Friday, February 15, 2008


—I’ve gone back and forth a few times this week over whether or not I should post something acknowledging the passing of Steve Gerber.

I didn’t feel the need to post about it to inform anyone, as I assume just about everyone who stops by here had already heard about it and read many of the tributes, remembrances, off-the-cuff eulogies and official obituaries that have poured out of the professional and fan communities throughout the week, in what amounts to something of an electronic wake.

And then there was the fact that I knew more about Gerber’s work than I actually knew his work; my personal experience with his writing is quite limited.

See, I’m 30 years old, and I didn’t start reading comics until around 1990 or so. Like a lot of readers, I started reading in both directions, scooping up new books as they came out, but also hitting libraries and back issue bins and reading backwards through the medium simultaneously (at a rate that’s increased exponentially in the last few years, given the incredible amount of work available in trades now).

So, obviously, I missed the work Gerber was best known for; I wasn’t even talking yet when he had left Marvel for the first time. The very first Gerber-written comics I’d read were Nevada and Hard Time, his last Howard the Duck series for the Marvel’s Max imprint was my first non-terrible movie experience with the character, and it wasn’t until about a year or so ago that I read his Defenders and Omega the Unknown, the latter of which was so far ahead of its time that it was weird reading it in the 21st century and wrapping my head around the fact that it was actually from the seventies.

Oddly, while I had always thought of Gerber as That Guy Who Used To Write Howard The Duck, I didn’t realize that he also wrote for television animation until I started reading about his career in posts like this, and that I had grown up experiencing his writing after all.

In addition to working on Young Caleb favorite series Thundarr The Barbarian, Gerber also wrote for G. I. Joe, a cartoon series that is near the top of my Greatest Things I’ve Ever Experienced list. I see that Gerber wrote two of the series’ very best storylines, the one where Destro and Lady Jaye discover they’re related, and there’s that crazy Lovecraft monster in the well at the bottom of their ancestral castle, and then that trippy two-parter where Shipwreck thinks he’s losing his mind).

This might sound silly, but in a way I feel kind of lucky to have not read so much of Gerber’s greatest work yet. The tragedy of a writer, artist or creative person you’ve never even met dying is, after all, in large part the realization that you won’t be getting to enjoy any new work from that person again. I know that there are still a lot of Gerber-written comics I haven’t read yet, and I look forward to doing so.

Tom Spurgeon has been compiling a master list of remembrances of and tributes to Gerber here.

—In announcing DC Universe #0, Dan DiDio says they changed the name from Countdown to Final Crisis #0 when they realized they didn’t want to end a Countdown to Final Crisis trade with a cliffhanger. I wonder if it didn’t have more to do with the fact that they were afraid to brand the book with the word Countdown, an association which has had little benefit for many of the several dozen other books to be branded as part of the Countdown mega story?

—I was relieved to read the rumored Busiek/Bagley Superman/Batman/Wonder Woman series being officially announced this week, mostly because it seems like such a good idea, and I was worried that the rumors rumor monger Rich Johnston was, um, mongering were too good to be true.

Interesting that DC’s had two weekly series now, one of which was successful in terms of sales, fan response and critical responses, and another that was fairly successful in terms of sales, widely reviled by fans and universally despised by all critics. Each was produced was a different approach. So I assumed that a third series would be done using the approach of the first, but it seems that DC’s going with a third approach, having one creative team handle the bulk of each issue.

It’s a great creative team, so I think the series has a lot of potential. It’s also a lot of work for so few creators though, and I think this series therefore has an even greater chance of hitting a publishing delay than the first two.

Like 52 and Countdown, this will be a fun series to watch and I hope that, like 52 at least, it will be a fun one to read.

—I’ll give Reign in Hell a chance, because I liked the idea of the DC devils fighting over hell in all the other comic books I’ve read it happen in over the last 15 years or so and I generally like Keith Giffen’s writing when he’s on, but I’m pretty leery of Dan DiDio’s contention that it will establish a new set of “rules” for magic in the DC Universe:

In the past at DC, we’ve always played the balance as being between order and chaos. Then, starting with Day of Vengeance, we’ve shown that magic has been in disarray since the death of Shazam and the other events that occurred in that miniseries. What you’re going to find now, is that magic has realigned itself with a whole new set of rules, and those rules are being crafted by those individuals who control Hell. So naturally, there’s a direct effect between what’s going on in Hell and the magic being used in the DC Universe.

Considering the last time that those rules were originally laid out in a series written by Neil freaking Gaiman and illustrated by John Bolton, Scott Hampton, Charles Vess and Paul Johnson in the days before the Vertigo imprint was created and some of the DCU’s most interesting supernatural characters were separated from the fictional universe that birthed them, did the rules of magic really need rewritten? Because if Giffen and company’s series doesn’t best Gaiman and company’s, than I don’t see how it can be seen to have been worthwhile.

