Trade Perspectives: You have to love the characters ...

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

I admit I've been keeping an eye on Rob Liefeld's Twitter feed since the creator publicly walked off his DC Comics titles last week. In part, like everyone, I'm simply fascinated by the mayhem. But even in a situation that's clearly bad for reader enjoyment of comics overall, there's a part of me reading Liefeld's tweets like I do solicitations, hungry and excited for clues to upcoming storylines -- Liefeld's tangent about proposed but cancelled intersections between Grifter, Stormwatch, and Superman, for instance.

Liefeld's departure overshadowed a much quieter but far more tragic exit from DC Comics, as I've mentioned here before, that of writer Judd Winick. Winick is also a controversial figure, I know (though at least for his work and not for his after-hour comments) but I have thoroughly enjoyed his Outsiders and Green Arrow and most recently his Catwoman and Batwing, and indeed I feel DC has lost something special here akin to when Greg Rucka left shortly before the DC New 52 relaunch.

These departures -- and George Perez's negative comments, also as we've discussed -- are depressing for a DC Comics fan. More troubling for me, however, have been the "false starts," if you will -- series whose creative teams and directions changed after the first collection. Paul Cornell left Stormwatch, though I think Paul Jenkins continues in the same general direction; however, Savage Hawkman and Deathstroke both get a second collection reboot, as to an extent has Superman, Green Arrow, and others.

This sometimes makes me wonder why I should even spend my money on these collections knowing, for instance, the first collection of Savage Hawkman may not have much impact on the second -- and then, with Liefeld leaving Hawkman essentially after the second collection, the second collection and third may have differences, too. All these departures -- some would say, disorganization -- makes it hard to read some titles at all.

I've been trying to think, before comics had a twenty-four hour news cycle, how did we deal with creative changes on books? I remember when David Micheline replaced Roger Stern on Action Comics, I thought the stories got a little more violent, but otherwise the Triangle Titles kept rolling on as usual. Definitely the tone was different when Jon Lewis replaced Chuck Dixon on Robin, but the characters and setting stayed the same for the most part. Gail Simone replacing Dixon on Birds of Prey turned out for the best; so did Geoff Johns replacing Mark Waid on Flash.

If you want to get really esoteric, I followed Justice League from Dan Jurgens to Dan Vado to Gerard Jones. Who knows what went on behind the scenes? Creators came, creators left, the books maybe struggled for an issue or two, and then we were off to the races again. In cases like Waid and Johns, the writers got to wrap up their storylines before they left; in other cases, not so much, but it worked.

The conclusion I came to is that you have to love the characters. You have to love the characters. Superman is going through three writers in about twelve issues -- if you don't like reading about Superman, what's the point anyway? Hawkman's going through a couple of creative teams -- none of it matters if you don't like Hawkman. An interest in Fire and Ice and Guy Gardner and the rest took me from Jurgens to Vado to Jones on Justice League, and I still have an affinity for all those runs. It was just a matter of sticking with the characters.

Got to keep our heads down, ignore the hubub, and keep reading, is the best I can figure.
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  1. I have to disagree with you c.e. In my mind the quality of a title will always be more important than just following a character. If a title I like is taken over by a new creative team and I dont like the direction they go in, then as a consumer the best way I can have my voice heard is by not supporting it. On the other hand if a creator takes over a character that I havent liked in the past but makes them interesting to read then I will support them.

  2. I'm 100% with you on Winnick's departure. I know that he may not have been to everyone's tastes, but I generally thought highly of his runs. In many ways I see him as the current-day Chuck Dixon - nothing mind-blowing spectacular, but he did turn out consistently fun, well written and smartly paced books.

    I've never been a fan of Liefeld, so his departure is no big loss for me, but its been sad to see his twitter meltdown. I can't help but feel burning his bridges that way will come back to haunt him at some point. I know he's got Image to fall back on, but I can't remember the last time I heard anyone talk about an Image book that wasn't 'The Walking Dead' (apologies if I'm forgetting something obvious!)

  3. I've gone both ways on comics, staying because I like the character/team on some and ditching when a certain writer leaves on others. For me, the main impact of a creative team is that it will make me more willing to try a title that otherwise might not interest me as much. This was the case with Geoff Johns and Aquamanin the New 52. I suppose it goes the other way as well in that I hesitated on Justice League International because I don't generally care for Dan Jurgens' work but ended up enjoying the first issue enough to get the the first trade edition (just in time to hear it was being axed).

    As for Image, they actually got a great write-up in the New York Times arts section several weeks back, which particualrly mentioned Ed Brubabker's very good series Fatale.

  4. Ah, Brubaker. Another great talent DC were foolish to let go.

  5. Great article. We have all become spoiled with todays up-to-date information. When we hear about a change up of teams, we all get our hopes down. In the old days, the readers would carry on with the new teams. Over time, if you liked it it, it was dropped. And if you loved it, you stayed on. It actually helped because we gave changing teams chances, I guess.

