10 Underused Characters I Want to See More of!

     So the other day I was thinking about the actor Michael York.  He’s had a fairly significant career and if you’re a geek such as myself you should be at least somewhat familiar with him either from his movie career (Logan’s Run, Austin Powers), his varied television appearances (Curb Your Enthusiasm, Knots Landing), or his cartoon voice work (the Clone Wars, Justice League).  Specifically I got to thinking about his character from Austin Powers and how I always wanted to see more from Basil in the zany James Bond parodies.  This then got me thinking about other characters that I feel I haven’t seen enough of, or wish had bigger roles in their various genres.  Always on the lookout these days for blog fodder I decided to compile a list from some of my geeky interests, of fictional characters I wish had a bit more screen time, or were present a little more on the page.  The underdogs and the unappreciated, the forgotten and the mysteriously unexplained.  Characters I can only describe as underused, and who if I had my way, would have a slightly longer moment in the spotlight!

     Of course I don’t really cover all of the characters I’d like to see more of in this short list, and there are certainly many other fictional universes for me to choose from but I decided to go with the characters that directly sprang to mind when I chose this topic, and doubtlessly my choices have been influenced by my current activities.  If there are some characters you think have been criminally underused leave me your lists in the comments!  But without further ado, here’s the Ten Underused Characters I want to see more of!

#10 – Luigi: Mario Bros. Video Game Franchise

     The younger brother of the heroic Mario, Luigi is the oft overlooked second half of the Mario Bros. duo.  Luigi is controlled by the second player, a position that is not often taken up without some modicum of contention.  As such Luigi is generally looked down upon as second best, and not at all as desirable as his elder sibling Mario.  As the franchise has evolved over the years Nintendo has played up this aspect of Luigi portraying him as a bashful, reluctant hero forever eclipsed by the shadow of Mario.  It is for this precise reason that I love Luigi!  He is hilarious.  Modern video games have allowed the characters to portray more emotion and personality then they could in the early 8-bit Mario games and for my money Luigi is where it’s at.  In the various Mario themed sports games for instance Luigi’s lack of confidence is always emphasized making for humorous moments when he surprises himself with success.  Luigi of course has had the opportunity to headline a game of his own with Luigi’s Mansion placing the younger Mario brother in a haunted house and pitting him against an army of ghouls and Boos, the perfect setting for the Don Knotts of the Mario universe.  Although he’s had a big presence in almost all of the Mario games, I feel there’s always more room on my shelf for another solo Luigi game, I demand a follow-up to Luigi’s Mansion and perhaps a game involving his evil counterpart, Waluigi.

#9 – Marcus Cole: Babylon 5

     Unfortunately many reading this probably don’t know who this character is at all, and I contemplated simply adding Babylon 5 in general to this underused list, but I decided against it and stuck with only characters.  Continuing my quest to revive an interest in Babylon 5 just let me say that if you’re not familiar with this show, and you enjoy sci-fi/fantasy, then you really should check it out.  It’s currently on Netflix so you really have no excuse.  Anyway on to Marcus Cole.  Marcus was a regular character on the show for two seasons and became the face of the mysterious group known as the Anla’shok, or the Rangers.  Coming from a tragic background Marcus joins up with the Rangers who are a joint Human/Minbari organization who are keeping an eye out for dark, lurking things in the farthest regions of space.  Marcus eventually comes to Babylon 5 and has a significant role in the show’s unfolding story, however by the time Marcus arrives on the scene there are already a great number of other important characters vying for face time.  As cool as Marcus was, I always felt that his story was often pushed to the periphery and after every major appearance he made I was always left wanting to know more.  I believe they could have gone farther with his storyline and I think he had potential for a far greater story.