—Is Grant Morrison the DC Universe’s savior? No matter how bad it seems to get fucked up, he’s right there waiting to re-awesomeify it. At least, that’s what I gathered from hearing him talk to Zack Smith about Final Crisis. It sounds great: A one-off Justice League villain from the ‘70s, a one-off Martian Manhunter villain, Streaky the Super-cat in #2, Kamandi, Anthro, Frankenstein, “a big definitive battle between Supergirl and Mary Marvel. Some seriously badass super-animals…”

What I found particularly interesting was this bit from Morrison: “It’s the apocalypse. (laughs) Basically, this is it. This is doomsday for the DC Universe… This is about the DC Universe under the greatest threat that it’s ever faced. It’s the ultimate annihilation of everything they hold dear."

See, what I loved about Morrison’s JLA run was that it started with the White Martians taking over the world and about to execute the League, and, with each successive arc, the end of the world threatened them again. Morrison’s League was a council of heroes, united by the fact that they were each the best of the best, constantly staving off the apocalypse (not a bad theme for a millennial book like the one he was writing), and each time they beat it back, it simply returned in greater force until “World War III.”

By that point, the apocalypse was such a huge threat it took the intervention of the armies of heaven and every single man, woman and child on Earth getting superpowers and uniting to defeat it.

And now Morrison’s saying he’s come up with a greater threat than Mageddon? Now that’s a comic book I want to read.

—Man, Mark Millar sure makes it hard to like him. Speaking to The List about Civil War, he says: ‘”It was actually the most difficult assignment I’ve ever had. It’s the bestselling comic of the last 15 years, yet when I see it sitting on my shelf I actually feel a bit sick. I just think of how much time it took up and how much re-writing I had to do just to co-ordinate everything with the other writers.”

If you follow the link, you’ll see folks fact-checking Millar, and an update regarding Millar’s response to said fact-checking.

The “bestselling comic of the last 15 years” bit sounded suspect to me, at least without a bunch of caveats regarding format and market and so forth (all of the sort there’s no reason The List would bother to include anyway), but what struck me was this thought: What kind of jerk pays attention to that stuff, anyway? Does Millar have a big chart in his office with bar graphs of comics sales to see if he’s the best-selling or the fifth best-selling comics writer or what?

It’s an especially amusing remark right before lamenting how much time it took him to produce the series. (And imagine how much more time it might have taken if it was any good!). Perhaps he’d have more time for comics writing if he wasn’t collating sales data for comics from the last fifteen years…

—Speaking of Millar, I’m waiting for the trade on his Fantastic Four, like I wish I would have done for his last two collaborations with Hitch. It was not easy not buying this week’s issue though, once I got a look at the Thing in his 19th century gear.

—Easy joke at the expense of someone toward whom I bear no ill will: Valerie D’Orazio thinks all black superheroes look alike.

You know, one of the great advantages of blogging vs. writing for traditional print media is that in the case of the former, when you make a mistake, you can go back and correct it immediately, whereas with the latter, once the mistake is in print, all you can do is apologize for it later in print.

So it was weird to see D’Orazio refer to Jefferson “Black Lightning” Pierce as “John Irons,” apparently an abbreviated version of John Henry Irons, the secret identity of Steel, in her recent review of the last JSoA issue. And then, when a commenter pointed out her mistake, rather than issuing the typical “Oops, my bad,” she went to bizarre lengths to note that her misreading pointed to a key weakness in the book, and how her misread version would have made more sense, and that the commenter was pulling “a dick move” for pointing out her mistake and reaction to being told she made a mistake.

Now, neither Steel nor Black Lightning are regulars in the book, and yeah, they’re both black dudes with bald heads, the former often in the company of a teenager with long braids, as the latter was in this issue.

But then, Irons has glasses. And usually a goatee. And, depending on who’s drawing him, an earring or two. And he’s not married. And he doesn’t have any daughters, let alone two of them, one of whom is on The Outsiders (He does have a niece named Nat, who does, admittedly, look like the girl in this scene named Jennifer). Oh, and he’s not a teacher. An he doesn’t live in Chicago. And, obviously, his names not Jeff, and the dialogue in the scene refers to the character in question as “Jeff.” Three times.

To be fair to D’Orazio—fairer than her churlish response to her own readers warrants, actually—her confusion perhaps underscores the weakness in making Black Lightning bald, so that he more closely resembles Steel, Mister Miracle II, Jakeem Thunder and the animated version of John Stewart (Why can’t DC let it’s black superheroes have hair? I feel like Mr. Terrific needs to grow a big blowout just to compensate for everyone else’s head-shavings). And, of course, how weird it was that Geoff Johns just sort of retroactively invented a wife and second daughter for a character who was single and childless (up until Judd Winick and/or Johns assigned him his first daughter, anyway).