    Though the other side of the argument would be instead of following the character, you follow the writer (much like nikos pointed out).

    And yes, I too debate about picking up a 6 or 8 issue run on a character by the select team. For me, it has to be at least 12-18 issues under a current writer where I'm willing to pick up the trades. Anything below that and I'm iffy. Resurrection Man is getting axed after Zero issue for example. And I hear some great things about it...but only 12 issues (13 if you count zero issue) and I hesitate to go through with it.

    But yeah, it goes both ways. I knew of Animal Man for years in comics, but I never read it until Jeff Lemires current run (which I'm now following everything he does). But I have an appreciation for Buddy now, where I want to read about him from Morrison or Milligans runs, for example. So following the writer is cool and becoming common ground now and days.

    But on the flip-side of characters, people who only follow writers will ditch the character they so called loved under that said writers name. I've been a fan of Aquaman for a few years now, so it's awesome he's getting the spotlight. But for all of those who are just getting into him because Geoff Johns is writing him...well once Johns leaves Aquaman, a bunch of people will drop the book and not care about Arthur any more.

    So it's diffidently a dual-sided debate. I try to accommodate to both ends. Support my characters (Red Lanterns for example), and follow the writers.

  6. The sad part about the whole thing is that not much has changed. Creative teams have always shifted often, it's just that we remember the long runs for creators and forget the chaff. The only difference is that we now get to the minute reports on changes in creative teams, so the dynamic has sort of changed in that we are now hyper-aware of switches.

  7. I grant nikos's point that you have to vote with your wallet, and if you don't like the direction a title is going, you stop buying it.

    My frustration right now, however, is more tied up in creative-changes-as-relates-to-the-New-52 -- I can't actually vote with my wallet on Hawkman, for instance, because Tony Daniel has left and now Rob Liefeld has left. Teams are coming and going faster than the books can be collected! And so I feel like my time's being wasted -- why not skip Daniel's run on Hawkman entirely, or skip Daniel and Liefeld since a new creator's coming on, or heck, maybe just decide that title's too much of a hassle and forget the title entirely -- easier to do on Hawkman, harder to do on Superman, for instance.

    Lionheart's rule of only getting series where writers do 12-18 issues is an interesting one; I've talked here before that I miss the days of long creator runs, 40 or 50 issues (and I thought 12 issues was bad -- now sometimes we only get six!). I appreciate that Geoff Johns did such long stints on Flash and JSA and ongoing on Green Lantern; I wish that were more of the standard.

    And definitely, as dl316bh said, a big part of it is just the negativity. Too bad Winick's leaving Batwing, but he decided to leave and (hopefully) said what he wanted to say, that's OK. Cornell gives over Stormwatch to Jenkins so he can focus on Demon Knights and others? Also more or less OK. But the flame-outs, oh, the flame-outs ...

  8. I does simplify things though. For example I might have gotten Hawkman and Deathrstroke's first TPB, but I'll simply skip their 2nd ones and wait for the vol. 3.

    I love the characters, sure. But of those I love don't have a book around anymore (Steph Brown, Cass Cain, Doom Patrol, The Spirit,..) so I tend to mostly follow artists and writers these days.

  9. I know it sounds stupid but skipping trades is going to feel a lot harder now that DC are numbering them.

  10. No, not stupid; that's part of it, too. If you skipped Tony Daniel's Hawkman and went straight to Rob Liefeld's Hawkman, you would probably not be missing anything, but DC wants you to *feel* like you're missing something -- hence the numbering -- so you don't miss trades. Good business for them, but a dilemma for the fan.

    Apropos of nothing -- Liefeld may have flamed out, but at least he didn't disavow his work; I can still read Liefeld's books and know Liefeld stands by them. George Perez's Superman, not so much -- I lost a lot of respect for Perez with his comments.

  11. Yeah I've definitely felt "bad" as a DC fan as I read all these articles about creators leaving the company (and Winick didn't say that he wouldn't work for DC again, just that he wanted to get away from monthlies). If they don't have a good reputation among the creators, then it's going to be hard(er) getting quality people to work on their books.

    Sometimes I do wonder if all this "insider knowledge" really just kinds of ruins the enjoyment of reading comic books. :-)

    Certainly one of the advantages of waiting for the trades is by the time they come out, you already know if the series has "moved in another direction" and you can save money by just skipping that book. People buying monthly really don't know that it's "pointless" (to use the word loosely - it's not really pointless if you're enjoying the story that you're reading!) until after they've already bought it.

    That's one of the things I like about buying digitally though; I can choose to not buy an issue right away, but it's still available months later (and cheaper too!) like a TPB, while also being available sooner than a TPB release (especially the whole hardcover/softcover thing - waiting an extra year for that softcover release is killer!).

