Saturday, January 29, 2011

Video Killed the Radio Star

Doug: OK, so this particular post doesn't have anything to do with MTV, the Buggles, or music. But I got to thinking a bit about evolution in the Bronze Age, and what struck me was that the advent of the limited and/or mini-series has to be one of the things that not only hastened the demise of the Bronze Age but also led us to the path which we are currently on: all creativity must by law be confined to six issues (no more, no less) so that a daggone trade paperback can be manufactured and sold as literature in the local Barnes & Noble.

So my questions are numerous today. First, do you agree with me that my posit is correct? Did the shift toward telling stories confined to a specific page count, marketed as finite series (replete with a big #1! on the cover, as Karen has recently discussed), and allowing for more "talent" to enter the industry bring about or hasten (among other factors) the end of the Bronze Age of comics?

Second, and this is for all-time, what is the most significant limited and/or mini-series to ever see the light of the store shelf?

Third, what (again, all-time) is your favorite limited and/or mini-series? If you can't think of a favorite, can you name (recommend) a few that were really swell?

Lastly, which limited and/or mini-series just plain killed trees?

As always, thank you in advance for your participation.


Aggy said...

Not sure about ending the Bronze age. But the mini-Series that were just a waste of paper is easy to come up with.

Top of the list must be Sonic Disruptors. A DC series so bad they never bothered finishing it (not that anyone ever noticed).

Dark House published a Aliens spin off comic focusing on a group of Colonial Marines. Suprisingly called Aliens: Colonial Marines. This was a 12 issue mini-series, although *SPOILER WARNING* suddenly in issue 10 everybody dies and the series finishes.

Finally not to leave out the Big M I'd add in Captain America Vl2, or at least until the time Liefield was kicked off it.... Actually add onto the list Youngblood and Brigade.

Greatest mini-Series? Crises on Infinate Earths. Changed the DC universe for the next 20+ years with only minor tweaks.

Favourite Mini? See above. Sonic Dis... er Crises on Infinate Earths.

Edo Bosnar said...

Interesting that you brought this topic up; when I was reading Karen's post the other day the idea that mini-series eventually led to that whole re-numbering or "resetting" mania crossed my mind as well.
As to your specific questions, here are my 2 bits (well, 4 actually - and I apologize in advance for the lengthy post):
1. I think maybe your posit is correct, but only at the point when established characters who had their own long-running series started appearing in separate mini-series that told some big, major, "ground-breaking" story (Dark Knight Returns comes to mind here).
2. The obvious answer here would seem to be the aforementioned DKR and also Watchmen. Although Aggy makes a good point about COIE as well.
3. My own favorite? Hard to pick. I love Watchmen. There's also Gruenwald's Squadron Supreme, and Gerber & Colan's Phantom Zone. DC's Thriller series also comes to mind, but I don't remember if that was an intentionally limited series or if it just fizzled out after 12 issues. Then there's also the just plain fun minis, like Sword of the Atom or that Hercules one you posted here - I remember so thoroughly enjoying that when it came out.
4. I don't think I've read enough to make a good call here, and over the past few years I realized that I missed a bunch of those minis from the early to mid 1980s; for example, I only recently found out that DC had this 3-issue toy/license-based mini called "Power Lords". I suppose one that deserves mentioning as a bad idea is that Kitty Pryde & Wolverine series - I remember that it came out at a time when I had become rather disenchanted with the X-books, so I pointedly avoided it. And as I understand it, even a lot of diehard X-fans thought this was a misfire.

Dougie said...

Thriller was meant to be an ongoing but the original creative team left in short order. It was remarkable; not immediately accessible but unique.

One of my favourites was Secrets of the LSH. Very poor, art-wise, but I loved the text features. I also picked up Tales of the Green Lantern Corps. The original Amethyst seies was unusual and charming.
At Marvel, I liked Magik very much and Contest of Champions. Wolverine was of course a huge success and massively influential but I wasn't crazy about it (or Ronin)-just not a Logan fan. I also collected Mantlo's X-Men/Micronauts, Cloak and Dagger and Vision/Scarlet Witch.
As for a waste of paper, I'd have to say Fallen Angels was quirky in a very forced and irritating way.

david_b said...

