How Lee & Kirby's "Fantastic Four" Birthed the Marvel Universe, Part 1
At the end of every year, ROBOT 6 contributors Tom Bondurant and Carla Hoffman get together over the e-mail tubes and talk Big Two comics. Part 1 is here.
Tom: Something I’ve been curious about, off and on — what did Metro‘s customers think of the Man of Steel trailer? What do you think the average superhero fan wants out of a Superman book?
Carla: It’s mixed. It really is, some love it, some are grumbly and already ready to complain. I think what the average superhero fan and what the general fan wants are entirely different. Superman’s a difficult character to get right because of his status as a cultural icon and how much that character can mean to different generations. Some people just know Smallville and, at least from the trailer, it doesn’t even seem to be that. [Producer Christopher] Nolan’s influence looks pretty strong and, as much as formula might work in the Avengers movie mythos, the same style and tone for Batman really doesn’t jibe with the Man of Steel. Well, for me. Others might totally want a deep, emotional connection to an outsider and an outcast. Mind you, I’d tell them there are some great X-Men comics out there, but eh, what do I know? It’s a trailer, and very hard to judge on what the movie is going to be like when we see the full thing this summer.
What do you think the Man of Steel trailer is all about? What kind of Superman do we need in the new millennium?
Tom: To me, the basic Superman approach is that Superman always does the right thing. It’s not about the powers. The powers just underscore that he can do whatever it takes. So it’s easy for Superman to punch something, or fly into the sun. The question should be, how can he do what’s right? I think that applies regardless of millennium.
Carla: I really want to go back to that diversity thing you mentioned back up at the top. Now, Marvel’s trying: I think we’re doing really well with Captain Marvel and finding more room for heroines to take center stage. I think the lineup right now includes different tones and styles from team books to solo work, humor to crime drama. Property-wise, Marvel needs to print more kid-centric books that parents feel at ease buying for their children and also that children want. Otherwise, it’s not bad.
What could DC do to make their lineup more diverse? If anyone’s going to help with that and shake things up some, think Gail Simone might want to risk another firing?
Tom: She said something about getting to work with characters she’d never worked with before — so maybe Teen Titans? I’m glad you brought up Gail Simone, because she looks pretty bulletproof now. She’s not getting fired again. She’ll leave DC (if ever) on her own terms, and that’s fine with me.
Carla: Oh, good! I was thinking the same thing but didn’t want to say it out loud, you know. Oh, we of comic book publishing superstitions.
Seriously, I am so proud of how classy and amazing Gail Simone has been through everything that’s gone down at DC Comics. From day one of the New 52, she has been gracious, understanding, excited and committed to providing her fans and everyone else the best comics she can make. Simone could have easily pulled a Liefeld there and washed her hands of the whole company, but she was professional and passionate about her job and fans really do rally behind that. 2012 MVP for sure.
Tom: As far as all that goes generally, there’s room for improvement, but the New 52 does have a decently diverse lineup of books. When Vibe and Katana premiere in February, by my count there will be eight titles featuring female headliners (Katana, Batgirl, Batwoman, Catwoman, Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Birds of Prey and Worlds’ Finest) and four with prominent gay characters (Stormwatch, Earth 2, Teen Titans and Batwoman again).
Carla: Can I just quickly mention how much I am disappointed in Stormwatch? The team and motivations are fine, but some writers have trouble finding the same tone that the old guard had when it came to two powerful and dangerous gay characters who built a family for themselves. I feel that Midnighter and Apollo feel a little false as creative teams try and figure out how to play out that relationship. Batwoman is wonderful, Teen Titans is what Teen Titans is and I haven’t read much of Earth 2. Aside from Batwoman, Earth 2 and Teen Titans are in new territory, so some leeway is forgiven. But breaking up and re-romancing Midnighter and Apollo is like breaking up Superman and Lois Lane for me.
Tom: There’ll also be a few with non-white stars (Vibe, Firestorm, Green Lantern, and GL Corps, with Blue Beetle losing his own book but moving over to Threshold).
In terms of genre, the New 52’s still pretty superhero-centric, even with All-Star Western, Demon Knights and Sword of Sorcery. They’re still doing superhero-y things, even if they’re not superheroes, per se. Clearly DC saves the non-superhero genres for its non-super imprints. Vertigo gets all the “sophisticated” stuff, Johnny DC is for the kids, and I guess the demise of Minx a few years back soured it on young-adult-oriented books. I still say it could use a good humor title, even if it’s a superhero book.
Carla: That’s why Deadpool sells like gangbusters for us. It’s kind of a superhero story, as much as a mercenary can be, but it’s hilarious on its best days and fans remember that.
Vertigo is looking a little thin these days, isn’t it? Expect a big new push of mature readers titles coming in the new year?
