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Saturday On the Cusp of a New Age

I hear a lot, the last couple of weeks, about how Secret Invasion is just a rehash of DC’s Millennium.

Now, of course, any time one of these big Marvel or DC events kicks off, there’s usually some crabbing about how it’s nothing new and so on and so forth. Which strikes me as completely missing the point: after all, if you want dangerous, cutting-edge innovation in your comics, you probably aren’t going to find very much of it in a Marvel or DC crossover event book.

But I don’t really want to get into another thing this week about what superhero comics can and can’t do. The point is, every time I see the Millennium comparison brought up in regards to Secret Invasion, usually the person making it also takes a second to lob off a quick snipe at how awful Millennium was, and that seems a bit gratuitous.

As luck would have it, I scored a complete set of Millennium in the closeout sale of a local comics shop, and it was the first time I’d read it since it came out; the same week I picked up the Booster Gold Showcase, which closes with the Millennium crossover.

And you know what? Upon rereading it, I found out that it’s not that bad.

I’ll grant you that it’s flawed, and it has the dubious honor of being — I think — the first big crossover project at DC that everyone tacitly agreed to forget. Nothing that spun out of Millennium stuck. As I recall, it sold okay, DC still had a lot of momentum going for it in 1987 and I think the book made money. But (unlike Crisis, Final Night, Underworld, or Legends) it wasn’t ever collected in a trade edition. Not only did all the spin-off series tank hard, but I believe they were all erased from DCU history, even. Certainly as far as, say, characters like Tom Kalmaku or Lana Lang are concerned.

Nevertheless, it was an interesting failure. Millennium was a project that should have worked really well.

The part that everyone forgets is that at the time, Steve Englehart and Joe Staton were really hot creators at DC. They were having an amazing run over on Green Lantern and a great deal of that mythology has stayed in place up through to the present day.

Englehart inherited the book from Len Wein and Dave Gibbons, who had embarked on a long storyline wherein Hal Jordan had resigned as Green Lantern and John Stewart had taken over the job, as well as introducing a couple of recurring mystery villains at Ferris Aircraft, the mysterious Mr. Smith ands the costumed Predator. The conventional wisdom was that Hal would be back in a year or so. Bill Willingham did a nice fill-in where Katma Tui was assigned to Earth as John’s trainer and that was when Englehart took over. Englehart himself said that no one really was expecting great things, Green Lantern had always been a steady mid-list seller and it was assumed that it would probably remain there.

Steve Englehart, though, was brought up through the chaotic era of Bronze-Age Marvel comics, where innovation was the name of the game and writers took a certain rebellious pride in doing the unexpected. He decided to keep John as Green Lantern for the foreseeable future, and he even brought Guy Gardner in as yet another GL, and just to change it up he made Guy the hard-nosed standard-bearer for a splinter group of Guardians that disagreed with the traditional Guardians and the Green Lantern Corps.

Englehart absolutely were rocking this book in the late 80's.

All this took place during DC’s year-long Crisis on Infinite Earths event, and many of us reading both books thought that Englehart’s Green Lantern tie-ins to Crisis were quite a bit better than the main book itself. Since Crisis took an obscure piece of GL history as its instigating event, and John Stewart was a major player in the Crisis book itself, this provided Englehart with exactly the sort of cosmic-continuity building blocks for plotting stories he had used to such great advantage at Marvel, when he had done things like the Avengers-Defenders War and the Celestial Madonna storyline.

The Green Lantern Crisis — at least, that’s how I thought of it — ran concurrently for the last half of the year that Crisis ran, and Englehart kept finding new ways to riff on what Marv Wolfman and George Perez were doing, while at the same time managing to confound fan expectations of how it was all going to work out.

I was actually more jazzed for this than the actual Crisis wrapup.

It wrapped up with a double-sized battle royal, Guy Gardner’s group versus John Stewart and the rest of the Corps in the anti-matter universe of Qward, with a civilian Hal Jordan caught in the middle. I pulled these books out and reread them not too long ago, and they still have that exhilarating anything-goes feel about them. A lot of writers today in the fan press sneer at serialized superhero Event Comics from the Big Two — I often do it myself — but damn, when they’re done well it’s hard not to get caught up in the wave. Who would live? Who would die? How was it all going to work out?