#8 – Basil Exposition: Austin Powers

     This is the one that sparked this list.  Michael York as Basil is hilarious, he really does a great job in comedic roles and he can actually harness a real zaniness as evidenced by his cartoon voice work in the Clone Wars and others.  I think Basil was best featured in the first Austin Powers movie where we got to see him in the retro 60’s scenes and the modern-day goofiness.  His stifled, almost naive acceptance of Austin’s shenanigans are spot on and York’s subtle style really plays off well with Mike Myers outrageous Austin.  However when the other two movies came out I felt that Basil was sort of pushed aside in order to introduce more characters and allow for more Mike Myers.  Don’t get me wrong I still think the Austin Powers movies are great, but with a talent like Michael York among the ranks I thought they really could have expanded his role slightly, giving him a bit more room to flex his comedic muscle.  Although I suppose Michael York has made a career out of underused characters, taking on small, but memorable roles and giving them his all and Basil Exposition is just another entry on that list.

#7 – Animal Man: DC Comics

     When it comes to DC comics, Animal Man is the number one hero I want to see get more attention.  One of DC’s more obscure characters Animal Man clearly doesn’t have much in the way of name recognition, but once you familiarize yourself with the character you will find that he does have one hell of an interesting history within the DC universe.  Introduced in 1965 Animal Man only made a handful of comic book appearances throughout the silver age, and it wouldn’t be until the 1980’s that he would begin to rise in prominence.  Finally getting his own title written by comic book legend Grant Morrison, Animal Man underwent a tremendous character change and definition taking him from a typical superhero, to a galaxy spanning man in search of a greater understanding.  It really is quite hard to explain here in a single paragraph, but the Grant Morrison run of Animal Man is arguably the single biggest improvement to happen to any individual  hero ever.  After the Morrison storyline and a brief stint with the Justice League International Animal Man’s popularity faded once more.  It wasn’t until the weekly comic event 52 which featured Animal Man and a small group of heroes trapped in outer space as one of the many ongoing storylines in that series, that Animal Man again found a major role in comics.  Truly an underdog, and certainly unappreciated, I believe Animal Man is one of the most interesting characters DC has in their arsenal and I would love to see Buddy Baker have more of a presence in the DC universe.

 #6 – Kremzeek: Transformers

     I don’t claim to know all that much about the entire continuity of the Transformers or their universe, but I do know one thing.  I.  Love.  Kremzeek.  I was introduced to this character several years ago now and I have been a fan ever since.  In the original cartoon series Kremzeek was created by Megatron as an ultimate weapon for the Decepticons, or something along those lines.  Kremzeek is a bio-electric creature that can travel through, disrupt, and control electronic circuts and devices including the Transformers themselves.  After devastating the Autobot base little Kremzeek sets off for Japan to wreak havoc by jumping through trains, walkmans, and factories until finally one of the Transformers tries to destroy him with a high dose of energy which results in Kremzeek multiplying in a tribble-esque variety of colors.  Eventually the multiple Kremzeeks are reunited into a giant Kremzeek which the Autobots turn back on the Decepticons before begrudgingly destroying electricity monster.  Of course one little Kremzeek manages to escape and the episode ends with the Autobots chasing him down.  As far as I know this is the only appearance of Kremzeek in the cartoons, however there have been several homages to the little guy in other episodes and throughout the various Transformer series.  I for one would love to see more of the tiny electronic terror, there should be a return of Kremzeek in the new Transformers Prime series!

#5 – Deathlok: Marvel Comics

     Don’t know Deathlok?  Think Robocop mixed with the Punisher, and a dash of Marty McFly.  Any of that sound like something you’re into?  Then check out Deatlok, not to be confused with Dethklok the cartoon heavy metal band of Metalocalypse fame.  Deathlok, like Animal Man, has a bit of a confusing back story and a varied interdimensional continuity that sometimes places him in the normal 616 Marvel continuity and other times sets him apart in an alternate reality.  Wherever in time and space Deathlok resides however, you can count on him to bring the pain.  Basically an amped up cyborg zombie with a computer companion in his brain and a high-tech blaster in his hand; Deathlok has been known to seek revenge on the government that turned him into the undead robot he has become as well as team up with other heroes on occasion when it suits him.  There is an element of mystery to Deathlok along the lines of Wolverine, with his origins tracing back to shady government military programs coupled with a loss of memory.  A loner seeking revenge, Deathlok had a brief solo title career in the comics, but has now been relegated to a supporting role popping up on rare occasions as a surprise guest, most often being reactivated by some villain who rattles his sporadic memories and puts him to use in some dastardly scheme.  I think it’s time Deathlok gets called up from the bench and put to use in this more mature comic book day and age for some truly gritty and dark anti-hero storylines!

