Highlights of 2008

Dec-17-08

The last few days have been fun, as Jason and I peered into our crystal balls to look at what 2009 might hold. However, it’s possible that those thoughts may have seemed a tad cynical to some; I’ll go so far as to say that some may have called them snarky. It may seem to some readers that Jason and I look on the comics industry with disdain, and nothing could be farther from the truth. Well, ok, many things could be farther from the truth, but we’re not totally jaded. Along those lines, I wanted to look at some of the highlights of the previous year.

This is not a best of list. I simply don’t read the breadth of comics that I would need to read to compile a list like that. No, this is a list of what happened in 2008 that gives me hope for the future. I’ll also touch on those things that make me think that 2009 may not be such a bad year for comics after all.

A new Scott Pilgrim book announced for 2009. Jason and I have touted Scott Pilgrim quite a few times, but there’s a reason that this gives me hope. It has long been established that the only financially successful model for comics to follow is to publish monthly pamphlets (or floppies or whatever you want to call the comics that we all know so well) and then to collect those previously published floppies into trade paperbacks some months after their initial printing. There have been some original graphic novels, but generally those are only created by big name creators, those who already have a built in following.

Scott Pilgrim refuses to follow this model. Like the titular hero of the book, this creation comes to us in small graphic novels, each completely original. The writer/artist, Bryan Lee O’Malley, is not a well known creator with a built in following. Yet he’s publishing Scott Pilgrim in a way which I feel shows that there are other options beyond what Marvel and DC believe comics can be published. He’s not the only one who’s exploring alternate ways of publishing comics, but he’s one of the most successful and he gives me hope for the medium.

Jeff Smith’s career. Jeff Smith is the writer and artist who created the absolutely charming and exciting Bone comic, which he self-published. That comic ended in 2004, at which time Smith began working on the equally amazing and endearing Shazam: Monster Society of Evil, a four issue limited series which made the best use of DC’s Captain Marvel that I’d read in decades. Once that miniseries was over, Smith went back to creator owned work, publishing RASL, a series about a dimension-jumping art thief. So why does his career fill me with such hope?

I believe that corporate comics have a place, and can be quite enjoyable, but I also believe that they can drain the creative fire from a creator. I’ve seen creators who I greatly admire go to work for DC and Marvel, only to find the originality, humanity and that special unique voice they had disappear within that culture (<cough> Winick <cough>). Jeff Smith proved that you can do those corporate comics and not lose your voice. He’s also shown that he can succeed in multiple genres, as RASL has proven to be just as intriguing as Bone, albeit not as dependent on adorable animals and stars. I’d love to see more creators take those lessons to heart.

Captain America. She-Hulk. X-Factor. Manhunter. I’m not a big fan of where the Marvel or DC Universes are going these days. I find that both companies seem to favor brainless, unending crossovers, where perhaps a few good ideas lay buried, instead of simply publishing good books. That being said, the titles I mention above are all excellent comics, and they prove that even when you’re writing a comic set in a universe that has taken a turn for the worse, you can still write an entertaining story. Sadly, two of these four comics have been cancelled, but I have no doubt that they will be replaced by other entertaining books that shall dance on the periphery of the major superhero universes, reminding us that some people truly can make lemonade from even the tartest of lemons. They give me hope that, even if I don’t like the direction of Marvel and DC, they will always publish some comics I enjoy without reservation.

Ed Brubaker and Grant Morrison: These men have written some of the most mainstream comics on the stands today, and can be considered some of the movers and shakers of their respective universes. Not all of their comics are ones that I love, but more often than not, they have written books that continue to push at the edges of the comic’s medium, taking old, overused cliches of the business and making them work. Along the way, they’ve managed to create some comics which truly show that superheroes can be fun to read, they can be interesting, and they can be used to explore some important themes. I look forward to seeing what these gentlemen create in 2009.

DC Starts its Final Crisis: I’m not a big fan of this Final Crisis. That said, I love the word Final, and while I’m probably being naive, I’m hoping that it truly is final. I’m hoping that, in 2009, we’ll see DC move away from these huge events, and just start telling stories again. Stories that begin in a hero’s book and end (yes, they must end to be a story; Marvel and DC both need to recognize that) in that same book. Stories that don’t require a massive knowledge of the DCU, and stories that, simply put, are good. That’s my hope for 2009, and I have it because DC tells me that this is the last of their crises. Fingers crossed.

James Robinson returns to comics. Of course, he may have left again, if rumors are true, but his return gave me hope. I believe that Robinson is at his best when he’s writing books where he doesn’t have to worry about massive editorial interference, or worrying about umpty-bazillion crossovers, but just the fact that he’s writing comics again means we could possibly see the brilliance he displayed in Starman and The Golden Age. One of my favorite comics writers ever has returned, and that makes me happy.

There’s some of the things that give me hope for 2009. Jason, anything to add?

Yes, in fact, I do have a few things to add. Some build off of what you’ve already stated and others reflect my own twisted favorites in the comic industry.

First off, I heartily agree with your Scott Pilgrim recognition. I also like how you couched your point in the position that a new book was “announced” in 2008. While O’Malley has been rather methodical in putting out a volume a year, 2008 went by without any Scott Pilgrim. #4 came out towards the end of 2007 and #5 comes out early next year. I’m just glad to know we don’t have to wait much longer!

Your praise of a few good series interests me. I’ve been saying for a year or more that I wanted to start reading the She-Hulk trades. I guess it’ll be easier to catch up now that the series has been cancelled! I gave up on X-Factor a few issues ago. With the tie-ins to both Messiah Complex and Secret Invasion, it felt like the book lost its entertaining focus. The stories turned more towards plot devices than character interaction. And the artwork became quite horrible, in my opinion. Sad, really. I liked the early run that built off the Madrox miniseries from a couple years back. I’m on the second of Brubaker’s Captain America trades and it’s…interesting so far. Not sure I like it yet as much as his Daredevil run. All in all, Brubaker has probably impressed me the most this past year…from the mentioned titles to Criminal to Immortal Iron Fist…and, in the theme of this post, I’m looking forward to his Incognito book with Sean Phillips in 2009.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Brubaker’s partner in crime on Iron Fist (and Uncanny X-Men), Matt Fraction. You know how much I’ve enjoyed his writing the past few years. While his Marvel work has lost some of the attitude and sparkle of his more independent stuff, I still think Matt is one of the top up-and-comers in comics today. The first arc of his Invincible Iron Man felt like something I wanted to write, which is probably the best praise I can offer in my own conceited world. Curious to see what he has up his sleeve for 2009.

Andy Diggle on Thunderbolts has me curious. Loved his run on Losers, and the Green Arrow: Year One book was a solid take on the character. I’m also looking forward to Dan Slott’s run on Mighty Avengers. Partially because he’s not Bendis and partially because Slott is a huge Avengers fan, but mostly because he writes fun books with the right mix of action, comedy and crucial moments. I first became a fan of his work with the Arkham Asylum: Living Hell miniseries he did at DC in 2003. The early issues of his Avengers: Initiative drew my interest for a while, but I ended up cutting it from my pull list when it got too mired in “big event” plotting. Another book I liked was Paul Cornell’s Captain Britain and MI:13 series. Unfortunately, I only got the first four issues and then couldn’t track down the rest. I guess I’m looking forward to the trades in 2009!

