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I’ve Been Here Before: “Joe” Gardner

I coined a term years ago that I like to call “nepotistic continuity,” which refers to the way that comic book writers sometimes bring back minor characters that they themselves created in the past as characters in their current work. For instance, Lila Cheney disappeared for years around the turn of the century before popping up again in an issue of X-Treme X-Men, written by her creator, Chris Claremont.

In every installment of this feature, I’ll spotlight an example of a character that did not appear in a comic for at least two years before then showing up in a comic written or drawn by the creator of the character.

Our first featured character is one of my favorite examples of all-time, “Joe” Gardner.

So Chuck Dixon took over Guy Gardner’s book with issue #11. He begins a Guy Gardner: Year One storyline where these aliens abduct Guy and probe his memories. The end result of their plan is introducing an evil clone they made of Guy, complete with Guy’s memories. The clone escapes and heads to Earth where he takes Guy’s place in the JLA. The evil Guy kills a bad guy and the JLA freak out. Then the real Guy finally makes his way back to Earth.

He fights the clone and ends up transporting him far away.

The clone shows up again, having freed itself.

The clone then makes a deal with Neron to make it powerful on its own.

Guy defeats the clone in the final storyline in Guy Gardner: Warrior.

That was early 1996.

In late 1999, in Birds of Prey #9, written by Chuck Dixon, Black Canary is on a mission in Koroscova trying to rescue a political prisoner. As it turns out, the prisoner won’t leave without a fellow prisoner….the clone of Guy Gardner!

He gets the name Joe in the next issue, which explains how he got there…

(As an aside, man, remember when Greg Land actually just drew comic books?)

Joe Gardner becomes a recurring villain for the next few issues (Black Canary fights him and after an intervention by Superman knocks him out of commission, Joe pops up again when a prisoner transport is sent to Apokolips. Joe is one of the supervillains along for the ride. He popped up again during Joker’s Last Laugh as one of the many prisoners affected by Joker’s laughing gas).


(As an aside, man, remember when Greg Land actually just drew comic books?)

Careful, DLaM, someone might accuse you of being snarky!!!!

Man, that is some awesome Land art. I would buy that comic…oh yeah I did. (as an aside…the Mitch Byrd art isn’t bad either)

That was Greg Land on BOP? No wonder Canary looks more… voluptuous than usual. He also had that cool Adam Hughes vibe going there. This is the first I’ve seen of his interior work.

Wish Land had stuck to drawing a bit more like this instead of this crap he does now, folk. It still has some of his trade marks like static figures/overly vampish poses/and inappropriate facial expressions, but it feels/looks like he took the time to try to actually draw it well as he could.

Andrew Collins

April 9, 2012 at 7:00 pm

Can’t say I care much for Dixon these days, but I would buy the heck out of some trades collecting the rest of his run on BoP. Those were some good comics, and yes, Land was great on them. He was a favorite of mine during those BoP/Sojourn years, before he descended into photoshop hackery…

sandwich eater

April 9, 2012 at 8:01 pm

I felt like Bill Mantlo did his nepotistic continuity with Jack of Hearts. He seemed really overpowered when he appeared in Hulk issues.

But what we really want to know is whether this is a Temporary Like Achilles reference or an If You Ever Go To Houston one… ;)

The former! You’d be shocked by how often he uses some variation of “been here before.”

I am wondering what the term you coined years ago, the one that you like to call “nepotistic continuity”, is?

I like to call it that because that’s the term. ;)

Man, Chuck Dixon is pretty shameless with his nepotistic continuity. Can anyone beat him in that department? Closest I can think of is maybe Tom DeFalco.

I have to say, this stuff is pretty common: Wolfman bringing his Dracula villain Dr. Sun and pretty much the entire cast of his Nova series into his FF run (into the same storyline in fact), Englehart taking Mantis with him wherever he goes… Writers do have their pet characters.

I agree but I guess it shows so much more with Dixon due to the fact that he had so much work at one time at DC, writing something like 4 comics a month I think? It made it much more visible in his case I guess.

Surely Claremont has to win any competition on this issue hands down?

I’ve just read Essential X-Men 10 and up pops Stevie Hunter not having been seen for about five years!

I’d appreciate it if folks kept from speculating about future examples in the comments, as I’ll eventually get to them, promise! Feel free to e-mail me suggestions, though!

