(These are reposts of a 'discussion' I originally begun on July 22, 2009.  Aztek is something of the black sheep of Morrison's DC superhero work, not getting much love, so I thought it worthwhile giving him a bit more exposure on the old webz.  It's also a part of our Morrison Readthrough. This discussion originally got zapped when the specialised Morrison discussion forum here got rationalised away.)

 

Aztek, written by Grant Morrison and Mark Millar, pencilled by N Steven Harris and inked by Keith Champagne, only lasted 10 issues.  After that, he appeared several times in Morrison’s JLA until he met his fate in the very millennial World War III storyline of that series.

At the time he originally appeared (1996-97), I wasn’t too interested in Aztek. For one thing, the art was woefully of its time. Reading it now, perhaps an argument could be made that the smudgy and ambiguous etchings of N. Steven Harris reflect the hard-bitten emotional lives of the beleaguered inhabitants of Vanity City. You could make that argument, ... or you could say you don’t like it, and leave it at that.

For another, Aztek had no connection whatever to anything that had been done before in the DCU. I had no reason to buy into the series. My appreciation of Morrison then was just beginning to develop and he was still classed in my mind at the pretentious end of the spectrum. Aztek wasn’t someone like Hawkman or Powergirl, who had a pre-existing fanbase (or at least presence). Nor was he like Animal Man or Starman (or again, Hawkman), whose pedigree stretched back through DC history.

The disadvantage at the time, of the character being such an unknown property, strikes me now as a huge advantage. He was something new in the DCU and it’s too bad the fans (including myself back then) didn't make the market more favourable to original characters like him.

Actually Aztek’s originality (or at least disconnection from anything else in DCU’s history) is something I’d like to look at. Here is another example of Morrison seeing what the zeitgeist of the time was and finding a way to go completely against the grain of it, as he did with Animal Man nearly 10 years before this, and he’d do so exasperatingly with Final Crisis and his Batman 10 years later.

So what was the zeitgeist of the mid-90’s? What age were comicbooks in then? What was the next in the sequence of Gold, Silver, Bronze? Perhaps an argument could be made for the ‘IRONy’ age. Very 90’s and Alannis Morrisette!  But we won’t go there.

At this point I’d like to defer to someone who’s given it a lot more thought than I have and come up with something I think is very insightful. He’s right on the button as to what has been happening in American mainstream comics over the last 15+ years. He glories in the delightful pseudonym ‘Botswana Beast’ and is one of the ‘Mindless Ones’. His name for the age we are currently living through is the Prismatic Age, and here is the essay where he states his case.

The Prismatic Age.


It’s long and closely argued, but I think it’s a seminal text on modern comics, if there is such a thing out there on the webternet. I’ve been meaning to bring it up for discussion on our board, so realised this was as good an opportunity as any. (Presuming anyone’s reading this of course, ha ha!) It's well worth a read...

I’ll try to tie the notion of the ‘Prismatic Age’ into my commentary on Aztek after I go off and give the essay another read myself. No point going into this half-cocked…

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I was underwhelmed by this series when I first read it. I've since then bought the entire thing in trade form, a few years ago, when I was on my "own every single thing written by Grant Morrison" phase (admittedly, this age lives on with me today). I will reread it at some point, but as you know, I'm a bit slow on the uptake with that kind of thing.

That's from almost 4 years ago, dude!

 

I've become weighed down with middle-age and children since I first wrote that, and much time has passed. 

 

Millar and Morrison are world heavyweight superhero writers, and even their weak stuff, as this might seem to be, is worth a look.  There's quite a bit to enjoy in Aztek, actually.  I leafed through my TPB to get some pics to brighten up this series of posts, and there's a lot to admire there.  It's clear to me now that M&M were even more emphatically kicking against 90s trends in this series than even I'd first assumed.  Given where those trends have taken us, that is A VERY GOOD THING!

 

Aztek started in August 96, about 6 months before JLA kicked off, and it looks like a kind of confrontation with what was wrong with comics at that time, as a prelude to the suggested 'cure' that the JLA embodied.  Which makes it a bit important in my eyes. 

