Sunday, February 7, 2016

BAB Classic - Continuity, Part Three: When You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling

This post was originally published on February 26, 2010.

Doug: Last chance to weigh in on continuity, O Faithful Followers. Our little triad of posts on this love/hate topic is drawing to a close. To recap -- in Part One, Karen and I just gave some general venom toward events over the course of the life of the Amazing Spider-Man. In Part Two, we examined the fall-out from DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths. Today we'll wind down with a look at a couple of things that have been bugging Doug and Karen, and then close things out with some suggestions of very good out-of-continuity stories.
Doug: What happens when you don't like continuity for a character? How do you feel when a good guy you really like just seems to get treated like dirt? Now I know in the real world we're not all alike, that some of us have advantages over others, more money, better-looking spouses -- whatever. And I'd even submit that there might be some among us who have it so rough they just feel like born losers. But when it's a fave comic do-gooder and the poor guy gets put through the wringer for, oh, almost 50 years, at some point continuity could maybe be ignored and the guy could get a fresh start. I'm talking about Dr. Henry Pym and the burden he's borne from the panels to the right.

Doug: I am not always a big fan of retcons, but if ever a guy needed one it's Hank Pym. I don't know where longtime Avengers fans rank Pym's court martial in terms of "great stories" -- while I have a complete run of the title, the DVD-ROM, numerous trades, etc., I've never read that story. I was out of comics during the years that was on the newstands and have just never gone back to read it. And you know why? I don't wan
t to. Hank had been a long-tortured soul by many writers, starting with Stan Lee and moving to Roy Thomas and then to Steve Englehart and Jim Shooter. In my Pym essay that is supposed to be a part of Van Plexico's Assembled 3, I deal with these issues. Writers after the infamous "slap" have chosen to dwell on that singular incident, unsavory as it may be, and pigeonhole Hank Pym as some neurotic case. Even in the few moments where he's been close to redemption, another telling of his adventures slides him back into the muck. Maybe someday the guy will be made a hero again.

Karen: I've warmed up to Pym the last few years. I had no particular interest in him as a kid, and when the infamous slap (looks like more of a karate chop in that image!) occurred, I drank the kool-aid like many others and thought, "What a bum!" But as I've had time to go back and read more stories with Pym I have grown to appreciate him, and really wish that Shooter hadn't decided to go that route with him.

Karen: As I understand it, Shooter wanted to have a long-standing hero become a vil
lain, and he chose Pym as his tool. Of course, we'd see this happen again with Phoenix over in X-Men. I think I've even read that Shooter liked the idea of her becoming a regular villain for the team, but this wasn't at all what Claremont wanted. But I digress.

Karen: I think writer Steve Englehart did a lot to try to redeem Pym in West Coast Avengers. When I contacted Englehart about one of the articles I was working on, he told me that he had pitched a Hank Pym series to Marvel which would take Pym from loser to a top hero. It was going to be called "A-Man", as in Ant-Man but also "the story of a man". I sure wish we'd had a chance to see that, instead of all the derogatory stuff that has been published. I think Brian Bendis has really propagated this idea that the super-hero community looks on Pym as a joke.

Doug: My biggest complaint is perhaps how Hank was treated by Mark Millar in The Ultimates. Millar had a tabula rasa and went with the old "crazy Hank" stereotypes that had come before in the 616 universe. Nothing new or redeeming; shoot, more brutal would be a more accurate description.

Karen: That depiction of Hank was one of the reasons I couldn't buy Ultimates for a long while. I really hated that; as it seemed to seep over into the regular universe, at least in the sense that everyone seemed to despise him.

Karen: You know, this is a small complaint, but another character that I wish they hadn't messed with is the Black Panther. We've got this whole back story now that he joined the Avengers so he could spy on them. This just really bothers me. The Panther was alway
s a noble hero, just as virtuous as Captain America. But recently he's been transformed into Marvel's Batman - scheming, never trusting anyone, covered in gadgets. While I appreciate the elevated status he seems to be enjoying, I don't like the fundamental changes to his character. There was a way to increase his standing in the Marvel Universe without completely making him a different person.
Doug: Agreed. The Silver Age idea that Wakanda was this technological wonder of a country that controlled an infinitely important resource had so many story possibilities. For example, one complaint I'd seen about the Panther was that if he was such a benevolent ruler, why didn't Wakanda help the rest of Africa? Many possibilities there, and some poignant stories could be written even today with all of the unrest on that continent involving Sudan, Congo, etc. All written without him being a jerk, that is.

Doug: Shifting gears, we'd like to recommend some fine out-of-continuity stories that can just be enjoyed without any fear of baggage.

  1. Justice (DC) -- Alex Ross paintings over Doug Braithwite pencils. Doesn't get too much better than that. Throw in words from Ross's buddy Jim Krueger and a bevy of Silver Age/Bronze Age good guys and bad guys, and it's a really, really fun ride. Ross provides cameos from just about everyone, including the Teen Titans and the Metal Men. While the premise of the story may not be entirely original, the pretty pictures more than make up for it.

  2. Superman: Secret Identity (DC) -- Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen made a nice story about a real guy named Clark Kent who suddenly discovers that he has the powers of the fictional Superman. It's a quaint tale that gave me a smile as I read it. A feel good story that's part superhero yarn, part slice-of-life.

