Shelf Life: Greatest Hits

Thu, May 19th, 2011 at 1:58pm PDT

Comic Books
Ron Marz, Columnist

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Darryl Banks' cover to the "Retro Green Lantern" issue

I was in high school in the '80s (that's right, I was a few years too old to give a damn about "G.I. Joe" or "Transformers" or any of those other '80s animated shows). Back then, just like now, the summer season meant, among other things, bands would hit the summer shed concert circuit. The closest one to me was Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, NY. I spent a fair amount of time there in my high school and college years, saw a lot of acts. Among them, Journey and Def Leppard, who were kind of big deals back then.

And now all these years later, you know who's on the bill at SPAC this summer? That's right, Journey and Def Leppard. Nobody would confuse either of them with the biggest band in the land anymore, but they're still out there, plugging away, churning out what amounts to a greatest-hits set. Night after night, it's "Don't Stop Believin'" and "Pour Some Sugar On Me," because that's what most of the audience came to hear. That's why they paid their money. Play a new song, and that's when everybody heads to the bathroom, or goes to get another beer. So you'd better give the people what they want, right?

Creatively, no one wants to become a greatest-hits act. It's the equivalent of the high-school pitcher reliving his "Glory Days" in the Springsteen song, the sense that your best days are behind you. Any creative person worth a damn -- musician, writer, artist -- wants to believe their best work is ahead of them, not already in the rear-view mirror.

Which brings us to the "Green Lantern Retroactive" issue I'm writing, to be published in August. I wrote "Green Lantern" for almost seven years, a pretty sizable chunk of my career. I realize it's always going to follow me. I'm unlikely to ever do a convention signing or store appearance that a stack of GL issues doesn't land in front of me. And I'm more than fine with that. I co-created a new Green Lantern, one who seems to resonate with a segment of the comic-reading audience. For some people, mostly because of when they started reading the book, Kyle Rayner is "their" Green Lantern. I'm happy that the work I did with Darryl Banks, Paul Pelletier and a number of other artists resonated with people.

"Green Lantern" #51, Kyle Rayner's first cover appearance

But it's also a book I stepped away from a decade ago, at least in terms of a monthly assignment. Yes, I've written Kyle a few times in the ensuing years, but in small doses. It's not what I'm doing now. It's not "Artifacts" or "Witchblade," or "Magdalena" or "Shinku." So why go back at all? Why take on a gig that, by its very nature, looks backwards rather than ahead?

It wasn't a no-brainer decision when I got the offer, honestly. I was very aware of the drawbacks, of being perceived as a greatest-hits band, retreading former glories. But ultimately it came down to a simple choice: was it a story I wanted to write, or not? The answer, obviously, was yes, for two reasons.

Number one: if there was going to be a Green Lantern story set in that era, I wanted it to be mine. I do feel a certain, I dunno, paternal interest, I guess, in Kyle. That's not logical, certainly. Kyle isn't "mine," in any real sense. Neither Darryl nor I were awarded any creator stake in Kyle, as we were with some other characters we created, like Effigy and Fatality. Despite that, I'll admit to having an emotional attachment to Kyle that I simply don't have for other work-for-hire characters. He didn't exist before we built him from the ground up. There's always going to be an allure, like an old girlfriend you never quite forget.

Number two: if Darryl was coming back to comics, I wanted to be the guy who got to work with him. Darryl hasn't done much comic work for a while, concentrating more on commercial-art jobs (that, frankly, pay better than the monthly comics grind). But he's one of my favorite collaborators, and the chance to work together again was too much to pass up.

Jim Cheung spread from the Hal Foster-inspired "Scion" #39

So Darryl and I are immersed in the first Green Lantern story we've done since 2000. And I have to admit, I'm enjoying the hell out of it. While I was finishing up this column, a splash page from Darryl appeared in my inbox, and it's just glorious. Some of his best work ever, I think.

Superhero comics are a business built in large part on nostalgia. It's a genre that tends to wallow in where it's been, rather than embrace the possibilities of where it might go. Maybe it's human nature overall to cling to what's familiar, rather than seeking out something new and different. I know more people will buy the GL Retro issue than will pick up "Magdalena" or "Shinku," but it is what it is.

It's an interesting line to walk, acknowledging your past while striving to move forward and bring the audience with you. Now that Marvel is bringing back some of the CrossGen titles, I've been asked fairly often if I'd go back to something like "Scion" or "Sojourn" should the opportunity arise. It's much the same dilemma as returning to Kyle and "Green Lantern." On one hand, it's more looking in the rear-view mirror, when something new and different might be more creatively exciting. But on the other hand, there's a certain sense of unfinished business.

I had a role in creating those books, particularly "Sojourn," which was the result of me locking myself in an office and emerging a few days later with the complete series bible. Except for the dog, which wasn't my idea. The boss insisted on the dog because "people like dogs."

Marz left "Sojourn" more because of office politics rather than creative reasons

I loved the cast and setting of "Scion." I loved working with Jim Cheung. That's why, when Jim departed the book, I stepped away with him, despite having more stories to tell. We drew the curtain on our run with one of my favorite issues of anything I've ever worked on, "Scion" #39. The story hinted at future directions the series might take, and served as our homage to Hal Foster's "Prince Valiant" Sunday pages.

My departure from "Sojourn" was the opposite. Rather than walking away from that world with a sense of satisfaction, after two years I was booted from the title because of ugly office politics, not creative decisions. So like I said, unfinished business.

One of the amazing aspects of comics is you can create something out of thin air. At one point, Kyle Rayner was new. The characters and world of "Sojourn" were new. Where you've been as a creator often dictates where you go, for good or ill. I don't mind looking back, as long as it doesn't stop me from moving forward.

Maybe Def Leppard feels the same way. Maybe they enjoy playing "Pour Some Sugar on Me" every night. I guess I'll find out. I've got tickets to see them July 10 in Saratoga.

Ron Marz has been writing comics for two decades, and thinks it's pretty much the best job ever. His current work includes "Artifacts," "Witchblade" and "Magdalena" for Top Cow, and his upcoming creator-owned title, "Shinku," for Image, set to debut in June, 2011. Follow him on Twitter (@ronmarz) and his website, ronmarz.com

TAGS:  shelf life, ron marz, green lantern, kyle rayner, dc comics, darryl banks, sojourn, scion, jim cheung

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