Friday, June 7, 2013

Crossing Over

Karen: Doug and I were having a little email discussion the other day, which (as they often do), took some twists and turns and soon became focused on how some writers and artists in the Bronze Age moved from Marvel to DC or vice-versa, and how they did once they made the move. Some were more successful than others, and we wondered why. Here's a little bit of that conversation:

Doug: I fail to understand how there could have been such a big difference in quality between Marvel and DC, particularly as creators began to move back and forth between the companies.  It just mystifies me how a guy like Gerry Conway, or Jim Starlin, could have been so good at his craft for Marvel and then just seemed to middle about once at DC -- what I mean by that is that their signature works were done at the House of Ideas.

Karen: The Starlin Superman stories (in DC Comics Presents) I believe were co-plotted by him and scripted by others. Len Wein and perhaps Marty Pasko might have been involved. They are, as I said, "OK" -not great but not terrible. Now if the art on them was excellent, I might feel like doing the review. But it isn't. I looked it up -it was Romeo Tanghal on inks and he just makes Starlin almost unrecognizable. I don't know that Starlin ever had any outstanding artwork for DC now that I think about it. Even his work on Legion got screwed up. I recall he wound up using that "Steve Apollo" by-line.  One DC work by Starlin that would be worth reviewing is Cosmic Odyssey, and he didn't even draw it!

Not to be cruel, but was Len Wein ever anything but a placeholder? I can't recall any outstanding or notable runs by him. Conway at least had his run on Spidey, and a pretty good run on
FF. I'm not sure about his JLA run other than that it was lengthy. That's my DC ignorance showing. We've had a little discussion on Marv Wolfman's merits on the blog, but at least he had Tomb of Dracula and New Teen Titans. But Wein? He created Wolverine, and co-created some of the new X-Men. But what really memorable work did he do? I've just never heard anyone bring up any titles or runs by him.

Doug: "Placeholder" is an apt summation of Wein's work.  He shows up, stays, but really leaves no wake as he leaves.  He had a long run on Incredible Hulk, yes?  Editorially?  I couldn't really comment on the direction he took any of the books he steered, for better or worse.

So was it easier for an artist to leave a mark than for a writer, going back and forth?  Many will say that Perez's best work was on the
New Teen Titans, and I suppose that some might even say that Byrne's revamping of Superman is on par with his run on Fantastic Four (I would guess that most BA fans would place his X-Men on a strata all its own).  Come to think of it, Perez's Wonder Woman was excellent as well. 

Karen: Why were some successful and others not? Kirby is an interesting proposition -short-term, not successful at DC, but long term, they sure have used his Fourth World concepts alot! Roy Thomas carved out his own niche at DC and did great -until Crisis came along. Wolfman and Perez succeeded at both houses and arguments can be made for which was their better venue. 

Doug:  So now it's time for our readers to jump in.  We've certainly got this ball rolling, and it's our hope that we've stirred the pot enough that those of you with strong opinions will "yea" or "nay" some of the posits we've set forth.  The beautiful thing about a water cooler topic like today's is that we can rehash it all day long, maybe even get a little passionate, and not solve a darn thing.  But it's the process that's so much fun, isn't it? 


Fred W. Hill said...

As far as I know, Wein's most celebrated work as a writer was his run on Swamp Thing, but then that was more remarkable for Berni Wrightson's artwork than for the writing and Alan Moore is far more famous as a writer on the DC's muck monster. As for Kirby, what was most significant about his tenure at DC was that it was his first at being both the artist and credited writer on several full-length series (noting that he was credited as writer on his brief run on the half-length Inhumans series). And although the Fourth World had a big toe in the Superman circle, Kirby tended to keep most of his DC work in pocket worlds entirely separate from the rest of the DC universe -- as with Kamandi and OMAC. Then again, he pretty much did the same thing when he returned to Marvel -- even his runs on Captain America & the Falcon and Black Panther tended to ignore previous continuity of the characters as well as the rest of the Marvel Universe. Kirby still has some magic in his concepts but it was very different from his prime work in Marvel's Silver Age.