Brian, what about a similar trend (especially in the 90s) where two basically unrelated comics crossed over because they had the same writer and thus is could be done with little hassle. Peter David did it with Supergirl/Young Justice AND with Hulk/X-Factor.

After reading this, I think that this is what happened to Land: kidnapped by aliens and replaced with an evil twin – he was inadvertently illustrating his life to come. ;)

On a slightly more serious note, I hope this feature continues, fun stuff.

Well, you can vote for it here, Bob, if you want to see it continue as a weekly feature!

Dixon also liked to bring back minor Batman characters after decades of disuse. Folks like “Shotgun” Smith, a Frank Robbins character from a couple of 1970s stories, became recurring supporting cast in books like Robin. And IIRC, the Swiss, a very minor villain from Richard Dragon, Kung-Fu Fighter, was one of the candidates for being Bane’s father.

And then there’re Dixon’s villain revamps of Firefly (a character Dixon reinvented from the ground up as an arsonist), Cluemaster, Killer Moth (who became Charaxes), Electrocutioner, and, most prominently, the Riddler. With the exception of the Riddler, all of these villains had become silly relics; thanks to Dixon, they became recurring, if usually minor rogues adding to the “background color” of Gotham City.

My one complaint about Dixon is that he was always a bit too conscientious about putting the toys back in the box. Very little of lasting consequence really happens in most of his stories, with character relationships and the status quo changing in other titles and being reflected in Dixon’s stuff. At DC and Marvel, he generally writes good, ripping action yarns, but rarely if ever produces a weighty or major storyline. The crossover he helmed, “Last Laugh,” was a story whose big moments had no lasting effects on any of the characters in it.

Dixon characters want distinctive things in distinctive ways, but they almost never get them nor do they even get closer to getting them. Their situations, which are interestingly premised, never seem to change much. His one-off character stories are well-realized and his characters are well-rounded, but they don’t usually revolve around major life decisions. He’s always been loath to kill his darlings, too; for all the heart-attack scares and new rivals, Blockbuster never budged from being Bludhaven’s crimelord, and Bane didn’t come closer to learning his father’s identity for years under Dixon’s pen.

There’s just not much at stake in most of his stories, really, and the fact that he created and revamped mostly the minor-league mercs and mooks of the Bat-titles sort of underlines that. I don’t know if that was editorial — the Bat-books in general were a pretty “safe” cash cow franchise in that period, and the crossovers were editorially-driven — or if it’s Dixon’s preference as a comics writer — his Marvel Knights book was similarly “safe” in a comparatively edgy, chance-taking imprint — but it’s the biggest feature of his work that eventually bothered me as a regular reader.

I think Dixon is a perfect franchise-book writer, but he’s not someone I see as a flagship book writer. Frank Tieri is similar, but he’s not as sharp or as detail-oriented a writer as Dixon, so it’s much more noticeable in his work.

Well said, Omar. On the other hand, I get pretty tired of comics that promise to change the world via “So-and-so-Man’s world will NEVER BE THE SAME!!!!!” stories that change things up for a while or kill off characters only to have everything revert back a few years later anyway. A nice well-crafted story with good characterization and plot, that tells a whole story in an issue whether it’s part of a larger plot or not, is something we see less and less of these days.

I just know you’re going to feature the poster child for I’VE BEEN HERE BEFORE – Mantis and Steve Englehart, right Brian?

Now wouldn’t that be speculating about future examples? ;)

Ahh..missed your post about speculating in the thread. I shall shut up now. :)

One thing that makes this so hilariously ’90s is that Guy’s evil clone looks so much less over-the-top “extreme!!!” than regular Guy did at that point.

I know there are any number of clones and rogue LMDs of everyone in comics running around, but there’s something about this one’s continued existence that reminds me of Star Trek’s Thomas Riker for some reason.

Ah, Dixon. The writer who taught us that every comic has to begin with a hero on top of something moving fast. He was best at the beginning of his career before every story became the same story over and over again and you realize he’s just spinning the wheels and not moving.

And he was successful enough that he never had to change and grow as a writer. I discovered Alien Legion with the second series he was writing and enjoyed it, but once I got the first series in back issues, I was blown away by how dynamic and gritty and awesome the concept of “soldiers in space” could be. Dixon had the illusion of gritty, but couldn’t match how amazingly the first series presented the same concept.

However, he certainly wrote some comics, didn’t he? Some were decent, and some could have been great if he had challenged himself.