 

They were also going for a slow-burn build-up.  The character doesn't even get his superhero name until issue 3!  If it had gone on to become a longer run this intriguing build-up would have been an asset.  As it was, Aztek's short run means that you are left with an overall storyline that adds up to a few hints and portents followed by an overly-rushed conclusion of sorts (only of sorts), so it isn't a very satisfying 10 issues collected between two covers.

 

The slow build-up does mean that the first couple of issues don't hit the ground running like JLA did either.  Perhaps Aztek's disappointing performance is the reason JLA hit the ground running?

 

Short version. Give it a read.  It won't kill you.

 

 

 

SPOILERS

 

Of sorts.

 

I originally wrote these posts with readers in mind who'd read the comics and wanted to discuss them.  As it is, I might as well explain a little about the character and set-up of Aztek, so that anyone who wants to follow the posts below without submitting themselves to the extreme hardship of reading the comics can do so.  There're no big reveals here, but keep in mind the "slow burn" mode of the series, where various aspects of the hero's back-story were slowly divulged as the issues progressed, rather than dumped in the earliest issues.

 

 

This from the Aztek Wiki:

 

Uno is raised from childhood by a secret organization named the Q Society to be the champion of the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl to battle their enemy, the Aztec god Tezcatlipoca. He is given a magical suit of armor that bestows many abilities, complementing Uno's peak human mental and physical abilities. After his training is completed, he enters the United States and assumes the identity of recently deceased physician Curt Falconer.

 

I'd add that his training was by an order of monks in South America, and he settles in Vanity City, a very dark and corrupted American city, very unlike the bright shiny positive ficitional cities of the DCU such as Central City or Metropolis.  He is a complete innocent when he arrives, being a highly skilled warrior and healer, but not knowing anything about modern American life or social mores.

 

The big reveal, which the writers were hoping to stretch out for a while, and buiild several plotlines around, is that the real power behind the Q Society is none other than Lex Luthor, but the creators are just getting this subplot giong when they realised that the series wasn't going to last and they reveal Luthor's role a few issues from the end in a less-than-dramatic fashion. 

 

[Anyway, back to my 2009 follow-up to the original post, dealing with...]

 

The Prism-Aztek Age!

So for the benefit of the TL:DR crowd, The Prismatic Age comes after the Dark Age of Grim’n’Gritty and covers the period 1995 or so to the present and perhaps beyond. As envisioned by Botswana Beast, it is typified by an explosion of different versions of the same core characters and concepts. He puts it thus:

“It’s proliferation, within the native comics medium, and without, particularly - but not exclusively - onto cinema screens. The metaphysics of brand penetration. It’s a multiplicity squeezed out through a few specific lenses: the manifold reflection.”

As I see it, it seems to be a point where the relentless onslaught of new ideas and concepts that Kirby and Ditko brought to the table, (via the Bronze Age’s long frolic in the sandpit they created) gave way to an examining and re-examining of the core concepts and characters and the creation of endless reflections, distortions and exaggerations of the same. The Prismatic Age began, according to the Beast, in the mid-90s with the ‘Reign of Supermen’ and the ‘Mantle of the Bat’ at DC, and the Clone Saga at Marvel and its hallmarks have become endemic to the Big Two comics producers.

When you think about it he has hit on something. Following those stories were such series as:
Starman with all the arbitrarily named Star-characters coming together,
JLA, where all they seemed to fight was variations on themselves and their evil doppelgangers,
GL, Ghost Rider, Iron Fist and (in a different fashion) Hawkman all finding that they are the latest iteration of a long line of similar warriors.
DC’s concentration on legacies which really built momentum in the 90s, with Hal, Ollie, Bruce and Clark all being gone for a while, and replaced by their ‘understudies’.
Loeb’s Superman/Batman presented us with endless variations on the lead characters.

At present in the Marvel U there are maybe 4 Captain Americas running around, 3 Hulks, 2 She-Hulks and a partridge in a pear tree!

Then there was the Secret Invasion with different versions (some mix and match) of all the heroes jumping in. And that’s not counting Dan Slott’s wheeze of us not knowing when it’s ‘our’ hero or some blow-in from another dimension.

