The Handoff

Recently, three guys who’ve run a comic book discussion site for many years asked me if I would like to add my voice to the mix on their site. Like anyone who enjoys seeing his name in print, I immediately said yes, but as soon as I did the thrill of being asked was immediately replaced with cold, perched-at-the-top-of-the-roller-coaster terror. These guys had a well-known, established site and wrote with very distinctive voices. Would my attempt to contribute fit in with those voices, or would it be a jarring change in tone and quality remembered as a pockmark on the history of the site forever?

Naturally, this got me thinking about the Handoff.

When it comes to your Big-Two superhero comics, creators can try to make their mark, but in the end creators are mortal while characters and their Underoos licenses are eternal. No matter how definitive a creative team’s run on a series is, eventually that run is going to come to an end and someone else is going to have to take the wheel. Some try to maintain the status quo; some try to make the book their own; and some seem to be making it all up as they go along.

The Handoff is of particular interest to me given the kind of reader I am now. Though I know the party line among connoisseurs of sequential art is that comics strike the perfect balance between the written word and visual storytelling, I would be lying to you if I didn’t cop to the fact that I basically just follow writers. Sure, the artist is important to me to some extent, but not enough to scare me off of a book I love or bring me to a book I don’t. When they announced Greg Land was taking over pencils on Uncanny X-Men, I cried a single, photorealistic, vaguely familiar-looking porno-tear, but I’m not going anywhere as long as Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction are at the helm. Conversely, God could come down from heaven and bless Steve Dillon’s pen hand on the Today Show, and I still wouldn’t read Wolverine: Origins. These books are the writers’ to make or break now, and they do.

I have been reading comics on and off for (yikes) 20+ years, and in all that time I think the best, most audacious Handoff I have read is still playing out in the pages of Marvel’s Daredevil. Even though Daredevil as a character is the kind of B-lister who can’t do any better than Ben Affleck and Coolio when his movie comes out, his actual comic is like catnip for attracting quality. Maybe the fact that nobody cares about him the way they do Batman gives creators the freedom to excel and take chances without being hassled by the Man. Whatever the reason, this book brings out the best in people, and it certainly brought out the best in one Brian M. Bendis. Bendis’ Daredevil was exactly what I needed as an adult returning to comics after a hiatus of many years, because it took the more outlandish ideas underlying superhero books and asked adult questions about them. “How long before Daredevil’s secret identity gets into the wrong hands? It’s only a matter of time before it ends up in the paper, and then forget about it. He’d never be able to leave the house again without getting his picture taken, never mind suiting up and fighting crime. Everyone he ever beat up would take turns burning his house down while he was at the court house being disbarred, sued, and pilloried.” Bendis raised all these questions and let them pay off in painstaking detail… and then came the Handoff.

In order for his run to die as it lived, Bendis could really only end it one way: Matt Murdock is unmasked and sent to prison for the ludicrous way in which he’s conducted his life. But Daredevil isn’t Brian Bendis’ property, and its story never ends. 99.3% of the time, the last issue would have consisted of a colossal pounding of the Reset button; if necessary, a long-dead villain would pull off a Matt Murdock mask and tell the jury that it was him all along. After all, where could you go from disgrace and jail? Thank God, Ed Brubaker heard this question and answered, “Meh. Jail him. I’ll figure it out.” And goddamn, did he ever. Brubaker grabbed the torch and ran with it like a purse-snatcher. He paid off the arrest and undid it, ending his story in a way that most ongoing comics never, ever get to end. That’s just one of the reasons I always recommend this run to my non-comics reading friends, or would if it weren’t 712 issues long.

Easier to recommend is Marvel’s Runaways, another book that pulled off the Handoff way better than I thought it would. Runaways always felt like a creator-owned book, and when Brian K. Vaughan announced it was time to move on I feared the worst. Luckily, the book was handed off to pop culture holy man Joss Whedon; Whedon and Vaughan have similar voices, similar ears for the dialogue of their teens, and a similar fondness for ruthlessly murdering their characters. Unfortunately, part of transitioning from Vaughan to Whedon has meant transitioning from a book that comes out to a book that dimly reminds me of my twenties. Still, it is always a good book when it appears on the shelves at random like Brigadoon, when Whedon finds the time to write it between not working on any movies and not having any TV shows on the air.

I’ve recently become a big fan of the Handoff technique I call the “Wait and See.” Dan Slott’s She-Hulk was a definitive run to the eleven of us who read it, and Peter David knew that going in. His solution was to pull a General Sherman and scorch the earth for a mile around She-Hulk. He let some time pass after the events of Slott’s run and put her in a completely different place. He has been telling his story on his terms, slowly dropping hints about how we got from Slott’s story to his; this frees him to tell his story without showing disrespect to the one that came before it. Spider-Man’s “Brand New Day” is basically doing the same thing, but I won’t weigh in on that brouhaha here. It’s my first day. No sense in starting a riot before they’ve even told me where the break room is.

