Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
Miracle Pictographs
    Graphic Novel Reviews by Spencer Ellsworth
June 2011

Just Like Starting Over . . .

REBOOTS!

Welcome to the very first of our all-new Miracle Pictographs! Forget everything you know! EVERYTHING! EVEN YOUR MOTHER'S NAME!! This is an all-new, all-different direction. We'll be rolling out some very exciting things and new surprises you've never seen before in the pages of this column! Starting this issue, the column will now squirt you with a pound of mayonnaise every time you open the computer!

Sound familiar? (Actually, if the mayonnaise part sounds familiar, I suggest you seek professional help. That or check the Craigslist personals.)

If you've read superhero, or otherwise franchised, comics for a long time, you've seen something like this. Stuff must be rebooted. It's a sad, but necessary surgery in the comics world.

The idea of a "story" is only loosely defined to Marvel and DC. This is not a land with recognizable Beginnings or Endings. Such things are outmoded when the costumed cash cow will give milk forever.

Superman, Batman and friends have been around since 1938. The good stories from years and years of franchise have been constantly recycled into further plotlines and revisited until you get Days of Future Past Perfect Progressive. The bad ones . . . we try to ignore them, until some writer comes along who, for some reason, can't stop revisiting the Spider-Man-Is-Really-A-Clone-of-a-Donut saga, and then that can of worms is open again, and then we have worms everywhere. Eww (or back to Craigslist, depending on how you feel about worms).

Contradictory, backpedaling and flat-out ridiculous stories vie with each other over time. Example: for years, meticulous Spider-Man fans knew that Uncle Ben was shot inside his house by a burglar, until in 2001, author J. Michael Straczynski had Aunt May change the story so that Ben was shot on the front porch, because it made a better story. Fans still argue over that continuity point.

(Also, Aunt May died around 1996, but in 2000 she returned, and Mary Jane also died in 2000, but she came back six months later, and Spider-Man was really a clone, then he wasn't, because the Green Goblin wasn't really dead, but his son was, but now his son isn't; in fact, the Green Goblin's son was resurrected when the devil visited Spider-Man and took away his marriage.)

(And so on.)

If we were to visualize DC or Marvel's past continuity, it would be a massive, gooshy pile of fists, robots, spaceships, biceps and scantily clad women that reaches beyond Neptune. This continooze is the enemy of every marketing department, but longtime fans love to wallow in it.

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Take, for example, a guy like Joe Quesada, former editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics. He's almost entirely responsible for "the third rail of comics," 2007's One More Day storyline where Spider-Man made a deal with the devil to save his marriage. According to Joe, Spider-Man works better as a single guy. Spidey is more relatable to fans, who know him as a single guy from years of minor exposure on cartoons and movies.

Joe is fighting the continooze: years and years of stories in which Spider-Man got older, got responsible, went through lots of girls and finally settled down. We then had a Spidey with baggage, and who comes into a relationship with comics looking for baggage?

But longtime fans (ahem, over here) have read about a married Spidey since 1987, and we don't want to give that up. There are a lot of good married Spidey stories and we read a lot of character development in them.

In fact, One More Day (get up, dead horse, get up, I know you're faking even if your flesh has rotted away and all the maggots have hatched) is a great example of the problems inherent when a comics company tries to hit the old "reset" button.

Joe wanted to reset everything. Herein lies his problem. That is not a story, it is a hack against the continooze.

You can do a good story in which Spidey loses Mary Jane. There are lots of supervillains in the Marvel U who could have erased at least her memory of the marriage. Or Peter's. You could have even acknowledged that gasp, horror, yes, some young couples get divorced a few years into the marriage.

But. For a story to actually work, it has to have consequences. And One More Day ended with a clean slate, with no consequence. Mephisto rewrote the whole Marvel Universe so no one ever knew that Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson tied the knot. There was no pathos, no consequence, no change, just a massive backpedal in order to shove away some of the baggage and dent the continooze.

(I still think this horse skeleton is faking.)

But who am I to speak? I love to slather myself in obscure facts from Marvel history, and do the backstroke through thick waves of contradicting back issues. I can tell you exactly why it is wrong to suppose that Uncle Ben got shot on the front porch, but why it made for a good story.

Where does all this rambling lead us? Will I ever get to the point, or will you have to flip back over to Craigslist to see if anyone answered the mayonnaise ad?

Point.

DC Comics is hitting the continooze . . . hard.

Every single DC Comic is starting over at issue #1. This is a classic reboot trick, and DC is not screwing around with it.

