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Trolls and Pendulums

Let me start by saying that i appreciate that Tom Brevoort does his tumblr Q&A. I like hearing the thinking that goes on at Marvel, even when i don't like it or think it's good for their business. But sometimes i think he's trolling me and my ilk (if you read my Timeline website, you are of my ilk for the purposes of this conversation). And i know whenever i quote Brevoort, Min gets upset. So by posting this, i'm kind of trolling her.

So i apologize for all of that. But i did want to preserve this post where Brevoort claims that the focus on Marvel continuity comes from Mark Gruenwald. I get what he's trying to say, which is that Gruenwald did some things that really increased the internal consistency and cataloged (literally) a lot of things. And it's nice of him to acknowledge that a lot of fans like Marvel continuity because Marvel encouraged us to do so. But the idea that continuity in the 60s and 70s before Gruenwald was "much, much looser, much more in the service of the stories being told" is demonstrably false. Steve Englehart's Celestial Madonna storyline is almost as much a Marvel Handbook as Gruenwald's Marvel Handbooks. And i can't count the number of stories that Roy Thomas wrote just to fix some previous continuity error. Two that quickly come to mind are the Invaders story that fixes the discrepancies in the original Squadron Sinister story, and the Avengers time travel story that fixed various inconsistencies in the death/freezing of Captain America. Those stories were barely stories in their own right; they were much more in the service of the continuity than telling a story. Whether that's good or bad is up for debate, but the idea that the interest in continuity was some mid-80s aberration is completely wrong.

As always, i log this stuff for posterity so if i ever get my Timeline up to the current era and tumblr hasn't link-rotted away, i can easily refer back to it. But it's also relevant in terms of a little controversy that seems to be bubbling right now. I'm not reading the comics in question, so it's not of immediate concern to me. But it seems that Corsair has been dead, and he's just shown up on the final page of a Bendis comic with no explanation. Now, of course, it's a last page reveal, so it's entirely possible that Bendis had every intention of explaining it. But people have reason to be concerned, as the return of Star-Lord has not yet been explained after how many issues, and the response on that is that he's getting to it. So who knows if Bendis ever really intended to explain why Corsair was back if people hadn't written to him about it. And i guess a subset of this controversy is that Hepzibah was last seen on Earth, and now she's in space with Corsair. And the response there is a dismissive "She went back into space".

Brevoort says (one of the links above) that what the complainers want is a "Reese [sic] Commission report with footnotes and cross-referencing", and certainly some footnotes would help ease the tension and confusion quite a bit. But i think what these type (us type) of fans really want is just that internal consistency that if we see Corsair and Hepzibah, there's some sort of explanation of how they got from the point A that we last saw them at to the current point B (remember, the Corsair example is just because it's topical; we've been through this a thousand times before and that's why fans are being so quick to react this time). Especially if point A for one of them was seeming death (like Star-Lord). Sure we can make it up on our own. But then what's the point? The thing about this is, we're supposed to care about Corsair and Hepzibah; i assume their appearance on that last page is meant to be an exciting cliff-hanger. But we care about them because of their past appearances. What Brevoort and Bendis really want is the ability to say "Oh no, this is a different story and Corsair and Hepzibah and Star-Lord are alive in this one", but they don't want to actually say that. Because they know that a large subset of Marvel fans aren't really interested in the little stories as such. They are interested in THE story of the Marvel universe.

If i'm wrong about that, and it's just a few loud complainers, then they could easily put their money where their mouth is and just abandon continuity. No need to pretend that Bendis will eventually explain this stuff. Just let your comics sell on the strength of the individual stories you are telling. But i don't think that's the case and so Brevoort has to at least pay lip-service to the idea that it really still is a shared universe. But you can sure see the contempt they have for having to do that. And the reason i'm logging this here and i'm not just giving up is because i think this is just a phase Marvel is going through. I think what you have is an almost visceral reaction to the excessive continuity that happened in a period where the Mark Gruenwalds rose to the top of the ranks and maybe put too much emphasis on continuity by the period of the early 90s. I'm interested in getting to that period again, but i've already seen glimpses of it with various comments about Quasar. And that seems to be a period that Marvel currently looks on with embarrassment, maybe when talking to Disney execs or the movie guys (see the reaction in Sean Howe's book from the movie execs about the "the Talmudic continuity scholars in Marvel editorial" at the time). So the pendulum is currently swinging hard in the opposite direction. And it's interesting to watch and see where it goes, whether it will swing back or just keep going in that direction until the weight just crashes right through the ceiling.

