On Strike For Comics Creators

Hello, everyone — no, I’m not shutting the blog down.  Technically I’m not even really “on strike”.

It’s more of a boycott.  Call it a boycott?

Actually it isn’t really a boycott either.  After all I’m not looking to negotiate.  I don’t have any demands.  All I’ve got, are consequences.  And maybe they’re not even big ones.  We’ll see.

Call it a PR disaster.  I gave up buying all Marvel and most DC comics because I stopped liking them.  But I bought trades, I saw movies, I reviewed stuff, I spread word of mouth…you know?  I’m all my friends’ local comics geek, I’m always being asked about comic-book movies.  That’s not going to change.

But my answers are going to change.  “That movie can rot in hell for all I care, Marvel and DC are such goddamn unethical companies and always have been, and I’m finally just plain sick to death of it.”  That’s gonna be about how it goes.  Not gonna go to the movie theatre, not gonna go to the video store, not gonna buy the comics, not gonna review any of the above.  Marvel and DC have both had plenty of chances to become more progressive organizations.  Marvel and DC have both had plenty of chances to do the right thing.  Marvel and DC have had a good long run of me not altering my buying habits because of their more odious business practises.  But as I think I may have mentioned before, you can’t rely on spin forever.  Eventually the apathy you’ve thought to make friends with will be something you need people to cast aside.

And that “eventually” could certainly be now.  Marvel’s making movies all the time, even making new movies from old movies, “relaunching” franchises.  DC is about to relaunch their entire line, a dicey proposition even under the best of circumstances.  And so these things could fail.  At least:  these things could underperform.  You know?  That might happen anyway.  That’s always a risk.  Will people sit still for another Spider-Man movie, or for an Avengers movie?  For another crappy Superman movie?  Is New New Teen Titans a lock to sell well?  All this would be up in the air anyway.

But now…at least as far as I’m concerned…it’s not just up in the air, it’s out of the atmosphere.  I will tell you a funny thing about unions, that I happen to know.  Well, two funny things:  one being that comics creators don’t have one, obviously.  But the second thing is that unions are, by and large, pretty good for business.  For one thing, the existence of CBAs preserves labour peace.  For another, it prevents PR disasters like the one that has just snapped the lid shut for me on Big Two-related products.  Hey, and where I find it convenient to cut out Time-Warner and Disney I won’t mind doing that either!  Which maybe, you might say, is an unreasonable overreaction, but then if that’s what you think then you should also probably realize that unreasonable overreactions are exactly what PR disasters create, and that’s why corporations have to watch out for them.  Why should DC suffer just because I’m mad at Marvel?  Aren’t they competitors, anyway?

No.  Not in this, they’re not.  And let me remind you that since I am the mob I don’t have to care about stuff like that anyway.  Hey, if there was a CBA in place this would totally have been avoided, right?  Complicity could’ve been nicely bounded, and excuses could’ve been nicely floated.  But Marvel and DC have always had a choice about that.  Comics creators have never had a choice about that.  So, who should be blamed, for PR disasters such as these?

Is there one of us who is cool about, say, the way Jerry Siegel’s wife was treated?

Boy I’ll tell ya, it would’ve been a treat to read some of those comics, see some of those movies.  But there are plenty of creator-owned comics out there, so don’t worry about me, I’ll be JUST FINE without DC and Marvel.  All that will really change is that I’ll save a bit of money, and have less to say.

But, having put it that way, let me also put it another way:  what if we all, suddenly, had less to say?

No more questions for Didio, Quesada, Brevoort.  For even a small amount of time.  Say a month?  For me it’ll be longer, but let’s say a month.  A month without online reviews of Big Two Product.  A month without interviews about them.  A month without coverage.  Would it make a difference?  Think about it…

Would it?

We don’t really know if it would, do we?  How do we know what kind of influence these informal “lettercolumns” of ours have, anyway?  If the Big Two know, they’ll certainly never say…and anyway how could they even get the numbers?  How do retailers know how many people are coming into their shops because of some recommendation they got online?  Well, one fairly easy way to find out (because all the other ways are difficult!) would be to stop providing that coverage.  Just give the tree a kick, is what I’m suggesting, and see if the branches move.  It’s not like the Big Two are paying us to talk about them, after all!

That’s more like the other way around.  We pay, and then we talk.  Sometimes, then, others pay.  And then…?

It all stops here for me now, until and unless some day comes when I feel like Marvel and DC are worth going back to.  Right now, though…

I wouldn’t waste my breath on them.  And I won’t.

This is my five hundredth post on this blog, and I don’t think I could be much happier with it.

28 responses to “On Strike For Comics Creators

  1. Yeah, I’m done with them too. I have been for a while, really, and it may be hollow for me to endorse a boycott when I declared my own solo boycott several years ago. But as you say, they’ve both had plenty of chances, and they’ve used them up.

  2. What I want to do is tar everything with the same brush now, you know? As I was just saying to Justin, the thing is that it’s the comics fan who gets stuck with the ethical dilemma here even when it isn’t his or her responsibility, while those whose responsibility it is are perfectly cheerful about dodging it. And not just dodging it, of course, but dodging it all the way to the bank.

    As I also mentioned to Justin, it reminds me of my conversation with an Olympic athlete who was going off to Beijing, who basically said “hey, you’re killing me here, I’ve worked my ass off to get to my dream, what am I supposed to do about that?”

    And I said (more or less), “well doesn’t this same thing get to you, that all this terrible stuff’s basically being done in your name, that your hard work is being used as an excuse to lock people away?”

    And he essentially replied, “oh hell yes, I think about it all the time.”

    But, he shouldn’t have to. And I shouldn’t have to. Because it really honestly and truly isn’t on us, is it? He has to give up his dream? I have to awkwardly say “I’m not watching the damn Olympics anymore” when O-boosters in my town bring up the pole-vault or whatever? And meanwhile the people producing the ethical conflict go merrily la-la-la about their lives? I guess just because it works well for them?

