Friday, December 21, 2012

Grant Morrison on the 2012 Apocalypse

Grant Morrison: wonderfully insightful, as always.

Thanks to the folks at the Grant Morrison: Talking With God facebook page and SequartTV for this. If you don't have Grant's book, run out and buy it. The Audiobook is quite good, also. If you're not already following, you should at it your RSS feed. Their critical analysis of all things sequential reminds me of The Comics Journal back in that bygone era when sensitive memos from the desk of Jim Shooter would wind up in print,  Gary Groth would let Harlan Ellison say *nearly libelous things about Michael Fleisher,  and superheroes weren't seen as a contemptible enterprise. You know–the good old days!

*Fleisher lost his libel suit against Ellison.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Gentlemen, Reset Your Watchmen!

Half a year has passed since DC Comics launched the first issues of their controversial re-visitation line, BEFORE WATCHMEN. Following on the heels of the successful but somewhat ill-received film, and including the involvement of neither the writer nor penciler of the original series, the move was immediately dismissed as an attempt to crassly cash-in on Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons' characters while DC still owned them. The largest share of criticism came from creator Alan Moore, himself, who was adamantly and vocally against the idea.

In the spirit of full disclosure, Moore has never been happy with anyone handling his works other than himself, having famously lambasted the film adaptations of From Hell, and the disappointing League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Moore even dismissed the very well-adapted V For Vendetta, and had his name removed from the credits. So, while the fans have been at odds over the years with Moore's opinion concerning the handling of his characters by others, they were very much in the creator's corner when it came to this selling off of the family jewels. The fan backlash against DC Comics was loud and nasty for moving forward with the release of new comics starring Ozymandias, Silk Spectre, Nite Owl, Comedian, Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan, and a series dedicated to their forefathers, The Minutemen.

I didn't want to let the internet chatter interfere with my ability to objectively review these new comics, and the talent roster announced for each series ranged from merely interesting to absolutely inspired, so I steered clear of any online news and awaited the weekly supplements to the overall story. This past few weeks has seen the close of the Silk Spectre four-issue, mini-series, but rather than winding down the other titles,  DC announced an expansion with the release of two new series: one dedicated to anecdotal villain, Moloch, and another for Minuteman hero, Dollar Bill. This makes one wonder, can a Captain Carnage one-shot be far behind? Just how far down the vein are they going to drill?

Well if you didn't get a sense of it from that last paragraph, I think the experiment has been a failure. This is where a lot of you get to scream, "I told you so!"
But there have been some successes within that failure, too.

Darwyn Cooke's MINUTEMEN series is still running, and has been excellent every single issue. He's done a great job of padding out the history of the team with adventures that add to the rich legacy of the original series. The same magic he weaved into THE NEW FRONTIER is fully intact in this series, which had advertisements and other interruptions that the original source material did not. Cooke's retro-style perfectly fit the setting of post-war America, and his writing has been crisp and enjoyable.

His work on SILK SPECTRE with artist Amanda Connor was fresh, but got a little goofy in the middle. 1960s psychedelia has never played well in comics (outside of Jim Steranko), and it derailed here as well. It was nice to see such a different take than anything Moore would have been able to script, but it didn't maintain across all four issues. Still, it was above average.

RORSCHACH in the hands of Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo is exactly what fans wanted: gritty, dirty and violent. This was the right team for the task and they're having fun within the historical context of Moore and Gibbons' set-up. It's been a treat thus far, and there's no indication that will change within the remaining issues of the series. The same team that delivered the incredible JOKER graphic novel have proven themselves as dependable a team as Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely.

DR. MANHATTAN is a deep sci-fi character, and there are few people you could trust within that genre to not completely ruin the great work the original WATCHMEN series showcased. In J. Michael Straczynski, DC found the perfect man for the task, and paired him with one of the all-time greatest illustrators of naked flesh, Adam Hughes. So far, this has been a wondrous collaboration that ranks among the best for both of them. JMS brings an even deeper understanding of real science with with the big blue guy than he did with his cult hit Babylon 5. This series enriches the concepts developed in the source material and expanded in the film adaptation, making this a great bridge between the two mediums.

That is pretty much where my praise ends.

