I see over on the Baron's Original Sin thread, people are yet again pondering why yet another Marvel crossover has characters we used to love, and who used to work well together, snarling at each other and having pissing competitions regarding who is tougher instead of dealing with each other and the situation at hand as human beings would.

Right now,  in his Sub-Mariner discussion, Philip Portelli ponders why a character we are presumably expected to have sympathy and empathy for in future storylines is shown as a war criminal committing genocide.

I just about couldn't read Avengers Vs X-Men because of that mode of writing.  Instead I gathered the thrust of the narrative from reading Keiron Gillen's Uncanny X-Men tie-ins and the Avengers Academy tie-in.  There we got an impression of what a modern Marvel crossover would be like if relatable human feelings and some kind of empathy were the hallmarks of a superhero.  (Although Gillen largely just revelled in the moral laxity of much of his cast.  But we're talking Magneto and Mr Sinister here, rather than Captain America and Cyclops.)

I've said before that there is no point in bewailing the absence of traits that the writers simply aren't interested in putting into their books.  The books aren't aiming to give us recognisable human situations and reactions. 

As on Philip's thread, I'd identify the values of Badass and Awesome as being the prime values that these comics express and appeal to.  So long as 'heroes' seem to be acting and talking really tough all the time, and being prepared to be 'pragmatic' to the nth degree to 'get the job done', even when such behaviour strikes any reader as being out of character or off-puttingly 'unrealistic', then any action or interaction from the 'hero' is justified.

Obviously a certain section of the readership lap this up, but I'd worry myself that it is really alienating a wider audience, and it's certainly interfering with my own enjoyment of these comics.  However, it's not enough just to identify the values of 'Badass and Awesome' as the reason many of us aren't enjoying huge swathes of mainstream comics these days.  There's also the question of how writers that have gained praise elsewhere for clever, literate, humane work should slip into this mode when writing Big Two comics.

I think I've discovered a pointer as to how Marvel's otherwise intelligent and somewhat cultured writers find themselves at the point where this is the kind of book they are producing.

I've been meaning to post the following link for ages. It's an interview I discovered that Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue DeConnick gave while at a writer's festival here in my home town of Brisbane, Australia.  It was meant for very mainstream broadcast here in Australia, as it was aired as an interview with a very popular interviewer whose programme goes out on weekday mornings.  Perhaps for this reason, the writers give away a little more, and display a wider frame of reference than we usually get in the more sycophantic marketing-conscious industry interviews.

Here's the interview.  I think anyone interested in modern mainstream American comics would find it interesting.  For the most part Fraction and DeConnick come across as a charming and engaging young couple.

 

Conversations with Richard Fidler

 

The revealing point for me occurs around 31:30 where they discuss the limits of what you can do with a superhero story.  Fraction goes straight to Alan Moore (of course).  Fraction rightly praises Moore's Swamp Thing, but goes on to paraphrase Moore as saying regarding his final thoughts on that series:

"I wanted to write stories about the environment, but the Muck Monster kept getting in the way." 

I can definitely see Alan Moore's wry point about the limits he found imposed on his lofty literary and social awareness ambitions. 

However, it looks like Fraction is using Moore's point to excuse himself and many of his current cronies at Marvel from even trying to do anything meaningful with the superhero subgenre.  He goes on to talk about how the environment or the recession can't really be covered unless either could be transformed into something that Thor could hit with his hammer!

Perhaps there might seem to be a bit of a leap between not being able to write about the environment or the Recession and having to produce stories where supposedly ‘heroic’ characters, when presented with a problem that demands co-operation and mutual understanding, can only assert their toughness and resort to violence at the first opportunity.  Still, to me, Fraction seems to be saying that superhero stories should only be about superheroes doing superheroic things, and those actions against, or in the presence of, other super-powered beings. 

This largely does preclude modern Marvel superhero comics from dealing in any meaningful way with topics like the Recession or the environment.  Sadly, it also seems to preclude the presence of many ordinary folk in modern superhero stories, like the great supporting casts we had in for example Roger Stern and John Byrne’s Captain America run, or those in Steve Gerber’s 1970s Defenders stories. 

To come back to Thor hitting things with his hammer, the most egregious example of this diminished scope for stories in recent times was the first long arc of Jason Aaron’s Thor: God of Thunder series.  There we had an intriguing set-up whereby Thor was threatened by the ‘Gorr the God Butcher’ in three stages of his long existence.  The story seemed perfectly set-up to compare and contrast impetuous youth, thoughtful maturity and senile old age, but the resolution of the story turned on how hard Thor could bash things and strike people with lightning.  It was very disappointing to me.  It even ran against the logic of the story itself, where the God Butcher had been able to enslave and kill a huge number of beings with GODLIKE powers. Yet he was defeated by just three Gods - only one of whom was in his prime - who did nothing cleverer than hit him with increasingly Badass and Awesome ferocity. 

