Thursday, April 20, 2017


Marvel just doubled down.  They’re saying Captain America is a Nazi (Hydra agent, but Hydra are Nazis) and always has been.  In the latest revelation, it is the heroic Cap we’ve been reading in Marvel comics since the 60’s (and going back to the 40’s) that is the false persona and the Hydra agent that is the “true” Cap.

Over a year ago, a storyline began in the comics which “revealed” that Captain America had been an undercover Hydra agent ever since the 1930’s.  That might have passed under the radar except longtime editor Tom Brevoort and new writer Nick Spencer both gave interviews driving home the point that this was not just a temporary twist, but that—honest-to-gosh, no-two-ways-about-it, totally-for-sure—this was true and that Captain America had always been a bad guy.

There was a big outcry at the time.  I (and others, I’m sure) told my comic shop why I wouldn’t be buying any Marvels for a while and canceled all my subscriptions.  And I still haven’t bought a Marvel since then.  It wasn’t an artificial boycott or something I had to force myself to do—I just had a bad taste in my mouth and I didn’t feel like reading what they were doing now.

At the same time, the Marvel movies and TV shows were doing great!  The movies make billions of dollars and are eagerly awaited, as are the TV shows, which are often the epitome of quality.  And the movies and TV shows are achieving this success by giving us the best interpretations they can of the classic heroes and their motivations.  But the movies and TV shows are fairly new.  They’re still in the building phase—“construction.”

The comics, on the other hand, (and the same holds true for Marvel’s greatest rival DC) have been around forever and have been in the “deconstruction” phase since the mid-80’s.  Maybe after hundreds of CAPTAIN AMERICA issues and stories, the powers that be are just sick of him and all the rest.  So, to keep their own interest alive, they have to do something crazy like turn Captain America into a Nazi.

And I’m not being hyperbolic here.  The movies, the AGENTS OF SHIELD TV show, and the comics themselves have established the last few years that Hydra are Nazis.  In fact, they are the worst of the Nazis.  So, to turn the symbolic American Captain America into a Hydra agent seems like nothing less than a slap in the face to the two Jewish men who created Captain America in the first place.  The first issue in 1941 even had Cap punching Hitler in the jaw on the cover—a comic that sold a million copies.  One has to wonder if Marvel would have done this if Cap’s Jewish creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby were still alive.  (You can bet Kirby and probably Simon would both be giving high profile interviews about the issue!)  Another Jewish creator, Stan Lee was instrumental in bringing back Cap in the 60’s (and even wrote the first account of Cap throwing his round shield as a weapon back in the text piece he wrote as a teen in the 40’s).

Stan thought the original idea in 2016 was an interesting twist that might increase interest in the monthly series, but I wonder how he feels now that Marvel has doubled down.  They gave themselves an out by bringing in the reality-changing Cosmic Cube and they also did a big crossover event at the same time that also affected reality, but now they went and announced again that, no, Cap is and always was evil.  The Cap we know was a mind-altered bad guy whose true persona is now presenting itself, resulting in murder and other evil acts.

When Disney bought Marvel in 2009, fans were afraid that “the Mouse” was going to interfere with the comics…but they didn’t really.  Marvel had been coming off a few years worth of darkness—heroes kept losing and the villains kept winning—and things got a little more hopeful then…but it didn’t last long.

Now, one has to wonder WHY Disney ISN’T interfering!  The comic book people keep tinkering with the heroes, taking them far away from the classic icons that Disney bought.  The movies are making, literally, billions of dollars giving us good versions of the classic heroes; the comics, on the other hand, are selling mere tens of thousands of copies ruining those icons.  They are risking franchises worth billions of dollars because some writers and editors are tired of the American institutions with which they’ve been entrusted?  Some readers are WISHING that Disney WOULD interfere!

The comics industry (made up of writers and artistic types) leans left the last few decades, and that can be fine, but one can’t help but wonder if there is a political message in this storyline.  After all, it’s not just the fall of a hero (yes, a white male and possibly Christian and probably conservative), but now (it “turns out”) he was ALWAYS like this!  While protestors out in the streets and on college campuses right now are yelling “America was NEVER great!”  Now, Marvel is saying “Captain America was never great!”

Maybe the present creative team members don’t love Captain America the way I (or a lot of others) do.  He was my favorite super-hero ever since I was a kid.  Maybe they’d rather be working on SPIDER-MAN or BATMAN.  I hardly think they’d do a storyline (and these things can last YEARS) in which it was revealed that Peter Parker was a middle-aged pedophile just pretending to be a high school student when he was bitten by that radioactive spider so many years ago.  (Hey!  It would explain why his Aunt May looked so old!)  No, they wouldn’t do that because they probably LIKE Peter Parker too much to do that to him or his fans.  And Nazis are as bad or worse than pedophiles.  So, if they don’t LIKE Steve Rogers/Captain America, then why are they working on his book?

Maybe they think the modern world wouldn’t find an earnest Captain America interesting (though the success of his movies would belie that assertion), or maybe they’re looking at the sales figures of the last few years and think nobody wants to read CAPTAIN AMERICA the comic.  Of course, we haven’t had the REAL Captain America in comics for about ten years.  Ed Brubaker wrote eight great years of CAP, which culminated in the death of Cap—which made the news and sold hundreds of thousands of issues.  But then, Steve Rogers was replaced as Cap by Bucky/the Winter Soldier for about three years.  After that, some complicated limited series brought Steve back to life, but Brubaker moved on and another writer sent Cap to another dimension for ten years, where he aged.  When he came back to Earth, the Super-Soldier serum in him was deactivated and Rogers spent the next few years as a frail old man, and was replaced as Cap (again!), this time less organically by Sam Wilson/the Falcon.  Cap’s death was ten years ago (2007).  We haven’t had a regular Cap comic for ten years.  Meanwhile, during those ten years, Steve Rogers was Cap in three movies that made a total of over $2 billion worldwide.

Of course, money isn’t everything.  If the comic creators were being true to the character and still not making money, that would be one thing.  If they were being really artistic telling extraordinary tales, that would be something too.  But they’re betraying the characters, his original creators, and the fans—for what?  Another “Everything you know is a lie!” storyline?  Another complicated retelling of history?  Another “false memories overlaying the true memories” story?  (They did that once before in CAPTAIN AMERICA, with the Falcon way back when—a storyline ignored now and generally considered a low point of the series.)  These cliches are BAD storytelling.

It’s not just CAP.  Most of Marvel’s books are in the “deconstruction” phase, with writers and editors who either are trying to make the news or are busy remaking the classics into something different than either new fans (from the movies) are expecting or old fans want.  But it does seem that the comic line is going out of its way the last few years to NOT resemble the movies, which makes no sense.

Recent news said that Marvel is going back to its classic heroes starring in their own titles again (what a novel thought!), but that makes this recent “Captain America is an evil Nazi and always has been” assertion all the more perplexing.  If people are anxiously waiting for your run to end, that should you tell that something is wrong, shouldn’t it?

