Posts Tagged ‘Fabian Nicieza

02
Nov
11

Classic EBI #110: Second Stringers

In today’s new Everything But Imaginary, I think about the nature of superpowers. Sure, it’d be cool to be able to lift tanks or fly through outer space, but let’s be honest. Some minor-league powers could come in pretty handy too.

Everything But Imaginary #422: Practical Superpowers

And in today’s classic EBI, I head back to April 2005. We all know the a-list superheroes… Superman, Batman, the X-Men and so forth. But just because a hero may not be in the top tier doesn’t mean their stories aren’t worth telling. Today, we look at the second string.

Everything But Imaginary #110: Second Stringers

With the thousands of comic book characters that have been created since the artform was invented, it’s only natural that some will be more popular than others. For every Superman, there are a dozen Gladiators, for every Batman a Moon Knight, for every Richie Rich a Royal Roy. But does that mean these characters are actually bad, or does it mean that they just missed the train to stardom? The fact is, there are a ton of really good b-list characters out there, and it always puts a smile on my face to see some of them get the respect they deserve.

I’ve always believed that there are very few genuinely bad characters, that almost any character can be entertaining in the hands of a good enough writer. Fabian Nicieza proved that way back in the early 90s with the first incarnation of the New Warriors. He picked up a bunch of characters that nobody cared about in solo adventures and decided to throw them all into a book together – Nova, Namorita, Firestar, Marvel Boy and Speedball. A bunch of B-listers if ever there was one. (Actually, calling Speedball “B-list” at that period was probably being generous.)

But somehow, he mixed in a magic touch that made those characters that nobody liked… likable. And interesting. And one of the best superhero books on the market. Unfortunately, no other writer managed to bring that same magic to the book. It was cancelled 25 issues after his departure, and a relaunch a few years later only lasted 10 issues. A new miniseries is scheduled for this summer, but time will tell if Zeb Wells has what it takes to make us care about these guys again. [2011 Note: He didn’t.]

A lot of writers see these second-string characters as a challenge, as real fodder for bizarre or unusual tales that they simply wouldn’t be allowed to tell with Superman or Captain America. Look at what happened when Grant Morrison took over Animal Man. A lame character with a lame power (he could duplicate the abilities of any animal in the vicinity) and managed to tell some of the most intelligent, thought-provoking comics ever published at the time. He found new, intelligent uses for the power, and beyond that, made the comic a bizarre, metafictional hit. Writing this comic pushed Morrison on his way to becoming one of the most respected writers in comics.

Now he’s doing it again with his Seven Soldiers series. He’s taken a B-list team and reimagined it with seven B-list superheroes: Shining Knight, Guardian, Zatanna, Klarion, Frankenstein, Mr. Miracle and Bulleteer (actually, I’d consider Zatanna A-list, but clearly Morrison doesn’t) and he’s again having some fun experimenting with seven independent stories that will theoretically weave together to create a larger whole. And people, for the most part, seem to be enjoying them.

Keith Giffen also had a lot of fun with the b-list, rounding up forgotten or cast-off characters like Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Fire, Ice, Rocket Red and third-string Green Lantern Guy Gardner and making them the Justice League. He made clever, hysterical comics, too, so much that even now, over a decade later, people are lining up for new material from this creative team (including J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire) with these characters.

And come on, folks – you’ve all read Countdown to Infinite Crisis by now, right? Were it not for the respect and notoriety Giffen gave the characters all that time ago, the events of this book would have been meaningless. Instead, although the title somewhat dampens a great deal of what he created back then, it makes for a powerful, heartbreaking story about a true hero – the Blue Beetle, trying to put things right when the “A-team” has completely abandoned him. There’s a moment in that book where Maxwell Lord tells the Beetle “You were never second-string.” And the events of that issue, to many readers, proved that Max was right.

And how about characters that are created, not just as second-stringers, but as nigh knock-offs of the A-list characters? Let’s look at Mr. Majestic. An alien comes to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Gee. Where have I heard this before? I was never interested in him, because I didn’t see the point in reading about a faux Superman when I could read about the real thing.

Then last year, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning took that ”fake” Superman and temporarily made him the real one, when Big Blue went missing in the timestream. All of a sudden… this guy was interesting. DnA (as they are sometimes collectively called) didn’t focus on what made Majestic similar to Superman, they focused on the differences, and how those differences made it difficult for him to truly replace the man of steel. He was an alien, yes, with similar powers, but he was raised on his homeworld and came to Earth as an adult, with different ideas and values than the Kansas-raised Superman. It wasn’t then that I saw the potential – Majestic isn’t a fake Superman, he’s what Superman could have been under other circumstances. Filtered through that perception, he’s a much more intriguing character. I followed that character, then, into his own miniseries and now into his ongoing, which I am enjoying quite a bit.