#4 – Crystal Ball: G.I. Joe

     This guys inclusion on this list is clearly influenced by my current Terrordrome Renovation project, but after doing a little research I believe he genuinely has a right to be here.  Crystal Ball heralds from one of the earliest G.I. Joe toy lines way back in 1987 yet as far as I can tell had no presence in the G.I. Joe cartoon at all.  His file card explains that Crystal Ball is a top Cobra agent and a dabbler in the dark arts who is a master hypnotist and mind reader.  All of those sound like qualities I would think Cobra might want to employ against the Joes in order to force them to give up their plans and secrets.  Also, according to urban legend, Crystal Ball is also connected to Stephen King, the master of horror himself.  Supposedly King’s son was a fan of the cartoon and somehow through his fathers connections was able to write-up the biography for Crystal Ball lending a bit of sinister occult flair to the Cobra forces.  As a side note, from another source, Crystal Ball supposedly was one of the worst selling G.I. Joe figures ever, many of which remained on toy store shelves for years!  Rumor has it that as a result of his poor toy sales the makers of the cartoon deemed him unpopular and thus never included him in the show.  That seems like the completely wrong thing to do if you want to sell toys, personally I would have gone the opposite route and included Crystal Ball in the show and made sure he was awesome, thus making him more desirable.  Alas ol’ Crystal Ball has been relegated to running gags and parodies among toy collectors as seen in Toy Fare magazine and he is widely known as one of the worst toys of all time.  I for one love magical elements involved in any story, especially when used by the forces of evil, it just makes for some good villainy.  Aside from a few cameos in the G.I. Joe comics, Crystal Ball was never given a fair shake and I think it’s time he took his rightful place in the hierarchy of Cobra!

#3 – Every Bit Part and Background Creature in the Neverending Story

     There are so many interesting creatures and odd folks in the Neverending Story that I could make a list of underused characters just from this movie alone!  The racing snail, Night Hob the bat rider and all the other crazy bastards wandering around the Empress’ court were all so wild and exotic to me as a kid.  I couldn’t get enough of this movie when I was growing up, and it had a similar appeal for me as Star Wars did, packed with strange creatures and places the world of the Neverending Story seemed so much deeper and more complex than the movies plot revealed.  One reason to rewatch this movie is just to look around during different scenes to get a better look at the costumes and creature designs that were standing around in the background!

#2 – Mon Mothma: Star Wars

     The supreme leader of the Rebel Alliance, this is Princess Leia’s boss and the heart and soul of the entire Rebellion to Restore the Republic, but we don’t get to see her until Return of the Jedi!  Like the Emperor, the leader of the Rebellion goes unseen until the end of the saga.  Unlike the Emperor however, Mon Mothma has only a brief inconsequential scene where she sets up the attack on the second Death Star, and then disappears not even returning for the ewok celebration at the very end.  There were to be scenes in Revenge of the Sith that showed the first hints of the Rebellion and featured a young Mon Mothma, but those scenes were ultimately cut.  Because of the focus of the stories in Star Wars we never really get a good look at the Rebellion other than our brief time at Echo Base on Hoth and so we don’t really have a chance for more Mon Mothma, but it would have been awesome to maybe see some hologram communications between Leia and Mon Mothma similar to the conversations between Vader and the Emperor.  Leia is supposedly a prominent political figure among the Rebel Alliance but we never really get to see her do much in the way of leading the rebellion, she generally just gets taken prisoner a lot.  A few transmissions with the rebel HQ between Leia and Mon Mothma might have helped maintain Leia’s leadership position beyond the first movie.  Oh well, I’m not really complaining at all, just saying that I like Mon Mothma, she actually reminds me of my aunt, and I would have liked to see more of her and the Rebel command structure in the movies, but I guess that’s what the EU is for right?

