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How Kurt Busiek (unwittingly) ruined Marvel and DC superhero comics!

Come along with me, as I generalize like crazy! It’s what you love, right?

I’ve thought about this for years, and have never gotten around to writing about it. Of course, it took years for Busiek’s true influence to reveal itself, so Marvel and DC superhero comics had already been ruined by the time we figured it out. So sad!

So, the hypothesis: Kurt Busiek, marvelous writer and obsessive continuity geek, ruined superhero comics. One must prove such a contentious hypothesis if one is to remain in the good graces of one’s readers, but first one must explain how the hypothesis was arrived at in the first place. I mean, heck, I love Busiek’s writing. Why would I say such a horrid thing?

One word: Marvels. You remember Marvels, right? A four-issue mini-series that came out in early 1994 and made the careers of both Busiek and its artist, Alex Ross? Good stuff, right? Well, yes. Marvels is a brilliant work, actually. So brilliant and so popular that, like other brilliant and popular works, it spawned imitators. And therein lies the problem. Much like the brilliant Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns spawned imitators to the detriment of superhero comics, so to did Marvels. Interestingly enough, though, Marvels seems to be even more influential than those two seminal works. Odd, that.

He's on fire!  And he's ALIVE!!!!!

He's on fire! And he's ALIVE!!!!!

So what is its influence? In case you haven’t read Marvels (shame on you!), it’s the story of Phil Sheldon, a reporter for the Daily Bugle who watches the birth of the Marvel Universe, from 1939 through the death of Gwen Stacy. Busiek does a masterful job bringing all the major plots of the early Marvel U. together into four issues, and his “man-on-the-street” approach to superheroes served him well in his creator-owned follow-up project, Astro City. His obsessive knowledge of Marvel history has also served him well, as in Avengers Forever he attempted something even grander: reconciling every thread of the Avengers’ convoluted past. What Busiek does in Marvels (and in other works, to be sure) is create a good protagonist whom the readers can relate to, making us experience the way superheroes must look and feel to those without powers. And while many people hate Alex Ross, I’m not one of them, and his painted work in Marvels is very keen and unlike almost everything we had seen in mainstream comics prior to that. It’s not terribly surprising that Marvels was such a hit. And that’s the problem: Marvels began a trend that has persisted until this day, which we must call, for lack of a better term, “nostalgia porn.”

What religious metaphor?

What religious metaphor?

You see, Marvels is nostalgic. Busiek looks back on the “golden age” of Marvel comics, when everything was new. Phil Sheldon takes a journey that many fans of superhero comics take – he begins with wonder and slowly becomes cynical, finally “quitting” superheroes because they don’t dazzle him anymore. The death of Gwen Stacy is a big ol’ metaphor for death in superhero comics in general – Phil gets burned out on the craziness and wants a “normal” life. Gwen’s death doesn’t get covered in the newspapers, because she wasn’t important enough. And Phil’s had enough. In a grand way, Busiek (who still, obviously, loves the superheroes) is showing how we as readers move beyond childish power fantasies and focus on more important things. That’s where the nostalgia comes from. Despite Gwen Stacy’s death, there’s still that wonder about superheroes and the marvelous things they do. Marvels tapped into that beautifully and became a hit. And that’s where the problems began.

Oh, Norrin Radd - you're so noble!

Oh, Norrin Radd - you're so noble!

The success of Marvels spawned imitators, naturally. What the people producing comics realized is that they were missing a huge market: the nostalgia market. Until Marvels, comics had been largely forward-looking. Consider: when the Golden Age ended, most of the heroes were put into mothballs. When DC wanted to revive superheroes, they didn’t simply bring the old heroes back, they created new heroes using the old names and pushed on. When Marvel got into the superhero game in the early 1960s, they created a bunch of new heroes, even though they brought back a few from the World War II era. As comics moved into the 1970s and 1980s, they still looked forward. Villains might return again and again, but not many people fiddled around with what became known as “retroactive continuity,” which has become known as a “retcon.” The origin stories of the heroes were good enough. DC, in fact, decided that their universe had become too convoluted, and instead of trying to go back and fix everything, they simply destroyed the entire thing. What a ballsy move. So comics kept moving into the future.

Why would a homemade costume have reflective eyes?

Why would a homemade costume have reflective eyes?

Busiek didn’t invent the “retcon,” of course (Marvels itself isn’t one, as we’ll see below). Before Marvels, some writers had begun to mess with characters’ histories, changing them a bit. After Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC was free to re-invent their characters, and they did so. Wonder Woman had never existed – she first appeared in Legends. John Byrne gave Superman a face-lift. In the boldest “retcon,” Frank Miller gave us “Year One” in Batman #404-407, which gave us a Caped Crusader who was completely unsure of himself and made Catwoman a prostitute. (This was followed by “Year Two” and “Year Three,” of course, neither of which were as successful, but which shared a crucial similarity with “Year One” – they were told within the course of the two main Batman books.) Hal Jordan got a drinking problem and a jail term. But that was DC, and Crisis had been a massive “do-over” for them, so it still didn’t tap into the nostalgia market too much. Over at Marvel, where they “got it right the first time,” such retcons were seen as unnecessary. I wasn’t reading comics too much in the 1980s, but I recall only one rather famous retcon – Uncanny X-Men #268, in which we learned that Wolverine had met Captain America during World War II (and that Natasha Romanov, the Black Widow, was a girl in the war, significantly screwing up her age). I seem to recall John Byrne doing some things with Reed Richards pre-Fantastic Four during his run, but it wasn’t a big event. That’s a bit of the point – Claremont in X-Men didn’t build a huge storyline around Logan meeting Cap, he just did it and moved on. Then, of course, came Marvels, which was a big event.

How did Perez not go blind while drawing this? I just re-read this ... it's not that great Fact: Everyone who writes a Batman story now must have a reference to his parents' deaths.  It's in the contract! Man, this issue is crazy awesome!

Suddenly, retcons became the hip thing. In the years since Marvels, DC and Marvel realized that they could tell stories about their characters that would fit into their already-established histories. They could fill in the blanks, in other words. And people who grew up with the characters would love that. This coincided with the slow graying of the audience over the past 20 years – comics audiences in the past famously turned over every four years, so the companies didn’t care about repeating themselves, but that’s no longer true, as fans stick with comics as they get older and older and remember precisely which nipple Ogre-Man lost in his fight with The Tabloid! in 1977. So Marvel and DC started to tap into that nostalgia of older fans, who remembered when comics were really awesome (as you all know, everything was the BEST when you were 12 – I of course agree with that, because that’s when MOTHERFUCKING MANIMAL was on!!!!!) and wanted to relive those bygone days without actually re-reading the comics they already had. Marvels showed that there was an audience for this.

Retconning became a fairly big trend in comics that has continued to this day. Busiek himself was at the forefront of it, as he did Untold Tales of Spider-Man soon after Marvels, a series that fit stories into gaps in Spider-Man’s old continuity. Marvel has continued to capitalize on this. Off the top of my head, we have X-Men: The Hidden Years, which told stories that picked up when X-Men was originally cancelled back after issue #66; the “First Class” X-Men series of the past few years; Avengers Classic, which told stories from the early years of the team; Fantastic Four: First Family, a different take on the team’s origin; and Daredevil: The Man Without Fear, which added nuance to Matt Murdock’s early years. DC, which has always been a bit more interested in its “historical” characters and, because of Crisis and a lack of emphasis on continuity early on in their publication history, has mined this vein perhaps even more than Marvel. James Robinson’s brilliant Starman (which began not too long after Marvels) is steeped in DC history, and Robinson did some re-writing of the past. DC also began to capitalize on the “Year One” success, as more and more heroes got reworked origins (Green Arrow, Metamorpho, Huntress, to name a few). Superman’s origins have been continually tweaked. DC has also wiped their continuity clean once more, in Zero Hour, and again to a certain degree in Infinite Crisis. Joe Chill, the man who shot Bruce Wayne’s parents, has been dead (in “Year Two”), not identified as the murderer (after Zero Hour), back to being the murderer (after Infinite Crisis), and then a crime lord rather than a simple mugger (in Batman #673). While Marvel seems to attempt to fit all these retcons into their established continuity, DC seems fit to play fast and loose with theirs.

I've never actually read this series This is good, but somewhat unnecessary Man, this wasn't very good ... or coherent, for that matter You know, pointing out that punching a universe to fix it is stupid never gets old!

One consequence of this (but not the one I’m concerned with) is the retroactive “darkening” of superhero comics from bygone days. This is most evident in the now-infamous Identity Crisis, in which we see an old rape of Sue Dibny, one which never had any impact on the Dibnys themselves because it never happened in “real” DC time. Rape was also inserted into Felicia Hardy’s past and used as a motivation to her becoming the Black Cat. As ugly as these incidents are, they stem from the “grim-’n'-gritty” turn comics took in the mid-1980s as much as the obsession with retconning. The other consequence is more far-reaching and serious. The obsession with “filling in” parts of the pasts of these characters has effectively cut off any growth they might have had, and superhero comics have become more and more static as a result. “But Greg,” you might argue, “superhero comics have always been about keeping the characters the same! That’s kind of the entire point of holding onto copyrights and trademarks and other shit laymen don’t understand!” I would disagree. Yes, characters in comics stayed largely the same for decades, especially at DC. The lack of long-term readers made this possible, because new readers didn’t care if the characters didn’t change over the short period of time they read comics. But the Silver Age, despite some poor storytelling, also featured writers who were unafraid to throw any- and everything at the wall to see what stuck. And characters actually changed. This was more evident in Marvel, which began with the idea that it was more “realistic” than DC, but it happened with both companies. For the first 25-30 years of Peter Parker’s existence, for instance, he went from high-schooler to college student to grad student to ex-grad student to married man making some coin off that book of Spidey photos. This happened in many Marvel comics. Reed Richards and Sue Storm got married and had a son. Scott Summers got married and had a kid, then ditched his wife in a pseudo-mid-life crisis to take up with an old flame, whom he then married. Even DC wasn’t immune to this. Dick Grayson grew up and went to college, paving the way for two new Robins. Wally West grew up and got married. Oliver Queen became a “grandfather” when Roy Harper, whom he considered his “son,” had a child (who, of course, was recently killed). Hal Jordan became older and got gray hair at his temples (which was, of course, later retconned as the influence of a giant yellow bug alien, because Hal couldn’t have gotten older, right?). Heroes were replaced by younger versions, which is what happened in the 1950s. As poorly done some of the exits of older heroes were (Hal Jordan’s, for instance), there was no reason why Wally West couldn’t be the Flash, or Conner Hawke Green Arrow, or Kyle Rayner Green Lantern. The characters in the Marvel Universe are a bit harder to replace (you don’t find many radioactive spiders running around), but there’s no reason why the X-Men couldn’t retire and be replaced by different or younger ones – as happened in 1975. So characters could and did change. Then came Marvels, from which Marvel and DC took the wrong lesson. Busiek didn’t retcon anything – he simply dropped a new character into the old stories and used continuity expertly to tell his story. The lesson was that the rich histories of these characters could be used to tell stories, but nothing really needed to be changed. The lesson that Marvel and DC took from Marvels was that readers were hankering for stories set in the old days because they themselves were getting older. So the idea of going back and tinkering with origins and older stories that, frankly, didn’t need to be tinkered with became more attractive. Marvel always claimed that they “got it right” with regard to their characters’ origins. Apparently, they no longer think that, because tweaking origins has become a favorite pastime in comics. An unintended consequence of this is that growth of characters is no longer that important. Because the older characters are the ones that fans remember and relate to, and because they stick with characters much longer, it becomes easier and more profitable to simply go back and tell stories of Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent or Oliver Queen or Peter Parker or “James Howlett” or Tony Stark that “update” their origins, because that gives older fans a shot of nostalgia by using those characters and also by winking at them with references to comics they read when they were growing up. It’s a win-win!

How cool was this series? I own this but haven't gotten around to reading it.  Someday I will! Ditto This is really, really, really terrible!

Except it’s not. What this does is simply recycle old ideas even more and more, not allowing these characters to grow and change. This has led to dubious editorial decisions, like Peter Parker making a deal with Satan to destroy his marriage. Characters that occasionally changed and struck out on their own (Scott Summers leaving the X-Men after Jean Grey died, for instance) are now locked into their positions, calcified and stagnant. The flip side to this is that new characters get strangled in the crib. After the first initial burst of creativity of DC (in the 1930s and 1940s and even the 1950s) and Marvel (in the 1960s and 1970s), this is of course going to become a problem for any number of reasons, but people rarely blame Marvels for it. Well, I’m doing it! This reliance on nostalgia as a selling point makes it even harder to create and sustain new characters. Into the 1980s, DC and Marvel created new characters that, while perhaps not huge icons like the oldies, have at least been sustainable into the present. It’s become an increasing problem in the last fifteen years or so. There’s no reason why Wally West, Conner Hawke, Kyle Rayner, Dick Grayson, or even Artemis couldn’t work as the iconic heroes for whom they’ve substituted in recent years, but they’re not allowed to be by a fanbase that wants their childhood heroes right where they’ve always been. As comics have become increasingly backward-looking, new series not only fail miserably, the characters rarely show up in other characters’ books to give them exposure. It’s bad enough for characters who are somehow connected to older DC heroes (Blue Beetle and Manhunter both had decent runs, even though they were constantly threatened with cancellation), but for new characters, it’s almost impossible to get any footing. Some people fondly remember Major Bummer, Young Heroes In Love, Xerø, Xenobrood, The Next, The Brotherhood, Livewires, or The Order, but hardly anyone actually bought them, and what’s more, the characters rarely, if ever, show up elsewhere in the respective universes (I made a joke about The Next when the first issue came out about how the next time we’d see the characters was when DC needed cannon fodder for one of their big events, because they like to slaughter random heroes in those). Writers want to play with the big shots in the sandbox, so these characters, who are just lying around not doing anything, get neglected. Many people have made the point that writers these days “save” their characters for creator-owned stuff, which might be the case, but not enough attention has been paid to the “Marvels” factor. These two opposing trends – looking back to a comic book golden age and its complement, the lack of new characters – has meant that superhero comics have become increasingly insular and tailored to a narrow and aging audience. Marvel might sell 100,000 issues of a big-time book, but the law of diminishing returns kicks in as they load up on books that tie into that big event. Marvel and DC are so obsessed with making sure that they sell more and more to a smaller and smaller audience that they don’t realize that many people are not only skipping those events, they’re giving up on ALL superhero comics that the companies sell. We’ve all heard stories about how kids love comics, and that’s true, but they’re not buying superhero comics in the magnitude that they once did. And older fans aren’t going to live forever, even if the characters they love do!

This isn't even five years old, yet no one remembers it! I had such high hopes for this This is a charming little series, actually I don't buy that Fraction ended this when he wanted to, but if that's what he says, that's what he says!

Do I blame all of this on Marvels? Of course not – I just liked the provocative title of the post. But I think Marvels had a great deal to do with it. Perhaps it was the zeitgeist and the timing of Marvels just happened to be coincidental, but I don’t think so. The success of Marvels showed the Big Two that there was a market for stories set in the past starring characters that the audience had grown up with. That Busiek is a fantastic writer who can push characters into the future even while tying everything into older continuity (as he did in Avengers Forever) was largely ignored. All the Big Two saw were dollar signs in stories about the past. Naturally, they went too far in one direction, and now we’re inundated with these kinds of comics. It’s not Busiek’s fault (hence the “unwittingly” in the title), but he definitely pointed the way. Unfortunately, I don’t think Marvels has had a positive influence on comics, as good as it was. The question is, how can Mr. Busiek live with himself?!?!?!?!?

236 Comments

Roy Thomas invented Nostalgia Porn in comics with his All-Star Squadron and Invaders series well before Busiek even got started in comics.

Nice read.

A lot of good points in there, but I don’t know if it’s the nostalgia factor. Just as much as anything, the reason characters stagnate is because it’s in the companies best profit margin interest. There’s killing your darlings, and then there’s killing your livelihood.

Another problem, I think, is that stories are meant to have a beginning, middle and an end. That’s how it’s been for ages. Shakespeare always had three acts. Are we telling him he was wrong?

Think of it this way. Seinfeld ran for ten years. As did MASH. Scrubs went for nine. There’s a lot of long running TV shows, but none of them ever maintained their momentum. Indeed, many outlive their lifespan long before they fizzle. Comics, rather – the characters in them, have been on a hamster wheel for 70 odd years! At some point, you’ve got to lose interest as you realise the futility of it all.

Could you imagine sitting around a campfire listening to one guy tell one story all night? ‘And then, and then, and then…’ and then I left the party.

I think you’ve hit it on the head, Greg. I kinda feel that Busiek’s culpability in the trend is mitigated by the fact that he played an unwilling part in all this, as well as his awesome Astro City stuff, which is both nostalgic and new.

On the other hand Alex Ross has pretty much been doing “nostalgia porn” for years. Isn’t that why all those DC one-shots like Superman: Peace on Earth used to be kept behind the counter at my local comics shop?

Michael: I almost mentioned Roy Thomas in the post, but I decided against it. First of all, I haven’t read much of his stuff. Second, I don’t deny that “nostalgia porn” was around well before Marvels. Thomas’s work, however, was never as big a hit as Marvels was. So I don’t think his influence was as great as Busiek and Ross’s was.

Greg, Michael P already beat me to it: the name you’re looking for is Roy Thomas not Kurt Busiek.

“Never as big a hit” is a relative term though. Roy Thomas basically created the concept of the Marvel Universe out of the disparate crossovers that Stan Lee (and others) wrote. The last time I checked the Marvel Universe is still the single most popular and successful marketing vehicle in North American periodical comics.

If Busiek created a monster, it´s name is Jeph Loeb. He brought back Krypto and all colors kryptonite has. He brought back all stupidities from the 40s and 50s. These things worked very well in the very past, with that specific readers, not nowadays.

Now we have 7647675354764909812318320123 origins for Superman. Now the fuc$#!* Multiverse is back.

It’s not easy to follow chronology, now imagine 30 Batmans, 15 Flashs, 54 Firestorms. Loeb destroys everything he touches. He destroyed DC and when he thought he couldn’t do any more damages, he went to Marvel and did the same thing. The biggest proof is The Ultimates Vol. 3.

He wrote “The Long Halloween”, creating a marvelous plot and now all he does in his “stories” is reuse the same plot. There’s always someone who dies mysteriously. The heroes always have to find the identity of a mysterious murderer.

And Marvel is also fumbling through the past. God, leave Gwen Stacy alone, please. Couldn’t Spider-Man just move on?

It’s sad.

Great read. Never made some of the connections before.

Greg, what a great, provocative piece! I think you make some compelling points about the unwitting impact of MARVELS, but I wonder if there weren’t already structural elements (the rise of the comic shop in the 80s, which created an easier access to back issues, and therefore a greater interest in that history than there might have been when it was harder to get ahold of such comics) that created the groundwork for that impact, though. And I also wonder if that retro flavor that Busiek so brilliantly deployed wasn’t already in the air at Marvel in the 1980s. Sure, you had all the forward-thinking stuff you mentioned in your piece (and as an Iron Man fan, I would also note the shock many readers felt when James Rhodes took over the armor in that book), but you also had the return of MARVEL TALES to reprinting 60s Spidey; reprints of classic (60s) X-Men books, Fantastic Four annuals (such inexpensive, Baxter-papered reprints were how I got to read FF ANNUAL #1), Ditko Dr. Strange, and a compressed version of the Kree-Skull war AVENGERS saga; and at least an element of nostalgia in the looks and tones of Byrne’s Fantastic Four, Roger Stern’s Spider-Man and Shooter’s Avengers. Those books were absolutely also very modern– the enhancement of the Invisible Girl by Byrne, the introduction of the Hobgoblin in Spidey, the twisting saga of YellowJacket in the Avengers; in other words, nostalgia was a motor of invention, instead of a dead-end. But there was definitely a “back to basics” feel in the early parts of Shooter’s tenure that either enhanced the nostalgic feel for older readers or (for younger readers like me) made us curious about these vast backstories in a way that maybe wasn’t true of older generations of readers.

I’m not disputing your general point– like I said, I really liked the piece. I just wonder if Busiek’s work is just part of a larger trend that Geoff Johns or other writers wouldn’t have run with eventually. The biggest irony is that in MARVELS, Phil decides to stop taking pictures of the heroes for awhile and pass the camera on to a new generation– a lovely metaphor that subsequent writers chose to ignore.

Interestingly, I have something of an opposite opinion on this. I really don’t think he ruined comics – if we want to keep with this being Kurt Busieks “fault” – and if anything, I do feel a lot of comics are as good as ever. I also don’t really think the word retcon is a dirty word either – Spider-Man, for instance, is enjoyable to me for the first time ever in comic form and has me looking back at the pre-marriage era – and can be a useful tool, assuming they’re used properly and fans don’t get their panties in a bunch over the most minute details.

If anything, I don’t even have nostalgia for any prior era’s either; I’m 23 and I’ve only been heavily into comics – well, aside from sporadic stuff when I was a kid during the infamous grim and gritty era’s boom – for the past five years. I can’t say I’ve enjoyed a lot of those old fashioned style comics some folks pine for either. Well, aside from the real classics, anyways, and the outlandish stuff from Superman’s Silver Age.

Chalk it up to different strokes?

