Love the Writer, Hate the Book?

WARNING: This column includes spoilers for recent and upcoming issues of Hulk, the Avengers, X-Everything, and probably something else you read, as well as a churlish attitude about the use of the word “literally.”

It looks like 2010 will be the year of comics testing my principles, forcing me to literally put my money where my mouth is.

Wait. It won’t actually be literal. I’ll literally be spending money, just not orally. I guess it’d be more like “putting my money where things I never thought I’d buy are, approximately.” If anything, only the books will be crammed down my throat.

(Sorry to drown in the stream of consciousness right away. I just hate when I catch myself using “literally” wrong. Where were we?….)

Just the other day in the letter column, someone asked which company could do a better job telling stories with their magic-based characters. I answered that it isn’t about the company, but rather about the writer at the helm. That answer only sounds like The Thing You’re Supposed To Say; the real reason you seem to hear it all the time is that it’s just true. Gone are the days when each company had house writers and a house style. Gone are the days when all Marvel’s books were distinct from DC’s, if only because somehow Stan Lee was (literally!) writing every one of them.* These days, everybody who isn’t under contract crosses the street like they’re playing Red Rover, and they take their writing/drawing styles with them. In 2010, it’s a sucker’s game to loyally follow DC or Marvel like they’re the Cubs and the Cardinals (respectively).

Even with the best of intentions, of course, a lot of us end up doing it anyway on a technicality. I don’t have a favorite company that I follow like a sports fan—no, I don’t—but I do have my favorite characters. I keep my mind as open as I can get it without the aid of a bone saw, but Spider-Man will never get traded to Dark Horse. The X-Men got to me before the Teen Titans did; whaddya gonna do?

Because I am an adult, however, and I know how the sausage is made, even my favorite characters don’t have an absolute grip on me. Every other consideration takes a backseat to my #1 criterion, namely the person writing the book. Yes, probably 70% of my purchases are Marvel comics right now; yes, the books I look most forward to are in the Avengers line. If you told me tomorrow that Brian Bendis was taking over The Rise of Arsenal and handing New Avengers over to J. Michael Straczynski, I would be on the phone with my shop reversing the polarity of my pull list before you could finish your sentence. Like I’ve said before, I’ve been buying Spider-Man books since I was ten years old, but in the Civil War era Straczynski ran me off that property like I was his daughter’s grabbiest prom date. I will drop my lifetime favorite character if I dislike the writer and not lose a wink of sleep.

But what if the writers I admire the most start getting onboard with characters I never want to see again as long as I live?

This is the question 2010 has posed to me.

As much as I adored Captain Britain and Dark X-Men, I harbor a steadfast, icy hatred of Superman that not even Paul Cornell can melt, so when the @iFanboy Twitter feed said that we were happy to hear he was DC Exclusive, I replied simply, tentatively, “Are we?” The @iFanboy Twitter feed suggested that I could, quote, “Go screw,” and since it is like the green head in The Wizard of Oz except without any visible curtain I decided to leave well enough alone. As it turned out, Paul Cornell’s Action Comics would actually feature no Superman at all, only Lex Luthor, and partly because Lex is the only person in any universe real or fictional who hates Superman more than I do I ended up making that book my Pick of the Week. Turns out– surprise, surprise– Paul Cornell is still Paul Cornell no matter who signs his checks. So far, so good.

Then, last week, came Comic Con.

The announcements were like a cornucopia of Beloved Creator, Headache Character. Mere days after my beloved Atlas was given the axe, it was announced that the book’s creative team would be moving on to an unkillable hit book!… the one featuring the Red Hulk, who in a matter of mere months has rocketed up the charts into the top ten of my least favorite characters in fiction. I recently read (again, on Twitter) that anyone who hates this book hasn’t read it; I respectfully disagree. Then I read that my beloved Bendis is putting this walking ugh of a character in his Avengers book; what am I supposed to do with that? Thunderbolt Ross just decides to join the Avengers, eh? Well, sure. How soon does J. Jonah Jameson sign up for the X-Men?

I guess I’ll have to trust Bendis and see. It’s gotten me this far. You can't go around telling everyone "all that matters is the writer" only to lose your religion the minute the Red Hulk shows up.