The outcry should not be “Marvel Comics, you suck!” but rather (and these questions should be asked online, at conventions, and through the comics shops) “Marvel, why do you suck so bad?”, “Why do you keep sucking?”, and “Are you sucking on purpose?”

Captain America is NOT a Nazi!

Monday, May 19, 2014


Since my last blog a few months ago about various comic book concepts that would make good TV shows, two (sort of three) of my recommendations have actually been put into production!  Unexpectedly, CONSTANTINE is on the NBC schedule for next season, and apparently NetFlix is going ahead with not only LUKE CAGE and IRON FIST shows, but also DAREDEVIL and HULK shows too—which will lead into a DEFENDERS show!  And then something of a mix of my BATMAN crime drama and my ROBIN in training show ideas, Fox TV is bringing us GOTHAM, a show concentrating on the early days of pre-Commissioner Gordon and (presumably) the training of young Bruce Wayne.  Another unexpected series is the CW’s ARROW spin-off THE FLASH, a character that already had a TV show in the early 90’s and seemed a shoo-in for a movie—BUT since DC seems to do much better on TV than with their movies (THE DARK KNIGHT and early SUPERMAN being the exceptions), this is probably a better bet.

There were a few good TV possibilities that I missed last time, so let’s add them now…

SUPERGIRL—I don’t expect Cousin Kara to ever be reintroduced into DC’s movie universe, but since DC doesn’t seem to have any interest in connecting their movie and TV realities, why not give this wonderful concept a home on TV?  A teen girl with the powers of Superman who has to learn how to balance high school and higher duties?  And (probably) balance a couple of opposite type suitors?  Are you telling me that the TWILIGHT and HUNGER GAMES crowd wouldn’t eat this up?  And the CW specializes in teen-oriented shows anyway!  This is a concept that has never been properly mined even in the comics since by the time DC gave her her own comic in the 70’s, Kara/Linda Lee Danvers had already graduated from high school (which left the character aimless and the writers uninterested) and the more modern attempts at series (including the present NEW 52 version) were/are needlessly dark and convoluted.  The ten years of SMALLVILLE showed us that the basic concept of a super-teen coming of age could easily find a loyal audience.

JIMMY OLSEN—Likewise, Superman’s Pal may never be seen on the big screen again, but the whole “reporter getting into trouble” thing would work great on TV!  OR if DC/Warners DID want to connect their movie and TV franchises like Marvel is doing, this would be a great way to do it!  Jimmy would make a great Everyman in a world that finds itself being intruded upon by aliens, masked heroes and villains, and whatever sci fi, fantasy, or horror storylines the writers can come up with!  Superman can be shown on TV saving the planet from a meteor while Jimmy is infiltrating some villain’s hideout…and every so often, a wall can be knocked down and those famous red boots can be seen walking through just as Jimmy defuses a bomb under City Hall.  “Thanks for coming, Supes, but I’ve got it this time!”

BATGIRL—Hey, I would definitely take a Batgirl show too!  Again, they’ll never use her in the movies, but it’s a great character and concept!  Like the Jimmy idea above (or the AGENTS OF SHIELD show in reality), she could do all the stories that Batman will never get to in the movies.  And unlike GOTHAM (which I’m still looking forward to), this show can use all the fantastic villains as we know and love them.

THE PUNISHER—It’s amazing how many times this character has made it to the movies—three times!  All of them disappointing!  (Has ROMEO AND JULIET been filmed that many times?  How about OF MICE AND MEN?)  This is a concept made for TV, which specializes in things like police procedurals.  I love DEXTER and THE MENTALIST and a cross between the two would be awesome!  (And there’s at least a dozen dark-haired, middle-aged, Italian-looking TV actors who could do the job just right!)

THE SPIRIT—Here’s another comic concept that would work so much better on the small screen than the big.  We don’t need a big budget, special effects-laden, big screen epic to do this character right—we need people dressed in regular clothes sitting on regular chairs walking through regular doors and writers writing small human-level stories and a hundred character actors walking in and out over the course of five or more years.

DICK TRACY—Why not?  Again, TV does cop shows really well—why not give us a cop show about a cop we really like?  And the villains!  When I think back to the BATMAN show from the 60’s, the first thing I think about is what a wonderful showcase it was for great actors like Frank Gorshin and Burgess Meredith to really cut loose!  Though they all have their fair share of fans, perhaps the reason that the ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, WONDER WOMAN, and LOIS AND CLARK aren’t constantly in reruns these days is their lack of villains.  Flattop, Pruneface, Mumbles, and so many more—!  But, most of all, Tracy himself is just iconic.  Some characters deserve to be revived every so often and given the star treatment.

THE GREEN HORNET—I suppose I could keep going and list dozens of plainclothes, non-powered crimefighters, all of whom would probably make pretty good (or great!) TV shows, but Brit Reid’s alter-ego is at the top of the list because of the brilliant concept of his being a hero pretending to be a villain!  What better way to stop crime in your city?  Take it over!  (Oh, the missed opportunities in that stupid movie!)  Catch an episode of the 60’s show (by the same people doing BATMAN, but a bit more serious) and you’ll see the possibilities.  (Or take a look at the ARROW show or maybe something like PERSON OF INTEREST—two great takes on how to do a serious vigilante show!)  Plus, Kato was always cool.

MASTER OF KUNG FU—Of course, whoever could play Kato right would probably also be at the top of the list to play Shang Chi too!  Of course, this is one that might be better as a movie—picture James Bond as played by Bruce Lee and the awesomeness is almost too much to bear!

MOON KNIGHT—Speaking of Doug Moench (who wrote 100 issues of MASTER OF KUNG FU and made it the smartest comic for ten years), a show based on his and Bill Sienkiewicz’s MOON KNIGHT stories would be pretty incredible.  A “Batman” take without all the expectations of “Batman” would be a lot of fun.

JONAH HEX—Police procedurals aren’t the only genre that TV does well; the Western was TV’s bread and butter for decades and it would be great to see one back.  I could list a bunch of Marvel’s Western characters like the Two-Gun Kid or Kid Colt, but, really, there’s something classic about DC’s horror-scarred Hex.  He’s the one with the added gravitas that could really elevate something good into something great.  (Just don’t give him a super-power like the dull movie did.)

BLACK LIGHTNING—African-American Olympic athlete Jefferson Pierce has returned to the old neighborhood to give something back as a teacher, only to find the school he works at overrun with drugs.  That’s a movie or TV show right there!  Add to it that he becomes the costumed crimefighter Black Lightning (with artificial electrical powers) and now you’ve really got something!  A mix of BOSTON PUBLIC and ARROW (not to mention WHITE SHADOW), and that’s a show a lot of people would watch! 

