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Final Take on Young Avengers

I hate having to say this. It hurts because I wanted to love this series so much. But, in the end, the most recent run of the chronically stalled Young Avengers series (written by Kieron Gillen) has been bitterly disappointing. To the point that any new revivals of the series will be met with a much needed suspicion.

My biggest problem with the series has been Billy Kaplan. His characterization has been atrocious throughout this series (though there are some arguments to be made that this trend started with Children’s Crusade). Though his character is not absolutely dependent on his romantic relationship with Teddy Altman, his characterization revolves around that relationship. This point is best illustrated in the climatic final confrontation with Mother. On his own, Billy cannot defeat her. It is only when Teddy comes to him and redeclares his love that Billy is able to become the Demiurge. 

On one hand, this is a wonderful moment for LGBT representation in comics (as is the later revelation that all on the team save for, maybe, Kate Bishop are shades of LGB). But on the other, when is it a good idea to limit a character’s growth to their romantic partners? 

Furthermore, it doesn’t seem that Billy exactly grows as a character during this series. Except, of course, he does come back to the superhero life. 

Teddy Altman is problematic in a lot of ways. Personally, I feel his personality darkens considerably. While unintentional, I feel that there is a manipulative element in his interactions with Billy. Maybe when Loki intimates that Billy created Teddy to be his ideal boyfriend, he hit closer to home, but still missed the mark? 

The new Young Avengers series is the story, ultimately, of Loki’s redemption after killing his genuinely heroic reincarnation. His confessional breakdown is, perhaps, the best written scene in the entire run. The emotional impact is undeniable. Gillen gets Loki. Pity the other characters don’t get nearly that level of understanding. 

America Chavez comes close to getting that level of understanding, if only on a more subtle level. She depicts herself as a hard, experienced, no nonsense superhero. But behind that tough exterior is a young woman meeting her god (Billy) and learning that he is not what she thought he was. This is great characterization. 

I’ve gone on about my dislike for the overall plot of the series. Mother is a rather ridiculous antagonist. That her menace lasts so long is frustrating. What happens to the team during their months long exile from Earth? Aren’t there stories to be told here? 

At points, Young Avengers does hit a level of coolness that goes beyond the average comic book. But too often that potential is hampered by a bitterly uninteresting plot. Rather than one long (fifteen issue) story arc, the series should have been composed of shorter and more frenetic, action packed arcs. 

In the end, it is hard to say that Marvel has handled Young Avengers well. It may well be years before a return to Young Avengers as an actual ongoing. But this time, I’m going to be far more cautious in my enthusiasm. 

 

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“Skins Meets Superheroes,” What Was I Thinking When I Agreed with This?

Before I begin, I must admit the possibility that I am a DC fanboy. Therefore, it is possible that my criticism of Marvel Comics, and Young Avengers from Marvel Now! in particular, is rooted in my fanboy state. But I don’t think so. I am perfectly willing to criticize DC’s Teen Titanstoo (especially given that while I love the concept, I hate the writing).

But this post is aimed at Young Avengers as written by Kieron Gillen. When I first read the initial issue in January, I reviewed it very positively. Perhaps, in hindsight, I was too generous. I have since then read the second issue (and am, so far, passing on the third).

The reason for my growing dissatisfaction with the series is partially rooted in genre but also, as will become clear, in narrative. I still love the art, it is the writing that is bugging me.

Let’s first begin by looking at the comparison of the British teen series Skins with Young Avengers. Why is this comparison even made? I think the clear answer lies in that terrific opening scene from issue one. Where Kate Bishop wakes up in bed with Noh-Varr. But, honestly, that is the only scene that is reminiscent of Skins (okay, maybe Loki in the dinner could count in a pinch). But that is it.

The majority of the first issue, and the whole of the second, is rather traditional superhero fare. With a heavy dose of idiot plot (as carried by pretty much every character).

What has really troubled me, on a second reading of the first issue, is the interaction between Billy and Teddy. Given the nature of the genre (superhero comics), Billy is at fault because he does not want to be a superhero any more. Guess what? Two of his friends died the last time he played hero (and though Doom and Iron Lad committed the murders of Stature and Vision, Billy’s idiocy started it all). Given the extent of Billy’s powers, would it not actually be better if he never cosplayed hero again?

The more I think about it, the less sympathetic I am to Teddy, to be honest. Yes, in the grand scheme of things  Teddy has lot everything save his boyfriend. But how does that translate to cosplaying hero on the down low? And really, “I fell in love with a superhero,”? What the fuck! So, did Teddy fall in love with Billy Kaplan or with Asgardian/Wiccan? The person or the character? Personally, the narrative might have been more interesting if Billy broke up with Teddy for that comment.

