Yesterday the news broke that Dwayne McDuffie, one of the smartest, most original writers working in mainstream comics, unexpectedly passed away. This weeks’ Everything But Imaginary column is my little tribute to him, and my feelings on just what made him so great.
Traveling back in time, though, we go to September 1, 2004. In this week’s Classic EBI, I talked about a few comics I loved that were all getting canceled at about the same time… It happens, sadly, far too often.
Canceled Comic Cavalcade
They’re doing it to me again.
It happens to all of us every so often — we start reading a comic book, we get to love it, get invested in it… but since it’s only us and about three other people who feel that way, the book gets cut off before its prime. So Sentinel fans, I feel your pain. Supergirl lovers, your loss is my own. X-Treme X-Men readers… well, you’ve still got like six X-Men books to choose from, so it’s not exactly comparable.
But the reason I’m out of sorts is because DC Comics is pulling the plug on Will Pfiefer’s excellent series H-E-R-O. Pfiefer resurrected the classic Dial “H” for “Hero” concept with this book, about a mysterious dial that granted a person a different superheroic identity each time it was used. While the old versions of this story always kept the dial with one or two bearers who used it over again, in H-E-R-O, the dial traveled from person to person (some deserving, some not), while Robby Reed, the original holder of the dial, tried to track it down again.
A bit more than a year and a half into the run, this book has really hit its stride and Pifefer is telling fantastic stories… just in time to see it die. Why? The same reason most comic books die, sadly — just not enough people buying it.
There are other reasons comics are canceled other than low sales, of course. Sandman ended at issue #75 because Neil Gaiman had finished the stories he wanted to tell. The original Marvel Team-Up title was canceled back in the 80s because it simply became too implausible for Spider-Man to meet up with a new guest star every month. (Of course, this did not stop them from trying it again years later with Spider-Man Team-Up, Marvel Team-Up Vol. 2, Ultimate Marvel Team-Up and, later this year, Marvel Team-Up Vol. 3.) The Legion is being canceled only to be relaunched again under its original title, Legion of Super-Heroes, which should be a great book with Mark Waid and Barry Kitson at the helm.
But no matter what the reason, when a well-written, thought provoking comic book meets its end, it’s a reason to feel down.
Just last week the final issue of Peter Milligan and Mike Allred’s X-Statix hit the stores. Resurrected from the ashes of the old X-Force comic, this series depicted a team of mutants that were celebrities instead of outcasts, but carried with them all too human faults and frailties. I’ve always thought that the outcast storyline is the basic flaw in the X-Men concept — yes, granted, it made for a good allegory for the civil rights movement in the 60s, but in this day and age people with wings or claws or blue fuzz and a tail wouldn’t be shunned from society. They’d be superstars. They’d have endorsements for sneakers and breakfast cereals. They’d appear on every talk show in America talking about how much they had to struggle then go home to their million-dollar mansions and wait for the supermodels to arrive and join them in the hot tub.
Milligan took that reality and showed that you could still tell great stories with characters like that. He made them much more interesting than most other X-books out there, but some people didn’t like it because it was too different, because of Allred’s art style (which ironically, I always thought resembled that of X-Men co-creator Jack Kirby) because it wasn’t what they were used to. I heard a story once — possibly apocryphal but who knows — that when Milligan and Allred started their run, X-Force co-creator Rob Liefeld sent Milligan a copy of X-Force #1, on which he wrote, “Dear Peter, thanks for ****ing up my book.”
Which I also thought was ironic, because those were my exact feelings when Liefeld turned the once-excellent New Mutants series into the “Cable and His X-Stormtroopers” book they called X-Force. New Mutants, then, was another book canceled for a bad reason – to be turned into a different title entirely.
The point is, no matter why X-Statix is ending, I’m sorry to see it go, and I can only hope that this means Allred will soon be returning to his baby, Madman, which has been a favorite of mine for years.
Sometimes fan response can save a book that’s been slated for cancellation. If I were to count all the times Spider-Girl was supposed to get the axe, only to be rescued by outraged reader response, I’d use up both hands and have to take off at least one shoe. Other times, no amount of reader response can save a title, as we learned earlier this year when the last issue of Captain Marvel faded from sight.
We all know it will happen again. Every one of us has a book in our pull folder that we dearly love but that we know may not last another 12 issues. And there’s only one way to prevent it. Talk the book up. Tell people about it. Tell people why you love it and try to convince them to give it a try. Ronée makes jokes all the time about me reading She-Hulk, teasing me about having a thing for green women. Well, I’m not gonna deny that fantasy has cropped up from time to time, but that’s not why I read this comic. I read it because Dan Slott has crafted a smart, funny superhero series that celebrates continuity at a time where everybody else seems to be ignoring it. In just six months it has become a favorite title of mine… but it’s not clocking in at Batman numbers, so people get nervous about it being cancelled. So I tell people — if you’re not reading She-Hulk… start.
Other fans go to even greater lengths — I’ve heard of an effort by some Fallen Angel fans to cut a deal with She-Hulk fans: you buy our book and we’ll buy yours, and both titles will get a sales boost. It’s an unusual pairing — in everything from theme, tone, writing style and genre, I really can’t think of two titles less similar than She-Hulk and Fallen Angel. But supposedly the movement has the blessing of the writers of both titles, and hey, if it helps stop someone’s favorite comic book from getting canceled, who can complain about that?
But no matter what, chances are a book you love will get the axe sooner or later. When it happens, don’t despair. All of the great stories you’ve read are still there, sitting in your long box. And don’t give up on the title either. Sometimes love for a book can bring it back even after the most ignoble death. If you don’t believe me, come back in November when the first issue of New Thunderbolts hits the stands. (For a non-comic situation where this happened, see the Fox cartoon Family Guy.)
Heck even X-Men was canceled for a few years once upon a time. Now you can’t escape the mutants.
It may be too late to make a difference, but everybody out there, go out and buy a copy of H-E-R-O while you still can. Love it. Enjoy it. Maybe even cajole DC to resurrect it. And next time a book you love is on the brink — don’t just sit there. Spread the love.
FAVORITE OF THE WEEK: August 25, 2004
For the second week in a row Bill Willingham managed to nap the top spot on my reading list, and for the second week in a row, it wasn’t for Fables. Batman #631 closed off the first act of the “War Games” storyline in fantastic fashion. With Tim Drake’s high school under siege, Batman, Nightwing and Batgirl break in to save the students before any more blood is shed. This book really gets into the heart of the Batman mythos, particularly what makes Robin tick, and the finale will have major repercussions for the future of the entire line. “War Games” is already becoming one of the best Bat-family crossovers of all time.
Blake M. Petit is the author of the superhero comedy novel, Other People’s Heroes, the suspense novel The Beginner and the Christmas-themed eBook A Long November. He’s also the co-host, with whoever the hell is available that week, of the 2 in 1 Showcase Podcast and the weekly audio fiction podcast Blake M. Petit’s Evercast. E-mail him at BlakeMPetit@gmail.com and visit him on the web at Evertime Realms. Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page, and check out his new experiment in serial fiction at Tales of the Curtain.