The Prismatic Age article gives a few reasons why we are living in the age of this ‘proliferation of the brand’, but I’m inclined to give a lot of weight to the one that tops his list.

that creators are not overly invested in pushing new creations because the readership is generally unresponsive and because, they know by now, they will not be adequately rewarded for their efforts should they make such a breakthrough. Conversely, Mike Mignola is probably doing very well indeed, thank you. What remains is some kind of fascinating interbreeding, like royalty.

 

Aztek himself might be exhibit A in showing that “the readership is generally unresponsive”, but I’m inclined to give a lot of weight to the idea that the creators just didn’t want to come up with a great new concept that they wouldn’t have control over or benefit from in the long term. Roy Thomas gets a bit of stick in the article, but I heard him speak in Bristol a few years ago and as far back as the 60s writers like him knew that there was no point handing the big companies great concepts that he’d only benefit minimally from. That’s why the Vision has that strange ‘built from the parts of the Human Torch’ origin. That’s why he drew so much from both companies’ Golden Age back catalogue.

So the present generation of writers, more acutely aware of the ownership clauses in their contracts than any previous generation, spend most of their creative energies at the Big Two coming up with endless variations and permutations of the already exisitng core concepts. Analogues, Back-to-Basics, Clones, Deconstructions, reconstructions, reboots, rehashes, and even undead reanimations, to bring us bang up to date.

The Prism, which divides one beam of light into a multitude, (and the similar endlessly self-reflecting kaleidoscope) seems like a good symbol of our present comicbook age.

I’ve tried to think of genuinely original non-creator owned superhero concepts for the past 15 years but can’t really come up with much. Marvel’s two latest young superteams spring to mind for different reasons. The ‘Runaways’ did create a bunch of characters that seemed to have their own previously unexplored legacies. It’s interesting that they don’t have things like costumes that are easily branded. They do seem to be completely owned by Marvel, which surprised me a bit. Perhaps there are agreements behind closed doors regarding their use subsequent to Vaughan’s departure?

The Young Avengers seem like a very conscious effort to go down the route of DC’s legacies, and do have the variations on well-known early Avengers. The new mix of the old ingredients seemed very fresh to me when I first read it, but still they are very much prismatic reflections of existing properties.

All this is a lot of verbiage on my part to introduce a negative argument, but I wanted to illustrate that the originality of Aztek’s look and concept wasn’t just original in itself, but completely bucked the trend in mid-90’s comics. Aztek did not look like or have a connection to any previously existing DC property. Even his background, trained by monks and drawing power from ancient mythological sources, didn’t reference the usual Asian monks or Western Greek, Norse, or Celtic mythology. Instead it was ancient Meso-American mythology and South American monks. Where superheroes in the 90s modified their costumes to look ‘street’, with the jackets and the belts and the sunglasses, Aztek depended on a strange outlandish sun-patterned helmet, really unlike anything else.

Finally, where other new heroes in their early episodes try to juggle their normal relationships and work while learning their new powers and responsibilities (think Spider-man, or Buffy), Aztek has been fully trained in how to be a superhero when we meet him, but faces a steep learning curve in how to do the everyday things we all take for granted, like putting food on the table or talking to a girl.

It’s obvious that even though these Aztek adventures are pretty straight-up superhero vs baddie tales, Morrison is being experimental here too. I guess he saw it as a challenge to ‘do a Kirby’ and create a completely new character who’d make an impact starting in their own book. Sadly, as any reader of this post knows, Aztek never really caught on.

The cynic in me is convinced that Morrison and Millar might not have envisioned ‘gifting’ Aztek to the DCU for long. His whole reason for being is to foil a great evil that is going to manifest in Vanity City. Morrison used the build up to the end of the millennium in both JLA and the Invisibles to parallel the build-up to a great final confrontation, and it looks like Aztek was designed to ride that same wave of paranoia and trepidation to the year Y2K. If he began in 1996 and they wrote him up to 2000, that would be a good run of 40-50 issues. He would have had a good solid ending to his tale unlike the endless running to stand still and ‘illusion of change’ of most superheroes. (A run with a Beginning, a Middle and a definite End is something of a Holy Grail in continuity driven comics – only the Jim Corrigan Spectre, Robinson’s Starman and Gaiman’s mainly out of continuity Sandman come to mind.)

