Wednesday, January 13, 2010

6 Things Not to Hate This Year

I find myself constantly compelled to look on the sunny side of things.  I’m feeling optimistic about comics today.  Sure, there is no shortage of problems both creatively and industry-wide, but lets take a break from that for a bit and look at the things that are somehow going right in the world of comics.  I won’t be so cliché as to suggest they are things for which you should be thankful, so let’s just call this post the Six Things Not to Hate This Year

Today's guest post is by one Jeremy Whitley.  He's a blogger and burgeoning writer Firetower Studios with a love for comics whom you can read more from at his blog, Stylistic Nonsense, or by following on Twitter @jrome58.

Six Things Not to Hate This Year

1. The Creator Owned Project

I’ll be the first to admit that my pull list has often consisted of the finer (and sometimes the lesser) creations of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Bob Kane. Don’t get me wrong, I fully respect your love for Batgirl or your man-crush on Thor, but there is nothing better than sitting down with an artistic team and letting them take you for a complete ride. Call me optimistic, but it seems like there’s no better time for the creator than now. Take one of my personal favourites, the new creator owned series, Chew.

Chew is one of the most colorful and original works of graphic fiction to come out of any studio in a long time. The pace at which it has gained its own fandom is proof enough. The fact that a book like Chew is on the shelves and successful should tell the companies and creators out there one thing - go for it!

I know there are plenty of creators out there willing to take that chance. I’ve shared booths with them at conventions. I’ve spent a half an hour just sitting at their tables and talking about their work. Hopefully, companies get the message, especially with some of the lackluster sales they’ve seen in the last year. The audience is there, you just have to give them something they can sink their teeth into. And if you haven’t had a chance to get ahold of some great creator owned masterpieces, let me suggest a few:
  • Y: The Last Man
  • Ex Machina
  • Air
  • Invincible
  • Fables
  • Transmetropolitan
And that's just a few of the many creator owned titles out there worth celebrating. Save the hate and try discussing some of your favourite indie books once in a while.

2. The Evolution of a Cyclops

In every great comedic pairing one always needs a straight man. Cyclops has been the straight man for an entire team of mutants since the sixties. Any time there was a mission, Iceman would find a reason to goof off or cause a show (and if it wasn’t Iceman, then Beast was climbing walls or Angel was picking up women) and Cyclops would have to rein him back in. He was the “fearless leader”.

And everybody hated him because, well, let’s face it: he’s a dud, a stick in the mud…a goody two shoes. And when everyone’s favorite six clawed bad-ass showed up, Cyclops’s character just got worse. Throughout the eighties and on into the nineties animated series, Cyclops and Wolverine became bitter enemies on the same team.  

Wolverine is the Cat in the Hat and Cyclops is that damned goldfish. The goldfish is right, your parents are coming home and their gonna be pissed when they see the place. So what? Everybody hates the goldfish. As the world’s love affair with Wolverine grew to two, three, four, five, or six monthly books, Cyclops became the dullard we love to hate.

Yet, about a year ago I found myself cheering for Cyclops. Why? Because Cyclops shot a dude in the face over in Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men! It was nuts! Since then, Cyclops has effectively led the invasion of a planet, fought off his evil younger brother, told Professor X he’s not part of the X-Men anymore, founded an island nation and…what else was there…oh yeah, started up a scandalous relationship with the White Queen, Emma Frost. Where was the turning point for all this? Was there one moment where Cyclops just said, “I’m tired of being the punching bag around here” and straightened it all out?

That’s the beauty of it, there was no set moment for the change.  It’s all thanks to some amazing writers (Morrison, Brubaker, Fraction, Ellis, and-yes-Whedon).  Cyclops’s transition from Boy Scout to Che Guevara  has been nearly seamless. From losing Jean one last time, to his race being nearly annihilated, to losing his powers, to actually being able to control them for a small time - he’s picked up the personality of a complete character one page at a time. In a world with such often static characters, I feel like the evolution of Cyclops is something great not to hate.

3. Batwoman Is No Lipstick Lesbian

When I picked up the first issue of Detective Comics staring Kate Kane, the new Batwoman, I was immediately stunned. J.H. Williams’s art was amazing. Greg Rucka’s writing was superb. The combination of the two was like reading a comic book for the first time. I was a little behind on the back-story, so when I got to the part where she met up with her girlfriend (and summarily got dumped by her girlfriend), I was a little surprised.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one. It was the talk of the comic world for awhile. First, everyone declared “First gay character in comics” which of course wasn’t true. Northstar has been gay for some time and he wasn’t the first. Then they tried first lesbian, but of course they were forgetting Strangers in Paradise and any number of other indie comics. The big question for me was “What kind of lesbian is she going to end up being?”