PHANTOM STRANGER—I have no idea if this would work better as a TWILIGHT ZONE kind of thing or do what they’re probably going to do with CONSTANTINE, but I have always loved and been intrigued by the ultimate mysterious figure forever in the shadows and I’d rather see some cool version of him than most characters that get a lot more exposure.  He’s just cool.  You know what else is cool?  Imagine THE TWILIGHT ZONE with Rod Serling sometimes stepping into the story and making certain that the evil kid DOESN’T wish people into the cornfield and that the thing on the wing of the plane DOESN’T rip the wing open.

MACHINE MAN—With the special effects TV can do these days, I think a robot that looks like a man (and wants to be a man?) would work really well as a series.  Jack Kirby created something really special with this 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY spin-off, but it was when Steve Ditko took a run at it that I really saw Aaron Stack’s potential.  (And while we’re at it, Marvel, give him his own comic again!)

HERCULES—Though there have been plenty of movies based on the original Greek myth (two this year!) and the long-running Kevin Sorbo version, I think the actual story appeal here would be to drop the big guy in the present.  Sure, anybody could do such a concept, but I always preferred Marvel’s version of the mythological powerhouse to any other I’ve seen.  Of course, now that I say it, it sounds like it would make a really good movie!  (And, of course, movies take precedent over “lowly” TV, right?)

KOBRA—Marvel sometimes does TOO MUCH with its characters (Gray Hulk?  Red Hulk? Really?), but DC definitely commits the sin of not doing ENOUGH with many of its characters!  This is a brilliant super-hero take on the Corsican Brothers—Kobra is a master villain with a legion of cultic followers/assassins and he has a twin brother Jason Burr who is his one Achilles Heel as they share a psychic bond and whatever hurts one hurts the other as well!  That would make a great extended epic, something that TV can do very well!  

PLASTIC MAN—Cartoon show!  The few episodes of THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD that featured Plas made it clear what an entertaining show this iconic character could headline!  The comedic visuals and storyline possibilities makes it a sad thing indeed that Jack Cole’s genius creation isn’t a household name amongst animation fans!  (Though I understand that he did have a cartoon show a number of years ago, I have been told it wasn’t that good.  Do over!)

MANHUNTER—In the late 1930’s big game hunter Paul Kirk decided he needed a more challenging hunt, which he found as a masked crimefighter hunting criminals—the Manhunter!  According to the award-winning 70’s series by Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson, Kirk retired after the war and was killed in a hunting accident.  Cut to the (then) present, and we find Kirk alive again!  The fantastic costume and other comic book tropes aside, the core of the story is that of a man who finds that he is a clone being hunted by other clones—all with his face!  That.  Is.  Just.  Awesome!

So, those are my ideas.  Including my first list, that’s about 30 TV shows that I would love to see on a regular basis.  Somehow, Peggy Carter, Jessica Jones, and Jim Gordon are all getting their own shows (which I’ll still watch, mind you) and these incredible, classic, often iconic characters still wait on the sidelines.  Oh well, maybe one day…

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


There is a legend, a character who has been a household word for 70 years, a fictional young man alternately loved or reviled by all who know him.  Nationwide, worldwide, it’s hard to find someone who could not name him on first glance—Batman’s kid sidekick Robin.

The kid sidekick serves as a conversation foil, comic relief, and something to help bring the kids in.  It's actually a quite useful device.  Spider-Man originally broke the rules to great effect by being the kid in his own comic!  But thought balloons helped bring the reader in—almost like the reader was actually Spider-Man’s sidekick!

In general, it always helps to have a Sancho Panza, a Watson, a Robin, a Bucky, a Jimmy Olsen, etc. for the main character to talk to, and often to add comic relief.  I loved the Curt Swan era Superman, but I do remember a heavy reliance on thought balloons back then, since he usually didn't have someone flying along next to him to talk to.  Lately, they've been making a lot of use of Commissioner Gordon in Batman comics (not to mention the last three movies!).  Has he become the sidekick?  Without Robin around, somebody had to; nature abhors a vacuum.

I understand people hating Robin because they think he diminishes Batman somehow, but I think the opposite is true.  There's something wonderful about Batman—whose parents were murdered in front of his eyes and he had to grow up without them—taking on the parent role for someone else who experienced the same thing he did.  I think that's why writers keep coming back to bringing in Robin.  (Though I can live without any of the post-Dick Grayson Robins.  It starts to get creepy.)  He completes Batman.  He's hope.  He's hope for someone whose life was seemingly ruined as a child.  If not for Robin, writers would be tempted to take Batman's story to its logical conclusion—he would die horribly, sad and alone, probably crazy looking for a vengeance he can never truly complete.  Robin saves Batman.

Literally!  In the 1960’s, when Adam West and Burt Ward donned the skintight outfits and came into everyone’s living room twice a week, Batman was revived.  The comic book was actually on the verge of cancellation before then, and now BATMAN was a nationwide sensation.  And would the TV show have been successful without Robin?  Probably not.  Likely not.

Even Christopher Nolan, who gave us the most serious and real world Batman of all, and who swore up and down that he would never bring in Robin to his movies—he ended up having Batman pass the mantle on to someone named Robin.  Nolan didn't have to do that.  There are a hundred other Batman stories he could have told.  He didn't have to jump to the end of Batman's career, but that was the strongest story he wanted to tell.  The passing of the mantle story.  And even he knew that everyone would have been disappointed if the mantle went to anyone other than a Robin.

That seems to be an indispensable part of the myth that is developing—one day Bruce Wayne will pass the Batman identity on to another...only then does Batman truly become a legend.

In the comics and at least the main animated show, Dick Grayson has grown into his 20’s and left the Robin persona behind.  He has become his own man named Nightwing, and I’m more than okay with that.  I like that he has grown and found his own path.  But one day… 

Other characters consider him the best person they know, the best hero and the best man.  In one of the better comics, Batman talks to Nightwing and asks him (and I’m paraphrasing) why he’s not as messed up as Batman himself is.  Dick Grayson tells him “You had no one, Bruce, but I had you.”  An honest moment, a moving moment, a moment frozen in time that tells Batman that, no matter how his war on crime ultimately ends, he has already won.

Robin makes Batman human.  Robin saves Batman.  And that’s the case for Robin.

Sunday, December 22, 2013


I have been revisiting some comics series from the 70’s of late and I am struck by how different they are from most modern comics.  Surprisingly, the 25-cent super-hero newsstand comics of the 70’s seem deeper and more weighty than the comics of today, though the Comics Code has long since been done away with and anything goes now.  Unfortunately, that means more gore, profanity, and sex instead of being deeper and more intelligent.

This is certainly not meant to be a “Comics today suck!” and “Everything old is better!” treatise.  I have monthly subscriptions to about 20 Marvel and DC comics and I buy at least another ten comics on the stands and I’ll buy any graphic novel or collected edition that grabs me.  And this is also not a “Super-Heroes are dumb!” rant either!  I LOVE super-heroes!  I’m open to sci fi and westerns and biographical and noir and more, but super-heroes are always my favorites.  But I have to say—super-hero comics are boring right now.