If Azzarello seemed like a logical choice for Rorschach, why not handle The Comedian, too?
Well, apparently there was only enough moxy for the one series, because THE COMEDIAN is a big disappointment. There are many places one could aim to pinpoint the failure, but I think it's this: choosing to center on what turned Edward Blake from an affable man's man into a sadistic monster is to miss the point entirely. Blake's always been bad. He's an anti-hero, through-and-through. Azzarello is a talented writer and it's because he's so talented that the expectations were high for this. Clearly, The Comedian and Rorschach are the two most popular characters, and the chance to tackle both of them must have been more than Brian could turn down. He chose to tell a single story with Rorschach, and must have felt the need to do more with The Comedian, but that wasn't necessary nor advisable. The guy who rapes a fellow costumed adventurer in the 1940s shouldn't be seen as a good-old boy in the early 1960s paling around with the Kennedys. The writer's take on America's first family is speculative to the point of insult and he changes a piece of Watchmen lore by giving Blake an alibi in the JFK Assassination. He took unnecessary liberties in an attempt to flesh out the bad guy.
I think it would have been wiser to tell Blake's story in an Apocalypse Now series of dossiers outlining his black ops activities. A nice set-up might have been to show someone hired by a Veidt corporation shredding these boxed documents, possibly reading them as they do. If there was a need to take a liberty, the shredder could turn out to be Moloch, who has already been established as an unwilling pawn in Adrian Veidt's game. If there was need for a bigger liberty, it could have been Walter Kovacs.

If Straczynski's specialty is deep sci-fi, how did he wind up on the short list for NITE OWL?
MJS has never done a run on Batman that I ever read, and since Nite Owl is based on Blue Beetle (Charleton's Batman), why didn't DC execs go with a Batman writer? Scott Snyder and Neal Adams would have been a great team for this. Instead, we got a story that seemed too bored with itself to not include the more interesting Rorschach (written terribly, I might add), and really scratchy pencils from the Kubert family. I am a huge fan of Joe Kubert, but I would never have suggested him for this project. He's got the wrong look for inner-city super heroes. Adam and Andy Kubert do superheroes just fine, but I'd be lying if I said they were my dream team for a Watchmen revival. Of course, Snyder already has his hands full writing the terrific BATMAN, SWAMP THING and AMERICAN VAMPIRE series, so he might not have been available. And Neal isn't known for being deadline friendly. But perhaps most importantly, is there enough about Nite Owl that we don't know? Alan Moore (way back in the day) had suggested the possibility of a Nite Owl and Rorschach team-up book in the vein of Randall and Hopkirk: Deceased, but that would have been a comical take on the characters, and it would have been disrespectful for anyone else but Moore to treat these characters anything less than seriously. In this case, Nite Owl was fairly pedestrian. The first issue of MOLOCH THE MAGICIAN was actually quite enjoyable, though, so MJS has a 2-1 record overall.

Jae Lee is an artist's artist. The guy is incredible. In OZYMANDIAS he has produced what many must consider to be the best work of his career. The book is beautiful to see. Unfortunately Len Wein added words to Lee's pictures. Wein helped shape the comics industry in the late 1960s and 70s, and I'm forever grateful for that. I'm a huge fan of his seminal work with Bernie Wrightson on Swamp Thing, and as an editor, Len is a legend. But as a writer? Not so much. His Ozymandias reads so... comic booky that it actually makes me mad. Anyone who read the original Watchmen series would immediately get that Adrian Veidt is a secretive man. He is calculated and charming. He was designed as a forty-something Robert Redford, so he's got the common touch in addition to his immense wealth. He's not a smarmy, two-dimensional confessor. Choosing to fill each page with a description of what is actually on each page as a sort of inner dialogue is not only poor scripting, it's against character. Wein seemingly took the not-too-subtle performance from the film adaptation as the springboard for this series, and wrote it like it might have been written forty-five years ago at Marvel. The way to tell Veidt's story should have been through his auto-biography, which was established as a best seller in the Moore-Gibbons universe. A great writer might use that plot device to show one thing and describe another, so that Veidt's autobiographical descriptions narrate less than heroic visuals creating a sense of the false advertising that we know Ozymandias to be post-Watchmen. Matt Wagner or James Robinson would  have been better choices to pair with Jae Lee, and Brian K. Vaughn could have been stellar, but honestly almost anyone would have been a better choice to write this after reading what's been published thus far. And now Mr. Wein is writing DOLLAR BILL.

I have opted-out at this point. I find myself falling back to collections of serialized newspaper strips like Steve Canyon and Johnny Hazard. I'm drifting away in the lush illustrated tomes of European fumetti and bande dessinee being released by Humanoids and Dark Horse, and even wandering off to discover all the great Japanese manga I missed. The glory of the superhero is cyclical, and with the exception of the current Scott Snyder  and Greg Capullo BATMAN run and the DAREDEVIL END OF DAYS mini series from Brian Michael Bendis, David Mack, Klaus Janson and Bill Sienkiewicz, there hasn't been much on par with the series I first highlighted in Pop Sequentialism.

As such, I'll be posting monthly rather than weekly unless something inspires me to interim reporting.