Of course, Billy being Billy, he then proceeds to perform an idiotic action. That is compounded by Loki and America Chavez performing idiotic actions. Yeah, they’re teenagers, but seriously. Couldn’t Loki have just told Ms. America that he was trying to prevent Wiccan from bringing a transdimensional parasite to their reality? And what the hell with the Not-Ms. Altman acting like Stepford Mom? Wouldn’t the plot be better served with her being less immediately antagonistic? I know I haven’t read issue three (with four and five still to drop). But again, I am bitterly let down by this initial arc.

Is it possible that I want a stronger sense of rebellion or independence in my young superhero team comics? As I said in the introduction, I love the concept of the Teen Titans in the New 52, but I don’t like the writing. And from what I’ve heard about the upcoming The Movement from Gail Simone, I suspect that I do prefer a more rebellious/ independent take. (I am, actually, looking forward to The Movement).

Has part of my problem with Young Avengers always been my annoyance at the characters cosplaying as heroes rather than struggling to do the right thing, whatever that is, with powers they don’t quite understand? Is it, perhaps, the fact that, despite the promise of these kids standing alone, they are very much still looking up to/ dependent on their role models? Perhaps.

Regardless of whether or not my issue with Young Avengers is rooted in any sense of fanboydom for the opposition, disappointment with the narrative, or general dislike for the kind of superheroics espoused,  I am leaning towards dropping this series (if I haven’t already). I just don’t feel where this series is going. Perhaps if there is more Skins and less Heinberg, the series would be more enjoyable.

Spider-Man: Amazing to Superior

Take warning now, this post will contain spoilers for Amazing Spider-Man 700. Mind you, if you want to be spoiled, every comics website should have them up, too.

 

So, for the moment, Dr. Octopus has finally beaten his nemesis, Spider-Man. Not only that, but Otto Octavius has assumed the life of his most hated enemy. And has decided to live his new life as his enemy did. As a hero, as Spider-Man.

Wow. From what I can tell by the internet’s reaction, Dan Slott should be in hiding right now. Which is unfortunate.

I understand why there is such a vitriolic reaction to this new direction. But, I like what Slott argues when he says:

“He had to be a hero in his own eyes, and on some level Otto Octavius is facing that struggle not with Spider-Man’s world but with the readership. . . How do you get more Peter Parker than that? Now the readers think he is a menace. That’s exciting. On a meta level, that is Spider-Man.” (Comic Book Resources)

I like this. To be honest, I think there isn’t enough change in comics. Especially in the shared universes that make up Marvel and DC.

To be honest, I didn’t want Bruce Wayne to come back as Batman. Let Dick Grayson permanently assume the role. The same applies to Jean Grey (though she is, technically, still dead) and several other iconic characters.

But I can also see why people have a problem with Doctor Octopus taking over as Spider-Man/ Peter Parker. Having the villain win just doesn’t fly. And depending on how long this status quo lasts, the real Peter Parker’s return is inevitable.  I mean, he has been replaced before by clones. And I don’t remember those changes sticking for long. Save for Miles Morales over in the Ultimate Universe. . .

I really don’t have much invested in this argument, though. I haven’t been particularly devout in reading Spider-Man’s comics over the past few years. But this change could get me to check things out. I mean, I’d like to give the redemption of Otto Octavius a shot.

Shouldn’t you?

31 Days of Post Day 9: Yes! Comic Book News

So, Marvel announced today that Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie will be launching a new Young Avengers series starting in January. All I can say is that I’m super excited for this book.

I like the Young Avengers. I’ve posted before that I haven’t like how Marvel handled the initial series. Hopefully, this time it’s done right.

Another thing that I’m looking forward to is Kieron Gillen. I’ve read some of his work and I’m a fan.

I’m less familiar with Jamie McKelvie. But I’ve liked the art I’ve seen.

So again, excited all around. Now if only January would hurry up so I can add Young Avengers to my pull list (which includes Earth 2, Wonder Woman, and Captain Marvel ).

For more information, check out CBR.

I know this post is short. But I’ve got other things to do, like more ILLing, working on a character sketch, and revving myself up for a rant tomorrow. I would do it today, but this bit of news has me to excited to properly rant.

Comic Books: Characters, Creators, and Being a Gay Fan

I’m a lapsed comic book fan who has recently gotten back into comic book reading. In an earlier post, I described myself as a DC fanboy who wants to branch out into smaller publishers and creator owned titles. And I don’t know why I’m not enthusiastic about Marvel. I’ll aim to follow those two threads in another post or two on comics in the near future. What I want to discuss here is how I choose what comics I want to read.