In the light of Fraction's comments, it looks like the story was restricted in scope by restricting the content to only superheroes doing superheroic things!

I know Marvel itself is producing quite a few comics at the moment that have more heart and humanity, by the means of having normal people and more recognisable situations in them.  I’m not trying to show why all Marvel comics are rubbish these days.  But I think Fraction’s comments do shed light on what is going on in those instances where we find modern comics hollow and unrewarding.

Even though Moore perhaps was ultimately frustrated by the form superhero narratives tend to dictate, he did unquestionably produce great comics that explored our humanity and society from many different angles, even as he struggled against the narrative boundaries of the envelope during his time at DC.

It looks like Fraction and many of his colleagues (DeConnick, for a start, can be sensed nodding beside him in that part of the interview) are using Moore's fruitful struggle against the superhero narrative form, not as inspiration to keep pushing the envelope, but weirdly, as an excuse to tell their stories within quite narrow parameters, and within quite set frameworks.

Rather insultingly for us readers, they seem to believe they have the justification for not even trying!

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I haven't had a chance to listen to the interview yet (how long is it anyway, just their part of it?). But I've seen them both speak on panels many times. This summer I saw them on the same panel, which made for an interesting, cute dynamic: lots of nodding at each other's points, finishing each other's sentences, etc. But much of what I've seen was dealing with their independent work, which of course is my main interest.

But I think your general point applies to all of the indie creators that have made their way into mainstream comics recently. They all have a style of working that carries over, such as Hickman's propensity for making detailed long-range plans. But it's often hard to see their creative sensibilities in the superhero work. Fraction's creator-owned stuff is anything but formulaic; Jason Aaron shone on the realism in his crime drama Scalped; both Jeff Lemire and Matt Kindt have distinctive personalities in their own work, but their DC comics could have been written by anybody. I don't know to what extent this reflects them giving up on pushing the envelope, or just the increasingly corporate structure of comics at the Big Two. When you agree to do work for hire, it's a professional job above all else, and always has been.

The whole thing is just them talking to some guy who last read comics when Jean Grey died in X-men #137.

Regarding this generation of writers in general, there does seem to be a gulf between their indie work and their superhero work. They do seem to have largely written off even the possibility of doing anything meaningful with superheroes. There's plenty of superhero work out there from earlier eras that is fun and exciting and action-packed, yet manages to make the reader think and feel and see their world differently, but Big Two comics don't go down that route with their Big Ticket comics.

 

Perhaps lately they have been bringing some good ideas to their more niche comics.

 

'Professional' work in this case often seems to mean hollow, cynical, and lacking in much relevance to life as we live it. It's an incredible change of gears from these otherwise much-praised writers. I wonder how much of it is cynicism about working for heartless corporate machines, or doing distasteful work that pays the bills, and how much is some kind of contempt for their audiences?

 

Audiences certainly keep lapping up the hollow consequence-free spectacle.

I'm not generally known for my optimism, but I really don't get cynicism or contempt for their audiences from any of the personal interactions I've had with these creators. Even the indie ones usually have a history with the franchises they're working with. They probably don't have the obsessive fan's reverence for continuity, but they genuinely like the characters, and try to do the best job they can. If nothing else they take the craft seriously. I take "professional" work in this case to mean the ability to meet deadlines, and to find a way to live with your editors and the rest of the creative team, yet still turn out work you're not embarrassed by.

Yeah, they talk a good approach, but the work so often leaves many readers going ... "What is this foolishness?" 

Fractions own Fear Itself is probably an extreme example of foolishness and low-hanging fruit for my argument, but the points they made the big drama out of was Thor dying, Bucky dying and Paris being turned to stone. Then in issue 7.1 they brought Thor back, in 7.2 they brought Bucky back and in 7.3 they reverted Paris. The actual story had nothing to offer except the fanboyish pleasures of these big changes to the ongoing continuity, and even they were negated. WTF?

Hit your problems with a big hammer -and maybe some lightning- was literally the life lesson offered by Aaron's Thor, a real comedown when he'd started out examining how the gods let us down and how our lives will take the course they will.