By fnord12 | February 14, 2014, 2:37 PM | Comics



Until the last decade or so, Marvel's writers came disprortionately from its editorial ranks: there were freelancers and writer-artists, but even guys we think of as writers' writers, like Stern and Claremont, started in editorial. From Stan Lee to Roy Thomas to Ann Nocenti to Fabian Nicieza, the core writers were most frequently current or former editors.

An ecitor's job is to maintain coherence, both in the book itself and, historically and to a lesser degree, with the rest of the line. So editors-as-writers might be expected to have some pretty good awareness of continuity and might value it.

But Marvel changed, and now most writers, especially the line's pacesetters like Bendis, have never been editors. And most editors have never been creators: is Axel Alonso the first EIC with no writing or art credits to speak of?

Even more than the "spillover" of editorial continuity concerns into writing in the old days, the overlap between writers and editors was a sign that editors were overwhelmingly in creative control of the company--not overall control, that was with the business guys, but day-to-day, series-to-series creative control.

Now writers like Bendis exercise relatively more creative authority, and I'd go so far as to say the "star" writers are more powerful than most editors and probably more valued by corporate. These star writers neither know no care about continuity, in contrary to the old editor-writers, who usually couldn't help but know the continuity even if they tried not to care about it.

Brevoort may be a tragic figure: he's an old-school editor with some freelance, continuity-heavy credits to his name. He'd be the new Mark Gruenwald if Marvel were still the old Marvel. But it's not, and the kind of concerns that once motivated guys like Roy Thomas, Gruenwald, and probably Brevoort's himself, just don't count for anything with Bendis or Millar or the studio.

The only thing that would bring classic continuity back is a re-merging of the editing and writing functions. But clearly that isn't going to happen: the most we can hope for is the occasional writer like Mike Carey who has no more reason than Bendis to care about continuity, but for personal reasons just does.

Today's star writers really are a lot like the Image exodus star artists of 25 years ago(!), in that McFarlane and Liefeld simply ignored the rules of comic art--basic anatomy--in order to get the idiosyncratic cool-factor effects they wanted. Similarly, a Milkar or Bendis ignores the rules of comic writing--consistent characterization and continuity--in order to be more individualistic and cool as writers.

Problem is, I'd be much more entertained by, say, a DeFalco/Frenz Thor comic than I would be by Spawn or any Bendis comic, and over time the disregard for the fundamentals is alienating even the fans who are more indulgent of such things. As Fnord's project shoes, it's a love of the whole universe, not just one story or one creator, that motivates Marvel's customer base. But then, Marvel isn't primarily a comics company today, it's an IP and film imprint of Disney, and my guess is the commitment to continue publishing monthly series doesn't extend another decade.

I haven't read the issue in question, and I don't very much like to argue these sort of points because (a) its your blog and (b) I got exhausted just thinking about typing rebuttals. (I wanted to tell you to read Hawkeye but zzzzzzz...)

But I will say that I personally have no interest in reading a "Hepzibah goes back to space" issue. Does anyone else? It sounds like not a good time.

Shouldn't we give Bendis the benefit of the doubt that he might explain the cliffhanger in the next issue? I mean, it's a cliffhanger. And anyway, I think you'd be satisfied if he threw in one line about "I wasn't dead, but I was in statis! And then I woke up and called Hepzibah and she came back to join me."

(I also do think he plans to get around to the Starlord/Thanos explanation, and wouldn't be surprised if it turns into a !crossover! where Rich Rider comes back. But that's nerd dreams, of course.)

Generally, I will just say that we comic readers are very tolerant of "he gained his powers because of, I dunno, radioactivity." But we're not very tolerant of "He came back from the dead because of, I dunno, similar macguffin." And I'm not really sure why because they are both concepts which can't be found in nature as we know it. I think this is also why Fear Itself and Final Crisis were so spit upon when released; they really took these life/death changes as read because that's what comics do but obviously people want more.

Is it the casual nature of Bendis' and Fraction's writing? Because I much prefer that over a story that devotes three pages to, "You thought I was dead! But what you didn't see off-panel was that I got hit by space dust and then the Stranger..."

And whatever aspersions we may cast upon Bendis' writing, that dude has done quite a lot to reinvigorate the Marvel Universe and made some serious and long-lasting changes. It really is shocking to see how much growth there was in the number, diversity, and quality development of characters that had been "abandoned" such as Ms. Marvel, Luke Cage, and Spider-Woman, while making smart game-changing moves to well-developed characters like Daredevil and, IMO, Scarlet Witch. (Who I did not care about one little bit until she murdered all them stoopid Avengers.) I think he deserves at least some benefit of the doubt and at most quite a bit of credit towards making Marvel cool again, and this time, for the right reasons.