She’s in a bat book, so the smart money would be on angry lesbian. But of course, what with “The L Word” having done so well, maybe she would be a lesbian Bruce Wayne. She could seduce all the lovely socialite ladies of Gotham with her lipstick lesbian charm. Sooner or later she could end up in Gotham City Sirens making out with Poison Ivy. That sounds about right for that book, don’t you think?

No, the great part is, she wasn't any “kind” of lesbian. Yes, she likes girls, but that is not the full extent of her character. She doesn’t feel the need to hit on her female foes, nor does she have to trash talk Batman just because he’s a Bat-“Man”. The beauty of her being a lesbian at all is that she is not just a lesbian, but a fully realized and conceptualized woman.

So, while everybody is fighting over Power Girl’s boob window and Supergirl’s skirt and shorts combo, Greg Rucka and Batwoman are reinventing the comic book heroine.

4. Rise of the Fangirl

Now the last point leads pretty cleanly into this one. I, personally, am a fan of not just good female characters and creators, but fangirls. Fanboys have been the angry, screeching engine behind some change, but mostly a lot of staying the same in the comic world. Whether they are demanding the return of Hal Jordan or the death of Jason Todd, fanboys are, for good or for bad, a part of the comic creating world.

But recently, a new (and only slightly higher pitched) voice has been crying foul on the boards and blogs. Whether it’s Johanna Draper-Carlson, Kelly Thompson at CSBG; Evie at Awesomed by Comics, Sequential Tart, Fantastic Fangirls, Jill Pantozzi at Has Boobs, Reads Comics, or Cheryl Lynn at Digital Femme, the fan girls are making themselves heard online in a big way.

I mentioned Power Girl’s costume earlier, but that’s only one of the battles they’ve been fighting. There’s the Chameleon Rape Scene crisis over in Amazing Spider-Man, the recent reappearance of Namor’s wife in Dark X-Men, the off-panel three way in Cry for Justice, or anything about J. Scott Campbell.

I’ve been around the message boards, and I see that a lot of the fan girls have taken a lot of flack. For all the time I’ve spent trying to introduce people to comics, there seem to be just as many that want others (women in particular) to leave them alone. It should be said that these are the same guys who join clubs and patrol the internet to bring back their old favourite characters. Now they pop up with sophisticated insights like the one I read on the CSBG website after Kelly’s post on Namor's wife, “This is why crazy feminists shouldn’t be allowed to read comics.” Bravo faceless internet troll, your dedication to keeping comics an elite and unprofitable club is duly noted.

Nothing proves these guys quite as wrong as seeing the amazing female comic creators who are working today. Gail Simone puts out one of the consistently best written books in either of the big two with Secret Six. Amanda Conner has turned Power Girl into a title to be reckoned with. Marjorie Liu is crafting a tale of crime and intrigue in Dark Wolverine in which is making people say, “Wait. Wolverine has a son?” And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

During my adventures at conventions, I have met a number of amazing creative women doing everything from writing to inking to…well there was the woman with the clay monsters in Baltimore and that was pretty cool. In my experience, the most amazing “booth babes” are the ones who make the books, not the ones parading around to lure in the fanboys.

To the rush of angry fangirls out there who are willing to fight for their comics just as much as any guy, I say “Thank You”. You are making comics better by your interest and input. Don’t believe me? Next time you’re in Metropolis, look up. You know what you won’t see? Supergirl’s panties.

5. Hooray for Bucky Cap!

Perhaps the most amazing thing that has happened in the last two years for me was that Steve Rogers stayed dead. I know that’s finally coming to an end, but hey, two years is pretty good (Bruce Wayne only managed to stay out of the game for a whole year before they started bringing him back). Resurrections happen, I get that -- it’s the nature of the beast. The difference between a good character death and a bad character death is what happens next.

It used to be (and still is if you’re Professor Xavier) that death is only a step in your epic saga. The previews in the episode you die in are sure to solicit your return. If you’re a really big deal, they will rewrite history just to get you back in time for the big summer event or your next movie tie-in. The big difference in the recent deaths of both Steve Rogers and Bruce Wayne has been how it affected the other characters in their world.