Morrison is happy to re-jig any number of tired half-dead old concepts for DC or dredge them up from the Silver Age, but I can’t think of anything he has created as consciously cut off from existing properties as Aztek. In a similar vein, I’m sure Alan Moore tastes bitter bile every time he thinks of DC making money from John Constantine. Constantine is the only lasting new character that Moore ‘gifted’ to DC, savvy as he was to comics history.

In any case, Morrison and Millar ensured that, like Gaiman and Robinson before him with Sandman and Starman respectively, he removed his toy from the box before going on to other things.

[The following originally posted August 4, 2009.]

 

Aztek issues 1 & 2 - The Piper’s Daughter

As already noted, the whole Aztek concept seems to have been specifically designed to be the exact opposite of everything that was popular in mid-90s comics.

With the ’legacy’ thing in full swing in DC at that time, a lot of heroes were just learning the ropes, many of them trying to fill the shoes of more established heroes. The Cassandra Sandsmark Wonder Girl, Time Drake Robin, Jack Knight Starman and Kyle Raynor Green Lantern were just a few. As a matter of fact, Kyle is the guest star in issue two. Although Aztek, being the better superhero, is able to pull a fast one on Kyle (it’s his book after all!), Kyle is able to give Aztek advice about dealing with the responsibilities and pitfalls of being a superhero, which Aztek’s theoretically based training couldn’t have prepared him for. As Morrison was perhaps the best and most sympathetic writer of Kyle’s character at this time, it’s not surprising that Kyle comes off rather well here. Note also that both heroes quickly move beyond the chin-punching that lesser writers feel obliged to include in the initial meetings of superheroes in a book like this.

 



As already noted, Aztek shows signs that the writers studied what was making heroes tick at this point in comics history and tried to reach beyond the current fad. They designed a superhero who knew everything about how his powers worked and how to apply them, but had to build up his whole social self from nothing. Another exact opposite of a then-current trend is the concept of Vanity City. Whereas Jack Knight’s Opal City and Busiek’s Astro City were benevolent places overseen by humane protectors, Vanity City is something of a hellhole whose only superhero, Bloodtype, seems to be a psychopathic vigilante not much better than the villains he is bringing brutally to justice. There are hints later in the series that the city was deliberately designed with the principles of ‘occult geometry’, intended to induce ‘sick building syndrome’ on a mass scale. (This last is perhaps another example of Morrison throwing half-digested then-current pseudo–scientific terms into his writing.)

It’s often overlooked, but Morrison’s approach to writing superheroes is much more analytic than he’s given credit for. He obviously studies what goes on in superhero comics (especially current comics) very closely before presenting his own wildly different take on the superhero. It’s too easy just to say that he gets his mad, mad, mad, mad (;-)) ideas from whatever drugs he’s on that week.

The idea of cities having a malevolent life of their own is something that recurs in Morrison’s other work, particularly The Invisibles. ‘Occult Geometry’ was also a major plot point of Batman: Gothic too.

Morrison’s comparison of the Silver Age and the Grim and Gritty Dark Age is acted out in issue one, where we meet the Piper, "the Sultan of smoke, the Meerschaum Marauder!".  He's a relatively harmless bank robber who uses tobacco pipes as his gimmick who is lured out of retirement, only to be beaten to a pulp and then blasted in the back by Bloodtype, the walking embodiment of 90’s Grim and Grit. (The robot pipes with their little arms and legs look great on the page. Their distress at being caught and crushed to ‘death’ is more affecting than any of the other scenes of torture or death in the first half dozen or so issues!)

