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Trouble with Comics

John Rozum on leaving Static Shock

It’s becoming clearer week by week that DC’s New 52 has a lot of problems, and John Rozum’s quitting as writer (scripter?) of Static Shock wasn’t very newsworthy until he started posting on Facebook and his blog about it, because the book wasn’t very good from the start and wasn’t selling well. Failing to turn a C-list superhero into anything more is no crime, and while one would think Rozum’s reputation would survive coming shortly on the heels of his acclaimed (if also not-great-selling) Xombi revival, but I understand him wanting to set the record straight, especially as some folks were cursing him for seemingly killing the chances for Static and the rest of the Milestone characters to integrate successfully into the DC Universe. First, it ain’t his fault, and second, you can be sure that, since DC owns them, they will keep trying to get these characters into the DCU, just as they have with characters who are even tougher fits like The Spirit or Doc Savage. 

But that’s DC’s problem. What I appreciated in Rozum’s post was what a pro the guy was. And sure, maybe in the ’40s or even ’70s or early ’80s, being a pro was synonymous with keeping one’s mouth shut about the company who hired you. But Rozum doesn’t say anything bad about DC. He’s merely giving his side of the story regarding an untenable working situation with one particular editor, Harvey Richards, and longtime workman artist, first-time plotter, Scott McDaniel. In the spirit of Rozum, I’ll practice some rare restraint here and not disparage either of them, and will instead just commend Rozum on his honesty and integrity and wish him much better success with future projects. He also points out that his acclaimed revival of the Milestone character, Xombi, with art by the great Frazer Irving, is due out from DC in February, so keep an eye out for that.

The New DC 51 - Stupendous, Satisfying or Simply So-So?

As Week Two hovers on the horizon, here’s the conclusion of the alphabetical tour of Week One.  And it all wraps up with the letter ‘S’.  Stupendous, satisfying or simply so-so?  Week One ends here…

Static Shock #1 features the return of a character that I never read who was also the star of a cartoon I never watched.  In other words it’s the first book I can sample as a new reader!

In a somewhat daring move, the book doesn’t bother with a back story or origin.  There’s a little bit of background on the hero and his family, but it doesn’t get bogged down with the explanations of who’s who and how they came to be.  Because of that it reminded me of the DC books from the ‘70s when the reader would just be thrown into the story, “Don’t know who the Seven Soldiers of Victory or the Justice Society of America are? Stick around and you’ll figure it out!”

Writer John Rozum employed a similar method when he brought Xombi back with artist Frasier Irving – a book that was wonderfully creative, gorgeously illustrated and read by nowhere near enough people to ensure its continuing existence.

The tragedy is that if Xombi had debuted during the new 52 it would have received a major boost in awareness.  A lot of the new books are receiving unwarranted attention merely because they’re part of this massive re-launch (look at this alphabetical tour of Week One as an example).  Had Xombi been measured against Men of War, Hawk & Dove and other lesser comics, it would have had a much better chance of standing out like a true gem.

But lamenting the premature death of Xombi is like crying over a poorly postioned glass of milk: maybe if it had been moved to a better spot, more people would have been aware of its existence, but the damage has been done.

(Having said that, oh please buy the trade paperback when it comes out.  The book was tremendous.)

As for Static Shock, it’s an enjoyable enough romp but there wasn’t anything particularly memorable in the first issue for me to be enthusiastic or see myself returning.  But of all the books I’ve read so far, it is one of the few that I could see a young reader enjoying.  So while it may not be for me, it would be nice to see DC cultivate the market for this book and capture the young tween audience they say they’re hoping to grab.

It is strange, however, that Static Shock has the same “Rated T Teen” classification as every other book this week.  According to that rating system, Detective Comics is just as youth-friendly as Static Shock.  And that is just plain wrong.  If DC really wants to self-regulate their books, they should be more careful about slapping the same rating on every comic they sell.

