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I basically gave on comic books as a serial medium about a year and a half ago, roughly when Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson's Transmetropolitan ended, though not as a result of it. Since then I have followed things only through the news that filters through to the discussion fora I inhabit.

A couple days ago I heard about a recent series called Avengers: Celestial Quest, which I'd never heard of. The title sounded really old school, but I was sure it must not be, because my nerddom is such that I'd at least have a passing familiarity with it if it was actually that old. So I Googled it and discovered that it came out sometime in the last couple years, after I'd pretty much stopped paying attention. Where I got this information was at the home page of the writer, Steve Englehart.

Englehart's been around for a long time -- his first work appeared in the early 1970's -- and he's written a ton of stuff for both Marvel and DC, though Batman is the only major franchise he ever wrote much for. His style is, shall we say, very much of an era gone by. Lots of high concept stuff, lots of exclamation points, lots of shocking twists and high drama. So, you know, okay -- but the amazing thing is that Englehart all but uniformly describes his work as mind-blowingly brilliant and innovative and if it weren't for those damn editors, blah blah blah. The only reasons that comics don't sell as well as they used to are apparently, that Steve Englehart isn't writing them and that editors won't let Steve Englehart do what he wants when he is writing them. Observe this description of Celestial Quest:

Third time around on THE AVENGERS. The main point here was to resurrect Mantis from the drek forced upon her at the end of WEST COAST AVENGERS and FANTASTIC FOUR, but I also wanted to provide the vast epic Marvel no longer knows how to do.

That was an interesting challenge because I had eight issues, no more, and the original Mantis epic had run more than twice that. In addition, that first epic had run long because new avenues kept opening up and I followed them wherever their stories led; this time, eight issues, no more, so I had to consciously cover over new openings in a way that, hopefully, no one would notice.

But the reader response showed a real pent-up hunger for a story that would stretch the current limits, even with constrictions. People want a "House of Ideas."

That's really just the tip, though. Not only have Englehart's stories directly or indirectly contributed to eight Hollywood productions (as he reminds you at every possible opportunity), they are also frequently cited as legendary influences on the rest of the industry. For instance, Coyote:

COYOTE was the first series to show where creators could go if they thought beyond comics as they were, and has been cited by dozens of comics pros as an influence on their careers.

Of course, one can only produce legendary work if one is able to get it published. Unfortunately, one such surefire legend is still waiting on some editor's desk:

Finally, I wrote a "prestige" album introducing a new Mad Hatter which was a poster child for where things have gone with comics. First, "Top Hat and Nails" was a complete album. Then I was asked to split it in two so it could go in BATMAN. Then it was knit back together to go in CHRONICLES. Then CHRONICLES got cancelled. Now it sits on a shelf, even though a top Bat-editor called it "the best Batman in the last five years."

All I can do is write 'em.

Ultimately, it appears that Marvel's hardline stance against quality is what has doomed the industry to low sales:

Mantis returned, but Marvel was embarked on its anti-creator crusade, so her dialogue was rewritten without my knowledge. This continued through the two remaining stories, until midway through #39, where her story, already written, was dumped completely and a whole different one substituted. I moved her to FANTASTIC FOUR but the crusade continued. It was a sad end for Mantis and the Swordsman, stars of the greatest AVENGERS epic ever, but I was able to rectify it later in AVENGERS CELESTIAL QUEST. Unfortunately, Marvel has never rectified itself, and now sells one-tenth of what these books sold.

I've been having all kinds of fun reading these things. They're pretty much all this self-aggrandizing. Here's one more, just for fun.

The Night Man came out the other side of Black September as two distinct people. To this day I think the possibilities of this are astounding, but Marvel was not and never has been interested.

On the one hand, he was the new, more magickal guy seen in Volume 2, issues what really wasn't a bad story under the circumstances...

...and at the same time, he was the original guy, now lost in the Marvel Universe, where he fought Wolverine. And both were real.

As a writer, I love the idea that this guy was now living two separate lives in two separate universes. He had developed as one being until Black September, but now that one being was facing two separate sets of circumstance, and each would develop differently thereafter. I proposed to Marvel that there be two ongoing series about The Night Man, one a Malibu book and one a Marvel book; it would have been so cool and, well, innovative (they said no).

Damn you, innovation-haters! You've got some nerve! Why, I oughta!

posted by Aaron S. Veenstra
Comics ... Permalink




File under "Incredibly Stupid:"

Fox TV's award winning, hit series 24 is noted for its innovative use of time and its fast-paced, exciting stories. Now IDW Publishing will break new ground by releasing a 24 comic book one-shot mirroring the show's dynamic use of the time element.

Two pages of printed story will equal one hour of time elapsed in this 48-page one shot. Handling the clock and the story will be J.C. Vaughn and Mark L. Haynes of Battlestar Galactica fame. Art will by by noted CSI: Miami artist, Renato Guedes.

As implied, IDW publishes a variety of comics based on action-related TV programs; they started with CSI about a year ago. The idea of a 24 comic is not stupid on its face, but the idea of a comic that completely inverts the show's format is. The show is basically as decompressed as you can get in motion picture storytelling. After accounting for commercials, 60 minutes of story happen in 43 minutes of real time. Most shows compress at least a few days worth of story into those 43 minutes. This comic is going to give you 60 minutes of story in two pages, probably about a dozen total panels. If you're not familiar with reading comic books, that's a few minutes worth of reading, assuming the pages are caption-heavy.

Why not do a 24-issue series in which each full issue is one hour? Why not ease off the "24-hour" part and do a 48-page special that covers just one hour? This format is just plain dumb. End nerdrant.

posted by Aaron S. Veenstra
Comics ... TV ... Permalink