The Liefieldian (Liefieldesque?) Bloodtype is quite a piece of work, but he is probably the single thing that dates this comic most. Grimacing humourless gun-totting killers might have come into fashion as superheroes in the 90’s, but it was still easy to see that they represented a break from the standard superhero archetype. However, since this comic was published, we’ve had Wonder Woman snapping a villain’s neck, Iron Man turning on his spandex buddies and committing all sorts of villainy in the name the rule of law, an assassin taking over as Captain America, Spider-man making a deal with Mephisto and the JLA disbanding due to ethical breaches. Bloodtype is no longer the lampoonable ‘other’ that can be held up as laughably different to standard heroes. Instead, a lot of his values and approaches are now part and parcel of modern superheroes. For one thing, I see a lot of his macho swaggering, use of violence as a first resort and lack of compassion in just about every appearance of Green Lantern and Green Arrow since their respective resurrections.

The first two issues are busily plotted, and as well as a complete story involving the kidnap of the Piper’s daughter and Aztek’s attempts to set up a new life for himself, a lot of work is done showing how fallen and corrupt Vanity City is. Although Aztek is shown to be an able, well-equipped hero, it's obvious that the true danger is that his innocence may not be a match for the all-encompassing malevolence of Vanity itself.

Aztek #3 - The Girl who was Death

A more or less standalone issue following the attempt of Death-Doll to avenge the death of Bloodtype, her former boyfriend. She’s convinced Aztek was to blame.

Like Opal City was in Starman, Vanity seems to be a ‘character’ in this series. For instance, Death-Doll is a former clean-cut superheroine who has been corrupted by the city, and now works as an assassin – often for the CIA.

Due to some undisclosed accident while on a CIA ‘wet job’, Death-Doll has been rebuilt using extensive plastic surgery. In her own words, she now looks like ‘A life-sized Barbie Doll’. Perhaps it is an attempt by the writer(s) to work in someone who’ll look like a parody of an Image heroine of this era, but if so, the artist doesn’t really pull it off. Looking through the whole series now, it is to Harris’ credit that none of the woman depicted here are depicted in insultingly sexual terms, but it’s a pity he couldn’t run with this particular ball.

Obligatory Miller reference for this issue: Death Doll’s demise is a virtual replay of the phase-shifting villain that Daredevil faced at the end of Miller’s very first art-job on that character. (DD #158).

Obligatory Moore reference: Issue 3 is also the final use of the Watchman-esque text pieces at the end of the issues. Issues 1-3 each had a text from within the fictional world of Vanity City.

Issue one had a last letter from the Piper to his daughter. It is quite affecting as he senses that the world has changed since his Silver Age heyday and he believes that he may not survive his return to super-villainy. It has such a lot of depth in terms of what it tells us about the Piper's relationship with his daughter, and their back-stories, that I was surprised when I realised that their story had run its course by the end of issue 2.

Issue 2 has Aztek’s ‘Federal Authority Registered Metahumans’ application form. It seems that it is a done deal in the DCU. All heroes have to be registered. Some of it is tongue in cheek: ‘Have you been bitten by anything radioactive?’ ‘Do you seek a teenage sidekick? – If so state recognised public romances’.

The most interesting lines in the form show that heroes don't necessarily have to give their secret identities away. 'Police chief told me I didn't have to say.' Aztek writes in the blank for ‘secret identity’. This ties into the other interesting point. At the bottom, the same police chief has written - 'Vanity needs a protector since we lost Bloodtype, and Aztek's all we got. Please process quickly!' Obviously the authorities in the DCU are much more pragmatic and more sanguine about 'capes' than in the MU.

Issue 3’s text piece is interesting, as we see the foundation of Vanity by Clarence Vane through the double lens of Jonathan Ryle’s biography of this Citizen Kane-like tycoon, as reviewed by Adam Kennedy-Vane, Vane’s son. (Click to enlarge the first page, right.) The layers here bring more to the comic than an excerpt from DC Who’s Who could. We see the opposing forces at work. On the one hand, those trying to shine a light on Vanity’s murky and sinister underpinnings, and on the other hand those who have a stake in covering up the corruption, such as Vane’s successors and the publishing corporation who are trying to undermine Ryles work with reviews like this. It all adds texture and depth to Aztek’s world. That world is expanded well outside the pages of this particular comic, when Bruce Wayne and his father are referred to and Bruce is vilified for publishing the book about Vanity’s founder.

 

Wayne, Vane, Citizen Kane – I like this kind of post-modern playing around.

