Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Meaningless publishing, more Robinson love and an outcry for The Martian Manhunter

Years ago I read every Batman and Superman comic that was published each month by DC Comics.  I took pride in the fact that I owned, read and understood everything that was happening inside the scope of their respective ‘universes.’  But at the same time when the bubble on comic books was bursting, publishers were also starting to crank out more and more special issues, limited series and hard covers.  Many of the primary characters for both of the major publishing companies also started to see their regular monthly book become two regular monthly books (or in some cases…..X-Men……17 regular monthly books.) As a man on a budget, I was forced to cut back.  For months I attempted to cut on other books.  I tried to weed out the ‘fringe’ books that I was reading in an effort to stay strong in my reading of the core books. When Superman and Batman became an average of 8 books a month each (or roughly 2/week) enough was enough and I made the call; no more Superman and Batman.

If you know me, you know what a tough decision that was.  True, many months in that period these were books that were stuck in a rut and failing to show the ground breaking creativity that they have both seen in recent years, but that didn’t make it any easier for me.  These were my staples.  My primary arch types for great heroes. These were the two who had started it all for me.  Letting them go and moving on to better written books, with single issue monthly programs was hard for me to do.  Every time I considered coming back to them, I found out that in addition to the main monthly title, they were also in the middle of a limited series, that would inevitably end up meaning next to nothing to the overall continuity of the character and his supporting cast. That always kept me away.

There are few things I hate more in comic books than stories that don’t serve a purpose.  I say that in a very matter-of-fact way, when in all actuality I could probably dig through my rather large collection and find you numerous occasions where limited series or one shots were completely irrelevant to the character’s main continuity, and yet I still loved the book. Sometimes great writing trumps the rule that all stories should serve some kind of purpose, and even I have to bow down to that writing and admit when it has defeated my rule.  But all too often I find that the limited series is used as a tool for increasing sales for a couple of months without truly developing the character, and making a significant impact.

That was one of my primary concerns with the idea of reading Justice League: Cry For Justice, despite the fact that it was being written by superstar scribe James Robinson.  With such a limited comic budget these days, and the ever rising cost of the books themselves, I get very agitated when I waste money on a meaningless story instead of reading a more intelligently written book.  I needn’t have worried about Cry For Justice.  In the back of Issue #1 James spends some time discussing how important it was to him that he not take on a project just for the sake of doing a project.  He wanted the story to have real consequences in the overall scope of Justice League lore, and committed himself to that path. I appreciate that.

We read so much hype and hyperbole in anticipation of major comic stories, limited series or otherwise, that it has become hard to glean what is going to actually be a significant story and what is not. Leave it to a true professional like Mr. Robinson to recognize that it’s not enough for him to write a decent Justice League story.  He needs to write something of lasting impact, so that I’m not just handing out money because a book was made. I’m handing it out because it will continue to enhance and deepen my appreciation for stories that will be coming in the future.

I also appreciate that at the outset of the book, he has tackled something that has been pissing me off since Final Crisis; why aren’t the heroes angrier about the murders of Bruce and J’onn? Why did the death of the Martian Manhunter come across as such a minor footnote in the scope of what has happened in the DCU this past year?

That pisses me off.

J’onn J’onzz is a kick ass character (and I recommend Ostrander’s run on the book as a read that gives subtext to the character) who was the backbone of the Justice League since its inception.  His death should have resonated around the world because it was a murder. An execution. Nobody should have been safe.

But life moved on and for me that didn’t ring true.

Cry For Justice at least touches on that as it starts up.  More importantly, it promises to give me a return for my money that will continue to pay dividends into the future as I will enjoy its lasting influence over future stories.

And is that really too much to ask from a limited series, or one shot?

That it matters?


Cam said...

I think that many one shots fail because they don't have sufficient scope to build tension and suspense as easily as longer story arcs. It seems analogous to short story writing versus novel writing, except for one slight difference: a short story is (usually) a stand alone product, whereas a comic one shot derails an otherwise continuous narrative. So a one shot necessarily has to make up for this inconvencience with a commensurate amount of intelligent writing. Unfortunately that seems to be lacking far too often...

Randy Meredith said...

While I don't deny that Robinson is a very very good writer, I am disappointed in DC hamstringing another good writer, Dwayne McDuffie by giving Robinson the Cry For Justice series.

From the boards I read and podcasts I've heard, McDuffie had big plans for JLA when he was given the book. But then the editors wanted to work with Robinson. They gave him the Cry For Justice series and then told McDuffie, "You aren't allowed to use any of the main characters in the book, even though we approved all of your plotlines prior to you taking over the book."

Thus McDuffie is given weak stories featuring barely remembered characters and his JLA is given bland reviews. Meanwhile Robinson is getting all kinds of love for Cry for Justice.

Again, I'm not blaming Robinson. I'm blaming DC and wishing McDuffie could get a break. I heard his FF run had a lot of the same troubles.

And yes, I hate books being wedged into outside mini-series. What I hate even more is the poor editing in these. How many different Norman Osborns are there in the Marvel Universe? He looks and acts differently in every book.

The 4th Man said...

Excellent info Randy!

I wasn't aware of the background information about McDuffie, but like you I would like to see him get a full chance to write.

This link has excerpts of his responses from the DCU boards, which apparently lead to his termination from the book. His honesty is refreshing, and I feel his frustration.

But I still love Robinson and hope to see great things from his time on the book.