Okay rant over sorry bye.

I definitely don't want to read a "Hepzibah goes to space story" but i don't think anyone's asking for that, exactly. Just an acknowledgement that these characters have history and that the things that have happened to them in the past are still part of them. And you're right that this was a cliffhanger and so people should give Bendis a chance with this one. The reason i think people are impatient is for the reasons i've outlined; that trust has been worn out as far as the continuity-geek section of the audience is concerned. Starlord/Guardians of the Galaxy is one example. There was a lot about Avengers Assemble that was off (offhand, like Thor talking about the Zodiac like he'd never heard of them before, and the presence of a Hulk that was very different than the version appearing elsewhere). And the time-traveling original X-Men story felt like it got a lot of stuff wrong, too.

I used to love Bendis but he's worn on me as time went on (your comment triggered me to browse through my old Speed Reviews to watch my attitude change). That said, i still think he's a fun scripter. I used to think that one of the benefits of a Bendis/Brevoort pairing was that Brevoort was the oldschool continuity geek that could keep him on track and Bendis was just a good writer (with some pacing issues and problems resolving storylines, but those are also possibly due to industry trends). Brevoort definitely knows his stuff. But it seems Marvel's editorial policies towards continuity have changed, so there's no one keeping Bendis within parameters. And if Bendis is going to write stuff that is only superficially in Marvel continuity, i'd rather he was writing more Goldfish or Powers where he had total free reign to do what he wanted and i didn't unconsciously judge the writing based on what's come before.

And to be clear, this isn't about Bendis. It's bigger than one writer. One example i've used before is the Punisher, who was put in a high tech prison by the Avengers at the end of his War Zone series while simultaneously getting rescued from the mob by the Red Hulk and getting recruited into the Thunderbolts. And at least as long as i stuck with the Thunderbolts title, which was a while, there was no explanation for that. It's like the characters aren't really the same characters, there's just two books and each one has a Punisher and writers are allowed to use them however they want. And we can make up on a story on our own if we want to know how he got out of prison (again, maybe it was explained somewhere eventually, i don't know). And the thing is, the War Zone story was a decent story. Above average. And the Thunderbolts book was a decent, above average book. But neither were great and worth plopping down $3 or $4 a month based on the strength of the stories in isolation. What makes them interesting (to me) is the way the stories interact with each other, and the grousing you're hearing is because that most appealing part of Marvel feels like it's going away.

But we shall see. I'm very interested in eventually making it to the more modern periods and looking at this stuff in total. It's possible the decompressed storytelling makes things feel worse than than they really are. As a monthly reader i get impatient quickly. You seem ok with the amount of time it's taking Bendis to get to an explanation for Starlord, if one is forthcoming. For me, waiting over 11 issues would seem interminable. But if he does eventually get to something, maybe when i read it all at once, it won't seem as bad.

Thanks for your thoughts! I definitely agree on Bendis' revitalization of Luke Cage and Spider-Woman and Ms. Marvel and the Avengers line in general.

I don't think Final Crisis and Fear Itself failed for the same reasons of ignoring people coming back from the dead or from taking death too/less seriously than real life.

Final Crisis suffered from the introduction of a main concept within a side story (Superman Beyond), rather than in the main story. This led to a lot of confusion and, essentially, a lot of people being unclear about what was really going on within the main story.

Fear Itself failed because it made very little sense. At best, it was a series that was used to set up storylines in other comics. At worst, it was a confusing mess of a pseudo-story that didn't start and finish in the same book. It constantly shifted locations, didn't resolve its setups and it shoved important plot points to tie-in books. Since it's typical of Marvel crossovers, it's hard to remember why it's so bad. These are some of the same issues that we saw with A vs. X, too (I think).

The one good thing about Age of Ultron was that the main story happened within the actual book. Love it or hate it, it was all in front of you in 10 issues. There was so much to hate in that story, including the fact that there should be an extra Wolverine and Invisible Woman roaming around the Marvel U in Nick Fury's flying SHIELD car, but we've pretty much ignored that...oh wait. There's no reason for me to start ranting about that.

It seems to go back and forth with Marvel.
During the Bill Jemas era, continuity became a big no-no. It really was at a point where the stories were meantto carry themselves on their own merits. It worked pretty well for Marvel, for a time.
Then, after Jemas left, continuity became more important again for a time.
Now, Marvel is trying something different with the Now relaunches.
Marvel is trying to go in the opposite direction of DC. DC has such heavy-handed editors since the New 52, that most of their books are totally unreadable.
Marvel has decided to loosen up and let creators have free rein to tell the stories they want. Overall, Marvel has a very strong line of well written stories. I've been pretty happy with Marvel for the past couple of years.

