When Words Collide

Mon, July 20th, 2009 at 2:28pm PDT

Comic Books
Timothy Callahan, Columnist/Reviewer

ONE YEAR LATER: A CELEBRATION

High Hopes

No, the title of this week's column doesn't refer to the ultimately pointless one-year jump in the DC Universe titles during the "52" experiment. (It's hard to believe that I was once excited about the idea of a Simonson/Chaykin "Hawkgirl." Was that a disappointment!)

It's "One Year Later" at WWC, because this is my fifty-second consecutive weekly column for CBR, and what better way to celebrate then by throwing myself an anniversary party right here in this very column. Like last week's "Captain America" issue, this here's a "very special" installment full of reminiscences of the past and baby vampires (more of the former than the latter. Actually, maybe none of the latter at all, sadly). And speaking of "Captain America," because, hey, it's my party, does last week's issue imply that while "Reborn" is going on, all we'll get from the regular series is a bunch of inventory stories? Sure, I like Gene Colan as much as the next guy, but are these the kinds of stories we can expect for the next few months? I hope not. Unless they're all "very special" issues drawn by Cap creators of the past.

Hey, that's a good topic for a pre-party cocktail discussion! Which five former-"Captain America" artists (besides Gene Colan) would you like to see draw the next five inevitable fancy-inventory-stories-pawned-off-as-very-special-issues?

I should have actually invited people to this party, I suppose.

I'll answer it myself, then: 1. Jim Steranko, 2. John Romita, Sr., 3. John Byrne, 4. Paul Neary, 5. John Cassaday. Steranko apparently won't even sign Marvel comics, never mind actually work for the company again, Romita hasn't drawn a complete comic book story in decades, Byrne doesn't like you, Neary spends his time inking Bryan Hitch, and Cassaday has been working on the final issue of "Planetary" since 1977. So none of them will ever come in and draw a Cap story anytime soon, but those would be my Top 5. And I can't be the only person who would pick Paul Neary, right? He's the guy I most associate with the Mark Gruenwald issues, even if he didn't draw the bulk of the run.

Is it even a party, if I'm the only one here?

Better not let technicalities get in the way of my celebration.

Paul Neary, Cap Legend

Other pre-party cocktail chit-chat: Steve Rude. How great is he? I would have loved to see what he would have done if he'd been asked to join the "Wednesday Comics" crew. He's a guy who knows how to experiment with page layout, and his work, at that size, would have been brilliant. He's on my mind lately because the double-sized "Nexus" #101/102 just came out last week, and he's been getting some internet attention for his financial difficulties. Rude's one of the great comic book artists of the past three decades (believe it or not, it's been 28 years since "Nexus" #1 hit the stands), and instead of resting comfortably on his piles o' cash, Uncle Scrooge-style, he's out there hustling his original art to make ends meet and pay for what was probably an ill-advised publishing venture. A publishing venture designed to get his comics into the hands of readers at a time when most publishers wouldn't even be willing to publish something like "Nexus." It's sad that a guy like Steve Rude isn't a mega-selling superstar. You should all buy everything the guy draws. I know I do.

Speaking of other strange publishing decisions, what's the logic behind Judd Winick/Tony Daniel/Winick Again on the main "Batman" title while spinning the much, much, much, much better creative team of Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen off with "Batman: Streets of Gotham." I can understand giving "Batman and Robin" to Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely and company (though bringing Philip Tan along seems like a decidedly bad idea, and anyone who saw his most recent "Green Lantern" issue would have to agree, I would think) -- Morrison is off doing his own thing with the characters, anyway -- but Dini and Nguyen seem to be doing work that feels like core Bat-Universe stuff, and it seems odd that's it's off in it's own ancillary title. "Shadow of the Bat" was never the central Bat-comic, and I expected "Streets of Gotham" to be something like that. But it's really not. It's the good, pulpy, mainstream Batman comic, while the one that's actually called "Batman" feels like the crudely-produced, overly-introspective side project.

These conversations are going well, aren't they? Not a single voice of dissent. Not a single voice other than mine to dissent. Maybe I should create Straw Man Judd to debate me on the "Batman" topic. Straw Man Judd would surely have plenty of reasons why his and Tony Daniel's comics deserve our attention.

Silence.

ON WITH THE PARTY

The True Core Bat-Book

The whole point of this narcissistic anniversary celebration (Peter David was right in his forum comments about my self-love, it seems) is for all of us to reflect on the past year in comics, the past year in columns, what we've loved, what we've learned, mistakes we made, and what we have to look forward to.

I'll go first.

I started "When Words Collide" with a polemic in defense of superhero comics. It seemed like a good idea at the time -- it still seems like a good idea -- but it barely made a dent in the internet comic book consciousness. One, I was speaking to the already-converted. There aren't a whole lot of regular CBR readers who think, "gee, I don't know. Superhero comics? Seriously? Aren't they juvenile pap?" Two, while I provided a bit of context for the superhero-comic-as-offshoot-of-classic-Romanticism, I mostly just deconstructed the biases against superhero comics rather than established what was so great about individual examples. Three, frankly, I was talking more about the potential for the superhero genre than I was talking about its past. Superhero comics have a long and glorious future ahead of them. Sure, there's plenty of mediocrity, or worse, but the genre has unlimited potential. I don't know that I made that case successfully. I'll have to revisit the topic one of these days.

Another topic that will pop up again, though not all that soon, is the "Watchmen" Role-Playing Game by Mayfair. I discussed it in a couple of columns, and those columns have been combined, revised, and rearranged into a single essay which will appear in a book sometime within the next year. This is breaking news! Aren't you glad you came to this party? A book with a chapter about a game in which you can play Captain Metropolis vs. Rorschach? Add that to your summer reading list for 2010, folks. It's gonna be big. What's that now? The "Watchmen" DVD comes out this Tuesday? Oh, don't worry about that. Skip the movie and wait for the book of critical essays about the comics and role-playing game. You'll feel better about yourself in the morning.