Stormwatch #1 is the first book to present the recent merger of the former Wildstorm universe with the new DCU.  But just like the all-too common story of two people who have known each other for years who then end up hating each other when they move-in together, it’s difficult to see how these two different personalities will live under one roof.

One of the great advantages writer Warren Ellis had with Stormwatch and the follow-up The Authority was that it could be magnificently creative and destructive because it never had to worry about its effect on other books.  Super-villains could wreak havoc all over the world because it was in Ellis’s corner of the Wildstorm universe where anything could happen.

But with the re-launch of all these new comics and the apparent intention to unite all of them into one coherent universe, the challenge is to somehow make Stormwatch edgy, relevant and interesting.

Or to put it another way: in a universe populated with the Justice League, Justice League International and Justice League Dark (let alone the Teen Titans and a Legion Lost) what role can Stormwatch possibly have?

There’s no simple answer in the first issue, but from the look of things Stormwatch is going to do the secret, behind the scenes stuff that no other hero or group knows about.  Perhaps the book will be left in its own little corner of the new DCU and it won’t have to tone down the Apollo/Midnighter relationship and there won’t be a bizarre Justice League/Stormwatch team-up in the future.  It’s hard to say if the editors will keep their fingers out of the pie.

The first issue has a lot of things happening and there’s enough going on to stay interesting for at least a little while.  Obviously writer Paul Cornell won’t have the same latitude that Ellis at least initially enjoyed, so it will be a challenge for him to be creative within the corporate confines.  Whether those restrictions will force the book to be more inventive as it pushes against those boundaries or it just smothers the series completely remains to be seen.

The return of Swamp Thing would have been a complete non-event if it wasn’t for writer Scott Snyder being in charge.

While the character returned at the end of Brightest Day (with John Constantine tagging along) and he had a rather horrible and ignoble mini-series entitled The Search for Swamp Thing this is the book that matters for the character. How bad was that mini-series? – Constantine cries out, “Superman! Hold me hand, brother!” as they both get pulled into The Green because, I guess, he and Superman are best buds and Constantine always talks that way.

Because had there been just one bad issue, I think there would have been a major uproar with fans.  One bad issue would have written the whole series off.

Fortunately Snyder and artist Yanick Paquette seem to know their stuff.  The book is filled with tiny artistic nods to the past: an industrial digger is named after the character’s creator, a hotel is named after one of the book’s greatest artists and the combination to a safe happens to be a very good year for comics.  So, yes, these new creators know their history.

But that respect for the past would be meaningless if they weren’t going to do something inventive with the character.  Swamp Thing lasted almost 100 issues after Alan Moore left the book and had two attempts at a re-launch after that book died.  So for this to work, it would have to be something special.

The first couple of pages establish that the character is back firmly planted (sorry for the pun) in the DCU as it features Superman, Batman and Aquaman before it moves to our hero.  But, as it turns out, the main character isn’t Swamp Thing, but instead it’s Alec Holland.

(How or why Alec Holland has returned, I don’t know.  I suppose it was explained in Brightest Day or Search for the Swamp Thing, but other than flipping through the pages of the mini-series, I don’t know anything about the mechanics of those two books.  I trust all will be explained.)

Unlike in Men of War, the juxtaposition of the superhero and a common man actually works.  Alec is not overly impressed with the arrival of Superman.  He explains that he just wants to be left alone and Superman grudgingly respects his decision.  But to paraphrase Abby from Alan Moore’s run on the book, the craziness just seems to follow Alec Holland.  I suppose coming back from the dead and having the memories of a monster will do that to a guy.

Of all the books in Week One, this was the one I had highest hopes for and this is the one that delivered.  I don’t know how scary and creepy the creators can go with a non-Vertigo book, but if the other releases this week are any indication, they might be able to go as macabre as they want.  Snyder had a brilliant run with Dick Grayson as Batman in the pre-new Detective Comics that was dark, twisted and yet somehow filled with humanity.  If he has a long-term plan for Swamp Thing, I’m definitely along for the ride.

—Kevin Pasquino