#1- The Duchess: Alice in Wonderland

This might seem like an odd choice for my number one spot but I’m a huge Alice in Wonderland fan, it was one of my first literary obsessions.  Alice in Wonderland is one of the few books I can read over and over again.  As such I was very disappointed in the recent movie which drastically departed from the style and story of the books and tried very hard to make Alice in Wonderland into something it was not.  Alice is not a hero per se, but a traveler and a discoverer.  Like an explorer from history charting a course through an insane realm.  One of my favorite encounters Alice has in the book is when she comes across the Duchess’ house, the pepper tossing cook, and the transforming pig/baby.  There’s just so much going on there, and the original drawings of the Duchess are just great, such a lovely woman.  This moment in the book seems to often get bypassed in other adaptations and I always feel let down that I don’t get to see the startled look on Alice’s face as the baby’s upturned nose becomes a snout and the squirming child trots off a pig!  I suppose it all boils down to the fact that few movies are ever as good as the book, as true as it is with most works, it is especially true with Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.  The Disney cartoon is probably still the best but I have always kept my hopes up for a live action big screen adaptation that remains loyal to the books, or perhaps focuses on Through the Looking Glass entirely (which seems to never get much attention.)  All in all there are a great many characters that pop up in Alice that I would like to see more of but the Duchess takes the top spot, I suppose I will just have to sit down grab a corner of mushroom, and make my own trip to Wonderland where I might not only meet the massively headed Duchess but perhaps all the other underused characters as well.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

That is all!

Friday Funny Pages: Spider-Man VS Superman

Today’s madness begins a special Friday Funny Pages crossover series, I’ve got three or four of these lined up that I think are pretty amusing, at least to me.  The dual franchise images I have planned all come from a trade titled “Crossover Classics the Marvel/DC Collection.”  This particular image dates back to 1975 and the very first Marvel/DC hero crossover.  Written by Gerry Conway and drawn by Ross Andru this issue has a plethora of other well-known credits of course spanning both publishers. 

Heralded as “The Battle of the Century!”  This was to be a comic book event like no other, bringing comic fans the best of both worlds Spider-Man and Superman in one amazing series! 

I guess. 

For a long time I was a huge fan of DC/Marvel crossovers, this particular trade was one of my first comic book purchases, but as time goes on the crossover concept has lost most of its spectacle for me.  I don’t know why exactly, perhaps it’s my better understanding of the commercial motivations of the publishers, or the fuel these crossovers lend to the fiery and pointless Marvel vs DC fandom debates, but overall the crossovers don’t do much for me these days.  This could also be in part to the impermanence of the crossovers, they all seem to happen so randomly and without much consequence.  Perhaps if there were some type of stop and go crossover continuity that relaunched every ten years or so when Marvel and DC decide they need money bad enough to team up once again.  Although such a continuity would be rather bland and boring because writers have learned that you can’t really proclaim one superhero better than another because the fans will have a shit fit.  If they showed the Hulk ripping Batman in half it would be a clear Marvel bias, and if Superman were to beat Thor the rivers would run red with DC blood!  If there were ever a Marvel/DC crossoververse the issues would be extremely vague and full of random deus ex machina unifying events that would ensure the heroes never actually fought long enough to determine a victor, but rather teamed up to achieve some amiable end. 

But enough of my comic book rhetoric, let’s talk about this panel.

This panel could, and should, be the entire crossover of Spider-Man VS Superman.  In a straight up fight Supe wins, sorry Spidey.  As much as I don’t really care for Superman at all, there’s just no fight to be had here.  HOWEVER through the magic of the comic book creators involved in this story that is not the only thing this tale was about!  You see the issue did not only see a team up between Spider-Man and Superman, but it also saw the sinister pairing of Lex Luthor and Doctor Octopus!  That’s where things get good. 