Shortly before I got that news, word had come down that Rick Remender and Jerome Opena would soon be working on Uncanny X-Force. The creators I had once loved on Fear Agent and The Punisher would now be expending all their waking energy for a team including both Fantomex (the sound Grant Morrison makes when he yawns) and Deadpool (the laziest, hackiest, most repugnant character ever crafted without some kind of supernatural assistance; have I mentioned that I don't care for Deadpool all that much?) at the same time. What, no Sentry? No Gambit? If I were granted one wish by a particularly stingy genie, and someone reminded me these characters existed right before I made it, well, bad news, World Peace. Even Rick Remender writing Deadpool is still someone writing more Deadpool. No one has yet explained why a book like this would take place in a universe where God loves us, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed and my mouth shut. (After this.) These guys have gotten me this far. "All that matters is the creators." Wait and see, and zip it in the meantime.

Then I heard that there was a new series coming from Zeb Wells. A new Spider-Man series, no less. Huzzah! I loved his work on Brand New Day. It will be great when he finishes his new series for… Carnage… the most… cynical… "extreme" remnant of the nineties… crafted… without Rob Liefeld's direct involvem– you know what? Never mind. I still have two more fingers left to cross. Who knows? Maybe Wells will turn the character into something other than a blot on the Spider-mythos. (Seriously, nineties: what says "Spider-Man" less than "serial killer recurring character"? Why not just go ahead and set the series aboard a spaceship? Never mind. Never mind. This rant is fifteen years late.)

I love Matt Fraction on Invincible Iron Man. His is the best work on Uncanny X-Men I can remember in ages. Can even he cure me of my lifelong Thor allergy…? Yea, verily, mortals, only time shalt tell.

I’ve been rewarded for my patience many times before. I never gave a tinker's dam about Daredevil before Bendis and Maleev. I thought Cable and Bishop alike were the top two biggest jokes in comics before Duane Swierczynski came along. As sick as everyone was of Norman Osborn by the end of Dark Reign, the idea of reading a series by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios this fall really excites me, no matter who it's about. Maybe it's not all hot air; maybe the right person at the keyboard can change your mind about anybody.

Besides Deadpool.

 


Jim Mroczkowski once heard Tom Katers say of company loyalty, “You should make sure to keep buying DC and Marvel, because they would totally help you out if you got into trouble” and laughed so hard he almost had to pull over to keep from kissing the embankment. Something something Twitter.

*There are still eleven books on the market that neither Geoff Johns nor Brian Bendis are writing. I think Jeff Parker is writing those.
 

Comments

  1. Looks like Warren is going to need to get himself claws or a katana  if he wants to hang with the cool kids.

     

  2. I literally laughed out loud when I read the Paul Cornell twitter feed interaction. Literally.

  3. @Jagstang – He has razor sharp feather knives that shoot from his razor sharp wings. He’s covered I think.

  4. In comics, there are no bad characters, only bad writing.

    That’s my theory. It has some holes in it, but I firmly believe in it.

  5. Wait, so Jim, you’re the other person who actually enjoyed that Cable series?

  6. @Bornin1142 I would add to that theory, there is only bad writing and poor concepts.

     

  7. For me, Deadpool is kinda like Jesus. I have no problem with him personally, but his biggest fans are effing annoying.

  8. @gobo – Me too. That makes three! Duane Swiercysnkiszkiniksyzi (spelling?) is excellent. His MAX punisher is up there with Jason Aaron’s and close to Ennis.

  9. There is an easy solution to your problem:  Become poor.  As a jobless college student, I am restricted to just a few comic book purchases a month.  So when I choose what to buy, I always look for a creator I like, who is writing a character I like.  I know I would enjoy that same creator on a different charcter, but since my selection is limited, why not go for the perfect combination?

  10. I have no interest in Deadpool and Remender is hit or miss with me but egads, those Opena pages are beautiful to look at.

    @ActualButt and gobo – Never read Cable, but was tempted to because of Duane Swiercy-etc.. Loved his Immortal Iron Fist run (equal to Bru & Fraction’s run, IMO). 

     

  11. Nice article. It nicely summed up my similar feeleings on recent changes on creators and books.

    I just recently read approximatelty 30+ books with the red Hulk in them. I see no reason to ever read another again. yet, if i want to enjoy my Avengers, I am required to suck it up. Bah.

    I bought Action with Lex Luthor partly for Cornell, but partly to tell Lex "thanks and keep up the good work opposing he Big Boy Scout".

     

     

  12. Hard to understand the amount of animosity directed towards the Sentry character when the Red Hulk (apparently) continues to sell very well.

