The Big Guys Are Bringing The Heat

You’ve got to hand it to these comic bookers.

Don't let the Looney Tunes opening credits up there fool you; they're doing the work of their careers.

For years, we and ours have gone back and forth about creators creating. The chattering classes will say, “There’s nothing new to be done with superheroes, and indeed how could there be? If anything, DC and Marvel should act as training wheels for new writers, apprenticeships to help them get their legs under them before moving on to truly creative work. Writers save all their best ideas for their indie books, anyway. In the meantime, it’s just the same old Superman Story, just the same old Spider-Man story. Bad guy hits good guy. Good guy hits bad guy.”

Balderdash. Poppycock.

I’m sorry you had to see me lose my composure like that, but I can’t help it. I feel strongly about this. It’s just… it’s such… tommyrot.

Maybe it’s because I recently walked away from my stack for a month or so, but when I returned I found that most of the DC and Marvel books had one thing in common: I paused at least once in the middle of the issue I was reading and thought, “How can it be that I’ve been reading comic books since I was ten years old, and I have never seen anyone try to tell this story before?”

Have you heard of this Scott Snyder fellow? He writes this book, Batman. This is a book about a character that has been around six years longer than my parents, and my parents are retired. There have been at least eight movies, half a dozen cartoon series, a live action TV show, roughly 6,000 comic books, and an episode of Scooby Doo with Batman stories in them, and this Snyder so ‘n’ so is still coming up with Batman stories that are fresh and compelling. It doesn’t seem possible.

The Punisher has been appearing since 1974, and he was pretty derivative and one-note to begin with. Greg Rucka’s time with the character this year and Jason Aaron’s last year are literally the first times I have found him interesting in my life, and… if you want to talk about a character who keeps rehashing the same story over and over, the Punisher is your Patient Zero. It is amazing that there is anything to be done with him 38 years in, especially by two different contemporary creative teams.

Grant Morrison on Action Comics? Are you kidding me? Right after Jesus turned water into wine, His mom came up to Him and asked, “Now, could you turn Superman into something readable?” and He said, “Whoa, whoa. Let’s not bite off more than We can chew, here.” Honorable mention, by the way, to Paul Cornell and his year with Lex Luthor.

Can you look at anything birthed from the fingertips of Jonathan Hickman and say to me, “Eh, he’s saving his inventive stuff for his creator-owned books”?

If there's a guy called "Doctor Bong," there should be one called "Poppycock." Leaving money on the table.

Did you read the Daredevil where Doctor Doom dulled his other senses? That is such a simple idea. How did I not have that idea? How did nobody else have that idea? That was great.

I haven’t even gotten to Jason Aaron’s bonkers-go-nuts run on The Incredible Hulk, a character that should be more bereft of surprises than an abandoned jack-in-the-box warehouse. Aaron has taken the basic formula (a man who is literally his own worst enemy) and a dash of something Peter David toyed with for an issue or two back in the eighties (each alter ego trying to screw the other one over while he was in control) and turned all of it on its ear, breathing new life into it in settings that never fail to make me say, “Wait, what?” Hillbilly mermen! Sasquatch City! Why the hell not?

Of course, I will grant you that some of these stories may only seem fresh to me because of some gap in my reading history. Maybe it has all been done before. I have not absorbed the entire fifty-year run of The Incredible Hulk (although now that I think about it, I’ve probably got about half of them under my belt; how the hell did that happen) so maybe the current story is a total rip-off of something that just never made it in front of my eyeballs. If that is the case, and you can point me to the classic, original versions of these recent arcs, please do not do that now or, really, ever. Ever again. I realize that it is unbearable for many of us to pass up a chance to demonstrate that we truly know It All– I understand this better than anyone save perhaps Dennis Miller– but I’m enjoying myself. Do not steal my sunshine.

This is not an Us Vs. Them thing. None of this means that the indies aren’t packing punches; anyone who’s looked at Saga or Near Death or Planetoid could tell you the value of having your creativity unfettered by history and baggage. Nonetheless, I’m not going to let the notion that the Big Guys are doing by-the-numbers work go unchallenged. Sure, there are a few things we have seen a time or two already, but I’ve also done some of the best reading of my life in the last couple of years. We should give credit where it’s due.


Jim Mroczkowski coming up with a column idea he hasn’t written before is also something of a minor miracle.


  1. It’s a good time to be a marvel zombie. This post marvel knights era will be remembered as a very good one on the future.

    • It’s true.

      There have been some fine runs on some excellent titles.

      Hoping that the next era will be the same, only different.