Humanbelly said...

Actually, Len Wein's long run on the Hulk was very, very solid for the most part. In fact, I think it would between him & Roy Thomas for best writer at handling the deceptively child-like nature of the character, and really bringing that third-person speech pattern to life and making it believable.
Issue #189 is particularly memorable, as it's written w/ what seems to be the Hulk's subconcious voice as narrator. Some found it hokey. . . I loved it, and would have liked to see him continue using that device. My one knock would be that the title w/ Wein seemed to operate on a month-to-month stream of conciousness basis. There'd 1-part, 2-part, and 3-part stories--- but not lot of larger arc for the Hulk himself. We had, rather, the continuing years-long saga of kidnapped Rosses and fake Glen Talbots, and broken-hearted Bettys, etc, etc.

HB (kinda OT, but wanted to speak up for muh man Len. . . )

Edo Bosnar said...

Well, I rather liked those issues of DC Comics Presents written by Wein and drawn (and usually co-plotted) by Starlin. Probably my favorite of the series in fact. Starlin also did a whole bunch of really nice covers for DC right at the end of the '70s and in the early '80s.
However, I can't really disagree with your overall assessment of Starlin at DC. He had a lengthly run as the main Batman writer, which I can't really comment on - the only thing I read was The Cult, and except for Wrightson's art, I really didn't like it. I also found Cosmic Odyssey really disappointing; Mignola's art is absolutely beautiful throughout, but the story leaves much to be desired. There are a few good bits, but the conclusion is really unsatisfying.

One writer I think did well at both companies (although he never set the world on fire) was Steve Gerber. He's obviously better known for his work at Marvel (Man-Thing, Howard, Defenders, etc.), but he did some interesting things at DC, mainly a few intriguing issues of the revived Mr. Miracle series and that Phantom Zone mini-series. Much later, he wrote some of my favorite Elseworlds stories, Last Son of Earth and Last Stand on Krypton.

Rip Jagger said...

I haven't seen it mentioned yet, but for me Len Wein's signature work will always be his relatively brief but truly significant turn on the Justice League. He took over for Mike Friedrich as the regular writer on that series just in time for the completely awesome centennial celebration crossover with the Justice Society. That crossover set the tone for all the rest that were to come.

Also at that time Dick Dillin was inked by Dick Giordano and the art on the book never looked better (including when Perez was the guy).

During Len's short run he re-introduced the Seven Soldiers of Victory, invented the Freedom Fighters, made Elongated Man a member, helped rehabilitate Snapper Carr, killed Santa Claus, developed Red Tornado, and wrote the most heart rending JLA-JSA story ever, the single issue Sandman and Sandy story.

Gerry Conway would eventually take over the reins of this book, going on to deliver plenty of great thrills, often overlooked because of his long tenure which also had lots of mediocrity in it.

Wein on the other hand, hit a few homeruns and retired, giving the old saying about showbiz a bit of truth about always leave the audience wanting more.

Rip Off

William said...

To me, the most successful crossover Marvel/DC creators were John Byrne (big surprise right), George Perez, and Frank Miller.

John Byrne, had huge success at Marvel with his work on the X-Men and Fantastic Four, most notably. Then he followed up at DC with a history making run as writer, artist (and re-creator) of DC's flagship character, Superman.

When George Perez started at Marvel he was THE definitive Avengers artist, IMO. Then over at DC he helped relaunch the Teen Titans, and was mostly responsible for the runaway success of that comic. And later he had a critically acclaimed run relaunching Wonder Woman into the post-Crisis DC.

And finally, Frank Miller, while at Marvel, was almost single-handedly responsible for taking Daredevil from a "B" list character to a solid "A" during his legendary run as writer artist on that title. Then to top it off he went to DC and redefined Batman for a whole new generation (and for generations to come) with his classic mini-series 'The Dark Knight Returns'.