“He brought back Krypto and all colors kryptonite has. He brought back all stupidities from the 40s and 50s. These things worked very well in the very past, with that specific readers, not nowadays.

Now we have 7647675354764909812318320123 origins for Superman. Now the fuc$#!* Multiverse is back.”

Funnily enough, I really, really like Krypto – whom I was introduced to in the modern age of comics, obviously – and I like the idea of the multiverse as well.

Different strokes again, I guess.

This would go a long way to explain the current over-use of Deadpool.

you’re right, busiek totally blew it! now we have to read all this shitty non-uni creator owned nonsense. man, fuck that.

Interesting read. I agree with most of the points, but not really the premise. Like Michael P. said, this kind of stuff had been around for a long time before Marvels, and the trend towards nostalgia had been building, but Busiek really tapped into it. I’d say that Marvels was riding the crest of the wave instead of creating it.

Since it’s not uncommon for Busiek to post here, it’ll be interesting to see his response. :D

The All-Smelling Nose of Agamotto

March 22, 2010 at 6:03 pm

Another excellent essay, Greg. I totally agree with your assessment of the Big Two now “looking back instead of forward”.

But Busiek isn’t to blame for this incestuous obsession with the past. What happened is the inevitable result of comics readers growing up to be Comics Makers. And the ageing demographic of the market.

“Hal Jordan became older and got gray hair at his temples (which was, of course, later retconned as the influence of a giant yellow bug alien, because Hal couldn’t have gotten older, right?). ”

The reason for that was because Geoff Johns thought it was stupid. He understood that writers did it to show that Hal had been around for awhile, but didn’t understand why other characters weren’t allowed to age. Characters like Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne, Peter Parker, etc. have been around a lot longer or just a long and no writers made them look older. Why Hal? I heard this from Wizard.

That doesn’t make the goddamn yellow fear monster being responsible any less stupid.

I think some things are getting mixed together here.

The last big burst of Bold New Stuff was the stuff that we now all agree was cringe-inducing: Cable in one universe and the doctorless Fate in the other. Pouches, knives, guns, wyrds spylled wyth the wryng vowyls, snarling, and drooling. In Zero Hour we directly traded the JSA (the traditional symbols of nostalgia) for Fate.

Once the speculation bubble popped and the Image guys left for Image, that embarrassing moment didn’t have much going for it. So naturally the pendulum swung the other way, with Busiek, Ross, Waid, and Perez helping to swing it. Marvels (and Waid’s cheerful Flash) was followed by Kingdom Come (with its rude satire of Cable, who has now BEEN LET INTO THE JSA ITSELF, but I digress), and shortly after that we got the Busiek-Perez Avengers and the Morrison return-to-the Silver-Age Justice League. Those were the immediately important aftermath of Marvels and Kingdom Come, much more so than UTOS or the Year One spinoffs. And they were great runs on the flagship books of both universes– unembarrassed about the Silver Age and using its memory to buttress the idea of heroism, but going ahead and telling great new stories. In some ways this was a step backward compared to the mid-late 80s, but it was clearly a step forward from the early-mid 90s.

A few years later on, Bendis and Meltzer decide that the *really* fun thing to do with all that Silver Age stuff is to use it as the backdrop for Grim & Gritty Mark 2, in which classic Avengers get ripped apart and Dr Light likes to say “rape” a lot.

And the complicated cases are Geoff Johns and James Robinson. The JSA relaunch followed the JLA return-to-greatness mood, and was steeped in Robinson’s nostalgia– but Starman had its dark edge, and The Golden Age was in its way the earliest example of mixing the nostalgic backdrop with a nasty foreground. (Call it Grim & Gritty Mark 1.5.) And the relaunched Hawkman series carried both moods forward– a fondness for looking back combined with a sense that we can get a great frisson by spattering blood over the thing we remember fondly.

Waid and Busiek like *continuity,* Ross likes nostalgia, and is willing to go Elseworlds to get it. But Meltzer, for example, likes continuity-free nostalgia– the looking backward without keeping track of the details, Robinson’s often like that, too– non-Starman characters appearing in Starman were likely to get their names and backstories screwed up. Johns likes both– but gradually nostalgia has won out, as every character he touches gets reset to the Bronze Age, plus added gore.

I think a Bendis-Meltzer era basically *replaced* the Waid-Busiek-Ross era, with Johns in particular spanning the two. The post-Identity Crisis era seems to me a reaction *against* the cheerful heroism of Busiek’s Avengers and Morrison’s JLA. Marvels may have set the stage for looking backwards, but it’s not directly responsible for the current aesthetic.

Thomas’ influence shouldn’t be underestimated: Busiek, after all, cut his comics’ eyeteeth as a *reader* of Thomas’ nostalgia-tinged Avengers, Invaders, and (later) All-Star Squadron run. (Other influences that–just barely–predate Busiek’s arrival as a professional that can also be characterized as having broadly nostalgic themes are Levitz’s runs on All-Star and Legion.) If you want to complicate the thesis further, recognize that the influential 1970s return of Batman to his 1939 roots under O’Neil and Adams was, itself, a type of nostalgia. Arguably, the entire Silver Age is nostalgic, with a twist: an attempt to recreate the publishing and creative successes of the 1940s and early 1950s super-hero comics. DC and Marvel took different approaches to this, of course–DC did the relaunch of basic names/concepts (Flash, GL, JLA, et al), whereas Marvel started simply bringing older characters (most notably Cap and Namor) forward into the new milieu they were building.

I think “nostalgia porn” doesn’t really apply to the work that Busiek does with the past, since it implies a kind of fetishizing of what has gone before merely for the sake of doing so. Busiek (like other good writers who use the past as source materials with skill, e.g. Rucka, Brubaker, Morrison, Simone, Pak and Van Lente, Sane Robinson, Awake Bendis, ) generally tends to advance the present-day story first and foremost–the nostalgic materials are a means to an end, not the end in themselves. With the worst of backwards-looking writers these days (Johns at his worst, Meltzer and Winnick just about all the time, Crazy Robinson, Phoning-it-In Bendis, Loeb) the use of source materials is seen as satisfying enough in itself. Meltzer and Johns, in particular, absolutely seem to get their writers’ rocks off merely by scripting a shot of the JLA satellite and its satellite-era 15 member team, all calling each other by their first names, etc. etc. into any script their working on. (Of course, since all writers have to kill whatever they fear influences them, they then put all these happy memories through the meat grinder..sometimes literally. Of late, Robinson has joined them.) There’s a kind of self-loathing that suffuses these writers’ use of the past that is generally absent from the works of Busiek, Morrision, Bru, etc.

I’m not talking about the retcon that Parallax, but as to why Geoff Johns got rid of the white streaks in Hal’s hair. Johns didn’t do it because he was nostalgic for a full brown haired Hal, but because he thought it made no sense. Why age a character whose been around since the late 50′s when other characters, who have around longer or just as long , don’t? Why age Hal when Clark Kent (whose been around since 1938) hasn’t aged at all.

@ TheGoose

Clark’s an alien, so I’ve always bought that. Bruce on the other hand…

huh, when i read the title i was sure this article would be about Alex Ross and his tracing ( i mean photo referencing, of course) becoming the current “it” style. If it weren’t for Alex Ross, artists would still have to actually draw people and backgrounds. And nobody would have to put up with Greg Lands pornography collection

Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, Barry Allen, Wally West, etc. None of these characters should look as young as they do.

George G and I were writing up somewhat similar posts at the same time– I agree with him about who’s generally guilty of nostalgia porn and who’s not.

As an aside, you really should check out Untold Tales of Spider-Man, Greg! It’s Busiek writing in the Merry Marvel Manner and is one of my favorite Spider-Man runs.

The All-Smelling Nose of Agamotto

March 22, 2010 at 6:41 pm

Yeah, the white streaks in Hal’s hair were almost as painfully stupid as turning him into Parallax.

But DC’s biggest blunder EVER was screwing up Schwartz’s Earth One-Earth Two continuity. Wasn’t DC’s continuity so much simpler before Crisis? It was so cool that the past coexisted with the present. And the writers could totally ignore the other worlds full of super-heroes, unless it suited them.

Jacob T. Levy wrote:

“Waid and Busiek like *continuity,* Ross likes nostalgia, and is willing to go Elseworlds to get it. But Meltzer, for example, likes continuity-free nostalgia– the looking backward without keeping track of the details, Robinson’s often like that, too– non-Starman characters appearing in Starman were likely to get their names and backstories screwed up. Johns likes both– but gradually nostalgia has won out, as every character he touches gets reset to the Bronze Age, plus added gore.

I think a Bendis-Meltzer era basically *replaced* the Waid-Busiek-Ross era, with Johns in particular spanning the two. The post-Identity Crisis era seems to me a reaction *against* the cheerful heroism of Busiek’s Avengers and Morrison’s JLA. Marvels may have set the stage for looking backwards, but it’s not directly responsible for the current aesthetic.”

MUCH better expression of what I was trying to say than what I actually managed to say.

Marvels is a nice target being a nostalgia trip and all but to my mind the issue had more to do with Marvel almost going bankrupt and just the comic post-speculator crash. DC and Marvel tried some new things to start that era but ultimately contracted back to the familiar and more sure hits at the cost of market expansion and potential risk. The nostalgia boom has also been driven by much of the current generation of writers being individuals who grew up entirely on comics. Johns is a good selling writer and he thinks Hal Jordan and Barry Allen are the bomb. Give him power and that is what he will bring back. Perhaps in 10 years we’ll get an infusion of people who grew up thinking Kyle Rayner and Conner Hawke are the bomb and they will rise to prominence again. We’ve seen the New Universe come back due to a name writer wanting it back and we’ve even seen a new spider-clone mini. In a few years we’ll see later nostalgia. Not that it will solve the problem of new readers in any way.

Multi-media plays a part as well. You can’t have Bruce Wayne in the 3rd Nolan batman movie and Dick Grayson in the comics. The movies push for a back to basic approach and that will keep characters frozen so as not to damage the media properties, which at least now is where the “real” money is anyway.

Canaan: Shakespeare had five-act plays, not three.

This is why I hate the insistence on film trilogies. There’s more than one way to structure a story, people.

The Goose: I always took Hal Jordan to be around 40 when he became Green Lantern, and in his early 40s at least when he became Parallax. Not all the top-tier DC heroes have to be the same age, and certainly aren’t treated as such. I know Green Arrow was already in his 40s by ‘The Longbow Hunters’. Even if one is insistent that all of main DC heroes started super-heroing at 25, there’s still the fact that people go gray at varying points in their lives. I know of two people off the top of my head who have graying hair in their mid-twenties, and George Clooney refused to dye the gray out of his hair when he played Batman, at age 36.

So Hal Jordan having gray hair is perfectly sensible for a number of reasons. That’s why when I read that issue of ‘Green Lantern: Rebirth’ that said “yellow fear monster did it”, I said “Oh come on!” aloud in the comic store.

Oops, meant “around 30″

Different people age differently. It’s entirely believable, of two different men of the same age, for one of them to grey at the temples and the other not.

Johns just didn’t like that Hal looked old. Judgment call, but I’m making it.

And of course, I’ve always maintained that if there’s no good way to do the story (or in this case, the retcon) you want to do, then you should just not do it. Two dumbass stories do not make an okay one.

Ok, if people gray at varying points in their lives is fine, then why not do that with Barry Allen, Bruce Wayne, Dinah Lance, etc. Why just Hal? Most characters I’ve seen in comics don’t change much.

There’s a slight difference between “nostalgia porn” and a blatant retcon. Marvels might be nostalgic, but as I pointed out, Busiek didn’t actually retcon anything. Writers have told stories that feel Silver Agey, as Jacob points out, and those are definitely nostalgic. But even that can push a character forward. Byrne’s FF, widely regarded as the second-best on the title, evokes a Silver Age feel but still moves the group into the future. Batman’s “return to his roots” in the 1970s didn’t change anything about the character’s origins.

Good points, everyone. I certainly agree that there are many, many factors involved in the way superheroes have evolved (or “devolved,” as the case may be) over the past fifteen years, but I think Marvels’ influence is definitely overlooked.

“Johns just didn’t like that Hal looked old. Judgment call, but I’m making it.”

True, but he had a valid reason for it. Why make a character who is one of DC’s flagship characters look older, when most of the other flagship characters haven’t aged at all. Why just Hal?

@ Jacob T. Levy:

I think a Bendis-Meltzer era basically *replaced* the Waid-Busiek-Ross era, with Johns in particular spanning the two. The post-Identity Crisis era seems to me a reaction *against* the cheerful heroism of Busiek’s Avengers and Morrison’s JLA. Marvels may have set the stage for looking backwards, but it’s not directly responsible for the current aesthetic.

That strikes as being correct.

There have been two broad camps of comic creators since essentially the end of the Golden Age. On the one hand, there has been the “progress” camp that to push things forward. On the other hand, there has been the “the way things used to be” camp that considers progression to be a mistake to be unwound. Byrne’s FANTASTIC FOUR and Simonson’s THOR were considered “back-to-basics” throw-backs in the ’80s. So was the O’Neil-Adams take on BATMAN.

To be honest, I associate retcons far more with the progress camp than the throw-back camp. After all, you don’t need a revised back-story to rewind things. Nostalgia-driven stories tend to mostly just unwind changes. The are more like Reverse-cons (i.e. Hal Jordan no longer had a DUI).

As a result, I am pretty dubious about the premise that nostalgia has much to do with the decline of the monthly periodical comic. If look at the market trend, then you will see that comics as a whole are growing pretty robustly. It is just that the form they come in is changing. The dollar sales in TPBs are currently double what periodicals are.

Comic stories are naturally conforming to where the money is. The on-going, forward moving and densely inter-connected soap opera is a bad fit for that format. Self-contained stories that use that soap opera as a backdrop, or raw material, do. Folks can buy and enjoy MARVELS today just as easily as they could in ’94. The same thing will be true in 2014 and 2024. MARVELS will be returning money to Disney, Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross for decades to come. Disney could stop producing new comics entirely and MARVELS will still sell while serving as an ad for Omnibuses of the old Lee-Kirby stuff that was created before most of the current readers were born.

I think this is a case of scapegoatism. Marvels seems like the effect of an underlying cause.

So, I’m calling shananigans. But great article man. :) Very provocative.

I still feel Crisis is what ruined DC. You could have two flashes….one on each Earth. It wasn’t so complicated.

I remember the quality of comics declining before Marvels came out.

“True, but he had a valid reason for it.”

No he didn’t. That’s my point. The crap he said was just a smokescreen for the fact that Hal being older made him feel older, or that Hal wasn’t as “cool” anymore, or the usual fanboy bollocks that comes up when characters actually show change and progress.

After all, if his problem was really “Why just Hal?” then he could have gone and aged some of the other characters, like Aquaman or Hawkman. (DC’s just not giving Batman or Superman crow’s feet, and Barry was dead.) Then it wouldn’t be just Hal, and he would have avoided cheapening his already-ridiculous plot device.

Cure you, Black Manta. You and your love of Pre-Crisis helped killed Aquababy!

The All-Smelling Nose of Agamotto

March 22, 2010 at 8:05 pm

It was great believing all the golden age stories happened on Earth 2. It allowed silver age heroes to sidestep most continuity problems.

In fact, instead of squeezing all the heroes into one post-Crisis world, with one Superman, one Hawkman, etc., DC would have been better off creating an Earth 3, where they could have re-booted their modernized Byrne Superman, Perez Wonder Woman, Kyle Rayner Green Lantern, etc., without getting further entangled in pre-existing continuity. And without urinating on the already-established characters.

“No he didn’t. That’s my point. The crap he said was just a smokescreen for the fact that Hal being older made him feel older, or that Hal wasn’t as “cool” anymore, or the usual fanboy bollocks that comes up when characters actually show change and progress.”

Sounds like you’re thinking there’s some conspiracy.

“After all, if his problem was really “Why just Hal?” then he could have gone and aged some of the other characters, like Aquaman or Hawkman. (DC’s just not giving Batman or Superman crow’s feet, and Barry was dead.) Then it wouldn’t be just Hal, and he would have avoided cheapening his already-ridiculous plot device.”

Because aging characters isn’t such a good idea. I mean, if every writer decided to age a character, then some would be dead or couldn’t fight crime. People like Alan Scott, Jay Garrick, etc.

“Sounds like you’re thinking there’s some conspiracy.”

No, just one guy who cares too fucking much about Hal Jordan’s fucking sideburns.

I don’t think Geoff Johns lied about why he got rid of Hal’s white streak.

“Because aging characters isn’t such a good idea. I mean, if every writer decided to age a character, then some would be dead or couldn’t fight crime. People like Alan Scott, Jay Garrick, etc.”

Well, there’s nothing wrong with characters dying eventually. The world doesn’t particularly need Alan Scott or Jay Garrick from now until Doomsday. It might be nice to have them, but it’s not the same thing. It’s OK for some toys to eventually be put in the attic.

But if that’s just too much to ask, one could always just have Hal come back from the dead in a younger body. Kinda like what happened with Magneto way back when.

But no, it’s not enough to de-age Hal, you must show that he NEVER GOT OLD AT ALL. Because then you can wash the lameness away and he’ll be CLEAN, MOMMY! CLEAN!

I don’t necessarily think he lied either. He might earnestly believe that bullshit. It’s still bullshit, though.

“But if that’s just too much to ask, one could always just have Hal come back from the dead in a younger body. Kinda like what happened with Magneto way back when.

But no, it’s not enough to de-age Hal, you must show that he NEVER GOT OLD AT ALL. Because then you can wash the lameness away and he’ll be CLEAN, MOMMY! CLEAN!

Well, that would have been different then what we got since Kyle got back Hal’s original body (with gray white streaks in all).

I doubt Geoff Johns has a problem with characters getting older or old characters in general. If what you’re saying is true, then Geoff Johns would just de-age every character.

“I don’t necessarily think he lied either. He might earnestly believe that bullshit. It’s still bullshit, though.”

In your opinion. I, personally, liked the idea that Parallax left a mark on Hal. Also, I agreed with Johns on why aging Hal made no sense because hes been around since the 50s.

Tom Fitzpatrick

March 22, 2010 at 8:25 pm

What doth the Busiek have to sayeth about all this?

Charles Highway

March 22, 2010 at 8:33 pm

Did Busieck kill comics? Or did we? In their lust to throw blame around for the sad status of the modern American comic book, I think fans need to look at theri own role in the decline. We are the ones who buy stuff like Marvels. We are the ones who vote with our dollars. All the stuff we’re complaining about here sold well at the time. Marvel and DC don’t make the comics they do because they have an agenda. They make them because people like us buy them. And if we buy a certain type of book, they make more books like that. The reason hardly any new characters stick is because we don’t buy them. The reason we’ve had 10 years of mega event books is because we buy them. The reason they publish the millionth version of Superman’s origin is because we buy them.

If you really want DC and Marvel to get over the past and stop putting out the same books every year, stop buying them. Their are plenty of great titles coming out from independent and second tier companies. They can tide you over until the big two smarten up.

Even if Marvels isn’t the originator of nostalgia porn, it can still be the Watchmen/DKR equivalent which leaves Greg’s argument essentially the same. It’s a fantastic story in its own right but everyone then took all of the wrong lessons from it and we ended up with a bunch of bad superhero comics that completely missed the point.

>> The question is, how can Mr. Busiek live with himself?!?!?!?!? >>

I don’t!

I live with my wife and kids! Hah!

kdb

Like Greg, I see a lot of MARVELS influence in the comics of the past decade. But I also see an even bigger Alan Moore influence continuing in many key works. Old shames and secrets haunt our heroes (WATCHMEN -> IDENTITY CRISIS), superheroes are outlawed (WATCHMEN -> CIVIL WAR), Spider-Man’s origin is not what you thought and he is a magic avatar (SWAMP THING -> JMS’S ASM), superheroes are actually deadly weapons (MIRACLEMAN -> CIVIL WAR).

Current comics are probably the unholy marriage of MARVELS and WATCHMEN.

I blame Margaret Thatcher.

“Also, I agreed with Johns on why aging Hal made no sense because hes been around since the 50s.”

Expect time actually has passed in the stories, hence why DC always has that rough ten-year timelines. And as I mentioned before, Green Arrow aged. And Aquaman in the 90s was certainly looking less-fresh-faced. The JSAers have definitely aged, as have the Titans (Dick Grayson certainly isn’t eight years olds anymore). If anything, not acknowledging that these characters have phsyically aged when the stories themselves mention that time has passed makes no sense.

In all seriousness, I’d be interested to see how you thought “Ruins” ties into this seeing as it is the related series; my thought is that it could have had as much of an effect on seeing traditional heroes in a negative light except that I don’t think it sold as well or was nearly as popular (though ideas like Xavier really being evil seemed to get some play after it). Dystopias weren’t new at this point in comics (I believe we were on the verge of Kingdom Come being released, and DC had just done a dystopic future with Armageddon 2001 a few years prior and was releasing Elseworlds graphic novels on a regular basis that were often of dystopias, like Batman: Holy Terror).

Hmm…now that I’m writing this, dystopias and heroes being altered in negative ways were the big thing in early to mid-90′s comics in a lot of ways (Marvel 2099 series, KC, What if’s, DC’s re-vamps [which featured the killing of Superman, Batman replaced by a homicidal maniac, and Ollie Queen "dying"], X-men: Onslaught and Age of Apocalypse, I could go on).