I’ll echo your approval of James Robinson’s return. I picked up the first hardcover collection of Starman this summer and loved it. His Golden Age is one of my all-time favorite stories too. It’s true that he seems to work best when not being saddled by continuity and editorial interference. That said, volume two of Starman comes out in a few short months! DC has also started releasing larger hardcover collections of Y: The Last Man and just announced the same treatment for Fables. I give two thumbs up to those decisions. I want to get my wife interested in both titles (I already got her hooked on Preacher and Blue Monday) and these hardcovers seem like the best way to do it. On that note, Chynna Clugston started a new Blue Monday miniseries in 2008 and I look forward to grabbing that trade next year.

A lot of the other stuff I’m interested in may show up in my stocking from Santa next week. My wish list includes things like: Chip Kidd’s Bat-Manga book, the Skyscrapers of the Midwest collection from Josh Cotter, the first trade of Warren Ellis’ Freakangels, Mesmo Delivery by Rafael Grampa, a few of the Golden Age ACG archives (Green Lama, Magicman, Nemesis) put out by Dark Horse, the Scud collection from Image, Omega the Unknown by Jonathan Lethem & Farel Dalrymple and Blake Bell’s book about Steve Ditko. Most, if not all, of these books were released in 2008. Kudos to the comic industry for that output!

See? Not everything I read has superheroes in it!

On a final note, I’d also like to expand on your note that Final Crisis was introduced in 2008. Unfortunately, it wasn’t finished in 2008. I’m going to go on the record right now and announce that I just don’t care for event comics. Sure, I buy them every freakin’ time they put them out, but I think that’s more a collector’s reflex than any sort of focused interest. I’m almost always disappointed by the results. And DC’s overall universe has taken a gigantic hit in stability, from my point of view, as a result of all this constant “OH NO!” foreshadowing and angsty, heavy-handed plotting. There is not a single title on DC’s current slate, aside form some Vertigo titles, that interests me in the least. Two years ago, I was reading almost everything they put out. If that’s not a glaring problem, I don’t know what is. Sadly, Marvel is starting to deliver the same results for me. The only titles I consistently read anymore are the peripheral books that don’t seem to be as rooted in the general nonsense going on. I’d like to see a moratorium on Events (with a capital “E”). At the least, corral them into a family of titles instead of the entire breadth of your output. The dreaded Spider-Man: Clone Saga was an odious piece of garbage, but it was segregated enough to keep its stench off the rest of the world. Same goes for most X-Men soap opera plots that I have less and less interest in as I get older. Is it too much to ask that we just get an excellent run of Justice League stories or Avengers stories or Batman stories or (god forbid) Wolverine stories without all the restless claptrap constantly revolving around them? And don’t tell me that the “market has changed” and the “customers’ expectations have evolved.” That’s complete and utter bull. These changes and evolutions are self-made. Writers write “for the trades” because they’re lazy or because the publishers are greedy. It has nothing to do with the readers. I’m pretty sure I never signed a petition asking for gloomy, redundant, violent comics without a glimmer of hope or excitement. I don’t remember picketing outside DC’s offices with a sign that said “More Rape Please!” I’m not saying Spider-Man shouldn’t be punching bad guys in the face. On the contrary, I think he should do more of it…with less of the “sky is falling” consequences, sideways glances, overwhelming politics and downward-spiral finality of it all. Lighten the f*** up.

I know that rant isn’t really a “highlight” of 2008. But perhaps 2009 could be the year we get back to good, fun comics? I’d like to be able to praise that accomplishment at this time next year.

John?

Jason, Jason, take your tablets.  Go to your happy place for a few minutes.  We’ll wait.

Of course, I can’t disagree with your rant at all.  Your points are all valid, I agree with them, and I would also love to see 2009 be a return to more fun comics.  Not every comic has to be Giffen/DeMatteis’ Justice League, but not every comic has to be a blood drenched gritty buzzkiller either.  Good grief.  Alan Moore (not one of Jason’s favorites, but I like his work) seems to be able to do serious stories that don’t seem to drown in pathos and unnecessary violence.  Perhaps it’s because, for every From Hell he’s written, he’s also produced a more lighthearted book, like Tomorrow Stories or Tom Strong

Still, I believe we may have gotten off point a tad.  I will echo your words about Dan Slott, a writer who does an excellent job of writing good stories, yet recognizing that they can be fun.  His Great Lakes Avengers limited series is still one of my favorites.  And for those, like you, who were turned off by Larry Stroman’s art on X-Factor, he has left the book, so you may want to give it another try.

We’ve both shared some of what we thought was important in 2008, as well as what gives us hope in 2009.  There’s good stuff out now to read, and more on the way, but the percentage of good reads compared to what’s being published isn’t nearly as high as it should be.

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Comic Book Predictions for 2009

Dec-15-08

Here at “Meanwhile…Comics!”, we’ve spent the past year talking about what we would do differently with the characters and titles found in the Marvel and DC universes. It’s been fun to play editor-after-the-fact. However, if we want to be true editors of a comic book world, we need to learn to plan ahead as well. So, John and I thought this would be a good opportunity to take a peek into the future and see what 2009 may hold for our favorite Marvel and DC characters. I’ll kick off the festivities and then John can comment on my thoughts and add some of his own (you guys know the drill). In 2009, I predict…

1. MODOK will make a comeback. Granted, this freak has been the butt of many jokes in the past year or two, but he used to be leader (many times over) of AIM and one of Captain America’s most visually interesting foes. The way Ed Brubaker is scrolling through the early Cap bad guys…Red Skull, Doctor Faustus, Arnim Zola…he’s bound to get to MODOK sooner than later. And then, we can expect dramatic comebacks from the likes of The Stranger, Solarr, Monster Ape, Yellow Claw, The Tumbler and The Alchemoid. Classics all.

2. DC will go through yet another crisis. And the Internet will weep. And no one will understand what’s going on. And the whole thing will center around an epic battle between Bat-Mite and Streaky the Super Cat. The plot will get leaked to someone’s blog and then Dan DiDio will spend four months rejiggering the whole thing so that Bat-Mite ends up either torn in half or stuffed in a refrigerator (or, in his case, a little Coleman cooler). Tears will fall. Heroes will rise up. No one will notice.

3. Wasp will come back from the dead. And so will Steve Rogers and Bruce Wayne and Martian Manhunter and Orion and everyone else who went down this year. Are you shocked yet? I’m even going to go out on a limb and say that Mockingbird will die again, just so Bendis can mess with Hawkeye a little bit more. Jerk.

4. Some second tier characters will get their own titles. And then get them cancelled. I’m looking at you, Dakota North! Oh, what’s that? You already had a title that no one bothered to read? Never mind then. Now I’m looking at you, Nth Man! What? Really?? Oh. Well, maybe She-Hulk will get her own title again. Fingers crossed.

5. Frank Miller and Rob Liefeld will collaborate. In the crossover, Batman and Shatterstar will carry really big guns, swear a lot, and constantly look like they’re in pain (either through their expressions or the fact that they have teeny, tiny ankles and ginormously huge upper body structure). Oh, and the whole thing will be presented in vivid black & white…because, you know, that never gets old.

That’s five things off the top of my head. I predict that John will inspire more sarcasm in me. What do you predict?

Well, it’s certainly hard to argue with the prediction that the dead in comics will rise again. I’d also go ahead and add Shadowcat to your list, as I’m sure she’ll return from her Joss Whedon-penned demise in short order (at least I’d hope so, as she’s one of the few truly interesting members of the X-Men). It’s also certainly hard to argue with DC having another Crisis. I know this one is called Final Crisis, but who really believes that?