  2. Right on, Jimski! Wolverine and the X-Men is maybe the first time since Morrison (which was the first time ever) I’ve felt convinced that the school is truly a school, and it’s definitely been the first time I’ve really laughed with an X-book.

  3. Great article jimski!! i have never thought of it this way!!

  4. Thank you so much, Jim.

    As a wise man once said, Negativity Is Too Damn High. I think we all need articles like this to slap us around and remind us that everything’s pretty awesome in our little corner of pop culture.

  5. This is exactly my thoughts. I’m linking to this whenever I need to make a case for superhero originality.

  6. Oh god no – not creepy Bendis!!!!

  7. Great article Jim. Fantastic Four was never a book I even gave a second glance to until Hickman started writing it. And as far as “saving it for indie,” that seems like an apples-to-oranges comparison, because I can’t tell if the god-ship Galactus or the brain-eating Oppenheimer is more insane/wonderful.

    I’m on board with many of the other amazing creators you mentioned too, but I really wanted to type god-ship, so I singled out Hickman. Morrison’s Action was particularly gratifying the one evening I re-downloaded the entire run and read it again. (the wonders of a digital bookstore).

    • Word. Ever since getting back into comics all regular-like in the early 200s, I’d try FF every time a new writer came on, and none of them ever grabbed me until Hickman.

  8. By now, I think the Architects should be at least a septet.

    Remender and Gillen belong in there too, I’d say.

    • I second this whole article and your comment specifically. The Big 2 are doing some great books right now, stop being so snobby internet commenters!

  9. Yeah, mainstream books KINDA do get a bad rap in this respect, I think. I’m enjoying Daredevil, Wolverine & the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Batman, certainly.

    I think you have to make a distinction between quality and inventiveness/originality, though. That said, I think all four of the aforementioned books are quite good, overall, and decently inventive. Putting them in context, though, Aaron’s X-Men and Snyder’s Batman owe a LOT to what Morrison did with those properties, especially in terms of tone.

    As for a lot of your other examples, I don’t really think much of what Bendis has done in the last five years has been very inventive (LOVE his Ultimate Spidey… but it’s only a slight variation on what came before). And Morrison on Action? Yeesh, many of us Morrison fanatics think it’s the least original/inventive run he’s done ever.

    I see what the article is saying to an extent, and don’t want to rain on your parade. But I think that if you were reading more titles like Prophet, Saga, and Glamourpuss, then you probably wouldn’t be overly impressed with the moderate originality coming out of the Big Two. I mean, this past weekend I did a Lemire Animal Man read-through… and then a Prophet read-through… and after the Prophet read-through I felt ashamed of myself for ever thinking that the last six months of Animal Man was anything close to inventive. It’s all kind of relative; if you aren’t reading the really, really avant garde books then of course you’re going to be overly impressed with decent-to-good Big Two product.

  10. A special edition with the other guys on this topic would be great.

  11. I agree with flapjaxx. Most of the examples you cited were very well executed, but they aren’t terribly original.

    I don’t think there are any super hero books at the big 2 that come even close to the inventiveness of Prophet, Saga, Manhattan Projects, Morning Glories, The Massive, etc….

  12. Hickman’s run on Fantastic Four/FF is one of the best ever. Wolverine and the X-Men finally picks up the vanished Morrison-Whedon thread without being derivative. Daredevil is fantastic. To these I would add Journey into Mystery and Wonder Woman. There are still days where I can’t believe I’m reading Wonder Woman. Its the last of the New 52 standing for me and its great.

  13. I think mainstream books are doing a better job at trying to be more original. Although Marvel, lately, has not kept a good track record. Cause AVX is basically Civil War with a different coat of paint. But DC and Marvel are trying and, for the most part, the stories have been interesting. I know I haven’t been a big fan of Marvel lately but hopefully Hickman, Waid, and others will give me some new ideas for the long running characters.

  14. Uhhh… yeah, buuuut… look at your examples. Look at the DC ones. Thats what… 2, maybe 3, out of FIFTY TWO titles?

    Granted, there more than 3 good titles out there… let’s put it at 10. 10 solid titles with really creative stories. So what about the other 80%? THAT’S why there’s bad rap. We can praise Snyder and Lemire all day everyday, but it doesn’t make up for the Rob Liefeld and Tony Daniel crap (as writers I mean).

    You can make an argument about some really fine, well written books, but you can’t make an argument for the whole company…. or companies.

    And no, I’m no indie snob either. I love my supes… but some titles are just outright forgettable.