Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
As part of a career in superhero comics that reached back to their beginnings, Carmine Infantino was one of the pillars of the Silver Age, and not just because he was a big part of its formative moment. His sleek redesign of the Flash became the avatar for DC Comics’ resurgent superhero line, and his unique style helped define not just the Scarlet Speedster’s world, but eventually all of the company’s titles.
When I talked about DC Comics’ April solicitations a few weeks back they hadn’t yet been “WTF-Certified.” (Caleb has an excellent roundup of the WTF specifics, and I am unlikely to improve on his observations.) That phrase suggests strongly either that DC is no longer interested in anyone young enough to use “Why The Face” in casual conversation; or, conversely, that polite society now freely tolerates even an abbreviated F-bomb.
Whatever the reasoning, DC wants its April fold-out covers to be SO! SHOCKING! that even the casual browser cannot refuse them. This is not a bad goal in and of itself. Indeed, we might quibble about which quick exclamation best captures such a “must-read” impulse — OMG! would be too Bieber-feverish, and “wait, what?” is taken — but as far as real WTF covers go, these are a bit tame.
See, back in the olden days, when print publications actually sold well, a comic’s cover absolutely had to command the consumer’s attention, and thereby encourage him or her to spend a few hard-earned coins (ask your parents, kids) on the new DC titles. The late Julius Schwartz is supposed to have said that a book would sell well if its cover boasted a gorilla, a motorcycle, the color purple and/or a question posed to the reader. (During Mark Waid’s editorship of the 1980s Secret Origins, its 40th issue got all four.) As there was no Internet providing potential readers with constant updates — and therefore requiring a steady stream of update-friendly factoids — the cover had to do all the heavy-lifting.
“Sadly, the lesson that was gained from these books was not that comics didn’t need to be hacked-out, disposable, interchangeable stories but could be well written and relevant. Instead what happened was every superhero comic, whether it lent itself to the transformation, or not, was made grim and gritty, which meant more violence, more sex. more trying to fit the superhero world into the real world.”
– John Rozum, putting the Grim and Gritty Era into historical context.
There are three things rattling around in my head today: Chris Roberson’s public departure from DC/Vertigo, John Seavey’s empirical evaluation of the Silver Age, and the notion of a Justice League movie.
Not surprisingly, the last is a product of the inescapable, wearying Avengers hype. My 3-year-old daughter, who knows superheroes mostly from her dad’s toy collection (or if they’re on “WordGirl”), happened to see a commercial the other day and exclaimed “Hey, it’s Captain America!” (She has since started playing with Mary Marvel and Katma Tui.)
As it happens, I’m perfectly happy to hold off seeing Avengers — and doing my part to deny it a big opening, in protest of Marvel’s treatment of Jack Kirby — until after its first weekend. (For this Bluegrass State native, the Kentucky Derby will always be a bigger deal.) Although I am obviously more of a DC guy, I should be at least moderately excited for this movie. I grew up on the Avengers of the 1970s and early ‘80s, when it was written by the likes of Steve Englehart, Jim Shooter, and Steven Grant, and pencilled by George Pérez and John Byrne. A couple of decades later, I eagerly followed the Busiek/Pérez run. For the most part I have enjoyed the Marvel movies, especially Captain America; and I didn’t mind The Ultimates, which surely informs much of the new movie. I trust Joss Whedon to present Earth’s Mightiest in the best light possible.
So along with the bad taste of creator exploitation, perhaps it’s a bit of pre-movie burnout which has got me down, or perhaps it’s just the constant drumbeat of publicity. Either way, it got me thinking about a Justice League movie….
Last week I asked why the Silver Age is so pervasive in DC lore. Even though that’s something of a rhetorical question, I felt like it was left largely unanswered. The short answer is that the Silver Age represents the modern DC Universe’s origin story, so you’re never going to get rid of it entirely, regardless of reboots, relaunches, and/or legacy characters. However, in terms of style and tone, things are naturally more complicated.
It’s hard for me to talk about the Silver Age without relating it to the subsequent Bronze Age, mostly because I grew up with the comics of the mid-1970s. I see the Silver Age as an era of wild ideas, told in standalone stories which were light on consequences, whereas the Bronze took those stories and ideas and extrapolated a more “realistic” status quo from them. This is not to say that the Bronze Age was some vast improvement, since realism in superhero comics is a tricky prospect at best.