Of course, not all Handoffs can go well, but some go famously, spectacularly badly. Daredevil is the first book I think of when it comes to the Handoff, but the second is always Grant Morrison’s New X-Men. Morrison’s was never a favorite run of mine, but it was a sunshine orgasm sundae compared to what happened when he left and they handed the reins over to Chuck Austen. To this day, I still see a chiropractor twice a week to cope with the whiplash from when this book changed hands. As much fun as the web has had at Austen’s expense over the years, to me the real problem seemed to be editorial; they had lauded Morrison while he was in their employ, but the second the door closed behind him Marvel seemed to bend into pretzels to undo everything he had created, often in ways that said “we were publishing his stuff, and not even we know exactly what was going on.” I’ve blocked much of it out of my memory, but I seem to recall that the way they handled Ernst and Martha were in direct contradiction to explicitly stated facts from Morrison’s run.

see? magneto. problem solved.And then there was Xorn, the man who didn’t exist whose head was a star. Morrison had invented Xorn, revealed Xorn as a Magneto alias, and eliminated Xorn; there was no reason to ever speak of him again, but for some reason Marvel saw fit to un-erase him and make him a real boy just so they could confuse me all over again. The new old Xorn would eventually meet his fate in The New Avengers… I think. I’m not sure what happened. If Brian Bendis took me to TGI Friday’s to spend a whole meal explaining it to me, I suspect I would overturn the table and run out screaming before our potato skins arrived. I just don’t have the capacity.

On the plus side of the Morrison Handoff, Sean McKeever did kill off Fantomex in the pages of Mystique as definitively as I have ever seen anyone die. In Mystique #21, she stabs him, gives him the techno-organic virus, and kicks him off a cliff. If McKeever had cut to his autopsy on the next page, I wouldn’t have been surprised. I only hope the iFanboys don’t feel like doing this to me after my run has started.

 


Jim Mroczkowski has always been a member of iFanboy, but no one remembers him because he erased the minds of everyone on the planet to protect them from his dark alter ego, the Troll. He kids Joss because he loves Joss. You can find him online at jimski.com and jim@ifanboy.com, or offline by driving around Missouri shouting his name.

Comments

  1. Jimski, your first post get’s a thoroughly internet 🙂 

    I dig.

  2. Greeat job, Jim(bo?). The Hnadoff is indeed something to behold. Nightwng has been through his share if bad ones, Robin has faired well.

    I’m adopting a waiting and see atttude with Moore’s and Ramos’s Runaways, though i’m cautiously optomistic. The art looks fantastic and Moore can turn a good phrase, but I sorta fear the retcon. Thoughts anyone?  

  3. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Bringin’ the A game, huh?  Excellent work, man.  

    Looking forward to the Bendis/Maleev Daredevil omnibus this August (comes out on my birthday!) so I can refresh my memory and compare the then and now.  

    Also worth mentioning, I think, is the handoff between Bagley and Immonen.  Given the stature and duration of the original run, that’s probably just as significant as a change in writer.  Early yet, but so far it’s an upgrade.   

  4. Great post. I’ve been hovering on the decision to pick up the Bendis Daredevil stuff for a while now based on recommendations. My issue was, "what is the point since i already know the ending??" However, hearing that the follow up is surprisingly well executed makes me feel it’s worthwhile to check out the Bendis stuff and then see if I want to continue beyond that.

  5. Nicely done, a well thought out and compelling post.

  6. This is a great event to post on.  You’re off to a good start (and the pressure is mounting)

     speaking of Mystique and Handoffs – the handoff from Vaughan to McKeever was alright, but McKeever never lived up to what Vaughan established.

  7. Nice piece. I also remember that New X-Men handoff and all the buzz about who would replace Morrison – and it ends up being the guy who bought us U.S. War Machine. However, it did give us Astonishing X-Men, so there was that bit of sunshine.

    And what happened to Runaways? I would have thought for sure that if Whedon could get Buffy and Astonishing out on somewhat regular schedules (and high quality each and every time), why can’t he get Runaways at least on a regular schedule? I’m with jimski on this – I’m complaining because I love the book so much, not to deride Whedon or his work ethic/load.

  8. Honestly, and I’m telling the complete truth here, I totally forgot that RUNAWAYS was still "being published".  I forgot it still existed.

  9. Good topic, great article.

     

    I’m glad that comics have come back to transitions in creators instead of relaunching with a new creative team.  It’s always bugged me that books like Incredible Hulk or Avengers were relaunched with a new first issue, rather than just continuing with the original numbering.  In my mind, it makes it feel like these aren’t fluent stories.  But that’s just my hang up.

     

    My favorite transitions have got to be those done in Green Arrow V3.  Kevin Smith started the series with a very specific voice and Brad Meltzer kept that voice distinct.  For the most part, Judd Winick has kept that up as well.

