By Beau Smith
Sometimes too much is just that, too much. It clogs things up, makes the situation muddy and hard to follow. It invites chaos.
I tease my wife about the dinners the church puts on because the ladies that cook and bring the food “church up” what should be a simple, all-round dish that everyone will enjoy. As an example, a nice meal of ham, baked beans, potato salad and cake ends up with some sort of cranberry/jelly sauce injected into the ham, baked beans with things other than beans in it, potato salad that has more additions to it than Joan Rivers’s face and, to top it off, what should be a simple piece of chocolate cake now has blueberries and nuts stuck in it.
Sometimes it’s like the old phrase of “Too many cooks in the kitchen.” They all wanna stick their hand in the pie and outdo each other. When that happens, all you end up with is a pie no one wants to eat. I’ve noticed that we’re currently running into this in mainstream comics.
As a writer, I can tell when a book is anchored down by a heavy editorial hand, and not in a good way. I’m not just talking about the editor of the book; I’m talking about the senior editor, the managing editor, the publisher and eight guys down the hall that think they know what’s best for the characters in the book. This isn’t even taking into account that there’s a new “event” going on that has to be shoved into the story. (Today, you can almost always count on an “event” going on.)
When this happens, the first thing to suffer is the characters in the book. The dialogue no longer gives the character a distinct personality. The characters lose their voice, a voice that separates them from the hundreds of other superheroes in that universe. Editors have to remember that not every reader is a long time reader, that not every reader knows the complete character continuity of the last sixty years. Even with a character as well known as Batman, not everyone is going to know that he’s not known as a social butterfly and doesn’t suffer fools.
Not every reader is going to know that Tony Stark/Iron Man used to be a really charming lady’s man that loved to tinker like your dad in the garage. Too many editors and publishers take this for granted. It shows and it hurts the stories. No wonder characters like Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Hawkman and the Atom never really reached their reader and sales potential. There have been multiple versions of each of these characters where too much has been added to what should be a very simple idea: give them a personality and let them grow.
At Marvel Comics it’s been a little different because they seem to take some time during one of their events to actually add layers to the characters and still move them forward with the results of the event. The end result is that at least you know the character as a fictional person and can then decide if you want to invest your emotions and money into reading about them every month.
Yes, DC Comics does some of their characters right by making the reader feel that they know and even like them, but lately it’s felt like a bowl of spaghetti that’s been spilled on the floor by the waiter and you, as a consumer, are asked to clean it up, eat it and like it.
My ball cap goes off to Geoff Johns for his work on DC’s Justice Society of America. That’s a series that’s filled with multiple heroes and villains, yet I feel I know who they are and why they think and do what they do. Doing this with one single character is great, but when you can do it with a lot of characters and in the same book, then a standing ovation is in order.
Over at Marvel Comics, Ed Brubaker, writer on Captain America, has shown me that when a writer is hired to do what he does best and then is left alone to do it, then you get a stellar comic book story and character. This is not the Captain America that I grew up on, but it sure is one I want to read every month first thing.
The book’s editor, Tom Brevoort, gives Brubaker a story canvas that he can create freely on and not be confined by too many rules. The tradition of what came before is there and yet the freedom to add layers and move ahead is encouraged and done. You really can’t ask for more than that. It looks like ham and baked beans, but it’s the best ham and baked beans you’ve ever had. There’s no need for the cranberries, olives and layers of glaze. You just make sure you cook everything right and everyone leaves the table happy.
I just read the second issue of Captain America : Reborn last night and it was as near perfect story telling as it gets and I mean COMIC BOOK STORY TELLING. It’s not a screenplay; it’s not a novel; it’s a comic book, and there is a special craft to writing comics. Brubaker nails it. Just the right amount of action, dialogue that fits, works and isn’t over done and most of all the characters have something to say. It doesn’t hurt that the book is drawn by Bryan Hitch and Butch Guice either.
As a reader, you may or may not like who Tony Stark or Reed Richards have become. They may not be the characters you once knew, but at least you know who they’ve become. You know who they are now. It’s your choice to if you want to pay for it or not. With, say, Aquaman, you’d be hard pressed to know if you don’t like the character or not because you don’t really know just who he really is. As a reader, I like my choice to be “Yes” or “No”. I’m not much on “confused”. Not when comics are almost $4.00 each.
That’s too much for too little.
Busted Knuckles Manly Cover of The Week: All Winners #1
Cover Art by Daniel Acuna
Marvel Comics 2009
What better way to celebrate a 70th anniversary than to have a party where you’re busting Nazi heads, setting them on fire and running them over with a government issue motorcycle with a smile on your face.
This cover is the best new comic book cover to come out in many a year. I wish this was a poster. I would buy it and hang it up here at the ranch. Artist Daniel Acuna has made my day with this art. I hope you enjoy.
Busted Knuckles Babe of the Week: Monica Bellucci
They know how to build ’em in Italy, my friends. Monica Bellucci is proof.
She was in the films Tears of the Sun and Shoot ‘Em Up as well as a lot of Italian movies I’ve never seen or heard of, but you know what? I do not care. If Monica is in ’em, then I’ll watch ’em. I might even read an occasional sub-title. (Naw, I doubt it.)
She puts the shape in shapely. That’s a figure 8 I’d be glad to count.
Beau Smith At Pittsburgh Comicon
September 12 and 13th
The New Monroeville Expo Center
Make sure you come and see me at the friendliest Comic Convention ever. I’ll be signing books, smiling, insulting Billy Tucci and telling tall tales. I’ll be like a monkey at the zoo only without the bars to separate us. Approach me at your own peril.
Waiting for the trade. No, I don’t mean I’m waiting for the trade paperback. I’m just talking about trading stuff. I love trading and have since I was a kid. That was always a part of the allure of comic books. No money was passed, just comics for comics. It was always fun.
Here lately I’ve been doing some trading in my work to unload clutter and bring in new clutter. A circle, I know, but what am I to do. It’s in my blood.
I recently traded a piece of original art from one of my Guy Gardner Warrior stories for collection of Chicago Bears memorabilia. A few weeks before, I traded a bunch of McFarlane sample toys for some Marvel Masterworks books that I didn’t have. Another deal that I made was trading a very rare Sin City Marv Electric Chair sample figure (McFarlane Toys) for a few pages of comic book original art from the 1970’s by unknown artists. All trading parties were happy and new stuff was to be fondled. I remember when I was a construction inspector in the late 1970s, I traded the crane operator 20 Case (The brand) pocket knives for a 1969 Datsun pick up truck. I drove that truck for a good two years before selling it to my uncle. He got a few more years out of it.
I love the art of the trade and I’m glad that it still goes on in comics. Most of the time it’s a win/win situation for everyone. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure and all that stuff. So do you as a comic book reader still trade? If you don’t you might wanna think about trying it. I think you’ll enjoy it. EBay might miss you as a customer, but hell, who wants to see them get your money with all those fees and stuff?
While writing this column and remembering trading for that old truck, I started getting the urge to trade for another old truck. I might start looking into trading for another older truck, say 1980s on back, a daily driver, nothing pretty. That old Datsun has a hole in the floor that I got kinda used to. Don’t be surprised if you see me one day driving a new, old truck. Until then, get out there and trade something.
The Flying Fist Ranch
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