Most of all, who was going to be Green Lantern? At this point, it had been a couple of years since Hal Jordan had quit, but Englehart had teased us relentlessly by never actually taking him out of the book. We wanted to see Hal all the way back…. but we also had gotten attached to seeing John Stewart, and even Guy had his defenders. The letters pages in GL were raging with arguments over who should be THE Green Lantern.

Englehart solved the problem with an elegant simplicity… all three of them would be.

The surprises kept getting bigger.

In the big 200th Anniversary Special follow-up to the Crisis story, the Guardians revealed that it was time for them to move on, and they departed Oa, leaving the Green Lantern Corps to function on their own. John, Hal, and even Guy got to stay on, along with several of their companions, and they decided they would station themselves on Earth. This led to a complete revamp of the book as The Green Lantern Corps.

Of all the 80's revamps and re-launches, this may have been my favorite.

All this had energized the book to a degree no one, including DC management, had thought was possible. Certainly, of the various 80’s revamps and re-imaginings and reboots that spun out of the Crisis event, this was my personal favorite. And I think it was the richest, in terms of the characters and plot devices and story points and so on that got added to the DCU… it really adds up, when you stop and think how many of these Englehart-Staton innovations have stayed in place for over twenty years: Guy Gardner as the GL that plays rough, Kilowog, Salakk, the adult Arisia, all came out of this run. It’s also worth noting that a lot of what Geoff Johns is getting praised for in his current run on the book involves reviving these concepts that were all introduced over that roughly two-year period. It was a huge hit — so much so that nowadays, that stuff forms the “basics” GL is getting back to.

So, when DC editor Andy Helfer was looking to follow up Crisis and Legends with another big event crossover, it makes sense that Englehart and Staton would get a swing at doing it. Clearly, they had a knack for this sort of big cosmic thing.

It STARTED well...

The premise jumped off one of Englehart’s Green Lantern ideas — as the Guardians departed Oa, ostensibly forever, they charged the Corps with taking extra-special care of Earth, because that was where the next great advancement in evolution was going to happen. So Millennium opened with a Guardian and his Zamaron mate returning to Earth to let everyone know that the evolution thing was actually about to start…. but the bad news was, the evil Manhunter cult knew this and they were against it. And they had sleeper agents everywhere on earth, after thousands of years to infiltrate. The idea was that anybody could be a Manhunter…. even long-term supporting characters like Superman’s Lana Lang or Batman’s Commissioner Gordon.

As a hook, the basic idea was sound and a good one to hang your crossover on. It was easy to plug into, all writers had to do was figure out who their book’s Manhunter was and build a conflict around it.

So what went wrong?

The Chosen were really more the Soporific. every time they came on stage the book stopped dead.

Rereading it, I decided that the basic problem with the book wasn’t the plot so much as the concept. The plot works great — every time the story is about the heroes fighting the Manhunters or dealing with a loved one’s betrayal, it’s cooking. The tie-ins all focused on that angle and it was a good one.

But you get to the part about the Chosen Ones, the ten people who represent the next advance in sentience in the universe, and the whole thing stops dead.

Fighting Manhunters? Rocking. awesome. Choosing humanity's next level? ZZZZZZ.

The problem? The Chosen Ones are ordinary civilians, pulled from all walks of life to push forward a destiny they don’t even understand. So far so good –standard reluctant-hero stuff. Englehart’s idea was to show what it was like for the regular folks during these cosmic events, and incidentally show that not everyone in the DCU was middle-class American. Again, a laudable idea.

But the execution was… well, to call it a well-intentioned failure is charitable.

The chosen kept getting duller... even Madame Xanadu looks like she's nodding off here.

The rationale behind the choosing of the Chosen (sorry, I couldn’t resist that turn of phrase) looks like… honestly, like a quota system designed to fill out a YMCA Diversity Day forum. You’ve got your black woman, your gay guy, your Chinese communist, your middle-aged angry white guy, your studious Asian, your magical aborigine… and the trouble was, that was ALL they were. I recall Gregorio, the flamboyantly gay Brazilian, was especially irritating to both gay and straight readers, though personally, I found all of them annoyingly stereotypical to some degree. Added to the mix, seemingly at random, were Tom Kalmaku and the Floronic Man — the last was an especially baffling choice, considering that the whole point of being Chosen was to advance the evolution of humanity. At least the gay man was theoretically capable of breeding; but why was the plant guy in the group?