However, to me that point of compartmentalization, at which a previous creative team’s run goes from an ongoing concern to a finished body of work, is highly significant. That’s when the rules governing a feature are established (or amended), and therefore that’s when the people in charge of that feature decide how (and how much) it can grow. The same applies in the aggregate to the universe those features share.
* * *
As Marvel’s Senior Vice President of Publishing Tom Brevoort notes, 50 years ago today, The Fantastic Four #1 debuted, beginning a 102-issue run by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby — an unfinished issue was completed in 2008 — and giving birth to the Silver Age of Marvel Comics.
Given Marvel’s recent legal victory in the bitter copyright battle with Kirby’s heirs, the anniversary is undoubtedly a bittersweet milestone, but an incredibly important one all the same. Happy 50th to “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine” and the Marvel Universe as we know it. And thank you, Lee and Kirby, for the Fantastic Four and much, much more.
Since this is a column about big-concept, adventure comics, I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to talk about the Silver Age, especially as DC did it. A lot of fans, myself included, point to DC’s Silver Age as something we want to see more of: angst-free characters facing bold concepts in stories that don’t take more than an issue or two to tell and don’t crossover into other series. A lot of older fans grew up at least at the tail end of the Silver Age, so we recall those comics as the kind we enjoyed when we were kids. And if we enjoyed them, then our kids might too. For that reason, the Silver Age sometimes becomes a rallying point for grown up fans who wish their children had good superhero comics to read. But, was it really everything we remember it as?
I’ve been going through DC’s Showcase Presents Aquaman volumes recently and just finished the second one, which takes me through the birth of Aquababy. The reason for this is that I’m fascinated by Aquaman’s reputation as a lame character. I’ve been trying to unravel it on my own blog for a while now and have found numerous examples of industry professionals who love Aquaman and defend his concept. By all rights, he should be an awesome character. So why does the world at large give him such a hard time? The only way to find out was to stop reading what other people think and visit his stories for myself. I don’t know that I’m any closer to my answer about Aquaman, but I have learned one important, broader lesson. The Silver Age kind of sucked.
It’s not just Aquaman’s solo series. I’ve been reading Silver Age Justice League stuff too as well as odd issues of World’s Finest and Brave and the Bold. And though I’m focusing on DC, this isn’t just their trouble. Try reading all the way through Essential Ant Man sometime. I dare you. The problems I have with Aquaman’s series apply to the early adventures of (Gi)Ant Man and the Wasp as well.
To promote its pop-culture memorabilia series Hollywood Treasure, Syfy has released video from Comic-Con International of an awed Stan Lee as he’s shown the complete original artwork from Fantastic Four #12 — pages he’s likely not seen in 47 years.
The footage, which clocks in at more than 12 minutes, is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, and most obvious, is Lee’s genuine excitement about the art and his admiration for the work of collaborator Jack Kirby. As he pores over the pages he realizes the notes aren’t Kirby’s but his own, which were usually erased in the production process.
Second, and by far the most interesting, is the suggestion that Lee’s garage could be the mother lode of Silver Age original art. Toward the end of the video, after Lee has gone, host Joe Maddalena tells his associates: “This is a great start to a great relationship. His guy was telling me — I said, ‘Does he have any artwork?’ He goes, ‘Boxes and boxes in the garage.’ I said, ‘What do you mean, garage?’ He goes, ‘Storage units full.’ I said, ‘Well, supposedly I’ve heard him say he doesn’t have anything.’ The guy said, ‘Storage units full of artwork.’ He goes, ‘He has no idea what he has. He’s never looked at it’.”
Maddalena, owner of Profiles in History auction house, hopes (naturally) to gain access to the art for appraisal. Watch the video after the break. Hollywood Treasure airs Wednesdays on Syfy.
Anapest: The Autobio Comic by David Chelsea
Who’s ready for another round of Shelf Porn? Oh, let’s not always see the same hands …
Our guest this week is artist, blogger and graphic designer Dan Bru, who has has done a fabulous job decorating his “man-cave,” though a few of the more possessive collectors amongst you may balk at his method of decorating his walls. To see what I mean, click on the link and let Dan take you on his tour …