Tom: I suppose Vertigo will still look the same — Fables, Unwritten, American Vampire, Saucer Country, etc. — but with more adaptations. How strange is that to contemplate? Marvel’s getting Star Wars back, and Vertigo has Django Unchained and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. (Note: Comparison may not be entirely warranted.)
Carla: And one last thing: I love Johnny DC. I wish Marvel had something like it because those DC Super Pets young readers books are fantastic!
Tom: Olivia is still a little too young for Johnny DC, but the LCS did have a Disney Junior magazine for her (featuring Doc McStuffins, her new favorite). As for the more real-world kind of diversity, your guess is as good as mine. White men are still responsible for the bulk of the New-52’s output, and I don’t know what DC can do, short of throwing some of that Warner money at the likes of Kelly Sue DeConnick, Becky Cloonan, Amanda Conner, Faith Erin Hicks, Devin Grayson, Kate Beaton and Colleen Coover — and giving them the freedom to do what they want. Like I said about Mark Waid, it’d have to be a pretty good deal, too, because it’s easy — no matter how unfair — to imagine a work environment where the higher-ups are micromanaging you, and you could get the boot at any time.
Carla: And it just doesn’t seem like management wants anyone to do that. Communication has been publicly pretty poor. I guess this is what it’s like when the company that buys out your humble little publishing company really lays into you. I’ll file this all away in case Disney gets a case of the micromanagement …
Tom: If it could happen to Gail Simone, who appears genuinely to like working for DC, it could happen to anyone. Moreover, the development of new (or new-to-DC) talent goes along with the success of the lower-tier titles — so if the books don’t do well, that gives the publisher another reason not to try anything new. It makes one very pessimistic, to say the least. But hey, at least they *did* re-hire Gail Simone, so maybe they’re learning.
Carla: They have to be. I even mentioned it at the top there, but Image is climbing up the ladder in a way I wouldn’t have believed a few years prior. You have to innovate and you have to change in order to evolve (like the X-Men!) and DC is due for something new. Again. =)
Tom: And I do like a lot of the New 52. I like that most of the A-listers are helmed by a consistent creative team which for the most part gets to do what it wants. I like that there are more quirky books like Dial H and I, Vampire that seem to have the support of management. There are some things I don’t like, but those are the books I don’t buy. I suppose you’ll know I’m completely happy when I’m buying all 52 of the things.
Carla: Exactly. The nice thing about putting out so many books is that there’s going to be something for everyone. No matter how many people bring a stellar meatloaf to the pot luck, someone else will have brought some vegetables or that darn can of creamed corn that you can sample, try and shove off your plate. What we don’t like is shuffled off the shelves, hopefully something new will take its place and we complete the circle of comic publishing life.
Tom: But the problem with that is, if nobody samples the really good dish — like the homemade brownies from the Junior League cookbook — maybe that cook won’t be motivated to bake them anymore, and future potlucks will be deprived unjustly. Or maybe I’m just nervous about what to bring to the next Sunday school party….
In any event, you’ll be happy to hear I’m enjoying Hickman’s Avengers, as well as the relaunched Hulk, Thor, Fantastic Four and FF. The “veteran” of my Marvel purchases is now Daredevil (which apparently didn’t need the NOW! treatment), but I dropped Captain America when Brubaker left, and I’ll similarly be saying goodbye to Winter Soldier.
Carla: Yep, it was bound to happen. I’m sticking in with Captain America and I’ll try the new Winter Soldier, just to be fair, but man. When you set the bar with years of quality storytelling, it’s hard to give someone else a chance. For me, the difficult choice is with Iron Man; Salvador LaRocca and Matt Fraction have been on the title since the first Iron Man movie and have followed a similar tone and pacing that I’ve grown comfortable with. While Kieron Gillen has some great ideas for the next stage of Tony Stark and Iron Man’s career, it’s that darn Greg Land art that pushes my eyeballs off the page. Ugh.
On the other hand, Bendis really needed to move on from the Avengers. I think it was around the Heroic Age where I really started to feel the weight of his run on my shoulders, how it felt a little stale and he seemed to need a fresh start on a new book get his groove back. For me, at least. Hickman is going to work such magic on the new era of Avengers and Bendis I think will be happy over with Marvel’s merry mutants. Jason Aaron didn’t feel right on the Incredible Hulk, so I was sold the moment I heard Waid was bringing us the Indestructible. Like I said, Marvel NOW! has been very very good to me.
Tom: My Marvel commitments are increasing perhaps faster than I’d like. Not only will Avengers be twice-monthly, Hickman’s also writing the new (NOW!) New Avengers. With the end of the thrice-monthly Amazing Spider-Man, I guess that frees up some funds too — assuming Superior’s not going to come out as often, that is. How do you feel about all this production? Is the conveyor belt going too fast for either Marvel or the readers?