Here are some other predictions:

1. Brian Michael Bendis will suffer fatigue from writing 75% of the titles Marvel produces and his scripts will show it: Oh, I’m sorry, that happened in 2006. I’m supposed to be looking to the future. I do, however, feel that he will continue to be one of the guiding lights behind the Marvel Universe, that his writing will continue to avoid hitting the heights it did back when he wrote only a few fringe books, and that I will continue to avoid purchasing most Marvel titles for this very reason.

2. Mark Millar will unveil his latest brainstorm: Ultimate Midnighter and Ultimate Apollo!: In an attempt to breathe life back into the Ultimate Universe, Mark Millar will introduce Ultimate Midnighter and Apollo into that world. Once there, they will become members of the Ultimates, leading that team to new heights of debauchery and pathetic attempts to incite readers with cheap sensationalistic antics. Ultimate Captain America will prove to be a giant homophobe and will fight with them both, eventually ending when Apollo sodomizes him at which point Cap will see the error of his ways and shack up with Ultimate Colossus.

3. Spider-Girl will be relaunched and then re-cancelled. Twice. Which is a pretty safe bet any year.

4. Dan Didio will make internet fandom arise against him in anger when he decides that the DC Universe needs to kill off Captain Marvel. “He’s really just another Superman, right? I’ve never seen the point of him. He’s redundant.”

5. Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction will launch a new title, “Raging Razorback”, will will become a huge critical darling. “We can make any previously unimportant D list hero relevant and exciting,” Brubaker will say in an interview on Newsarama. The book will indeed, launch to much critical and commercial success, which will last for eight months, when both creators will then leave the book to work on a relaunch of El Aguila. Some poor relative unknown will be tapped to replace them, and Razorback’s title will quickly fade from view. However, I declare 2010 to be the year of El Aguila!

Oh, snap! Those are some good ones. The Bendis point is so true it’s ridiculous. Everyone seems to hint that Bendis will be Quesada’s replacement as Editor-in-Chief eventually. What a horrible day that will be in the Marvel U. Everyone…will…yeah, but…well, you know…we can…we can all start, y’know, start…talking like…um…like, y’know, this? Or…yeah. Yes.

I’m not sure DiDio will get to Captain Marvel in 2009 though. He still has to do long division on the rest of the former Robins, a couple Green Arrows, three Flashes, at least two Atoms and a generous handful of Green Lanterns. Captain Marvel might get pushed to 2010.

I absolutely LOVE the Brubaker/Fraction reference. So true. And, so help me, I’d happily buy every issue of Raging Razorback. Y’know…until the scrub creative team takes over.

That reminds me of a few more things I can predict for 2009…

1. Someone will finally sell an Aquaman pitch. And that lucky devil will be Grant Morrison. The book will be described as “Lovecraft with sex pirates,” the art will be provided by Frank Quitely, and the first issue will come out 22 months after the book is announced. Critics will rejoice. Fans will scurry for their dictionaries. And, somehow, Morrison will win a Nobel Prize for literature. He’ll accept the award in a shiny suit and then disappear from the stage in a puff of smoke.

2. The TV-to-comics writer trend will continue. 2009 will see the debut of three titles that take place in a hospital, four that deal with scientist cops, one that features a law firm and one that has some sort of weird sci-fi vibe but just gets more convoluted and confusing as it progresses. Pretty soon, readers will give up on it all and start turning to the serialized versions of Survivor and The Amazing Race. The Comic Writers Strike of 2009 will come to a head with Deal or No Deal: The Comic Book (which will immediately be optioned by Sony for a three-picture deal).

3. All the superhero tropes will make an appearance. Someone will be resurrected. Someone will lose their memory. A plot will turn out to be a vividly bad dream. Another plot will turn out to have taken place in a different dimension. Time travel will solve someone’s problems. A bad guy will have his “lifeforce’ transferred to another body a split second before his current body is destroyed. Certain characters will die in one title, only to pop up in another as if nothing ever happened and nothing is explained. One hero will secretly wear the costume of another hero. There will be an evil twin…with a goatee and, preferably, an eyepatch. An older sister will turn out to be someone’s mother instead. Someone will cheat on someone else with their brother…and get pregnant! Wow…those last few went into soap opera territory, didn’t they?

4. Wolverine will get three more titles. And, right before his movie debuts, he’ll show up in crossovers with Hulk, Punisher, Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, Iron Man, Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel, Thunderbolts, Captain Britain, Anita Blake, Dark Tower and even the Marvel Illustrated version of The Man in the Iron Mask.

5. DC will slip to #3 in sales. This will happen when Dark Horse signs a licensing deal for a Harry Potter vs. Twilight series. Geeks worldwide will suddenly realize that Dark Horse publishes books featuring Hellboy, Star Wars, Buffy, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Serenity and pretty much every other popular genre-based character and Eliza Dushku role outside the superhero realm. The mainstream media will try to make a story out of the fact that comics exist that aren’t based around male power fantasies. A few people will take note, but aging fanboys will rally against the minimally perked popular interest, decrying these new books as “dumb” and the people who read them as “idiots.” The world will realize what socially repressed assholes the core comic readership is comprised of, the potential excitement will die away and superhero comics will continue to shrink in both quality and reach. Everyone will be happy. Hooray!

Have I mentioned lately how much I enjoy reading comics? Just wanted to reinforce that.

I would so read that Aquaman book.

I can’t wait to read more Wolverine titles. With his three monthlies, plus his appearances in multiple X-Men titles and Avengers affairs, I simply don’t feel that we’re seeing enough of him. With a major motion picture coming out next year, I don’t understand why Marvel doesn’t capitalize on this underused character. Perhaps the launch of Spectacular Wolverine, Wolverine: The Best There Is At What He Does and Superfluous Wolverine, will help to fill the gap and will help draw non-comics readers into comics shops after the movie is a hit. Oh wait. No, that won’t work, since all of those books will be cynical, angry books, mired in years of confusing continuity that would take ten years to understand. My bad.

My crystal ball is clouding over, but I do have a few more predictions for next year:

1. Usagi Yojimbo will continue to be an amazing comic, with spectacular writing, good art, and it will appear on a regular monthly schedule. It’s creator, writer and artist, Stan Sakai, with perform this feat, amazing in and of itself, while still finding time to do another few odd projects, such as lettering a Groo miniseries for Dark Horse. Comic book scientists will still be unable to distill and bottle this amazing man, and other comics creators will still be unable to duplicate his feats.

2. The third issue of Kevin Smith’s Batman book will not ship. Look for it in 2011. It will still suck.

3. Peter David will launch a new series starring Hawkeye, a popular character who has had his own series in the past, but never seems to be able to keep one long term. The series will be smartly written. It will have humor, but will also handle serious subjects. It will be popular with critics and get good reviews. It will have strong art, with clean storytelling and a sense of fun. It will be cancelled within the first two years.

4. Judd Winick will start writing another three titles in the DCU. Characters in those titles will note that instances of rape, general violence and needless slaughter increase by 150%.

5. The comics industry will continue to hemorrage readers, while the leaders in the industry refuse to consider alternate business strategies that would keep the artform alive in the longterm. Oh, how I wish I had a punchline for this one.

And, I’m spent.