Everything is just an adventure story.  This is not the way it was when I was growing up.  Sometimes when I say I love super-hero comics, people look at me like “Aw…poor, dumb guy.”  But the super-hero comics I grew up on in the 70’s were smart!  And varied!  And they tackled deep issues.  The super-hero was the center of the story that deep issues swirled around.  Social issues of the day and eternal social issues as well, deep metaphysical ponderings of the meaning of life and time and space and other dimensions (I didn’t have to do drugs—some of these writers and artists did them for me!), and even the nature of God—all these issues were tackled in the cheap newsprint super-hero comics of the 70’s, and I think I’m smarter and deeper and wiser for reading them.  And that’s what I think of when I say I love super-hero comics.

Marvel especially is doing a really good job these days of producing super-hero comics.  A lot of the writers are topnotch, the artwork is often incredible, and the production values are better than anybody could have hoped for.  It’s like really good chocolate cake—very enjoyable as you’re eating it, but then you wonder where the nutrition was.

In comparison, back in the 70’s, Marvel had a number of really good writers—EXCEPTIONAL writers—who were able to produce exciting, interesting action stories AND insert that deepness so lacking today.  Steve Gerber is the best, no two ways about it.  What Neal Adams was to comic book art, Steve Gerber was to comic book writing.  But he wasn’t alone.  Don McGregor was right up there with him.  And Doug Moench, Steve Englehart, and of course Denny O’Neil over at DC.  Writer/artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko arguably did their best work in this period as well, and Howard Chaykin and Jim Starlin were just getting started—but I will get back to them some other time.  Here, let’s concentrate on the writers.

STEVE GERBER—I could write a whole article on how great, unique, and innovative Steve Gerber was…and I think I will!  But for here at least, let’s quickly mention how his HOWARD THE DUCK was possibly the best-written comic of the entire 70’s—or the 20th century—or ever!  But I only caught up with this later.  When I was a kid, it was his DEFENDERS that blew me away.  (With great artwork by Sal Buscema!)  The Bozo Cult, the Elf with a Gun, the Headmen, Jack Norriss trying to save Nighthawk’s brain from rolling off a table(!), Valkyrie saving a baby from a New York City rat the size of a cat, and so many other things that still stick with me and made this possibly my all-time favorite comic.  Lately, I’ve been finding back issues of his MAN-THING and SON OF SATAN that I never read at the time they were first printed, and every issue is unique.  I’ve only got one issue of FEAR starring MORBIUS THE LIVING VAMPIRE written by Gerber and it’s obvious that I’ve been dropped in the middle of some longer story, but even the one chapter I have is just SO well written that it just sort of shines.  OMEGA THE UNKNOWN could have and should have been the next big hit after all of Stan Lee’s 60’s creations, but it wasn’t handled right.  It’s a great joy to find these gems that I never read before—almost like new comics!  I wish the poor man were still alive—selfishly, because I just want him to keep writing.  And I wish he hadn’t butted heads so much with his bosses back then—there could be hundreds more comics out there waiting for me to find them.

DON MCGREGOR—His graphic novels SABRE and DETECTIVES INC. (illustrated by the incredible Paul Gulacy and Marshall Rogers, respectively) changed the way people looked at comic books.  Well, almost.  At least they broadened the minds of comic book people about how great the graphic novel format could be—and then they went back to business as usual.  In the regular comics though, I was always aware of his WAR OF THE WORLDS/KILLRAVEN feature (in AMAZING ADVENTURES) with the transcendent early art of P. Craig Russell.  This is perhaps the BEST example of how to marry exciting comic book adventure with profound studies of the human condition.  Go read any issue these two masters did and see what the medium is capable of.  In a mere 17 or 18 pages, these two say more than anything the best modern creators take six or twelve issues to TRY to say!  I’ve only just recently begun to find a few issues of McGregor’s JUNGLE ACTION issues featuring THE BLACK PANTHER and the little I’ve seen there so far tells me I’m in for a treat.  Though he’s a white guy, McGregor became well-known for writing black heroes really well—Sabre, Black Panther, Ted Denning (half of DETECTIVES INC.), and even some Luke Cage.  The friendship between Killraven and M’Shulla is exceptionally well-written, and AMAZING ADVENTURES #31 contains comics’ first interracial kiss between the black M’Shulla and white Carmilla Frost.  He’s done a few other features through the years that I missed, and I think I need to track those down.

DOUG MOENCH—Moench finally got the high profile attention he deserved when he moved over to BATMAN in the 80’s, but it’s his earlier work on lower profile features at Marvel where he really shined.  An almost unbroken 100+ issue run on MASTER OF KUNG FU was responsible for probably my first realization that—Comics are great!  If anybody anywhere ever says anything derogatory about comics, my mind immediately goes to MASTER OF KUNG FU and I feel sorry for that person.  Paired with the incredible (and realistic) Paul Gulacy for about two dozen issues and then the surprisingly effective open and attractive art of Mike Zeck for a few more dozen issues, Moench gave us epics.  These stories read like really good James Bond movies starring Bruce Lee…helped along in no small way by Gulacy’s predilection for cinematic storytelling, including splash pages that looked like movie posters and characters sometimes resembling famous actors.  But it was another feature that forever secured Moench’s place in my heart and mind—MOON KNIGHT, illustrated by the “just Adams enough” Bill Sienkiewicz.  First, as a full-color back-up in the HULK magazine and then as the first direct-only comic in comic shops, MOON KNIGHT was incredible.  It may sound like a disservice but it’s actually a great compliment: Imagine Batman at Marvel Comics and you have MOON KNIGHT—the best “Batman” since O’Neil and Adams’.

Sadly, most of the work mentioned above is not being reprinted!  I think there are (or at least were) legal problems with HOWARD THE DUCK (first with Disney, then with Gerber himself), MASTER OF KUNG FU (oops, turns out Marvel didn’t have to rights to use Fu Manchu in almost every single issue!), and possibly even KILLRAVEN (isn’t “War of the Worlds” public domain?).  The three best comics can’t be reissued!  So, I have been patiently (re)collecting them at comic conventions.  (I’m only missing one or two issues of each now.)

Something else the three writers above had in common was their practice of inserting large amounts of text only in the middle of this medium that had always put artists first.  No, none of these writers skimped on the actual WRITING of their comics!  No three pages of fights with no dialogue or anything like that.  These guys worked hard and took the job seriously.