    But I would like to see what would happen if it stopped working well for them. If angry people like me decided that they weren’t going to bother with the carefully-contrived ethics trap anymore, but instead they were going to start getting indiscriminate with their displeasure.

    Sorry, ranting.

  3. On the one hand you are right to take a stand for what you believe in, and I support you in that. On the other hand, there is no other hand; there’s only the one hand.

    Therefore the next step is for me to either a) announce that I am joining you in your stand or b) describe the excellent reason(s) why I’m not. Except I can’t quite do either of these. I really don’t want to shut down Legion Abstract, or give up the DC and Marvel comics I enjoy, and I can’t give you a good reason to justify it. I could give you any number of inadequate reasons, but I think I will not waste anybody’s time that way.

    Maybe what it comes down to is, you have to pick the hill you want to die on, and I don’t want to die on this hill.

    I accept all of your scorn and vituperation and freely admit that I am not fit for the company of civilized men.

  4. Matthew, no one says you should give up comics you enjoy. It seems to me the question is, at what point do you stop enjoying them? When does the reality of what a company or a creator are doing in real life make a person go “this is supposed to be fun and it isn’t fun anymore”?

  5. There’s a “should” in there somewhere, though. Wherever you want to put it. Here’s a dispute; Kirby’s heirs are on the right side of it; this is the last in a long list of outrages by the comics industry; this is worth getting outraged about; here follows the appropriate response to your own outrage. These are either facts or they’re not, and I suspect that they are. All of which I’m okay with! I throw shoulds around myself sometimes.

    I just don’t seem to be suiting up for this particular fight, that’s all. I am sorry.

  6. Well, I don’t want you to be sorry, Matthew! Because it’s the black-and-whiteness of a problem that really ought to be someone else’s concern that keeps anything from changing, you know? It is difficult to find oneself in a bind one never asked to be in and should never have been put in, where one’s own simple enjoyment is suddenly some great big moral matter…it isn’t fair that Marvel and DC have done so little, and continue to do so little, that any sort of onus must fall on any sort of fan or reader. Who told them they could make it my problem, after all? Or yours.

    I’m not going to pull the same cheap trick!

    Not least, because it’s ineffective. Dilemma don’t change unless their choices can be changed: in this case, you need another choice besides “ignore it because you like comics” and “give up comics because you can’t ignore it”. And I’m all for you having one, even if I don’t!

    And especially because THEY ARE NOT okay with that!

    It’s ridiculous to say you just “have to choose”. Why not make a difference another way instead? You would probably make more a difference another way, than I could ever make this way. Eh?

  7. Then Marvel and DC go and release their completely insensitive news straight after about their ongoing commitment to remastering and republishing their vintage libraries.

    So they don’t mind continually reaping the $ benefits of creators who laid the foundations of their empires.

    Alan Moore was right on the money when he commented earlier this year that the contemporary industry lacks the ‘top-flight talents’ of twenty-five years ago.

    This further reinforces the need to retain the blogs we do – not the companies, but reviewing/ interpreting the stories from this era and the writers who were hampered by these myopic companies.

  8. How apt that Alan Moore had this to say about the industry:

    “It has abused and mistreated creative people for decades. It has never treated people fairly. And there is something a bit odd about people who spend their every working hour depicting the exploits of superheroes – of people who always stand up for the underdog and fight against the oppressor, the tyrant, the supervillain – and who have never once when the artists and writers that they professed to admire are taken out and put to the wall. This is an industry where if you mention the idea of, say, forming a union, you’ll just get shrill nervous laughter in reply.”

    Can’t beat the words of the master.

  9. I was going to post a reply one night, and then either I messed up or WordPress did, because it all vanished, but here is my deal:

    I haven’t bought a new Marvel comic in maybe a year and a half to two years. Not for creator’s rights or any ethical/politcal/philosophical reason–not even the old “You’ve screwed my favorite character over for the last time! I’m boycotting Marvel until you overturn this development/story!” thing. There was no last straw, it was just a matter of them not making comics that interested me in any way (which is really MY DEAL and not strictly their problem; Marvel certainly doesn’t owe me anything). When they started producing something I wanted to read (if ever), I’d go back.

    Well, this new Daredevil comic exists, and I surely do want to read that. But I do agree on principle with the Big Two Strike, and I hate that increasing my Marvel purchases from zero to one coincides with this worthy call to arms.

    But I think I’m going to do it anyway, because I don’t want to punish the Waid/Martin/Rivera team, you know? They’re like that athlete Plok was talking to–it’s not Marcos Martin’s fault that his employer has jerked around one of its co-architects for decades. And I don’t even mean “I don’t want to take the food out of their mouths” because of course any of them could be successful working for another publisher or with a different application of talents–Marcos Martin: Hollywood storyboard artist (they would be FOOLS not to have him!). I mean that from everything I’ve read, these guys are putting some EFFORT into their work. Not just servicing a trademark, not just playing with the toys for the sake of it, but sitting down and going, “Okay, how could we put together a seriously good Daredevil comic?” In some sense, this is just rationalizing my own wants, but I would legitimately feel bad if these guys got together to knock Daredevil out of the park and nobody showed up for it.

    So Marvel will get $3 from me on a regular basis where they didn’t before, but I think I might like to make that up in not going to see the movies anymore–that’s really the extent to which I’ve been supporting them the last couple years.

    That’s kind of the unfortunate thing about all the calls to boycott. I’ve read a bunch of comment threads on various places about this, and a lot of the people who would be inclined to do so aren’t buying these comics ANYWAY for the same reasons as me. It’s the people who do have two dozen Marvels on their pull list every month and get the mini-busts that would really send a message, but many of them (broad generalization; exceptions must and do exist) seem to be on the side of “What the hell? Kirby’s FAMILY didn’t draw Fantastic Four; why should they get paid ANYTHING?”

  10. No… yeah… I go through “Oh FUCK you guys” every couple years myself. (The last one ended when Marvel gave Gene Colan some money. Which is more than I did.)

