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CSBG Archive

Meta-Messages #3

This is the third in a series (of indefinite length and regularity) explaining the context behind (using reader danjack’s term) “meta-messages.” A meta-message is where a comic book writer comments on/references the work of another comic book in their comic. Each time around, I’ll give you the context behind one such “meta-message.”

Today we look at Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s take on…the Architects!

In the very cool comic book story that I just recommended earlier tonight, Doctor Thirteen: Architecture and Morality (which originally ran as a back-up in Tales of the Unexpected #1-8 but is now collected in its own trade paperback), the characters in the story are dealing with the fact that the “Architects” do not want them to exist any more.

The story is basically about the whole concept of a story like, say, Crisis on Infinite Earths, determining which fictional characters are “a part of the DC Universe” and which ones no longer “belong.”

In this instance, it is Infinite Crisis that is being discussed, the most recent (at the time) company-wide crossover.

So in this story, “the Architects” are determining which characters are going to be a part of the DC Universe, so naturally, Azzarello and Chiang put together a group of characters who no longer seem to have a place in the DC Universe, including Anthro (a caveman character), Genius Jones (an old Golden Age character) and Captain Fear (an old swashbuckling pirate character from the 1970s).

And who ARE these “Architects?”

None other than the four writers of 52, Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Geoff Johns and Greg Rucka.

They first appear when the characters (who are traveling in a ghost pirate ship) are attacked by a walking Mount Rushmore, but after some cosmetic changes, it is clear that it is…the Architects (or Misters Morrison, Waid, Johns and Rucka)…

In the next issue, they appear wearing superhero costume masks…

What I especially love about Azzarello’s take on the architects is that he clearly is not picking on these four guys or anything like that, but rather, just the idea of a universe having “architects,” as obviously, as soon as these guys leave the company, someone ELSE will be in charge and things that they did not want to have happen will happen (which we have seen over and over in comic history – heck, it’s not like Waid even ended up as much of an “Architect” of the DC Universe, really).


Thanks again Brian! This series has caught my eye due to this site, so when i get the chance, i’ll be picking it up! This is about the most direct meta-message that i can remember! i’m sure that others have a better memory than i so i’m sure i’ll be seeing other great meta-moments.

Nice. I don’t think I ever clicked who they were. I think I might have thought they were DC editors.

Can’t wait to dig this one up and reread it.

If you look at the masks, you can get a feel for how DC’s changed since this was published. He has Morrison as Batman, Rucka as WW, Johns as Superman, and Waid as Flash. Since then Waid’s left DC, Rucka’s WW setting has been mostly rebooted (in fact this was happening already during 52), and while Johns certainly has an influence on Superman, today you’d probably give him a split Hal Jordan/Barry Allen mask.

Morrison is still Batman, however.

(Obviously, of course, this reflects Azzarello’s point.)

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

February 2, 2010 at 7:52 am

The bets bit is that this was essentially “Seven Soldiers: The Zucker-Abrams-Zucker version.”

I found this miniseries painful, too precious, and too in love with it’s own supposed meta-cleverness. It paled in comparison to Nextwave, which was out at the same time. Nextwave, even if you missed the meta-messages and inside jokes, you could still somewhat enjoy the story on the surface. In this story, it was just like a highbrow version of Family Guy, the threadbare plot just seemed to be there as a weak framing device for a bunch of gags. Except unlike Family Guy the gags were metafiction in-jokes about comic industry instead of in-jokes about pop-culture nostalgia, but you get the point. It’s mildly clever at best but seems to think it’s brilliant. The metacommentary was as subtle as a heart attack, especially 8 issues straight of it.

Chiang’s art was great though.

This series was brilliant.

the meta-stuff was dead on the nose, but that was the point — there’s nothing subtle here (and IIRC azz wanted the architects’ identity to be even clearer but that got softpedalled into masks and walking mt. rushmores); what made it work was that it worked perfectly in the context of a superhero “quest into mystery” — when the architects explain how their universe is at war with another universe every summer, and in the above, how they have to reinvent so that people will believe (“buy”) it for it to survive. Plus, the meta stuff really only comes towards the end. And holy moley CLIFF CHIANG

I think I would have loved this series. I love how Morrison is always in the full suit and speaks with an indecipherable accent.

I don’t know enough about DC to get the jokes, but this does sound like a cool idea.

i recognized Morrison’s outfit when i read this, so i connected the dots and decided it must have been his 3 co-authors, even if i didn’t remember all of them (rucka is the one i always forget when i think about 52.)

Yeah, this storyline was my favorite thing that Azzarello’s done to date, and I loved seeing folks like Genius Jones, “I, Vampire” and the Primate Platoon dug up after all these years.