Other creators have had some level of success at both of the "Big Two" but I think that no one made as important and lasting an impact on both the Marvel and DC Universes as the three I mentioned above.

Rip Jagger said...

Some crossovers that often go overlooked are those that happened when DC fired a bunch of their longtime regulars, some for daring to suggest the company might offer insurance for their loyal employees. A lot of these guys ended up working at Marvel, often because they still had some good stories to tell and not the least that new guys like Roy Thomas and the generally kind Stan Lee wanted to help some kindred spirits out if possible.

That's how we got Arnold Drake co-creating the Guardians of the Galaxy (wonder what happened to those guys?) and writing several comics here and there in the MU.

Gardner Fox too showed up to write some Red Wolf and Dr.Strange among other things.

Wayne Boring drew some comics, including spearheading one of Captain Marvel's many revivals.

Another itinerant DC guy who landed at the House of Ideas were Bob Brown, who had long stints on both the Avengers and Daredevil.

Mike Sekwosky drew the Inhumans and Giant-Size Super-Villain Team-Up.

And I guess you might consider Neal Adams to have been one of the grander crossovers during this period. He of course left his perch at DC to helm the X-Men, Thor, and The Avengers.

Rip Off

Karen said...

Regarding Len Wein -you know, I hated to even say anything about the guy, because he seems nice enough. But when Doug and I were making our exchanges, his name popped up, and I honestly could not think of any memorable stories by him. Sure, I knew he had written the Hulk for years, and he'd had runs on other titles, but I just couldn't think of anything that really stood out. Of course, I was not a regular DC reader, so here's where it helps to hear from those of you who were. From what Rip says, it sounds like he did some significant work on JLA, so perhaps his tenure at DC was where he made his mark, despite long years at Marvel.

Rip also brings up a long list of names that also did 'cross-over', some of whom had less star power perhaps and therefore don't immediately come to mind. I think some of the DC guys, particularly artists like Boring and Sekowsky, just didn't fit the dynamic Marvel style and so couldn't stick. But Neal Adams is definitely one of the earliest cross-over superstars, and while successful with both companies, I'd probably say he's thought of more as a DC guy.

Edo, I really did think long and hard about reviewing those DC Comics Presents by Starlin but in the end I just felt that they weren't entertaining enough to do it. If the art had been better I might have run with it. The one exception I might make is the issue with Superman and Starman, sine it's all Starlin, but that thing is huge! But we'll see, I might get to it. I think I was less disappointed with Cosmic Odyssey than you, although I wish Starlin had also drawn it. No knock against Mignola, I just prefer Starlin's work.

david_b said...

Wein a co-creator of the 'New X-Men'.., "and whaaat else has he done..?" "A placeholder..?"

Oh, that should be aplenty for accolades in and of itself.

It's like calling Kirby a co-creator of Fantastic Four.., but just a placeholder as well.

I'm not an X-Men fan by any stretch, but with Cockrum, you have to give the guy his due.

For most of the '80s decade, Swamp Thing was much larger than Man-Thing in terms of popularity from what I recall.

That JLA tenure he was on was the only time I seriously collected 'em and I enjoyed him and the Dillin art extremely well. Nothing earth-shattering, but solid dependable stories, characterizations were pretty well done as well.

Totally agreeing with Rip on JLA art.. Dillin/Giordano were the best team ever.

It all goes with when you collected comics. On one hand, William lists Perez being the definitive Avengers artist, I on the other hand give that title to Bob Brown, or either of the Buscema brothers, primarily because I came in during the Avengers-Defenders Clash.

WardHill Terry said...

A lot of the fun of this blog, for me, is thinking about the comics as I remember them. What Karen says touches upon that. Does one remember a story or series? Is it a fond memory or disappointment? As other have come to Len's defense, I'll use a different example. I bought all 50+ issues of Gerry Conway's Justice League. Mostly, a disappointing memory. However, I remember really liking his run on Batman and Detective. He was writing both books and one title would continue into the other. (long before the constant crossover trend) I have been wanting for years to re-read them, but haven't had the time.