I'll admit that every so often, I do get annoyed at something like AIM being used in eight different books at once.There should at least be some quality control to prevent that sort of thing.

Having said that, I gave up on Bendis long ago, so I'm not reading the book with the specific complaints you're referring to.

I remember Final Crisis getting bashed right from the first issue as being "confusing" and "silly." The sales were considered poor compared to previous events. I somewhat agree on the "Superman Beyond" comment, but now that it's all collected, that really shouldn't be a problem?

I don't remember those complaints being levied against Fear Itself, outside of Bucky's "death" being confusing. I think it had the same complaints that Final Crisis had, where people weren't willing to make certain leaps of logic. ("Tony Stark disappeared to make weapons? And now he's back with weapons? WELL, WHAT HAPPENED?!??!")

Funny enough, if you look at review sites, these two crossovers are now considered to be two of the best crossovers in recent history, especially by non-regular comic readers.

Interesting that you brought up Age of Ultron, since the same complaints were levied against that crossover as well. ("It's starting mid-story?! Where's the beginning?!?!") I expect that to gain similar regard once non-regular comic readers purchase it after the next movie.

I liked all of those books, so please feel free to consider me an apologist all around.

One thing I've noticed reading through Fnord's posts in 1986 and 1987 is that they are a mess, continuity-wise. I think everyone would agree that those are the two of the best years in Marvel history quality-wise, but good luck putting them in an order that makes any sense. It really does seem like the same complaint levied against many of today's books, except that 20 years ago, the confusion was caused by perhaps too much intent on putting things in order with poor attention to detail, whereas today the lack of intent on putting things in order creates the confusion.

In summation, I think the quality of today's books is at least as high as it was back then, and the same continuity problems apply. Rose-colored glasses and all that.

You hit on the key thing for me in your second to last paragraph, which is that the problem in the 80s was that things were so tightly referenced that it led to mistakes due to the coordination required. And today the pendulum has shifted the other way entirely, where there are virtually no references. So there aren't "mistakes" per se, just a bunch of disjointed stories.

The mistakes in the 80s books are annoying for me trying to put them in a precise order, but i don't think they were the sort of thing that regular readers would notice for the most part. What regular readers would get is the idea that the Thor that was appearing in the Raid on Avengers Mansion story was the same one that was dealing with Hela's curse in his own book, because we saw the effects of that curse in the Avengers storyline. Whereas today when Thor appears in another book, there's rarely any sense of what's going on in his life. I think that will make my life easier when i get to the chronology for those issues, but it removes the most interesting part of the Marvel universe for me. And when you get to a situation like Starlord having come back from the dead with no acknowledgement of it for 11+ issues, it stops being a geeky continuity concern and becomes a basic cohesiveness problem. Now again, Bendis may soon reveal the reason why no one's been talking about Starlord's return, and maybe there will be a good reason for it, and maybe it'll therefore read better in trade. But in the meantime it's frustrating and (as Paul O'Brien said recently) Bendis doesn't have a great track record of tying up even his own storylines.

I agree that generally the writing quality is pretty good at Marvel right now (although i personally wouldn't include ANY of the recent mega events in that). But decent writing and a cohesive universe don't have to be mutually exclusive, and frankly i'm more in it for the latter since i can get better writing elsewhere.

I should add that one area where Marvel HAS been showing the cohesiveness from a certain point of view is the perpetual crossovers they've been doing since Civil War. It's more blunt force and less nuanced than what i'm talking about, but during the crossover events and endless tie-ins there's no doubting that everyone's living in the same universe. I liked that at first but lately have felt the event fatigue, especially when the events stopped having endings so much as set-ups for the next event. So it's a kind of flood & drought problem.

But more on that when i get to the current era in my timeline... ;-)

I can't wait for you to get to the current era! I almost wish you were doing sort of a pincer approach by tackling 1987 and 2013 simultaneously. But I suppose the extra wait time will reveal just how important current issues are.

Reference from SuperMegaMonkey

Walter Lawson has some good comments on my other recent rant where he likens Marvel writers to the 90s artists that had more power than the editors.    Read More: SuperMegaSpeed Reviews

Reference from SuperMegaMonkey : chronocomic

But if you've been following my perpetual unhinged rantings on the main blog about the current state of Marvel (writing this in early 2013), you'll know that one of my big complaints is the fact that Marvel's various books seem so disjointed. Whereas here, this Gang War, which is a fun story in its own right, is building directly off of Born Again and looking at the implications of the Kingpin's actions there.    Read More: Amazing Spider-Man #284-286