    My current stand: Obviously, the comics corporations are deeply entrenched in some fairly evil positions. But they do seem to have learned something, and while they don’t acknowledge the mistakes of the past in word – it’s silent retcons at best, with no admission of guilt – they HAVE made some progress in DEED, and the current crop of creators are treated way better.

    And if they happen to go out of business I won’t… nah, I’ll CARE, because I’ll be really interested from a historical perspective and I’ll be sad that people are losing their jobs, but I don’t have any personal relationship with Marvel or DC as a corporation.

    And I do care a lot about good, interesting art – So if they put out stuff that looks like good, interesting art I’ll buy it.

    Although I probably wouldn’t if Marvel didn’t give Gene Colan some money.

  11. Worthy points, all of ’em…

    And I respect the ethical position Mark and Justin partake of, here. My own position is a little different though. I wish I’d actually said this up top, it was something I was musing aloud about on Twitter a while ago and then once I’d mused I forgot about it, but it goes something like this:

    We just had a referendum here in B.C., about whether or not to dump an unpopular but probably-necessary tax harmonization, that the government had rushed through in a (many economists suggest) really untimely way. So the basic argument against keeping it is “this takes extra money out of my pocket at the worst possible goddamn time”, and the argument for it is “it was stupid to institute it now, but it’d cost the Province more money to get rid of it than it would to keep it, and down the road we’re just going to have to bring it back in and that’ll cost even more again.”

    So…I’m one of your more lower-income people, whose standard of living has taken a noticeable dip because of this thing, so to vote in my own immediate interest would be to vote against keeping it. Then again, I often vote against my immediate interests, for what I perceive to be the greater good of my community; that same vote that, when more well-off people cast it, is in their own immediate interest. So it seemed pretty cut-and-dried, to me, what I was going to do. But then the government started to make some pretty disingenuous arguments in favour of the new tax, and I started to think…you know, whenever it comes time for a lot of more well-off people I know to vote against their immediate interests in the name of the larger social good, I’ve noticed that they very often they DON’T.

    And so I began to consider that, if the only social good my vote helps with is never the one that improves my own situation, I might be falling down in my responsibility as a voter. Because to look at the way this system functions with a slightly more critical eye, is I think to notice that:

    1. People in (for want of a better word) power are always telling me that I have an ethical responsibility to the people at large, and furthermore…

    2. …That people in power are always telling me that the government has a political responsibility to itself, to do what’s best for its own re-election, somewhat in the manner that a corporation has a fiduciary responsibility to pursue its own benefit in the name of its shareholders.

    Which of course is all EXACTLY BACKWARDS, right? Because as a private citizen, while I most certainly have an ethical responsibility to other individuals, I don’t have an ethical responsibility to “The People”…because that is what governments are for. More than that, it’s what they campaign on: “we’re the most ethical.” The claims they make for their economic policies don’t have room enough to slide a blade of grass between them, as far as the voters are concerned: since each side says they’ll take the best advice. In other words, no one is claiming they have better access to information, they just say the decisions they take in light of it will be ethically superior. So some tout their pragmatism, others their idealism, but in the end no one disputes that they’re all working from the same academic foundation.

    So the ethical responsibility (to The People!) is theirs; and as a result they can’t have any political responsibility to themselves that’s separate from it. “Vote for us, we’ll stop at nothing to win!” is one campaign slogan you will never hear, because democratic systems are meant to exclude undemocratic parties — are explicitly set up for the purpose of excluding them.

    But that doesn’t mean nobody has a political responsibility to themselves. For example, I do: I have a political responsibility to myself, to exercise my franchise for whatever purposes I think best, whether or not anyone else approves them. I can change my mind about things; I don’t even have to be consistent. I can even choose not to vote. But I’m still responsible to myself, for what I choose.

    Okay, and I admit I’ve gone off into a bit of a sermon here, but…

    What it all boils down to is that my responsibility to the corporate mass of my fellow countrymen begins and ends — me being neither a premier nor a prince — with my own esteem of my own franchise. Well, if it were otherwise, wouldn’t I be morally compelled to seek public office? I’m not saying voting is all I ever do for what I consider the public good (it isn’t), but I am saying that the responsibilities of citizenship are distinct from the responsibilities of public office. This isn’t ancient Athens, this is here and now, and so if I vote against my own interests in the name of what I consider to be the public good, it isn’t that once having done it I’m committed to doing it forever, while those who’ve never done it can do whatever advantages them best without rebuke! Because if it’s on me, then it’s on them too. But if it’s not on them…

    …Then it <isn't on me, so as soon as the government started telling me that I should vote for the new tax because it was in the best interest of The People, I started to think…hey, but when did I become the only person in front of whom this particular buck stops? And: what in the hell makes me think anything’s going to get better, if I forever bar myself from using my voice to speak for myself? And so speaking for myself I voted against the new tax, because if I’m not drawing a public official’s salary then I don’t see why I should do a public official’s job for them.

    And forgive the length, but here’s the point: that wasn’t a boycott. That was me saying “I’m not going to kill you, but I don’t have to save you.”

    Good enough for a segue?

    So I appreciate you guys not wanting to punish the innocent, and I get that whole business of making nuanced decisions about such things, and I totally support it…and I think your decisions are probably nuanced, thoughtful, and good. Justin, if you hit ’em in the movies then you’re hitting ’em where it really hurts! Don’t let anyone tell you different: a hit in comics purchases may go unnoticed (or what is very much the same: unexplained), but by GOD they’re counting on your movie dollar, you know? And Mark, by all means keep caring about good and interesting art! For me, though, I’m going to just plain be a bastard and absolve myself of ethical responsibility for this nasty industry: I’m with Nate, I’m just going to recoil from the insensitivity of it all.

    Because I think, along with you guys, that that’ll make three sturdy legs of a nice Protest Stool?