Hey! Don’t throw Hawkeye under the bus like that! X-Factor hasn’t been cancelled (again) yet, has it? It’s funny that we assign certain traits to certain writers. If the characters were actually living and breathing members of a contained universe, do you think they’d be having water cooler conversations about who’s handling their writing duties?

Fade in on Hulk, Moon Knight and Ms. Marvel talking in the break room of a nondescript office building. Iron Man approaches with a casual saunter.

IRON MAN: What’s up, homeslices?

HULK: Have you seen Spidey?

IRON MAN: Nah. Kid’s a square. Too angsty for me.

MOON KNIGHT: Pfft. Not anymore. Bendis got a hold of him for some event comic. Poor Petey is talking like a fry cook with a head injury. Takes ten minutes to say hello.

MS. MARVEL: That’s so sad. Did you hear that Peter David is taking over my book?

IRON MAN: Well, it was nice knowing you!

Everyone laughs.

HULK: You’re lucky. I’ve got two titles right now. One with Slott and one with Claremont. I wake up in the morning and I don’t know if I’m supposed to be bashing stuff and throwing out clever quips or if I’m just supposed to be standing around delivering panel-cramping monologues about my feelings and every relationship I’ve ever had.

The group nods their heads in agreement. Just then, Green Arrow walks into the room. He’s looking around confusedly.

GREEN ARROW: Anyone seen Batman?

HULK: Last I saw him, Kevin Smith had called him into his office. But that was six months ago.

MOON KNIGHT: Anyone know what Smith’s doing with that whole Daredevil/Bullseye thing? I swear he’s got bodies buried under the floorboards.

Hercules storms into the room. He whips his coffee mug across the room and imbeds it in the wall.

HERCULES: Goddamn, Millar! Even I don’t have enough muscles to keep up with these redundant fight scenes!

GREEN ARROW: Hey, just be glad you’re not part of the Legion! I hear Winick took over that book and now they only have four members left. Freakin’ bloodbath. Families. Friends. Pets. Raped and dismembered. I hear they only found chunks of some of the Substitute Heroes. I don’t know what refrigerators look like in the 31st century, but they must hold a lot.

Ms. Marvel starts crying. Moon Knight moves over to comfort her.

IRON MAN: I miss the good ol’ days. Stan Lee couldn’t write for crap, but at least we all got home in one piece.

HULK: And almost everyone’s name rhymed too. Big help.

HERCULES: Yeah. So…what do you guys think about Grant Morrison?

IRON MAN: I hear he turned Wonder Woman into a dude. And an astronaut. S/he can see into the future now.

MOON KNIGHT: Hmph. Lucky break. Sales ought to go through the roof on that one.

Fade out.

Sigh…I’d take one meticulous, thoughtful Stan Sakai over a hundred Judd Winicks any day.


Jason’s Things to be Thankful for in 2008

Nov-25-08

Okay, now it’s my turn. This took a bit of research for me and the results are still kind of nebulous. My problem is that I have so many trades and books and magazines and single issues lying around that I haven’t gotten around to reading yet. That makes it hard for me to figure out what actually came out in 2008 and what came out two years ago but only has a thin layer of dust on it because my wife likes to clean.

It’s actually quite sad how big my “to read’ list pile is.

Anyway, here are 10 things that stood out for me in 2008. No real rhyme or reason to the numbering. Hell, there’s no real rhyme or reason to the reasoning either! (I’ll copy Jason’s format and just insert my comments right after his.)  Just sit back and pretend that I know what I’m talking about. I’m thankful for:

1. Kirby: King of Comics – The basic truth behind this pick is that you’re either a Kirby fan or you’re not (or, in my case, you weren’t a fan but learned to be one). However, regardless of your feelings about the man’s style, the book is an excellent biography of a person who was never fully appreciated even though his comic output was tremendous and his influence is primarily responsible for the books you read today. There are some great pieces inside that show a truly different style to the square-jawed faces everyone is familiar with too. As an honorable mention in the biography/art book category, I’d also mention Paul Pope’s Pulphope (which came out in 2007 but I haven’t gotten around to reading yet) and Blake Bell’s Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko (which I haven’t bought yet but hear many good things about).

Three artists who I can appreciate in the abstract, but can’t love in the reality.  However, as I’ve probably stated before on the blog, I’m more of a follower of writers than artists anyway (yes, I know, all three also write comics, but these books focus more, I believe, on their artistic talent).

2. Northlanders – A couple years ago, when I still had my store and ran a blog about it, I posed the question, “What would be the next big thing?” At the time, both zombies and pirates (and probably pirate zombies) were at the height of their respective popularities, robots were still going strong and ninjas were making a resurgence. I threw out the notion that vikings would make their mark next. Turns out I was right! Brian Wood has managed to craft a gritty world relatively free from the stereotypical horn-headed, mead-swilling, “thee” and “yon” spouting heathens and replete with anti-heroes who value honor over conquest, payback over duty. He uses modern language (earmuff the kids if you’re reading out loud) to paint what can only be described as “the ‘hood” of medieval Scandinavia. Couple this series with the also excellent DMZ trades and you get a pretty grim, yet entertaining, picture of the “real” world both past and present. Almost makes you want to go outside and hug someone. Almost.

I have heard good things, but this hasn’t made my list of books to read yet.  Actually, despite the buzz about Brian Wood, I’ve not yet read anything he’s written.  My bad.  I’ll put that on my to do list for 2009.

3. Criminal – Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips continue their magical partnership. The third volume of this creator-owned series came out in 2008. No one writes better double-crossing, in it for themselves characters than Brubaker. He has the Midas touch when it comes to crime comics. Whether the storylines deal with good people caught in bad situations or dastardly types struggling to redeem themselves in a world that continues to beat them down, his work is aces. And Phillips’ line work gives it all the requisite rough-and-tumble look it needs. These people are dirty, they’re raw and they’re either in trouble or looking for it.

My scintillating commentary continues, as I can again say I’ve never read this.  However, this is on my Christmas list, and I’m hoping the big red guy comes through for me (don’t let me down Hellboy)!

4. Ed Brubaker’s Daredevil – While we’re on the topic of Ed Brubaker, we may as well talk about Daredevil too. I’ve followed Daredevil on and off through the years…yes for Miller, no for Nocenti…but no one has been able to truly capture the underlying angst and tension that Matt Murdock seems to find himself in the center of. Brubaker is able to show that Daredevil is merely the lens that we witness all of these horrible people through. For the past few years, things have been happening to Daredevil that seem like payback for the years of heroic work he did. Nothing is going right and nothing is getting better, and that’s what makes it so much fun to read.

5. The end of the Brubaker/Fraction Immortal Iron Fist run – Can you tell that I enjoyed Brubaker’s work this year? I know it’s kind of strange to praise the end of a run that you’ve enjoyed so much, but I have my reasons. In less than two years, Ed and Matt managed to create a whole new world for the Iron Fist character…they added a lineage with vibrant back stories, a stable of allies and adversaries that gives a much needed depth, and managed to inject a light humor into the serious business of karate chops and glowing chi dragons. I praise the end of their run because it ended on a high note. I didn’t start to get bored. I wasn’t second guessing any of their decisions. Basically, they left me wanting more, which is always a good thing.

