Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Power Mad?

Doug:  Since we've just kicked off our six-week tour of John Byrne's Man of Steel, let's have a discussion on creators who were given omnipotent control over a comic book.  Somewhere in the course of our comments I'm sure we'll hit on Walter Simonson's run on Thor, Byrne's tenure on the Fantastic Four, and perhaps Frank Miller's turns on The Dark Knight Returns and Daredevil.  Do you have other examples for the betterment of the discussion?

Doug:  What are some successes and failures in your opinion?  I'd offer that while the scope of Byrne's run on the FF was second only to the Lee/Kirby stories, I didn't care for his inking of his own pencils.  The series would have been enhanced had Joe Sinnott provided his standard consistent look to the mag -- but I think Byrne insisted on the control.  And as you'll see, we'll take a few issues with Byrne's handling of the reimagining of the Superman mythos as we go forward.

Doug:  Digging deeper into this issue, is collaboration the answer when plotting a winner?  Can one person succeed endlessly, or is the notion of "more cooks in the kitchen" a better recipe?  Where do we see teams who caught lightning in a bottle, only to have a rift later on?  As always, thanks in advance for your participation.


Anonymous said...

I think you could argue that DC Comics always allowed for the writer to have virtually complete control of the title, given that the artist worked from the writer's detailed script. The Marvel Method allowed for so much more synergy, which really helped raise the excitement level of Marvel's books. DC's best comics in the latter stages of the Bronze Age, Legion and New Titans, were created with both writer and artist having input in the creation of the stories.

I can appreciate how the same individual plotting, writing and drawing his own stories enables clarity of his vision in the books. Jim Starlin's Warlock epic is proof of that! But, yeah, it seems like eventually, the creator would run out of solid ideas.


david_b said...

Uggg, I hated that muddy look on the DD page that Marvel went through in the late 70s.. RUINED a lot of good art in all the titles (and synergy, using Ric's good word), right along with the Bicycle banner cover ads..

Obviously we've seen both good/bad of creators having full control. Both Jim Starlin's CM and Warlock were epics, as was Lee/Kirby's FF and Romita's Spiderman stints..and Wolfman/Perez on NTT.

Hate to say, but nearly anything by Byrne other than his first Avengers, first year FF, and MTU stints I found boring and disappointing. Part of it was the printing process (the brief bleached-out graphics in the 80s, the dark muddled 70s problem mentioned above..), but his inking on FF became wholly too sketchy.

Byrne as writer and artist..? I find it more of interest for his loyal fandom than the general audience.

Even my favorite Steranko's SHIELD stint fell into the same problems. His art was uber-awesome, but his dialogue and story development ended up hard to decipher.

William said...

When you really think about it, with the exception of creator owned properties, there haven't been all that many solo creators with total freedom on very many books. There have been a ton of celebrated collaborations such as Lee/Kirby, Lee/Ditko, Claremont/Byrne, Wolfman/Perez, Bendis/Bagley, Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire, etc., etc. But only a handful of creators have ever been given complete control over an established title. The most well know being John Byrne, Frank Miller and Walt Simonson. Of all of them John Byrne has had the most chances at bat, and been the most successful in that regard with Fantastic Four, Superman, West Coast Avengers, X-Men: The Hidden Years, Namor, Alpha Flight, Hulk, Doom Patrol, New Gods, and so on.

Personally I've usually enjoyed everything Byrne ever had full reign of, especially Fantastic Four and Superman. The only thing I didn't absolutely love was his "Spider-Man: Chapter One" maxi-series. But even that I didn't hate.

I also am a big fan of Miller's initial run on Daredevil. I actually had a subscription to DD during that time. It was just the perfect mix of superhero adventure, kung-fu movies and crime noir. Great stuff. I wasn't as big a fan of what he did on his brief second stint on the character, with DD "Born Again", where he turned Karen Page into a junkie whore who outed DD's secret identity to the Kingpin. Things got way too dark and the character never really fully recovered.

That is until recently. Mark Waid is currently doing some really fun stuff with Daredevil. Anyone who likes more "old-school" style comics should probably check it out.

After his stint on Daredevil ended, Miller went a little off the rails IMO, and his stuff got much too dark in tone for my tastes. Starting with "Dark Knight Returns". I never really enjoyed that book because the whole world Miller set it in was just so damned hopelessly depressing that no matter how it turned out, it just left me feeling down in the dumps. (Sort of like the recent Batman movies). And Miller's "All-Star Batman and Robin" was just totally freaking insane (in the worst possible way).

I also never cared much for Simonson's take on Thor. I believe I'm in the minority here, but I thought that Beta Ray Bill was a stupid idea. Why the hell would Odin give some random alien dude the same powers as his own son? I read the first half dozen issues or so of his run, and then I got really bored with it all and dropped the book.

William Preston said...