  13. Great article. Currently enjoying the hell out of Morrison’s All Star Superman and Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men, which further proves your point. But Deadpool? Hawkman? Never.

  14. I still, really, need both creator and character to work for me, but I’m definitely willing to give a character I was formerly indifferent to a shot for a good writer.  It probably helps that I’m somewhat new to comics and so haven’t had decades to build up strong opinions about any characters.

    Except Fantomex, that literally only took a page.  

  15. Great stuff as usual.

     

    That whole "You can’t knock this book until you’ve read THIS run or THIS amount of issues" is certainly a hot topic for debate in the comic community, and especcialy at our little corner of the internet that we call iFanboy. Both sides have valid points, but I think that if one is to pick a side, that person should be consistent in his/her views. If they think that you’re views on Deadpool are incorrect because you haven’t read the RIGHT issues, then that’s that person’s opinion. However, when the same person jumps on the hate train for another comic pariah, like Sentry or Red Hulk, without doing the extensive reading that they are suggesting when their deloved character becomes attacked, it comes off as a tad bit hypocritical. You’ve made your dislike of certain characters quite public, and while I don’t certainly agree with some of those statements, you’re not hypocritical, which is why you rock.

     

    As for the grand topic of the article, I find myself debating whether or not to follow a beloved creator Pied Piper style into a book I don’t think I’ll like, but 9 times out of 10, I end up following. The most recent example has been Cornell and Kirk with their Dark X-Men mini. Before I found out at the end of issue 1 that it was going to feature Nate Grey (one of my favorite characters who has been criminally underused), there was NOTHING to hook me into that series from reading the solicits. Another Dark Reign tie in featuring Norman Osborn? A sequel to a lackluster crossover? Characters I have had initially no connection to? Despite the creators being the only hook and finding myself diametrically opposed to all the content, I got the first issue and wound up being one of the most pleasent surprises of my comic reading history. So I guess at the end of the day, I’ll follow my favorite creators to hell and back.

  16. @zenman: I couldn’t agree more. Especially because I hate Red hulk and how he was totally shoe horned in as bad as the sentry is. Couple that with who writes him and you can tell Im seething with irritation. I’d watch an episode of Haruhi Suzumiya before purchasing such trashy cmx.

  17. We don’t like the same books, at all, but I have to say that the Red Hulk news delighted me.  I already feel like everything Bendis writes is a sharp poke to my "this is interesting" gland, and reading it (and Lord, how I’ve tried) gives me seizures and makes me want to give up comics.  So when I heard that he was adding the Red Hulk, possibly the least interesting character development since… I’m sorry, he’s so uninteresting that I have no margin for comparison.  Paint Drying Man is more engaging to me.  I’d rather read the Great Lakes Avengers Meet The Legion of Substitute Heroes.  Anyway, the combination of these two awful tastes was like music to my ears, especially since people who hate one seem to love the other.  Watching the heads explode?  Awesome.  "Hulk is big stupid comics fun!"  "Bendis is people standing around talking!"  Bendis+Hulk=big stupid people standing around talking!  I don’t actually hate these characters or writers.  That would take energy that I don’t have.  This doesn’t, however, mean that I’m not pleased about the news that they’re stuck together.

    Now that I think about it, GLA vs. the Subs would be pretty cool.

  18. Listen to Remender talk (on Word Balloon).  If anyone can write Deadpool in a way that interests me (hasn’t happened yet) then he can.

    Also, I’m a big fan of Fantomex.  I wish that Cable was alive and leading X-Force instead of Wolverine though. 

  19. Wow. Jim is the angriest and most cynical comic nerd living. At least that I am willing to tolerate. The vitriol against fictional characters is palpable. They must have touched his sister inapproriately as a child or something.

  20. No no! I am an ambassador of hope and third chances! I Want To Believe!

  21. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Superman is the ambassador of hope. 😛

  22. I think the Sentry character was/is a decent character, but writers destroyed him in the eyes of fanboys and continuity nerds, here was this new character, writers now felt all powerful to change whatever they wanted via just dropping the Sentry in and their attempt to explore the character’s "history" by having that age of the Sentry fiasco they wanted to explore the silver age art as well (blah) the concept of a character that is all powerful and is crazy and has multiple personalities/manifestations, is a pretty strong concept, the idea that he’s always been around but everyone had to forget about him is kinda interesting but would be extremely hard to pull off especially with so much of the old continuity stuff being drawn upon by current writers already cause god forbid they actually think of something new and add more mess to the marvel universe. 

