his TEC run years ago, appearing in the pages of Countdown (drawn badly off-model to boot), and I see she had at least a one panel appearance in the recent Gotham Underground miniseries, which also ties into Salvation Run.

And then there’s Batwoman, the monthly starring the lesbian vigilante who made such a huge splash in the mediascape a few years back. Originally, her monthly adventures were going to be written by Devin Grayson, and a title logo was even designed, but the book never materialized. Later, Rucka was supposed to be working on her series, and he mentioned frustrations with DC’s reluctance to release the book in interviews on different subjects. There’s still no Batwoman comic book on the schedule, and I wonder if that ended up being the last straw?

Anyway, with Rucka leaving DC, what’s that mean for the company? I’m going to assume John Ostrander is going to be named the new Checkmate writer sometime in the near future, if the book’s not cancelled before then, at which point he’ll get to write it for six months and then it will get cancelled.

I’m also going to assume Batwoman will continue to not come out, and, if anything, is now a lot less likely to ever come out.

*Actually, I can’t imagine anyone saying the word “faboo.”


Patrick C said...

You know, after reading that 40 worst page on Rob Liefeld, I'm actually tempted to hit up some quarter bins and pick up some of his old stuff. I think I might enjoy picking his art apart more than I do actually reading some of the comics I buy nowadays.

Sure, maybe I'm sick and twisted, but I totally have a fixation on early/mid 90s "cool" art.

Anonymous said...

I think Greg Rucka was the best writer to ever be on Wonder Woman. His WW run was amazing, as it made every piece of the WW mythos work in a modern setting.

And I liked him on Superman. But his WW stuff was superb.

SallyP said...

I'm sorry that Mr. Rucka is leaving, because I love Checkmate, and I DID like his work on Wonder Woman.

The whole Spider-Man marriage thing with Quesada just makes me cringe. I can possibly understand that he personally doesn't like the marriage, but to insist on his own views vs EVERYBODY elses, makes very little sense from a business standpoint.

And yes, Ed Benes art is terrible. There were some decent moments and some good dialogue, but all the butt-cheeks took away from that.

Anonymous said...

Caleb, I think it's a little bit of a stretch to go from Rucka not resigning with DC (thus, giving him the freedom to do books with other company) to predict that he intends to have NOTHING to do with DC, or vice-versa. It could easily pan out that way, but I still think it's a jump in assumptions.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Joe Q would be so intent on retconning away the marriage if he realized it left the door gaping open for someone to resurrect Ben Reilly. (As Peter moved out of town due to his wife's pregnancy, and Ben died due to fighting Norman alone.)

The fastest way to tell if someone's a bad artist is if they avoid drawing feet. I have to wonder why they gave Ed Benes such a high profile gig when it's obvious he can't handle the workload.