The same goes for Dan Slott’s new reimagining of the Great Lakes Avengers. I’m not sure what John Byrne was thinking when he created this team in the pages of West Coast Avengers, but they were never exactly played for the jokes that they really were. They wanted to take themselves seriously. It was the readers who couldn’t. Goofy characters like Mr. Immortal, Big Bertha and Flatman just didn’t have a place alongside Captain America and the She-Hulk. So what does Slott do in the new GLA miniseries? He plays it for laughs. Dark laughs, to be sure, but laughs nonetheless, and he tells the best story these characters have ever had. And in case the original team wasn’t lame enough, he’s decided to add even more loser superheroes, like Squirrel Girl, to the team.

Even a company like Archie Comics recognizes their second-string. They’ve just launched the new Tales From Riverdale Digest, which gives a spotlight to characters other than those who headline their own books – Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica. In this digest, their writers can have a little fun playing with Dilton or Moose or even Ms. Beazley, the Riverdale High Cafeteria Lady, should they be so inclined. (Look, you can’t rule it out. If there’s one thing I’ve learned since I began writing this column, it’s that every character is somebody’s favorite).

I think it’s good – even important – to have a “second string” of characters in any attempt to create a shared universe. First of all – it only makes logical sense. If you’re going to have people like Superman leaping tall buildings in your hometown, it’s natural to imagine that there will be lesser characters hoping to snag some of that glory for themselves. As goofy as many of the B-list characters are, their very existence tends to add a small degree of realism to comics. Second, it helps flesh out a universe and make it more full. There are tiers of superheroes, just as there are tiers of actors, or politics, or authors or musicians. And everyone, no doubt, has their own opinions as to who belongs on each tier.

And third, this is where future characters are going to come from. It’s virtually impossible, at this point, for a new character to burst onto the scene and become the new Superman or Batman. Any character who isn’t currently A-list, almost by definition, will be B-list when he’s introduced. But that B-list isn’t really that bad a place to be. You can pick up fans slowly, experiment, gain in popularity. And if the character and writer are good enough, that B-lister can eventually graduate to the A-team.

Just ask Ted Kord.

FAVORITE OF THE WEEK: April 6, 2005

As nervous as I was about the whole premise behind Green Lantern: Rebirth, Geoff Johns has totally turned me around. Issue #5, out last week after something of a hiatus, was a total home-run, not just for the great writing and fantastic art (of which both fully met my expectations), but because in this issue, Johns did something that needed to be done. And I’m going to spoil the issue a bit here, so if you haven’t read it, jump to the italicized bit at the end of the column.

My biggest concern about this comic was that DC, in catering to the Hal Jordan fans, would dismiss all the fans of Kyle Rayner. This issue proved to me that this isn’t the case. As a resurrected Hal faces off against Sinestro, ol’ purple-puss makes a crack about how he’s going to kill the remaining Green Lanterns, leaving Kyle for last.

Hal’s response is what sealed the deal. “Kyle held the torch when no one else would. When no one else could,” he said. “You will respect him.”

Somehow, that’s all I needed to hear. That the people writing the comic know and understand that’s how the Kyle fans feel about the whole thing. That was the last niggling bit that was bothering me about this whole project, and now that it’s been dealt with, I’m ready to sit back and enjoy the finish.

Man – and what a last page, huh?

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. E-mail him at BlakeMPetit@gmail.com.

16
Feb
11

Classic EBI #77: Days of Bile and Venom

It’s that time again, friends. In this week’s Everything But Imaginary, I take the time to discuss a miraculous event in my classroom and how it ties into the world of comics through Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

No. Really.

Everything But Imaginary #387: For Once, the Witch Hunt Works Out

But in this week’s classic EBI, we’re going back to August 25, 2004, when I got fed up with the juvenile behavior certain fans displayed over the internet and took them to task for it. As the internet is down the pinnacle of class and civility, I was clearly successful.

Everything But Imaginary #77: Days of Bile and Venom

I try not to rant too much in this column, friends. I try to keep my comments constructive. I try to shed light on the good things about comics, because I think ultimately the way to help comic books become a more popular artform is to convince people who don’t read them of all the incredible things comic books are capable of.

But I can’t do that right now. Right now I’ve got to address one of the problems, one of the biggest problems in terms of perception, one that’s been gnawing at me for some time now and that I really can’t keep to myself anymore. I’m talking about some of the bitter, nasty, venomous attitudes a lot of comic book fans — and even a few professionals — seem to have when discussing our favorite medium.