    for my take on the whole writer vs character, I say choose a character you like, maybe you like green, the hulk’s your guy or whatever reason you want, motorcycles = ghost rider, darkness and spooking vengance/justice = batman, whatever it is, pick the character, cause the character will always be around, the writers come and go. I find it interesting to see what different writers do with a character, I didn’t drop JLA because of the writer, I dropped it because the characters changed too much,  I find comfort in the Justice League Generations Lost book cause the characters are nostalgic for me and I like Captain Atom. I want to drop New Avengers cause the whole government agency superhero squad doesn’t appeal to me but I like Iron Fist, Spider-man and Wolverine, yet as much as I like Moon Knight and War Machine, and I want to like Nova, I can’t hang around for the train wreck that is becoming Secret Avengers. . . maybe one more issue. . . maybe.  

    I read comics for the characters, characters and the serialization of them is very appealing to me. I can’t find these characters anywhere else and I’m an art guy so where else am I going to see this kind of art/visual storytelling. art will get me to read a book, the character will see if I keep it, as long as the writer doesn’t totally screw up I’ll be there, for the character 

  23. My exact sentiments…especially the little Remender/Deadpool mix

  24. Loved this article Jimski, especially you coming forward to say "Putting my money where my mouth is" I hope it works out well for ya, and you enjoy all these books.. 

    It’s interesting, I far more follow creators then I do even characters. I’ll always love Batman and the X-men. And will always pick it up if a new interesting creative team comes on, or there’s a "New daring direction" but if it’s bad, I’ll drop it like a bad habit. I often like to look at my collection as quality and not quantity. So my thing is always following the writer, even if i don’t know the character, because I trust certain writers I’ll pick up anything they work on. It doesn’t always work out of course. Sentry didn’t work no matter what was done, and he was done by Bendis 85% of the time this last five years, but he was part of new Avengers, which has been one of my favorite comics also of the last five years. I enjoy the work of Mark Millar, but his Marvel Knights Spider-man was just kind of so-so. No one can hit it out of the park 100% of the time, even Babe Ruth struck out here and there. But I’m always willing to give it a try if it’s a writer I trust. These books, I’ll try (Or stick with in the case of "Avengers" [Thought I have no problem with Red Hulk])

  25. I don’t think Bendis ever "got" Sentry. some writers aren’t good at writing certain things, or their style doesn’t fit certain characters. But you never know until they try.

    if I wanted to follow writers I’d read more novels. not that writers can’t bring greatness to characters, but I won’t touch a book with Speedball in it, Darkhawk is almost as bad. 

    Writers and creative teams have run me off more of my favorite characters than they have drawn me to new ones. I like a change in creative teams on my characters, after awhile a writer has said everything on a character that they can and it gets repetitive and boring, I’m almost done with Bendis. which opens me up to exploring where the hell half my other favorite characters are these days

  26. For me I never really cared for the Punisher. But then when Remender came on(and made him a Frankenstein) I was hooked! It’s come to the point where I’ve even started reading the old Ennis stuff.

    I think with alot of characters you dont inherintly like(except maybe Spider-Man…that stuff is ingrained in so deeply in the genetic makeup of the planet its not even funny). But a good writer can make even the weakest characters interesting.

  27. I have to disagree with the whole "anyone who hates the Hulk book hasn’t read it." I read it for the first (i believe) 14 issues or so. I hated it. I stuck with, hoping it would get better. It got progressively worse. The first few issues were kind of a stupid, but sorta fun anyway, action slugfest book. Then it just got embarrassing. I will never get the taint of the Wendihulk off my soul. Never. 

  28. BESIDES deadpool. 

  29. as we scrap the barrel of redundant character ripoffs- up bubbles,Red Hulk, Deadpool, Carnage…you begin to see a correlation with the mighty morphen power rangers…and you scratch your head and ask yourself-"am i being played am i a sucker?" Comics are read (and bought) by "mostly" adults and yet i think those that sell us our drugs see us as retards.

  30. With only a very few exceptions I follow characters over creators. I put up with a lot of bad writing if it features a character I love and I ignore a lot of good writing if it features a character I don’t care about or dislike.

  31. I follow characters, not writers.

    Granted, there are writers I like, but if I don’t connect to a given character, no amount of good storytelling is going to change that.

     

  32. The writers name makes me consider the book. The character and the quality of the art gets me to buy it.