I suppose if I project back to younger creators reading at this era (starting about 18 years ago), it may stand to reason that this is a direct connection to the grim and gritty, bloody and senseless kinds of stories that seem to crop up today (are multiple GL corps or multiple Hulks all that different than multiple Supermen or Batmen, each new one flawed from the original in some way?).

“If Busiek created a monster, it´s name is Jeph Loeb. He brought back Krypto and all colors kryptonite has. He brought back all stupidities from the 40s and 50s. These things worked very well in the very past, with that specific readers, not nowadays.”

Actually, you’re omitting a crucial point. Before Loeb worked on Superman, he was publisher of Rob Liefeld’s Awesome Entertainment….. Which at the time was publishing Alan Moore’s Supreme, where Moore took Liefeld’s anti-hero version of Superman and made him more like a modernized Silver Age Superman.

this whole thing reminds me of the classic argument that star wars ruined filmmaking in the late 70′s all the way through the 1980′s (until the film festival generation took over). the story goes that the classic 70′s style of filmmaking (coppola, scorsese, altman, lumet, allen, ashby, etc.) was effectively destroyed after star wars because all of the sudden audiences no longer had an appetite for art, they only wanted more star wars-ish movies. but to defer to george lucas himself: “why do people go see popcorn pictures? why is the public so stupid? that’s not my fault.” and he’s absolutely right, it’s not his fault. ultimately, we are all responsible for the art and entertainment that we propagate into existence because we pay for it. good movies didn’t stop being made in the 1980′s because of star wars, they stopped being made because audiences stopped paying to see them–that’s not the fault of star wars, it’s the fault of the audiences.

to bring this back to comics, the current trend of death by nostalgia and retcons is not the fault of marvels, or busiek, or geoff johns, or jeph loeb, or ed brubaker, or big events. it’s the fault of people that pay money for shit product, thereby ensuring that more shit product will be spawned. if comic fans have a chief fault, it’s that we are painfully too loyal. how many spider-man fans just kept buying after one more day? why? would you stay with a girlfriend that cheated on you? what’s the difference? too many of us feel that we’d somehow be “cheating” on our favorite characters if we stopped buying their titles, but what about when their creative teams cheat on us?

busiek created a great great work with marvels. one could argue it was the best comic story of the 90′s. so don’t blame him that geoff johns is on a mission from god to bring back every dc character that ever died. it’s not busiek’s fault, it’s our fault for buying green lantern: rebirth (which, by the way, sucked donkey balls). i think johns can be a great writer when he’s just the writer of an ongoing series (his flash, jsa, teen titans, and 52 were all good to great), but anytime he does an “event,” i stay away like it’s the plague, and you should too.

gandhi once said “be the change that you want to see in the world.” so i say unto you, comics fans: be the change that you want to see with marvel and dc. if you want so-called nostalgia porn to be put to death, then for the love of god, stop buying flash: rebirth. tell your friends to stop buying it. i know it’s too late to prevent barry allen aww shucksing right out of his grave, but maybe it will send a message.

but right now, comics fans are like guys that fuck a bunch of drunk strangers and then bitch about stds and illegitimate children. well what did you expect? you brought it on yourselves. next wednesday, instead of buying the latest retcon disaster, why not try out a new series with a new character that just might be great?

as for me, i’m still bitter that chronos got cancelled back in the late 90′s. great, great series that absolutely nobody read. hey brian, how about a “year of cool comics” day on chronos? maybe it will spur someone to dig it out of a dollar bin.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

March 22, 2010 at 10:04 pm

There’s no reason why Wally West, Conner Hawke, Kyle Rayner, Dick Grayson, or even Artemis couldn’t work as the iconic heroes for whom they’ve substituted in recent years, but they’re not allowed to be by a fanbase that wants their childhood heroes right where they’ve always been.

There’s a big reason – their origins just aren’t as interesting.
There’s no set start point for them, which doesn’t involve mentioning another character – Rayner and Artemis could potentially have done it, but they were, ironically, the two written into the previous title bearers setting the most.

Some people fondly remember Major Bummer, Young Heroes In Love, Xerø, Xenobrood, The Next, The Brotherhood, Livewires, or The Order, but hardly anyone actually bought them, and what’s more, the characters rarely, if ever, show up elsewhere in the respective universes

I don’t know that it’s a ‘but hardly anyone actually brought them’ I think those who brought them remember them fondly.
Problem with several of those is, they fizzled before they were canceled – The Brotherhood in particular took a massive nose dive in quality.

No, just one guy who cares too fucking much about Hal Jordan’s fucking sideburns.

As an adult, I could care less – although I think people complaining about a panel explanation for putting them back makes them just as bad as the people they think they’re railing against…ie. nerdy to the extreme – but as a kid, I didn’t want to read Green Lantern because he looked like an old man, and I didn’t think a book about an old man would be as exciting, because I didn’t find old people particularly exciting.

Current comics are probably the unholy marriage of MARVELS and WATCHMEN.

If the average comic was as densely plotted as WATCHMEN and made as effective use of its fictional universe as MARVELS, then I would not need to spend a nickel on another form of entertainment.

CURSE YOU BUSIEK!

I blame the fans. Sure, Bendis and Johns and Loeb make for convenient whipping boys, but no one is forcing their bunkum down your throats(“And in such small portions!”). You suck, fans!

Or I may just be cranky because I misread the essay’s opening line as “Come along with me, as I genitalize like crazy!” and feel sort of cheated.

@FGJ:

There’s a big reason – their origins just aren’t as interesting.
There’s no set start point for them, which doesn’t involve mentioning another character – Rayner and Artemis could potentially have done it, but they were, ironically, the two written into the previous title bearers setting the most.

Bingo!

The Origin is the key for a superhero story. Ideally, it provides them with a huge and impossible goal that keeps the hero running toward it. Batman wants to end crime in the most corrupt city in the U.S. Superman wants reconcile his desire for intimacy with his feeling of responsibility for … well … everyone. Wonder Woman wants to teach men to think like women (and maybe vice versa). Spidey wants to find a way to be happy being the type of man his Uncle raised him to be. Wolverine wants to overcome his own nature.

Of all the third and fourth generation heroes DC rolled out in the late ’80s and ’90s, few really had a proper heroic origin. Barry Allen’s death gave Wally a goal that was dramatic (matching his mentor’s standard), but ultimately too achievable to sustain the series indefinitely. However, too many of them had their origins and motivations derived from the original. It was only a matter of time before the clock wound backwards.

The same thing is true of most of the latest wave of derivative characters. The most likely derivations to survive are the ones that are the most divorced from their prior incarnations. Blue Beetle 3.0 has a shot, so does Batwoman 2.0. However, most of the new versions of this or that property are going to hand the torch back eventually.

I love history, which may be why I’ve always been in favour of keeping continuity intact. So I’ve always detested the idea of changing any part of a character’s history. That was the reason I stopped readin DC entirely back in the ’80s. (And I’ve never gone back, even though I know there have been lots of great DC stories since then. After awhile I just lost what interest remained.) I stopped buying Marvel, too, in the mid-90s, because the comic-book store I frequented closed down. I had no intention to stop reading completely at the time, but then a year or so later, I read about ‘Heroes Reborn’ in a newspaper, and then I gave up on Marvel, as well. So for the next decade I didn’t buy anything, even when new sources of comics became available. I didn’t start buying again until I found out by chance that ‘Heroes Reborn’ had been a temporary thing, and the history was still intact.
So coninuity is very important to me, and for that reason, I’ve never liked Year-Ones or Untold-tales. I want the old stuff to remain exactly as it was, with no changes, aside from the occasional reconciliation of conflicting stories. (Filling in gaps is okay, provided there are real gaps to fill. I wouldn’t object to some Untold Tales Of The Shroud, for instance, simply because for most of his history we have no idea what he was doing, so there are plenty of places to fit a story.)
It’s a miracle that I stuck with Spider-Man past One More Day. I think it may be because that felt more like damage repair than a retcon. And I love that Wacker and his crew have decided to keep all of the history as intact as possible and have gradually filled in some details about how the changes occurred. I get the feeling Quesada just expected the creative crew to accept his changes as is, with no explanations needed.

(Don’t worry, everybody. I have read a few DCs here and there since the ’80s. And if finances allow me to start buying more books than I already do, I’ll probably start buying some DCs regularly at some point. I’ve become more forgiving about retcons since I was young. [I pretty much had to.])

Here’s the thing though: Busiek has never elicited the anger that I have seen Bendis, Quesada, Loeb, Ross, and Johns have while doing the same methods….

As he has shown with Astro City, Kurt is the go to man in building/restoring comic universes for me…and I have to agree with other posters. I can’t blame Marvels for this…just like I can’t blame Watchmen for the grim and gritty period….

….and WOW A Young Heroes In Love sighting!!!!!

The Mad Monkey

March 23, 2010 at 1:11 am

Sometimes it feels like I’m the only person in the universe who remembers Manimal.
Thank you, Greg, for letting me know that I’m not alone in that.

To nitpick one of your examples, “Daredevil: The Man Without Fear” came out BEFORE Marvels, not after.

Also, nice to see a shout-out to Major Bummer, Xero, and YHiL. I own full runs of all three. Can’t say the same for Xenobrood, though.

Civil War #2 ruined Marvel. Why? It was just a lie. A lie right in the middle of their game-changing much-delayed crossover which now doesn’t make any sense. All they (?) wanted to do was get hype and get it so Spider-man wasn’t married anymore, what better way to do that than offer people stories and possibilities that were purely put on and (I think) made the company look bad because potential new readers weren’t going to get a Spider-man whose identity was revealed to the world stories, they were going to get a magically messed up character who would rather betray his friends than tell the truth.

Kurt Busiek understood who he was writting for. I actually remember Silver Claw, the Mayan chick. I don’t know who that magical guy was who killed the magical Spider-man. Apparently it was pointless, because he just comes back to life in a cocoon. They have great writers on Spider-man, now. But they can’t do anything with a guy with no past and a character who has been stripped of his humanity and morality. Why would people think Busiek’s affinity for old comics and doing something great with them is bad. Is it not edgy enough the way he actually had things pay off and not drag on pointlessly for five years?

Of course, it is Kurt Busiek’s fault that Jean Grey got retconned back into innocent existence, which in my opinion broke Claremont’s take on Cyclops (at least as much as being forced to kill her off in the first place did).

youre forgetting one thing. The Sentry! The Void!
Marvel shook things up with that one NEW superhero/supervillian.
not sure about DC though….

Roy Thomas started it, but as always, it’s the fault of the fans.

Specifically, the fans that grew up and started writing comic books. They insist that the comics from their childhoods are the best, and that everything that ever happened, happened. It is absurd to think that Batman has been in business long enough to burn through five Robins or that Spider-Man has travelled to the outer-reaches of the galaxy at least 17 or 18 times.

That was the problem with Avengers Forever. It featured Avengers from all the different “eras” of the team’s history; a history that realistically can only have been about five years at best. Hank Pym of today meets the Hank Pym from last November. Ooooooooh! Cool!

The creators of the Golden Age drew on dozens of disparate sources for their inspiration.

Todays creators all draw on the same influence; old comics.

Interesting theory.
But by the same token, could you not say that James Robinson’s Golden Age was the first real nostalgia piece of the ’90s. It came out a year earlier than Marvels (1993 to Marvels’ 1994 release), and in my humble opinion, was the superior work.
I have always felt that the success of Golden Age paved the way for the success of the “nostalgia” titles that followed, including Marvels. While Marvels was the bigger success, Golden Age I think was the inspiration for the nostalgia trend. Virtually everyone I have ever lent that mini to was surprised at how good it was, and how little they had heard about it. There have been more than a few discussions about where it ranks quality-wise amongst The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen among my friends, with many of them favouring Golden Age. (Though admittedly it is obviously less influential, for reasons that seem to escape us.)
And lest you question the Elseworlds label on the cover, I might point out that DC allowed Robinson to carry much of what happened over into his Starman title as if that label never existed. I’m sure it was ignored by later writers that followed, but that is true of any retcon, really.

I think Marvel’s really quite wonderful right now. Probably as good as it’s been in my lifetime, with the possible exceptions of the best stuff in the Shooter era and Heroes Return. So I don’t know. I get the argument being made. It just doesn’t apply to me and what I want to read. The massive shared universe is my favorite things about comics. It’s the one thing I can’t anywhere else in the world. I’d rather see that as well executed as possible than something else executed slightly better. I think Marvel’s got such a crew of great writers and great editors who all work together so well right now and I could name twenty+ books I think are just excellent, and a bunch following that which are good, so.. yeah, I know it’s my bias and all, but I’m happy.

I’m sorry that the rest of you seem not to be getting what you want, but it’s something of a zero sum game. If you guys were more happy, I’d probably be less happy, so I’m not THAT sorry.

Canaan: Shakespeare’s plays have five acts.

/pedantic man, AWAY!

[...] How Kurt Busiek (unwittingly) ruined Marvel and DC superhero … [...]

beta ray steve

March 23, 2010 at 7:39 am

The thing about the retconomania is that comics used to be produced with the idea that readers would only be around for a few years. When the audience from the early ’80s is still around in the early ’90s, there’s a lot of ‘splainin’ to do. Also, the Marvel credo of everything being Important and Real had taken root, even at DC. No more could writers just say “That was years ago, some other guy wrote that”, every story had to count and make sense in the context of all the stories that had come down the pike since. This is why nobody cares about stuff like the Penny Plunderer, those stories take place before any of us became fans. It’s all the stuff we bought whether as kids or adults that counts, as well as the hero’s origin. Because those origin stories have been retold throughout the years, inconsistencies have cropped up, and it’s easier to go back and write about the guy who killed Uncle Ben than to come up with something new and possibly unsuccessful.

Some of you have pointed out how good Marvel is these days. You’ll note I’m not talking about the quality of the books. I like many Marvel and DC books (not the big events, but still). And I do read far more non-superhero books these days, because there’s such a lot of diversity out there. However, every number I’ve seen is that the audience for Marvel and DC stuff is shrinking. Quality has nothing to do with sheer numbers. If it did, Mad Men and Breaking Bad would be huge hits, wouldn’t they?

Okay, I am talking about the quality of the books, but not all of the books. You can tell good stories in a retcon (“Year One,” for example, is often regarded as a top-five Batman story), but it leads to circular storytelling, which continues to shrink the audience.

I’ve said it before, but so long as the comics continue to come out, I’m a-ok with the numbers shrinking. The less people read them, the more chance that they’ll create stuff that is more directly aimed at me as opposed to aimed at someone else.

I always sort of wondered why people kept telling me that it’s a good thing if more “Group A who is not currently reading comics” start to read comics. It’s not all that good for me in the medium term. It’ll just meant that shelf space that’s currently taken up by stuff I want might be taken up but stuff I don’t want but that 60K other people want.

Zero-sum game, I tell you!

Granted, in the long term, we’re all generally boned, but I try to be forward-looking in the important aspects of life, like, I don’t know, my thoughts on health care reform. When it comes to comics, I live under a bridge and bang my stick at it people trying to cross now and again.

And since Greg added another line, so shall I:

….That is, so long as I feel the quality’s good! I don’t want to read comics I don’t like or think are well written. But I’m perfectly fine reading lots of circular stuff I think is well-executed. That’s sort of my bread and butter, really. So long as there’s talent involved.

>> But by the same token, could you not say that James Robinson’s Golden Age was the first real nostalgia piece of the ’90s. It came out a year earlier than Marvels (1993 to Marvels’ 1994 release), and in my humble opinion, was the superior work.>>

Actually, it came out right around the same time, preceding us by a month or two, but overlapping in release. MARVELS #1 is dated January 2004, but shipped November 2003. GOLDEN AGE #1-3 are dated 2003, and #4 is dated 2004.

I fondly remember James grumbling that if only his book had come out six months earlier, they’d have gotten more attention, but Alex and I stole all the oxygen in the room, what bastards!

But yeah, it’s another hole in the theory, and thus it needs to be crushed, to give me the credits for everything. Everything!

Although actually, I think there’s an essay to be written about how Doug Moench and MASTER OF KUNG FU are responsible for the state of comics today. Sophisticated storytelling, strong cinematic influence, extended stories aimed at adults, first person narrative — the hallmarks of the modern mainstream comic can be found there, in a book that struggled to survive, sales-wise. And now its influence can be seen everywhere, and the whole industry’s been struggling to survive. Coincidence…or SOMETHING MORE?!

kdb

… You can tell good stories in a retcon (“Year One,” for example, is often regarded as a top-five Batman story), but it leads to circular storytelling, which continues to shrink the audience.

I strongly disagree.

Listen to the part 2 of the 3/5 podcast between Bill Simmons and Chuck Klosterman on the subject of LOST (http://sports.espn.go.com/espnradio/podcast/archive?id=2864045). They correctly make the point that the nature of the LOST narrative required ABC to commit to a show that could only shrink in audience. The way everything fits together in continuity and the characters stories weave around each other means (after a certain point) no one new could get on the bus.

How is the threaded narrative of LOST any different than the threaded narrative of Marvel Comics? More to the point, is there any doubt in your mind that LOST took its threaded narrative structure from Stan Lee?

In contrast, circular stories can (and do) grow. Take SEINFELD as an example. That show was scarcely watched in its first 2-3 seasons, but it was circular in structure. The cast always wound up back in the coffee shop. The relationships never changed. You could jump on at any point. It grew to be the biggest show on TV.

Look, I am not arguing in favor of one over the other. I like both LOST and SEINFELD. I like both Silver Age Marvel and Silver Age DC stories. Both have their merits. However, the threaded, progressing narrative is not a vehicle to grow an audience.

yes!!! it totally is “nostalgia porn” — good call, Greg.

A fun post, I enjoyed it. :D Keep them coming.

Nostalgia’s fine, when you get a decent story out of it. I have a wall of Marvel Essentials, after all. (Not so much into the Showcase volumes. 50′s DC is crude to me.) Retelling a classic story in a new way works for me, i.e. Marvels, Hulk Gray, but inserting new facts into an old story (Gwen’s affair with Norman, Joe Chill wasn’t just random), unless they work really well or serve a lot more than just the current story (how Jean came back the first time (cocooned by the Phoenix “force”), vs. how Robin #2 came back (Superboy Prime punched time!)), not so much.

Now it must be told. Kurt Busiek killed my goldfish. Hates him, I does. Hates him.

The best years for comics were 1984-1986, with 1985 being the peak year. I was 27 then, not 12.

Comics writers should return to these years, not the year when they were 12. And write comics like this again.

Retcon at its best: Kurt Busiek’s Phoenix force. Not something you can get away with often, which is the problem moving forward — but a terrific one-off (if only it had been used as such).

Retcon at its worst: Joe Quesada’s Daredevil “FATHER” story, wherein it is revealed that the blind man Murdock saved from being hit by the truck full’o radioactive materials (& consequently the cause of both Matt’s blindness and superpowers) went on to molest his own daughter.

Greg, you ask how Mr. Busiek can live with himself, and you are of course joking. But while the intent of Quesada’s story was to make Murdock ask his own self the same question, I reverse the question right back at Joe. There’s never a shortage of IDENTITY CRISIS-bashing in these pages, but it sure would be good to see FATHER get some well-deserved lashing.

bernard the poet

March 23, 2010 at 1:47 pm

It’s rather ironic that Greg is so nostalgic for a halycon age prior to ‘Marvels’, when “comics kept moving into the future “. The trouble is, that time never really existed.

Writers have been ret-conning since the Golden Age (when was Superboy written into Superman’s back story? 1948? 1949?) and Julie Swartz realised nostalgia sells way back in the ‘Fifties, when the Flash went to Earth 2. Origin stories have always been known to be good sellers. Every major superhero has had their origin retold – with various tweaks- many times.

I simply don’t accept that there is more nostalgia porn and ret-conning now than in previous periods. It was ever thus.

Greg singles out, X-Men #268 as an example of ret-conning in the ‘Eighties as though is was practically unique, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Off the top of my head, Magneto’s family were killed at Aushwitz, Jean Grey and the Dark Phoenix were separate people, Xavier met Storm as a child in Cairo, Maddy Pryor was a goblin queen, Amanda Sefton was a witch. These were all pretty major ret-cons that went on in the ‘Eighties in just one comic.

I do take on your concerns that it seems harder than ever for a new character to break out – but that seems to be the same all over. Audiences seem to be less inclined than ever before to try something new. That is why television is clogged up with umpteen versions of CSI and Indianna Jones, Die Hard and Rambo were dragged back into our cinemas.

bernard the poet

March 23, 2010 at 2:03 pm

@Garbut

I couldn’t disagree with you more. Ret-conning Jean Grey’s death was a cynical exercise designed to sell more comics, Marvel resurrected Jean despite the fact that they knew by resurrecting her they were undermining one of their most popular and critically acclaimed stories of all time. Anyone who had invested emotionally in the Dark Phoenix saga were made to feel silly. Marvel made it clear that The X-Men were just a product and the re-set button would always be hit sooner or later.

‘Father’, on the other hand, did not undermine any previous story. It raised an interesting point about sacrifice, and who should be saved and who shouldn’t.