STEVE ENGLEHART—This writer also gets honorable mention, even though he didn’t seem to struggle as much as the above underappreciated writing geniuses.  He always worked on high profile comics like CAPTAIN AMERICA, AVENGERS, and DEFENDERS (and was responsible for the first big summer crossover with these last two—but I’ll forgive him for starting that trend!), and his work does get reprinted.  He killed the Ancient One, co-created MASTER OF KUNG FU, and brought back PATSY WALKER and turned her into Hellcat.  He co-created the Ultraverse including NIGHT MAN and wrote three episodes of the subsequent TV show.  His work seems mainstream, but he is often remembered for his more “subversive” storylines.  He’s the guy that had DR. STRANGE meet God!  He’s the guy that had (apparently) Nixon commit suicide in front of CAPTAIN AMERICA!  This storyline sent the quintessential patriotic hero on a journey of self-doubt and questioning of the government he had so faithfully served.  That’s heavy stuff for Code-approved 70’s 25-cent comics sold to kids!  And that’s where I came in and that’s when Captain America became my all-time favorite super-hero.  And then he moved over to DC for a short time where he casually gave us the best-written JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA stories ever and his few BATMAN stories in DETECTIVE COMICS with artist Marshall Rogers still inspire and influence comic book creators and movie makers decades later, with much of Tim Burton’s AND Christopher Nolan’s Batman vs. the Joker movies seeming to take a lot from the Englehart and Rogers stories.

A lot of writers from the 70’s just seem gone now.  Englehart and a few others moved on to book writing, while others moved to television.  Some died, and some just sort of disappeared.  As I said, poor Steve Gerber’s health failed him just as a new generation of editors was starting to hire him for important stuff again.  Don McGregor and Doug Moench both continued working through the 80’s and 90’s (Moench much more than McGregor), but I have not seen either of their names on a book in a few years.

But I’d like to.

Monday, October 7, 2013


Comic books pretty much seem to be feast or famine.  Either you get the best writer imaginable—or you get somebody that writes things dumb enough to insult a child’s intelligence.  Either the artist is so amazing you find yourself doubting that a human being could actually create such beauty with a mere pencil—or he’s somebody whose friends told him “You’re really good” but they lied.  And either you get 1,000 and counting stories of SPIDER-MAN, SUPERMAN, and BATMAN—or your favorite comics gets cancelled after six issues.  Or maybe 30.  Sometimes, they last 50 or 60.  But they could have gone a lot longer.  Nothing against the big guns, but there are literally DECADES of their stories that I could live without.  On the other hand, some gems get cancelled when they’re hardly out of the gate.

HAWKMAN, THE ATOM, SUPERGIRL—It’s funny.  These are all household names, but they’ve all been cancelled after only two or three years’ worth of issues.  Oh sure, if you add up all the various back-ups, reboots, and alternate versions, they each probably add up to about 100 issues or so, but let’s ignore all the extraneous versions.

Ignore the present Supergirl with her awkwardly designed costume (really? is her logo really in her bikini area? or is that a red chastity belt?), also ignore the last version that premiered in SUPERMAN/BATMAN who was a jerk and then was kidnapped by Darkseid and finally got her own comic that got really bad really fast, and certainly ignore the Peter David dead angel/alien shapechanger or whatever-the-heck-it-was version.  Take us back to the “I’m Superman’s cousin and he trained me” version that appeared in her own movie, the cartoons, and various SUPERMAN comics from the 50’s thru the 80’s (and also whenever Alex Ross paints her).  That version—Superman’s teenage cousin trying to make it through high school and keep her secret—that’s a great concept and deserved a lot more issues/stories.

Same thing with the others.  Over at Marvel, all the big guns from the 60’s (even less popular ones like DAREDEVIL) have hit over 500 issues!  (Or cancelled ones like DR. STRANGE have still racked up 100-200 issues.)  Half of DC’s big Silver Age guns were cancelled before their 40th issue or so.  Can you imagine HAWKMAN over at Marvel?  They would have put John Buscema on it and it surely would have given us at least 100 cool issues.  Or THE ATOM?  It might have started with 20 or 30 issues of crime-fighting drawn by Steve Ditko, then maybe Jack Kirby could have taken over and made it (micro) cosmic for three or four years!  Then bring in Jim Starlin or John Byrne to take it into the wild blue yonder.

THE CREEPER—This is the saddest of all.  I would have loved to have seen 30 or 40 (or 100!) issues of BEWARE THE CREEPER plotted and illustrated by Steve Ditko!  What a missed opportunity!  And I’m not all about bashing DC and lauding Marvel.  After Ditko left, I would have been very happy with, say, DETECTIVE artist Marshall Rogers taking over the art for two or three years!  And Steve Gerber on writing chores would have been awesome!  Then, a series is not complete unless John Byrne gets to do whatever he wants with it for at least two years!

SHAZAM! THE NEW BEGINNING!—Or whatever you want to call it!  I’ve read that (back in the days when the terms “Earth-One” and “Earth-Two” really meant something) this mini-series (of a new, Earth-One CAPTAIN MARVEL) by Roy Thomas and Tom Mandrake sold well, well enough to warrant an ongoing series…but DC dropped the ball and it never happened.  John Byrne and (separately) Alex Ross also pitched new series proposals, but they were rejected.  (WHO rejects John Byrne or Alex Ross?!?)  The great artist Jerry Ordway got to do a new series—which he WROTE, not drew.  (?)  I also liked the more innocent Earth-S version that was supposedly a true continuation of the 40’s stories (Cap and ALL his friends were trapped in suspended animation and revived in the then-present 70’s!), especially the E. Nelson Bridwell stories illustrated by Alan Weiss and (later) Don Newton, but the Alan Weiss version was cancelled before it could have had any effect on sales and the Don Newton version was always only a back-up feature.  I guess my point here is—with all this amazing talent all of whom had great passion for the feature—you’re telling me we couldn’t have gotten one solid series to 100 issues or more?!?  (It’d be awesome to see Jim Starlin’s version of THIS Captain Marvel!)

Sure, some comics shouldn’t last more than six issues (if that!) and a number of good concepts HAVE hit 100 or so issues—THE DEFENDERS, POWERMAN/IRON FIST, GHOST RIDER, and MASTER OF KUNG FU all come to mind.  They all had their chance, and we got some pretty good stories out of their 100 or so issues.  ROM was actually a pretty good comic, and that made it to issue #75, and that was probably enough.  Some of these can be considered long-term mini-series and 75-100 issues is all it really takes to tell the story.  Others die way too early.

HOWARD THE DUCK—One of the finest comics ever.  With the wry, satirical, introspective, political and social commentary writing by the great Steve Gerber, coupled with the realistic, lyrical, beautiful, dynamic art of Gene Colan inked by the very best in the business like Tom Palmer and Klaus Janson, this comic turned the comics world (and to some extent the real world) on its ear for about three years.  Maybe that’s as long as such a bright star could be expected to burn, but I’m pretty sure that pros Gerber and Colan were so invested in the feature that they would have been happy to continue it for at least 100 issues.  I mourn those 70 or so stories that will never be.

OMEGA THE UNKNOWN—Likewise, Steve Gerber’s OMEGA concept of a strange boy connected in some way to a mysterious Superman-type from the stars is something that should still be continuing!  Here’s one that should be on issue #500 and counting, not cancelled after a mere ten.  This time, Marvel dropped the ball.  And never picked it up.

