So that was Christmas and what have you done? Another year over, a new one just begun... Ing. Beginning. Has begun. Anyway, so how was yours? The same disappointment as the previous years gone by? Shit presents, bored relatives, crap on the telly, too much food, too much wine? Now you're skint for the rest of the month and comics seem so very far from important? Ah, but you couldn't be more wrong, this is going to be a marquee year for the cottage industry known as "Them funny books".
A GRIM ALTERNATIVE
And in celebration of some archaic ceremony long since forgotten by most and perverted into a capitalist celebration of being poor by others, Joe Quesada, much vaunted editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics, has penned a song especially for the occasion (you can download the mp3 from here).
Yes, he used to write songs, he didn't just 'used to pencil'. And in the backwards way of the little adjunct industry known as "Do they still publish those?" he takes a backhanded swipe at alternative covers. No, not Boyz Unlimited covering a Beatles B-Side to milk the teenage girls of their Christmas pennies, but rather, the strange practice of offering the same comic twice. But with different covers!
'Joe Quesada has penned a song taking a backhanded swipe at alternative covers.' You see, as Quesada so insightfully points out, the fans are to blame for bringing this sound business practice down to their level. You don't need to buy them all, he says. You don't need to piss and moan and spit phlegm as you try to get hold of every adamantium-laced version of WOLVERINE'S EX-BEST FRIEND WHO ONCE GOT IN A REALLY BAD FIGHT #1. No, of course not. But it's a touch rich to be blame the consumers, when getting them to buy the same product twice is exactly what you want.
Quesada's complaint seems like a sign of how little say he has at Marvel these days. Editorially, it seems he's really only responsible for cheerleading Marvel's better creators. And if they don't sell, then its back to Chris Claremont and Tom DeFalco and it's like the "Good Ol' Days". He can't stop the practice of alternative covers, although his own participation in the various covers for NEW AVENGERS #1 puts a bit of a dark cloud over his noble intentions. It seems that practicing hypocrisy is another tradition over at the Mighty Marvel.
MY BABY'S GOT THE BENDIS
It seems more and more as though editorial control for Quesada these days just means following whatever the esteemed Brian Bendis decides. The recent Avengers revamp looks like the result of a brief conversation the two had in a pub. (No doubt Mark Millar was drinking Tennents and tossing a caber in the background.) Bendis' slow-and-steady approach to narrative introduced on DAREDEVIL is now company practice, enforceable even against some creator's wishes. Decompression is a godsend to a man like Bendis, who is pumping out comic after comic, but there are works that don't need it, and suffer from it.
But even on the outstanding DAREDEVIL, this decompression has become a crutch. Every arc becomes more stretched, to the point where you wonder whether you actually need to pay a writer for all those splash pages and repeated panels.
'Quesada seems to go along with whatever Brian Bendis decides to do.' And this isn't an old school rant about bang-for-yer-buck. I love decompression when it's done right. But it's so easy to hurl accusations of formal retardation at any fan who disagrees with the trend for decompression. They're told they just don't 'get' it. Yet the current arc on DAREDEVIL, 'The Golden Age', is a perfect example of how barely one issue of story has been stretched out to three with no obvious reason why.
With Bendis having this much influence at the House of M, it begs the question, how long until he takes over from Quesada? Of course, he'd have to want one of the most important creative positions in the business. At least he wouldn't have to work alongside Bill Jemas, and thus wouldn't suffer the wrath of every Newsarama poster and store owner. Then again, why would Bendis want the job, when at the moment he gets to have his cake and eat it?
OVER AT THE COMPETITION
At DC they're following some of Marvel's examples, but with more forethought and less of a slap-dash anything-goes atmosphere.
Whereas Marvel launched THE ULTIMATES with the reliably slow Bryan Hitch and suffered missed shipping date after missed shipping date, DC have planned ahead with their own return-fire. The recently announced Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely 'Ultimate' SUPERMAN project will be 12 issues, and cannot afford to ship late. Quitely's slow pace has been his only impediment to greater things, and if handled the same way as Jim Lee, there's no reason he can't stick to a schedule.
But while Marvel hangs its hopes on Brian Bendis, DC is returning to its own safe bet of Grant Morrison. Both creators are alleged to be carrying out massive renovations on their respective universes while maintaining a freelance position. But while Morrison seems happy to take gigs when he's offered and walk away counting his thrupenny bits afterwards, Bendis is on a no-holds barred race to write everything.
It can't just be that Morrison has had his play in the paddling pool and now wants a shot at the deep-end of the adult pool, or even wants to go play on the swings. Bendis has had his fair shot at most of the icons, and has shown no interest in returning to independent work beyond POWERS. Morrison makes a point of doing independent work on a regular basis. In fact, a canny observer might note that his independent work should be appearing in trade around the time of his big mainstream work. But I don't know any canny observers.
STANDING WITH MY ALLIES
And what about Quesada? Compared to the heyday of a couple of years ago, Quesada's name is very rarely mentioned in fandom. It's a difficult job, being editor-in-chief, especially as every stupid business decision made by the company is filtered through him, and it's made to look as if he's behind it.
Alternative covers might well be nothing to do with him, but they may as well be so far as it matters to most fans. Who'd want to give up being a carefree writer to take up that mantle? Maybe Quesada's happy just playing second-fiddle to a slap-head with a line in good dialogue? Maybe he's hard at work behind the scenes and content to go unappreciated?
DC's recent attempts to bring real change to its universe seem to be bobbing in the wake of all the work Bendis and cohorts have done recently. But at least works like IDENTITY CRISIS, WARGAMES and the upcoming DC COUNTDOWN are the work of many men colluding towards multiple goals in a co-operative manner. Marvel seems to be in a holding pattern following Bendis' actions.
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