    Back to the whole creator/character thing...for me it's a little of both. I buy Flash and Green Lantern because I'm a huge long-term fan of both characters, no matter who's writing them (although obviously I prefer to have a good writer on the books!). But I'm buying Aquaman now because I like the team of Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis, and was interested enough in Aquaman post-Brightest Day to try it. At the same time, I never bought any of Johns' Titans, Superman, or JSA books because I'm not as interested in those characters. So yeah, there are certain characters that I'm going to follow "no matter what" (unless it gets REALLY bad, I suppose), other characters that I'm only interested in reading depending on the creative team, and then other characters that I have no interest in, no matter who is writing them (although I'm always willing to give them a chance if I hear about how great the story is). Similarly, I bought Irredeemable only because it was written by Mark Waid, while at the same time I have no plans on reading Waid's current Marvel work.

  12. I'm struggling with the New 52 to be honest, and these backroom wranglings are only making it easier to walk away from the whole shebang.
    I just can't seem to invest any loyalty in characters who have undergone such a major revamp, and have little or no connection to their pre-Flashpoint incarnation. The whole line is starting to leave me cold.

  13. I do understand the whole creator / character issue. But for me, the New 52 is really an opportunity to familiarize with the characters I don't know (much) about. So regardless the creators, I'm willing to give all the trades a try. We'll see what will happen after three or four trades.
    I didn't follow the whole publicity and tweets of the recent departures, just hate the negativity of it all :)
    Also I'm not familiar with Liefeld, but do know people criticize his art. Yesterday, I received the Hawk and Dove trade and what I've seen so far, the art is pretty bad actually :(
    It is a shame Winick left DC, really enjoyed his work.
    About the hardcover / softcover thing. I still don't understand why DC doesn't publish all the trades in hc firts and than the sc maximum a halve year later!

  14. I'm still a little amused that backstage matters are such a concern here. I was disappointed when Cornell was dropped from Stormwatch (but I hadn't read an issue after the first one, so I wasn't missing anything at that time), and the fact that he left the book makes it difficult for me to consider reading the collection.

    The same isn't and can't be true for every book. Sometimes a new creator really doesn't "get" what came before them, and readers who did are disappointed that the tone changes. Sometimes creator changes simply don't matter. I may be the only fan of X-Nation 2099, where the first few issues were from Mark Waid and Humberto Ramos, and they left and were replaced by creators who REALLY didn't get what had come before them. By the end of the short-lived series, however, it kind of evened back out. It was still worthwhile to have read the run even though the best work was quickly overshadowed by mediocre and then okay work, nothing quite as inspiring as what had come before it.

    The comments about the Justice League run were especially compelling, however. I loved that era, too. I loved Morrison's League, but I loved that era, too. Jurgens and Vado especially, which was why I loved the early issues of Extreme Justice, which was another book that went through some abrupt changes.

    But again, unless you're talking about the abrupt changes books like The Flash went through before Waid's Wild Wests comeback, or the dozen writers on Wonder Woman before Gail Simone (a slight exaggeration), I'd almost prefer shorter runs of passable inspiration to longer runs of intense mediocrity. If that's what a few books in the New 52 have gotten, including the ones referenced here, then I'd say that's a good thing.

    DC is seemingly micromanaging everything. They're trying to figure out what they think is working and what isn't. If that means a different creative team every collection for some books, that's not necessarily a bad thing. A given book works, but not well enough, so they try to get someone else on it, to see what can be done differently. That's not a bad thing. This is not a case of burying bad work so much as getting something like a second opinion.

    It's almost like changing artists. Some readers can't stand that. They want one style, especially in a single collection, never even mind about the writer.

  15. "I'd almost prefer shorter runs of passable inspiration to longer runs of intense mediocrity."

    Yeah, I get that. There was a time when it seemed DC was going to do rotating teams on a bunch of their books -- Batman went from Hush with Loeb/Lee to Broken City with Azzarello/Risso to Under the Red Hood with Winick/Mahnke and that was a good time; the teams did their own thing but there was basic continuity between the arcs.

    But then again, Dan Jurgens wrote Superman for *eight years,* and Mark Waid did the same on Flash, and wow, but those guys knew their characters. You didn't feel like they just had "a story to tell" or wanted to write one big, splashy collection (the downside of what Hush did to the industry, I think) -- these were guys who loved the characters so much they were going to write 'em until the wheels fell off.

    I don't want mediocrity, no. But I wouldn't mind longer runs of passable inspiration, or at least passion, too. This may be one reason that, through thick and thin, I'm still picking up Johns's Green Lantern -- 'cause he's sticking to it (his JSA is a good example of all of this, too).

  16. Too bad Johns didn't stick with Flash (although I might change my mind if I really like the New 52 series), and is abandoning Aquaman as well! That one in particular worries me, and I'm already pretty sure I'll be dropping it when Johns ends his run.

  17. Do we know for sure Johns is leaving Aquaman? There was talk of this when they established the artist was leaving, but I'm not sure I ever saw confirmed that Johns was out, too.

    The New 52 Flash series is worth it. More to come.