I mourn the loss of personal favorites like DEATHLOK and KILLRAVEN, but maybe they ran their course.  Maybe some sci fi concepts need to be limited and self-contained, as well as spooky things like MAN-THING, TOMB OF DRACULA, SWAMP THING, and DEADMAN, or period books like INVADERS or ALL-STAR SQUADRON.  Other favorites like MOON-KNIGHT and SPIDER-WOMAN keep getting revived—both recently in great runs by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev—and maybe returning every few years is a good way to go for some concepts.

KAMANDI—This is a sci fi concept that seems open-ended and could still be going on; there should be KAMANDI children’s books, novels, movies and/or a TV show, etc.  The WEDNESDAY COMICS version drawn by Ryan Sook really showed the modern-day viability of the “Last boy on Earth” concept when done right.

THE SPECTRE—The Spectre is one of those characters who seems better than any actual handling of the concept has shown.  The closest to the ideal is the spooky (and even disturbing) Michael Fleisher and Jim Aparo vengeful version from ADVENTURE COMICS in the 1970’s.

And I think POWER GIRL and BLACK PANTHER deserve some sort of honorable mention.  And how about the original (cowboy on a motorcycle) VIGILANTE?  Of course, if we’re getting into pure revivals of various Golden Age characters (unrelated to whatever CRISIS/FLASHPOINT/etc.-related, continuity-shattering reboot is happening at the moment), we could bring back WILDCAT, HOURMAN, STARMAN, DR. FATE, THE SANDMAN, DR, MID-NITE, (good versions of) PHANTOM LADY, DOLL MAN, and probably quite a few others.  PLASTIC MAN!!!

Let’s not forget the independents.  Hopefully, the incredible and moody FATALE by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips will last for at least 100 issues, and Busiek and Anderson’s ASTRO CITY too (it’s just about there, isn’t it?).  HELLBOY is a great creation, but I sure wouldn’t mind Mignola still doing the art as well as writing.  On the other hand, the Image boys SPAWN and SAVAGE DRAGON are around 200 issues now…but I’m not sure anybody cares.

I think Neal Adams’ Continuity Comics MS. MYSTIC and MEGALITH (or MEGALITH AND THE REVENGERS) could have really had legs, but that company lacked writers and artists who weren’t pale copies of Adams himself.

And it’s not just an arbitrary number of issues I’m talking about.  No, I’m talking about time passing, new artists and writers coming in and getting their chance to jump on a train that’s going somewhere.  I wish there were a lot more bi-monthly or quarterly books out there that took their time to do a quality story.  There’s a LOT of monthly books out there that are just taking up space.  I would love to see a number of features that were presented annually, in 48-64 page graphic novels (true graphic novels, with a planned out beginning, middle, and end).  One good AQUAMAN graphic novel a year might just be wonderful!  CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN, METAL MEN, RIP HUNTER TIME MASTER, LOIS LANE, JIMMY OLSEN, PHANTOM STRANGER, DR. STRANGE, NICK FURY, ANT MAN too—these are all viable concepts that maybe can’t sustain a monthly MAGAZINE, but would make for really good standalone BOOKS!

So, to sum up: Some series have had way too many stories (No thank you, I don’t need 40 issues of SPIDER-MAN or WOLVERINE every single year!) and some have way too little (see everything above).  And we should be really grateful for people like Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and Jack Kirby who really knew how to start things off right and give some of our favorite characters such strong foundations. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013


I miss message comics.

When I was a kid in the 70’s and 80’s, I read a lot of comic book stories that had some sort of message, including some that were reprints or back issues from the late 60’s.

Some of my favorite comics of all time are the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams GREEN LANTERN/GREEN ARROW stories from the late 60’s.  Some of them leaned left like when they made fun of Spiro Agnew, brought down an environmentally unsafe corporation, or even the incident that started the whole series arc in #76 when Green Lantern protected a white slumlord from a mixed race mob of justifiably angry tenants.  He was immediately chastised by one of the black tenants and dropped his head in shame.  Then the observing Green Arrow chimed in too.  We can probably assume that the rich, white Oliver Queen was previously some sort of conservative, but then he lost his fortune, grew a beard, and became the super-hero liberal to beat all super-hero liberals!  Some would say that he was the heart of the DC Universe.  It’s a shame that version of Green Arrow is gone, possibly forever.  Now, on TV and in the New 52, Oliver’s rich and clean-shaven again and any trace of social concern seems gone as well.  Green Arrow became an obvious liberal as soon as he changed his clothes.  For Green Lantern, the process of expanding his social concern would take the whole rest of the series—which was cancelled with issue #89, even though the series was making news nationwide and probably increasing in sales.  Some of the issues the stories tackled could be seen as conservative concerns though, as there were strong stories against drug abuse and cults.  They tackled racism, Indian rights, overpopulation, and standing up to (the Guardians') authority (the last of which is ALL Green Lantern seems to do the last few years!).  In issue 87, they introduced the still popular John Stewart as the first black Green Lantern—as well as DC’s first black super-hero!  I didn’t see any of these as propaganda though, they just made for good stories.  And you want creators to tell stories that they care about—even if you disagree with them—because that will make for better stories.  After the book was canceled, the green team went their separate ways in separate back-up series—Green Lantern ended up in the back of THE FLASH and Green Arrow continued in the back pages of ACTION COMICS.  Here, Elliot S! Maggin continued the social relevance by crafting a multi-issue story about Green Arrow’s crusade against drugs.

A few months after GREEN LANTERN was canceled, Stan Lee and Gil Kane gave us three issues of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (numbers 96-98) that appeared without the Comics Code Authority stamp because they contained drug references and Peter’s friend Harry Osborn was sent to the hospital after an overdose of pills.  (Interestingly, Gil Kane was the longtime GREEN LANTERN artist before Neal Adams took over.)  Issue #99 had Spider-Man break up a prison riot and then go on the Tonight Show where he made a plea for prisoners’ rights!  It’s hard to imagine that these stories weren’t somehow inspired by the high profile GREEN LANTERN/GREEN ARROW stories.

When Neal Adams went on to start his own company Continuity Comics in the 80’s, some of the best stories were ones that he wrote himself and often contained an environmental message, especially in his MS. MYSTIC issues (first published by Pacific Comics in 1982 and then reprinted at Continuity starting in 1987).

From 1973 to 1981, Spire Comics published 60 Christian-themed comics all by longtime ARCHIE artist Al Hartley, with many of them starring Archie Andrews and his Riverdale friends.  While these are some of the most well-loved and remembered Christian message comics of all time, there have been a number of other Christian comics produced before and since these, some with overt Christian themes and some more subtle.  With his millions of comic-style tract booklets, Jack Chick is potentially the world’s most published author.  There are a lot of Bible adaptations all over the world, and some of these are the biggest-selling comics ever.  THE PICTURE BIBLE illustrated by the incredible Andre LeBlanc has sold in the multiple millions and its revamp by LONE RANGER artist Sergio Carriello looks to be just as popular in the years to come.