Johns had a pretty snarky response in an issue of Booster Gold where he depicted Dr. 13 and crew whining about how there was only room for “popular” characters like Animal Man and a few other former D-listers that had been featured prominently in 52 or other recent crossovers. Maybe all meant in good fun, but it came off dripping in sarcasm.”

isn’t rucka a black dude? or are the author photos on his novels just lying? he seems to be white here…

He looks black, but then, i’m probablly a racist, so what do i know!

Brother Justin Crowe

February 2, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Nice entry. I’ve got the trade on my wishlist now.

Any chance we can get a look at the recent Mighty Avengers issue where Dan Slott pokes fun at Geoff Johns’ work in Infinite Crisis? Reality-punching humor FTW.

@buttler I haven’t read the Booster Gold issue, but the “Azzarello is complaining that only popular characters survive” reading seems a bit off, especially since “Mark Waid” specifically acknowledges that some of Dr. 13’s crew will still be around. At worst, I suppose you could argue that Azzarello is complaining that only the characters that the writers like will stick around, but taken as a whole (including the ending), I think the piece is even more optimistic than that, implying that D.C. comics are basically cyclical and no character really goes away forever. Furthermore, nothing the architects say here is wrong, necessarily, and it doesn’t strike me as particularly critical of them (some lighthearted fun with Morrison’s accent and prose style not withstanding.)

Maybe all meant in good fun, but it came off dripping in sarcasm.

Yeah, that was perhaps the hardest meta-message I’ve seen yet, as far as determining how the author meant it to come off. I find it hard to believe that a nice guy like Geoff Johns would be all that put off at Azzarello’s jokes, so I’m going with “all in good fun,” just not delivered in a clear “this is all in good fun” manner.

Perhaps I should feature that one next!

I wouldn’t know Greg Rucka if he walked into my office, but he looks white in the photos I just glanced at via Google …

In short: Hell if I know.

(And while I’m at it, “Architecture & Morality” was great — tons better than the front-of-the-book Spectre snoozers. Also, I think Cliff Chiang has been my favorite current artist, exceeding even Amanda Conner, ever since I read the first few pages.)

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

February 2, 2010 at 2:47 pm

Like I said below, my take on this was that it made up a farcical version of Seven Soldiers in a way: ultra-obscure characters (mostly) encounter metafictional versions of DC creators, only this time the characters are so obscure and ill-fit that most of them can’t bear 21st century reinvention (and don’t necessarily want it).

So where Morrison might give us “To Be Continued” as an optimistic statement, these characters get exiled right back to the status of cannon fodder or absurd throwaway appearances. (As if to underline this, Dr. 13 was used by Morrison in 7 Soldiers…where he was promptly killed off in the prologue of Zatanna’s miniseries.)

But Azzarello doesn’t seem to have a serious “point” to get across; this is more a parody of meta-messages than anything else.


February 2, 2010 at 3:51 pm

‘But when yea became a talking Nazi Vampyre Gorilla’ is a great line, and great joke on Morrison.
I just imagine him saying that so excitedly.

heck, it’s not like Waid even ended up as much of an “Architect” of the DC Universe, really

Well, he got to the end of 52… but then another section of editorial demotivated his artist away from LOSH, which took him away, the artist he agreed to do Flash with was taken off before the book had even shipped (and that first arc was pretty fun), and B&B just didn’t catch on.
It just annoys me because of the three he was doing, only on one did he have things go the way he wanted, and DC had planned, and it didn’t work out.
Which is my way of saying: I wanted to see that Ghost Detectives book, starring the Dibny’s!

On the other hand, Waid’s work over at Boom! has been really interesting– both as writer and editor. So it’s not a total loss than his second big tenure at DC got stomped all over by causality.

(I hope Boom! gets to localizing the Italian duck comics better, though… I’m glad to read them, but only Wizards of Mickey really looks professional at this point.)


February 2, 2010 at 5:57 pm

On the other hand, Waid’s work over at Boom! has been really interesting– both as writer and editor. So it’s not a total loss than his second big tenure at DC got stomped all over by causality.

I’d love to check it out, but Potter’s Field is in a hardcover, and the three issues together cost way more than I’m willing to pay for three issues.
And Irredeemable is only getting really thin trades, again, a little too pricey for four issue collections.

I’m with T. on this one. Its a novel idea, but the author’s smug satisfaction with his own cleverness dripping from every word ruins it. Its a comic book version of Andy Kaufman in his most awkward self-absorbed moments, where the audience is left wondering if its for real, if they even get the joke.