Sounds like everyone read a lot more of the 80s comics than I. I stopped my 'original' comic collecting back around '75, then picked up old Silver age in the '80s at college.

Doug, very interesting point on the limited series as being a contributing force for the Bronze demise, depending on if there was ever a consensus as to when it ended. In my opinion, the limited series was the industry's way of making cash off secondary/third-level characters in spin-off tryouts.

Other than perhaps Wolverine or West Coast Avengers, which limited series actually made it to a regular series with any longevity..? OK, you could argue Hawkeye's limited series into 'Marvel Spotlight' or 'Solo Avengers', whichever lasted longer.. Point is.., none of which actually turned out to have much lasting impact on the Marvel universe (neither for DC), as far as I could recall, just as bad as Marvel's 'new universe' or whatever terrible idea they had.

I read a few independent mags, but it was either a way to introduce a new storyline without deciding which mag to put it in (Secret Wars, Contest of Champions, Crisis), or a limited-investment, 'safe' way to see if any existing hero without a title could have any sustained traction.

All in all, if it gets you interested in buying a title, the publisher succeeded.

...And succeeded in droves, if all the limited-series titles you can't even give away sitting out on eBay is of any indication..

As for ones I liked, I thought West Coast Avengers's limited series was good with Bob Halls art. Once Al Milgrom laid hands on WCA#1, it was DOA.

Doug said...

One of my favorite mini-series was the 2004 prestige format Superman: Secret Identity by Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen. It's an incredibly well-crafted, sentimental story that was one of the last books for which I yearned for the next issue's release.

Another I'd recommend was The Adventures of Captain America by Fabian Nicieza and Kevin Maguire. It's a fun tale of Cap, told like one of the old-time serials. Set in the 1940's it's quite nostalgic and to me really embodied the essence of the character.

Of course, what I call the "classics" you can't go wrong on -- Marvels, The Dark Knight Returns, Kingdom Come, Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters, and Crisis on Infinite Earths are all wonderful and have been re-read several times.

As for a dog, and this one's not been mentioned yet -- how about the Englehart/Staton mini Millenium?


Joseph said...

I love seeing an intelligent discussion about the end of my favorite comics age.

I will, however, try to get to my point: my favorite limited series of the time was Contest of Champions, warts and all.

My reasons are quite personal: it helped get me back in to comic reading/collecting after being out for a few years. I also enjoyed the encyclopedia it had at the end of each issue (a precursor to the Handbook of the Marvel Universe series, it seems). I loved the crossover and seeing so many great heroes in one place.

Looking back now, I can objectively see it's flaws. But, like a song or album you loved growing up, it will always have a special place in your heart.

Thanks, Doug and Karen, for providing such a great forum for Bronze Age debate!

ChrisPV said...

I think that the limited series is indirectly responsible for the way the Bronze Age ended, in that it proved that completionists are out there, and that they'll buy anything if you tell them it's important. Heck, I have a couple of miniseries in my collection that features characters I don't really care for, just because it resolves a dangling plot thread in a book I do like. And that's the insidious thing. The Hercules or Hawkeye minis are pretty safe; they just feature a character from another book in a solo adventure. If you want to know about it, great. If not, it won't affect your enjoyment of the main series. Later, however, when we started having ongoing storylines continued in these minis, then we had problems.

End result? We have situations where minis and oneshots precede new ongoings. So you can pick up an issue #1 that is actually part TWO of a story. It's enough to drive a bloke mad.

Karen said...

Chris said: "We have situations where minis and oneshots precede new ongoings. So you can pick up an issue #1 that is actually part TWO of a story. It's enough to drive a bloke mad."

This is a big pet peeve of mine. I think the worst recent offender has been ALL of Abbnett and Lanning's usually well-done space sagas, like Annihilation Conquest, Realm of Kings, and Thanos Imperative. For the most part I enjoyed the stories but they never really end! They just go on to another miniseries. I don't see any reason these couldn't have been told in Nova, Guardians of the Galaxy, etc.