The book got talkier and talkier... and more and more muddleheaded.

And so on. The book got bogged down in a lot of pseudo-philosophical psychobabble about the workings of the universe.

More philosophy? Snore.

The actual adventure was happening largely off-stage, in the various tie-in books. Millennium, the series itself, ended up being almost a staging area and an index to the story it was supposed to be telling.

There were still good bits to it. Whenever it remembered to be about the battle between the heroes and the Manhunters (who could be anybody!) it was fun.

Assault? Okay, I'm awake for that part...

But overall, it became apparent that Englehart was over-reaching. The decision to devote the entire final issue to the “ascension” of the Chosen was a particularly bad call, I think.

Bronze-Age glory and Bronze-age excess, all wrapped together. One-stop shopping.

Especially since, in addition to being anti-climactic in and of itself, the trumpeted “next stage in human evolution” looked an awful lot like just creating a new super-team by taking one from column A and two from column B.

Just not good.

It was the Diversity Day thing all over again. Englehart has said that the book’s failing was not entirely his doing, he was censored: “[New Guardians was] the next step in a more realistic approach to superheroes – and to that end I got a promise from the highest powers at DC that I could do sex, drugs, and politics, unhindered. I put all those into the first issue and they were taken out. I went to the man who’d given me the promise and he reneged. So I walked away.”

Fair enough. But the characters, themselves, were still as irksome as they’d been in Millennium, and I think you have to lay that squarely at Mr. Englehart’s doorstep.

I’ve talked mostly about the writing up to this point. But there was a flaw in the art, too, in retrospect. I can certainly understand the desire on DC’s part to avoid breaking up the band that was giving them the hits… but I think it would have been smarter to go with a different artist. Basically Joe Staton is too light and fun-loving in his approach to do the kind of heavy, groundbreaking, philosophical story Steve Englehart was trying to pull off.

I sometimes wonder, if Millennium had been given to another artist, if it might have worked a little better. Maybe the philosophy wouldn’t have come off quite so addled. Maybe Gregorio wouldn’t have been such a polarizingly swishy caricature. I love Joe Staton’s work and always have, but for this kind of story…. he’s not the guy.

Anyway, as it turned out Millennium ended up being the last hurrah for Englehart and Staton on the Green Lantern book that had started it all, too. DC wanted Green Lantern to be the anchor feature of the new Action Comics Weekly book that was about to launch, but Englehart and Staton didn’t want to work in the restrictive weekly seven-page chapter format. So Green Lantern Corps only lasted a couple of issues beyond the Millennium crossover issues, and that was it.

All things considered, well, it probably is just as well. Steve Englehart is obviously interested in the idea of ‘humanity’s next step,’ it’s a theme that’s cropped up all kinds of places in his work. But he did it better in other places. Certainly that was the engine that drove Celestial Madonna.

Oddly, another messiah story that didn't have the right artist.

And later, Celestial Quest.

I got all of these at the closeout sale, too.

And it was a key theme in his book The Point Man.

There's also a lot of rock music and sex in here, obsessions Englehart had to AVOID in his comics.

And so on. Avengers, Dr. Strange, Star-Lord… it crops up over and over. In the same way that Steve Gerber tended towards stories about outsiders, Steve Englehart tends toward stories of humanity reaching the next level, of the rising and advancing of a spirit. I think it’s fair to say that Millennium fell off the tracks because Englehart was more interested in that idea than the summer-blockbuster hook the thing was supposed to be hung on, the struggle against the Manhunter cultists …who could be anybody!

That’s why the Secret Invasion/Millennium criticism always makes me laugh a little bit. Because people are remembering the one part of the Millennium crossover that I think its writer was least interested in… and that’s the reason that I think it ended up being something of a failure.

If Secret Invasion is ripping off anything from Millennium — and I’m sure it’s not, so I say this with some humor– at least Marvel picked the right part to steal.