Perhaps D’Orazio’s confusion between Black Lighting and Steel speaks to how complicated and new reader repellent the modern DCU is though. I mean, note that she’s a former DC editor and she can’t tell who’s who in one of the company’s best-written and best-drawn series; what hope do new readers have of making sense of The Legion of Super-Heroes, Countdown to Infinite Crisis or Salvation Run?

—I haven’t been reading Salvation Run, in part because of its association with Countdown and in part because it seems supremely illogical even for a series involving not one but two talking super-gorillas (If their captors want to give the villains an extra-judicial punishment, why bother putting them on another planet? Why not just put a bullet in each one’s brain? And why on Earth give them their weapons and their favorite clothes before sending them there?).

I did flip through it this week, however, on account of the cover, which featured the aforementioned two talking super-gorillas coming to blows. The first really stupid thing I saw was on page one, wherein Martian Manhunter, presumably there incognito, resumes his hero form to covertly call home on the down low. What, his radio doesn’t work while he’s in disguise or invisible?

Please note: The above scene is extremely stupid.

And then there was the gorilla-on-gorilla Grodd vs. Monsieur Mallah battle, which seemed to come to a rather permanent conclusion. The solicitation for this particular issue promises that “villains will die” and Hannibal Tabu’s review also indicates that it was a battle to the death. Mallah and The Brain weren’t caught in an explosion or thrown into the ocean or some sort of easy-to-come-back-from death, either, but they were beaten to death.

Man, who wants to live in a fictional universe that doesn’t have room for a talking gorilla with a French title, a beret, and a bandolier and his boss/best friend (and possibly more), who is a talking disembodied brain that lives in a skull-shaped robot canister?

—Damn, that Jog character sure can review of a comic book. In his review of the first issue of Image’s Next Issue Project, I noted several occasions where he said the exact same thing I thought about the book, although he said it much more concisely and elegantly than I did, either in my hastily assembled Wednesday night review, or the slightly more polished version you can see on Newsarama on Monday.

He seems to have found the anything-goes approach a virtue, while I thought it was a drawback. Likewise, my favorite story was the one he liked the least (Allred and company’s Stardust one), and the ones I liked the least were among his favorite (the contributions from Ashley Wood and Joe Casey and Bill Sienkiewicz).

We both seem to have enjoyed Rugg and Maruca’s Captain Kidd story though.


Baal said...

You have singlehandedly stopped me from visiting Occasional Super Heroine again. I usually don't read comments and have to ask if the woman was always like that when criticized?

Siskoid said...

I'm totally with you on Gerber, even if I am 6 years ahead on the time scale. I loved those old cartoons, and didn't read a lot of Gerber before Nevada (and a definitely lackluster run on She-Hulk). I mean, the odd Defenders issue I found in a flea market, and french translations of random issue of Howard the Duck, but that's it.

And now I'm looking forward to discovering him in trade. Essential Howard's on the shelf, and Omega is on my wishlist.

Anonymous said...

I believe that's Thing in his 17th C. garb.

And not to knock Gerber, but Thundarr is just dumb,dumb,dumb.

Chance said...

I am so very interested in giving trinity a try. Even looking forward to what they'll do with the guest slot section every issue.

I am utterly of one mind with you on that page of Salvation run, as well as the passing of the gorillas in general. There are so many other lame characters that could be axed, why get rid of the only gay French ape / brain in jar couple in any media, anywhere?

Carlos Hotta said...

If this was a perfect world, J´onn actually knew that Catwoman was spying him and allowed her to see him. He would do that to force her to ally with him as she is the closest thing to a hero (besides him) to be on the planet.

J´onn probably figured out that a more direct approach, such as speaking with her, would end up distancing her from him.

Baal said...

Thundarr might have been dumb but did you ever see the ep where he faced off against werewolves? The city was never named but they showed a ruined Big Ben in the background and the leader of the 'wolves was named Zevon. Get it?

Unknown said...

Caleb, always do a great job. Loved the D'Orazio bit. I picked it apart, too. I'd not use the fact that she was an editor at one point as more of an argument that books are too confusing at DC, but more that it might underscore DC's reasons for letting her go that she couldn't even pick out a character (Black Lightning) that appeared in something she edited.

Oh...and I, also, found something that proves that Millar is still wrong, even after qualifying it that he'll accept any series from 1994 and on. X-Men had an averaged paid circulation of over 600k per issue through January 1994 to December of 1994. While I'd love to suggest a condiment for his cape, I know he'll just shift the goal posts. Shame, too, because I like so much of his work.

Unknown said...

Wow, I never realized Gerber wrote the GI Joe cartoon. I only watched that show a little bit, since my family didn't own a TV, but I occasionally saw it at friends' houses, and I remember that "Shipwreck going crazy" episode freaked my right the hell out. As in, gave me nightmares and probably confused the hell out of my mom when I tried to explain it to her. That's a funny memory.