Maybe Starlin wasn't all that great of a writer. Outside of Captain Marvel, what else is memorable? I can't recall much about Dreadstar, and I read that for a long time.

Doug Moench is another writer whose work at DC was not as strong as his work at Marvel, IMO. Of course, I think that because I did not care for much of his Batman run. I also didn't care for his Fantastic Four.

Just thought of artist Alex Saviuk. Never much liked him on Flash, never read him on Spider-Man.

Vince Coletta was the same at DC as he was at Marvel!

Garett said...

I liked Wein on Swamp Thing, and on the JLA...Wein-Dillin-Giordano were great, and yes Rip that Sandman story came to mind, as well as the Freedom Fighters. I agree about the super Starlin covers at DC, but yes Edo I wasn't impressed with The Cult either. Was it the timing? Starlin/Wrightson on Batman in the mid-'70s would've been mind-blowing!I also liked Wein on the Batman/Hulk teamup.

WH Terry I have to disagree about Dreadstar, as I just re-read the first 12 issues in the new TPB, and thought the art and writing were both great. Entertaining, good characters, action, and some humor and some touching scenes.

On a related topic, I'm often preferring the TPBs now to the original comics. I used to get a kick out of seeing the old ads, etc, but now I like the ad-free reading experience, plus reading many issues in a row. If the colors are done well, sticking generally to the original colors as they usually do now, the art looks better on the glossy new paper than in the faded older comics.

Anonymous said...

I agree/disagree with WardHill Terry...I liked Conway's Batman too, but I also didn't mind Moench's stuff on that title. I thought Saviuk's Web of Spider-Man stuff was great, but I haven't seen his Flash or Superman so I can't really comment on it.

What about Steve Englehart? He pinballed back and forth between Marvel and DC several times and was a fan favourite at both. He seemed to have regular disputes with the editors, but he was a good writer (Avengers, JLA, Captain America, etc.)

Mike W.

Karen said...

Mike makes an interesting point: I liked Englehart's work on JLA, and it was the only JLA I bought regularly as a kid -but I liked it because he wrote the team Marvel-style!What did regular DC readers think of it?

How much of our likes and dislikes of creators are really a preference for either the old established Marvel or DC styles of the 60s-70s?

Graham said...

Don Newton and Gene Colon come to mind. I first saw Newton on The Phantom, but loved his work on the Batman books, Shazam, and Aquaman. I enjoyed the issues he did of The Avengers, too.

He and Colon were sort of alternating between Batman and Detective around the time I stopped reading, and I think Moench was writing. I actually liked Colon's art on Batman....seemed to fit pretty well to me.

Wein's JLA run was the highlight, with Englehart's, of my 130+ JLA run. Dillin/Giordano was my favorite art team, but I wish Perez had been able to do more issues when he crossed over.

Edo Bosnar said...

Just remembered some Len Wein stories that I really liked: the Dead Man shorts that appeared during that brief period (about a year) that Adventure was a dollar comic. And it's not just the art (although you can't go wrong with Aparo and Garcia Lopez) - I recall that they were really well written, rather memorable stories.
Englehart, by the way, is a good example, and I think I like his brief run on Batman in Detective even better than most of this Marvel work. He also wrote the first set of issues in that revived Mr. Miracle series I mentioned above, before Gerber took over. Also really good - it's one of the reasons, together with art by Rogers and then Golden, that I think those issues should be collected.

Karen: interesting question. I suppose I preferred that nebulous category called the Marvel style, and thus tended to enjoy DC titles that adhered to it, or at least seemed to.