    We’re all in this together, because we’re all comics fans. We can’t all find the same way, necessarily. I myself am not notifying Marvel that the Kirby decision is making me boycott them, as Bissette’s Battlin’ Buccaneers are…I am not going to be that guy who complains to the management about the poor service at the restaurant, I am going to be the guy who doesn’t say a word to them and just doesn’t come back…and not only that, but it isn’t just the guy who runs that one restaurant I’m washing my hands of, but that brother of his who runs the restaurant across the street. So…pardon me, just had a beer…it isn’t that I’m registering my protest, it’s that I’m withdrawing my labour: but permanent-like. So it’s a strike in that sense, which is really the sense of me moving to another town and getting another job that I enjoy…so I guess really not a strike at all, but if not all of us will join Bissette’s Buccaneers I do think that maybe there’s a chance we will all do something in our own way.

    I bet I know what Matthew’s going to do, for example.


    Again, sorry for the length and the lecturing. I feel funny about saying all of this with what’s going on in England right now. But then is there ever really a good time, for anything?

  12. I appreciate your honesty in all this. As for what my answer is, it’s fairly long and complicated, and it’s fairly messy and inchoate and intemperate. (Though how could it be otherwise?) So here goes…

    I have Marvel in my blood. My father was Peter B. Gillis’s college roommate –no kidding–and he passed his comics fandom on to me. I grew up in the 90s, the age of big muscles and big guns, but the first comic I ever read was the Marvel Milestone Edition reprint of Uncanny X-Men #1, complete with all the weird 60s ads. (“Grog grows own tail!”) I’d already known the X-Men from the action figures and the cartoon but this was something different. X-Men was already something that took me to another world, but this was showing me that world through the lens of yet another world that was itself alien and fascinating and weird. And so that was when I was sold–not just the history, but the history of the history.

    And so even as I profoundly enjoyed all the Lee and Liefeld stuff, I sought out such Silver Age reprints as I could find. I got my parents to get me a couple of Marvel Masterworks volumes. I read the reprints of the Lee-Ditko Spider-Man comics from the “Spider-Man Classics” series and enjoyed them a lot more than the infamous Clone Saga that was going on at the time. My father helped instruct me in comics history as well.

    And so I grew up with Stan and Jack and Steve–the real stuff. And it shaped me, and inspired me. DC always interested me too, of course (I’ve always loved the idea of Green Lantern in particular even though the execution has never lived up to it) but it just didn’t hit me in the same place. I have Asperger’s Syndrome, you see, and I both suffered from the social interactions (always difficult in adolescence even for “neurotypicals”) and rejoiced in the hyperfocuesd mentality it gave me, the way my obsessions with language and storytelling drove me to become a writer. In the awful days of late childhood (when I first started noticing girls) and early adolescence it felt like a terrible curse but an unspeakable gift as well. (Jim Lee helped cause my sexual awakening, by the way; I don’t remember whether I first noticed the cute girl who sat next to me in class who somehow already had a boyfriend at 10 and later attacked me in the playground–just like Dark Phoenix!–or Jim Lee’s Psylocke.)

    The way the Marvel superheroes dealt with their powers and their roles helped give me a language to think about my difficulties I faced. The Thing’s struggles with guilt and shame, and the way how in spite of his occasional bouts of despair and anger he kept on in his fundamental human decency in spite of his ugly mug, which wasn’t really so unlovable after all. The Hulk’s battles with an uncomprehending world and with his own anger. Spider-Man’s troubles with girls, his constant failures, and the way that he somehow managed to (sorry) “rise above it all!” That was and is my life. G.K. Chesterton wrote something along the lines of “Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be slain.” The Marvel heroes helped give me the strength to face the dragons of the adolescent world and my own heart. I’m well past that now, but a lot of the struggles I faced then are still with me now in different forms, and I have new ones too. Now I identify with Daredevil and Doctor Strange as well. I’m someone, in other words, who would agree with pretty much every word of . Andrew Garfield’s speech at Comicon.

    But I definitely feel the logic behind Bissette’s call for a boycott. After all, if these stories matter so much, then surely the people who laid the told them should matter too. And it’s criminal if the companies act as if they don’t. And I feel the logic, too, behind your stance of rejecting them, of leaving the whole thing behind, past and present and future. I’m not sure how much good the boycott would do. It’s all tied up not just with Marvel but with the whole IP business they’ve become a part of which has slowly sucked the life out of their comics, making them licensed comics based on themselves. And how many fans even care? And it’s impossible to get away from too: just a few moments ago I saw a Williams-Sonoma catalogue which sold Marvel Comics cookie cutters. (Deeply fitting, given the cookie-cutter nature of so much of their current product, but it’s also rather revealing that they are all based on Silver Age iconography and meant to evoke old comics, not Greg Land.)

    And then there’s the fact that I was raised specifically with the Silver Age Marvel, and so the whole Marvel culture of old was something that drew me, as opposed to the soulless Marvel of the present. But then I realized that culture was a lie, that it was all really a front for exploitation, that Stan Lee brought something important to the table but he was also the ultimate cause of everything that went wrong–that he really was “the Man,” as it were. And that’s deeply painful. Because Marvel is deeply wrapped up in my connections with my friends, with my family, with my own self-image and the things that matter to me. How much of that is a lie too? If I left Marvel behind, how much of me would be left?

    But still, sometimes you need to accept that the whole world around you is corrupt and you are too. Sometimes you need to accept that you’ve built your whole life on a lie and move on. There’s other literature; for some of us there’s real religion too. (I shouldn’t need to imagine Spider-Man standing beside me in difficult times and bearing my sufferings; because I literally believe Jesus does just that.) Grant Morrison was a liar; superheroes aren’t real at all, they were made up by people, people who were treated very badly by the people they made them for. They’re not gods, they’re not modern myths, they’re just product.

    But then a funny thing happened: the new Ultimate Spider-Man. I read the all the commentary, the overjoyed reactions of black fans who saw themselves in the new Spider-Man, and the way people like Glenn Beck stopped even pretending to not be racist over this, and I realized that I was wrong. Superheroes do matter, and they should. No work of art can be reduced to the process of its creation, however important that is. Because every work has readers, sometimes it even has fans, and they take up the meaning and increase it. And Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and, yes, Stan Lee created something that resonates with people in the modern world and shows them what heroism and duty and hope mean. They embody those things for us here and now. (And that goes even for those of us who are actually religious, because meaning of the Gospel is incarnational and it’s deeply important to work out how it resonates with as well as contradicts the symbols of our culture. For me, what living out the Gospel here and now means is inevitably bound up with Peter Parker struggling out from under that piece of machinery.) Superheroes are a deeply humanizing influence on our popular culture; compare Captain America to Transformers III.