I think we're in the age of fanfiction done on a professional level. I like fanfiction and I write it, but while I write it I know I have the luxury of writing without limits. I can put Wonder Woman into a Hogan's Heroes episode, I can put Micheal, Bonnie and Kitt on Thundera and leave them there, I can send Diane Chambers on a TARDIS trip with the Doctor and Nyssa. I can have these characters act in ways they might not in the shows or the comics. Stability used to be there for the comics, Steve and Diana might split a bit, he might die but they'd be back.
Now you don't have that. As far as I can tell there are no limits, editors don't seem to be able to say no anymore. Any idea is worth a try because there is no long term worry of what it might do to the characters because there is no long term period. The stability and the foundations of both DC and the other company have been either eroded or crushed. Superman and Lois, Steve and Diana... gone and I think the modern writers how ever they feel about the characters are simply refusing to write within the old frameworks anymore and the editors don't seem to want to make them. Change a characters name, costume, outlook, attitude... so long as it sells it's ok to do.

I'd identify the values of Badass and Awesome as being the prime values that these comics express and appeal to.  So long as 'heroes' seem to be acting and talking really tough all the time, and being prepared to be 'pragmatic' to the nth degree to 'get the job done', even when such behaviour strikes any reader as being out of character or off-puttingly 'unrealistic', then any action or interaction from the 'hero' is justified.

I'm not sure I'd view the "badass storyline" as extending more than a couple of places in Big 2 comics, but I think that "badass moments" or images have become a key story construction tool.  For me, its seems like it's gotten to the point that many writers use their storytelling prowess to find a way to connect the "badass images" rather than tell a satisfying story.

"I wanted to write stories about the environment, but the Muck Monster kept getting in the way." 

  it looks like Fraction is using Moore's point to excuse himself and many of his current cronies at Marvel from even trying to do anything meaningful with the superhero subgenre.  He goes on to talk about how the environment or the recession can't really be covered unless either could be transformed into something that Thor could hit with his hammer!

Rather than a limitation of the tools, it seems more like a case of limitation of the writers.  If they have no stories to tell with the characters they're on, they probably shouldn't be writing those characters.  If they have a different story they're chomping at the bit to get out there, they should tell it in an appropriate venue instead of in whatever book happens to be handy; it's a disservice to the book they're on and it usually winds up doing a disservice to the story they want to tell.  

On the flip side, I've never been able to understand why editors would pursue creators that don't have an affinity for their characters or greenlight stories that obviously contradict the underpinnings of the worlds their shepherding.  Any fan can see it's like shooting themselves in the foot, why can't the editors?  It's not like the editors get to jump ship as quickly as the creators, they have to deal with the fallout, why don't they make their lives easier?

To come back to Thor hitting things with his hammer, the most egregious example of this diminished scope for stories in recent times was the first long arc of Jason Aaron’s Thor: God of Thunder series.  There we had an intriguing set-up whereby Thor was threatened by the ‘Gorr the God Butcher’ in three stages of his long existence.  The story seemed perfectly set-up to compare and contrast impetuous youth, thoughtful maturity and senile old age, but the resolution of the story turned on how hard Thor could bash things and strike people with lightning.  It was very disappointing to me.  It even ran against the logic of the story itself, where the God Butcher had been able to enslave and kill a huge number of beings with GODLIKE powers. Yet he was defeated by just three Gods - only one of whom was in his prime - who did nothing cleverer than hit him with increasingly Badass and Awesome ferocity.

I'm not sure I'd automatically jump to the conclusion that Aaron sees Thor as having such constricted storytelling potential, I'd be more inclined to think that editorial threw a last minute wrench into his plans  Solid setups that just fizzle to the inane just scream that the writer can't write endings or that something was disallowed.  With Aaron's track record, my money would be on editorial.

Given all the odd things comic editors seem to do, I'd love to see a book of straight talking interviews with some editors.  I'd think it would be a lot more informative than a lot of creator biographies.

It looks like Fraction and many of his colleagues (DeConnick, for a start, can be sensed nodding beside him in that part of the interview) are using Moore's fruitful struggle against the superhero narrative form, not as inspiration to keep pushing the envelope, but weirdly, as an excuse to tell their stories within quite narrow parameters, and within quite set frameworks.

Rather insultingly for us readers, they seem to believe they have the justification for not even trying!

I guess it's up to the creators whether they see constrictions as something to stretch themselves against or a handy excuse to do substandard work, but in one sense, it's hard to fault them when the companies put their marketing muscle behind the work that has less to say.  If you're rewarded for an action, you tend to follow the reward.