It just so happens that Peter Parker and Clark Kent are both attending the World News Conference in New York city (so they apparently have been living in the same universe all along, but Superman just hadn’t ever gone to New York? Or heard of Spider-Man?  Silly.) But when villainy strikes Spider-Man and Superman are called into action!  Long story short Luthor and Doc Ock make the two heroes think the other is behind the attack, the villains zap Spider-Man with a mega dose of red sun radiation temporarily giving him powers and strength equal to Superman, and a battle royale ensues!  That is of course until the red sun radiation wears off and we have the two panels shown above, as Spidey realizes he’s no match for the Man of Steel.  

Of course later the two heroes come to an understanding and team up to bring the evil doers to justice and they all live happily ever after!

The one thing that I can still appreciate about crossover events is the sheer amount of goofiness involved in their creation.  Whether it’s uncanny devices like a red sun radiation gun, or transdimensional tournaments of transpublisher celestial beings uniting the two universes together, the zany cleverness and creative effort put into initiating these hero showdowns is always reminiscent of the oldest days of comic books when the cheesy, the harebrained, the unexpected, and the unbelievable were regular elements of these astonishing tales.

Until next time, that is all!

Comic Books Through the Ages, According to Me

Several posts back I talked about the new age of comic books, the current era, which has been quite unique in its style and media presence.  I called our modern comics era the Mercury Age due to its fast paced storytelling and penchant for drastic change.  Today however I would like to go through and further define the various stages of development of the comic book industry as I see them, and offer up my suggestions for the eras that have for the most part gone undefined.

The Golden Age of Comics– 1930’s to early 1950’s

The Golden Age is very familiar with most comic book fans, it is the age that started it all.  The Golden Age produced many of the icons of comics that are still around today, characters that are pillars of the entire industry.  Detective Comics was the powerhouse of the day, and established the indelible style of that company.  I would describe this era as a highly imaginative time where creators worked hard to set their characters apart from other heroes.  However though the character designs were very stylized and unique the plots of this era seem fairly interchangeable.  Initially almost all superhero characters dealt exclusively with street level crime, gangsters, corrupt businessmen, etc.  Even supernatural and science fiction elements that were employed by villains dealt primarily with petty crime or personal gain.  During the time of World War II comics of course gained a very distinct patriotic tinge, practically becoming propaganda.  This worldly shift in tone lead to a larger scale in the stories being told.  Having the comics take place overseas or showing heroes aiding the war effort on the home front helped broaden the superhero scope.  Inspired by the media of the time this era can best be described as radio dramas with pictures, heavy on narration and very flat, interchangeable stories.  Though the individual heroes were quite outlandish there came to be a general pattern which most comic books ascribed to.  With the advent of television this style of storytelling became less and less popular.

Golden Age Green Lantern before the changes of the Silver Age

The Golden Age Comics: Radio Dramas with pictures.

The Silver Age of Comics– 1950’s -1960’s

After a short lull in comics after WWII when there was no longer the need for such enthusiastic patriotism there came a reinvigoration of comics with a new focus; high adventure in the atomic age!  New characters were popping up all over with origins dealing with radiation and scientific achievement.  Old characters were being altered and reinvented, doing away with vague mystical elements and tweaking powers and origins to include more plausible, science based logic.  The cold war and the space race kick started some of the most outlandish and memorable tales in comics history.  The mysteries of space and the wonders of atomic power fueled the imaginations of comic book writers and the nation as a whole.  Fear and wonder during this time were also put to use selling alien invasion stories and horror comics.  Several comic book publishers rose and fell during this highly creative era, which saw the rise to prominence of Marvel comics which had its own golden age during this Silver age.  Here is where the concepts of continuity and the development of in-comic universes began to solidify.  The various publishers tightened their focus while at the same time widening their scope laying out their own distinct views of the world as it was in their comic book stories, during this period there was a discovery through storytelling.  The comic book industry was still figuring itself out and didn’t exactly take itself serious, but there were crucial developments in style, art, and writing.  Overall I would describe this era as high concepts, with low execution.