6. Scott Pilgrim – Technically, Volume 4 came out in November 2007 and Volume 5 isn’t due until February 2009, but that’s reason enough to mention these little bundles of excellence. Bryan O’Malley combines the perfect amount of videogaming and pop culture references to this romantic comedy wrapped up in a loose manga influence. You really can’t go wrong with a book that caters to everyone at once and yet no one in particular. There’s something for every boy and girl to enjoy!

While I love me some Ed Brubaker (as I mentioned on my own list of things to be thankful for, when I singled out his commitment to Captain America), I didn’t have much to say about the last two entries.  Partly because I haven’t read them, but also because….ok, it’s entirely because I haven’t read them.  However, I have to give a shout out to Scott Pilgrim!  I am absolutely in love with this series, which helped to restore my faith in comics when I read the first book.  I had read some really awful books, and hadn’t stumbled upon anything new in sometime that had really spoken to me, and this book knocked my right on my tuchus (in a good way).  I breathlessly await the new volume in 2009!

7. I Luv Halloween, Ultimate Twisted Edition – Here’s another quasi-mangaesque gem that combines three separate black-and-white volumes into a full-color hardcover edition with bunches of extras and artwork. Ben Roman’s cartoony style adds a touch of whimsy to Keith Giffen’s otherwise gruesome tale of trick-or-treating kids awash in a sea of zombies and suffering. Goofy things happen by circumstance. A kid who may or may not actually be the Devil shows up. And there are entrails and screaming galore. Fun read. And can be used as a formidable weapon too.

I have never even heard of this.  I feel so uncool.  I tend to think of myself as quite up to date on the world of four color (and one color) funnybooks, and this is completely off my radar.  I’ll have to do some research myself.

8. Comic Foundry – As a gross generalization, useful comics journalism sucks. The Comics Journal tries too hard and Wizard doesn’t try at all. I’m happy that there’s finally a happy medium that relies on neither fart jokes nor lengthy snobbery to get its point across effectively. Tim Leong puts together a solid magazine. My only complaint is that it doesn’t come out often enough!

9. City Cyclops – There are a few webcomics that I delve into on a semi-regular basis. I’m a pretty avid reader of Penny Arcade. I used to follow PvP for a few years. And I’m catching up on Order of the Stick. But when I want a solid dose of awkward and surreal superheroes, I make a beeline to the home of Jon Adams’ Truth Serum series. He slyly incorporates current events into the three-panel examinations of these sad sack “heroes” and “villains” who spend more time griping about their living conditions than they do actually fixing anything. Always good for a pondering chuckle. And his Lonely Parade collection is the sharpest political satire set against the world of superheroes that I have ever read.

I echo the sentiments on Truth Serum, a truly amusing series.  However, I want to single out Order of the Stick, which you mentioned, and recommend it to everyone.  It’s a great comic.  The first 10-20 installments may lead you to believe that it’s just a vehicle to do jokes about D&D, and that’s an understandable impression.  Give the strip some time though, and you’ll find that the characters have actual personalities, that a huge, sprawling world is unfolding before your eyes, and that the strip doesn’t just go for the punchline; it’s telling a story, and some of the strips aren’t funny, but are actually touching.  This strip is much more than it might appear at first, and I encourage everyone to give it a try.

10. Other stuff – Yeah, that’s not very specific, is it? What is this “stuff” I’m talking about? Well, it’s a nebulous collection of odds and ends that I’m proud of…from my conversational connections to certain creators and comic professionals, to the confusing attention our blog received because of a similarly named award nominee, to the way John and I interact with each other online, to the fact that my Amazon wishlist is filled with more and more independent comic collections and experimental artwork than ever before. There’s a lot out there to appreciate in comics. I like to toss the snark probably more often than necessary, because a good chunk of what we’ve cherished over the years has been turned into much buffoonery and heavy-handedness. However, I’m always willing to try new and different offerings in the hopes that I can recapture the feeling I had when I first opened a comic book and was sucked in by something wonderful. Every time it happens, I feel like a kid again.

That’s what I’m truly thankful for.


Iron Man: Is he in need of an overhaul?

Apr-29-08

Iron Man. Tony Stark. The Armored Avenger. ShellHead. Call him what you will, he’s been one of the mainstays of the Marvel Universe since the early 60s. As a founding Avenger and the star of his own series, he’s been involved in almost every major event that has plagued the denizens of the Marvel Universe for decades. However, he really took center stage during the recent Civil War that rocked the Marvel Universe, becoming the spokesperson and main proponent of the Superhuman Registration Act, leading the forces who supported that Act, becoming director of S.H.I.E.L.D., and revealed as a mover and shaker for years behind the scenes as the creator of The Illuminati. Many people who read Civil War and it’s various crossovers came to regard Iron Man as a villain, and he has been often portrayed as a fascist over the past few years. When we take a closer look at his recent actions, we can begin to answer the question: does Tony Stark need to be revamped, and his continuity cleaned, in the current Marvel Universe? My answer…not so much.

Civil War was really a question of vigilantes over official law enforcers. We accept vigilantes in our super-heroic fiction, as they are a staple of the genre. However, when considered, do you really want someone with the power to blow up a city block to be running around without supervision? It makes tremendous logical sense to try and identify and train super-humans, rather than allowing them to act with impunity. It would also make sense that, if such a law were passed, even if someone with superpowers did not agree with it, they should register. If they register, they are in compliance with the law, and can attempt to make changes to it from within the system, which is really the only way legislation can be changed. if they don’t register, then they are criminals, further enforcing the stereotype that super-powered vigilantes can’t be trusted, and these superheroes are now unable to change the legislation, since they are now operating outside the law.

Honestly, the entire attitude of Captain America and his anti-registration forces made no sense. What, exactly, were they trying to achieve? They spent most of their time trying to figure out how to beat up Iron Man. Had they won their war against Iron Man, then what? Iron Man neither created nor passed the Registration Act, and his defeat would not have repealed it. Defeating Iron Man would have simply made Cap and his followers appear more dangerous and unstable, which again would have strengthened support for the Act. In many ways, I felt Captain America’s reputation was more damaged than Stark’s during Civil War, as I’ve never seen Cap so unwilling to try and talk through a problem, and I’ve never seen him fight for so long without some sort of plan for victory. However, talking about Captain America and his continuity after Civil War is another post, and besides, Cap managed to avoid dealing with his actions during the War thanks to his assassination.

So, with all that being said, why would anyone call Stark a fascist? Well, unfortunately, there were certain issues during Civil War, both of the main series and of some crossover issues, where he came off looking really bad. Now, anytime you have a character starring in multiple books written by multiple writers like this, you’re going to get slightly different variations on a main character. Some writers simply don’t understand the character, and some writers will force the character to fit the role they require the character to fit for their particular issue, effects on that character’s continuity be damned. There’s also the problem that the writer and guiding force behind the main Civil War series, Mark Millar, is about as subtle as a freight train carrying cinder-blocks down a steep hill. If he wanted to make the argument more even handed, and favor Captain America and his allies, Millar simply had to make Stark act like a fascist prick.

Some of the problems with Stark may have arisen out of problems with the Registration Act itself. For example, the Act proclaimed that anyone with superpowers had to register, whether they intended to use their powers or not. I loudly disagree with this; registration makes sense if you plan on donning tights and punching Dr. Doom on his schnoz the next time he attacks the city, but if you are going to live quietly in the suburbs, raising petunias, then I see no need for you to register. For all we know, Stark may have disagreed with this provision as well (I don’t recall him defending it) and he may have felt that it was unimportant and could be dealt with later, after the rebellion had been put down (and really, how many super-powered people in the Marvel Universe decide not to use their powers?). Either way, it’s not really a reflection on Stark. Sadly, it’s also not why most people call him a fascist.