    And as for why this is all important now, maybe it’s too much to hope that some day some poor black and/or Latino kid who’s tempted to riot will look at Miles Morales and think, here’s this kid who looks like me but he’s aspiring to be a hero, to face the awfulness of the world around him by being better, and I can do the same. After all, poor youth probably don’t read a lot of comics anymore. We’ve succeeded admirably in making comics superhero an arcane niche hobby like stamp collecting and taking them away from so many of the people who really need them. (That wasn’t always the case, though. Look at rap music—we’d also have to reject a lot of that if we rejected Marvel. I’m not an expert but I’ve read enough Fourth Letter to know that.) But maybe someday Miles Morales will be in a movie, or a cartoon, or a video game, or a cookie cutter. These symbols underlie our lives even when we don’t think of them. Grant Morrison was right: in an important sense, superheroes are real.

    But he was wrong (at least in that Mindless Ones interview) about what superheroes are. Out of a desire to justify his current place in DC, he said that “There’s something quite predatory about the superhero idea, but maybe that’s just how they seem to the prey; owls are lovely but not if you’re a mouse.” But that’s not what superheroes are. Especially not Marvel superheroes. This is Galactus, the thing they were meant to fight. Superheroes, especially Marvel superheroes, face down the implacable forces that feed on human life and look them in the eye and battle them with all their might. And if superheroes are in some sense real, wouldn’t the first thing they sought to do is to reform or escape the cruel machinery that brought them here?

    And the problem isn’t just Marvel, either. Every industry is built to some extent on exploitation; every society has its scapegoats. That doesn’t mean we should withdraw from society. It means we should do everything we can to make it better even if all we can do is be a little better ourselves. Superhero comics are a lot like America: inspired by high ideals but based on theft. If you reject America to reject Glenn Beck and the Indian genocide, you’re rejecting Martin Luther King Jr., too. And if you reject Marvel to reject Jim Shooter and the theft of Kirby’s work, you’re rejecting Jack Kirby too, or at least a substantial part of what he gave to the world. I think in spite of everything those ideals America is based on are worth taking seriously, and maybe the same can be said for Marvel. Maybe Marvel, like America, is at least worth saving.

    So given that, what do we do? What’s our Ultimate Nullifier? Is saving Marvel–or at least finding a way to preserve whatever was good about it–even possible? I don’t know. But I know what I’m doing.

    I’m a writer, and like a lot of other fans, I have my own stories I wanted to tell about the characters. And the one that I thought was remotely feasible, at least someday, when I’d written other stuff, was my own series of the Silver Surfer. I don’t know if I ever want to read another Marvel Comic, but I know after this business that I don’t aspire to write one anymore. But then I thought about this story, which meant a lot more to me than I had realized, and how it could be told. And I decided to figure out what the central things that mattered to me about it were and zero in on them, and on the mood and tone that I wanted. And it was intensely liberating. I didn’t have to worry anymore about how to reconcile it with Annihilation, which was an overall excellent series and one of the things that were worth it about the last ten years of Marvel, but made things awkward for me in some ways. I could save storytelling from the tumor of continuity. It’s not just a matter of “analogues” or “archetypes” or of filing off the serial numbers, though what I’m aiming at is definitely a species of fanfic. It’s about looking at the deep structures of the Marvel and DC Universes, and finding a way to join that with something new to create something more than the sum of its parts–the way Marvel and DC themselves used to do.

    We know that Marvel did something right, that it had patterns and tropes and ideas that could create really resonant characters. And we know that the Marvel of today has all but completely lost track of what made it work in the first place. So I wonder: what if instead of (or as well as) responding to the Kirby lawsuit by cutting things off, by constricting, we responded by expanding? What if this wasn’t an end, but a beginning? What if we dealt with this by getting excited and making things? It’s what Jack Kirby would have done, after all. It’s what he did do.

    As Chesterton wrote:
    “And though skies alter and empires melt,
    This word shall still be true:
    If we would have the horse of old,
    Scour ye the horse anew.”

    Or to put it another way:

    “There came a time when the Old Gods died! The brave died with the cunning! The noble perished, locked in battle with the unleashed evil! It was the last day for them! An ancient era was passing in fiery holocaust! The final moment came with the fatal release of the indescribable power — which tore the home of the Old Gods asunder — split it in great halves — and filled the universe with the blinding death-flash of its destruction! In the end there were two giant molten bodies, spinning slow and barren — clean of all that had gone before — adrift in the fading sounds of cosmic thunder… Silence closed upon what had happened — a long, deep silence — wrapped in massive darkness… it was this way for an age… THEN—THERE WAS NEW LIGHT! ”

    I don’t know if there are any creators other than me invested enough in this for “Post-Marvelism” to be a thing. (Though if it does become a thing, it should always be written in “Kirby-quotes.”) In many ways, it already is a thing–there’s Buffy, there’s the post-revival Doctor Who–but it could be further sharpened by a new engagement with the source material. I don’t know how much good it would do for the creators. But if there were, say, a sudden burst of “Post-Marvelist” activity where some or all of the profits for it went to the Hero Initiative (which doesn’t get mentioned nearly enough in these conversations), that would at least get people talking. And thinking. And when you get people started thinking, it’s hard for them to stop.

    Basically, I have a question of my own to ask. Jack Kirby dedicated his life to comics. He did his utmost to find ways to make the industry and medium of comics and the genre of superheroes in particular (and all other genres he got his hands on, but that was the one best suited to his talents, the one that was shaped by those talents) better.

    If Jack Kirby matters enough to you that you care about what was done to him, and those like him, does he matter enough for you to finish what he started?

    That’s something that every fan has to answer for themselves. I understand if your answer is “no,” and I won’t reproach you for it. After all, we’re all in this old shark’s mouth together.