Anonymous said...

I stopped reading at the time these mini-series exploded, so I’d have to go for V, Watchmen or the Secret Wars. Watchmen I thought really jumped the wall into literature (as did From Hell). That was not a comic book.

Sidebar: One of the things I loved about Marvel was, amidst all that Bullpen / Stan’s soapbox type hyperbole and their bombastic idiom, they would sometimes be as honest as a sledgehammer. I remember when the Beast was cancelled in Am Adv’s, someone wrote a heartfelt missive at the lack of faith and vision and RT’s reply was almost literally: yeah, we liked it too, but it didn’t sell enough so we axed it.

Somewhere ( don’t ask me where) at the time of the Secret Wars, I read that they introduced SW not (as you say Doug is now the case) for the TPB, but purely in order to make collectibles. Apparently, the DC universe had always done well on figurines , partly because toy companies insisted on everything being in one over-arching umbrella. With everyone being a member of the JLA, the D&C universe was a lot tidier and Mattel only wanted to play with Marvel if it centred around an event featuring everyone. It was even Mattel that came up with the name Secret Wars. What I like about this is that Marvel didn’t even pretend it was done for artistic / creative reasons, it was a pure marketing exercise from start to finish. I still rather liked it though, esp. Magneto being thrown in with the good guys.

While we’re here: Hi Doug, Hi Karen. Could we please have a thread to discuss favourites in the 70’s equivalent of mini-series (I mean the try-out mags like Astonishing Tales, Amazing Adventures, Strange Tales, Marvel Premiere, Spotlight, etc). I think there was some really great stuff in there i.e. Inhumans by Adams, Beast, Deathlok, Doc Strange by Englehart, Smith, Brunner, Warlock (Thomas/Kane) Iron Fist (Kane), Man Wolf (Perez), Ant Man (Byrne), Ghost Rider, can’t remember what else.

Anonymous said...

As for your poll about what killed the Bronze Age--I chose other, and the other is---GREED!

Once some one figured out---hey, there's money to be made here, let's start a secondary market to rip off little kids, let's do multiple covers, let's hype up the "collectibility" concept, let's forget about quality and the love of the craft, love of the characters, all to make a buck.

Lots of people saw the dollar signs behind the comics. But way back then, my dad broke it down for me---things are only worth what somebody will ACTUALLY pay you for them.

You shouted out, who killed the bronze age? Well, after all, it was you and me.


Rick said...

I couldn't agree more with Starfoxx's comment.
What drove me away from collecting was the complete greed that Marvel developed in the mid 80's. Once comic collecting became fad and you actually had investors buying multiple copies of every new comic that came out, it led to the end.
Marvel started putting comics out every two weeks for a lot of the X-series, leading to a diminished product and a lot of sub-par stories.
Every series was now "X"-something, getting a lot of folks interested in buying so that someday maybe they could hold that pristine collectors item.
Look at Mile High Comic's list of comics for sale in any comic around 1980-81, and compare to the prices in 1985 and you see the explosion of comics as an investment.
It took the joys of reading comics as a hobby for kids and turned it into an insane business of investor speculation.
With that, the Bronze Age became the Copper Age.

Karen said...

I would certainly agree that all the over the top marketing ploys, like multiple covers, foil covers, etc, had a negative impact on the hobby. Going direct market hurt it as well I think. I have a ton of 80s comics that I can't get a cent for. I wound up donating a bunch of them, although I felt bad for whoever was going to read some of that stuff!

Richard, we've looked at some of those books you mention in the past, typically as part of our Two In One series, but I could see doing something more comprehensive too.


Inkstained Wretch said...

My thinking was that the mini-series format came about because so many titles were canceled in the 70s. Both DC and Marvel launched a lot of series in those years that involved interesting ideas or characters that yet couldn’t be sustained over the long haul and were eventually scrapped.

This must have been frustrating for the companies and creators because they couldn’t know what would work until the after the series were already underway. Poor Jack Kirby had, what, ten titles canceled in those years?