The messages and histories of other religions have certainly been represented in comic book form too.  Philosophies make their way into comics as well, as seen by things like Steve Ditko’s MR. A.  Even scientific theories like Neal Adams’ (him again!) expanding Earth theory make their way into at least short stories.  Robert Kanigher's war stories are considered to be really "anti-war stories."

The underlying theme of the X-MEN comic has morphed through the years.  The early stories tackled the idea of just being different, and how being different is not a bad thing.  That book also was canceled at the height of its powers under artist Neal Adams (they like to cancel him!) and writer Roy Thomas.  After it was revived with a multinational cast (the Canadian Wolverine, the African Storm, the German Nightcrawler, the Russian Colossus, etc.), the being different theme changed a bit into an anti-racism theme as mutants and regular humans are still brothers under the skin and shouldn't hate or be fearful of each other.  In recent years, the theme has expanded to include a gay/straight analogy.  No matter which era the book is in, the ongoing theme seems to be “Don’t hate others just because they’re different than you.”  Perhaps we can call this series an example of “long-term message comics.”

In the 60’s and 70’s, a lot of younger, socially conscious writers and artists were coming into the business and making their mark.  And they wanted to talk about these things.  Even the SUPERMAN stories of the era were about something!  An old school artist (Curt Swan) and editor (Julius Schwartz) coupled with young (even teenage!) writers (Cary Bates and the aforementioned Maggin) brought something new and interesting to the classic hero.  As the most powerful being on Earth (and much of the universe), Superman was often given challenges of the morals and the mind rather than just punching things.  Over at Marvel, Steve Englehart put CAPTAIN AMERICA through a crisis of (patriotic) faith and Steve Gerber gave us HOWARD THE DUCK and DEFENDERS stories completely unlike anything that had come before—stories with a variety of messages.  Amazingly enough, some of the best stories about the human condition starred an all-powerful alien from Krypton or a talking duck from another dimension!

In the years since, at both major companies as well as smaller or independent ones, there have been attempts at message stories here and there—maybe an “anti-gun story” over here or a “drugs are bad” story over there, but nothing really high profile, long-term, or effective.  Though I suppose the long CIVIL WAR crossover event at Marvel a few years ago could be seen as a veiled discussion about gun registration as the super-hero community was torn down the middle about registering their powers and personal information with the government.

For the most part, mainstream comics have settled into plain action/adventure stories and that’s it.  Like “movie industry-lite,” they just want to do special effects spectaculars.  And, surprisingly enough, that’s not comics’ strongest suit.  Comics’ strongest suit is that they get you to care for the characters.  A mix of big budget movie-style action and low budget TV character development over years of stories, comics can delight and thrill and make you care.  And like in real life, drugs, racism, abortion, gender relations, religious conflicts, and countless other social issues should crop up in our characters’ lives.  And how they deal with these issues determines to a large extent how we care about them—the characters AND the issues.

Without a strong, thought-out handling of these issues, comics (and movies, and TV, and books, etc.) are just a bunch of punching and explosions.  And that might thrill in the moment, but those aren’t the stories that stick with you.  Whether you agree with them or not, at least message comics make you think.

I miss message comics.

Monday, September 30, 2013


Reboots seem to be the thing these days.  Whether in comics, movies, or TV shows, the reboots keep coming—even though the public seems to have made it clear that they don’t really want reboots!  Do it right the first time, and KEEP doing it right!  DC Comics can’t help but keep rebooting their entire line every few years, while Marvel Comics has always striven to strengthen its world’s continuity.

Reboots in the movies have Christopher Nolan to thank.  His incredibly successful reboot of the BATMAN film franchise led to everyone else thinking they could do reboots too—even when unnecessary.  Did the SPIDER-MAN film franchise really need to be relaunched?  Not really.  Most of what was good in THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN could have fit in nicely with the Sam Raimi SPIDER-MAN trilogy, and the things that disagreed with that previous trilogy (a new origin, a new death for Uncle Ben, a sort of bratty attitude for Peter Parker, etc.) didn’t need to be filmed at all.  I enjoyed THE INCREDIBLE HULK which, instead of just wiping away the events of the first HULK movie, just kept GOING!  Maybe it’s a reboot, maybe it’s just a sequel.  Same thing with most of the JAMES BOND movies—are the Pierce Brosnan and Roger Moore movies sequels to the Sean Connery run or are they a reboot?  I don’t know, and I don’t think it matters.  One can argue for or against the necessity of the Daniel Craig BOND reboot, but at least they waited 20 movies.  Why in the world redo something that just ended 3 years ago?

SUPERMAN RETURNS disappointed a lot of people, and it seemed to change the Superman character too much.  He left Earth for five years?  He has a son?  It was obviously intended to be the next chapter in the life of the Salkinds/Christopher Reeve Superman, which might be fine—but we weren’t done with the original Superman premise yet!  And, so, a reboot was eagerly anticipated!  However, the Superman in MAN OF STEEL is dumb, careless, sort of causes the destruction of most of Smallville and Metropolis, and puts the whole world in danger.  Thanks a lot, Supes!  Meanwhile, I just found and finished reading the SUPERMAN: MIRACLE MONDAY novel by Elliot S. Maggin from 1982.  Maggin gets it!  (He always “got” Superman!  Green Arrow too!)  The novel starts with Jonathan Kent’s worst nightmare—his son being careless and destructive!  Can we just have good comic book writers write all the super-hero movies?!?  Now, a FANTASTIC FOUR reboot is in preparation and Ben Affleck has been cast as the new BATMAN.

Though Christopher Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT Batman trilogy was well-loved and made billions of dollars, people are looking forward to a reboot.

Rebooting is not inherently bad—if you have a plan.  Christopher Nolan had a plan with BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT.  He may have rebooted from the Tim Burton and (ugh) Joel Shumacher movies, but he actually went back to the comic book basics!  (Much of BEGINS was taken scene by scene from key BATMAN comics!)  So, with the first two movies, Nolan gave us the Batman we always knew existed and had just been waiting to see realized.  The third Nolan movie, however, is an “Elseworlds” kind of future Batman story that ends Batman’s story.  And it’s also not exactly the Batman we all knew and loved.  Nolan’s Batman had two adventures and then retired for almost a decade (and yet was as injured and broken down as if he HAD been fighting criminals all that time?!?), and so I’m fine (so far) with Ben Affleck stepping into Bruce Wayne’s shoes.  Continuing with the John Blake character would not have been BATMAN, it would have been a SEQUEL to BATMAN, and we didn’t really need that yet—maybe after 20 movies.  So, like SUPERMAN RETURNS, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES was the END of a story we didn’t really want ended yet.

TV too has its fair share of reboots.  TV failed with its reboot of THE FUGITIVE a number of years ago, but it has succeeded with the more recent HAWAII FIVE-O.  It failed with an African-American version of KOJAK a while back, but it will try again soon with an African-American IRONSIDE.  Some things, like new versions of CHARLIE’S ANGELS or STAR TREK, are not technically reboots, they are really SEQUELS, which I have no problem with.  Whether bad or good, I have to give them credit for trying to keep an old friend alive.  (DR. WHO wins this prize, of course!)

