The Column: Issue #8

Fri, September 13th, 2002 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Mark Millar, Columnist

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TONIGHT I'M GONNA PARTY LIKE IT'S 1982

Making fun of all these nostalgia comics in the top ten? Me too… until I realized I was writing a couple of them myself. Ultimate Spider-Man has been based loosely on the best run Spidey ever had (hello, Lee and Ditko), but X-Men didn't really go nuclear until Claremont and Byrne worked their magic twenty years ago and these are where I'VE been looking. Even The Ultimates is just a retread of the comics I discovered as a twelve year old when Alan Moore and Alan Davis wondered, perhaps for the first time, what superheroes would be like in the real world. The plots might bear little resemblance to Marvelman and Captain Britain, but I think I've spent the last twelve months subconsciously trying to find that realistic tone which shook me in my Doc Martin boots. Moore and Davis made me want to sit here and make shit up for a living.

I see this 80s thing in other books too; everything from the Imperial Guard and Emma Frost in New X-Men to a resurgence in the Punisher's fortunes around the same time we get another Republican in the White House. Our comic book roots are in satire and the best material is always produced when there's something to react against, whether it's world war two, Vietnam, Reaganomics or a lunatic in the White House who is plotting a unilateral, eternal war on the enemies of his family oil interests. Global misery equals good comics and gives us all an edge again after flabby periods of run-of-the-mill books in the late fifties, the late seventies and the late nineties. Post-Clinton, we might be plummeting towards recession, a third world war and totalitarianism as Bush and Cheney tear up the American constitution, but at least BATMAN looks like it's going to be good again.

THE TWENTY YEAR RULE

You've probably heard Grant Morrison and I repeat this to the point where your ears are bleeding, but have you noticed the (approximately) twenty year cycles in the comic-book industry? I'm a political buff who gets a perverted kick out of tracking these patterns in American and European elections, but it applies just as strongly to comics too. Every comic-book Age, as people have come to call them, last around twenty years. Like a political ideology, they have a ten-year rise and a ten year fall. The Golden Age kicked things off around 1935, peaked around 1945 and was almost defunct by 1955. This is where Julie Schwartz kicked off The Silver Age, which peaked with Stan Lee around 1965 and almost completely collapsed by approximately 1975. It's cyclical like every other industry or fashion in the world and so, when people predicted the demise of comics back in 1995 after the boom kick-started in 1985, we kept assuring everyone that they only had to sit tight until 2005 when the next boom would REALLY get going.

Right now, like I said, I think we're somewhere around 1982. DC has imploded, but you can smell big changes in the air and a revolution just around the corner. Marvel has new people in charge and are bringing out their strongest work in forever. The market has stopped shrinking and started expanding again and several British creators are starting to tinker with very different kinds of superhero comics. I think we're still a year or two away from the next Alan Moore or Swamp Thing (could horror explode again in both literature and comic-books like it did back in the eighties?) and four or five years away from the next Dark Knight or Watchmen. But think about this; every bust has been worse than the last. The nineteen ninety five bust saw the most famous characters in the world selling less than 40,000 copies (less than my local newspaper here in Scotland, for fuck's sake). That said, every boom has also been bigger than the preceding boom too. Stan and Jack made more money than Gardner Fox and Bill Finger ever did. Frank and Todd made more money than Stan and Jack could ever have imagined. Could 2006 create the first comic-book billionaires as our creator-owned titles are exploited as movies, video-games and toys? Open that comic-store now, true believers!

GRAYSON AND FEGRADO ROCK ASS!

I moved house a couple of weeks back; always a good excuse for reading all the old comics you're packing while other people do the real work. I found a Batman Chronicles from around four years ago and it featured a story by Devin Grayson and Duncan Fegrado, a charming short starring Batgirl and Robin. It struck me now as it struck me then that Devin and Duncan were just BORN to work together. In sixteen pages or so, I think they produced one of my favorite comic-stories. It was just so natural and so unlike the formula I think we often fall into when we craft these things.