I haven't seen mention of the Krazy Kirby stuff that came out of his return to Marvel. Devil Dinosaur at least made its own kind of sense, but what Kirby did to Captain America was catastrophic, and when he left, the comic struggled for months to figure out where to go next. Ditto his (simultaneous?) run on the Black Panther. I got the comic, but mostly because I was a Marvel zombie at the time. When Kirby departed mid-story, and Jerry Bingham came in for the art chores (Iforget who did the writing), it was a relief. And then they finally wrapped up the old Jungle Action plot, too.

Anyone know what happened to sales during Kirby's run on Cap?

david_b said...

I know I struggled to like the Kirby stint on Cap, although it was still a step up from Frank Robbins.

After the majesty of Englehart/Buscema's tenure, I just couldn't.

J.A. Morris said...

I think the first 40-odd issues of Byrne's FF are generally pretty great. One exception being the whole "Latveria is better off with a fascist dictator" business.

But I don't mind some of his inking of his pencils. The battle with Ego (FF #235) still blows my mind every time I read it.
And 236,'Terror In A Tiny Town'(the FF's 20th anniversary issue)is one of the best Marvel stories of all time, it was a great place for me to start buying the series on a regular basis.

William said...

Wow! Mr. Preston, I almost completely forgot about Jack Kirby's solo stuff. I must have blocked it from my memory to protect my sanity. Jack Kirby was undoubtedly one of the greatest comic book artists of all time, but as a writer… not so much.

Karen said...

We'll be looking at Kirby's return to Marvel later this year, so I don't want to say too much here. However...I was absolutely ticked off when he took over Cap. It was terrible. OK, that's all I'm going to say -for now.

I think that, and his DC work, should also dispel the idea some folks push that Stan Lee contributed little to their joint efforts. Kirby may have had a lot of ideas, but he was no writer. It's Stan's dialog that really shaped the personalities of the Marvel characters.

OK, I'm done thread jacking. Back on subject: William, I also am not a fan of Simonson's Thor. Mostly due to the artwork, but also some of the stories just left me cold (like Beta Ray Bill).

Thought Byrne started well on FF but after a few years it declined, and he had some terrible ideas.

Regarding Warlock: A Favorites review on issue 11 is in the works.


Edo Bosnar said...

I agree with William (the first one) about Frank Miller. His first run on Daredevil was absolutely outstanding, but it was also his peak, I think. Everything he did later was not up to snuff: not Ronin, not DKR, not his later work on Daredevil, etc.
I also generally agree about Byrne, i.e., I usually like his stuff, but not unreservedly. I liked most of his FF, his Superman work, and Next Men. Not quite as fond of his West Coast Avengers or X-men Hidden Years (the idea was great, the execution not so much so). Also love his Elseworlds stuff, esp. Batman & Capt. America and Generations (I & II). And J.A., good call on FF #236 - I don't know if I'd say it's one of the best Marvel stories of all time, but it's certainly one of the best FF stories.
As for Simonson, I love all of his work: on Thor (loved the whole Beta Ray Bill thing), Starslammers, Orion. Pretty much the same goes for Starlin as both writer and artist.
Karen - I don't want to jack (no pun intended) the tread into one of those tiresome Lee vs. Kirby debates, but I will say this: as a really big fan of McGregor's work on Black Panther, I was never fond of the way Kirby just discarded all of McGregor's intricate stories and characterization to basically do Omac and/or Kamandi in Wakanda...

dbutler16 said...

Doug, I totally agree with you about Byrne! Actually, I even mentioned that on the Man of Steel post. Anyway, regarding Byrne's FF art, he did eventually relinquish inking duties 41 issues into his run, and the result is an immediate improvement in the art. Also, if you really ant to see Sinnott inking Byrne on the FF, check out FF# 220-221, a really nice two part story also written by Byrne (before his real run started) with a nice return to the FF's roots as explorers. I've always in part thought of the FF as the Challengers of the Unknown with superpowers, and these issues remind me of that. Also, I agree that the writing was for the most part excellent. Byrne focused on making both the FF and their foes more like real, three dimensional people. He also had some sweeping stories, such as the Negative Zone arc, or the saving Galactus story which eventually led to the trial of Reed Richards.

I did also enjoy his run on Superman, where he got to put a fresh take on Supes rather than taking over an existing Superman. Again, he didn't ink his own art, so all was good.

I can't really think of too many other comics I own where one guy did both writing and art. I do have some Frnak Miller stuff, but I really can't stand his art, so at best I'd give his Daredevil stuff a B (A for writing, C for art).

I recently bought volume 1 of George Perez' Wonder Woman, but haven't started reading it yet.

dbutler16 said...

Oh, yeah, X-Men: the Hidden Years. I really enjoyed the artwork, and I thought the writing was decent. I've heard people say it was slow, and maybe it was, but that didn't bother me.