I’d like to add another idea to this.
I think the Big Two also look at what characters they keep published as a serious cost/benefit/return issue.
It’s simply cheaper and less risky to publish stories w/ familiar characters; in much the same way as it is for auto companies to redesign a car, or for film studios to remake a flick or a sequel.
It saves resources in that you don’t have to dedicate writers/artists/editors to figuring out how to launch the book, as well as the extra expense of promoting a “foreign” idea.
A good example of this is the ongoing Wolverine origin, it seems like he’s as much a historical imperative now as he is a contemporary figure.
Every story can’t be set in the here and now, so it’s becomes a necessity to dive into the past for retellings and nook filling.
With old characters you don’t have to spend valuable pages building them up, and trying to draw in readers who’re understandably reluctant to part with MORE money when they’ve already got all those Blackest Night SEIGE titles to buy.
By this point, there aren’t too many people in the Western World who don’t know the origin of Batman or Spiderman, and even w/ characters like Capt. America–it’s easy enough to understand his angle.
So you drop in the cliffnotes, and bang out another 22 page slug/think fest.

(A side effect of this becomes the continued need to push the limits of suspension of disbelief–it’s beginning to look like Batman is going to become his own family tree for crineoutloud?! He’s basically become his own god and while that is an interesting idea . . . frankly it gets harder and harder to relate to him as an identifiable cipher. The saturation leads to burnout in buyers and creators–is BM heading for another burnout like the 1960 camp version? Instead of being wretchedly silly, he’s wretchedly dark to the point where the audience won’t want to wallow in it anymore.)

And it comes at the expense of real risk and innovation.
I wonder could all this Batman/Captain American death/rebirth creative energy been used “beef up” the profile of character like The Creeper or The Falcon instead?
Look at the ill thought out post-FC minis like ESCAPE and INK. If DC had been really thinking about it (REALLY wanted it) couldn’t they have drafted Morrison to pen the Tom Tresser story–really, its the kind of thing he made his mark on in his Vertigo days.
But why risk that; risk even making a “minor classic” or “forgotten gem” of a story, when they could keep him on Batman, and have a guaranteed barn burner!

DC and Marvel could probably (easily) survive if they only published their top characters. They’d have to fire a lot of staff, but in the end, they might wind up being a more profitable company
But imagine if DC/Marvel COULDN’T publish their top tear characters ever again–or even for just a year?
Would they go out of business? Would the fans disappear, or would they be “hungry” enough to try out another “Challenger’s of the Unknown” relaunch to replace their beloved JLA?
Right now DC is having some pretty decent luck with their Batwoman run in Detective, but they had to kill Batman to get him out of the title (and he’s STILL appearing now in flashbacks). There’s a BW solo series promised to follow, and you can tell by the talent they’ve dedicated that this is definitely something they want or feel they NEED to succeed.
Compare that the half-hearted/sloppy reintroductions they’ve given to Magoog, Batgirl, Doom Patrol and the Red Circle cast (already getting axed btw) this past year and you get the sense that these companies just don’t know how to walk the line they need to–not necessarily that they don’t want to, just that they don’t have a successful pattern to follow. (Maybe their should be bonuses for creators who can make a new book outsell the traditional icons?)
And so instead we get another stack of unfinished series buried under the dearth of the same familiar dozen or so character names.

I think this argument is total bunk. Marvels is a great book that can be enjoyed without knowing about all the nods to continuity. All that stuff was just gravy. The fact that the book had mainstream appeal and sold well in bookstores attests to its success.

This type of argument just seems reactionary and moralistic to me. “We are overindulging ourselves!!! and its killing us!!!”, yeah right. The problems of the industry (distribution, pricing, competition for free time, the fact that most consumers see comics as an antiquated and juvenile medium etc.) are really much more complicated.

Good essay, but I disagree with the main premise. MARVELS didn’t start the big trend of the big two rewriting their pasts and cashing in on nostalgia. That was John Byrne’s MAN OF STEEL, which did the same thing 8 years before MARVELS (and, as Michael P pointed out in the very first comment, was really just following the logical endpoint of a trend started by Roy Thomas in INVADERS and ALL-STAR SQUADRON).

C’mon, DC rewrote the histories of Blackhawk, Shade the Changing Man & Brother Power the Geek before Busiek ever became a major infuence. I really don’t see how MARVELS started ANYTHING.

“Look, I am not arguing in favor of one over the other. I like both LOST and SEINFELD. I like both Silver Age Marvel and Silver Age DC stories. Both have their merits. However, the threaded, progressing narrative is not a vehicle to grow an audience.”

However, a threaded narrative means more people will want to buy the show on DVD so they can enjoy the big, continuing story. Last I heard, LOST sells very well on DVD.

Whi is the last great superstar character created by Marvel or DC? Deadpool?

FunkyGreenJerusalem

March 23, 2010 at 5:57 pm

Whi is the last great superstar character created by Marvel or DC? Deadpool?

Is Deadpool a super-star?

All his books were low sellers, and suddenly he’s in everything… I don’t get it.

Busiek using the retcon to put Marvels in 2003, unconscionable thats what’s wrong with comics ;-)

However, a threaded narrative means more people will want to buy the show on DVD so they can enjoy the big, continuing story. Last I heard, LOST sells very well on DVD.

That seems right, but there are a few caveats.

First, those DVDs represent a self-contained, defined slab of story with a beginning, middle and end. Threaded comic narratives that provide the same thing (i.e. FABLES) also sell pretty well in TPB. Second, LOST is working toward a definitive conclusion. It is all supposed to add up to something final. The same thing has been true of most of the hit TV mega series (i.e. THE SOPRANOS) and novels (i.e. Harry Poter). That means a new reader/viewer knows that they are committing to a defined amount of story. Somehow, I don’t think Marvel is going to let Ed Brubaker bring Captain America to an end.

Finally, it seems like TV might be a slightly better medium for long-form, threaded narratives than comics. The simple fact is that actors and directors work a lot faster than comic artists do. They can get a lot more story out in a given month.

Who is the last great superstar character created by Marvel or DC?

Most creators stopped giving their best creations to publishers in the mid-80s. Len Wein was probably the last guy that created a bunch of great stuff he didn’t own.

Re: Roy Thomas

Nah, Roy did a whole different thing that Busiek was doing. He liked bringing back old characters, but he didn’t give a crap about their continuity – He changed costumes, personalities, modernized the basic core concepts, and cheerfully disregarded anything he didn’t feel like using.

Because he assumed that the vast bulk of his eight to 14-ish year old audience would never know. Or care.

And he wasn’t trying to provoke nostalgia. Do eight year olds have nostalgia? “I remember four years old. Those were good times.”

And Roy’s stuff had a totally different tone – Generally much more full-speed damn-the-torpedoes than the relatively quiet and wistful Marvels.

He’s the guy who brought us Conan, for Crom’s sake.

(P.S. “Thomas’s work, however, was never as big a hit as Marvels was. ” No. Conan was one of Marvel’s biggest sellers for a lot of years.)

P.P.S. Every time Burgas talks about comics from before his childhood I get a headache. Even when I agree with the general gist.

Who is the last great superstar character created by Marvel or DC?

Most creators stopped giving their best creations to publishers in the mid-80s. Len Wein was probably the last guy that created a bunch of great stuff he didn’t own.

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons might want to have a word.

Nah, Roy did a whole different thing that Busiek was doing. He liked bringing back old characters, but he didn’t give a crap about their continuity – He changed costumes, personalities, modernized the basic core concepts, and cheerfully disregarded anything he didn’t feel like using.

What about Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in FANTASTIC FOUR #4?

Bringing back a character from the Golden Age who has fallen on hard times (Grim & Gritty!). Adding the idea that his undersea kingdom is Atlantis (Retcon!).

What about AVENGERS #4? It tossed out all the Fifties appearances of Cap in favor of an older version of the character Lee-Kirby preferred. They tossed out a decade of progression!

FunkyGreenJerusalem

March 23, 2010 at 8:23 pm

And Roy’s stuff had a totally different tone – Generally much more full-speed damn-the-torpedoes than the relatively quiet and wistful Marvels.

That’s a dodge of the actual argument – Greg’s not actually blaming Marvels as the chief culprit, he’s talking about the books that keep relying on the past, not how they are paced when they do it.

He’s the guy who brought us Conan, for Crom’s sake.

That’s a total straw-man to the actual argument – yes he did bring in Conan, but on superhero books, he did stories that referenced the past, and reconciled what he saw as mistakes of the past… and heck, mentioning his biggest success as being a character he licensed just highlights how few characters he actually created.

You make very good points, Dean.

By the way, you almost always do.

i would argue that the last great character introduced by marvel or dc was probably jack knight, in 1994.

but i also think a distinction has to be made between a character who was great upon creation (batman, spider-man, john constantine, etc.), and a character who was average/boring upon creation but later made great by a specific writer’s use and/or retcon. wolverine is the perfect example of this… he was a useless one-off character when created by len wein; it was all the work claremont did with him that made him a great character. all of the stuff we now “know” about wolverine wasn’t there in the wein version (healing factor, adamantium laced bones, age unknown, murky past, weapon x program, etc.), it was all added in later by claremont during the byrne x-men run and beyond. characters like animal man, deadpool, moon knight, and emma frost also fit in with this category, and i believe dick grayson and wally west do as well (both were boring until wolfman made them interesting, then dixon and waid–respectively–made them great).

whereas characters like spider-man, batman, constantine, and others are just great characters the way they were created.

John Trumbull, are you suggesting that WATCHMEN counts as a feat of original character creation? Surely you are aware that Moore wanted the series to feature the recently acquired CHARLTON ACTION HEROES, and that it was the DC management that forced Moore to use copycats (E.g., Dr. Manhatten=CAptain Atom, Rorschach=the Question, Nite-Owl=Blue Beetle, Ozymandias=Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt, etc.).

Jack Knight is a great character, but I don’t think he is a superstar (no appearances in other media, not many appearances in other comics, critical darling but his comic didn’t sell that well, etc.).

Watchmen and DKR did more to ruin superhero comics than Busiek ever did.

More than even those works by themselves, the accepted gospel among many a modern comic fan that every comicbook before 1986 was an episode of Super-Friends until Miller and Moore came down from on high.

Now the fandom and industry pats itself on the back for being so sophisticated while it deals in what really amounts to pretentious horror/porn flicks with capes hanging off of them.

I understand you can’t stay in the Silver or Bronze Age forever but I’m reminded of what Ben Parker said in the Spider-Man movie. No not that part about power and responsibility, the part about being careful what you change into.

FGJ But Roy wasn’t trying to play off the audience’s nostalgia – He liked bringing back old characters ’cause he liked bringing back old characters. His characters grew and ESPECIALLY changed (were changed?) like crazy. What Roy did was much, much closer to THIS

“When DC wanted to revive superheroes, they didn’t simply bring the old heroes back, they created new heroes using the old names and pushed on.”

Then Marvels where a lot of the appeal was in seeing events that (much of) the hardcore audience was already familiar with presented in a new light.

I don’t usually read Burgas’ columns because of his highly sarcastic tone- it’s sometimes hard to tell if he’s serious, or half-serious, or just kidding, or actually spousing the OPPOSITE of what he seems to be. However it was the mentioning of Busiek’s name that drew me in, as he is one of my favorite writers. At the least you have to say that Burgas knows how to sell his stuff. ; )

I think he’s being half-serious this time- eg. not that Busiek ruined comics but that Marvels did help usher the nostalgia era. I’d say that no, that was going to happen anyway because of the huge number of writers who just want to revive their youthful comic-reading memories. Not to mention the fact that at least the main characters of a company MUST be kept in “stasis” to be used as multimedia-selling icons.

Besides, a continuity-heavy story, like ANY story, can be entertaining as long as they are written WELL. I’ve read plenty of stories that reference older materials, and I’ve enjoyed them despite my not always knowing what they are alluding to. (In fact, I often get the desire to find out any references I didn’t get by looking out for older comics… which is probably the idea in the first place.) It’s when a story is nothing but references you don’t get but is not interesting *in its own* that “continuity porn” is bad.

Besides, we know this trend isn’t going away any time soon, for the above reasons… so complaining about it is pointless, in the end.

Though it does make for high-traffic columns, eh, Burgas? ; )

The argument against Jack Knight is that he won’t ever be exploited by DC the way all the “big 3″ are.
(at least in theory)
If JK was being used in 10 diff comics, by diff writers/artists, in different styles telling different types of stories then yes he’d be up there w/ Spiderman and the rest.
But JK is a pretty unique creation in that his popularity is directly assosicated w/ his creator, and DC has [some kind] of agreement w/ Robinson to not use him anymore.
Even still, if Len Wein or Keith Giffen were using Knight in their stories, would he cause any kind of an uptick in sales the way putting Batman on the cover does? I doubt it . . .
But then, that goes back to what I wrote before, about dedicating time and energy to creating viable new franchise. If DC wanted to spend 20 more years making Jack Knight into Jack “AWESOME” then well, we’d see one way or the other for sure.

-Aside: I do think Jack Knight is a Great Character, maybe the greatest I’ve read in my life, but its different in that i feel I’m reading James Robinson, not Jack Knight. Not like I would read Keith Giffen/JM DeMatties Justice League.

Sijo: Sarcastic? Me? Okay, so I am occasionally, but usually I’m fairly blatant about it, as sarcasm is so difficult to convey on the Internet. If I’m being sarcastic, you’ll know it.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

March 24, 2010 at 5:09 pm

FGJ But Roy wasn’t trying to play off the audience’s nostalgia – He liked bringing back old characters ’cause he liked bringing back old characters.

I’ll pay that .

Then Marvels where a lot of the appeal was in seeing events that (much of) the hardcore audience was already familiar with presented in a new light.

For me, with Marvels, they could have used any events – it was about the wonder of the superheroes, not that it was specific events being referenced.

Busiek kept that up with Astro City, I just wish more had chased that line than going with bringing back old characters and story lines.

Apart from being a mostly just above average writer Busiek’s fine.
How Joe Quesada ruined Marvel superhero comics? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Michael_Bendis#Marvel_Comics

Don’t agree with that at all.
Even without Marvels those comics would exist today.

Because the big two were running out of ideas AND consequently readers. So they tried out new “old” stuff. (often mixed with modern shock value – see Identity Crisis)

In the end, it all doesn’t matter, as Superhero comics are by and large ruined since the end of the silver age (as all great works are of the revisionist character, and say more about the genre then tell a story)

With notable exceptions, mostly from Morrison.

The revelations of Daredevil: Father don’t lessen the nobility of Matt Murdock’s actions one iota.

I love retcon! I would be like at a party and oh, there’s that f’n skank Kristen. And I would turn to my pal and be like, there’s your girl Kristen. And if this pal was dating a nice girl, he didn’t want people talking about how he got with Kristen, right? So he’d be like, no, I’m retconing that. Then whoever is next to me, I’d be like ‘Yo, Jeff is retconing when he got with Kristen’ and that guy would be like ‘yeah respect Kristen is a skank’, and we’d never talk about it again.

BUT, after Jeff breaks up with this nice girl, he’d be at a party and here’s that Kristen again. But THIS time, Jeff calls dibs on her because he hit it from before. But wait, didn’t Jeff recton that skank? Well, yes and no.

You see, the past has to be tailored to best explain the present. History is convoluted, comic history and our own. So to make life enjoyable and digestible when it gets rough, we have to be malleable in how we remember. It can be as liquid as the future. Sometimes the past is best when it’s totally messed with all the time.

So did Jeff ever get with Kristen? The answer…depends.

This completely Rocked. I will maintain for ever and a day that the best way to Keep readers and some times bring readers aback to comics is to keep going forward. To always move t he lives of the characters to the next level NOSTALGIA IS SUICIDE!!!!!!!!!

Nice try, and you have some valid points, but your evidence is inconsistent. You’re ignoring tons of other nostalgia porn series prior to Busiek (All-Star Squadron anyone?), and pushing other series publication dates (Man Without Fear) post Marvels even though they were published way before.

Anyway, I see nothing wrong with nostalgia stories as long as they’re good (Long Halloween, Johns’ Secret Origins stories). And I would say Alex Ross is much more guilty than Busiek of perpetuating the rose-colored navel gazing that you’re describing (see: everything Ross has done. ever.).

Allow me to politely disagree. Busiek did not ruin comics. In fact, he is exactly the kind of guy who can save them.

While the premise of this post is intriguing, and Marvels WAS transformative, the important thing to recognize is that Busiek is not just a solid author (he is, probably my fav superhero writer) but exactly the kind of writer you want in your serialized sandbox.

The problem isn’t even other authors copying the content of his work.

The problem is that others either fail to recognize what Busiek does so right (it isn’t what you think — I’ll explain below) or choose to ignore it.

Why is Busiek so good? While being nostalgic, he builds things up.

What have other authors done so wrong? While being nostalgic, they blow shit up.

The problem is this: nearly EVERY mainstream comics writer today — Geoff Johns, I’m looking at you — leaves a title in WORSE shape when they found it. Blackest Night — while a fun read — is going to leave Green Lantern floundering for a decade. Not even Geoff Johns can relaunch the Flash after all the revisionist crap that he pulled on the prior series.

In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a single series that survived — at any passable level of quality — after Johns bailed on it. The easy answer is to fault the successors or to say that Geoff Johns is a great writer — who would want to follow him up?

The more telling answer is to see the pattern and blame the perpetrator.

(To be clear, I am enjoying Blackest Night. It’s fun. But it WILL fuck everything up for a decade or more. Also, I love his run on JSA and the Flash — but these are the “least guilty” titles he has worked on, IMO.)

Now I ask you, has Busiek — an equally good writer — ever had this kind of systematic trouble with his predecessors? Remember his recent run on Superman? It didn’t knock your socks off maybe, but can you honestly say that he left it in worse shape? Hell, no! He did lots of lovely things that build toward future books, all while telling the tale of a possible coming apocalypse.

How cool is that?

Now contrast with The Toyman retcon Johns recently did. Sure, it’s nice to tie all those threads together. But will Toyman be a more or less serviceable character in the future? I’d hazard less. Why? Because those dangling threads, picked up an expounded upon by future writers, are how comics move forward.

Geoff Johns and other authors like him tie knots. Busiek braids some more rope.

So get it straight… Busiek may yet SAVE comics.

:)

Um, little tiny nit to pick here. Do you really have to say that people “HATE” Alex Ross? isn’t it more accurate to say that people “HATE” Alex Ross’ ART? or his STYLE?

And those titles you pulled out from the 90′s? Xero? Young Heroes in Love? Xenobrood? Or “The Next” from the 00′s? They didn’t sell because people don’t want to read about the new stuff. There was PLENTY of new stuff selling in higher numbers than the books listed above. I was working in a comic store at the time. People didn’t buy them because, in general, the books weren’t that good. I sampled ALL of them and they were INCREDIBLY easy to put down. Hell, there WERE Batman and Superman books that didn’t sell in big numbers as well.

I think your premise, even in jest, needs a little work. All of the facts to support your hypothesis just aren’t there.

I think “Astro City” makes up for any damage done to the big 2. He’s given us a place to hide from the insanity.

RIM, never thought about it like that but that’s a great point…part of the thing about comic characters is that most are just toys you borrow to play with. You do need to leave them in good condition for the next kid to play with…

Interesting theory…..

This is all a bit silly–in all instances mentioned, the big character-replacing changes came on the heals of low sales. The X-Men could be totally replaced because no one cared about the original X-Men. Kyle Rayner could be Green Lantern because people stopped caring about Hal Jordan, and so on. Aging characters were more an epidemic of an aging audience, alienating new readers and losing the charm the characters had in the beginning. Pinning any of the return to cannon from the late 90s on on Busiek seems outrageous, given how big Batman Year One and Superman Man of Steel were years before.

Mid-thirties: Begin of the Golden Age. The Phantom. Superman. Batman. The Shield. Human Torch. Captain America. Daredevil. Costumed crimefighters, some with superpowers, some without. Most of them rather two-dimensional, as flashy costumes were more important than internal struggles.

Mid-fifties: Begin of the Silver Age. Flash II, Green Lantern II, The Fantastic Four, Avengers and Spider-Man. A lot more emphasis fell on the secret identities of the heroes. Most notably in the case of Spider-Man.

Mid-seventies: Begin of the Dark Age. Wolverine. Punisher. The classic good/evil dichotomy made way for daker, more violent characters with more flexible morals. The existing characters got darker again. We got the Neal Adams run of Batman. Green Lantern/Green Arrow: Hard-travelling Heroes. Watchmen. Dark Knight Returns. Characters like Jean Grey, Barry Allen or Supergirl died. Aquaman grew a beard and had his hand replaced with a hook.

Mid-nineties: Begin of the Retro Age. We revisited the Golden Age. Flashy costumes and no substance were the basic premise for a few of the original Image titles, along with various books by the “Big Two”. Sure, there was a different attitude, still rooted in the Dark Age, but whereas the Punisher still had a basic humanity and a tragedy that motivated him at the core of his character, guys like Cable were a step back to the time before a character had personal problems. He just had to look cool and fight bad guys.
We revisited the Silver Age. Kyle Rayner, Connor Hawke and Ben Reilly were to their predecessors what Barry Allen, Hal Jordan or the Human Torch II were to theirs. They had personal problems just like the characters created in the Silver Age. The Avengers and Justice League went back to classic line-ups that had worked in the past. For a couple of issues, Iron Man went back to his classic armor. Norman Osborn, Hal Jordan and Barry Allen came back from the dead. Spider-Man got retroactively unmarried. We’ve got a whole rainbow of Kryptonite types and a cube-shaped Bizarro World.
We revisisted the Dark Age. Books like Identity Crisis or Civil War made the DC and Marvel universes darker and areas of gray between black and white were explored. Marvel did away with the Comic Code seal of approval. Wolverine joined the Avengers. Magog joined the JSA. This is not a new age replacing the retro age, this is the retro age slowly reaching its final state.