Despite being so different in form, all the text pieces emphasise Vanity's fallen state. Note the chief's urgent tone in the registration form. They add background and context to Aztek's mission, and contribute to the tone of the book. As Aztek is a new hero based in a previously unseen corner of the DC Earth, this serves a worthwhile function. Just like the text pieces at the back of each issue of the Watchmen, they help make this made-up world feel more real. I certainly enjoyed reading them and was sorry to see they were discontinued after issue 3. When you think about it, comics are ignoring a whole avenue of expression by leaving this technique aside. Sure, the old words/picture combo works great for showing brightly costumed men of action perform feats of daring do, but because of the limitations on space, aren't so good at world-building. You can throw in a few blimps as a time-honoured trope, but it’s not quite the same...

As in Watchmen, the text pieces are used specifically to flesh out a new fictional world and bring in a reader unfamiliar with it, but I can see many other uses for them. What kind of pieces do Clark and Lois write for the Daily Planet for instance? What would an insurance claim form look like in the MU New York? Or what might Bruce Wayne’s Christmas message to his employees be? All would arguably add to the ‘reality’ of these worlds we spend so much time in.

The disadvantage at the time, of the character being such an unknown property, strikes me now as a huge advantage. He was something new in the DCU and it’s too bad the fans (including myself back then) didn't make the market more favourable to original characters like him.

Actually Aztek’s originality (or at least disconnection from anything else in DCU’s history) is something I’d like to look at. Here is another example of Morrison seeing what the zeitgeist of the time was and finding a way to go completely against the grain of it, as he did with Animal Man nearly 10 years before this, and he’d do so exasperatingly with Final Crisis and his Batman 10 years later.

Hey Figs, I'm not sure I'm quite following you here.  I've always understood that most creators that even consider such things would like to be slightly ahead of the zeitgeist, why would Morrison want to go against the grain of it?  

Also, I'm not really convinced that writing a new (or mostly new) character at DC was anything particularly pioneering at that time.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't this the same general timeframe that gave us Chronos, Chase,  and Hourman?  Don't get me wrong, I think Aztek was a great little series, (I tried to pull it off the shelf to give it  a reread after your postings whet my appetite, but unfortunately, I seem to have put it in storage), and was definitely bringing something fresh to the table, but I don't see it as being a pack leader, (even in the abortive sense).

They were also going for a slow-burn build-up.  The character doesn't even get his superhero name until issue 3!  If it had gone on to become a longer run this intriguing build-up would have been an asset.  As it was, Aztek's short run means that you are left with an overall storyline that adds up to a few hints and portents followed by an overly-rushed conclusion of sorts (only of sorts), so it isn't a very satisfying 10 issues collected between two covers.

The slow build-up does mean that the first couple of issues don't hit the ground running like JLA did either.  Perhaps Aztek's disappointing performance is the reason JLA hit the ground running?

I always find it funny when people seem to like the knock 'em down sections better than the set 'em up sections.  On most long form stories I find the setup more interesting than the payoff.  Don't get me wrong, "I love it when a plan comes together" as much as the next person, however, that generally makes the setup even more interesting to me.

The cynic in me is convinced that Morrison and Millar might not have envisioned ‘gifting’ Aztek to the DCU for long. His whole reason for being is to foil a great evil that is going to manifest in Vanity City. Morrison used the build up to the end of the millennium in both JLA and the Invisibles to parallel the build-up to a great final confrontation, and it looks like Aztek was designed to ride that same wave of paranoia and trepidation to the year Y2K. If he began in 1996 and they wrote him up to 2000, that would be a good run of 40-50 issues. He would have had a good solid ending to his tale unlike the endless running to stand still and ‘illusion of change’ of most superheroes. (A run with a Beginning, a Middle and a definite End is something of a Holy Grail in continuity driven comics – only the Jim Corrigan [Ostrander] Spectre, Robinson’s Starman and Gaiman’s mainly out of continuity Sandman come to mind.)

I'm pretty hot and cold with Morrison (and Millar for that matter) but if the early issues are any indication, I think we really missed out.  It's a shame this title didn't start 6 months after JLA instead of 6 months before.