Stark was culpable in two major incidents that led to the fascist label, and sadly, I can’t argue as convincingly in his defense on these points. The first was the creation of a clone of Thor, a clone that would eventually go wild and kill Bill Foster. The second was the creation of a prison in the Negative Zone for use in incarcerating the heroes who refused to agree to register. Both of these events are mind-bogglingly stupid, and I can only believe they were used (particularly the clone) because they wanted a moment of shock and awe in the books. I don’t believe for a second that Stark would attempt to clone Thor. I know that Stark is a fan of science, but the simple fact remains that he and his forces did not need the extra power to defeat Cap’s Resistance Movement, and even if they did, he would be much more likely to create different suits of armor and use those against the Resistance than he would be to participate in the cloning of someone he had considered a friend. As for the Negative Zone Prison, there is a certain logic in noting that the public might be safer with the offenders locked away somewhere away from innocent bystanders, but I do not believe he would condone locking people up without allowing them access to due process and their civil rights. It went against everything that he stood for by supporting the law of the land, and I simply have no words to defend it.

There is one other point that many dislike, and that is the use of super-villains in helping to track down and capture the heroes, particularly the Thunderbolts. I honestly don’t have a problem with the idea of using some super-villains for this purpose. However, I will be the first to admit that the choices that were made in the villains they were using, again, made no sense. No one in their right mind would use extremely unstable individuals, with no record of being controllable or penitent, like Bullseye and Venom. They are both extremely psychotic and strong willed, and using them seemed to be a large risk for little payoff (especially Bullseye; he’s your high-powered help?). The only excuse I can make is that these are all villains with which Stark was not familiar; he was not a regular opponent of either of them (did he fight either of them, ever?) and I can see him dismissing Bullseye as a threat, since Bullseye has no powers. Perhaps Stark simply didn’t feel that either of these people could really give him any trouble, and if they got out of control, he’d simply take them down. Still, it’s a very weak moment.

So, there are definite instances of Stark acting badly out of character during Civil War. Yet, I’m still saying we shouldn’t try to fix his continuity. Why? Well, everyone involved in Civil War(or almost everyone) acts out of character. I’ve already said that I found Captain America to be extremely poorly handled. Mr. Fantastic also comes off extremely poorly throughout these issues, also appearing fascist. I believe the Thing acts out of character, by refusing to choose a side during most of the conflict. Dr. Pym seems out of character; he may be mentally unbalanced at times, but again, here he comes off as a demented mad scientist. The Wasp appears to have had her personality removed for the entire series. I’m not sure that I buy Dr. Strange’s actions, ignoring the whole thing, until the last minute when he finally feels he needs to get involved. There are many other instances, and I’m not sure there’s anything to be gained by running around trying to explain why everyone was acting out of sorts for that period of time. Let’s just say that some people got a little carried away and leave it at that.

Secondly, Tony Stark left Civil War in a very interesting position. First of all, he’s the new Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., which is a great move. If any hero could hold that position, I believe it’s Stark. He understands S.H.I.E.L.D., as he helped to create it and has worked with it for years, and he also understands running large organizations with levels of bureaucracy. He is a good man, which is needed to lead the biggest intelligence organization in the world, yet he also understands that occasionally rules must be bent, a necessity for the spy trade. Plus, Stark is interesting when he’s out of his armor as well as being resourceful, and I like the idea of him leading missions out of the armor when such actions would be appropriate. Moreover, Stark now has a leadership position in the super-hero community and his relationships with the super-heroes of the Marvel Universe have either been strengthened to a great degree (as with Henry Pym and Ms. Marvel) or have been damaged to a great degree (as with Spider-Man and the New Avengers). These updated relationships have helped to make a character fresh, and for a character that’s been in the Marvel Universe for 45 years, that’s no small feat.

So, my suggestion is to ignore the mistakes of Civil War and don’t spend time trying to explain why he made some bad decisions. Use those bad decisions as part of his character and use it to explore who he really is. When he runs into someone from that time period (like Ben Grimm, for example) let Grimm bring up the death of Bill Foster, and let Stark try to defend it. It could be quite an interesting scene. Trying to undo that time would mean undoing all of the interesting things that have happened to Stark since then, and to return him to the status of mere super-hero and a more mediocre existence. Let him shine as a star for awhile.

Ooh…this one’s gonna get juicy, because I disagree with nearly everything you said!

First off, I don’t want to base any sense of “fixing” any Marvel characters off the anachronistic and convoluted events in Civil War. Tony Stark is a character out of time. By basing his origin directly in the time of the Vietnam conflict, Marvel has dated him irreparably. Which is fine. Let’s work with that then. He’s getting older, weaker, more reliant on his technology to survive. Perhaps Iron man is the perfect hero for Marvel to use as a dynasty…pass the armor on to someone else. Let’s put Tony in an elder mentor position like Bruce Wayne takes in the Batman Beyond cartoon.

But that’s just one idea I have. Let’s go back to Civil War and point out a few major discrepancies in character development. Granted, this could turn into one big diatribe about Civil War itself, so I’ll try to keep it focused. First of all, what are Tony Stark’s superpowers? Why would he even have to register as a superpowered human? Secondly, If you look at the “big picture” of the event, wouldn’t it have made more sense if Iron Man and Captain America had switched their allegiances? Cap isn’t always a blind follower of the government, but he would seem more likely to take the law’s side on this point. And Stark has always been portrayed as being wary of the government and holding back his best technology from them. Stark could have easily created some sort of stealth tech that could have kept the renegade heroes hidden from the Registration forces. And, finally, don’t even get me started on the whole SHIELD thing. How can Tony Stark take the place of Nick Fury? When was Stark ever in the military? Where did he learn wartime strategy and tactics? When did he become a master of espionage? Hell, his heart isn’t even strong enough to put him out in the field (outside of his armor). Just because he built some high-powered armor doesn’t make him an expert on state affairs. Putting him in charge of the world’s covert intelligence system makes nearly as much sense as putting a former equestrian judge in charge of emergency management.

Tony Stark is flawed, physically and mentally. He has his demons (which I don’t believe have been explored much lately). And, quite frankly, he doesn’t have many close friends. There are a lot of things I would do with him if I had the chance. First off would be creating a solid cast of supporting characters. He used to have a group like this…not the greatest, but they were there. Who does he have now? I think the version of Stark in The Ultimates is vastly more interesting as a character. Stark in the traditional Marvel Universe is boring and one-dimensional. Who are his arch enemies? Who are his love interests? What happened to make him such a vessel for the current jingoistic views?

Bring him into current history. Maybe he meets up with the grandson of Yin Sen (the other prisoner that helped him design the armor) and they forge a relationship that turns into a fierce competition. Or maybe Yin Sen’s ancestors successfully sue him for a portion of the armor rights. I dunno, but it’s an intriguing concept. How would Stark handle it if someone was better than him at creating these suits of armor? Would his ego be horribly crushed if he came to the realization that Yin Sen may have contributed more to the original armor design than previously acknowledged?