Marvels was influential. But with or without it, the Dark Age was coming at an end. Just like the retro age is coming to an end soon. Superhero comics will be reinvented once again. Iif the pattern continues, by the time we’re zooming around with flying cars and hoverboards, a new age will present itself. Where it will take us? What masterpieces will await us? Which new characters will excite us? I can’t wait to find out.

Daryll,

Thanks. :)

I’d also like to say that this article — whether correctly premised or not — has sparked a bunch of interesting observations from a bunch of observant posters.

Fun times.

And Michael, I agree that the current “phase” is coming to an end. I think digital distro — format often alters media — will usher in a new era. What that means…? Who knows? Not me!

What a ridiculous notion. That’s like blaming Orson Welles for making movies that people have to live up to because he reminds people how great movies can be. Don’t you have anything better to write about? How about blaming writers for not thinking outside of the proverbial box that Busiek mastered instead of pointing to him and saying, “well, he did it soooo well, others have to copy from him.” Talk about immature.

I agree with some of the small points (DC have shitted on the new generation of legacy heroes unnecessarily). I think it is stupid to build your brand on nostalgia, but I’m not ready to lay it at poor Busiek’s feet.

Although actually, I think there’s an essay to be written about how Doug Moench and MASTER OF KUNG FU are responsible for the state of comics today. Sophisticated storytelling, strong cinematic influence, extended stories aimed at adults, first person narrative — the hallmarks of the modern mainstream comic can be found there, in a book that struggled to survive, sales-wise. And now its influence can be seen everywhere, and the whole industry’s been struggling to survive. Coincidence…or SOMETHING MORE?!

kdb

__________________________________________

That’s a very good point Kurt. I wouldn’t mind reading either an essay or an article that discusses this very topic.

So long as we’re poking holes at Burgas’ thesis, what about Alan Moore’s 1963 which was an in-your-face attempt to provoke nostalgia among readers?

This article reminded me of a CSN review of Nicieza & Rude’s Spider-Man:Lifeline mini-series. The reviewer opined that they’d rather have read a retelling of Spider-Man’s origin drawn by Rude. This absolutely infuriated me; sure, why have new stories when we can retell the same old ones? “You’ve seen Spider-Man’s origin before, but this time…it’s drawn by Steve Rude!” With the trade paperback market being what it is today, there isn’t as strong a need for retellings, not when you can catch up on the characters’ backstories with ease. What’s needed are strong stories that attempt to cover new ground.

Well, all I have to say is this: I have no problem with many comics now. It’s a living, breathing mythology. It might be completely different in two years. The fun part is seeing where it’s going to go.

It doesn’t matter if a character’s from 1945 or 1995, if they’re interesting, they’re interesting, and I’d rather read more about them then have them killed off.

One thing I find fascinating is the idea that comics would completely cycle through it’s audience and have a new one every four or five years. It makes a lot of sense. Why would anyone who could drive a car and had discovered girls (or boys) what to still read comics?

That logic has been completely overturned and I think there’s two ways of attacking the new lifetime reader’s wallet: 1. Give them something new or they’ll get bored. 2. Give them what we already know they like.

I think, Greg, that you have a very good argument in here somewhere, but you chose to throw it upon the Kurt Busiek and MARVELS. I think you’ve got to look back through the years prior to MARVELS to give you better evidence of what you’re trying to say. The argument that the shrinking fanbase of comics is because of reliance of the Big 2 upon nostalgia for sales is a good one. But it didn’t start with MARVELS.

It also hurts that most the conversation here has devolved into A) whether the grim n gritty style of comics is to blame for a shrinking fan base or B) whether the “progression” or “evolution” of characters is what it takes to bring people back or C) whether the ret-con is necessary, relevant or even fun storytelling device. None of these arguments can answer their inherent problems, since the foundation is flawed.

Mostly, just read what Dean Hacker wrote. He seems to be spot-on. LOL

We need to remember that comics went through some pretty rough times in the late 80s to early 90s that changed the industry quite a bit, and had an effect on what writers and artists could and couldn’t produce at that point in time, whether they had a MARVELS hatching in their brains or not

Also, we need to remember that comics are now changing with the times. The last decade has brought the most change EVER to the industry. The TPB and Film/TV market is the future of where the Big 2 are heading. They are both member of larger corporate entities who do not view comic book characters as comic book characters….they are trademarks– essentially registered ideas that they can exploit into any media necessary. What we’ve been seeing over the last decade is a change in talent and output to reflect a wider (American) audience.

Now whether that’s good or bad to our collective childhood hobby remains to be seen.

But what can cure all these ills? Personally, I think something a bit more in the vein of Morrison and Jones’ MARVEL BOY from Marvel Knights back in the late 90s is what might just be what people want. They want something new that reminds them of something old. Not something old, polished and shiny. Not something new, exactly modeled after something old. (And I’m not just waxing poetic on Morrison, he’s been EXTREMELY hit-or-miss in the last decade) But what MARVEL BOY accomplished was a cinematic artistic experience deeply influenced by classic comic-book storytelling properties, that actually delivered in its plot’s episodic denouement. (If you’ll look closely…MARVELS was a precursor to this, and its one of the main reasons MARVELS remains a popular and enduring read.) Probably the thing that I’ve read recently that even comes close to capturing what I’m talking about is JONAH HEX or IMMORTAL IRON FIST.

And…if I may taunt the tiger here…actually, Hal Jordan’s graying hair did not make sense within the storytelling narrative. I remember being really, really young and wondering why Hal looked so old compared to Batman or Superman, especially since most the stories that would have rendered Hal old (like those great Denny O’Neil stories with Green Arrow) were ret-conned out by various Crisis.

>> That logic has been completely overturned and I think there’s two ways of attacking the new lifetime reader’s wallet: 1. Give them something new or they’ll get bored. 2. Give them what we already know they like. >>

And book publishers know that the answer to those two options is not to pick one, but to pick both. Movie and TV producers tend to see-saw more toward the second choice, but whenever someone comes up with something new that work, they stampede to follow on the theory that more of what people like is good, even if they didn’t know they liked it until recently.

But #1 supplies the leading edge, while #2 satisfies audiences looking for comfort. Just do #1 and you’ll go broke when you guess wrong. Just do #2 and your audience will die off, unless someone else is creating a new audience for you.

kdb

Interesting points that Greg Burgas raises on this topic. Will say, though, that to think Roy Thomas’ work didn’t make as great an impact on comics as the MARVELS mini-series is, well, flawed thinking.

For one, Greg, you might go back and read the first 100 or so issues of AVENGERS to see how Thomas developed the series from where Stan left off, from writing the title and then later editing the title. Lots of things happened in his run that helped to define the book for decades and influence writers who came afterwards. It’s a good read and well worth your time.

And for that matter, I sincerely doubt the X-MEN would have been as successful as they’ve been without Thomas’ guiding hand on the classic team in the early days. Then, there’s the impact he made as Marvel’s Editor-In-Chief on the All-New, All-Different revamp discussed in several articles over the years. The tone that Chris Claremont developed on the X-MEN title over his 17-year tenure owes a great deal to the trail Roy Thomas blazed before him.

Newer readers tend to forget Roy did more than write CONAN. But his involvement in that title alone, and the major impact it made on the industry, makes that long shadow understandable.

And don’t get me started on that whole Spider-Man/Devil deal. It was Mary Jane, dude. Seriously!

“First of all, I haven’t read much of his stuff….Thomas’s work, however, was never as big a hit as Marvels was.”

No offense, but that first sentence ought to have made you rethink the conclusion you made in the second. Far more people have read Roy Thomas’ work than Kurt’s, if for no other reason than more people were reading comics when Roy was in his heyday (I happen to think both writers are great, however). And that’s putting aside the fact that Roy had seminal and critically acclaimed runs on titles including Avengers, Conan, and many more.

I get some of the points, but I thought retconning is largely employed TO attract new readers who aren’t familiar with origins and continuity, not to appeal to nostalgia of older readers. Quite frankly, I don’t get nostalgic for retcons, they just piss me off.

Quite the eye-opener.

I would argue that the problem is not necessarily with stories that revisit the past, but with stories that rewrite the past in order to pander to nostalgia as opposed to tell the best-story possible, the latter of which is what Marvels and Avengers Forever did.

Consider JLA Year One, Batgirl Year One, Nightwing Year One, and JLA Incarnations for example, just to name a few.

These projects revisited those characters’ early years following the revisions made to their origins with Criss on Infinite Earths (i.e. Black Canary as a founding member of the JLA in JLA YO, the Kryptonian Nightwing originating in the Byrne version of Krypton from Man of Steel in Nightwing YO, Barbara Gordon is Jim’s niece and not his daughter in Batgirl YO, and, in Incarnations, Crisis is depicted as a fight between the matter and anti-matter universe without including the multiverse).

The problem arrises when the writer brings nostalgia or hatred into the project, which is when we end up with crap like Superman: Birthright, Action Comics Annual 10, Action Comics 850, and Superman Secret Origin, which instead of trying to tell the best Superman story possible only muddle up the origin to the point that, as of today, Superman is a 35 year old man who wears clothes designed after what a 12 year old Kryptonian child wore on Krypton just so that Superboy would be brought back into continuity.

Whereas Avengers Forever and Marvels were great stories that did the best they could to showcase the characters in them in the best possible light and tell great stories, other projects that are driven by nostalgia and hatred end up doing the complete opposite.

The notion of telling stories set in the past is not what is at fault here, it is the bias that the writer brings to the project that is the problem.

How Kurt Busiek (Wittingly) Ruined This Article Thread!
He posted three times – first with humor, then with fact and finally with logic.

Also, I don’t see how nostalgia is a problem, if it is defined and executed as celebration of a time period.

I don’t think anyone had any complaints that Morrison borrowed for his All-Star Superman, technique, most concepts and themes from Weisinger’s Silver Age Superman.

Why? Because clearly it is the creative highpoint of Superman’s fictional career. (see also sales) And the commerical and critical success of All-Star Superman, reflect that in our own day and age.

Morrison’s ASS is far from being a creative high point. Saying that is an insult to the much better Superman stories of the last 25 years.

Is it the best Silver Age story ever told? Maybe, but it doesn’t come close to being compared to other stories done in the 80s and 90s.

As far as “Death of Superman” stories go, ASS falls short to much better versions of that plot.

Really interesting article. I haven’t gone through all the comments yet, but I’d like to throw in one observation: I did not read comics in the 1990s, so I completely missed “Marvels” (I may now have to pick it up). My point is this: if the big companies are tapping into the “nostalgia” market and constantly remaking and retconning events in their characters’ pasts, doesn’t that run the risk/have the potential of destroying exactly what the “nostalgic” target audience liked in the first place? That is, if I look back fondly on a particular story and a new writer/artist comes along and does something to that story that ruins it for me, won’t I be more inclined to get angry and resentful than feel my nostalgia is satisfied? One of the best examples I can think of for this is the “Gwen Stacy affair with Norman Osborn” thing. This did not really bother me, and I thought it fit into established continuity fairly well. However, it drove many people absolutely crazy.

Anyway, fascinating article with some really interesting points.

It’s very true that new characters’ exposure are very limited to give way to classic heroes. I like Kyle Rayner, Nate Grey and Genis Vell, and I’m always disappointed I don’t get to see them often. As for retconning stories, I think these are a wasye of time. The only one that was significant was Hal Jordan’s recent Secret Origins story, which tied up with Blackest Night.

I’m not sure if I totally agree that Marvels all by itself ruined Marvel and DC, but I do think that it definitely had a part in it. One of the things that I think is amusing as I sit here and read the comments, is that there is a lot of complaining about the retcons and such yet no one is really talking about the way to stop this insanity.. Now, personally, I don’t agree with the changes that have been going on. Do I think that Barry Allen should be back? Hell no. He died a hero’s death and Wally did a great job of filling his shoes and becoming a greater hero than Barry ever was. Wally had even become an integral part of the Justice League in the media as well. Now, with the return of Barry, he will be relegated to a second tier level which is completely unfair to his character development and the fans that have followed him. If anything, Wally should be teaching Barry. Should Hal Jordan be back, Hell no. Should Marvel have destroyed the Peter/Mary marriage the way they did? Hell no. In fact, that act by Marvel was the last straw for me and I have not picked up a Marvel book since then. Have I missed some potentially great stories since then? Maybe. However, I’m okay with that. Because to me the best way to really take a stand and to stop this insanity is not by complaining but letting my wallet do it. Stop buying the books if you don’t like them. Pretty simple solution. As Charles Highway said above “If you really want DC and Marvel to get over the past and stop putting out the same books every year, stop buying them.”. He is completely right. When i quit Marvel I began exploring some other independent books and found that those stories were better than most of the stuff that Marvel was putting out and they also are allowing the characters to truly grow and learn from their experiences instead of retconning things that they don’t like. I have been a comics fan for about 30 years and I’ve grown very tired of the same stuff from both Marvel and DC. Let’s kill a popular character and then bring him back to life a year or two later. Come on. That is a slap in the face of all readers intelligence and honestly if you as a writer can’t think of a better storyline that doesn’t include killing a character and then bring them back, then you shouldn’t be writing. There are plenty of great stories that can be told without having to go to such extremes. While I think that Geoff Johns does have the ability to write great stories, him bringing back all of the Silver Age characters (which I did grow up with as well) and ignoring the characters that have been developed since has made me decide to drop DC as well. That doesn’t mean that everyone else has to follow my lead, but I’m deciding to let my wallet speak for itself. I’ll be glad to give my money to companies like Image who allow their characters to grow properly and take the reader on a true adventure.

Marvel needs to revisit the past once more to restore the Spider-man continuity, undoing the disgraceful deal with the devil and Norman Gwen romance.

Actually, it’s all Frank Miller and the goddamn Batmans’ fault (obviously). Between DKR and YEAR ONE, Miller wrote some damn fine bookends for one of the best characters ever created. YEAR ONE in particular, kicked off all the navel gazing in earnest. it was so popular that DC started a little book called LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT, which was basically ret-conning on a month to month basis.

DC was basically going back and “filling in the blanks” of the “early years” of a character they had just re-booted 3 or 4 years ago. never mind the fact that YEAR ONE wasn’t a “hard” re-boot of the same nature that Brynes’ MAN OF STEEL was, in that YO did NOT, technically speaking, wipe out Batman golden or silver age history. right there, we went from “nostalgia porn” to full blown “continuity orgy.”

This was up a week or so ago. What’s it doing back in the CBR headlines????

Don’t blame Busiek, blame all the inferior writers after him.

Gentlemen, let me remind you:

They are all imaginary stories.

>Don’t blame Busiek, blame all the inferior writers after him.

I don’t think that the author really means to blame Busiek for the subpar stories that followed. He just pinpointed Marvels as the root of the problem and is blaming Busiek in jest for introducing the particular plot device of telling stories set in the past.

someone get a copy of this to Quesada stat!

(or at least frame a copy for me)

captainamerica4

March 28, 2010 at 3:55 pm

Whether it was Busik or Roy Thomas it was bound to happen with the heroes of the 60′s making it as long as they have. Great article!

but that’s no longer true, as fans stick with comics as they get older and older and remember precisely which nipple Ogre-Man lost in his fight with The Tabloid! in 1977.

Actually Ogre-man lost his nipple against Mammary Master in 1976

Also, I don’t see how nostalgia is a problem, if it is defined and executed as celebration of a time period.

I don’t think anyone had any complaints that Morrison borrowed for his All-Star Superman, technique, most concepts and themes from Weisinger’s Silver Age Superman.

Well, there’s the constant – and correct – complaints that this is completely wrong. Thematically, it’s 100% Bronze Age, mostly Elliot S! Maggin.

John Trumbull, are you suggesting that WATCHMEN counts as a feat of original character creation? Surely you are aware that Moore wanted the series to feature the recently acquired CHARLTON ACTION HEROES, and that it was the DC management that forced Moore to use copycats (E.g., Dr. Manhatten=CAptain Atom, Rorschach=the Question, Nite-Owl=Blue Beetle, Ozymandias=Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt, etc.).,

I’m well aware of the initial inspiration for the characters, but they fact remains that they were original creations of Moore & Gibbons. Dr. Manhattan is more than Captain Atom with the serial numbers filed off.

Dr. Manhattan is more like Captain Atom interpreted as Gold Key’s Dr. Solar, which is a scientist that, like Manhattan, became an energy being after he suffered an accident.

Well, there’s the constant – and correct – complaints that this is completely wrong. Thematically, it’s 100% Bronze Age, mostly Elliot S! Maggin.

I guess that is what bugs me about this argument. There seems to be an impression that Kurt Busiek, Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Alex Ross and a young Geoff Johns all got to together sometime in the mid-90s for a meeting in Union Terminal in Cincinnati, OH. After a few Waid’s special “Gingold cocktails”, Busiek apparently shouted “Gentlemen! To the Silver Age!” and helpless comic fans have been forced the shiver under to their retro tyranny ever since. Variations on this conspiracy theory sometimes involve Jeph Loeb, Dan DiDio, Joe Quesada and/or personalized logo T-Shirts.

Frankly, I am not buying it.

The truth of the matter is that like every artist in every medium ever, comic creators have influences. Almost by definition, influences are in the past. But no one gripes about Johns debt to, say, the blockbuster movies of the ’70s and ’80, which is every bit as apparent in his work as his love for the Super Friends. Read an interview with Johns and it is not like he is gushing about Gardner Fox, Bob Kaninger and John Broome. Grant Morrison has pretty explicitly said those folks are not among his primary influences. With regard to MARVELS, it owes more its feeling of following an interested observer through a complicated world to SHAMPOO than anything Stan Lee wrote.

That doesn’t mean that comics are not nearing some sort of crisis. They probably are. I just think Greg has confused caused and effect. The drivers are customer demographics, the channel of distribution and competition from other forms of entertainment. MARVELS is just something cool that those factors allowed to be published.

Interesting article. I still blame Roy Thomas for nostalgia porn – but I like my comics to have some backstory.

One minor point about Spidey’s mask – there was at least one Lee-Ditko pin-up page in an early issue of Amazing Spider-Man that stated the mask’s eyes were reflective, flexible one-way mirrors.

Peter Parker could see out of the mask when he was waring it, but no one could see his eyes or skin through the mask.

The mirrored eye effect is difficult to draw, and few artists have every really tried to do it. Colorists just leave the spider eyes white.

Yes, Spider-Man wears is a homemade costume – but Peter made his own webshooters and utility belt, too. That’s just how a recently unemployed super-geek rolls.

In the Sony movies, Sam Raimi followed the same convention that comic artists used and went with neutral colored spider eyes on the mask, because mirrored spider eyes would reflect the movie camera.

Dean:

Accordng to a conmemorative issue of CSN that came out during The Kingdom, the people at the meeting to revive the Silver Age were Mark Waid, Dan Raspler, Grant Morrison, and Tom Peyer, who in two days ploted how to undo everything DC had done with Crisis and revive the 60s with Hypertime.

That’s when the start of DC’s backwards motion towards the 60′s began.

>> With regard to MARVELS, it owes more its feeling of following an interested observer through a complicated world to SHAMPOO than anything Stan Lee wrote. >>

Having never seen SHAMPOO, I don’t think so.

A lot of Phil Sheldon was inspired by the novels of Neil Shute, which tend to be narrated by detached observers, but generally not direct observers like Phil. I can’t recall if there was a specific influence for Phil as observer-who-is-present-for-events-but-reacts-to-them-rather-than-participating, but there may not have been. It may have just come out of story needs and batting ideas back and forth.

The content of MARVELS draws on Marvel history. The style of it doesn’t, though. For that, I was bringing in influences from outside comics — Nevil Shute, Lawrence Block, Dick Francis — with a little narrative influence from Frank Miller in DAREDEVIL: BORN AGAIN in some of the way the captions were used.

kdb

I don’t think it would be all that bad if the big superhero mega universes diminished in importance. I think the whole concept of never aging characters that maintain a corporate mandated status quo holds the medium back. All of the artistic problems in company owned comics stem from the fact that a story has a beginning middle and end, but mainstream company owned superhero comics have a beginning and an endless middle.

Of course they have to go back and do the beginning again, it’s the only thing they have besides the hundred issue ever expanding middle. Of course they have to do big crossovers, and change the status quo, it’s the only way to give the illusion of an ending. And ultimately, stories without one are unsatisfying.

There are some (though few) excellent company owned books right now, and certain writers like Christos Gage can tell whole beginning middle and end stories in this format (Johnny Guitar in “Avengers the Initiative is brilliant, but of course, uses D list characters he has a free hand with so it sort proves the point.

In general however, this longtime reader gets much, much more satisfaction from Walking Dead, Invincible, Ex Machina, Fables, Jack of Fables, The Unwritten, Queen and Country, and Incognito than I have from any mainstream corporate work for hire property. To me, the future of comics is in creator controlled stories that are free to surprise, change on a dime, and most importantly of all, free to END, thus providing the satisfaction that one seeks in a story to begin with.

John Roy,

The problem tends to rest on the editors and writers, not necessarily the characters or their nature as “corporate characters”.