In any case, Morrison and Millar ensured that, like Gaiman and Robinson before him with Sandmanand Starman respectively, he removed his toy from the box before going on to other things.

Do you mean within the universe or was there also a contractual clause?

In her own words, she now looks like ‘A life-sized Barbie Doll’. 

That line just makes me wonder what Astro City's Beauty would have thought of Vanity. :)

Despite being so different in form, all the text pieces emphasise Vanity's fallen state. Note the chief's urgent tone in the registration form. They add background and context to Aztek's mission, and contribute to the tone of the book. As Aztek is a new hero based in a previously unseen corner of the DC Earth, this serves a worthwhile function. Just like the text pieces at the back of each issue of the Watchmen, they help make this made-up world feel more real. I certainly enjoyed reading them and was sorry to see they were discontinued after issue 3. When you think about it, comics are ignoring a whole avenue of expression by leaving this technique aside. Sure, the old words/picture combo works great for showing brightly costumed men of action perform feats of daring do, but because of the limitations on space, aren't so good at world-building. You can throw in a few blimps as a time-honoured trope, but it’s not quite the same...

I think more comics don't use text pieces because to get them to hit the right key is pretty time consuming.  Can you imagine if Bendis had to do text pieces too... he'd never get 8 comics out a month.

Hey Figs, I'm not sure I'm quite following you here.  I've always understood that most creators that even consider such things would like to be slightly ahead of the zeitgeist, why would Morrison want to go against the grain of it?  

Also, I'm not really convinced that writing a new (or mostly new) character at DC was anything particularly pioneering at that time.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't this the same general timeframe that gave us Chronos, Chase,  and Hourman?  Don't get me wrong, I think Aztek was a great little series, (I tried to pull it off the shelf to give it  a reread after your postings whet my appetite, but unfortunately, I seem to have put it in storage), and was definitely bringing something fresh to the table, but I don't see it as being a pack leader, (even in the abortive sense).

 

Very fair questions, BM.  Thanks for the chance to expand on my thoughts a little.

 

I mentioned the zeitgeist, because a close examination of Aztek's set-up and background reveals that at every turn, the creators 'didn't go there' in terms of what was popular or believed to be successful at the time.

 

Legacy heroes were the biggest thing of this moment.  Flash, GL, GA, Starman were all carrying on a legacy of an earlier hero/character.  Even Chronos and Hourman in your examples were doing this, with a twist in each case.  Aztek being a brand new new brand was a deliberate step to take.  As the series continued, however, we learn that Aztek is the latest in a long line of previously unknown legacy heroes, so the writers were very aware of the legacy thing and were commenting on it, even as they were abjuring it.

 

M&M were ahead of the curve in this, as lots of characters later took this route over the next 10 years.  Ghost Rider, Iron Fist and Hawkman all subsequently found that they were only the 'latest in a long line of blah, blah, blah'.

 

Of course Alan Moore had led the way with Swamp Thing years before, but that's Moore for you.  Strangely, the character Aztek most resembles regarding his legacy responsibilities is Buffy, who had a similar 'council' overseeing the line of champions.  The movie was in 1992, but the series only took off in 1996, making it synchronous with Aztek.

 

Post-modernism was seeping through into the entertainments at this time.  A major tenet of which is that 'there is nothing new under the sun.'  Everything is just a version of what came before.  (Even that saying goes back to ancient Greece, it seems!)

 

Astro City and Starman both featured benevolent cities that the heroes had an attachment to, and which seemed to have a character of their own.  Dystopian Vanity is the direct inverse of that.

 

Early 90s was about superheroes in jackets and sunglasses and such, and dark colours, to make them more 'street', and perhaps evincing an embarassment about being superheroes at all.  (Jack Knight being 'exhibit 'A'.)  Aztek wore that incredible Golden helmet and a bright white and golden outfit that could only be a good-guy superhero's.  He was very much designed, in personality and appearance to clash with Vanity City.  He wasn't a Noir/Grim'n'Gritty character in a Noir environment, which many mainstream characters had become by the 90s.