It seems there are an awful lot of people out there — especially since the internet made it so easy to talk to people — who are simply incapable of having a civil discourse with one another. Sometimes they hate a character. Sometimes they hate an idea. Sometimes they hate a creator. Sometimes they just love another character/idea/creator so much that if someone proposes something that contradicts it, they lash out. Whatever the reasons, I don’t care. It’s got to stop.

First there’s the character issue — everybody has their own favorite characters. Everybody has characters they don’t like. That’s just fine. But discuss it in a rational way. I’m sick and tired of people saying “Captain America is so stupid. I hate him.” “Superman is too perfect. I hate him.” “Kyle Rayner is such a n00b. I wish he would die.” (You know what I hate? The “word” n00b and all derivations thereof.)

If you want to talk about what’s wrong with a character, what stories you don’t like, what aspects of that character don’t work for you — fine. But back it up. Don’t just start namecalling and then sit back and order martinis as though you’ve just given an argument that would win the Lincoln-Douglas debates and you need to relax.

The character debate is asinine anyway, since I don’t really believe there are any characters so fundamentally flawed that you can’t tell good stories with him or her if you have a good enough writer. Case in point: Speedball. A second-string Spider-Man guest star whose only power was that he could bounce. Whooptie-freakin’-doo. Then Fabian Nicieza decided to put him in New Warriors and you know what? He got a personality. He got his powers more fully developed. He got interesting. If it can be done for Speedball, it can be done for anyone.

Then there are the fans who are so obsessive about certain characters that they refuse to accept anything they deem to be critical and instead rail against someone who is trying to have a rational discussion. Magneto is a good example here. A complex character, a hotly debated character, and a good villain when used properly. And it’s okay to like him as a villain. But when people start trying to justify a character’s genocidal actions and paint him as some sort of misunderstood hero, and furthermore ignore any arguments or evidence to the contrary and stoop to denigrating the people who are supporting a different position, that’s when it has gone entirely too far.

Also a source of frustration to me is when people pull a passive aggressive maneuver. What makes this particularly irritating is that, when done well, someone can be utterly infantile in a passive aggressive fashion, but if you try to call them on it you are the one who looks childish. Take the tendency of certain fans to insist on referring to Billy Batson, the original Captain Marvel, as Shazam (which is actually the name of the wizard who gave him his powers and use name is usually used as the title of the comic these days). When I asked one person about this, he proudly announced that Marvel Comics’ character with the same name, Genis-Vell had taken the title away from the original forever. So quite simply, this person had managed to say that a beloved character that has been around longer than he’s been alive is inferior and not worthy of the name he originated, and imply just a little that anyone who disagreed was stupid. And yet if someone tried to point this out to him, all he’d have to do is invite the person to “chill” and then the other person would suddenly look foolish.

As bad as it is when people lash out at a character they don’t like, it’s far worse when they lash out at an artist. (And by “artist” I mean anyone involved in the creative process — writer, penciler, colorist, even actor if the discussion comes to movies or TV shows.) CX Pulp, for its part, is much better about policing this sort of venomous behavior than other comic book websites I could name, but even here some attitudes go too far.

There seems to be a lot of heat right now over John Byrne’s reinterpretation of Doom Patrol. Sometimes the argument is that the dialogue is bad. Sometimes they don’t like the characters. Sometimes they don’t like that the book has rebooted the franchise, essentially nullifying previous stories from continuity. These, again, are valid points of discussion.

Other times the only argument people seem to have is that it’s not Grant Morrison and therefore, by definition, is an inferior, and that’s not a valid point. And when I tried to convince people to cool down, saying “I DO get really tired of people calling for John Byrne’s head,” I was utterly shocked by one of the responses. Someone whose posts I read frequently, someone whose opinion I usually value, replied, “He can keep his head. I just want his hands so he will stop trying to write comics.”

Oh sure. He put a little smiley face at the end. He meant it as a joke. But it’s not a funny one. Not to me. The guy who said this is better than that, and he knows it.

Then there are the personal assaults against an actor or actress when a comic book film is in the works. One person says he doesn’t like the choice for Sue Storm in the Fantastic Four movie, and someone else replies that she’s better than “that trailer trash Kirsten Dunst.” Dunst, from the Spider-Man movies, has absolutely nothing to do with this conversation, but was apparently injected into the topic just so the poster in question could make himself feel big by slamming someone who isn’t around to speak up in her defense.