Consider Dick Grayson in the 70s going from Robin to Nightwing, or the multiple couples in the Superman comics that got married and had children in the 90s, from Lana and Pete with Clark Ross, to Lucy and Ron with Christopher, to even Lex and the Contessa with Lena.

The characters’ nature as “corporate characters” didn’t stop the writers and editors in those decades from making these radical changes.

The only reason why those couples in the Superman comics are either no longer married or no longer portrayed as being married, and their children have vanished into limbo, is because different editors and different writers whose work tends to be beholden to the 60s don’t accept those changes in their world.

If instead of hiring writers who feel beholden to the 60s DC and Marvel hired more forward-thinking creators, then we might see more changes along the lines of Dick’s evolution and the paring off and reproduction of those couples.

Sorry, forgot to add Astro City, by the man this article discussed. Eagle and the Mountain is one of the best superhero stories I’ve ever read, and I’d never laid eyes on either character before in my life. I really wish that the older audience (who cares if a kid likes Hulk? He should! I would have if I was nine!) would do more to support the groundbreaking work being done in creator owned comics. Even if they stick with superheroes. I’m not asking everyone to suddenly drop Flash for Scott Pilgrim and drop Green Lantern for the works of Harvey Pekar. Even if every superhero fan just dropped their least favorite Big Two Universe book and tried out the most intriguing creator controlled (I don’t care that Icon or Vertigo are company owned, I’m talking about the artistic philosophies of creator controlled works) book on the stands that they don’t buy. I think this would make for a more satisfied reader base and healthier industry moving in the right creative direction.

Good point, Michael. But I would like to caution that they can do all the forward thinking they want, they can evolve Dick all they want, but they will still run in to the wall of the hard cap on Bruce and Clark’s ages at 35. It’s like little Franklin can grow up to a point, but time hits a wall in the Big Two that universe history is constantly compressing towards as it shoves up against it. Tony Stark’s life gets more and more event filled as his 50 year publishing history keeps getting squeezed into his MAXIMUM career span of about 15 years. It starts to be unworkable. So Robin can become Nightwing and Nightwing can become… a slightly older Nightwing, but unless you’re prepared for 50 year old Bruce, you don’t really have a progression. So you’re screwed. I really do think the problem is bigger than nostalgia, it’s the forced static nature of the universe.

It’s interesting that we mention Busiek, because in his Astro City, realistic aging is one of the first changes he made when it was his turn to tell superhero stories HIS way, without the influence of the Big Two’s cryogenic freezing of character progression.

>> It’s interesting that we mention Busiek, because in his Astro City, realistic aging is one of the first changes he made when it was his turn to tell superhero stories HIS way, without the influence of the Big Two’s cryogenic freezing of character progression.>>

Not so much “his way” as “the way I chose for that particular series.” I think character aging has advantages and disadvantages, and there are many ways to handle it. In another series that characters might be as unaging as Nero Wolfe, in a third, somewhere in between.

The advantage of creator control is that you get to choose rather than having someone else choose for you.

kdb

If you look at Stan Lee’s work on F4, you’ll see a clear progression and ageing of the characters. We saw Reed and Sue goe from a boyfriend and girlfriend to husband and wife to mother and father. We saw Franklin be born and grow up into a five year old child.

It wasn’t until Lee left, or around there, that time became static for the F4 and the DC Universe at large.

I see Franklin at Marvel and Liam Harper at DC as visual representations of DC’s static timeline.

There is nothing inherently wrong or detrimental about characters ageing in comics.

Look at the original Teen Titans and X-Men. They are all adults who have gone through different periods of growth in their arcs, like Donna Troy getting married and having a child. Same for Wally West, Aqualad at DC and Scott Summers and other X-Men at Marvel.

Some of these characters are better off from having grown up than they were as teenagers.

Overall, I would argue that characters at DC and Marvel do grow old, with the exception of a few like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman (even Peter Parker grew up, got married, and had a kid. The only reason that was undone was due to fanboy nostalgia for the 60s).

What we need is writers who’ll take a grander look at the big picture, like for instance take notice at the notion that Wonder Woman is immortal and doesn’t necessarily have to age (a notion that was apparent in the Lynda Carter TV show, in which Diana was active in the 50s and 70s without ageing a day), while Superman will eventually stop ageing the longer her absorbs solar energy into his cells.

Batman could stop ageing at anytime, all he has to do is take a dip in the Lazarus Pit.

It’s really a matter of being creative instead of beholden to the past.

DC and Marvel needs to hire creative people who can come up with inspired takes on the characters, not people who are beholden to the past and will dismiss anything that doesn’t fit with an old interpretation of the characters.

@ Kurt Busiek:

I stand corrected.

Although, you really should see SHAMPOO. Hal Ashby, Robert Towne and Warren Beatty making a movie about the late-60s Malibu crowd. It is a bit like Roy Harper, Dick Grayson and Wally West making a movie about the JLA.

That should say 40s and 70s.

In regards to Batman, I remember a few years ago I was having this debate with a friend and the notion came up that it doesn’t really matter whether Batman ages or not as, even if he were 70, he could still kick ass.

Look at Jack Lalanne

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_lalane#Timeline:_Jack_LaLanne.27s_feats

I’m a big admirer of Robert Towne, so I’m sure I’ll see it eventually.

Roy, Dick and Wally making a movie about the JLA would be a lot of fun. I’ve played with the idea of doing a superhero version of “Wasn’t That A Time,” but haven’t quite found the right center to it yet. Maybe someday.

kdb

@ Kurt Busiek:

That sounds amazing. I love superhero stories that set in the appropriate period for the character. There are lot of wonderful characters that seem like time traveler when they turn up in stories set in the present day.

I liked the article, but I think you’re off-base in terms of the nostalgia argument being laid at Busiek’s feet. In fact, I would’ve been more comfortable with the article had it not laid blame at anyone’s feet, as I think there’s enough to go around between publishers, writers, fans and the ‘business folk’ who crunch the numbers.

The problem is as stated, people want “their” heroes to come back. But there’s no reason for them to be put away necessarily, that was the beauty of the multiverse in DC before Crisis “cleaned” it up. You had separate universes for separate heroic ages. Of course, naming one “Earth-One” was kind of a stop to further expansion, but I’m sure no one thought ahead.

Wouldn’t it be nice, instead of producing an “Earth-One” graphic novel for Superman and Batman, as an example, if they did something more along the lines of a “Earth-Legacy” GN which talks about retirement of the old heroes and the hero (or heroes!) who succeed them. One of the issues with modern heroes as a narrative is that it never ends. I for one would be fascinated to read an 8-page backup in Batman about a Bruce Wayne who is struggling between retirement and return while Dick wears the cowl (then again, I’d be happier if Batman was given to Tim and let Dick continue to be Nightwing, but …)

As far as the issue with new characters, I always liked Kyle better than Hal (though I always liked Hal better than John or Guy) because I could identify him. They really did a good job in creating a world for Kyle which is all but lost. They did a similar thing with Wally when he took over as Flash, giving him an all-new supporting cast and a place to live, tying in to some old threads but trying to forge ahead at the same time. On this subject, I wish Connor, Wally and Kyle were still somehow active and grouped …

No one likes seeing “their” heroes replaced, but I’d rather “my” heroes be replaced and the originals left intact in their own world, than to have to stand by year after year after year of retconning to make them more “relevant,” shredding, reattaching, and reconfiguring their histories continuously. The most unforgivable thing about the Big Two is that they only exist in the “now,” shuffling past and future around as they see fit to continue to write the same stories with more modern conventions about characters who have EARNED their rest, EARNED the right to stand on solid background and look into a certain, if grim future.

Wow, these comments were way more entertaining than the article (And no, that’s not a slam). :)

Oh, and while I haven’t read Marvel’s, I did read and love Avengers Forever. I thought it was a great story that was almost impossible to write. I also think that some peoples definition of a retcon is a little mis-construde. To me, a retcon is when something that is considered canon, is rewritten in an entirely different manner. For instance, Wolverine’s “bone claws”. In my opinion, not a retcon. It can be explained that it was just never known because he had never been without his adamantium before that point. Until Origins, we had never seen Wolverine as a child before. I personally don’t care for retcons, but I think only a change of origin or something like that should be considered one.

“Well, there’s the constant – and correct – complaints that this is completely wrong. Thematically, it’s 100% Bronze Age, mostly Elliot S! Maggin.”

Huh? You might need to read a few silver age yourself. Cross dressing Olsen, Hercules and Samson, Superman’s imminent death, Bizzaro World – I could go on for pages. All Star Superman would probably be like 3 issues long if it weren’t for the silver age influences.

“The origin stories of the heroes were good enough. DC, in fact, decided that their universe had become too convoluted, and instead of trying to go back and fix everything, they simply destroyed the entire thing.”

Not quite! Let’s not forget that quite a few DC characters’ histories remained virtually identical post-Crisis, perhaps due to the same nostalgia you speak of. Or maybe DC realized certain stories didn’t need to be erased. Hal and Ollie’s “Hard-Traveling Heroes” days will always be a part of their history, you know?

Personally, I don’t think “nostalgia” ruined superhero comics, or at least not entirely. Financially, comics have certainly taken a downturn over the years, but probably for other reasons. One could blame the X-Teams and Spider-Man, whose comics became increasingly labyrinthian as the ’90s progressed. Or maybe the fall began with the end of the X-Men and Spider-Man animated series, which removed the heroes from the public eye. Perhaps it was the fault of the series that came afterwards, which did not evoke the “spirit” of the comics nearly as much as the 90s shows did? Or could it have been the X-Office’s failure to make its main titles reflect the tone, look and accessibility of the X-Men film when it came out? Not entirely its fault, since it couldn’t have possibly predicted the movie’s success ahead of time.

Perhaps the decrease in comics readership had nothing to do with the X-Men or nostalgia at all. It could have been the speculator boom and crash, which led to Marvel’s near-financial ruin. Or maybe it was the Jemas/Quesada era, which threw out a lot of That Which Came Before and alienated many existing fans in the process (let’s not forget that they weren’t always very nice towards these fans, either). I obviously mention Marvel a lot, but that’s only because Marvel and DC are so closely intertwined, and the X-Men dominated the sales charts for a long, long time. Perhaps both companies just started catering towards too old an audience. Or maybe kids just got a bigger kick out of movies, TV and video games, with their moving pictures and audible sounds.

So, I don’t think nostalgia has ruined superhero comics on a financial level. But can it do so on a creative level? Sure. You’re right when it comes to Spider-Man, who now must remain perpetually unmarried and thus unable to grow beyond a certain point. Ditto the X-Men, who have been swimming in the nostalgia pool since they took off those leather jackets and put on the colorful costumes again.

However, not every nostalgic thing in comics has led to financial or creative ruin. Let’s face it, Hal Jordan’s return has been enormously successful, and the very same thing could happen with Barry Allen. And even though the X-Men is no longer Marvel’s top franchise, the nostalgic approach certainly worked well for Whedon’s run, didn’t it? However, they do bring up the question, “what next?” Do Hal’s and Barry’s returns effectively close the door on replacements? Is that a bad thing? Can the X-Men ever go back to wearing more functional uniforms without it feeling like a retread?

Who knows. Perhaps forward-thinking itself led to the current wave of nostalgia in comics. I think back to Marvel’s experimental period in the early 2000s, where Jemas, Quesada and the gang were trying anything and everything to see what would stick. Bye-bye, X-Men costumes, hello leather; sayonara, apolitical Cap, bonjourno, right-wing Ultimate Cap and left-wing Marvel Knights Cap. While some of these experiments were successes, I’m sure a certain section of pros and fandom pined for the traditions of old. So eventually, the pendulum moved away from experimentation and swung to the side of nostalgia.

“The obsession with “filling in” parts of the pasts of these characters has effectively cut off any growth they might have had, and superhero comics have become more and more static as a result.”

Not so. Much as retcons can drive me crazy, writers usually retcon the past specifically so characters can undergo certain changes in the present. When Dr. Light’s rape of Sue Dibny was retconned into continuity, it completely changed the foul doctor’s “base” characterization.

In fact, we can trace the effect retroactive continuity has had on characters’ present growth even further back in time. Let’s not forget that Frank Miller’s work on Daredevil introduced four major retcons that changed Matt Murdock as a character. Miller’s first big retcon was making Elektra Matt’s college sweetheart, which gave their first “costumed” meetings a stronger resonance than it would have otherwise. Next was the revelation that Stick had trained Matt how to fight and how to develop his famous “radar sense” (Master Izo is the most recent revisit of that particular retcon). Then there was the big revelation at the end of Miller’s original run, where Matt remembered his father had hit him as a child. Finally, in “Born Again,” Miller had Matt discover that his mother was still alive and had become a nun, strengthening the presence of Catholicism in Matt’s life. All four of these retcons changed the character significantly after they were introduced, so I’m not sure your theory that retcons “cut off any growth [superheroes] might have had” holds up in all cases.

“The lesson that Marvel and DC took from Marvels was that readers were hankering for stories set in the old days because they themselves were getting older. So the idea of going back and tinkering with origins and older stories that, frankly, didn’t need to be tinkered with became more attractive.”

But only if that tinkering of the past ties into the present, as I think George G was saying earlier. Let’s face it, X-Men: The Hidden Years and X-Men: Children of the Atom weren’t exactly huge sellers. How many people bought the more recent Spider-Man: With Great Power mini-series by Dave Lapham and Tony Harris? Obviously, Wolverine’s Origins mini-series and Origin ongoing were much more successful than these three series, but there are three big reasons for that. One is that Wolverine is extraordinary popular. Two, writers have nearly ALWAYS placed great attention to his mysterious origins, which makes uncovering them that much more alluring. Three, both series affected the present. Origins gave Wolverine a name, Origin gave him an incredibly messed-up family. Much as I’m not terribly thrilled with the whole Daken/Romulus/etc. thing, it certainly worked from a sales perspective, didn’t it?

“Characters that occasionally changed and struck out on their own (Scott Summers leaving the X-Men after Jean Grey died, for instance) are now locked into their positions, calcified and stagnant.”

Although Scott is dating Emma Frost right now. Also, the Scott Summers of today has no problem ordering people’s deaths, which is a far cry from the Scott Summers who has been around for most of the X-Men’s history.

Let’s see what other people said…

Emílio Baraçal: “If Busiek created a monster, it´s name is Jeph Loeb. He brought back Krypto and all colors kryptonite has. He brought back all stupidities from the 40s and 50s. These things worked very well in the very past, with that specific readers, not nowadays. ”

That old stuff had been creeping back in for a while now. Supergirl came back during Byrne’s run, Kandor returned during “The Trial of Superman,” etc. Thing is, their reintroductions were more convoluted than the return of Krypto and the other kryptonites. Well, at least before the “Return to Krypton II,” Superman: Birthright, “One Year Later” and Superman: Secret Origin retcons.

William George: “This would go a long way to explain the current over-use of Deadpool.”

I wouldn’t say that– strange as this may sound, Deadpool was probably ahead of his time. Comics were a lot less “meta” in the 90s and very concerned with their own mythologies (X-Men in particular), so to have a character constantly poke fun at these mythologies was something of a rarity during that period.

AJ: Shakespeare had five-act plays, not three.

Good catch!

Kudos to Jacob T. Levy and Dean Hacker for their great posts, by the way. Sorry for not using the “@username” thing, I’m not a big fan and wanted to make clear which posts/comments I was referring to.

I very rarely ever chime in, but i thought this was a very well written column that brought up some interesting points. Writing comics and readers expectations of them have really changed over the years. While I do think the use of nostalgia is over run in comics right now, especially in DC, the real culprit is motion pictures. No matter what companies decide to do with a character, the film potentials outweigh whatever choices they make.

Let’s look at DC for example, a company trying very hard to get it’s motion picture department to the level of success that Marvel has.
Batman- Despite the popularity and acceptance of teh current story arc, the majoirty of teh world knows that Bruce Wayne is Batman, and having anyone else under the cowl as the character is going into a major motion picture makes no sense.
Green Lantern- in my mind, the success of this film is more important than a new Superman or Batman. You can’t do Kyle Rayner, or John Stewart, or Guy Gardner without Hal Jordan. You have to come out with the most successful formula to get people to go, and producers certainly dont want bad online press for ignoring characters roots and potentially alienating 2 key demographics, the fan boy, and the people who crew up with the character, those 18 to 34 crowd who see movies and remember Jordan as GL. They are gonna have the same issue with The Flash.

As for nostalgia, I do think that some writers have done a good job with some elements. I challenge anyone to say that Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run has not been a success, at both inviting the classic WW@ elements of Rogers life, but at updating them to fit today. Bucky Cap is a great example of that. Though Mark my words, Marvel WILL put Rogers behind the shield by 2011, despite Bucky’s success or not.

And as polarizing as Bendis is, he really has breathed a new life into much of Marvel’s maligned 70′s characters, establishing Luke Cage and Spider Woman as relevant characters, as well helping to revitalize Iron Fist. Eben Brother Voodoo to a smaller extent.

As for where new characters are, creator owned books are much more prevalent now and has made the kind of renaissance that once happened nearly impossible, and instances where that has happened, readers haven’t shown an interest. Take Dark Horse’s attempt at Super Heroes in the 1990′s or CrossGen attempt at a unified line in the early 00′s. Readers are readily willing to try out new books, especially if a creator has established themselves on previous properties. Look at the success Bendis, Mark Millar, Brubaker, Brian Vaughn, the list could go on….

Still it is a great article and I do recommend checking out Busiek’s Astro City, its the perfect blend of nostalgia and new all in one book. Thanks for the discussion!

The article makes some great points but understandably the companies want to keep their possibilities open long term.
However, the biggest question always comes to mind. Sure let Spider-man make a deal with the devil that totally messes up his continuity in order to get some new readers. I’m fine with that. Go ahead. But more importantly…,

MAKE ANOTHER BOOK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Why discriminate your fan-base. I for one would love to have seen what would have happened after the Back in Black storyline. Even if it ended with Spider-man dieing. I would have loved to see Scott leave the X-men and not come back. Or Robin become Batman when Bruce broke his back.

I don’t understand why the don’t make more money off the demand that clearly exists. .

The worst idea Kurt Busiek ever had was the resurrection of Jean Grey, whe he and John Byrne stablished tha she and Phoenix were separate entities. The resurrection of Jean was a shock to the 80′ generation, and throw away all the relevance not only on the original story, but of death in comics.

Blame Busiek (and Byrne) for that. What other had done with Marvels is not his problem.

A lot of good points. Of course we can’t blame one single person for ruining the comics genre. I’d instead argue that readers have ruined it for themselves because we like this nostalgia.

But I do wish that comics could be allowed some fresh creativity. For example, there are simply far, far too many X-Men – so many so that I can’t be bothered to read any of the titles anymore. I wish that, for once, they could kill off a character and actually have that character die properly. When Colossus died, he should have remained dead. When Kitty Pryde saved the Earth from the big bullet thing in Joss Whedon’s run, she should have stayed lost. The Marvel Universe (and DC universe – although I know less about it) is big enough and surely the writers are creative enough to be allowed to create genuinely fresh characters.

Oh well.

To come on the other side of Doc’s argument, I liked the X-Men when they were Storm, Wolverine, Kitty Pryde, Colossus, and Nightcrawler. They wouldn’t have existed if the original X-Men were a success, by the same token I haven’t really liked additions to the team, outside of Rogue, over the years. There are still good stories being told with the X-Men, they’re just not “my” X-Men.

I have to agree that Roy Thomas “invented” or “created” the genre with The Invaders in the mid-’70′s at Marvel and in the ’80′s at DC with All-Star Squadron.

To me, Batman, Superman, Spider-Man – and the rest – are a lot like characters like Sherlock Holmes, Flash Gordon, or say, Allan Quartermain: familiar, iconic characters. Unfortunately, they have found a way to have an unlimited number of adventures and come back constantly from Reichenbach Falls…

Fanboys ruined comics.

what a cool post. although we can all blame Roy Thomas for “nostalgia comics” you can definitely find Busiek as a factor to “rework” all the comics. Just look at Marvel’s Ultimate Universe; there you get even more “nostalgia comics.”

I would say that when nostalgia takes reign, it indicates a severe disatisfaction with the way things are now and not neccesarily an inability to break with the past.

When we get new characters more often than not they get ruined early on in their career, or neglected, or in some way get tainted to the point that people don’t want to deal with them anymore. Damage is a good example of that – new character, potentially interesting back story, but his series flops and then no-one seems to know what to do with him.

We look at new characters like that guy we’ve never seen before on Star Trek. Always and forever, he exists for /one/ purpose: to die in order to show how the monster works or to show how evil the bad guy is, or he’s a villain or traitor or something similar. By this time, most fans are like a dog that’s been kicked too much. It doesn’t matter whose footsteps you hear coming toward you — the writer, artist, editor whatever has no bearing whatsoever on it — you still shake because it’s going to be the same thing all over again.

Why /bother/ getting attached to a new character? You’re just going to be subjected to the same old crap again. He’s going to turn out to be evil (All-American Kid), he’s going to die for no reason (Freedom Ring), or something similar. Over and over again. The new guy gets to have all the terrible things that can never happen to the existing group – you can bet Captain America or Supergirl would never get hideously disfigured, but it’s OK for Damage because, hell, he’s disposable.