The Fantastic Four propelled Marvel Comics into the Silver Age

The Bronze Age of Comics– 1970’s – early 1980’s

An important time in comics.  This era saw a greater development of the comic book industry and its established characters.  During this time writers spent a great deal of time explaining earlier concepts and aided the various universes to flesh themselves out with a great sense of continuity.  There was a desire to experiment during the bronze age.  Established characters were put into new and unusual circumstances and new characters were introduced who had more socially relevance, continuing the evolution of the stories told in comic books.  A new time of zaniness emerged, reminiscent of the Golden Age, but with a much greater self awareness.  There was a more satirical tone during this time, with more social commentary not often found in comics prior.  Social change and political unrest were rampant in the country at this time and though these issues are not always directly addressed in the comics of the Bronze Age there was a much greater use of comics as a platform for addressing cultural concerns.  The two major comic book universes at Marvel and DC were broadened to their greatest scope.  During this time comics start to become a more commercial outlet featuring movie comic book adaptions and other comic book tie-ins.  The comics of this time range from street level crimes, to interstellar wars, to mystical realms, and classic horror stories.  There are many new developments during this time but the major work of this era deals with building up and reinforcing the established comic book universes, while at the same time providing greater insights and cultural awareness.

The Bronze Age brought humanity to the super human

 

The Tarnished Age of Comics– 1980’s -1990’s

Here is where we get into uncharted territory, this time period is most commonly referred to as simply the modern age of comics, which I believe at this point is a bit passé.  Here begins a time of pessimism and realism in comic books.  The same familiar comic book universes that were established in the decades prior were now given a distinct patina across their once shining exteriors.  During the tarnished age the comic book industry starts to mature, due in part to an increasingly older readership.  Comics are no longer simply kids stuff and those who read comics as kids continued reading and were interested in more complex stories.  This is an age of darker tales, more realistic premises, dynamic events, and humanistic plots that do not shy away from depth, complexity, or social commentary.  Continuity becomes more important than ever and a new generation of readers and writers delve into angsty character driven plots.  This period is also tainted by company arrogance from the big comic publishers, which are at this point are becoming large corporations.  This era saw the height of the commercialism of comic books and the extensive use of variant covers, and special rereleases to boost sales.  Fueled by the booming collectors market for older comics publishers believed they could make a substantial profit by encouraging their readers to buy up the plethora of exclusive and “hard to find” printings that were being cranked out.  This lead to a comic book collectors bubble of sorts which eventually imploded discouraging comic fans and nearly bankrupting the bloated comic book industry.  This of course lead to a rise of new upstart comic publishers that attempted to break away from the corporate mindset of the old guard at Marvel and DC allowing their writers and artists to retain all rights to their creations and allow for a wider range of subject matter and grittier, more mature reads. Dark Horse and Image comics are byproducts of this era.