See you next week.

29 Comments

It sounds like it suffered from the same problem as Civil War. The main series didn’t flow like a real story, serving as you said as more of a index for some cool tie-in stories.

There was also the interesting choice to make Millennium a weekly comic book. I remember that certainly was exciting as a kid.

I always hated Joe Staton’s work. It kind of worked with Ch’p or whatever the squirrel/raccoon Green Lantern but I never really liked him.

The characters who became the New Guardians were certainly the biggest flaw in the series. Having the Floronic Man be one of them was especially odd given the depiction of him in Swamp Thing which was still firmly in the DCU at that point. The other ones were horrible. Although I have to admit that no one has tried to follow through on that though especially with “Pieface” still around and all.

I must also add that I’m still mad that one of the results was to get rid of Laurel Kent. I always kind of liked the idea of a descendant of Superman and that she didn’t quite have his powers due to the watering down of the Kryptonian dna over the centuries.

I think if DC editorial scrapped Englehart’s “serious concepts” that it’s hard to critique his use of the characters from that point on. That’d be like expecting the characters from Love and Rockets to be useful if they were tossed into an Archie comic.

Millennium was, overall, boring, and psycho babble. Some of the crossovers were okay, as the heroes contemplated who their Manhunter was, but it was disruptive to their series, and that part was disruptive to the mini series itself.

I think the timing hurt it too. I hated seeing my favorite heroes get their regular storylines interrupted and sent off base with the crossovers. They went overboard on the crossovers as well. Too many.

But at that time both DC & Marvel went over board. DC & Marvel Universe wide crossovers got tiresome-Crisis, Secret Wars, Secret Wars II, Legends (At least that one was good–and had good spinoffs), then Millennium, plus also there was Invasion, Inferno (or infernal, as I called it), etc. Inferno was the worst–and the Marvel one where the villains traded heroes was a good idea with horrible execution. They all made it quite tiresome.

DC just announced reprint books of Millennium and Invasion to be released this summer…

I think if DC editorial scrapped Englehart’s “serious concepts” that it’s hard to critique his use of the characters from that point on.

Oh, I agree. But I was thinking more of the way they were created in Millennium, just the basic personalities. That’s his doing, I’m pretty sure.

I’ll second Stephen, Inferno was definitely one of the worst ever big crossovers, bar none. It catapulted me out of being a regular buyer of a whole pile of Marvel titles for several years (some of which I didn’t touch again until so-called “NuMarvel”).

Excellent analysis, Greg.

I liked how you worked in the phrase “the rising and advancing of a spirit”, which has a bit of resonance if know that Englehart created Shang-Chi.

I also loved their GL run but didn’t care for Millennium. I think what bugged me most about it was when they had selected these people and started teaching them, I said ‘Oh, good! I was afraid they were going to become superheroes! It looks like they’ll remain regular people. I wonder what will actually happen to them?” And lo and behold, sure enough, they DID become superheroes. Argh.

Ironically, this gives background info for my next Atop the Fourth Wall post – covering New Guardians #2. Thanks, Greg!

Like SLaz said, DC is finally reprinting Millennium this summer. Coincidence? Hmmmm…

And as for Englehart and caricatures…well, I haven’t read much of the man’s work, but he is the writer who, in a fairly recent issue of JSA: Classified, had Gypsy say a line that was something to the effect of “I’ll steal it, since that’s what gypsies do!” Ummm…okay, Steve….

Random Stranger

April 20, 2008 at 2:49 am

Just out of curiosity, how was a homosexual supposed to be a stepping stone in human evolution. I think by definition it’s kind of a dead end and having the homosexual suddenly decide “Oh wait! I’m sexually attracted to people of the opposite gender now!” or have becoming the next step in human evolution turn them into a hermaphrodite wouldn’t go over very well.

Not that comic books have ever dealt with evolution accurately but it does have the requirement of reproduction.

man, did i love Englehart & Staton’s GL/GLC…. recently got an almost-complete run and was pleased to find that it’s held up wonderfully!

i didn’t vote in the Greatest Runs sweepstakes, but i’ve been hoping that it shows up in there SOMEwhere (probably not likely at this point, but i’m glad to see it receiving some kudos here)…

Stephen: kindly define “psychobabble”, and give two examples besides Millenium and Matrix Reloaded. Then I’ll know if we disagree on anything important.