Ehh, I don’t care much for metafiction. First of all, because it’s the very antithesis of fiction- it keeps reminding you that what you’re reading isn’t real, which is something you are supposed to ignore (for a while) in order to enjoy it. It’s like having someone tell you “you know, that’s just a comic book” over and over while you read! Second, it’s rarely done well; mostly authors use it to subtly (or not-so-subtly) tell you THEIR visions of what the facts are, and if you don’t like it, though!

I’m not saying metafiction can’t be enjoyable by itself- but it’s a whole different game from Suspension Of Disbelief. Save it for non-continuity parodies.

Btw, why is Anthro talking in French there? Was he taken from the French edition? :D

[…] Meta-Messages #3 (goodcomics.comicbookresources.com) […]


February 2, 2010 at 9:10 pm

Save it for non-continuity parodies.

You haven’t read this book have you?

Ooh Brian – one meta-message that I loved (though you’d have to be blind and deaf to miss it) was the whole “doomed by wating for the trades”/”saved by the trades” thing in Dan Slott’s She-Hulk.

It came of as bitter until he did a complete U-turn a few pages later.

There are some trades that you are fine reading once and never need to own. IMO, this is NOT one of them.

Personally, I have a soft spot for meta-fiction. I love Jasper Fforde’s novels and the Fearless Ferret episode of Kim Possible was permanently saved to my DVR for two years (sadly erased by accident). For me, I thought Azzarello struck a nice balance between geek humor and thoughtful commentary. The climactic scene with Dr. 13 in the fire is worthy of an old-fashioned, Dave Campbell “F*%$ Yeah” moment even.

As for the Booster Gold scene, I thought it was funny and intentionally so. I admit it is not quite as clever and polished as the Dr. 13 story, but I never took it as a dig.


I personally disagree with Cronin about these types of segments, ironically enough because of one of the Cronin Theory of Comics:


Jim Shooter also put a moratorium on these types of meta-messages when he took over Marvel, apparently being annoyed by the Dr. Doom/Arcade sequence in Claremont’s X-Men and Byrne’s Fantastic Four. If allowed to snowball it just becomes a competition in narcissism where the egos of the creators outshine the characters on the page.

My theory is that because DC has and continues to receive so much praise for it’s metatextual experiment in Animal Man in the 80s, they’ve allowed the device to run rampant in the hands of lesser lights who just end up doing smug, sanctimonious and self-satisfied stories with it.

One of the biggest ironies of Azzarello is that many of the criticisms he seems to be leveling in his commentary, he is the WORST perpetrator of.

“We’ve been given the task to reinvent it. So it can survive, the universe needs to be made current, see?…There’s no wrinkle in your character.”

So Cage, you’re problem is that you’re outdated. You need to be reinvented. To survice, your universe needs to be made current. You’ve got to use the word nigga a lot my nigga. And have grills on your teeth, yo. Give Tombstone some cornrows. For shizzle my nizzle. because the response to outdates 70s black stereotypes is even more offensive 2000s black stereotypes.

My point being, these criticisms coming from the guy who wrote the Cage miniseries and other incredibly cynical, modern updates of familiar old-school characters seems unintentionally ironic. Unless he’s doing it to be ironic on purpose and is criticizing himself too. Anyway, i don’t see the point of creators making these metafiction tales about how great and upbeat the past was and how dour and depressing and grim the present is, only to immediately go back to contributing to the problem once the metafiction tale is over as they resume doing dark stories again. If you really don’t like it, don’t make metafiction stories preaching to readers about it then continue doing the same old same old after. JUST WRITE THE ACTUAL STORIES YOU THINK COMICS NEED. The energy spent doing this metafiction morality tale could have been so much better spent actually writing a straightforward, nonmetafiction story that was the opposite of the type of mindset he is criticizing here. In other words, he could have chosen to show the answer in fiction instead of tell us the problem in metafiction.

One of the biggest ironies of Azzarello is that many of the criticisms he seems to be leveling in his commentary, he is the WORST perpetrator of.

You make valid points IF Azzarello was making criticisms. You might be right, but TBH when I read it it never occurred to me that Azzarello was criticising this practice.

This series is awesome. I’m going to reread it.

This story was simply great with its take on the “inner” workings of the DCU. I have a silly smile on my face every time I read it.

The only thing this really impresses on me is just how much cooler Morrison is than his colleagues.

I didn’t need Azzarello to tell me that.

if they had this now azzarello would be wonder woman
johns would be Lantern and aquaman
morrison would be Batman and superman
i’m not sure who else i would put
manupul’s not famous enough

Mychael Darklighter

July 26, 2012 at 7:54 pm

hate azzerello, lloved this book (INCLUDING the spectre ‘snorers’ in front, thank you)

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