Right, Straw Man Judd?

Nothing.

Nunchuks Are Go.

Anyway, I'm certainly not going to stand up here in front of nobody and list off all the columns I've written over the past year. You've already read them all anyway, and it just feels like I'm stalling for time as we wait for the cake to arrive. I've been watching a lot of Food Network lately, so I expect the cake to be shaped like something appropriately awesome. A floating Grant Morrison head over folded sixth dimensional space, perhaps. Or Casanova Quinn unleashing a psychic flock of ravens. Or Dash Bad Horse with nunchucks in one hand and a flaming skull in another, doing a wheelie on Ghost Rider's 1970s chopper. Something along those lines. I'm sure CBR has spared no expense, so just be patient.

Until then, I would like to point out a few more highlights from the past year. I like what I said about Elliot S! Maggin, and I think more critical reappraisals of his work are in order. Not by me -- I've said what I have to say on his approach to Superman -- but I'd love to read different perspectives on his comic book work. Those in the know realize how inspirational his stories were -- his novels, particularly, but we tend not to hear much about him these days. He's moved on to other things and the comic book attention span is short. Read his comics, read his novels, and let us all know what you think.

I never get tired when discussing the Comic Book Canon, as ridiculous as it may be to try to come up with one. Canons are formed over time, works settle into categories, and eventually some things become canonical, while others are forgotten. Then the canon is smashed and forgotten voices are added into the mix. Rinse. Repeat. Etc. But it's fun to discuss what should be included in the canon of comic books, and my method of arbitrarily assigning rules to the selection process emphasizes that it's all just an intellectual game anyway. But it's one I like to play. Straw Man Judd may disagree with me on this -- it's hard to tell, what with his nonexistence and all -- but the act of discussing why a comic is worthy of inclusion, why its worthy of canonical status, is one of the Great Discussions of the modern internet comic book era. It's more interesting than the old "who would win in a fight, Herbie the Fat Fury or Shadowhawk?" question, anyway.

You probably didn't read a lot of essays comparing "Kramers Ergot" to Jim Starlin's "Rann/Thanagar Holy War" and Jeph Loeb's "Hulk," but I came through for you on that. Someone had to.

Mireault Joins the Party

And I'm always glad to throw my critical hat into the ring when it comes to discussing Good Readers and What It is That a Critic Does. People sometimes get offended by this stuff -- by these kinds of discussions -- but I'm sure we can all agree that everything in the comic book world could be a little better. The readership could put in more thought and effort into what they're reading, the writers and artists can produce work that's more meaningful and substantial, and the critics can raise their standards and argue for the best while deconstructing the worst.

Did I mention that "Asterios Polyp" is really good? And I'm glad that I had this soapbox to bring some attention to work of Bernie Mireault. He seems to have slipped between the cracks in a lot of these big discussions about the foundation of the postmodern superhero, and that's a real shame. We need to see more work from guys like him -- from him, specifically -- and I can only hope that my column got a few people interested in checking out his comics. Mireault told me that my columns, and the attention I paid to him, helped inspire him to get back to work on his graphic novel. So I did a little bit of good for the world, at least.

WORDS COLLIDING TOMORROW

I don't know what the future holds for "When Words Collide." I have plans for plenty of future columns, but every time I write a new topic on my Big Dry-Erase Board of Deadlines, I end up wiping it off and putting something different in its place. It all depends on what's going on in the comic book world during a particular week, what old stuff has caught my fancy, or what random online discussions have made me think about. Next week, I'll be devoting my column to San Diego Comic Con, because how can I not?

I'll be in San Diego all week, by the way, so don't hesitate to say hi as I rush through the convention center with Television's Ryan Callahan in tow.

After that, I have only vague plans for "When Words Collide." I just finished reading all thirteen volumes of "100 Bullets" over a three-day period, so I'm sure I'll be writing about that experience sometime soon, and I promised a Best of/Worst of Alan Moore list to a few readers. A also have a stack of underappreciated masterpieces that I pulled out of the stacks or off the shelves over the past few months, and I still haven't gotten around to reading those with a critical eye. They seemed like masterpieces, when I read them originally, at least. Either way, I'm sure I can find something to say about them. I never did write that Rick Veitch superhero retrospective I had planned. It's never too late for that, though. And I promised Jason Aaron that I'd write an essay on the way he uses setting as a character in his work, though it strikes me that Brian Wood does much the same thing, but in a very different way, so maybe I'll have to throw all their comics in a room together and see what comes of it.

What would you like to see me write about in upcoming weeks? Add your voice to the party over at my CBR forum.

What's that Straw Man Judd? The anniversary party's over already? And Jonah didn't send a cake after all?

It's just the two of us and this half-eaten Skybar? Okay, you go right ahead and talk about your plans for Alfred to cry himself to sleep every night. I'll totally be paying attention as I plan my week in San Diego. I'm listening, don't worry.

(Shhhh. Happy Anniversary, "When Words Collide.")

In addition to writing reviews and columns for COMIC BOOK RESOURCES, Timothy Callahan is the author of "Grant Morrison: The Early Years" (which explores "Zenith" in great detail) and editor of "Teenagers from the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes" anthology. More of his thoughts on comics can be seen every day at the Geniusboy Firemelon blog.

Follow Tim on Twitter: gbfiremelon

Want to talk about this week's column with other readers? Post your thoughts over on the CBR message boards.

TAGS:  when words collide, bernie mireault, jason aaron

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