Also Karen, I really enjoyed that issue of DC Comics Presents with the Starman team-up (#36 I think). However, I think you have to be familiar with the Starman stories in Adventure by Levitz and Ditko to fully appreciate it (there's something else I'd love to see collected: the Levitz/Ditko Starman plus that issue of DCCP).

Graham said...

Well, upon further review, I stand corrected on one of my comments. Gerry Conway was writing most of the Batman stories during the Newton/Colon runs that I mentioned above. Sorry...that's what happens when you go from memory. I only recommend going from memory when recounting athletic feats from your youth. Those are always right, and better than what really happened. :)

Doug said...

If this truly was a water cooler, we'd have all been fired for lack of business activity by now...

Lots of great comments from everyone. You know what I like best? Karen and I sort of (although not in any mean way) denigrated Len Wein and a) no one has jumped down our throats about it and b) there have been some really intelligent and impassioned responses in support of Mr. Wein's career output. Ain't this a great place to hang out?

OK, some thoughts halfway through my day. First, I never considered Wein's run on Swamp Thing with Bernie Wrightson. I've not ever read it, but understand that it is highly regarded and formative to the character's history. Duh to me for it slipping my mind, though. I think, in regard to Wein, where I was coming from is that he really doesn't have that hallmark standout storyline to his writing credits. He may have been solid, but was he ever super? Lee, Thomas, Englehart, Gerber, Conway, O'Neil, Claremont, etc... all of those guys have something(s) specific they can hang their hats on. Wein?

I would tend to agree and disagree with David B. on the artist in charge being "your" artist on a given book. Sometimes that's true for me, but I would never in a million years say Bob Brown is the definitive Avengers artist (and he was on the book when I started reading as well). I think once a reader has delved into the history of a book, while the first perceived artist may hold a spot of sentimentality, one has to objectively (yes, objectively) say what is true: Avengers = J. Buscema, FF = Kirby, Spider-Man = Romita, and so on.

Oh, and I would not equate Wein's co-creating of the All-New X-Men with Kirby's co-creating of the FF. Kirby remained on the book for the better part of a decade; Wein wrote one story.

Good stuff, kids -- and as always, I think we all come away from a day like this with more fodder for our shopping lists, to which I say "thanks"!


J.A. Morris said...

Late to this party, don't have much to add. But I will say that that I didn't realize until last year that Wein's last name is pronounced "Ween", not "Wine".

William Preston said...

Cockrum had a terrific run on LSH; then came over to Marvel's flagship team book. And THEN he referenced his crossoverhood by making the heroes of the Shi'ar look like actual Legion characters. That was a nice nod, both to his own work and to a comic from "the distinguished competition."

Since you mentioned Kirby: I was in middle school when Kirby was doing some of his wildest stuff for DC; I had totally missed his original work for Marvel. Kamandi and Mister Miracle were both pretty cool to me (his new Sandman was just disturbing), and they worked because they were doing their own thing (though MM was also part of the Fourth World material, which at the time I didn't know). The problem when he came back to Marvel was that the DC style he'd developed came with him, and it didn't fit the books he was handed. (Though, in truth, he should never have been given a superhero mag to script.)

Fantastic Four Fan 4ever said...

I have to agree with the reader who said John Bryne on Superman, Miller on Batman and Perez on the Teen Titians. I know they all left as a consequence of Jim Shooter and his policies. He did tell the artists and writers how to do their job. With Byrne it was the splash page story on his Hulk issues, Miller I am not so sure of, and Perez completed some art for a JLA/Avengers crossover. Shooter wouldn't approve the plot. The mass crossing over can be attributed to Jim Shooter, who was let go in 1986. I read the court testimony in that issue of the Comics Journal. Jim encouraged writer Michael Fletcher to sue Harlan Ellison. Ellison gave him a compliment in an interview and told Fletcher it was an insult to his character as a writer. I can't write what was said here, because it's a family friendly board, however, it wasn't insulting. Ellison was saying Fletcher was just as twisted as a Robert E. Howard and his writing can never be duplicated.

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