Generally, fans of the Big Two (Marvel and DC) come in (roughly) permutations of two broad categories. Readers in the first category (and likely the most prevalent) are those who follow specific titles and characters. Readers of the second category are those who follow specific creators and creative teams. Now, the key to this formulation lies in permutations. Some readers start out being more character or title centric, but become fans of a specific creator or team and decide to follow their concurrent and subsequent work. And there are many other possible permutations (which can be left alone for now).

I describe myself as a mixture of the two. During my first period of heavy comic book reading, I was strongly character and title driven. Batman, Spider-Man, X-Men, Catwoman, Robin (Tim Drake), Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner), etc. are some of the titles I followed as a kid, creative team unimportant. Flash forward a few years. I’m now increasingly more a creator centric reader rather than a character/ title centric reader. Although the character/ title does still influence what I want to read.

Of the titles I’m following, the two that most align to focusing on character and title are Teen Titans and Stormwatch. The rest of what I follow are mostly geared towards creative teams. In fact, increasingly whether I like the creative team trumps whether or not I am “devoted” to the title or characters.

Being a gay comic book fan (I won’t describe myself as a geek) adds an interesting complication to things. Yes, part of the reason why I picked up Teen Titans and Stormwatch is because of the inclusion of gay heroes. While I am generally interested in the Teen Titans (and Tim Drake), Bunker did play a role in my picking it up. And of course, Stormwatch is notable for having two of the premier gay superheroes in Apollo and the Midnighter. Now, some could consider my picking up Earth 2 as being similarly influenced by Alan Scott’s sexuality. But at the time I picked up Earth 2 #1, I was under the impression that the new gay hero would appear in Geoff Johns’s Justice League! I picked up Earth 2 because I’m a fan of James Robinson.

There is, to a degree, a sort of politics that goes along with following the adventures of gay heroes. It is important to let the major publishers know that diversity is a good thing and encourage further inclusion. I want to read about the adventures of gay heroes. And hell, what about some gay villains, too?

But, this does not mean that I’m going to follow a series with gay characters if I don’t think it is any good. A good example is Stormwatch. Paul Cornell’s initial run is a great read and introduction to the characters. I hate to admit that I missed issues 7 and 8, and I’ve read issues 9 and 10. Right now, I’m not loving Peter Milligan’s run on the series. It seems to be a series of scattered oneshots and character pieces that don’t really go anywhere. Of all the titles I’m following, it is likely that Stormwatch will be the first I drop. Unless something changes.

Now, a few years ago, I was really into Young Avengers. Personally, I think it is a shame how badly mishandled the series was. Once Heinberg  left Marvel after the first 12 issues, another creative team should have taken over the book. The occasional miniseries that come out in regards to various Events did the property no favors, in my opinion. Marvel should not have waited for Heinberg to finish out the concept with Children’s Crusade. It should have been a monthly ongoing. Now, fans of the team and its members will have to hope that other writes will release them from the Limbo of Forgotten Characters.

How fans choose to approach reading and collecting comics is an important one. And it is important to understand the reasons behind making conscious selections. Making the right choices can alleviate the frustrations that go along with being comic book fans.

As a gay comic book fan, I think it is important to include glbt characters in a number of roles. As I said earlier, I want to read about gay heroes and villains. But comic book shopping decisions must not be based solely on limited criteria.

 

Breaking In, Hope, and Anxiety

Getting published, in any form, is fraught in equal measure with hope and anxiety. Hope that you’ll make the sell, and anxiety that all you’ll get is rejection slips. As any writing website will tell you, it helps immeasurably if you can follow the preferred submission method. If a magazine wants a submission formatted a certain way, format it that way. Otherwise the editor will reject your story, no matter how good it is, outright. The key is researching what the agent, editor, or whoever decides wants.

A few days ago, I watched Cartoon Block’s video of a Marvel Comics panel at Wonder Con (I think). There, they answered questions about how an artist can get a job at Marvel. And, if you check out the DC submission page, much the same is true with them. Essentially, the various comic cons act as a form of job fair. The key is, again, to know what works best. Personally, I really liked Joe Quesada’s portfolio recommendations.

The convention or trade show as job fair is equally true with video game developers. The key thing is to make contacts in the industry and to really understand what their format is for hiring new writers. This is still an area that I’m unfamiliar with, but from everything I’ve read, it is highly recommended that one goes to trade shows and conventions to get noticed.