Batman: The Chalice, though, is HILARIOUS. I’d recommend it for a laugh, but it truly is a horrible thing and should not be read.

Oh Joe. How I’ve missed you. Where the heck IS Joe Gardner nowadays anyways? And yes, this was back in the day when Greg Land actually did his own artwork, and it was awfully nice. I wish they would collect the early Birds of Prey.

Chris Claremont has to be the king of this category. Lila Cheney, Roma, Cat’s Laughing, the Flash Girls…the list goes on and on. (and I’m generally ok with it)

Damn, were those Dixon BoP issues ever fun! Dixon’s work in general has always ranked among my favorites; great action stories with wonderful characterization. Always fun to read, even his lesser work. His long run on Detective Comics remains one of my all-time favorites. DC really needs to collect some of the non-crossover ’90s Batman and Batman-related stuff. There were so many quality comics from that era that are largely ignored today because of the stigma attached to ’90’s-era superhero comics.

The best thing about this post is that it led to Omar’s nice layout of why Chuck Dixon is a perfectly good, but not great comic book writer.

Anyway, I’m wondering if the name of this clone is a bit of a wink to the last Ditko Spidey story (Just a Guy named Joe!)?

I read your comments on my work with an understandable level of interest. Thanks for being thoughtful rather than snarky BTW. A lot of what you say are criticisms I’ve heard of my work before. It never hurts for me to examine my own work and I do it often.

The largest chunk of my output in one universe has been at DC Comics throughout the 90s. The guiding principle then was creating an “illusion of change”; you could break everything and tear continuity apart as long as everything went back to the way it was before. The exception to this was the replacing of DC’s second tier superheroes with new, younger versions. But those changes were made to goose sales rather than an artistic decision to shake things up for the hell of it.

This overriding dictum made me a perfect fit for DC at the time. I have always been of the Invisible Hand school of writing. I wanted the stories to read as stories and not a conscious effort on my part to impress readers with my edginess or attitude. For most of my time at DC the majority of my readers were on the newsstand and I aimed my work at the casual reader rather than the comic fan. I also tend to write less grandiose characters.

My characters are generally more concerned with making their car payment than saving the universe.
I made my mark on my books by expanding their universes and resurrecting and re-fitting older characters (something always encouraged at DC) and creating short choppy arcs aimed at casual comic book readers. I had an extraordinarily long run at DC and my books sold consistently well over that period. All four of my monthlies were in the top 100 until the month I left for CrossGen.

As my time at DC ended it coincided with a sea change in editorial there. They were more willing to tear down sixty years of continuity for the sake of one story. They were killing characters left and right and generally flipping continuity on its head at every opportunity. Not my thing at all.

And as for long-running subplots like the mystery of Bane’s father, I saw it more as a leitmotif; something that drove Bane to action. I honestly expected the other Bat writers to pick up on it but no one did. I had to keep returning to it to keep the notion alive and it took longer to play out than I anticipated.

I’ll take the blame for my run on Marvel Knights. Joe and Jimmy wanted a dark and gritty urban crime comic. I was tired of gritty by that point. This was my first shot at a Marvel mainstream title and I couldn’t resist writing a classic Marvel story.

I sense that you are not my audience. You probably prefer the work of a Grant Morrison or Brian Bendis. And they appeal more to the majority of comic readership these days as my intended readership has shrunk as monthly comics become more of a boutique item than a readily available commodity.

Hello, Mr. Dixon,

First, thank you for your response, which was at least as thoughtful and certainly more balanced than my comment. Like many fans of comics on the Internet, I tend to accentuate the negative at times and to make the perfect the enemy of the good. You read my two short paragraphs of praise followed by four paragraphs of complaints and are still very gracious in your reply, despite the omissions I have made that you could certainly have pointed out.

You are right that I am a fan of Grant Morrison’s work; however, I would also say that for a very long time I have been very much a part of your audience as well. Where superhero stories are concerned, I like fun comic books, comic books about heroes, and comic books about unambiguously heroic characters. I also like moral ambiguity and metatext and all of that, too. Superhero comics can and should support diverse tones and approaches; I’d like to be able to buy Batman or Daredevil or Punisher or Birds of Prey stories set in a Dixonverse alongside issues of JLA set in a Morrisonverse or a Bendisverse or an Ellisverse.