One of the most memorable moments of the Tarnished Age

The Mercury Age of Comics– 2000’s to present

This is the age that is still in development, an age like no other.  I call this age the mercury age due to the fast paced mutability of the comics industry nowadays.  Comics are now completely corporatized; both DC and Marvel are now parts of enormous corporate media conglomerates.  The smaller comic book publishers like Dark Horse and Image are now firmly established as the alternate choices for fans who are tired of the “same old thing” while also providing some of the most creative and dynamic comic books and graphic novels.  Independent comic writers now gain substantial popularity and notoriety, so much so that they are highly sought after to be part of the creative teams on titles at the big two publishers, effectively turning the tables on the once dominate superhero genre.  In the mainstream DC and Marvel universes small intimate character driven stories are all but forgone in favor of larger cross title arcs that have a wider impact.  Few titles, even books based on single superheroes, actually deal with just one hero instead they incorporate any number of various characters from across their respective universes.  Characters are dealt with more realism than ever.  With the advent of the internet and the fast paced flow of information in our modern day, comic books have learned to adapt along these lines as well.  Superheroes no longer simply fight crime, the characters are portrayed with a great sense of self awareness and the characters are written with more concern for how they are portrayed in the media and with a greater understanding of manipulation of information technologies.  At this point there seems to be a greater inkling that everything has already been done in the superhero genre and so therefore the landscapes of the major comics universes need to be shaken up.  This is one of the most prominent features of the mercury age, change, death, events, additions, and topsy turvy stories that skew the idea of the status quo and continuity dominate the comics landscape.  To make things interesting and to develop original plots creators seem urged to tear apart the established universes, and effectively deconstruct the superheroes.  However the changes made in these events are often inconsequential, fleeting, and either quickly reversed or completely forgotten about almost immediately afterward.  Congealing and separating like mercury.   

Event books dominate the comic book landscape of the Mercury Age

 

Independent comics take their place in the industry during the Mercury Age

As I’ve said these are simply my thoughts on the subject, and though I might seem to be casting some kind of judgment on certain time periods, I’m really not.  I can respect all points in history of the comic book industry and I understand that it is a constantly evolving and changing medium that will/must find new ways to attract more readers.  Also these definitions are of course in broad general terms and there are countless examples of titles from each era that go against those generalizations.  If you don’t agree with what I’ve laid out here, or have some additions/corrections you’d like to make, feel free to leave me your thoughts in the comments.  Since there is probably no chance that I will ever be able to contribute directly to the developing comic book universes, maybe there is a chance that I can indirectly affect the business by defining these previously undefined eras.  So if you agree with what I’ve got here do me a favor and start dropping the phrases “Tarnished Age” or “Mercury Age” into your everyday conversations with your fellow comic book fans and when they give you a confused look just pretend like it’s an established thing, and that they should already know what you mean.  I don’t need any credit, let’s just get this started!

That is all!

A Requiem For Comic Books OR Enter the Mercury Age

So it has been awhile since I’ve bought comics regularly.  Money is tight these days.  The wife and I recently bought a house, there is a financial crisis lurking around, and when it came to saving my hefty weekly comic book fund was put on the chopping block.  A shame to be sure, but I kept up as best I could by reading a few forums and checking out the publishers official sites and browsing sites like Newsarama and others.  I’ve picked up a few trades now and again but it’s been almost two years now since I’ve stopped reading comic regularly.

Well the other day a few friends and I paid a visit to our once regular comic shop.  We were making the journey to see what was new and to help point out some good X-Men trades for one of our group who was just getting started down the long winding X-Men path.  While we were pointing out trades and suggesting writers from the X Universe that she might enjoy, she made the off-handed comment that Wolverine seemed to be in a lot of these books.  The more veteran comic enthusiasts among us had a good chuckle.  Someone mentioned Wolverine’s apparently unspoken ability to warp time and be in every place at once, and I joked that Marvel should just make a new title that consisted of nothing but Spider-Man and Wolverine and just get it over with.  We chuckled and sighed.

However after I said that, one of the shops other patrons, who just happened to be lurking around nearby, walked up to us and said “You joke, but that’s actually on about issue three now.”  It took me a moment to realize what he was talking about, but then he walked over to the shelf and pointed down to a book entitled “Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine #3

Grueling hours of writing must have been put into creating this concept . . .

My only response was “You have got to be shitting me.”  But alas he was indeed not shitting me.  There it was plain as day, selling out incarnate.  Upon further inspection I saw that it is only a 6 issue story arc where Spidey and the runt get caught up in some crazy whirlwind adventure that takes them all over the Marvel universe.  I also realized that the series is written by Jason Aaron and Adam Kubert which are some names with some clout.  When it comes to Jason Aaron I could take him or leave him, but Kubert has some pretty impressive artistic credentials.