     

    As far as bad transitions go, is there anyone worse then Chris Claremont?  Every time he walks into a book, you know that the entire series is going to be changed completely.  This is no more evident then in the recent take over of Exiles.  Claremont came in, changed the star of the title, removed long standing members and made the teams goals completely different…in his first issue.  Jarring isn’t a just description.

     

    Anyway, great stuff Jimski.  Really looking forward to hearing more of your opinions.

  10. I just started reading the Runaways trades and I didn’t realize Whedon takes over. I love the nuggets I gain from this site:) It hurts my wallet though.

  11. Fantastic first post man, I normally don’t make it through entire articles but this one had me hooked.

  12. "I cried a single, photorealistic, vaguely familiar-looking porno-tear"

    That, my friend, deserves an ovation! Conor, you better up your game ’cause looks like "whoops" ain’t cutting it anymore 😉 

  13. Great first post, Jim!  I’ve always enjoyed your reviews so it’s awesome to see a longer piece —

    I jumped onto Daredevil with Brubaker’s run, then went back and read the Bendis after the end of the prison story.  It’s like unpeeling an onion, going back to see what came before.  I highly recommend it. 

    I have ‘Runaways’ on my (relatively short) pull list and whenever it comes out and the guy hands it to me I just stare b/c I have to remember it exists.  As far as Whedon and schedules —  I’ve been a teacher, and in my experience, there are star pupils who always need extensions and will take exactly as much slack as you’re willing to cut them.  I notice notice those Buffy and Angel comics never come out late.

  14. Kudos to the new iFanboys, esp. bringing their A-Game. A hit right out of the gate…careful now, you’re setting new iFanboy standards! Seriously though, great article and even better topic. However, I still find the artistic Handoffs far more jarring at times, i think mainly because i seem to be more of an "art kind of guy." I think that is why i tend to gravitate to more creator-owned projects, since these are less likely to be handed off.

    I will echo the Exiles sentiment. Man, Claremont didn’t jump a shark, it was a freakin’ whale (or better, a photorealistic, vaguely familiar-looking porno whale.) One of the few times a dropped a book that quickly. Another bad handoff that I think was an improvement but a lot of people hated was X-Force…and the old Thunderbolts.

    Again, here here for the new guys.

    BTW: don’t the new interns have to buy us all some beer?

  15. I read the wiki on Xorn and I still don’t know what the hell he is.

  16. You know, I’ve been trying to think of Handoffs that are as good as the ones others have mentioned here, and I realized that many of the books that I have in trade are by one writer only and I can’t, for the life of me, think of anything in issues that I read that’s had a recent Handoff from one amazing writer to another.

    Great article though Jimski.  I had a blast reading it.

  17. Hell, I shoulda made this a series; I could have coasted on good will into late August. Gracias.

    How could I have forgotten Claremont on Exiles?

    Oh: sheer force of will. That’s right.

    God, that broke my heart. After one $3 burst of pure optimism, he earned them their name: I banished them from the pull list before I turned the last page. Here’s the real question: who would Claremont have to hand Exiles off to in order to repair that damage?

    There were some more I had in mind (Rucka to Millar on Wolverine! Millar to Way on Wolverine! Millar to Any Poor Bastard Who Has to Pick Up the Pieces on Any Book Millar Was Writing! Whatever Book Used to Be Good to Jeph Loeb!) but I just ran out of space. Ultimates 2 to Ultimates 3 is an essay unto itself.

    I agree about Ultimate Spidey, though. That was fairly seamless in a way that it wouldn’t have been if Bagley was replaced with, say, Simone Bianchi. Man… what happens when Bendis leaves? Last one out of the Ultimate Universe be sure to hit the lights. The only way I’d keep reading at that point is if they talked Tina Fey into writing it. 

    @jmarquiso: Nobody ever seems to remember Mystique (Vaughan wasn’t quite Vaughan yet back then) but you’re right. McKeever was okay, but the series seemed to lose a couple of engines before landing.

  18. most dreaded handoff for me is astonishing x-men. unlike you i won’t be able to stand the art, even as much as  i like warren ellis’ writing. 

    and great debut.  

  19. > Last one out of the Ultimate Universe be sure to hit the lights. The only way I’d keep reading at that >point is if they talked Tina Fey into writing it.

    @Jimski  I’m pretty sure Jack Donaghy and Ultimates! Tony Stark are related.

  20. Sigh.  I love Runaways.  I was so excited when Whedon took over but now I just want it to be done with.  The arc is in all respect a well written story but it’s not fantastic.  I’ll forgive Whedon for lateness on Astonishing X-Men because it’s an amazing book.  Runaways, on the other hand just isn’t good enough for the late book exception.  

     

    Nice post!  I’m looking forward to see what else you have to say! 

  21. We’ll see how the hand off goes with Terry Moore on Runaways. I’m very curious to see that. And it’ll be nice to see the book back on a monthly schedule.

    It’ll be really nice. 

  22. I enjoyed the article Jimski!  Congrats again.

  23. Luther’s words couldn’t be more truer.