I would love to see Stark stripped of all his technology and dropped into a situation where he has to MacGyver his way out if it. A plane crash into a remote mountain range. Lost and disoriented in the back alleys of some mid-Saharan nation after a failed assassination attempt. Whatever it is, get him away from his increasingly omniscient and immortal armor and show us the man underneath. There are so many things that can be done with this character. To me, he just seems to be a broken record right now.

Let me jump around a little bit. First of all, I agree completely that one of the problems with Civil War was that Iron Man and Captain America were on the wrong sides. Captain America was a solider for goodness sake as well as a police officer; if anyone should have argued for training superhumans, it should have been him. Heck, he fought like crazy to keep the Young Avengers from actively adventuring because they weren’t trained, so why would he fight it like this. And again, even if Cap thought that the Registration Act violated civil liberties, he knows that you can’t fight that sort of thing in a super-hero brawl. Moreover, Iron Man has fought the government in the past over their attempt to appropriate his technology and resources, so yes, he makes more sense in the anti-registration side. I’d also agree that the series was vague on who exactly had to register. Tony Stark should have been immune, since he had no powers. For that matter, so should Captain America. So would the Black Knight, the Falcon, the Black Panther and numerous others. I assume that there was some sort of wording in the law that took these sorts of people into account, but the series just never explained that; just another area where the Civil War we got was not nearly as good as it could have been.

That being said, it is the Civil War that we got, and I think we have to live with it. Trying to change it now would require continuity backflips that I don’t even want to contemplate, although I’d be open to any suggestions you have. You suggest that Tony Stark, since he is tied to Vietnam, should be aging. I like that idea, but he can’t be the only one to age. If you age Stark, you have to age everyone in the Marvel Universe, since they’re all connected. That’s a huge undertaking, and I can’t see it going over well. Stark can’t remember founding the Avengers forty years ago, while Pym, Janet Van Dyne and Captain America remember those days as being five years ago. Stark’s history is much too intertwined with other heroes to not create a domino effect by aging him.

Is Tony an expert on military or intelligence matters, and can he lead S.H.I.E.L.D.? Well, no, no and yes, in that order. Some of the early issues of his comic that show him as the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. point out that he’s trying to run the world’s premiere intelligence organization like a business, and why that’s causing problems. He has some great scenes with Dum Dum Dugan, as Dugan is incredibly frustrated with how Stark is running things. I mean, we don’t want him to run it exactly like Fury, since if that’s the case, we may as well have Fury running it. The interesting parts of that story deal with how things are different now, and what sort of organization will S.H.I.E.L.D. become with somewhat different at the helm? We’ve seen Fury’s S.H.I.E.L.D. for decades….let’s use this as an opportunity to freshen up, not just Stark, but S.H.I.E.L.D. as well.

Your comments about his supporting cast are well taken, and they’ve not been used much recently. Happy Hogan died during Civil War, Pepper Potts has been working with The Order (although with that title being cancelled, she should be free again) and James Rhodes is working with The Initiative. I would like to see more supporting cast, but I think a new group has to be created, and that could best be done with him installed in S.H.I.E.L.D. as its head, since he’ll be around a whole new group of people. Your other ideas, about Yinsen and his armor, are very interesting, but there’s a problem; you’re working with the Iron Man you want, not the Iron Man you have. If you’re not fond of what’s been done with him, and you don’t think it’s the best direction to take the character, how would you get him from where he’s at to where you want him?

Well, obviously we need a scandal. Isn’t that the way most of these things are handled (at least on a quasi-governmental level)? Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to discount Civil War, but we have to move on from that somehow. Otherwise, the continuing scenario makes him a controversial character for pretty flimsy reasons.

So how do we pull the trigger without horribly damaging the character? An inappropriate relationship? That might make Tony Stark some sort of pariah, even if it’s merely a misunderstanding. Some sort of fraud? Too damaging to his business persona, even if it’s proven to be a well-choreographed set-up. Perhaps a stress-induced relapse with his alcohol problem? This option is definitely believable…alcoholics struggle with their disease every day. It would make him sympathetic while also giving him an avenue to redeem himself. Maybe being the head of SHIELD is more than he bargained for. It starts out as something he turns to to calm his nerves, but knowing how one drink can lead to many, it could quickly spiral out of control and affect his crucial judgment when it comes to international security (and not to sound cloying, but it’s also a good window to introduce his problem into a film sequel). Bottom line: he makes a horrible mistake and is forced to step down.

In all honesty, I can’t see him garnering a positive supporting cast simply from the SHIELD ranks. Their agents are mostly pretty anonymous and it might come across as forced to create specific personalities just for Stark’s interaction. I can see him gathering a crew of loyal cohorts through these various “tests” I would put him through, a group of people with varied talents and interests beyond his. Making Tony more multi-dimensional through these adventures and relationships would be a priority and a natural progression…adding a spiritual, intellectual and emotional depth to him. Plus, there could be an entire storyline in there with “Where has Iron Man gone?”

To take it one step further, how about sending Tony on a healing quest after his SHIELD failure? With his alcoholism reasserting its grip on his psyche, Tony Stark decides to drop off the grid and clean himself up old-school style. Put Iron Man aside for a while and delve into Tony Stark as a person. He travels, he gets involved with locals, he finds intrigue…like a modern Indiana Jones without the relics. Tony rediscovers his humanity after being so consumed by technology (some of his health problems have been made rather extraordinary…he installed a chip in his spine and effectively “rebooted” himself?!?)

Hell, in the long run maybe he returns to society as a pacifist and that’s what leads him to pass down the armor to a younger successor (perhaps Yinsen’s kin?). He realizes that Iron Man is still important to the world landscape, but he just doesn’t have the drive any longer to don the suit himself. He becomes the mentor and the benefactor. Iron Man’s greatest supporting player could be Tony Stark himself!

I think there’s certainly some potential in what you’re doing here. However, I have to admit that the alcoholism subplot seems somewhat played out. How many times are we going to go down that road? Yes, I understand its part of his character and it something that all alcoholics deal with every day; that being said, using it again in a work of fiction makes it seem like a convenient plot device, and it also seems to weaken Stark’s strength and resolve as a character. He’s a hero and falling to the disease again, even to a lesser extent, seems to chip away again at what makes him a hero.

I also agree that Stark is an interesting enough character to support a book if he doesn’t show up in armor. However, it may not be very popular to do a book called Iron Man without the title character ever appearing. Perhaps a name change? Tony Stark doesn’t make for exciting cover copy; Tony Stark, International Man of Mystery? How do you write a book like this? If you remove Stark completely from his technological background, have you moved him too far from the source of his character? I mean, at that point you might as well write Indiana Jones, since some would argue that you’re no longer writing Tony Stark. While I think a short (one story arc, tops) break from the world of technology would be a nice change, any more than that and you’ve gone too far. Tony Stark is the cutting edge of technology. It’s part and parcel of who the man is. I still think you would have a more interesting story by allowing him to stay in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D. and dealing with how this man, who is in love with technology and ran a business for years, would run the world’s premiere intelligence agency.

I actually think the idea of him being a mentor to someone else in the armor has potential, although Denny O’Neill played with that a little after Tony Stark recovered from his second bout with alcoholism and James Rhodes was in the armor. Still, I do think that Stark could survive in a position of mentor to a newer hero, as long as he had that technology to tinker with. I think if you could get him to that point without pulling the old alcoholism chestnut out, and without having him wander the hinterlands, you’d have a stronger book and one more in touch with the character of Tony Stark.