It's usually not possible to know how much editorial interference is responsible for the final comic, but it's always worth bearing in mind. I am also inclined to think that Aaron had to alter his game plan for that Thor story due to some grand editorial plan. In the case of DC's New 52 the editorial mandate is explicit: don't write the characters you know (unless it's Batman or Green Lantern), write them according to these new guidelines, vague and ever-changing though they might be.

Border Mutt said:

To come back to Thor hitting things with his hammer, the most egregious example of this diminished scope for stories in recent times was the first long arc of Jason Aaron’s Thor: God of Thunder series.  There we had an intriguing set-up whereby Thor was threatened by the ‘Gorr the God Butcher’ in three stages of his long existence.  The story seemed perfectly set-up to compare and contrast impetuous youth, thoughtful maturity and senile old age, but the resolution of the story turned on how hard Thor could bash things and strike people with lightning.  It was very disappointing to me.  It even ran against the logic of the story itself, where the God Butcher had been able to enslave and kill a huge number of beings with GODLIKE powers. Yet he was defeated by just three Gods - only one of whom was in his prime - who did nothing cleverer than hit him with increasingly Badass and Awesome ferocity.

I'm not sure I'd automatically jump to the conclusion that Aaron sees Thor as having such constricted storytelling potential, I'd be more inclined to think that editorial threw a last minute wrench into his plans  Solid setups that just fizzle to the inane just scream that the writer can't write endings or that something was disallowed.  With Aaron's track record, my money would be on editorial.

Given all the odd things comic editors seem to do, I'd love to see a book of straight talking interviews with some editors.  I'd think it would be a lot more informative than a lot of creator biographies.

Mark S. Ogilvie said:

As far as I can tell there are no limits, editors don't seem to be able to say no anymore.

Border Mutt said:

On the flip side, I've never been able to understand why editors would pursue creators that don't have an affinity for their characters or greenlight stories that obviously contradict the underpinnings of the worlds their shepherding. Any fan can see it's like shooting themselves in the foot, why can't the editors? It's not like the editors get to jump ship as quickly as the creators, they have to deal with the fallout, why don't they make their lives easier?

I think the problem is with upper management. The editors are just employees who want to keep getting their paychecks. The way they continue in their jobs is to sell a lot of comics.

It's like tabloid journalism. The paparazzi would not be jumping out of bushes taking scared and angry pictures of celebrities if the public wasn't paying good money for the rags that publish the pictures and the invented stories that go with them.

As for editors never exercising authority, J. Michael Straczynski's much-reviled "Sins Past" was changed by the editors to make Norman Osborn the father rather than Peter. "One More Day," always intended to end his marriage to Mary Jane, was changed to make the deal with Mephisto. Straczynski actually wanted his name taken off the book, but relented.

When Disney bought Marvel some feared it would "Disney-fy" the comics. Instead they seem to have taken a more hands-off approach than Warner Bros. We might be better off if Disney insisted that Marvel tone down the character-trashing stories.

Once a writer becomes a "name", the editors lose a lot of power over them.

So if I may summarize this discussion and similar thoughts posted in other threads, editors at DC are horrible because they say "no" too much, and editors at Marvel are horrible because they don't say "no" often enough.

John Dunbar said:

So if I may summarize this discussion and similar thoughts posted in other threads, editors at DC are horrible because they say "no" too much, and editors at Marvel are horrible because they don't say "no" often enough.

I wouldn't go there.  I think both companies have lots of cases where they stray from the Goldilocks zone, in both directions.

If I had to pick an editorial evil, I'd say the big one to me is not ensuring that the creators have a solid, workable plan from the get go.  If they used more foresight at the beginning, they wouldn't need to make last ditch attempts at alterations or throw their hands up in the air and let the creators do whatever they want.

Richard Willis said:

I think the problem is with upper management. The editors are just employees who want to keep getting their paychecks.

Maybe I'm just naive and ignorant of the processes, but I'd like to think that if the editors had the creators submit a decent long term plan rather than fly by the seat of their pants, upper management would be less likely to interfere quite as often.

Sometimes it's just a mistake that no one will admit is a mistake and they layer more and mores story elements onto it. I think there is a difference between a mistake of character, a mistake of story and a success of sales. Like SpringTime for Hitler everything can be done wrong and it can come out right or successful in a way never intended. How we read the story is not always the way the writer intended for us to read the story.
Though that begs the question how exactly did they want me to read Amazon's Attack?



John Dunbar (the mod of maple) said:

So if I may summarize this discussion and similar thoughts posted in other threads, editors at DC are horrible because they say "no" too much, and editors at Marvel are horrible because they don't say "no" often enough.

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