All of their characters will have new costumes, designed by uber-artist-probably-a-clone-of-Da-Vinci-and-a-samurai Jim Lee. Wonder Woman now has pants. Superman no longer wears his red briefs on the outside. Batman . . . is still a borderline psychopath. Aquaman . . . will hopefully do something more interesting than talk to fish.

Also, they all have high collars. Starch is at a premium in the DC universe.

DC has done this sort of thing before, in the 80s with the infamous "Crisis On Infinite Earths" crossover. Wonder Woman didn't get pants out of it, but she, Superman and a lot of other heroes started over at square one because 80s DC continooze was about to collapse and drown the solar system.

And yes, the continooze is pretty thick right now at both Marvel and DC.

But honestly, is this what it takes?

Or is this un-goosebumping of Wonder Woman's thighs just comic book New Coke?

Kind of. Reboots and restarts do work. At first. There are lots of minor and major examples out there. Marvel's retooled Ultimate Universe sold like apple pie and baseball cards at a GOP convention, and Marvel's Heroes Reborn/Heroes Return sold like free-range grass-fed wind-powered burgers to the Democrat National Convention. From those awkward analogies you will gather that there was something for everyone in these comics, because they were really good. They were tofu to the Green Party. Invisible ineffective leashes to the Libertarians. Whatever Rand Paul likes to Rand Paul. (I'm guessing a pound of mayonnaise to the face.)

In all cases, the comics involved started over at issue #1. That #1 is pretty cool, but problems arise soon down the line when the reboot shows signs of continooze. The Ultimate Universe was pretty cool when it started, but by Ultimate X-Men issue 60, damned if we all could tell the difference between regular X-Men and Ultimate X-Men. Ulimate continooze, as it turns out, has a consistency suspiciously similar to regular continooze.

Heroes Return: Avengers got a little stale, so it got rebooted as New Avengers, which has now been rebooted as Avengers. Again. Drip, drip . . .

As you may be able to tell, I am a Marvel nut. And DC has never been able to hook me, perhaps because I don't know their continooze. Theoretically, this is the perfect place for them to hook me.

You know what?

I'm not all that interested.

To get me interested, DC would have to present evidence that the stories are somehow different. They have solid writers on each title. Grant Morrison is on Superman. Geoff Johns is on Justice League.

But those guys are industry workhorses who have written enough DC comics already to crush a small child. In fact, the only one that perks me up is Brian Azzarello, writer of the crime comic 100 Bullets, on Wonder Woman. That sounds different.

And frankly, I am worried. This sort of stuff is exactly what drives away a lot of longtime readers. Toss away the continooze and you toss away stories that matter to at least some fans. They may not even be overweight men wasting away in their mothers' basements. They might be guys who returned to comics after a long hiatus.

It may be that, even after the #1 restart, the writers shall reference to some choice bits of the past. But most likely not.

I'm not the guy that Marvel wants to attract. My favorite Spider-Man story is a rather terrible 90s fest called "Revenge of the Sinister Six."

Don't read it. It's awful. The Sinister Six got enormous guns and killed a lot of people, and Spidey plus half the Marvel Universe had to stop them.

But buried in this crapfest was a really good subplot in which Mary Jane landed a coveted movie role that required her to bare it all. Peter was horrified at the idea.

They argued, and no writer since has ever done so well as 90s god Erik Larsen did in showing the contrast between cosmopolitan Mary Jane and nerd Peter Parker. Peter freaks out. "Aunt May will see you naked! J. Jonah Jameson will see you naked!"

Mary Jane responds, "Sometimes you can be a real square!" It seems like a silly insult, until Peter reveals later, in internal monologue, that calling him a square still burns him up, after all these years, since it was the insult of choice in high school.

But for Peter's sake, Mary Jane goes to the higher-ups to try and reduce her nekkid scenes to something more tame. And, as she relates to Peter later, it turns out they only hired her for her body.

It was the best example of a mundane, homely subplot in the years of the Spider-Marriage that I ever read. They acted like real, likeable people in a loving relationship with a big difference of opinion.

Or maybe it stunk and I smell it through rose-colored noseplugs, because at the time, I wanted someone to treat the Spider-Marriage with the complexity it was capable of.

Point?

You are free to try the new DC number ones and let me know what you think. Send emails to miraclepictographs@gmail.com.

Responses to Craigslist ads will be routed to the right person.

Stay tuned this summer, folks, for next week I will be back with a bonus column blathering on about some kind of movie about mutants or something.

Read more by Spencer Ellsworth


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