Otherwise, it looks pretty good.

SanctumSanctorumComix

April 20, 2008 at 7:08 am

Now, I’ve never read ALL of INVASION, and I’m neither gay nor a human plant-man, but as a conceptual WRITER I definitely CAN see the point of including a gay man and a plant man into the “evolutionary” next stage of humanity.

Think about it for a second beyond the “boy & girl make baby” aspect of generational progress. If the baby is to be a new evolutionary step towards “perfection”, think about WHAT perfection MIGHT entail.

If a gay guy were to *somehow* be the progenitor of either a hermaphroditic or asexual entity, that would be the next stage towards what ANGELS are perceived as being; asexual (or nethersexual). They’re usually seen (outside of Renaissance paintings) as being neither male nor female but a sort of mix of the two (slender, perfectly delicate features, beatific and lithe).

Angels are considered to be (by many) as “perfect” beings, and as close to the Divine as can be imagined.
(Or, if you don’t believe in Angels, then I’ll posit some types of ALIEN “grey” lifeforms – which, oddly, many sci-fi/conspiracy/atheist/etc… theorist types believe Angels to BE.)

And the PLANT man?
Why couldn’t mankind aspire to a harmonious mixture of flora and fauna?

That was also one of the aspects to Englehart’s “Celestial Madonna” storyline with Mantis.
She married Quitiati (or something like that) which was a plant-man entity and their mixed genetics would (and did) produce a plant/man hybrid who was supposed to represent the savior of the universe, kinda like a Green-haired Christ-like figure.

So, from a writers (and really any “outside-the-box” thinker’s) frame of mind, the inclusion of a gay guy and a plant guy would be a good idea for “next step” genetics.

Don’t forget that the theory of having a MAN be able to gestate a baby within him is something that I recall reading in old OMNI science magazines in the late 1970’s, and according to recent news releases lately, IS indeed a possibility. SO, take some plant-man DNA and place it into the gay-guy (hopefully the plant-man DNA will be sufficient to fill in any needed genetic requirements that may only come from a woman) and there ya go.

Just my 2cents.

~P~
P-TOR

SanctumSanctorumComix

April 20, 2008 at 7:30 am

I should have mentioned that one of the benefits of being a PLANT-man would be the ability to reproduce by pods or spores or other asexual methods (some plants have BOTH male and female reproductive organs), as well as being able to subsist on either; Light & Water or even ingestion of it’s own “fruit” (think Swamp Thing’s “yams”).

Another bonus of being tree-like might be extended life-span.
Many trees have been alive for well over a thousand years (a few, like the Fortingall Yew in Scotland has been alive for over 2000 years, and the Wattieza trees have even been alive for over three thousand years, OR the Prometheus tree in the United States that was nearly 5000 years old when it was cut down by well-meaning, but a bit unfortunate in their selection, scientists).

Imagine NOW the benefits of evolution by adding plant “nature” with human nature.

~P~
P-TOR

Just because a person is supposed to be more evolved than the rest of us doesn’t automatically mean that the person will also be heterosexual.
However, that doesn’t mean that Extrano or whatever his name was is a good character. He is a pretty crappy character actually. That doesn’t mean that having a gay person be evolved differently than the rest of humanity is a bad idea.

There have been a couple movies where a man and woman are the last people alive and one of them is gay. If done well it would be interesting to have a gay character in such a dilemma. “I’m not attracted to someone of the opposite sex but I have a duty to pass on my genetic code” could be an interesting plot if done well.

From a structural point of view, I thought that Millenium was great. It was just the ideas that were cruddy. Everything centering around the Suicide Squad seemed to fit in really, really well.

If Secret Invasion is mildly plagiaristic vis-a-vis Millennium (and not having seen so much as a panel of SC, I’m not entitled to an opinion), it would be only fair. Millennium’s central plot — of twelve representative “ordinary” people are chosen to become a higher form of life — sounds a lot like what Roy Thomas and Mark Gruenwald did in Thor #300, where ol’ Mighty’s showdown with the Celestials ended with the so-called Young Gods were accepted by the C’s as the justification for humanity’s continued existence.