Recently, I made an erroneous conclusion, but the idea still feels valid.  I thought (until I looked it up) that the word “reboot” originally meant to reset a computer to its original settings (instead of just “restart”).  I don’t know the technical term, but let’s call that kind of reset a “true” or “complete” reboot.

In a complete “reboot,” you reset the computer (or whatever) to its original settings, wiping away whatever junk had piled up on it since the beginning.

That’s what I wish DC had done two years ago with its “New 52” company-wide reboot (IF it HAD to start over, that is).  But it didn’t.  It just gave us new histories for the characters.  Histories that were not really better than the “real” histories.  And, as with the previous big reboot 30 years ago—CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS—we see that saddling your characters (and writers) with histories that didn’t really happen is like telling a complicated lie that can’t help but unravel before too long.

Marvel also attempted a “reboot” of its own a number of years ago.  It started the “Ultimate” line and brought Spider-Man back to his high school age and roots.  It was a valiant attempt, but they also failed by making the Hulk gray and Reed Richards a teenager.  (EVERYBODY knows the Hulk is green!!!)  Instead of Ultimate versions of their flagship characters and titles, it soon became clear that these were just alternate versions.  I have no doubt that if the Ultimate line had been wildly successful, the main Marvel line-up would have been closed down at some point.  Unfortunately (or, really, fortunately) the world that Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and all the writers and artists that have followed them over the last 50 years created was too good to do away with.  The foundation was too strong.

Starting with Stan, it was clear—the Marvel Universe was a tightly knit continuity and all the stories were canon.  Even the least of them, they meant something.

DC, on the other hand, seems to think its readers are stupid and that they need to be spoon-fed an “easy” line-up.  CRISIS happened because a handful of readers didn’t understand why there was an Earth-Two Superman with gray hair and an Earth-One Superman who was younger.  It’s called “Julius Schwartz was brilliant and you CAN have your cake and eat it too!”  And then, ironically, their “Post-Crisis” world got ridiculously complicated and they undid it about 5 years ago with FINAL CRISIS and then AGAIN 2 years ago with FLASHPOINT and the NEW 52!  The New 52 DC world looks to be overly complicated and micromanaged and has all the indications that it will fall under its own weight at some point in the future.  And if the stories won’t matter THEN, why should I think that they matter NOW?

In Ed Brubaker’s recent 8-year run on CAPTAIN AMERICA, he referenced minor story elements that I first read when I was 9, decades ago!  That’s awesome!  Over at DC, I have no idea how Batman could have a 10-year-old son with Talia if he met her halfway through his Batman career, a career that is now said to be five years old.

And here we come to my point.  Here is my open letter to Christopher Nolan and Zach Snyder, DC and the New 52, the guy that’s going to reboot the FANTASTIC FOUR movie franchise, and Jim Shooter or anybody else trying to reboot MAGNUS, TUROK, THE SPIRIT, DOLL MAN, or whoever: Don’t stray too far from the foundation.  The farther you stray, the less relevant YOUR version becomes!

Frank Miller did a great version of Batman in his DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, BATMAN YEAR ONE, and even his and Jim Lee’s BATMAN AND ROBIN had something—but Selina Kyle was not a hooker and Dick Grayson’s parents didn’t get shot in the head!  It’s all actually very well done, but that’s MILLER’s VERSION!  Not the real Batman.

Christopher Nolan did a great trilogy of movies—but Batman didn’t retire for a decade after only two adventures and meet Catwoman when he’s middle-aged and only fight the Joker once.  It’s a great version, but it’s only NOLAN’s VERSION!  The moment he’s done with Batman, Batman springs back to the Batman we all know.  Even little kids that grew up on Nolan’s Batman somehow know that Batman has had hundreds of adventures and fought the Joker dozens of times.

And even though Batman hasn’t worn his blue shorts for two years in DC’s New 52, people across the country and the world know that he still has them--or even if you want to give him a new costume (I will admit he looks good all in black!), don't tell me he NEVER had the blue shorts!  Not when the best Neal Adams and Marshall Rogers stories clearly show me that he does!  And Superman still has his red shorts—in Legos and other toys, children’s books, and the Halloween costumes available for adults and children alike.

And though Superman has worn a stupid mandarin collar and “armor” for the last two years in the comics, nobody in the world knows or cares.  Seriously, even Jim Lee who designed the thing can’t draw it and make it look good!  Perhaps it’s a good thing that these comics sell less than 100,000 (or 50,000! or 30,000!) copies these days, while Curt Swan’s issues reached an average of half a million readers for two decades.

When the New 52 is over, these characters will snap back to their “default” settings.  Somewhere there is a 16 year-old kid who can’t wait to, maybe ten years from now, work for DC and get rid of that stupid collar and reboot it so that Superman never had a collar or armor!  And he was also never dumb and destroyed Smallville and Metropolis in a careless battle with Zod.

And that’s also why Adam West’s campy, jokey BATMAN TV show from a couple of seasons in the 60’s still resonates with so many people—because it actually held true to the FOUNDATION of Batman!  There was the classic costume, there was Robin, there was Batgirl, there were the villains played by fantastic distinctive actors, etc.

I have three DC collections right now.  I have the pre-CRISIS classic stuff from the 60’s and 70’s (that I am buying more and more of at comic cons); I have the new stuff (I’m a sucker for keeping updated, and books like WONDER WOMAN and THE FLASH are well done and worth reading on their own merits), and then I have a whole cabinet full of post-CRISIS/pre-FLASHPOINT comics—which might as well be packed up and put in the basement.  Sure, I might want to read things like John Byrne’s revival (or reboot!) of THE DOOM PATROL and maybe a few other things here and there where I liked the talent on a particular storyline, but the rest I almost want to throw in the fire.  I would try to sell them, but I don’t think anybody wants them.  It’s not old (classic), it’s not new (fresh).  It’s just throwaway.  I feel bad for any writer or artist who did any work for DC during that whole period.  It was just a waste of time.  And when the fresh has worn off of the NEW 52, I’ll feel the same way about those too.

Is the Susan Lucci version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL your favorite?  Probably not.  And while a lot of people loved Bill Murray’s SCROOGED, that was just a fun diversion.  If you’re a movie director and somebody gives you $200 million to remake the story, you’re probably going to go back to the original book and look at the Alastair Sim or George C. Scott version.  Nobody’s going to remake the Bill Murray or any other alternate version.

Superman never had a mandarin collar, Robin’s parents were never shot in the head, Wonder Woman’s boots aren’t blue, and the Creeper was never some demon that possessed Jack Ryder’s dead body.  I know this.  Every kid in the country that watched the Bruce Timm cartoons knows this.  Why doesn’t DC?

If your version is TOO different than the foundational, classic version, then what’s the point? You might pull a paycheck right now, but your work gets thrown on the bonfire five years from now.