  3. Kingdom Come (DC) -- As we discussed last time, this one may no longer be considered "out of continuity", and that's a shame. This apocalyptic story, from Mark Waid and Alex Ross, is very, very good. The panel where Captain Marvel shows up to combat the Man of Steel is among the finest splash pages ever crafted, in my opinion. This mini-series is one I return to often.

  4. Hulk : Future Imperfect (Marvel): I don't think this is in continuity -at least, I hope it's not! Modern Hulk vs. Future Hulk, who happens to be ruling what's left of Earth. Great Perez art, a well-written script by Peter David, and a story that makes it easy to understand why the heroes would feel the need to shoot the Hulk off into space.
  5. Superboy's Legion (DC): The Legion in their classic Silver Age costumes, the Fatal Five, and Alan Davis on the artwork -- what's not to like?


Edo Bosnar said...

I can definitely appreciate your suggestions at the end, especially since most of them can be considered Elseworlds titles - for the comic fan like me, who got back into the whole milieu after a really long hiatus, these are tailor-made: you get a (usually) enjoyable story without having to decipher all of the continuity-related references.
By the way, I really liked "Superboy's Legion" as well, and also Davis' "Nail" and "Another Nail."

Matthew Bradley said...

Shooter has a lot to answer for, but in my opinion, that was the worst. Despite all of Hank's much-discussed identity-swapping, his relationship with Jan was portrayed in countless pre-Shooter comics as a fun, loving, and--at times--even sexy one. I loved Hank as a character, whichever one he happened to be that week, and I loved them as a couple. Even after all these years, Shooter's crapping all over them still rankles. It wasn't too much longer before I stopped buying or reading new comics, and I'm sure that contributed mightily to my feeling that Marvel had bottomed out.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I always found Hank Pym kind of boring. At least his neuroses made him somewhat interesting. And as far as redeeming himself, I always thought he did it right away (in the Trial of Yellowjacket arc) when he single-handedly defeated all the Masters of Evil.

As for out of continuity stuff, I thought New Frontiers and Golden Age were both pretty good; I'm not sure how "canon" JLA Year One ended up being, but it's a great series. At Marvel, some of the What If? stories were pretty good.

Mike Wilson

Redartz said...

I hold Jim Shooter's work in high regard, although the Hank Pym issue was definitely an exception to this. That storyline marked the end of my Avengers reading for many years...

Mike W- New Frontier was very good indeed. I also greatly enjoyed "Justice" mentioned above. Have never read "Kingdom Come", however. Actually, some of my favorite stories and story arcs have been non-continuity or non-canon. For example, many of the short stories in the "Batman:Black and White" books are excellent reads. The Marvel/DC crossovers, such as X-Men/Teen Titans are another example. It rather sums up my outlook on continuity nicely: continuity is fine but not necessary; what is most important is a good story (preferably with fine artwork to go along with it).

Edo Bosnar said...

I see I didn't note this originally 5 years ago, but I have to agree with Mike about Pym: Roger Stern really did a lot to clean up the mess made by Shooter almost as soon as he became the main writer on Avengers. It was a pretty solid redemption story, and Englehart apparently made good use of the character in West Coast Avengers afterward. It's unfortunate that later writers did not accept that as the 'new normal' for Hank and instead decided to go for the wife-slapper and generally unhinged loser characterization.

In the intervening years since this was originally posted, I can say that my fondness for 'out-of-continuity' stories has only grown. I'm glad Mike, and Redartz, mentioned New Frontier, which I loved, as well as Golden Age, and I'd add a few more recommendations in addition to the ones I made above: JSA - Liberty File/Unholy Three, Fantastic Four: The End (another fun romp by Davis), Iron Man: The End and (although I'm sure I've mentioned them all before) Byrne's Batman & Captain America (which edged out X-men/New Teen Titans as my favorite-ever crossover), and Generations I and II (III not so much).

Anonymous said...

1) I'll take good stories over stories in continuity any day, and I don't mind decent retcons. That said, I wish some characters could stop going to the same places over and over again. After Roger Stern redeemed Hank Pym to a degree in "Trial of Yellowjacket," he should not have had to re-redeem himself every few years. That said, I like how Christos Gage handled him in Avengers: Initiative and Avengers Academy.

2) Chalk me up as another fan of New Frontier, as well as almost all the aforementioned suggestions (especially Golden Age and anything by Alan Davis). I'll add:

Incredible Hulk vs. Superman: Roger Stern & Steve Rude crafted a fun crossover. Of particular note is how Steve Rude managed to homage the styles of Jack Kirby and Kurt Swan and integrate them into the story seamlessly.

Punisher: The End: This one's by Garth Ennis & Richard Corben, so be warned that it's brutally violent. That said, it's a poerful look at what the Punisher would do at the end of the world.

Archie Meets the Punisher: as goofy as it sounds, but definitely enjoyable.

Batman: Gotham By Gaslight: Elseworlds got off to a strong start, with Victorian-era Batman going after Jack the Ripper. Mike Mignola pencilled, P. Craig Russell inked, so you know it's a good-looking comic.

The Entire DC Universe: 1986-2011: :)

- Mike Loughlin

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