I don’t understand how anyone can say we’ve gone ‘back to the Silver Age’. I see no indications of it in tone, atmosphere, or direction. So some Silver Age characters or situations returned, so what? I would /love/ an actual Silver Age revival in many ways. We’d never have to see heroes get their arms chopped off or their faces disfigured, we might get a hero death once every ten or twenty years or so, we’d never have to listen to how they were beaten or sexually abused as children, etc etc.

I don’t think there is a problem with “retconning” characters or “nostalgia porn.” The reason being is that comics today have a more prominent position in popular culture than they did in the past. I have been reading and collectiong comics since about 1985 and I can’t remeber a time when there have been so many blockbuster Hollywood movies and merchandise surrounding comics. Sure, there have been shows in the past surrounding Shazam (Captain Marvel), Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, but, not like today. Most of my friends, who are comic fans, have only started reading them for about 5 years, or, so. Most of them pointing to movies such as X-Men or Batman (both Tim Burtan’s and Nolan’s). They love books like Geoff John’s Green Lantern run and Superman Secret Origins because it introduces them to the backgrounds of the versions of the characters they love.

While, I have been enjoying the Dick Grayson as Batman run, I know it could not last for long because the majority of people recognize Bruce Wayne as Batman. The properties have moved way beyond the stories in the comics to globally recognized “symbols.” Also, fans do not allow their old favorite characters to die. Remember the Death of Superman story or the Breaking of Batman’s back, or, the removal of wolverine’s adamantium. These were changes in the name of progression, but, fans and non-fans wrote furiously that DC killed Superman…you can’t kill Superman. Bruce Wayne even though he is just mortal can’t die…not yet atleast and as long as Buce Wayne Batman has movies being made about him that make over $500 million domestically, companies will do what they can to keep those characters alive, yes, for the money but also because new fans recognize these characters and the majority of older fans can’t let go. It’s not just the companies, or, the writers faults, for messed up time-lines and backgrounds. Fans have a hard time letting go and I think they do what they can to please all sides.

Boy I read every posts and there’s so many interesting arguments. However i’ll try not to quote every one of them for the readers’ sake. :)

Jacob T. Levy: great post as it described what i’ve felt as a reader for the last 5 years or so. It’s like we are in an era that’s fighting against the optimism of Waid and Busiek. And it doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. Just something very bleak, I guess.

Johns carring too much about a hero having grey hair is what’s wrong with comics these days it’s like a mix of nostlgia and the gritty brought by Watchmen.

Rene:”Rene: “Current comics are probably the unholy marriage of MARVELS and WATCHMEN”

Right again.

Bernard The Poet: good post. Nostalgia-inspired stories have always existed in every medium.

Micheal Hoskin: when you hire somebody like Rick Rude who draw from classic inspirations to create his style, from that point on, you don’t get him because you want to come up with a modern slant. So I understand the critic.

Dean Hacker: we don’t have to go with consiracies but you remember in the early 00s Quesada gave some kind of state of the union adress where he said we can’t hire the same old creators, we can’t tell the same stories. and the perception was from now on nothing was precious. He didn’t want these characters to be on a pedestal somewhere. So we got suff like Gwen Stacy screwing with Norman Osborn and so forth. That was the
anti-Marvels as it get.

Finaly brylocke, you were spot on with MARVEL BOY. I’ve said it for a long time: it’s the sort of book every modern super-hero books should follow. In fact it should have been the blueprint of how the do things before the Ultimate line came about. Speaking of wich…

Marvel retold their characters’ origins via the Ultimate line. Was it nostalgia or catering to an aging audience or was it not a device to reinvent their top characters for a new audience?

Was it nostalgia when John Byrne and Roger Stern retold Captain America’s origin during their run? I was a kid at the time and I had never read about Captain America’s origin and that’s what made me like the character. Because of it, it created a new reader. As a revistionist you might say it was homage porn but as a newbee that had never seen Cap’s origin it was the greatest thing. so going back to these characters’ history do create new
readers. Should Byrne have dedicated his effort at doing something else?

But Greg if you say we should be getting more stories than change things and make the characters evolve, how about comic companies instead of passing down the torch and having say four new people turning into the Fantastic Four, how about creating new concepts? You’re saying the concepts in the past never had a chance. But I think they were content that most super-hero fans would not enjoy. Some of them too humour-centric, others to offbeat. A book like what Morrison did on Marvel Boy(maybe even more accessible than that) would be perfect to offer new ideas, yet have the past has inspiration(rather than have one leg in the present and one leg in the past like say replacing Hal Jordan by Kyle Rayner did).

BTW, at what point when somebody cherish a Universe’s continuity(Marvels), it becomes bad when the creator
start to play with it and retcon it(Untold Tales)? Is this bad to love something so much that you can’t help yourself but to touch it? (wow that post sounds pretty filthy lol). Or does it matter at all?

It seems to me like super-hero comics are like daytime soap opera shows: nostlagia or no nostlagia, the concept is to keep it going by having characters return and so forth and keep the main characters going that people have always knew strong so that same fanbase stays faighful to them.

Nostalgia isn’t killing the big 2 its just plain old continuity. Right now I am introducing my girlfriend into a lot of Marvel comics and to get a lot of the big points across she has a stack of about 300-400 comics to read. This is with me cutting out a lot of the stuff that just wasn’t any good or was okay but not very important in the big picture of the last ten years of comics. I started her off reading the current Thor series which would eventually require her to read Siege. Once she started reading Siege she said she liked it and wanted to know how they got to that point so I thought back and figured that for her to know what was going on I would pretty much had to start her off with Avengers Disassembled. To a casual passer by who has not read much for comics but is interested in a character or a team like the Avengers that is a huge pill to swallow and sometimes recaps just aren’t enough to inspire new readers to by these books. As long as it is so difficult to get into any of the titles that are being released the number of comics sold will continue to decline. These days to get into most titles you have to be very dedicated. Just try picking up an issue of X-men, Superman or any of the Avengers books right now. The X-men are just about to go into their annual crossover that you need to by every X-book for and Superman has been in permanent crossover mode for like the last three years. As for the Avengers everything has been built up across multiple titles over the last few years and if you just pick it up now you’ll be confused as hell to why Osborn is in power and what the hell a Skrull is(if you’ve never read comics before). Now don’t get me wrong I love the whole idea of a shared universe but it makes it very difficult to bring in new readers, I couldn’t have done it without bittorents(I went back and bought a lot of the old trades if available but a lot of stuff just isn’t available). I think that soon both Marvel and DC are going to need to absolutely obliterate the current universes and not just a soft reboot like DC does every ten years but completely destroy them and start from scratch. They could start a massive add campaign and restart with a clean slate, and as long as they created fresh new stories and did not just recycle Dark Phoenix Saga and all of the DC Crisis stories they could build a brand new universe that could be much more accessible to new audiences(not having 50 years of continuity or have to wrap your head around whatever Crisis story that happened 20 years ago would make that a lot easier). So note to Marvel and DC(as if they are reading this hahahaha) have an enormous crossover that is the end of all the stories in your current “universes” and start a new one ie Ultimate universe but with an intent to be much larger and you could still have miniseries that go back and tell stories about the old universe. Who knows it just might work.

This kind of thing goes back way farther than Marvels. I’d place the origins of the superhero stagnation trend all the way back to 1940, when National refused to publish “The K-Metal from Krypton”, a story which would have fundamentally changed Superman’s status quo — a bad thing from the publisher’s perspective, as the status quo was making them a mint.

Connecting the likes of Identity Crisis to Marvels is rather dubious, given that they’re polar opposites in tone. The return of Superman’s pre-Crisis powers and origin is nearer the mark — and not something I have any complaint about.

I think you are all being misled by this “Roy Thomas” nonsense. There was no such writer as “Roy Thomas” . He was clearly the invention of Kurt Busiek, who in the early 1990s started adding references to this “Mr. Thomas” into Marvel creative history (his name must’ve been taken from the first names of a couple of Mr. Busiek’s friends) to make it look like his own innovations were a standard part of comics history. “No!” claimed Kurt, “I did not invent retroactive inserts into continuity, there was this guy who did a book called ‘Invaders’ where he was telling new stories of World War II, long after!” (And then he tries to pawn of the real major influence of comics as being something called Master of Kung-Fu — if such an influential run had actually existed, I think Marvel would’ve celebrated it and reprinted it by now, don’t you?)

And you all believed him, this nefarious and dare I suggest odiferous (he admits to never having even seen shampoo!) ruiner of comics. “Roy Thomas” indeed!

mckracken

“Huh? You might need to read a few silver age yourself. Cross dressing Olsen, Hercules and Samson, Superman’s imminent death, Bizzaro World – I could go on for pages. All Star Superman would probably be like 3 issues long if it weren’t for the silver age influences.”

Yeah, please do go on for pages, because I’m really, REALLY curious what other examples you got.

The basic thematic core of the series was all Elliot S! Maggin “must there be a Superman.” Luthor was 98% Carey Bates, with maybe a little bit of Gene Hackman tossed in there and WAY removed from the Weissinger/Lexxor character. Lois Lane was nothing like her Silver Age incarnation. Krypto was actually the Jeph Loeb version, as far as I can tell – But he’s closer to the Bronze Age heroic version than angsty Silver Age critter who constantly worried that his master didn’t love him. Steve Lombard. Nasthalia Luthor. (Sadly, no Captain Strong.)

And there’s Morrison saying he didn’t collect Superman until the ’70s. http://www.newsarama.com/comics/100830-Morrison-Superman8.html

AND his repeated insistence that he’s a much greater bronze age fan then Silver.

Offenberger: How is All-Star different from what Marvel is doing with their Ultimate line?

Morrison: As far as Superman is concerned, we’re not re-doing origin stories or unpacking classic narratives. We don’t go back to the beginning again, we start from where our Superman is RIGHT NOW and get straight into the action – almost as if he’s had 20 years of alternative continuity going on behind the scenes of John Byrne’s revision in 1985 – on a different Hypertime line, if you like. I’m trying to think of it as the re-emergence of the original, pre-Crisis Superman but with 20 years of history we haven’t seen.

From that platform, it’s a total update, rehaul and refit. Having said that, we expect everyone in the world to know Superman’s origins and have a basic grasp of the relationships of the Planet staff so, as I say, there’s no time wasted on a retelling of the backstory. We deal with the origin of Superman on page 1 and then we’re off into space for a big, new adventure, the way life’s meant to be.
Mark Waid and Leinil Yu’s brilliant ‘Birthright’ is about as close to an ‘Ultimate’ take on Superman as anyone’s likely to need for the foreseeable future. I can’t see any pressing requirement for yet another iteration of the same material for at least 25 years.

http://www.comicsbulletin.com/features/112602239631900.htm

Interpret that as you will.

Technically speaking the pre Crisis Superman would be the one that appeared in the early 80s, when Lex had a green armor and Clark worked at WGBS.

Neither of that is true in ASS. In ASS Clark works at the Planet, like he did in the 60s, and Lex doesn’t have a green armor.

Don’t forget about the retcon stories which appeared at the end of the first Classic X-men printings. I remember one of them was used to further the story of Wolverine and Sabretooth during the storyline where the Marauders were killing off the Morlocks – kind of created a relationship between the two, when they had really never appeared together before.

Sounds more like FANS ruined superhero comics, not Kurt Busiek.

Sounds more like FANS ruined superhero comics, not Kurt Busiek.

And pros can’t be fans/fanboys?

firstly, J-Bone: that was an awesome post. i read every post until yours, and merely skimmed the rest in a matter of seconds after reading that.

secondly, Bernard the poet is right: retconning and retelling is a practice as old as comics themselves.

thirdly, i don’t think nostalgia plays a huge part in why new creations fail: it’s mainly due to the additional financial commitment – if i’m reading something that i’ve always read, i know i’m going to enjoy it on some level. a new book is an unknown, and at upwards of $4 for an unknown is too big a risk for many people. that said, i have taken risks and been rewarded more often than not, but i try to make informed decisions regarding said risks or mitigate them by making them at the opportune time (like when i decided to use a store credit on some back-issues of ‘atomic robo’, basically getting the for free).

i think the main issue at hand is the insistence on ‘continuity’ or timeline in something that doesn’t actually exist in time or space, and thus has no actual continuum. in my experience, the episodic nature of titles like ‘hellboy’ or ‘BPRD’ feels more natural than the forced periodical style of the long-running titles. meanwhile, ‘BPRD’ is, to all outward appearances, a monthly book. it’s been running nearly monthly for, i think, 50 issues or so. but it’s broken up into smaller chapters that comprise a beginning, middle and end unto themselves. the ‘hellboy’ books jump around in time often. would this be considered a retcon? i don’t think so. such is the same with, say, a mini-series that takes place during spider-man’s high school career. why does it matter so much that these things don’t follow the linear path of time?

>> I have to agree that Roy Thomas “invented” or “created” the genre with The Invaders in the mid-’70′s at Marvel and in the ’80′s at DC with All-Star Squadron.>>

I dunno. When it comes to series set in the past that established new backstory for characters existing in the present, SUPERBOY and SGT. FURY pop to mind. And the Wonder Girl and Wonder Tot backup series, and others.

Plus, what Roy was doing wasn’t all that different from historical novels — just set in a fictional history. And even that’s not new; it goes back to THE MAGICIAN’S NEPHEW and long, long before. The Book of Ruth, in the Old Testament, is a prequel, though of course there’s disagreement over whether it’s prequelling a fictional history or a real one.

@ Frank:

Let me be blunt.

When I look back at the superhero stories that I have enjoyed the most over the years, the one trait that they have in common is that they seem to be more personal to the creators. Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross were talking about what the Silver Age of Marvel Comics meant to them. I didn’t have exactly the same experience reading those exact comics, but I got the feeling that I think they were trying for. It was the same feeling I got when I pulled Claremont & Byrne’s UNCANNY X-MEN from the spinner rack. It made me look at the weird, wonderful Marvel Universe from a fresh angle.

It bums me out how many people on this thread are indifferent to that. They want stories that connect back to the comics they read when they were kids, rather than stories that came out when someone else was a kid. The defense that their nostalgia is better because it is more recent seems … dubious.

I for one am not interested in stories that pander to anyone’s nostalgia. I want stories that serve the character and tell a grand tale worthy of not only the concept but the genre, which is (super) heroes.

I want stuff more along the lines of Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, stories that have goalposts in them for the characters to reach.

As long as the comics focus more on pandering to nostalgia and not on the character, that will never happen, however.

Pandering to fanboys has resulted in Superman having five-six different origins in a decade, and in his wearing clothes designed for 12 year old children.

@ Joshua Perdue:

Sounds more like FANS ruined superhero comics, not Kurt Busiek.

I am not sure that anyone “ruined” comics. The average title released by the Big Two today is better scripted, better drawn, vastly better colored and printed than the average title 15 years ago. The average title 15 years ago was better than 15 years before that and so on back to the Golden Age.

It is the business of comics that seems to be on shaky ground. Looking at the sales charts, it seems like every title loses 3% of its readers every month. Worse, those declines come from a much lower point than a few years ago. That is problem that has very little to do with the nostalgia, or much of anything that is within the power of the creative folks to change.

The simple truth is that comics are competing with different media than they were 10-15 years ago. Every time the competitive landscape has changed, comics have been forced to figure out new tricks to survive. When TV showed up in the ’50s, comics first tried to deliver gore-drenched thrills and when that was closed off they floundered around until DC invented the Science Hero and Marvel devised the Threaded Narrative. In the ’70s, the news-stand business started withering. The comics business moved to the direct market and used denser continuity to hold on to their reader base, while experimenting with more mature story-telling. When the direct market collapsed in the ’90s, the comic business stopped focusing on adding new customers and shifted to maximizing the revenue coming from their existing customers. That lead to lots of pretty bound volumes to put on your shelf.

That strategy worked pretty well, but it seems to have run its course as well. The Internet is obviously a huge factor, so are video games. Those are entertainment outlets that attract core comic customers and do a better job than comics in delivering some of the things their customers want. TV has also learned some of the tricks comics used to retain young male viewers and have implemented them.

If comics are going to survive, then they are going to need to devise a new set of tricks. My gut feeling is that accessibility is going to be a key factor going forward. It also seems like stories having fairly complete beginnings, middles and ends in one tpb volume would be pretty desirable. Anyone should be able to pick up a volume of Spider-Man, read and enjoy it with a very basic familiarity with the character. The basic status quo should be about the same across all platforms, so you can go from movies to comics to video games and find the same character.

That would just about kill progression within the comics themselves. It seems like eventually a consensus would emerge about how the Spider-Man story “goes” from origin to death/retirement/whatever. The comics would duck into some pre-set moment of his career and do a fresh spin on what everyone already “knows”. Basically, every series would be akin to UNTOLD TALES OF SPIDER-MAN. Unless the creators could come up with something you can’t get anywhere else, then serialized comics would probably wither.

The alternative, I think, is letting go of the idea of one, uniform progressing continuity all together. If Kurt Busiek started writing Spider-Man, then it would be impossible to know where he was going because he would be allowed to set-up whatever status quo suited him for his version. Maybe it is set in the ’60s and Peter is a teenager. Maybe it is set in the ’90s and Peter is running a dot-com company. Maybe The Avengers broke up in ’72 and a middle aged Spidey is the last superhero left. Whatever suits the creators, provided the basics are there.

Whatever happens, I really doubt that it is ever going to be like the ’90s with heroes aging ever forward in a fixed relationship to a generation of readers ever again.

@ Michael Sacal:

HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES is a wonderful book that was written over a decade before Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the FANTASTIC FOUR. Using one old set of ideas as an influence on a new story over another is strictly a matter of personal preference. George Lucas was using them as the basis for his treatment of STAR WARS right around the same time Marvel was releasing MASTER OF KUNG FU.

It doesn’t really matter when HwaTF was written. What matters is what it provides, which is a great guide for how to tell stories about heroes.

Having a guide is much more preferable to not having one. If more comic book writers came into a series with a plan instead of hatred for what contradicts their nostalgia for a specific era, then maybe the characters would stop circling the drain and could move forward instead of have six origins in a single decade.

Michael Secal: ‘I’m trying to think of it as the re-emergence of the original, pre-Crisis Superman but with 20 years of history we haven’t seen.’ Interpret that as you will.”

Morrison did say later that he felt folks took that a little too literally. See below:

“When I introduced the series in an interview online, I suggested that All Star Superman could be read as the adventures of the ‘original’ Pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths Superman, returning after 20 plus years of adventures we never got to see because we were watching John Byrne‘s New Superman on the other channel. If ‘Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow?’ and the Byrne reboot had never happened, where would that guy be now?

“This was more to provide a sense, probably limited and ill-considered, of what the tone of the book might be like. I never intended All Star Superman as a direct continuation of the Weisinger or Julius Schwartz-era Superman stories. The idea was always to create another new version of Superman using all my favorite elements of past stories, not something ‘Age’ specific.”

More here:
http://www.newsarama.com/comics/100830-Morrison-Superman8.html

Holy wall of text, Batman! Greg, hit that enter key a bit more often when writing your stories.

Some great ideas here but the readability is hampered by poor formatting and organization.

That may have been his intention, but he failed.

Also, this “let’s pretend that and that never happened” notion may work in fiction, but not in the real world.

We can’t just pretend that Whatever and MoS didn’t happen. They happened, Morrison and other fans have to deal with it and move on.

The story of the SA/BA Superman ended with Whatever and a new Superman came into existence after it.

Either Morrison should have done as he claims he wanted to do and create a new version of Superman for his story or just accept that his comic features the Silver Age Superman.

If it quacks like a duck, odds are that it is a duck.

I thought this was an interesting article but don’t agree with some of the points.

I started reading comics casually in the mid 80′s with what my allowance could afford. Being young, I was largely unaware of the concept of continuity of the series I read. I even thought that the issues of Superman I had were randomly numbered not realizing I was reading several different series of Superman comics.

For me, the nostalgia comics that starting showing up in the mid 90s and that persist through to today have introduced me to characters, stories, writers and artists that I would otherwise have been unaware of (and they continue to do so now – with the revival of many 1930s-1950s characters). In both Marvels and Avengers Forever, I learned so much about Marvel’s and the Avenger’s histories that I was largely ignorant of previously (frankly, I had originally only picked up both titles because I enjoyed the artwork). These stories are valuable because they allow their readers to see the history of the characters they enjoy. They just need to be careful about what they are altering and how the improve the quality and interest of the character(s) and settings they are focused on.

jumpin’ jesus on a jet ski!!! these are comics and fictional characters…grow up and move out of your parents basement! i like kurt and roy t’s writing.ruining comics? i invite you to read ANYTHING written at image or marvel in the last ten years.

So many points of view…and now here’s mine!

As I’ve gotten older, nostaligia seems to seep into pretty much everything, be it music, movies, or indeed comics. Now that I’m in my 40′s, I find myself constantly going back to older runs of comics to relive the enjoyment that I got when I first read them. I still buy a few titles when I can, one of my faves of which is Power Girl, a character who surely has been retconned loads of times already. I enjoy this as it’s a good fun read, and even though I’m also buying Blackest Night, which is extremely depressing by comparison, it’s this kind of book that reminds me most of the comics I read when I was a kid. Which is probably it’s appeal! Having read comics regularly since the mid-70′s, I’ve seen all the trends come & go, whether it be DC destroying their not-that-complicated-really Universe, the grim ‘n’ gritty post-Dark Knight years, the Image ridiculously proportioned superhero years, to DC destroying their Universe on an annual basis, to new versions of old characters appearing & then disappearing to be replaced by the original versions…let’s face it, all the comic book companies are trying to do with all of this is attract a new audience to their products! There will always be the hardcore of fanboys (like me!) who will buy pretty much any book featuring their favourite characters (until someone like Bendis comes along and kills them off, and yes, I mean the Wasp!), and occasionally we’ll try out something new, but it will usually be something that reminds them of the past when comics were fun!