I should also note that it was the one-two punch of Millennium and Secret Wars II that drove me away from (then) contemporary super-hero comics. That we’re still talking about continuity-altering crossover events 22 years later goes a long way towards explaining why I continue to stay away.

Nice column, Greg.

There have been a couple movies where a man and woman are the last people alive and one of them is gay. If done well it would be interesting to have a gay character in such a dilemma. “I’m not attracted to someone of the opposite sex but I have a duty to pass on my genetic code” could be an interesting plot if done well.

All speculation at this point, but if I was betting, I think that plot point would have come up in the uncensored version of New Guardians.

I am mostly going from memory here, but as I recall, the objections to Gregorio were not so much about “Why is the gay guy picked as one of the ten people who’re supposed to breed a new and better human when he’s not a breeder?” so much as, “Why is the gay guy a flouncy queen in a purple blouse who wants his teammates to call him Auntie?” At that point, he was the ONLY out gay character in the DCU, don’t forget. There was a lot of I’m-gay-and-no-WAY-did-that-guy-represent-ME! letters flying around the fan press.

And as P-tor points out, the plant-guy genes combining with human genes idea came up in Celestial Madonna, as well. Truthfully, it struck me as goofy then, too, but I think the Madonna story sold it a little better.

I never read Millennium (and probably won’t, since big corporate crossovers aren’t my thing), but I’m not troubled by the inclusion of a gay man and a plant man in the next step of evolution. That’s because the whole concept of evolution used here has very little connection with the scientific concept of evolution.

For one thing, it doesn’t occur in sudden steps – sorry, Professor Xavier. (That idea is called saltationism, by the way, and is generally not accepted by biologists.) The other problem is the idea of evolution being aimed at a particular goal, or at a form of perfection. Evolution is supposed to represent ongoing adaptation to changing circumstances, it doesn’t really have a “goal”. Changes happen, some mutations are poorly adapted and die (most mutations, actually), and some are better adapted and live. (It doesn’t matter whether you accept or reject evolutionary theory here – I’m just describing what it is.)

The point being that arguing about whether those two characters were good choices, based on “science”, is a bit off the mark. Instead the question should be whether those characters were good choices based on the art of storytelling. (Based on Greg’s review, it sounds like the answer to that question is a resounding “no!”)

While popular/dominant science has certainly made up its mind these day that evolution is a matter of continuous mutation and adaptation, there were prevalent theories through 19th century (preceding and concurrent with Darwin) that evolution did have some kind of “goal.” As a general rule, these theories treated humanity as that goal and placed species on an evolutionary hierarchy (fish, lizards, birds, mammals, humans).

For comic book writers, there’s probably just not as much compelling story material in the popular model as there is in these throwbacks. I guess what I’m trying to say is that they aren’t necessarily ignoring evolutionary theory, they’re just not accepting the most popular version

In my earlier post, I ought to have mentioned that the idea of twelve ordinary mortals chosen for a divine destiny didn’t exactly originate with Thor #300 either. Seems there’s this anthology called the New Testament and…

Aside from the story dynamic, I wonder if part of the “failure” of Millennium had to do with the weekly format.

Weeklies were unheard of at the time. How many people thought it was a money-grab by DC to expect people to scoop up an extra four comics per month?

It sounds a bit absurd, considering the .75 cover price, but there were a LOT of comics coming out every month at that time. The independent explosion was still expanding en force and both Marvel and DC were cranking out as many titles as they possibly could.

I found the presentation of Gregorio acceptable on the grounds that, you know…that’s a gay man, too, even if he’s not an “acceptable” kind of gay man in terms of perpetuating stereotypes, etc. And it’s possible I was being too kind, but…well, in superhero comics your basic gay character is pretty shielded, and much is made about how their sexuality doesn’t really matter, can be safely ignored or just hinted at, shouldn’t make a difference, that sort of thing. An admirable strategy in a lot of ways, even if tainted by the commercial and marketing need to keep it all “low-key”. But does this not become just a bit of a whitewash, after a time? Not being gay, I wouldn’t presume to make any hard appropriate/inappropriate judgements on the matter, but in the context of the story I thought the choice could have been defended. Stack Gregorio up against Tom Kalmaku, previously a character “devalued” as an ethnic stereotype…right or wrong, I was able to extract the message that yeah, these unacceptable ones, either shamefully domesticated over time or impossible to domesticate…these will be your next step in evolution. Kind of a meek inheriting the earth thing, only not quite.