I’m thinking we’re not going to agree on this one. I’d say we should let the readers decide, but I’m not sure if we have any.

Oh, you’re not getting off that easily! This is a big deal for me…that’s why I picked Drunk Tony as my avatar!

You don’t want to back down on the alcoholism thing because of Stark’s “strength and resolve” and you believe that using his disease would be going back to the well one too many times. But I say it’s just the opposite. He became an alcoholic and then he relapsed once (during the time you mentioned). That’s it. Are you honestly going to tell me that someone with his status and celebrity, with all the stress he’s under and the expectations piled upon him, is going to have such an easy time dealing with his problem? I call shenanigans.

Look, the strength of the Marvel characters (at least in their heyday) is their flaws. They make mistakes. They have angst. It’s a natural progression. You expect me to believe that someone with that kind of money and lifestyle isn’t going to fall into the same traps again? I’d list all of today’s celebrities that’ve gone down that path, but I’d quickly run out of fingers and toes to count on. It’s almost as if it’s just expected these days that relapses will occur. The stories you don’t hear about are the ones who’ve successfully controlled their disease. And you know why you don’t hear about them? Because they’re not interesting. Comics are supposed to tell intriguing stories with action and emotion, ups and downs, facing enemies head-on and conquering them over and over again…not just about some famous dude who had too many drinks once but now he’s fine. YAWN!

But that’s okay. We’ll let the drinking thing go. I still say he needs conflict. I don’t want to read another book about political situations and black-ops missions and unbelievable tech solutions to every single problem. That’s what really bores me about Stark. Everything is so easily overcome just by slapping some circuitry onto it. You say that Stark is all about the cutting edge, but I argue that that’s what makes him so one-dimensional. What else do we know about him? Where’s his depth? There are no friends, no love interests, no other connections to the real world. Even when he’s out of costume, his life is still all about being some sort of superhero. He’s so vanilla.

So here’s the one-word scenario that’ll keep your SHIELD option open (even though it seems like the equivalent of letting Halliburton officially run the CIA) while still giving Stark some much-needed character: COMPETITION.

As Director of SHIELD, I assume Tony Stark would be responsible for outfitting the organization with the best equipment they can get. Tony’s ego won’t allow him to imagine that someone would have better products to offer than his own company (And as a weird aside, isn’t it a conflict of interest to have the Stark CEO as Director of SHIELD? I have to admit I haven’t been reading the title lately. Was that ever explained?). However, he has to at least entertain bids from other companies to keep everything on the up-and-up. Let’s say that he and a select group of advisers attend a convention for Tactical Weaponry and Defense Systems. They stumble across a small company that just blows away everyone…their tech is simple and efficient, their designs are streamlined and intuitive…to put it plainly, Tony is pissed.

This small company earns a contract with the US government. When a fanatical right-wing militia tries to take over DC, the units using this technology neutralize the militia members quickly and effortlessly before SHIELD can even mobilize. Stark doesn’t like this idea. He sends SHIELD agents to investigate the company. The agents are captured after trespassing on the company’s grounds. The ensuing media coverage is a huge blow to Stark’s standing.

The back and forth continues with SHIELD and this company until Iron Man gets involved and discovers that the lead designer for this new firm is actually Yin Sen’s grandson and the company is run by Yin Sen’s daughter (*cough*potentialloveinterest*cough*). Then AIM gets involved and manages to steal some of this new technology. SHIELD must work side by side with Yin Sen’s family to shut down AIM’s plans and recover the prized tech.

When all is said and done, Tony’s ego is bruised but he also realizes that he isn’t necessarily the bee’s knees when it comes to the future. Maybe this is his opportunity to take a break, expand his point of view and go explore the world. I agree it shouldn’t be for more than a single storyline, but it would give Tony a chance to meet some people and forge some new relationships (Speaking of Forge, why doesn’t he work for Stark?). And Iron Man doesn’t need to be put aside completely. If Tony decides to fall off the grid, I’m sure he has the means to make sure no one can track him. That said, he could leave Iron Man in the hands of Yin Sen’s grandson…could be entertaining to have him in the suit and everyone interacting with him while thinking he was Tony Stark. He would be overwhelmed and slightly confused, but would rise to the occasion.

My major complaint with Stark right now is that it’s hard to make him a compelling character by putting him behind a desk and handing him some papers to push around. Competition, doubt, ego-breaking and the subsequent relief and need to wind down could play out nicely and reinvigorate a rather flat alter ego. The resulting adventures with Yin Sen’s grandson as Iron Man could also add some depth to an Iron Man character that for years has been all about just flying in and blasting some bad guy. And this plot surrounds him with new faces and new locales. I think it’s pretty win-win, if you ask me.

Wow. Maybe it’s the week off from work; maybe it’s spending five days in Vermont and actually having clear air to breathe (the lack of pollutants in my bloodstream is making me punchy); perhaps its the incredible amount of work I’m shoving to the side of my desk while I instead read and reply on the webpage….whatever it is, I think this approach has potential. First of all, it recognizes where Stark is right now in the Marvel Universe. Second, it harkens back to his origin by using relatives of Yinsen.  Quesada, while writing the book, had created “The Sons of Yinsen”, a group of Yinsen’s disciples who had created a cult based on the man. However, I see no reason why this cult’s existence would invalidate their actually being blood relatives of the man. Here’s how I see it working….Yinsen was obviously in political hot water and he knew it. He helped to slip his family out of the country right before he was captured by Wong Chu. His family, not knowing the resources or determination of Wong Chu to hunt them down, decided it would be safer to change their names and live in secret. However, Yinsen’s offspring inherited their father’s brilliance, as well as some of his early designs that were incorporated into the Iron Man armor. They begin their work to build a global technological empire, but still don’t keep their connection to Professor Yinsen hidden. I’d even say that it would be a mystery for a few issues after they’re introduced, and then it can be a big reveal.)

I love the idea of putting Forge and Iron Man together for awhile, or simply using Forge as a supporting character in the book. Man, if we’re trying to hurt Stark’s confidence, how difficult would it be for him to work with someone (or have someone working for him) who’s a better inventer and designer than he is? I mean, Stark is good, but Forge is a freaking mutant, and this is what he does; he invents things. Think of the improvements that Forge could make to the Iron Man armor. Perhaps, we have Tony and Yinsen’s daughter running around the world doing the globe trotting you seem so determined to get in the book. Meanwhile, Yinsen’s grandson stays behind to be Iron Man, with Forge working with him as a mentor and available technology help. What could be very interesting here would be if Yinsen Jr. and Forge make a better team and a more effective Iron Man than Stark ever did alone. Again, let’s nail Stark’s insecurities. I think there is real potential here.

Weird…I just read the first issue of Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man, and he sort of plays up Stark’s insecurity about technological competition (he also includes a brief battle with members of an AIM side project). The only difference between Fraction’s story so far and the idea that I came up with is that Stark’s competition is a bad guy…Obadiah Stane’s son, to be specific. I love Fraction’s writing, but I think this kind of paints him into a corner. They’ve already set Stane’s son up as being a bit of an evil jerk. The only way this storyline can end is in Stane’s eventual defeat. So, in the long run, Tony gets another enemy. I feel like our revamp offered Tony a new group of friends and branched out the Iron Man character in new directions as well. I suppose both results are necessary at some point in the title’s continued history. Meh…maybe I’m just jealous that Matt gets to play in the Marvel sandbox while I remain a meager blogger!