From Steve Rogers’s death was born one of the most amazingly complex characters to ever wear a flag as an outfit. I’m not talking about Kid Rock, but the character fondly referred to as Bucky Cap. As much as Bucky had been through in his life as Winter Soldier, the fact he could not turn down the opportunity to continue the legacy of Captain America is one of the most profound decisions around. That he went from worshipping that man, to hating the man, to being the man in a story arc that spanned sixty years was incredible.

While Bucky himself is a testament to the comic book fondness for resurrection, the fact that Cap’s death allowed him to become a more complete character is a testament to doing death right. Oh, did I forget to mention how much I love that he is an accurate Cap for the new millennium? Seeing him shoot Ares in the face in New Avengers may be my favorite moment of the year.

As great as my love for Bucky Cap is, it doesn’t compare to what DC has done with the Bat Books since the death of Bruce Wayne. By all rights, they should have fallen apart, lost all readership, and panicked.

However, what has resulted is a tour de force of talent and storytelling. While I’ve made my love for Detective Comics clear, the things that Grant Morrison has done with Batman and Robin can not be over hyped.  DC has used Bruce’s death to shine the light on his well known but rarely highlighted supporting cast. Rather than being a filler till Bruce makes his inevitable return, DC has opted to make great new stories and build better characters.

Honestly, if the stories are going to keep being this good, Bruce can stay dead for all I care. You can’t hate what they’ve done with the place while he’s been gone.

6. “I’ve got two monthly books. And a new one starting next month” or How to Stop Worrying and Love the Deadpool

If there’s anything I love as a reader of those funny little books with the pictures, it’s the meta-fiction. The breaking of the fourth wall has become a regular occurrence in other mediums, such as on TV thanks to sitcoms or in movies, where characters like, for example, Jay and Silent Bob have even been known to look out of a theater screen after asking what kind of people watch stupid stoner flicks. Really though, it gets me every time.

The same holds true for comics, particularly with Deadpool. Yes, before you say it, I agree that three ongoing monthlies is too many for one character. However, I think that I know why it happened. Deadpool, as he stands now, is not just a character but an entire genre. He is the one and only comic book character who knows he is a comic book character. He is the entire world of comic book meta-fiction (excepting Indy works like BKV’s “Escapists“). Deadpool knows what he is, he knows why he is, and, hell, he knows what you want to see. Anybody who’s read Daniel Way’s Deadpool knows what a ball it can be. This sounds kind of sad, but reading a Deadpool book is like reading a comic with a friend. Granted, he’s a deranged homicidal friend, but he sure is fun at a party.

Whether it’s a battle between dueling inner monologues, his squees of glee at the mention of a team-up, or his continual insistence that you not look at the chicken (see Jason Aaron’s entry into Deadpool #600) there is no denying the charm of reading with your good buddy Deadpool. It’s what made Spider-Man so popular and he never even realized you were there. You can hate his sudden spike in popularity, but it’s hard to hate him when he drags you along with him.


With that, I conclude my list of things not to hate. Keep in mind, I’m not here to imply that you should stop hating all together. There are plenty of things out there to hate. It seems to me like Rob Liefield’s been making a comeback of late, so that and Jeph Loeb’s Hulk should keep the hate mill going on its own. But take heart little fanboys and fangirls, if Siege or Blackest Night let you down this winter, there are still a few things left not to hate and this list is only a handful of them. Feel free to let me know some of the things you think should people should stop with the hate for a moment and be celebrated.

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Ethereal said...

I'd really, really like to see a list of stuff that needs to be read to appreciate the current Cyclops. I read Astonishing X-Men, which was awesome, and I know I should probably read New X-men but haven't gotten there yet. Can anyone help?

Boots said...

I'd go New X-Men which is obtainable in three Ultimate Collections. Then I'd go Whedon's Astonishing X-Men (four paperback, two oversized hardcovers, one omnibus), followed by Brubaker's run (The Rise & Fall of the Shi'ar Empire, The Extremists, Divided We Stand and Manifest Destiny), check in with Ellis' Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Boxes, then Fraction's Lovelorn, Sisterhood and Utopia.

Thats a lot of books.

Kevin said...

Great post Kirk. It is great that Cyclops has finally stepped up. I loved Astonishing X-Men under Whedon. He made the book actually feel like Cyclops and the X-Men with how much he had Scott step up and be the star of the show in each story arc.

For me Bucky Cap is one of the best characters in comics right now. Brubaker has done a great job making Bucky into one of my favorite characters in comics and much more interesting Captain America than Steve was.