Both companies tried to solve this problem with anthology titles devoted to showcasing new characters or concepts. DC had Showcase and First Issue Special. Marvel had Marvel Premier and Marvel Spotlight, among others. But because these titles were constantly changing their features they couldn’t develop an audience of their own, so eventually this idea was scrapped too.

The mini-series was the solution. Intend for the series to only have a limited run. That way you can try out those new concepts and characters and see what sticks and what doesn’t. If it doesn’t work out, move on.

Want to see if the Punisher can stand alone as a character? Give him a mini series. Not sure if that new Transformers licensed property can find an audience? Try a mini-series. Want to see if that girls’ fantasy idea Amethyst can work? Give her a mini-series.

I don’t think the concept hastened the decline of the Bronze Age. I think it was a good solution to a vexing problem and it resulted in a lot of creative, innovative ideas that might otherwise never have seen the light of day.

I think the advent of the company-wide crossover events was much more damaging. That was when the companies really began to abuse their own customers, using their collector’s instincts to drag them into buying comics they had little interest in. That, and the rise of the specialty shops and the decline of the spinner racks.

Now then, having said all of that, here are a few of the mini-series I remember fondly.

The Legend of Wonder Woman – A four-part series that bridged the cancellation of the old Wonder Woman comic and start of the new one. It had a great nostalgic tone and featured some great old-style art by Trina Robbins.

The Sword of the Atom – A four-part series in which Ray Palmer goes to South America and becomes a six-inch tall Tarzan. Crazy fun with some of the best art of Gil Kane’s career.

The Shadow War of Hawkman – Another four-parter, in which the Thanagarian expatriate learns that his people are attempting a covert takeover of Earth and vows to stop them, forever exiling him from his homeworld. Unfortunately the promise of this one was never followed up.

Ambush Bug – The four-parter in which Keith Giffen’s madman metacommentary on comics is let loose. The character would subsequently go completely over the top and become too much of an injoke, but the first go-round was amusing.

Squadron Supreme – A twelve-part series about a group of heroes who, having failed to stop the last major crisis, decide to rebuild their shattered world into a utopia – no matter what that takes. Very thought-provoking even if I didn’t agree with every argument made by writer Mark Greunwald. This one is right up there with the Watchmen as far as I am concerned.

MaGnUs said...

Not sure about those ends and stuff... but my favorite miniseries was Atlantis Chronicles, by Peter David and Esteban Maroto... from 1987 or 1988. It's perfect to give for a read to anyone who's not even into comics, because while it was used as backstory for Aquaman's Atlantis, you only see Aquaman in one page at the end, and he's a baby to boot. It's an amazing tale of politics, war, and just plain human relationships... a sort of lighter "Dune"... I can't believe this is the first time that comparison comes to mind given how much I love both works.

Not only I love the limited series' (seven issues) story and art, but I also have a bit of a personal story with it. You see, I read it back in 92 or 93 (when I was 12 or 13); and I had no access to comic book stores here yet, and barring a few comics that one of my brothers or someone could bring me every now and then from the US, all I had access too was leftover comics shipped from Spain from their translated editions, and most of the time you didn't find consecutive issues or you had large gaps in a book.

One day, I saw the first issue of this book... I don't know if it was in a used bookstore where I exchanged comics and books I didn't want for some new stuff to read, or if it was in a magazine stand (that didn't usually have anything but newspapers and gossip magazines) some ten blocks from my parent's house... but I loved the cover, so I was hooked, bought it and read it. Then I remember finding the second issue in that magazine stand and bought it.

Somehow, I went there every couple of weeks, and a new issue was there! That was unheard of! I remember scrapping every penny I could find, even selling some old plastic bottles to get a few pesos... but I bought each and every single one of them. I might have found one or two more of the issues in the used magazine place rather than in the magazine stand; but I don't recall (it's been a long time).