Then there are those instances where someone manages to insult both a creator and a fan. On another message board that I read from time to time, I saw one fan say he liked Olivier Coipel’s artwork and was excited he will be doing an upcoming run on Uncanny X-Men. Now if you happen to disagree with this, there are a number of rational responses. “I’m not really a fan of Coipel” would be acceptable. So would “I prefer Alan Davis.” Even “his recent work on Avengers wasn’t up to speed.”

But the actual response was “I believe that all diseases, including this one, can be treated.” Very clever. In one post, this guy managed to insult Coipel’s artwork (which I, for the record, think is pretty good), and state that anyone who likes it is a sick individual. Classy, isn’t it?

And finally, we come down to the personal attacks against someone who doesn’t like a title. A few weeks ago our own Craig Reade came under fire for remarks he made about Peter David’s Fallen Angel title. Craig merely meant he was surprised that the book hadn’t been cancelled, but due to some poor wording, fans of the title took it to mean he was calling for it to be cancelled, and they swarmed on him en masse. Even David himself joined in the debate. Craig, to his credit, went out and read the first several issues of the comic, even devoted a Still on the Shelf column to it, but since his conclusion was that he just didn’t care for the title, people started screaming that he “didn’t get it.”

This infuriates me. I get this almost every month when I review Lucifer in the DC Comics advance reviews. I’m not a fan of the title, and I explain why I’m not a fan of the title – it would be an unfair review if I didn’t explain what I think the problems are. Some can accept my opinion, even if they don’t agree, and I have no quarrel with them. But others conclude that anyone who doesn’t like their favorite book just isn’t smart enough to understand it, and they don’t mind telling you as much. I get it with Lucifer. Craig gets it with Fallen Angel.

So I tried to step to his defense — I said I’d read the first several issues (six, in fact), because I am a fan of Peter David’s work, but this title simply didn’t interest me. David, to my surprise, actually replied with a challenge — read issue #14 and if I didn’t like it, I could send the issue to him and he’d refund my money. I respected that enough to get the book and give it another shot.

And you know what? I still didn’t like it.

The issue consisted mainly of the various characters in the series parading past the lead and updating her on their lives or situations, concluding with a twist. None of that changed the central problem I had with the title, though, which is that I still didn’t connect with or care about any of the characters. Although the offer was made, I don’t think I will try to send the book to David, because I don’t think he owes me anything. All a comic book creator owes any reader is the story he puts on the page, and the buyer beware. Nobody made me read the issue, I chose to. And for those of you who do enjoy the title, that’s perfectly fine with me, and I hope you get to continue to enjoy it for a long time to come.

But now that I’ve said this, I’ve no doubt that somewhere, on some message board, someone will be buzzing that I’m just not smart enough to get it, because that’s what a lot of these anonymous internet trolls do. They hide behind manufactured identities without the guts to use their real name and spit at anyone who dares disagree with them.

Are you mad yet? I kind of hope so, because if you are, that probably means you’ve been guilty of what I’m talking about at some point or another. All of us have. I know I have — I’m not exempt. But I’m riled up now, friends. I don’t want to tolerate this sort of thing anymore. When I see this nonsense I’m going to call people on it, and I hope they do the same to me if I ever cross the line.

And here’s why — I know I’ve given a lot of examples here, but I haven’t explained why it infuriates me so much, and that’s the most important part. It’s because of Comic Book Guy.

You know the character from The Simpsons, the fat, balding loser who runs the comic book store. He’s a funny character, but he perpetuates a stereotype that cripples comic books. Whenever anyone starts any of the crap I’ve mentioned in this thread, I hear Comic Book Guy’s voice in my mind intoning “Worst issue ever.” A lot of people who don’t read comic books honestly do believe that all retailers, fans and creators are like that guy. And when you start spewing nastiness, all you’re doing is reinforcing that idea.

So go ahead and talk about comics. Critique them. Debate them. And for Heaven’s sake — disagree.

But be an adult about it, because no matter how much you complain about comic books being looked down upon as a children’s medium, that is never going to change unless we all grow up.

FAVORITE OF THE WEEK: August 18 2004

This week’s favorite was a sure thing. Bill Willingham has been doing great stuff with Robin for nearly a year now, but issue #129 was possibly his best yet. Tim Drake has quit, is Robin no more, but when the mob war that’s tearing apart Gotham City comes into his high school, he’s got to remember what it meant to be a hero. This one issue does more to define Tim’s character than some writers can accomplish in years. It’s the best Batman family book on the racks right now, and if you’re skipping it due to the “War Games” crossover, you’re cheating yourself.

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.




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