It also helps to have your name and your work out there. If you have previous publishing credits or say a Deviantart account, you may have more of a leg up in some instances.

That was breaking in, now lets talk about hope and anxiety. Working in comics, either traditional American style or Manga style, is fraught with problems. Like the Comicvine Podcast mentioned last week, it is rare that creator owned works will become wildly successful. That is not to say that every one should just go work for DC or Marvel. Just be aware of what the risks are and be prepared to deal with the issues that will arise. Much of this is also true of OELs. I will admit that I’m not as familiar with OELs as I should be, but it is clear that they are nowhere near as popular (or as respected) as their Japanese counterparts.

That said, a new writer does not need to have a spectacular, career defining idea or work right off the bat like JK Rowling. LB Gale on her site has an interesting look at George RR Martin’s career. It was twenty or more years after he started writing professionally before he started on A Game of Thrones, the first book of his A Song of Ice and Fire. Now, which works of his are going to be remembered? You got it, A Song of Ice and Fire.

At the end of it all, writing professionally is hard work. You never know when you will make a sell. But, in the end, it is important to keep trying. Persistence does pay off.

Comic Book Screw Over

Over at George R.R. Martin’s “Not a Blog,” he relates the story of the hardships currently being endured by Gary Friedrich, the creator of Ghost Rider. Like a lot of comic book creators, he has been screwed over by the comic book industry. Now, if you write for the big two (or non creator owned companies), it stands to be expected that the company owns the copyright to the character.

As I’ve said in previous posts, this situation sucks. It sucks that comic book writers and artists have been screwed out of royalties and other residual payments. Yes, the work is for hire, but the companies should be far kinder than they have been. And the attitudes those companies reveal when creators seek to assert some form of rights over their work is simply atrocious.

This incident, as well as many other events that have been reported over the last few months really make me question whether or not comic books is really worth creating for no matter the format.

Even the creator owned companies have their own problems. So, is being a comic book creator really worth it? Yes, there is the possibility of being able to write or draw one’s favorite character, and the joy and pride that comes with that is a powerful incentive. But, it also comes with the knowledge that control over that work does not belong to you.

Now, what can be done about this? I don’t know. Would a boycott of Marvel or DC be effective? I don’t know. Given the decline of the industry, it may be effective. Clearly, legal remedies in this industry friendly legal environment are unlikely to succeed.  The problem is getting a large enough portion of the fanbase to agree to a boycott. There are other options, as well, but what I’m wondering is how a more permanent and equitable solution can be reached.

Creator Rights and Comic Books

At Comicvine today, I read an interesting, if short, article on how much control a comic book creator should have over her or his creations long after they have left the series they originally worked for. Personally, in a work for hire situation, I think it is reasonable to expect that the creator of a book or character will not have any further influence on the direction of story lines after their time has passed (unless they return to the property).

Now, in a situation where the creators of a work own the rights to that work, I agree that they should retain as much control as feasible save for certain publisher or editorial issues. But when a creator is working for Marvel or  DC, he or she should expect that their contribution is not their’s alone. They write in a shared universe where all work, both present and past , belong to the company rather than the individual writers.

On one level, it stinks because the creators are denied control of their work and may or may not be paid royalties for continued use of their creations. However, without this situation, the shared universes that are DC or Marvel could not exist. And much of the American comics industry would not be what it is.

A long standing issue  that this question brings up is Shatterstar’s sexuality. When Peter David reintroduced the character, he characterized him as being bisexual (which was also hinted at earlier by earlier, post creator writers). This development, however, did not agree with one of his creators, Rob Liefield. Now, this argument introduces GLBTQ politics into the matter, which gives a different light to the issue rather just a matter of continuity.

Another controversy has, of course, erupted in the last few days in the announced Watchmen prequel series. As expected, Alan Moore, the creator of Watchmen, was most displeased by the development. Whether Moore is right or wrong in his argument that bringing back The Watchmen is stupid is anyone’s guess (and likely will not be truly understood until the completion of the series).

In both instances, I have to side with the publishers. While one development is good for LGBTQ visibility and the other one is likely an attempt to milk whatever is left of The Watchmen franchise, both works are now in the hands of other people. I like Shatterstar’s bisexuality, and I do not like the idea of a prequel series. But the ball is in the publisher’s court.

So, for those who want to work on their favorite superheroes, always remember that it is part of a larger shared universe. One’s time on the series will be fuel for what other creators do. Creators may not like it, but once it is out of their hands, the ball is in another’s court. The only way to avoid that is to create one’s own stuff in a creator owned format. But the onus will be on the creator to see it through to the end.