Maybe I was giving the benefit of the doubt too much, there. But at the time I found it excusable.

Still didn’t want to read about them just being superheroes, though.

Very nice, Greg.

I think you touched on the real problem here. But it’s not what you thnk.

“All things considered, well, it probably is just as well. Steve Englehart is obviously interested in the idea of ‘humanity’s next step,’ it’s a theme that’s cropped up all kinds of places in his work.”

Every writer has that problem- returning to the same themes, to the same character voices in different “costumes”, to the same base plots. And when they run dry of that, they recycle others’ stuff that they liked, be it from comics, film, television, or novels.

While execution is important, it ‘s even more so to know when you’ve gone to a well too many times. And unfortunately, most writers are caught in the web of expectations. If something works, the publishers expect more of the same. Which is the wrong approach. If the writer is any good, you have to challenge them to continue expanding their abilities. Not ask for more of the same thing, over and over.

Because eventually, you’re going to get tired of that theme, that writing style, that plot structure. No matter how well executed.

Oh, I couldn’t disagree more. Returning to the same themes is not at all the same thing as overusing the same voices or running the same plots — who would ask a writer to change his themes? Or his style? Those things are who he is.

Let’s not forget the complete hash-up made of the New Guardians in their own series…

You know, where one character was bitten by an AIDS vampire.

And where the series suddenly ended with the revelation that these WEREN’T the humans who’d help the human race evolve, just the caretakers for some bunch of random hideously deformed genetic experiments (created by the mechinations of the evil South African bigot) or some such.

Even back then, it was clear the plan for the Chosen kind of well… blew. The Guardian and Zamaron wanted 10 people… and yet a third of their selections died before the final ascension, or washed out. So you were left with a plant, a Dreamtime spirit, the magic gay guy, a computer guy, and three hot chicks (including Harbinger). Yeah, that’s my recipe for the next step of evolution also.

No wonder the team broke up and vanished into obscurity. But at least two of the hot chicks have found mild success as part of the new Global Guardians. More than I can say for the big floating spirit head, magical gay guy, computer guy, plant guy….

(Re-reading the Booster Gold part of the crossover, it was really funny to see how that anonymous little Chinese woman was transformed into a hot redhead with lots of cleavage… all of those transformations were a little wacky.)

Now I want to pick up the TPB when it comes out later these year, for laughs.

“Aside from the story dynamic, I wonder if part of the “failure” of Millennium had to do with the weekly format.”

I think one way the weekly format hurt the series, or at least the crossovers, was that all the tie-in issues had to be published within a span of 2-3 months. On paper it’s a good idea; at the time storylines weren’t normally spread over 6 issues, so publishing a series whose events take place in a short period of time over 8 months would make it hard to schedule the tie-ins, and the storyline didn’t dominate the DCU for over half a year.

The trouble, though, is that the exposure of the Manhunter agents had to be handled in one tie-in issue, both the revelation and the denouement (except in cases where it led back in to the main story). I seem to remember this didn’t make for very good drama–even in the days before decompression, squeezing “reveal-fight-hero wins” into one issue while dealing with other parts of the story at the same time came off as kind of abrupt, and there was no room to develop the Manhunter agents as a serious threat to the heroes.

It also meant that there wasn’t much time to develop the agents in advance; most of the agents (especially those who turned out to be imposters rather than brainwashed) were supporting characters the writer could afford to jettison without seriously affecting their ongoing plotlines. There was no slow development of the idea that one of the characters might have a dark secret so the reveal would have greater impact; just “Whoops, the sleazy guy who hangs around Blue Devil is actually a Manhunter…no, really.” (In some cases the character was barely introduced before the revelation–remember the Rocket Red who preceded Dmitri in the JLI?)

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