    But I know what my answer is. I’m all for ignoring the new stuff from the Big Two, but I believe it’s more important than ever to dig deep in the foundations of the Marvel and DC Universes. Both to show the world–and the companies–why the creators are important and to look at what they did right so we can figure out how to do it in our own way.

  13. You’re quite right about the Hero Initiative, Stranger: although I was refraining from mentioning it for a reason, and maybe I’ll get back to it later. All about unions and such, you see! But for now, the important thing is, just as you say, to get people thinking.

    For me, I don’t know if Marvel’s worth saving…but I know I’m not gonna save it, or feel moved to save it. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop talking about Kirby’s work, or Ditko’s, or Gene Colan’s, or anybody else’s…it made me happy on my own account to write this thing, for example, and it gave me nothing like a qualm…so I’m with you and Nate: there’s all the more reason to talk about what made the old artists great, now that I’m not supporting the thing that was built on their backs. I was saying just a little while ago, to Justin I think…right now in comic stores there are brands that are characters — Superman, Batman, Spider-Man — and brands that are writers and artists, and there are also brands that are companies and their house styles. But when comics switch to digital distribution I think this latter brand is going to be revealed as a category that was specific to brick-and-mortar stores. Without the racks in front of you to browse, it doesn’t make any difference is Superman is published by Marvel or DC or Top Shelf or even Aardvark/Vanaheim — you can’t see that differentiation anymore, so the differentiation doesn’t matter. Everyone knows what a typical Superman story is like, what a typical Batman story is like. Superman saves Lois Lane and Metropolis at the same time, Batman figures out where Two-Face is going to strike next and he catches him. Superman stories and Batman stories will always be the same wherever they are found. Take a look at what a typical Flash or Green Lantern story is now, though — it’s something that’s only about the house style, about the corporate brand. And that makes sense, for just as long as the corporate brand is an acquirable category, because selling Flash and GL and selling the line and the company are the same thing. This is Geoff Johns’ biggest accomplishment, as I see it, that he’s successfully fused a corporate brand with its characters’ brands. But if no one cares about the corporate labelling anymore, no one will care that the Flash — whose typical story was once “runs really fast in a circle to beat Captain Cold by using high school physics” — now spends all his time time-travelling to save the DCU’s historical continuity. So it’s my (reasonably) firm conviction that without the galerie of the comics store this becomes a meaningless activity…

    …And admittedly, Marvel may be a little different from DC in this respect, because their in-universe continuity is a little different, but I think the end result will be pretty much the same. The characters will outlast the companies, just in terms of being at all comprehensible as things…and Jack’s work will continue to do what it’s always done, as will Siegel and Shuster’s, etc. etc. etc. The other day Colin Smith mentioned to me — and I most definitely did accuse him of sounding Chestertonian! — that perhaps the secret of the superhero story is that it isn’t the least politically-concerned type of story but the most so-concerned, and that’s why we love it so. Because, in a way, it engages in straight talk. So if you’re inspired to make more of it, then all I can do is applaud and shout encouragement…

    …Though I know it isn’t really where my own strengths lie, so I won’t be joining in the action with you. Actually to me it seems as though the cultural moment for a certain type of “saving” of the superhero came and went and was a rather sad thing at the time — it could’ve been wonderful, but business-as-usual crushed it. The superhero market, as long as DC and Marvel are in it, can’t grow anymore without changing completely, it seems to me. But maybe it is on the cusp of changing, so that might be very good news for an enterprising and idealistic person such as yourself!

    Hmm…need more coffee…

  14. I’m really only idealistic and enterprising for brief moments. Most of the time I’m lethargic and depressed. That’s part of why superheroes are so valuable to me, actually, since being idealistic and enterprising is written into the fabric of it.

    Basically, in spite of all the gestures I made toward some kind of relevance, which seem a little bit crass and self-serving to me now that I’ve got them out of my system, it’s all about me. Superhero comics are something that means a lot to me and I have to figure out how to express that, to communicate whatever I got from them to others, because superhero comics themselves mostly aren’t doing that anymore. I guess in many ways it’s a “you had to be there” sort of thing. I get the sense that you used to be there, but now you’re not, but I still am and yet “there” isn’t really “there” anymore; as Yogi Berra said, there’s no there there. What we have in common is that we’re not where the current publishing and editorial regime is. And given the abysmal sales of recent comics, we aren’t the only ones.

    That said, even though it would be very difficult for me to write from the perspective of a Miles Morales, or to do so in a way that’s any good, there could be something valuable about writing from where I am, as someone with autism. I’m certainly not the only comic fan who is, I think. A good friend of mine is too, for one, and I just talked with him this morning. He’s having some real financial, emotional and psychological problems right now and it really struck us how precisely those resonated with the comics we loved. The form of superhero comics is definitely well suited to us, with its gleefully convoluted layers of backstory and with so many elements to keep track of, but the content too. I was re The whole secret-identity thing fits with the difficulty we have making sense of the social world, the sense of being “trapped in a world you never made.” And there’s also the difficulties of dealing with autism itself, and how at the same time it can be a source of great strength too. There’s a lot of people who want it “cured,” that’s kind of the dominant narrative in “autism awareness” right now. As for me I have a lot of personal and ethical and religious objections to taking the hypothetical pill, but also I’ve read enough Fantastic Four issues to know that that never works. And it’s better to just admit that your skin is going to be made out of rocks for the rest of your life as long as you have people who love you.

  15. About superhero universes and branding: Well, I find that personally that a lot of what interests me the most about superhero comics is the stuff that isn’t “iconic,” the stuff that gets filtered out to make a “brand.” The “clutter” of superhero comics. A Superman story is “Superman saves Lois Lane and Metropolis at the same time,” yes, but there’s also the Bottle City of Kandor, Bizarro, the Phantom Zone, the Fortress of Solitude, Krypto the Superdog, Nightwing and Flamebird, Jimmy Olsen the Porcupine-Man, the Legion of Superheroes… Then all these concepts start crossbreeding with each other and you get things like Bizarro-Computo. That’s the Superman that interests me the most. I guess that’s one of the things I’m most interested in doing in my own work in the genre: creating a Boom Tube from the margins to the center, re-cluttering the post-blockbuster age. That’s Grant Morrison’s thing, of course. Because the beauty of the whole idea of Batman Inc. is that it’s an actual corporate brand that’s based on exactly the stuff that gets rejected to create a brand.