From the few reviews I’ve parsed through dealing with this series it sounds like fans are enjoying it for the most part, even though many had the same trepidations about its selling out potential.  The only real complaint I’ve been able to gather is that it is constantly late, I guess it’s taken about five months to get the first three issues out, but then again what good Wolverine mini-series doesn’t take years to complete?

Going back to one of my earlier blog posts about the death of Johnny Storm, and the hint at several more main hero deaths to promote book sales, and now this; literally a clichéd joke come to life, it makes me worry about the future of the comic books industry.  I long for the days when creators were creating and building up the comic universes they wrote within.  Writers like Simonson and Gerber introducing crazy characters, that when you try to think of them off the page seem to be insane, but when they laid it out in the panels and ink they brought something new, imaginative, and at the same time tried to make a point and actually speak to the readers.  Today however writers simply struggle to put “hot” characters into some sort of mildly adventurous and entertaining plotline that will sell books. Or barring even that level of creativity writers seem to enjoy tearing apart the history of past creators to make use of the easy concept of “dealing with change” while at the same time being able to avoid the burden of actually coming up with some sort of point. 

Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes created Omega the Unknown, what I consider to be the Pulp Fiction of super hero books.

It’s like building a huge house for a family so that you can see the family grow and evolve and spark all these great events, only to come back later and tear it down just to watch them cry without really thinking beyond how cool it will be when you snap a heart wrenching photo of them in a sobbing embrace.

Perhaps that’s a bit of a melodramatic analogy, but I’m all worked up and pissed.   

With both of the biggest comics companies now under the boot of major corporate control (DC/Time Warner and Marvel/Disney) I have a gradually growing anxiety that the days of the comic industry are in their twilight.  With more and more corporate involvement, mixed media with large-scale Hollywood productions, and the digital revolution at hand I worry that the days of the small, privately owned neighborhood comic shops are on the way out.  Comics are becoming more streamlined, sticking to “popular characters” while letting others fall to the wayside, they’re experimenting less and less and the things we get beyond the printed pages such as DVDs, cartoons, and even movies are often rehashes of old concepts and storylines, despite how well produced they might be.  The comic book industry is like a band in the “Greatest Hits” phase of their career, which of course as we know often signals the end.  When the diversity of a company starts to slide people get bored.  Contrary to popular belief fans do enjoy seeing heroes other than Wolverine and Batman.

Green Lantern Mosaic a series cancelled not due to sales but rather executives not agreeing with the books tone.

Although I was not around during the 70’s I look at the comics from that era and pine for those days.  When heroes were aplenty, the Thing was the hot property of the Marvel universe, and there was at least a pinch of some sort of social, moral, or philosophical commentary mingled with our comic books.  Of course there were a great many shitty comics back then too, but even the shit seemed to have a heart.  Perhaps I have just grown too cynical about the current state of comic books.  There have been several periods in the past when people thought the industry was on its deathbed.  I realize there is still some great stuff out there today.   Green Lantern’s Darkest Night was epic, Marvel brought back some old school sci-fi adventure with Secret Invasion, and there are other great reads among the non-hero comics such as the Walking Dead.  I suppose I am just disheartened by the corporatization of the world at large and the comic book industry in particular.  Back in the day we humble comic fans dreamt of a huge geek revolution, where everyone knew the names of the Avengers and previously second tier heroes like Green Lantern could star on the big screen.  Oh but be careful what you wish for, for how many Mephistos must we bargain with to make our dreams come true?  How many hands will reach to reap the rewards of that popularity?  And how will our heroes change in order to maintain their corporate perceptions?

Thor #337 by Walt Simonson and the first appearance of Beta Ray Bill

I guess one thing I’m getting at is that each era of comic books has its own tone and general spirit, and that I am not a fan of this current up and coming era which I would dub the Mercury Age of comics, for its fast paced mutability that seems to run all over the place without maintaining any real substance.     

It all reminds me of the storyline from Doom 2099 where . . . . ah hell I’m done, I’d just continue rambling forever!

That is all!