Also for the most part I have been really digging all of the Batbooks right now. Even though they didn't start strong after Battle for the Cowl, except Batman and Robin, all of the books have turned it around and I am enjoying seeing Dick as Batman, Tim as Red Robin, Damian as Robin, and Stephanie as Batgirl. Just like you said, with Bruce gone it has allowed each one of these characters to be main characters instead of just supporting characters. They don't have to continue to live in Bruce's shadows and now actually step up. And I am saying this even though Bruce Wayne is one of my favorite comic book characters.

Great post!

Daryll B. said...

Firstly nice blog Jeremy and I concur with most of your points. I have a couple of things to add:

-The Cyclops change isn't new and contrary to public opinion didn't start with Morrison. It actually started after he got separated from Apocalypse in an arc with the X-Men invading Genosha to confront Magneto. Famous scene to X-Fans is Cyclops rushing an attack instead of planning it out leaving his sneaking partner Wolverine dumbfounded.

-I also would give a lil love to Laura Hudson at Comics Alliance too who I don't always see eye toeye with but has a lot in common with the "new" fangal.

-I am so crossing fingers that Deadpool's and Bucky's popularity lasts

-You just had to bring up Loeb and Liefield huh? ARRRGH! D SMASH!!!

*comment discontinued*

Good Job Man!

Jank said...

While it's nice to see Cyclops become more than just the dull, straight man he was portrayed as before, I sometimes feel like Fraction's mancrush on him is pushing Cyclops up too high. Cyclops for Fraction is what the Sentry is to Bendis. These days, I'm not sure what Cyclops can't do. Hell, he punked the Void like it was nothing.

Kevin said...

Woops, I meant Jeremy. Sorry about that. Still this was a great post Jeromy.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

Fantastic post, had a real voice to it. I'm off to read more of your blog right now.


And, so, with this article I liked all of your points. I'd also like to point out that people should be loving S.W.O.R.D. as it is a really interesting and funny series and with this first arc I think it'll really settle into its place and show us some new things.

People should also like the freedom that creators have to tell long-form stories. Hatching a story that goes for 3-4 years is a big endeavour but the big two seem to be backing their higher end talent. Hell, Marvel gave Secret Warriors to Hickman and he said he had a massive plan to put forward. I like that these things occur, means we get more thought for our dollar.

Ultimately, though, we should be thankful for Casanova returning this year. Now that's some good news.

natureboy_HH said...

great post guys. scott deserves more respect (looking at you brett ratner), and its great that marvel is giving it . the x-men's history is nothing short of tumultuous, but if it seems like if you want to break into the x-universe scott's the person to start with and it makes sense to give him a stronger and more or less revolutionary persona.

although not entirely surprising, i was glad how 'who will wield the shield turned out'. brubaker's development of bucky is something future writer's could at least look at.

2010 could very well be the year marvel starts pricing all of its titles at $3.99, and others would definitely follow soon. but if books like chew keep coming out, i wouldnt mind paying a little extra for high quality works.

hydrogenizedsoy said...

I like the fish.......

Seriously though your comment about Batwoman being all about character and not costume snafus (windows/skirts) is right on the nose. Bravo!

Anonymous said...

How to write a good comic: 1) shoot someone in the face.

Klep said...

Deadpool knowing he is a comic book character is fine and all, but I still miss She-Hulk knowing she is a comic book character.

Nathan Aaron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris said...

Great post!!

Nathan Aaron said...

(I should read my comments before hitting send. Spell check! LOL)

"The beauty of her being a lesbian(gay) at all is that she is not just a lesbian(gay), but a fully realized and conceptualized woman(person)." - OH, if only everyone in the world would figure out THIS is what gay people are, it'd be a lot better place (with a lot less ignorant people.) Rant over. :)

Jeremy said...

BLARGH you stole my name! But at least you mentioned your enjoyment of Deadpool. He keeps it real.

Jeremy said...

Thanks for the positive comments everyone! I'm glad Kirk gave me a chance to jump in here and insert me two cents. Hopefully, I'll be back to do it again some time soon.

Jill Pantozzi aka The Nerdy Bird said...

Thanks so much for including me in your list Jeremy, I'm honored. :)

1979semifinalist said...

Jeremy - great list - it's always great to see some optimism in comcis.

And of course thanks for including me - that is some awesome company to be in and I'm flattered. :)


lurkerwithout said...

Interesting list. I'm not totally familiar with Vertigo's contract policy, but I don't think books from their line are actually creator owned. I'm pretty sure Vertigo/DC/Warner still ends up owning the property...

Anonymous said...

Nice to see a mention of fangirls that doesn't claim they're ruining it for the rest of us or trying to take away someone's candy!

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