Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Weasels of the Week: Jonathan Hickman, Dan Buckley, Tom Brevoort, & Joe Quesada

They just don't get it.

Marvel Comics had recently resurrected Steve Rogers, the definitive Captain America, after a lengthy story arc that saw the iconic hero killed by an assassin's bullet. As many comics fans are aware, death in the comics isn't quite as certain as in real life. Instead, in this modern era, it is but a cliched plot device used to shock readers and inspire a sudden spike in sales of certain titles the publisher feels needs some sort of temporary boost. Captain America was one such case, but did Marvel have to go to the well again so soon?

I wrote before about the company's plans to kill off a member of the Fantastic Four. Never mind that the series is approaching its 50th anniversary this year. Never mind that there are plans to reboot the movie franchise after 2 feature films that starred the likes of Jessica Alba & Michael Chilkis were met with mixed reactions from fans at the box office. This was another sales ploy, but it shouldn't have been done.

Jonathan Hickman, a relatively new face on the comics scene, is the author of what is the "final" story arc for the current FF series. Like, let's be realistic, okay? I think we all know that before the end of the summer, the FF will be back, whole again, to mark the aforementioned 50th anniversary. Hickman will get the lion's share of the blame for killing off (at least for now) Johnny Storm, the Human Torch (played by Chris Evans in the movies), but Hickman tried to explain himself by saying that Storm represented the child in all of us. That argument would've worked 30-35 years ago. What Hickman is forgetting is that comics are read by people of all ages, not just children. I retired from collecting a couple of years back, but I still keep an ear to the ground, if you will, checking the online solicitations to see if there's anything that actually catches my fancy enough to make a spot purchase. Hasn't happened yet. Consider also that Marvel's corporate parent, Disney, might be in the running to produce a new FF movie, and they would prefer to have the classic lineup remain intact. This is a clear case of a quick fix being made without regard to long-term, long-range plans within the corporate framework. Thusly, Hickman will not shoulder the blame alone.

Tom Brevoort was recently promoted to Executive Editor at Marvel after a couple of decades of service as a Marvel editor. Publisher Dan Buckley and former Editor In Chief Joe Quesada also have to shoulder some of the blame, especially Quesada, considering the following rap sheet:

1. The Rawhide Kid is rebooted as a homosexual cowboy. Ron Zimmerman, a writer for radio icon Howard Stern, was tasked to write a miniseries for Marvel's adult-geared MAX imprint that would recast the Silver Age Western hero for the 21st century. It wasn't all that successful, which is why it took 7 years before a sequel was even published. More people know Zimmerman these days as the recent armpiece of singer-actress Cher, who could probably teach him a thing or twenty about writing......

2. The most famous comics wedding of the 80's gets flushed down the toilet (unless you only read the newspaper comics pages). Apparently, Quesada didn't like the idea of Spider-Man being married, so he commissioned a controversial storyline that saw the marriage of Peter Parker (Spidey) and model-actress Mary Jane Watson erased from existence. It was really an excuse to clear the decks and refocus the Spider-Man books on retrograde plotting, circa the mid-to-late 70's, when Quesada was growing up. Luckily, Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee has kept the marriage intact in his daily strip.

3. The assassination of Captain America. As noted above, this storyline ended with Steve Rogers being resurrected about a year or so after his "death". Despite the fact that a well respected writer, Ed Brubaker, was---and still is----writing the series, there was something that kept readers away. At the end of the day, though, it was more about Quesada getting headlines in the morning papers. Again. It's a disturbing pattern.

As an artist, Quesada has some talent, but was not the best at keeping deadlines. Before becoming editor-in-chief, Quesada teamed with filmmaker Kevin Smith to reboot Daredevil, but a combination of factors, including Smith's movies and personal matters on Quesada's side, had readers waiting for months on end between issues. Why in the world, then, would Quesada even land an editorial job in the first place?

You could say that the headline grabbing stunts were Quesada's way of getting the publicity he'd hoped for at the beginning of his career, but didn't get, for whatever reason. The storyline leading to Johnny Storm's "death" began on Quesada's watch, though Axel Alonso has taken the EIC gig recently. Alonso was, ah, late to the party, shall we say, and gets spared the weasel ears. Brevoort & Buckley each get a set for signing off on the project, Quesada because he certainly deserves them, and Hickman because, as I'm sure he knows, there are people who strongly disagree with the editorial decision, and will blame him more than anyone else. He did his job, but the question is, will this be his legacy? You have to hope it isn't.


Samuel Wilson said...

On your third point,you as an individual are not equivalent to any collective of "readers." Brubaker's work on Cap has been very popular, and the assassination story was well done. It was only the actual resurrection that was botched.

As a rule, I agree that comics are doing "life-changing" (or -ending) events too often these days, but on the other hand, how many comics characters and continuities are exactly the same now as when they started? Evolution is desirable but ought to be gradual, and a writer should have to earn the right to do something as big as killing off a major character by sticking with a title a lot longer than most of them do nowadays.

hobbyfan said...

Thanks for filling the blank, Sam.

We've had the Golden Age, the Silver Age, & the Bronze Age. Today's generation of writers seem to have the same problem as people in other forms of entertainment media. They fail to see that the so-called "sound byte mentality" borne out of the early years of MTV doesn't quite apply to everyone. I do not know how long Jonathan Hickman has been in the business, for example. As I said, he was relatively new, and the story arc he's been writing had been ongoing for about a year, from what I read. That really isn't enough time to give him the privelege, if you will, to carry off a stunt of this nature.

Like I said before, with the FF's 50th anniversary coming later this year, the Torch will return, good as new, as soon as Marvel either recognizes the mistake it's made, or scapegoats Hickman and replaces him with a veteran writer who can cover for him. The latter option seems more likely.