    I also love the web of interconnections that exists in superhero universes. In many ways a superhero universe is kind of the opposite of a brand. Does it make sense at all for Spider-Man as a brand that he exists in the same universe as Dracula? And yet it does make a weird kind of sense, too, both because Ditko’s Spider-Man himself is a creepy wall-crawling figure (I seem to remember you wrote earlier about the horror-movie influence on Marvel) and because for so many today vampires=teenage romance and guilt. That’s the fascinating thing about these connections, that sometimes there really are connections all a long that you didn’t notice at first. Or that the contrast between these vastly disparate elements can bring out facets of them we wouldn’t have realized at first.

    One of my favorite examples of this is a moment from Born Again. (Which was the last Marvel comic I read before I wrote my rant above, appropirately enough. The issue in question was even dedicated to Jack Kirby.) The Kingpin sends in Nuke to deal with Matt Murdock once and for all, and then Captain America shows up to stop him, and after the fight’s over we see Thor standing in the shadows, helping with the cleanup by bringing down rain, and Ben urich thinks of Captain America: “A soldier with a voice that can command a god, and does.” It’s bringing together three different characters from three different worlds: noir, pulp, and an already fairly weird hybrid of fantasy and sci-fi that mainly exists in the anime-est of anime and in some teenagers homebrew RPG campaign. And Miller and Mazzuchelli pull it off so perfectly that you forget just how weird it is to have Thor of all people pop up, however briefly, in one of the most grounded of all Marvel stories.

    But really it’s even weirder than that. I mean, we grew up reading comics so it’s normal to us. But imagine you’re watching this noir thriller, and suddenly the villain calls in Rambo to kill his enemy. And then Doc Savage comes in to stop him, and then Aragorn shows up to help with the cleanup. But Aragorn is somehow also Space Aragorn?! So really, a superhero universe is a fascinating proposition precisely because it’s so strange and paradoxical. Alan Moore, in spite of his rejection (for very good reasons) of mainstream comics as a whole, gets that. What’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen but an attempt to apply superhero-universe logic to literature as a whole?

    And this really seems to be the moment for the superhero universe, in some ways. We have an honest to goodness Avengers movie coming up, and in spite of my alienation from Marvel I’m still kind of excited about such a thing existing, whether or not it should exist under these circumstances and whether or not I’ll see it. Because suddenly normal people have to ask: does it make sense to have Iron Man exist in the same world as Norse gods from space? And the answer is no. No it doesn’t. Not unless you can make it make sense, and that can be a very fun and rewarding challenge for a writer to take up.

    And yes, in many ways the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” is all an exercise in branding, but it’s also true that there are reasons this kind of branding is working so well here and now. Because you could say it doesn’t make sense in the same ways that real life doesn’t “make sense,” and maybe especially in the internet age. Because the internet is a never-ending Crisis of Infinite Earths, where countless worlds collide with each other every day. Lovecraft said that “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents,” but now the internet’s correlated them all for us whether we want it or not. And we try to deal with that by setting up “filter bubbles,” but like all bubbles they break eventually. And then you get Norse gods from space bringing down the noirish rain that falls on the streets of the naked city, and who knows what will happen next?

  16. One last thing before I more or less move on, about the future of comics and superheroes or the lack thereof:

    When I was writing up that last part, I initially wanted to quote the discussion in “Orthodoxy” of the post that has to constantly be repainted to stay the same post, but because I’d invoked the black Ultimate Spider-Man earlier I didn’t want to use the image of black posts and white posts. (“What have you done for the black posts? Answer me that, Mr. Green Lantern!”) So I went for “Ballad of the White Horse” instead. But there’s another part of that chapter that’s very pertinent here: “An almost unnatural vigilance is really required of the citizen because of the horrible rapidity with which human institutions grow old. It is the custom in passing romance and journalism to talk of men suffering under old tyrannies. But, as a fact, men have almost always suffered under new tyrannies; under tyrannies that had been public liberties hardly twenty years before”

    Fantastic Four #1 came out a little over 50 years ago now. That’s a substantial portion of a human lifetime, but not all of it. There’s a lot that’s been done in that time and there’s a lot that’s been lost. But maybe there’s still some future left?

    And there’s some unexplored recent past and present for the superhero genre left too. Because after the great market crash, superhero comics turned inward, becoming primarily about themselves. And then the nostalgia mini-boom fed the growing focus on brand identity, which now started driving the comics more than ever. But it used to be that one of the strengths of the superhero genre was its ability to take in new material from outside sources and transform it. The last outside influence they took in was blockbuster movies, which happened,not coincidentally, just when Marvel was entering the blockbuster movie arena. And now superhero comics are a colony of contemporary Hollywood, with all the venality and lack of imagination that implies.

    But a lot happened since then. The internet happened. Manga happened. What would Jack Kirby have done with manga? What would he have done with Photoshop? When we think of photoshop in comics we think of Greg Land, but Jack Kirby spent a lot of time experimenting with collages, maybe the only aspect of his work that hasn’t been homaged to death. Because really, Photoshop, like Autotune, is just a tool. The problem is when we let those tools make us lazy and erase anything human from our art. I don’t know whether he’s that much into Kirby, but Andrew Hussie’s MS Paint Adventures, especially Homestuck, is in many ways a natural development from the Kirby Kollages.