For that reason, I have greatly enjoyed your work over the years; I could hardly have offered some of the assessments and details I offered otherwise! I have never had more than seven comic books on my subscription list at any store. Your runs on Detective Comics, Birdsy of Prey, Robin, Nightwingand, yes, Marvel Knights have been among them.

You do indeed write grounded stories that are faithful to and even enrich the premises of characters who have lasted because they have unbroken, great premises, and you write them very well. John Ostrander may have created Barbara’s “Oracle” persona, but you made her a major superhero who belonged in the Bat-Family and the JLA. You put Black Canary back into place. In Robin, you created a status quo and a memorable supporting cast with the likes of Ives, Ari, and, of course, Stephanie. I should have spent some words on those important parts of your body of work at DC. I think of those as some of my favorite stories, and if we’re going to talk about “important” stories, the friendship built up in all those issues of BoP certainly qualifies as an important story to me.

Detective Comics #726 is one of my favorite Batman/Joker stories, for example; and Detective Comics Annual #8 and its three-part follow-up is still my favorite Riddler story. The death of Karl Ranck is affecting and powerful any time I reread it. Way of the Rat remains the last great kung-fu comic book I’ve read, second only to the Moench/Gulacy Master of Kung-Fu for me in that genre.

And while it isn’t one of my favorite comics, I’ve always thought of Marvel Knights as an abortive exploration of a promising concept you mentioned somewhere in an interview: a Punisher book where the antagonist is a rigidly moral type instead of a scumbag. There’s a lot of good material to mine from building a Punisher ongoing that way, and I felt at the time that you were developing that idea cleverly under the team-book remit of Marvel Knights.

I admit that I haven’t followed most of your work outside the “Big Two” and their major franchises, and that my comments about your work in general should therefore have been qualified more than they were. It’s also something else I should have mentioned above.

Am I more a fan of Grant Morrison or Warren Ellis or Matt Fraction than a fan of yours? Yes, I think that’s true. Are there aspects of your work or examples of it that I have disliked? Yes, but I didn’t stop reading Nightwing or Robin until after you’d left those titles, so I was far more pleased than bothered by your work there. Is everything you’ve written good or great? No, but there’s no writer I’d say that about. I think Morrison’s or Fraction’s worsts are as bad as anyone’s worsts, and I think their idiosyncratic ambition can fail badly and become too precious.

You write damned fine action stories with well-delineated, well-rounded characters in them. (I said as much above, but it was buried in criticism.) You’ve offered valuable advice on the craft of writing for comics; I think your particular explanation of the “page-turn” concept, discussed at Dixonverse and elsewhere, is a crucial concept of comics pacing. I think some writers today, big-name ones that I otherwise like, should learn and apply it. You know something a lot of writers don’t: comics are still serialized, and probably will be for a long time to come, and therefore need to be written to suit that form as well or even instead of the collections those serials now often become. I stand by my criticisms of your work, but I think my full opinion of your work is more favorable than my earlier statements would suggest.

In closing, leaving off the critical voice and the qualitative labels, I agree with you that you write and have written comics greatly enjoyed by and artistically successful with a wide-ranging and numerous readership: I’m a part of it.


May 8, 2013 at 8:42 pm

Chris Claremont has to be the king of this category. Lila Cheney, Roma, Cat’s Laughing, the Flash Girls…the list goes on and on. (and I’m generally ok with it)

More than that – Claremont basically became a master of lifting characters out of books he formerly wrote and working them into the X-Men continuity. Whether it be Ms. Marvel or half of Spider-Woman’s supporting cast, pulling Sabertooth in from Iron Fist, importing Psylocke over from the UK… there was definitely a point where it seemed like anything and everything he wrote that WASN’T X-Men was inevitably going to become X-Men.

(and then, of course, when he took over Exiles he basically did the same thing, and pulled in a few of his own favorite characters like Psylocke and Sage)

Not that I have a problem with that, though – I’ve always sort of been of the school of thought that a continuity that tightly woven actually makes the universe seem more realistic. Especially when it feels like a more organic crossover, and not just popular characters being shoehorned into someone else’s book for a month or two as a publicity stunt or crass attempt to boost sales. Unless a character totally sucks, seeing them pop up again after being missing for a while is always kind of interesting to me.

Also, kind of sad this topic apparently didn’t turn into a regular feature, since it’s more than a year later now and this is still the only one.

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