"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
Comic Books, Film
There are 30 issues of Dreadstar written by Peter David (#41-64 of the First Comics series and #1-6 of the Bravura mini-series), but there are 31 days in December. When I last did Dreadstar December, I covered up through issue 31 of Dreadstar. Those two facts leave us with today, the first day of Dreadstar December 2, and a far too breezy look at the final nine issues of Dreadstar that Jim Starlin wrote.
I posed this question via a poll on Twitter (below), but I am considering doing another month-long daily posting series and wanted to see what people were more interested in. The two options are a second Dreadstar December about Peter David’s run on the title (with the first day being a longer post on Starlin’s final year on the title where he just wrote it since David only wrote 30 issues of the title total and December is 31 days long) or a third Another View about… well, I don’t know yet. Suggestions are welcome if you’d like to see me write about the same comic every day during January. So, vote in the Twitter poll, comment… and we’ll see which one I do.
What month-long post series on @csbg would interest people more? (DD on Peter David's run. AV3 on ?????????????????)
— Chad Nevett (@cnevett) November 9, 2015
For whatever reason, seeing that it is “Batman Day” made me think of Brian Azzarello. Maybe it’s that, this year, he’s co-written (or will have work he’s co-written released) four different projects featuring Batman. He’s written a surprising amount of comics featuring Batman from Broken City to Flashpoint: Batman: Knight of Vengeance to the Deathblow crossover to the Wednesday Comics story to First Wave to various shorts and guest appearances… I haven’t read every Azzarello Batman story (it’s pretty much a couple of shorts and that recent issue of Batman that he co-wrote that I didn’t know he co-wrote until the day after it came out), but I’ve read most of them and there are three that stand out to me today.
Superman #39 and Superman #40 are the same comics. Not literally, of course, but in basic essence, there is little separating them. There are a few flourishes like dealing with Clark revealing he’s Superman to Jimmy Olsen at the end of Superman #38 that issue 39 follows up on, but, really, these are both issues where Superman deals with what his new ‘solar discharge explosion’ power means. Issue 39 is written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by John Romita, Jr., inked by Klaus Janson, coloured by Hi-Fi, and lettered by Sal Cipriano; issue 40 is written by John Romita, Jr., pencilled by John Romita, Jr., inked by Klaus Janson, coloured by Dean White, and lettered by Travis Lanham. We could go over the differences in colouring and lettering between these two comics (and they are there, of course), but, as you can imagine, I’m going to focus on the differences in the writing. Namely that Geoff Johns wrote a DC version of this comic, and John Romita, Jr. wrote a Marvel version.
You know there’s something wrong when the series isn’t even 52 issues. The New 52: Futures End is 49 issues long and, taking into consideration any and all one-shots released in September 2014 under the “Futures End” banner, I’ve increased it to 51 issues. I thought long and hard and solicited opinions about any other inclusions into the official run of this comic and nothing else mattered. Hell, Futures End: Superman #1 barely matters. I tried my best to help DC out and make it an even 52. I couldn’t do it.
Viewed in the context of the complete mini-series, many of my misgivings (concerns?) about Thanos vs. Hulk #1 seem to be truths rather than pessimistic speculation. Was this really a Hulk story that Thanos guest stars in briefly turned into a Thanos-marketed comic that could cause some fans to cry foul at the outright lie of the title promise? Yes. I saw some of those complaints pop up on Tom Brevoort’s Tumblr this week and his response of “Sorry you didn’t like it” seemed appropriate, but also a dodge that, yeah, this should have remained a Savage Hulk storyarc (Starlin even uses that specific phrase in the final issue for obvious reasons) because it’s very much a Hulk story that rubs up against the Starlin cosmic stuff briefly. Thanos only appears in the first two issues (save a one-panel cameo at the very end of issue 4) and only briefly engages in combat with the Hulk in a virtual world. But, that’s not the only problem with Thanos vs. Hulk #1.
For the month of January 2015, I wrote about Thanos vs. Hulk #1 everyday. Here is the archive of those posts.
This is the second year that I’ve done this. Last year, I wrote about a conclusion. This year, a beginning with what follows unknown. It was much more challenging, because many elements of Thanos vs. Hulk #1 don’t fit into a full context yet. What happens in the two issues that haven’t been released yet will determine how certain creative choices are viewed in retrospect. It was much closer to the experience of doing a review of a new comic than a proper critical study of a work. A month-long review masquerading as a critical study as I tried to find a way to put one quarter of a story into a proper context…
A topic that I have talked around is Pip the Troll. I’m, uh, not exactly sure what to say about the character. In Thanos vs. Hulk #1, he’s a plot mechanism more than an actual character. Pip kidnaps Bruce Banner because Balstaar kidnapped Heater Delight and, as a result, feels bad and ‘tricks’ Thanos into getting involved. While he’s a crucial part of linking all the various threads of the story, he is also completely replaceable with little noticeable difference. Or, that’s what I’ve thought ever since reading the issue. I’ve asked “Why…?” lots of times so far, so why not “Why Pip the Troll?”