Some teams just work magic when they're put together. Ennis and Dillon, Gaiman and McKean and Stan Lee and Jack Kirby always just sparked so well against each other that they left their peers coughing in their dust. Like Scorcese and DeNiro, there's a weird synergy where the whole is just so much more than the individual parts sometimes. I've felt like this with a couple of projects I've worked on (with Frank Quitely on Authority, for example), but it's rare and you just never know which two people are going to click. Devin and Duncan could rule the comics world if they're ever fused together again. Imagine them on Detective while Jim and Jeph juggernaut through the charts on Batman. I'd actually be tempted to read a DC Comic again!

WORST BOND EVER!

I can't believe it's taken me this long to realize that Pierce Brosnan is the worst James Bond in human history. I was dazzled by Goldeneye, I think, because I loved Bond and it was great to see the producers find the clitoris of the Bond fan again with roulette tables, Aston Martins and unprotected sex after ten years of political correctness and responsible screen-heroes. That said, Tomorrow Never Dies was the worst piece of shit excuse I've ever seen for an action movie. The World Is Not Enough, where Bond fights Begbie from Trainspotting, is only worth seeing because the fight with a terrible Robert Carlyle at the end looks EXACTLY like Grant Morrison having an underwater tussle with the real-estate agent who lives next door to him. The plots are forgettable, like all Bond plots, but the cardinal sin here is the complete lack of charm or humor that Connery and even Moore brought to Bond in spades. I saw Brosnan doing his label-whore bit recently, flogging a new watch in a magazine and I realized what's wrong. He's just a catalogue model; wooden, charmless and completely devoid of any wit.

That said, I saw the trailer for Die Another Die a few days ago and I wet myself again. After the Brosnan Bonds, the Rocketeer, Dick Tracy, Reign of Fire, Episode One and Superman 3, I should know that trailers only exist to lie to us, but why do they always FOOL me like this?

IN DEFENCE OF DARK KNIGHT 2

I liked it. Okay, it wasn't Godfather 2, but it wasn't Episode One either. I don't buy this Miller Can't Draw argument either. He's just evolved into something else and I like the punky feel he gave the book when the rest of DC's stuff is looking so conservative. The only fault I can see is that he's completely sidestepped the mainstream and written something aimed directly at a hardcore audience. No bad thing sometimes, but the genius of Dark Knight Returns was that you only had to have seen the TV show to understand the comic. DK2's endless cast of characters was okay for a comic-head like me, but do Rolling Stone readers know who The Question and The Elongated Man are?

That said, it doesn't really matter. I liked it because it was ABOUT something. Okay, the plot might be a reheat of the brilliant Kingdom Come, but it also felt like a political cartoon. I got the sense that Miller was actually writing about the world we're living as opposed to the world Stan and Jack lived in.

By the way, I can't help chortle when I see people writing Frank MILLAR on the message boards. You don't know how many times I've read Mark MILLER over the years and it really gets on my goat. Misspell Frank's name as often as you like, though.

YOU'VE GOT MALE

I was talking to a big name freelancer pal on the phone today and he told me he's having an affair with a reader. He's based on the west coast and she's living in New York, but they're having phone sex and cyber-sex every night, apparently, and are planning to get down and dirty at the next big convention. Something weird has happened since the dawn of the Internet. That mysterious barrier between reader and creator has finally broken down and I can now name at least a dozen of my friends (most of whom are married) who're having some kind of relationship with at least one of their readers. I think it's a combination of the easy-access everyone has to their creator of choice at the moment, but it's also due in no small part to this big influx of good-looking chicks we see on the boards, at the signings and at the conventions. Unlike the Vulcan-dressed, beer-paunched Sci-Fi chick, I think the comic girl tends to have a deadly combination of looks, intelligence and encyclopedic knowledge of their favorite creator's work. Like I said, around half the pros I know (and I know a lot of people) are currently besotted with someone half their age on the other side of the country at the moment. Where will it all end?

STARTING NEXT WEEK:

I'm going to be doing a series of heavy interviews called THE CHAIR with Marvel, DC and Crossgen over the next three weeks. This is everything you've ever wanted to ask them and I plan to have them squirming like wasps under a microscope with questions of Hannibal Lecter-like incisiveness. Play your part and go to the News and Rumors forum at www.millarworld.biz where you'll find a sticky thread gathering questions for each of these industry head honchos. Ooh, I'm looking forward to this one.

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