I read and re-read that thing; loaned it out to my friends, particularly to one of them who's obsessed with anything Atlantis (be it Marvel, DC, Disney, Indiana Jones, or whatever). I read it more times. And more. Then many years later, now an adult, in 2006, I travelled to Australia for some work stuff, and found the entire miniseries (not a TPB, the issues themselves) in a Sydney comic book store. You know in cartoons when a ray of divine sunlight falls upon the character when he's found the object he was questing for or something like that? Yeah, it felt like that! And the whole was just like 5 US bucks or something like that, a bloody steal! (I did buy more stuff, like a couple dozen Animal Man issues and two plastic Green Lantern rings... one for me and one for my son!)

(continued next post)

MaGnUs said...

What did I do when I got back to my hotel that night? I read the whole thing, this time in English! Then I got back home, and gave my Spanish edition to my friend I mentioned back there.

Now, it doesn't end there (allow me some rambling)... last year Peter David was announced as coming to town for a convention. Any American creator coming here is a big deal, and he was actually the first (other famous US comic industry authors have come here, but they were either actually from here, or from Argentina and Brazil). Not only did he write my favorite limited series of all time, he's written basically EVERYTHING, including a lot of stuff I've enjoyed. Of course, as the host of my own web radio show about comics and the like, I just HAD TO interview him.

There was just one teensy weensy problem... I used to be part of the staff of the con that was bringing him, and at one point, the top dogs there changed, and I had a falling out with the new guys; and was kicked out of the con. They don't even let me into it as a guest from vendors or professionals I know. I SWEAR they are the bad guys and not me (they've turned a con-vention into a con-as-in-swindle). Trying to elude the people who know me at the con staff, I wrote Peter David to ask for an interview and he said "Sure thing, but check with the US Embassy in Uruguay, they're handling my itinerary."

The US Embassy was actually shelling out for David's trip, so I wrote them and they said I had to check with the con people. Ut-oh. So I wrote their press person; and luckily, she didn't know who I was so she scheduled an interview for me the monday after the con weekend, and before another conference David had to to do. Then it was like two months of crossing my fingers to see if one of the con managers who knew who I was didn't get wind of it and cancel it out just for spite... and they didn't.

A couple of weeks before the interview (still crossing my fingers) I did some research on David's body of work, because I knew a lot about it; but I wanted this to be perfect. I wrote my questions, and when the time for the interview came, I went to the hotel. I took several comics for him to sign, including... yes, you've guessed it: Atlantis Chronicles... I made him sign each issue. :) Of course, I told him how much I loved that book, and we talked a lot about it in the interview; and about other stuff. Great interview, great guy.

Back to the actual book, one funny thing is that it has some fake memos between Peter David and Dick Giordano and other people at DC Comics; telling how this was supposedly based on some real ancient documents found by a historian. They didn't tell you it was fake, and the story went that several universities had declared the documents to be apocryphal, so the historian had to turn to a comic writer to at least get it out there.

Now, this was before the internet was widespread, even among comic book nerds (1987-88 in the US, and 1992-93 here... I started using the internet in 93 myself, so I probably read the book in 92), so you kind of believed this stuff... even grown people did. David even tells how the guy who runs the Comic Book Shop News periodical accused him of making all of this up, so David got his brother in law (I think it was), who's a rabbi, to pose as the historian to do an interview with the comics journalist over the phone, and use his knowledge of theology, history and philosophy to actually make him buy into it. And it worked. (This and more is in the interview I did, I can link y'all to the audio if you want).

Sorry for rambling. :)

MaGnUs said...

And the picture I took of the signed mini. He wrote "To MaGnUs, Best Fishes." :)

Anonymous said...

I think an overlooked miniseries is the original Green Arrow miniseries from the early 1980s. That was awesome, a nice murder mystery and fine art by Trevor von Eeden.

I thought the Mike Grell grim-n-gritty "Longbow Hunters" was a dud from start to finish. It featured nearly everything I hate about modern comics: graphic violence, brutalization of beloved characters for shock value, ninjas, and relentless brooding.

Anonymous said...

I just picked up History of the DC Universe #1 and 2 for a buck a piece. It only took me 25 years to find them, but WOW, I love me some George Perez art. Technically, it probably marked the end of the DC Bronze Age (86), but Wow, again.


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