Something that’s weird to notice is what characters ‘feel’ like creator-owned characters when it comes to Jim Starlin. Within the Marvel cosmic cast of characters, Starlin’s contributed quite a few, but the ‘big four’ as it were are Thanos, Drax, Gamora, and Pip, I’d argue. The rest of his creations in the cosmic realm for Marvel are fairly minor. Those four are the ones that people know – and three of them have appeared in at least one movie so far. Yet, not all four of them seem confined to the group of character that ‘feel’ like Starlin has ownership/creative possession of. Nor is that group limited to characters he actually created. Does this make sense? Hopefully it will.
Why isn’t Thanos vs. Hulk #1 funny? I guess that depends in a large part on how funny you find Jim Starlin’s writing in general (when he’s trying to be funny), of course. When he’s on, he can usually make me chuckle, even laugh out loud on occasion, so I’m clearly in the group of people who think he’s a decent comedy writer when he wants to be. His previous Hulk stories were certainly funny in spots and his previous Pip stories were amusing in their own way, while his work on Dreadstar had some funny issues, same with Wyrd the Reluctant Warrior and whatever else I’m forgetting (from a certain perspective, Batman: The Cult is a laff riot). Given his history with both the Hulk and Pip, you’d think an issue that features both heavily would be funnier. Or funny. At all. And, yet, it’s not…
Jim Starlin tends to favour two types of big, muscular characters: the very intelligent and the very dumb. There have been a few characters that haven’t fallen into either end of the intelligence spectrum, but they have usually been thinly-drawn bad guys there to pose a physical threat and be eliminated and, then, forgotten. What’s interesting is that, with the less intelligent big characters, Starlin also tends to use them for comedic purposes. A notable exception there is pre-death-and-resurrection Drax the Destroyer who was nothing but a one-note character trying to kill Thanos. Post-resurrection, his intelligence was just as dim, but in a more childlike way where, often, he was the subject of comedic stories (one involving the Hulk to good effect). That’s also been the way that he’s used the Hulk most often in the past.
Yeah… let’s just keep rambling, ramblers… Labels shouldn’t matter to me, really, because what I think and what you think are very different things and have almost no direct relationship. Call what I love good, call it bad, call it whatever, it doesn’t change what it is for me. Yet… I can’t let go of ‘cosmic’ and the way that it’s applied so liberally to books that take place in space like somehow the two are the same. Like using Jim Starlin creations is the same thing as making Jim Starlin comics. Or Steve Englehart comics. Or Jack Kirby comics. Like ‘cosmic’ is about superficial trappings rather than a specific style or perspective. It shouldn’t matter, but it does and I’ve spent a lot of years trying to figure out why.
My favourite Jim Starlin quote comes from The Art of Jim Starlin: A Life in Words and Pictures: “It was said that the stories were cosmic, whatever that meant.” It’s always stuck with me and became a source of deep thoughts and lots of scrambling when I pitched Sequart on the book I’m writing about Starlin’s cosmic comics, The Infinity Effect. Really, what it came down to is: what does ‘cosmic comics’ even mean? And, once settling on that definition (or quasi-definition as will be seen in the book), are all Starlin comics ‘cosmic?’ Obviously, comics like his Batman run aren’t, but, what about things like ’Breed or Stormwatch? Not everything that takes place in space is ‘cosmic’ (hell, I’d argue that 95% of the comics people call ‘cosmic’ these days aren’t) and not everything Starlin does is ‘cosmic,’ so, of those two groups that intersect, what is? Is Thanos vs. Hulk #1?
Pip the Troll’s internal thoughts are presented through both narration captions and thought balloons. It’s the only time a character’s thoughts are related to us directly. Mixing those two methods of communication is an odd choice on Starlin’s behalf, especially when doing so with the same character. Thought balloons are a rarity in comics these days, usually brought back almost as a novelty technique that demands you notice it, like when Brian Michael Bendis used them in Mighty Avengers. With Starlin, they don’t stand out; it seems perfectly natural for one of his character’s thoughts to be shared that way. It’s difficult to see how it works in context, though.
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