    That comic makes me think, though: there are some pretty strong superhero comics influences, but they’re mixed with the manga and video game influences to the point where they’re barely distinguishable. Right now, with manga and video games having such a huge influence, it seems like the boundary between a superhero and not-a-superhero is more permeable than ever before. Are the protagonists of shonen manga superheroes? Maybe the reason superheroes are dying is that in fact they’re everywhere now? And maybe that means the end of the superhero genre as a separate, tangible thing? Maybe the future of Kirby is like Lovecraft is now, more an ingredient in any number of things than something that exists on its own? (And Hellboy, which mixes Kirby and Lovecraft, is an important precedent in that regard?) Maybe just as pulp heroes dissolved and their ingredients formed part of superheroes, so superheroes will dissolve and become something else?

    But at the same time, what do you get when you take all the stuff that evolved from or parallel to the superhero genre and put it back into the characteristic tropes and themes of the superhero genre? That’s a genuinely interesting question to me but I haven’t seen many people attempt anything in that vein, Runaways being the huge exception here. And in its own way, that can be as incestuous as nostalgia-comics, but if you put together ingredients that disparate yet connected, something interesting could emerge.

    DC does, admittedly, seem to be looking toward the future a little bit, now that they’ve reached the point where they can’t not do so. But it seems like too little, too late. Because in most cases it’s yet another example of putting the brands over the creators and the stories. They’re aiming for a new audience with a new distribution channel but selling them the same old stuff. So they’re reaching out to claim the future in the wrong way. But maybe that leaves the door open for someone to claim the future in the right way.

  17. Hey Stranger, I had that same facsimile edition X-Men #1 as a kid. I had both Lee-Kirby X-Men #1 and Claremont-(Jim) Lee X-Men #1, and I totally DID NOT GET the new one. I thought it was some sort of retelling of the original X-Men #1 but with new characters added. “They’ve both got Magneto as the villain and they both open up with the X-Men at a training session…and the new one looks pretty cool but I do not understand what’s going on AT ALL.”

    Anyway. That conceptual cluttering is one of those things I love about Marvel and DC as well. Like the Dark Phoenix Saga…it makes a TERRIBLE trade paperback because it wasn’t designed to be read as a single volume. In TPB form, it just sort of starts on the tail-end of the last story and relies on a bunch of plotlines from earlier that aren’t in the book, and it’s got a Dazzler story that doesn’t turn out to have anything to do with anything, really. To me, that sums up what it must be like to be a superhero. There’s no thematic unity to your life–the X-Men try to focus on recruiting and training mutants, but then out of nowhere a demon shows up and attacks the mansion, so you’ve got to put everything on hold for THAT.

    Which was one of the things I loved about Buffy as well. What turned that from a fun show to an awesome show for me was the episode where John Ritter is dating Buffy’s mom, and then he turns out to be an android. That was the moment where it was like, “This really IS a superhero show. It’s always SOMETHING, but you never quite know what that something is going to be.”

    I tell you though, I am a guy who as a kid made it a life goal to one day write the Fantastic Four, so I totally get where you’re coming from, but I personally think energy would be better served at this point creating totally original superheroes and trying to start something new, you know? Indie superheroes that aren’t just analogues attached to high concepts, (“What if Superman turned evil?” “What if the Joker were Batman?” “What if a superhero and a supervillain were roommates? …oh but wait, Peter Parker and Harry Osborn.”)

  18. Why, I would’ve thought you’d get a piece of paper and write an old-fashioned letter! Still (as I think you’ve said before? AND I AGREE) the most effective way to register one’s displeasure.

    Of course what would go in the letter…hmm. It’s all about how to say it, and that’s not nothing…especially considering the message would not be a run-of-the-mill complaint. I was thinking about this just last night, and it seems to me it requires some serious thinking about just what the message really is. “Although I appreciate that your company has done nothing illegal in the pursuit of its agenda, I must tell you that as a consumer of comics and comic-based properties in general I am nevertheless very put-off by…”?

    I don’t know. How would I say it, if I were planning to say it? How do you tell somebody they’re making it harder and harder for you to countenance doing business with them?

  19. Why, I would’ve thought you’d get a piece of paper and write an old-fashioned letter!

    Yeah, well. A tool is not a plan. I mean, I’m sure I could come up with something to say that I could sign my own name to. But.

  20. Pingback: Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » Aggregator aggravator·

  21. Plok,

    Long time, man.
    So sorry I haven’t participated in ages.
    But, you read my blog and know my deal, so I’m sure you understand.

    As for the idea of a boycott, or a demonstration or something… well… I do THINK about giving it all up, but, alas, not for the reasons you delineated.

    Instead, I try to sound off against what I feel is wrong with some of my reviews and remarks, The readership that I have seem to follow my line of thinking, and those who don’t also feel free to voice their opinions in the comments – and they are most welcome (and encouraged) to do so.

    Still, I wanted to do something MORE to reach out to more people than read my blog.

    So I worked up a new line of apparel – one design in particular lends itself for exactly the kind of peaceful “uprising” you espouse.
    A “vote with your dollars” revolution with a “picket sign on your chest” angle.

    Taking a panel from the “House of M” storyline, where Scarlet Witch wishes “NO MORE MUTANTS”, I re-imagined it, and re-drew it into a line of garments with “NO MORE…” and then a multitude of selections of whom you wish to be “no more”.
    BENDIS, QUESADA, DIDIO, etc… and various tropes and attitudes as well.
    With an option for buyers to suggest their own version that I will then make available for them (and everyone) to obtain.

    My idea (and I missed out on the Convention season for this year) was to have fans buy these and wear them out to cons to show their displeasure.

    Luckily, shirts can be work all year and can be worn anywhere, so the message is still sent out. Even if it’s just at comic shoppes and where ever else comic fans gather.

    Feel free to delete this comment if my hawking a line of product (which ostensibly is created to peacefully “overthrow” the bad decisions/ decision-makers in the big-two) is seen as bad form.

    Otherwise, here’s the link to my blog post about it – with animated ads and links to go get the gear.


    So, while I am not joining your picket line, I AM waving a placard from a nearby rooftop (… but I’ll be reading the new DEFENDERS title while I do so. Sorry. It’s DEFENDERS, man… I am weak!).


  22. Understood! You are the man who has a sigil-window in his house; you can’t be expected not to buy Defenders comics, for heaven’s sake!

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