Is Kurt to blame for all the current perceived problems with modern comics? I say that in any media, be it film, TV, books, comics or music, that there will be a certain amount of good and bad products, and if you can sift through it all to find something you enjoy, then surely that’s all that matters! My message is, just enjoy & stop griping!

This column has inspired me to create a new superhero – “Paragraph Break Man!”

Other than that, the writing was good – I just continue to feel sad about how undervalued copy editors are these days, and with education going the way its they’ll be even more necessary in the future to make garbled text understandable.

Oh, and Kurt Busiek is great!

don’t blame Kurt, blame the Grand Corporate Narrative. CBR did an article called “RECOIL: OR, WHEN CHARACTERS DON’T STICK”

this is why Xenobrood, Xero and others dont make it and probably why now DEADPOOL and more or less GL is getting a surgence

i will repost the article as a counter point, this is not me but from CBR
=======================================================================================

Highly Collectible First Appearance of the Golden Gator

I’d heard about this new Marvel policy where they ask their writers — past and present — to submit a list of characters they created or co-created, presumably so the legal situation can be ironed out before the Disney deal becomes final. I don’t care about the specifics of the situation, or, rather, I don’t know enough about it to realize how much it may or may not matter. Is this a way to give creators some kind of token credit in exchange for Disney’s ownership of the characters in perpetuity? Or is it simply a way to catalog who gets credit, and partial ownership, when the characters burst forth into new media?

We’ll see how it plays out, I suppose, but what struck me last week was the list of characters Kurt Busiek posted on his blog, in response to Marvel’s request for the names of characters he created for them. As he says in the post, even Busiek was surprised by the amount of characters he should get credit for creating for the company. Dozens of characters and “multi-character concepts” (a.k.a. mostly super-teams), and if you look at the massive list, you’ll probably think something similar to what I thought: All these characters, and basically none of them stuck.

Sure, Busiek gave us the Thunderbolts, but the comic that’s published now really has very little, if anything, to do with the concept of the team he originally created. The other characters? The Bluebirds, the Decays, the Golden Gators, the Papa Haggs of the world? They haven’t made much of an impact. They have slipped off the face of the Marvel U like so many discarded crumbs.

Okay, Triathalon may still be kicking around, but when was the last time he had enough mojo to headline a series all by himself? About never ago, right?

And Busiek has been around a long time, and he’s done some very good work for Marvel and elsewhere, and he, above all, is keyed into the Marvel zeitgeist. If anyone from the past twenty years might have created a Marvel character who made a lasting impact, it might as well have been Busiek. He’s had the opportunity to work with a lot of characters in a lot of different places.

But none of his characters have stuck, not really.

Gravity Takes the World by Storm

And the same is true for almost every comic book creator working in mainstream comics. The new characters just don’t stick. Grant Morrison creates a dozen new characters every time he writes a series. Even in an event book, normally the place for all the old standards to convene to fight the big bad, he created a bunch of new superheroes in the Super Young Team. Brian Michael Bendis has been writing about Ultimate Peter Parker for ten years, and in all that time, how many original characters has he created that have stuck around? How about Ed Brubaker? What’s his legacy for new characters introduced and then used widely in the Marvel Universe? What about Geoff Johns over at DC? A few colorful lanterns are kicking around right now, but other than a few new Flash rogues, what has he added to the landscape of the DC multiverse? What has stuck, even for him?

Of course, the answer to all of these questions are “nothing” or “not much at all.”

And, as any self-respecting comic book fan knows, the problem goes back even farther than that. New characters introduced into Marvel and DC just don’t stick. They don’t have staying power. Not enough to hang around with the big guns of each company at least. At DC, if a character wasn’t introduced in 1930s, 40s, or 60s, odds are that the character rarely matters in the grand scheme of comic book things. At Marvel, the same rule applies, though characters created in the 1970s have a better chance of sticking around at that company. The Punisher and Wolverine seem to do pretty well for themselves.

So why is it that so many old characters matter so much, and so many new characters just slide away, never to be heard from again? Even when it’s a solid new character, like Sean McKeever and Mike Norton’s Gravity, the character doesn’t seem to stand a chance. He or she might end up with a short-lived series, then some guest spots, and maybe a role in a team book. But that’s about the best that can be hoped for. Why is that?

Maybe it could be easily explained by saying, “fans don’t like new things.” Readers want the stuff they grew up with, and the biggest knock against someone like Gravity is that he’s not Wolverine, he’s not Spider-Man. Magog’s no Green Lantern.

This Too Has Passed

But I think there’s a deeper reason, and it has to do with the way these comic book universes are structured. I’ve spoken before about the Grand Corporate Narratives (a term I first saw used by Douglas Wolk), and the notion that the Marvel Universe is a single story that’s been going on since at least the 1940s. The DC story is even older. And each new comic, each new series, even, isn’t something “new” at all, it’s just a continuation of that much older, much longer story.

If you think of the stories with that long-term perspective, and that’s really how they demand to be looked at, with their constant allusions to the company’s past and the continuity that has come before, then introducing a new character — even a great new character — in a comic book published in, say, 2004, is the equivalent of a new character popping into a movie about 10 minutes before the closing credits. The character’s just too late to make much of an impact.

And maybe it also has to do with what the Greeks thought of as “recoil.” The idea that the world is supposed to be a certain way — their drama explored this — and when something gets out of whack (like say, Oedipus scoring with his mom), the universe has an obligation to snap back into shape. And the aberrations to the norm pay some kind of price. (Like self-inflicted blindess, and a loss of power, in the case of Oedipus.) At some point, both the Marvel and DC universes hardened into their current state. Maybe it was within a few years of the major characters first being created, maybe it was once readers began having regular access to comics for more than a few random months at a time, but at some point, the world of those superhero universes became firm. And any change to that status quo demanded recoil.

Even the aberration of “Crisis on Infinite Earths” has undone itself by now. Recoil has returned the DCU to its natural multiversality.

And that’s why some seemingly major new character could be introduced, and that character would have to overcome the inevitable force of recoil to even stand a chance of making a difference in the long run. Faced with such an ancient concept, how could Busiek’s Golden Gator really have lived up to his potential? I mean, even Oedipus got the short end of the recoil stick, and he was a king.

Does that mean that characters can never stick again? New characters never have a chance to make it to the top tier?

Two Outta Three Ain’t Bad

Not exactly, because sometimes the Grand Corporate Narrative of Marvel and DC softens a bit, even though it’s fully formed. It happened in the 1970s when Kirby left Marvel and caused a softening in both companies that let some new characters — the New Gods, surely, but even characters Kirby had nothing to do with, like the Punisher and Wolverine and Ghost Rider — solidify into the new status quo.

It happened again in the 1980s, post-Alan Moore, as Neil Gaiman was able to get the Endless into the reformed DCU, though the characters would have become even more integral if he didn’t have a bit of the ownership himself.

And it happened again right before and during the Image explosion, when characters like Venom and Cable and Deadpool made their presence known. The firmament softened in that brief era, and some characters became part of the hard substance that became the 1990s Marvel Universe.

But it seems to take Grand Corporate Narrative-shaking event to make that possible. The long-running stories don’t just let anyone in. The ground has to be softened first. Change has to occur to the company, somehow. Then, a new character has a chance to stick. Until then, it’s just Geldof and Most Excellent Superbat and Gravity. And no one really cares.

Well, if I like the retcons, I buy it.

If I hesitate to buy the new stories and characters, then I won’t buy it.

Nothing to flogg Mr. Busiek over a dead issue.

“Perhaps in 10 years we’ll get an infusion of people who grew up thinking Kyle Rayner and Conner Hawke are the bomb and they will rise to prominence again. We’ve seen the New Universe come back due to a name writer wanting it back and we’ve even seen a new spider-clone mini. In a few years we’ll see later nostalgia. Not that it will solve the problem of new readers in any way.”

Ever since DC started undoing Crisis and the Byrne Superman reboot I’ve been anticipating that eventually fans who grew up with that will start writing comics and try to undo the undoing.

It’s not so much retcons are the problem as DC’s decision post-Crisis that continuity didn’t matter at all. Comics writers have always ignored (or forgotten) stories they didn’t like, or thrown in stories that contradicted continuity, but the decision to randomly erase major characters’ entire histories was another order of magnitude, especially backed up by statements at the time that “So what if we erase their history? None of those adventures ever happened! They’re stories!”
I suspect we’d still get retcons without all that, but they’d have to settle for rewriting SOME things instead of EVERYthing.

Oh, for the history of retcons, we have to go back at least to the 1950s. That’s when we learned that Superman had fallen in love with Lori Lemaris in college and that the Joker had been the Red Hood and taken a bath in the Monarch Playing Card company chemical vats.

Nostalgia? As some people up above said, I like it when it works, don’t when it doesn’t. I have tons of old comics I can (and do) read, so I don’t need it in the new material.

Frankly It all started with with Spider-Man’s black costume. :)

Hear me out, there were wind of changes at the time in those books. Spidey got the black outfit during Secret Wars, She-Hulk replaced Ben as member of the FF, it felt like the MU was ready to progress but then for whatever reasons, everything turned back the way it was. If you read John Byrne’s Fantastic Four, it was inspired by the past but it wants to go forward, it introduce new ideas. It felt more modern than ever before. Then you read the FF run right after with Englehart and Keith Pollar and Joe Sinott and it’s like reading something out of the 60s. I don’t know what happened but it seems like at some point Marvel decided to go back 20 years for whatever reasons. It was like a reaction to years of Miller on DD, Byrne on FF, Walt on Thor, Sienkiewicks on New Mutants. Maybe someone higher up called for a turning back the clock. Never has a move become so evident as when Tom Defalco and Frenz/Sinott went to Thor after the stellar, original and progressive run that Simonson had done. And it shouldn’t have been a coincidence that the same thing happened on FF when Walt got the boot and who Mr. Defalco again replaced him, doing his best to right 60s comics. And yes Defalco was the EIC during that period. That was pretty damaging in my opinion.

You had me then you lost me.

It’s true. Marvel and DC are too dark and self referential, but once you got into how characters should grow and change, I lost interest.

No one wants to read about a 70 year old Batman or Spider-Man. In serial fiction, you set the status quo, and convince people all kinds of crazy shit is happening, when in actuality, it resets to Zero at the end. Making comic characters grow is insane. These aren’t coming of age tales. When you die, these characters will live on as 20-somethings still.

Funny, Marvels keeps trying to kill Spider-Girl and yet the audience won’t let them. Could that be because the audience actually does want to read about Peter Parker changing diapers and wants to see his daughter in the suit?

And what about Batman Beyond? Did you hear that Terry will be appearing in continuity soon? Maybe audiences do want to see a 70 year old Bruce Wayne as well.

Don’t confuse what elder audiences want to see with what younger audiences might be more receptive too.

Audiences of Erik Larsen’s generation, for instance (Larsen being someone who is against Peter changing diapers) might be against the concept of Spider-Girl, but younger audiences refuse to let it die.

Are the numbers of Spider-Girl fans small? Maybe, but what if we added them to the number of people who are against the end of Peter and MJ’s marriage? Wouldn’t that number swell up and indicate how many people are pro Peter ageing, getting married, and having kids?

I would suggest that you, and others, take a long look at the DC and Marvel Universes and really ask yourselfs how many characters in them are the same today as they were 40 years ago in terms of age.

I point you again to the Teen Titans, who are not teens anymore,and the X-Men, who are not kids either.

I didn’t say they were the same. I’m saying it’s a mistake to make them different.

Spider-Girl started in “What If” by the way, and I’ve always had problems with Batman Beyond being the actual outcome of BTAS. (Let alone the horribly contrived revelation at it’s end about Terry)

The top selling comics are often at something staggeringly low like 90,000. Meaning maybe 75,000 people (aging fanboys) read em (seeing as how it just means numbers ordered, then there’s variant covers too), and I’d bet an awful lot complain about them too. So far less than 90,000 people *enjoy* the top selling comics. Horrendous. I know underground rock bands that sell more records than that. I could care less about the niche market of geeks running the show (into the ground) these days and what they want. A NORMAL person would NOT want to see Batman or any other superhero character be anything but a guy who remains forever young and fighting crime.

And yet people who don’t read comics watched Batman Beyond and greatly enjoyed it.

Far more people watched BB than those who read the Silver Age-derivative comic books with the never-ageing Batman.

The popularity of BB got to the point that for awhile Warner Brothers considered doing a full-lenght motion picture, and while that particular project didn’t get off the ground the animated movie that featured not only an aged Batman but also an aged Joker and an aged Tim Drake did get made.

Okay, how are you not getting this. Batman Beyond and Spider-Girl and whatever the hell else is a separate fun little “what if” story from it’s source. The “regular” Batman, and almost all other superheroes, should NOT AGE.

Why not? Would the world end if they did? That’s pretty doubtful.

Would fanboys foam at the mouth and stand up from their rocking chairs waving their cains and demanding that things be the way they were in the 60s? That’s another thing.

If 40 years ago Batman had aged and died no one born in the last four decades would have known who he is and would have embraced other heroes. Same goes for any other number of heroes.

Wow, this is getting borderline existential. I’m out.

People enjoyed stories for thousands of years based on an aesthetic of embellishment before there was a demand for suspense in narrative. There is a complex enjoyment in encountering a new perspective; why deny the production of stories that use this technique? This is not an either/or situation where only one dominant aesthetic can exist at any given time.

And yet that is what it has transformed into, with nostalgia replacing forward motion of the story, to the point that writers need to come up with four, five, or six different origins for a single character in the space of a decade (sometimes only a year or two apart from each other) in order to pander to nostalgia in lieu of telling the best possiblle story.

Your whole premise is flawed. For starters, Marvel started reconning their heroes when they revived Namor and Captain America in the 60s. Marvel wiped away thier golden age adventures and created massive re-cons which have been reconned over since. You know stuff like Namor being from Atlantis and Bucky dying in WW2…. Then came Roy Thomas. And so on. Kurt Busiek hardly started any of this, so thanks for playing anyway.

Dennis O'Fletcher

March 31, 2010 at 8:50 am

Very good article. As a reader and collector of comics since 1975 I have commented on this type of activity to myself recently. I have noticed that current comics all have ‘wink wink’ references. It seems like there is such a proliferation of nods to the past that writers seem a little uneasy introducing something new. Now, you can’t only blame Busiek though. Justice League: Cry for Justice was obviously influenced by Meltzer’s Identity Crisis. Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed both stories but enough, do we have to kill minor characters to hammer a point? But, a good story is a good story, regardless of the ‘shock’ treatment. Personally, even though I grew up reading about Barry, Hal, and Steve Rogers I was disappointed when they brought them back recently. I always thought one of the best things was that DC let Barry be dead. Now, that is over… albeit in a very good story (like Hal’s resurrection, NOT like Steve’s pre-contrived claptrap). I do find it encouraging to see that DC has kept the replacements but, let’s be honest… These characters will just be cannon fodder for the next ‘event’ story (Can anyone say Young Justice, literally R.I.P.). However, I digress… I agree with the article and the context.

Well killing the Flash is not the same as killing Captain America. It’s one thing to replace Barry Allen as he’s just one guy that runs fast. But Cap is a symbol. Also the greatest super-hero at Marvel as far as what he represents in that Universe.

p.s. the cookies fonction doesn’t work in this forum. I didn’t get the posting feedback in my inbox.

[...] Comics Should Be Good contends that Kurt Buseik unwittingly ruined DC/Marvel super-hero comics. [...]

A hypothesis is a proposed explanation for an observable phenomenon. So I take it your proposal is that the observable phenomenon is that comics are ruined – and that Kurt Busiek caused it. The reasoning (and forgive me if I distort your intent) is that Kurt Busiek set a precedent with a comprehensive story that was well executed in tying together a known contunuum effectively creating hordes of imitators.

In my humble and often ridiculous opinion –

Before the 1960′s, comic books for the most part, were written in stand alone format for induvidual issues and respective titles had nothing to do with one another. The practice of writing serial storylines required attention to continuity and furthermore the crossover of a character from one comic to another character’s sandbox required even more attention to what was going on in their respective realms to maintain consistency. Since there have been countless fantastic stories that “used the sanbox” and filled in blanks of continuity Kurt Busiek’s Marvels (while perhaps well written) is not unique and I believe kind of an arbitrary selection to make such a point. I concur that there have been changes in trends since the stand alone format, but I don’t think Marvels stands out as mutually exclusive in surpassing any threshhold that any other well executed comprehensive sandbox story previously published hasn’t already acheived. Essentially, this trend is a natural function of serial and crossover storytelling.

The flip side of that coin –

Characters that have a long tenure generally have character engines that facilitate a lot of room for interpretation and storytelling. A major paradyme shift occurred in the 80′s when the comic industry had a surge in new readership following the success of movies like Superman and Batman. The comic book companies began to perceive their characters more as properties to merchandise, lisence, and make easily accessible to the “unindoctrinated.” The best way to sell a flagship character to new readers is to make them feel as if they’re getting in on the ground floor. Most of the retcons or filling in the blanks of origins don’t fundamentally change character engines. The fetishism of this kind of storytelling is secondary to the business decision.

[...] Last week, I went over my June comics order and thought about a thought-provoking column by Greg Burgas at CBR about continuity, new teams, and ultimately [...]

[...] be impenetrable to non-fans – rather like Avengers Forever or perhaps even Busiek’s vaunted Marvels – should go without saying, but what’s interesting here is that, besides the expected in-jokes [...]

[...] the impact of the series was far greater than that. As others have pointed out, the comic book really shaped the way that the two major comic book companies looked at their major [...]

[...] So, you can see what I mean. Right? Well if not, then, oh well. It was worth a try. My whole point was to explain the core and foundation of this chronology. Without the previous knowledge, this chronology would not be possible or necessary. Basically, what I’m emphasizing here is that while Batman’s first 46 years are erased, they are still apart of his history. They form the spine of every Batman story ever written after 1985. Without them we wouldn’t and couldn’t have a Year One Era or a Modern Age continuity. The roots of Batman will always lie in the ages of old; Golden, Silver, and Bronze. (For anyone confused already, I will refer to the first ten years of our chronology as the “Year One Era,” whereas DC simply calls it “The Silver Age.”  However, I have always found that a bit confusing, since there is already a publishing era known as “The Silver Age”).   Editors at DC could have taken the easy way out and just stopped Batman stories cold in their tracks and started brand new in 1986, but they didn’t.  Instead, they chose to continue the story and that’s really what the original Crisis, Zero Hour, and Infinite Crisis were all about. If you look at it that way, it wasn’t simply all about rebooting or restarting, it was about rebooting and restarting without disregarding or discarding the old stories.  The old stories form the skeletal framework of continuity.  Check out this wonderful article by Greg Burgas, which ties directly into what I’ve been rambling about here: “Greg Burgas’ CBR Blog”. [...]

[...] So, you can see what I mean. Right? Well if not, then, oh well. It was worth a try. My whole point was to explain the core and foundation of this chronology. Without the previous knowledge, this chronology would not be possible or necessary. Basically, what I’m emphasizing here is that while Modern Age Batman’s first 46 years are erased, they are still apart of his history. They form the spine of every Batman story ever written after 1986. Without them we wouldn’t and couldn’t have a Modern Age continuity (which includes the “Year One Era”). The roots of Batman will always lie in the ages of old; Golden, Silver, and Bronze. (For anyone confused already, I will refer to the first ten years of our chronology as the “Year One Era,” whereas DC simply calls it “The Silver Age.”  However, I have always found that a bit confusing, since there is already a publishing era known as “The Silver Age”).   Editors at DC could have taken the easy way out and just stopped Batman stories cold in their tracks and started brand new in 1986, but they didn’t.  Instead, they chose to continue the story and that’s really what the original Crisis, Zero Hour, and Infinite Crisis were all about. If you look at it that way, it wasn’t simply all about rebooting or restarting, it was about rebooting and restarting without disregarding or discarding the old stories.  The old stories form the skeletal framework of continuity.  Check out this wonderful article by Greg Burgas, which ties directly into what I’ve been rambling about here: “Greg Burgas’ CBR Blog”. [...]

[...] who are better fans than I are troubled by the editorial and creative direction at DC and Marvel, the two biggest [...]

Re the term “Nostalgia Porn”. This is a term that younger generations use to evade the fact that they are unable or unwilling to even attempt to match or exceed what a previous generation accomplished. In regards to comic books, it is the simple and undenialble fact that Comics have been on a downward spiral since the late 80s. Stories are incoherent and/or stupid catering to a porn asthetic. Editors are erratic and incompent unable to maintain a plotline for more than two issues if even that. Dialogue is either illiterate or terribly dumbed down to appear current and hip. Women in refrigerators. Rape. Pedophilia. Homosexuality. Political indoctrination in place of story and character. A horrific and dangerous obsession with race. Poor to awful art unless it is T and A shots. The new 52. An overwelming hatred for anything that happened 5 minutes ago and a childish demand for unconditional praise for successfully emptying one’s bowels in public.

And pointing this out is “nostalgia porn.”

Yeah. Right.

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