Unfortunately, I have very little Kirby-as-all comics. I have volume 1 of his Black Panther. While I'm not a huge fan of his art, for those who are, this is typical Kirby. I liked the writing, though it wasn't what I expected. It was a bit like Indiana Jones, and was rather fun. I recently bought a couple of old issues of Kamandi from the dollar bin, but haven't gotten around to reading them yet. I'd love to get my hand on some Fourth World stuff, but that hasn't happened yet.

Garett said...

I've always liked Howard Chaykin as writer/artist. I'd be fun to turn him loose on Superman--that'd perk things up.

Miller, I always take a look at what he's doing. It appears the scope of his writing has shrunk with each project. As he gets simpler, he's less interesting. DD was great.

Grell had good runs on Warlord and Jon Sable, plus the Green Arrow miniseries. Since then his art hasn't been as good, and stories like Shaman's Tears didn't grab me.

I like Kirby's Omac+Kamandi, and just bought Essential Warlock, so I'll check Starlin out again.

humanbelly said...

I'd forgotten about Grell's Warlord! That series did start out quite strong, although the whole "concave-side-of-planet's-crust" conceit was too much for even a young, doofy teen to buy into.

I was a long-time fan of Kirby's Kamandi-- stuck with it to the end. It read and felt very much like an old Hollywood matinee serial, in a way. And while it wasn't at all deep, I always felt like Jack had a real old-school connection to this creation. OMAC, on the other hand, never really got up to speed, IMO. Every issue kind of felt like it was inspired with the realization of, "Oh yeah, I gotta get OMAC done today. Hmm. Wonder what should happen? Girlfriend in a box? All the oceans dried up? Something. . .something. . ."

I do think Walt Simonson's THOR stands out as one of the best examples of a singular, unique vision for a book being brought to vibrant life. A solid example of the right artist/writer taking on the right project (But, lordy, NOT X-Factor or FF--)

Hey! Hal Foster? Prince Valiant? A bajillion years doing the book on his own before pulling in some assistance?


Fred W. Hill said...

For someone doing both art & writing my favorites in mainstream comics include Starlin on Warlock, Simonson on Thor and Miller on Daredevil. Byrne did some great stuff on FF but some of his writing I found terrible, and that applies to his other works that I've read as well.

J.A. Morris said...

William said:

" I wasn't as big a fan of what he did on his brief second stint on the character, with DD "Born Again""

I agree, I always thought Turk worked well as a bumbling, comical thug, then during 'Born Again', Turk stabs Matt Murdock! I thought that was out of character for Turk and it seemed like Miller was going all out for cheap shock value.

Graham said...

I liked Miller's first tenure with DD, especially the Eisner-esque touches in some issues. I enjoyed the first twenty or thirty issues of Byrne's FF run as well. I missed Sinnott at the time, but eventually got used Byrne inking his own pencils.

Anonymous said...

Probably going against the grain here, but I really liked Batman stories where both story and art was by Frank Robbins.

B Smith

Matthew Bradley said...

Karen, thanks so much for your comments about Kirby's return to Marvel. Although I was only a moderate fan of McGregor's JUNGLE ACTION, I agree with all of those who say that it was just wrong to let Kirby trash everything he had established.

The pendulum has, indeed, swung so far in the opposite direction that Stan--once hailed as the genius behind the creation of the Marvel Universe (an impression he admittedly did nothing to dispel)--is now seen as some sort of overrated credit hog. But, like Karen, I regard the low quality of the writing in Kirby's latter-day CAPTAIN AMERICA, BLACK PANTHER, and ETERNALS (I didn't even bother with 2001, MACHINE MAN, or DEVIL DINOSAUR) as proof that the Lee/Kirby alchemy was required to work that magic.

If my hazy memories are correct, Byrne's "auteur" period came at or after the end of my Marvel tenure, so I am less familiar with that. But my impression is that I felt the same as I did about Kirby, i.e., that I preferred him as an artist (and even then, not necessarily inking himself) rather than as a writer-artist.

For me, the gold standard for the "auteur" comic-book creator is and always will be Steranko and Starlin. Even with Steranko, whose run on S.H.I.E.L.D. I have just finished reading, I find I paradoxically liked his work in STRANGE TALES better than in the solo book, although he was on the latter for too short a time to establish a real legacy there.

As for Starlin, his first Thanos War in CAPTAIN MARVEL is my favorite Marvel saga of all, with the WARLOCK stuff (and especially the AVENGERS/MTIO annuals tying up those threads) not far behind. Of course, he had some assistance in the scripting and inking departments from time to time, proving once again that even a genius is not beyond needing help.

William Preston said...

It wasn't just the Kirby writing that ruined Cap and Black Panther; it was the art. By the end of his run on the FF, Kirby already evinced the stylistic problems that would plague him thereafter: figures lacking in humanity, a lack of good design, the inability to handle a crowded scene (once a strength), giant eyes on everyone, overtheatricality in art that matched the words. In the end, all he was good for was some wildy kitschy and cool covers on FF, Avengers and others, inked by Sinnott. The figures were clunky and tended to scream, but it was a fun look for the covers.

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