 

As an aside, the similarities between Aztek's outfit and that of New God Lightray is quite striking.  Was that going to be a later plotline, connecting Kirby's beloved Meso-American gods to his equally beloved New ones?

 

Lastly, there is the inversion of the old trope of an ordinary schmo trying to get on with their normal life whilst trying to cope with new powers and responsibilities.  Aztek is uber-competant as a superhero out of the gate, but hasn't a clue how to be a normal person in US society.

 

I also mentioned that the South American order of monks are a surprising alternative to the old trope of Asian monks, as the Meso-American Gods are an alternative to the shopworn, Norse, and Classical Gods that we normally get.

 

The main reason I mentioned all of these was to show that Morrison (and Millar) didn't just come up with any old drug-fueled weirdness that they thought they can get away with, but each of these creative decisions are a deliberate attempt to do something new and fresh with a new superhero - sometimes the exact diametric opposite of what's usually done.  That's  what I meant be going against the zeitgheist.

 

I see Chase as very much the logical conclusion of a particular strain in 90s comics of this time, rather than something pioneering.  She completely eschews a costume, despite having powers herself.  In fact she despises the very idea of a superhero. Her adventures are very much in the Noir/Grim'n'Gritty/realist mode that early 90s comics were striving towards in their hamfisted way - except done exceptionally well, from what I can see.

 

Of course the mid-90s were a transitional time, between the tough faux-realistic comics that the New 52 is now trying to revisit, and the bright, positive Reconstructionist superhero comics in the mode of Astro City/JLAAztek, like Starman and Chronos, is hitting some notes of each school, except in a different way to other superhero comics of the time.  So I understand your scepticism.  Perhaps I am overstating some of this. (I do think M&M were calibrating their hero against the top-flight creations of their day, even if Aztek has some of the characteristics of more humdrum superheroes who were just continuing as normal in their spandex and grim'n'gritty etc).

 

I don't think Aztek was a would-be pack leader as much as an attempt at freshness and contrariness.  Although Morrison and Millar do tend to sound like they believe everything they do is visionary and mould-breaking. 

 

(Starman was a huge influence on Chronos and Chase, to my eyes.  In both cases, I can see editorial trying to recapture its success somehow.  Aztek is definitely a retreat from certain aspects of Starman's approach.)

 

It's a shame this title didn't start 6 months after JLA instead of 6 months before.

 

This hits it on the head.  For myself, I didn't start reading or following the DCU regularly until about the second arc of JLA.  I had to catch up with the TPB of the first arc.  I'd probably have been at least interested in another DCU book by Morrison once I settled into JLA.

 

Do you mean within the universe or was there also a contractual clause?

 

I'm only guessing, but it looks like M&Ms intention was not to leave Aztek around as a stock character available to other writers.  Morrison has said that he usually has the final issues of a run in mind even as he starts to write the first issues.  This is what makes his work feel like self-contained novels with many of the hallmarks of - God help us! - 'literature' about it.  It's possible to see a certain arc for Aztek in the first 10 issues that would eventually arrive at his big sacrifice.  I think that the reluctance of creators to come up with new characters, mentioned upthread, is such a driving principle of 90s comics onwards, that M&M must have had some exception for Aztek in mind.  The creators of Starman and Sandman both went out of their way to remove them at the end of their runs.  Just my feeling.

 

It would have been a fine run, I think, if it had been allowed to run it's course.  However, it looks like the creators had planned a period along the way where Aztek becomes corrupted by Luthor and Vanity City, and he'd have to find his way back to being a true hero.  It's hard to hold onto readers during arcs like that.  Readers don't like to be challenged in that way.  (All the more reason that I admire how DC of this era managed to bring Green Lantern Hal along this path, and get the readers to buy the huge crossovers each step of his journey took place in!)

 

I don't know of any contractual clause, but it might be interesting to check the credits of the episodes of the animated Justice League cartoon that Aztek appeared in for credits to M&M. 

Just wrote a long comment that just disappeared when I pressed save....

AAAaargh!

We've all experienced this.  I feel for you...



Figserello said:

Just wrote a long comment that just disappeared when I pressed save....

AAAaargh!

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