Carla: I can tell you it’s a little fast for retail sales clerks like Yours Truly. I’m starting to feel like that I Love Lucy episode where they speed up the chocolates on the conveyor belt! It’s weird to feel overwhelmed by comic publishing schedules, as I am far more used to complaining about books being late, but yeah. We might want to slow down with all of that. On the other hand, for people who feel like a physical trip to a comic shop is a waste of time for a monthly book or fast consumers of media who feel that trades are the only way to go, multiple issues a month seem to keep their attention longer. And we sell more books. So I can’t say I’m entirely against it yet, just wary of the cost and what will Uncanny Avengers feel like now that they’re the first to be delayed.
Tom: By way of wrapping up, how about one thing you were glad to see out of the Big Two (it can be one thing from each) in 2012, and one thing you hope you don’t see in 2013? For me, the highlight of Marvel was Ed Brubaker’s classy, emotional farewell to Captain America. However, its low point continues to be the failure to throw at least a little of those Avengers-movie profits toward those creators who made the book what it is today. I know it’s a little late in our discussion to mention that — but at the same time I know there’s no incentive for Marvel/Disney to change, which is incredibly frustrating.
Carla: Hrm. That’s always a sticky subject and, being a humble register jockey, I would have no idea how to quantify something that has created the foundations of an entire universe of characters and stories. There’s basic consideration, but I think we’re all expecting something more tangible than a name in the credits and a portion of the box office. It is frustrating and sadly, that frustration allows the larger companies to drag their feet instead of solving the issues.
Tom: My high point of DC’s 2012 might change tomorrow, but for now it’s the eclectic mix of books at the margins of the New 52. Whatever else it’s done, the relaunch has at least given lip service to different genres and new approaches. The low point is Gail Simone’s treatment. Even if she was re-hired, the fact that DC thought it could fire her by email speaks to the most paranoid suppositions about the corporate mindset. Both DC and Marvel need all the talented people they can get.
So what’ve you got? Take us out, true believer!
Carla: How do I pick just one? Marvel has been absolutely amazing this year, staking a claim in the movie business, creating a huge world-spanning story arc that we’ll be feeling the effects of well into 2013, taking solo books and bringing them into these fantastic pocket genres that have caught on with critics and fans, constantly working and evolving into something new into this brand new year… sure, I’m biased but I’ll say it: we’re awesome. But if I have to pick one, it’s The Avengers. It made Hawkeye a household name, caught on with the imaginations of non-comic fans and us die-hards alike, and changed the way we’re going to look at comic movies to come. It’s phenomenal.
I hope, however, we don’t see another long, drawn out event book this summer. I’m not saying no event books, I just think we’re totally done on 12-part, multi-month epics that stretch across the entire summer season. Avengers vs. X-Men could have been much shorter, so I hope Bendis’s Age of Ultron gets us in and out of the tale he’s coming back to tell with precision points of sharp storytelling. This will probably not happen.
From DC, I’m actually going to reverse your disappointment, and say that returning Gail Simone to the book she made popular and profitable was the best thing they’ve done all year. After so many problems between creators, editors and management, this act seems like someone is finally listening and willing to eat a little bit of crow to do the best for the books. It was a horrible thing to do in the first place, but they fixed it. Not only did they fix it, they seemed to have done so to Simone’s satisfaction; it’s not like a bad offer couldn’t have been denied and she couldn’t have gone to greener pastures anywhere in the industry. It’s small and it came at a price, but rehiring Gail Simone was the best thing they could have done for me to look forward to DC in 2013. Even if it’s just to see what she’ll be doing next.
However, I really don’t want to see any weird character continuity change-ups anymore. No more “Tim Drake was never the Robin, he was Red Robin” adjustments; don’t change words in trade paperback editions that have already been published in the comics; no more random outbursts at conventions that cause people like me to have to calm down angry fans at the registers. DC, please. If you do anything in 2013, keep it classy.
One super-fast last thing: Before Watchmen happened in 2012! The prequel to one of the highest-selling, greatly lauded comic books of all time had new writers and artists take on classic characters that Alan Moore never wanted to be touched again! It was controversial, it was brash, it was unthinkable and … it sold pretty well. On my end of things, we had a lot of new customers at the store come in and sign up for the a mini-series or two and even more people just browsing ask me about the comics, if they were good, how I felt about them and (of course) when the trade paperback collection would be out. It was certainly an event, both for the characters and stories as well as the fans and readers. What did you think?
Tom: Honestly, I have tried my best to ignore it. I said my piece back in February and really have nothing more to add. Like you said, apparently it’s been selling well, and I’m glad it brought people into your shop. The books themselves probably aren’t bad either, but it’s just something I decided almost a year ago I didn’t want to support. One way DC could stay classy in 2013 would be to honor those sorts of unwritten understandings that kept Watchmen from being expanded for so long.
And with that I’m ready to put 2012 in the rear-view mirror. Out with the bad, in with the good — or in more pertinent words, face front, look up in the sky, and just imagine –!