You play fantasy football, I play “fantasy comic creator team/character combinations.” Two sides of the same nerd-coin. The difference is, mine could actually happen, and yours can’t. So there.
1. Scott Snyder’s Nightwing – art by Patrick Gleason
Here’s a hot sports opinion: Snyder writes Dick Grayson better than he writes Bruce Wayne. Don’t get me wrong, I’m loving brand new 52 Batman vol. one million (0r whatever they’re calling it these days) as much as the next guy, but after reading Gates of Gotham and The Black Mirror, Snyder has a touch when it comes to Grayson. He, better than anyone else, knows just how to highlight his differences to Bruce. He jokes, he cares about people (Bruce maybe does too, but he’s just really really dark about it), but more than that, Snyder writes him just as he should be: a late twenty-something learning how to be an adult. Also, Snyder erected a (and I don’t say this lightly) first rate villain in James Gordon Jr. that was really the perfect nemesis to Grayson, the embodiment of everything Dick is learning to cope with, facing the darkness that Bruce already knows. I realize it’s good to get your top talent on your top book, but Bruce Wayne is in like 5 different places at once now. The guy is being attacked by Bane, a creepy tarantula guy that’s trying to steal his kid, a creepy guy with orb-eyes and now evil owl-people. Spread the terror around a little bit.
2. Grant Morrison’s Spider-Man – Art by Chris Bachalo
Spider Man needs a change. He’s generally credited as the superhero that made superheroes relatable, but he’s gotten stale. Here’s the thing: are we really expected to believe that Spider-Man can’t get a date? He’s got a lithe physique, he’s a photographer, he’s got a soft-spot for his grandmother he’s basically the hipster recipe for cool. At his debut in the ’60s, Spider-Man was the herald that times had changed, but now they have changed again. I’m all for pathos, but characters need to develop. There’s nothing relatable about watching Peter Parker go through the same struggles and life lessons over and over again. Any innovation into his character has been shamelessly rebooted, any happiness or accomplishment or loss has been reverted back to his original state of ‘aw shucks I’m just a regular guy’.
Well, Spider-Man is not a regular guy, and it’s about time Marvel wised up to that. Enter Morrison, the mad genius of comics makeovers. If there’s one writer who knows how to pay homage to Silver Age roots and still keep a character fresh, fun and original it’s this guy. His ongoing Batman saga, while somewhat overlooked now that there are like five Bat-books going on, is a masterful re-integration of Silver-Age characters and tropes. He could do the same for Spidey. Spider-Man has always had a mad-scientist kind of vibe to him. His villains are all science experiments gone wrong, and Parker himself is a super-genius and no one writes super-geniuses better than Morrison (well, maybe Hickman). It’s a relatively unexplored element of his character, since writers are always so busy preserving his precious pathos. To hell with missed dates and “Oh no! I forgot to help Aunt May off the toilet because I was trying to stop the Rhino from detonating a nuclear warhead! Well shucks, I guess that’s just my life.” Morrison is just the man to do away with such tripe and replace it with a reintroduction to a twisted, psychotic version of Will O’ The Wisp or one of those other loser villains. The Spot maybe? As for Chris Bachalo, I believe the guy was scientifically grown in a test tube and genetically imbued with the necessary style and talent to draw Spider-Man absolutely perfectly. When he does, I buy the book no matter what schmuck wrote it.
3. Jeff Lemire’s Jonah Hex
I love Lemire. I need to put that up front because it seems like I’m going to be razzing on the guy in the next couple of posts, but I’m not. Really, I’m not. Lemire wrote what I consider to be one of myTop 5 best comics books of all time (which I’ll leave to a later post to illuminate), and DC has now tapped both his wiry, twisted art style and his fresh mind for ideas to breathe some new life into old characters. Despite what I may say below, his run on Superboy last year was loads of fun, his current run on Animal Man is harrowing and his long-running Vertigo series Sweet Tooth, while problematic at times remains one of the most wholly original concepts in all of current comicbookdom. That said, I think the man would be put to better use in a place where his art style makes sense. He’s been pretty busy with Sweet Tooth (which is also one of the most reliably regular series on the shelves), but his withered aesthetic would really be put to best use with DC’s crooked cowboy, Jonah Hex. I’ve always liked Hex for the mythological weight they put on him, and that he’s kind of a proto-Batman, a scarred avenger that evil fears and innocents mistrust. But it’s always ever been left at that. He’s a cowboy and he rides around like an unpretty Clint Eastwood being gritty. Lemire would be perfect to give him some backstory, some pathos, maybe even a decent villain. But I think the biggest thing Lemire could bring to the table is a real sense of the environment. Jonah Hex’s old west setting tends to end up feeling like an episode of Wild Wild West or an exaggerated tribute to Sergio Leone. Too much steampunk or Tarantino blood-spattering takes me out of the world and turns it into a cartoon. Like most Canadians (Neil Young, etc), Lemire understands the spirit of the rural United States better than most Americans, i.e. it’s not just full of hicks, social outcasts and judgmental ministers, or rather: the hicks, social outcasts and judgmental ministers are a lot more like you than you think they are. Lemire would be great on Jonah Hex because he’d be the first writer/artist to create a believable Old West environment that feels lived-in, real, weighty and mysterious.
4. Mike Mignola’s Animal Man
Before you accuse me of just picking Mignola for Animal Man because he’s good at drawing animals, let me first admit that I picked him because he’s really good at drawing animals. But he’s not just ‘good’ at it, he’s great at it, and he gives their forms a sense of depth that I don’t currently see in modern comics, not even one as first-rate as Lemire & Foreman’s Animal Man. Now that Jeff Lemire and co. have given Animal Man a dark, mythological backstory complete with biological horror and Lovecraftian monsters, who better than the heir of Kirby himself to step in with his skilled pens and terse scripts to let us explore this new status quo a bit? Lemire’s Animal Man, thanks in large part to the–and I mean this in a good way–horrifying artwork by Travel Foreman is feeling a lot like a high class B horror movie along the lines of John Carpenter’s The Thing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome, but there’s still room to get better. Here’s where I get nitpicky – my problem with most modern comics, not just Animal Man, is that the plots, concepts and pacing are top-notch while leaving the sense of weight, gravitas, and depth of meaning solely to the artist. The goal of the writer seems to be filling the stories with “moments” rather than writing cleverly. This sort of high-fantasy horror demands, dare I say it? a touch of Moore or Gaiman, someone with some literary pedigree that can sink fear into the words of the script, rather than just leaving it to the artist to come up with some creepy images. This is where Mignola would be perfect, since he is both writer and artist and all studied up on legends and lore. As much as I love Lemire (and you’ll see just how much I do in future posts) I have to admit, the guy has great concepts and a hauntingly beautiful art style, but he can leave the dialogue pretty bland. For example: when those ancient totem animal-people of The Red all have a sit-down with Buddy Baker and explain their mystical reality like they were all at an AA meeting. Creepy mystical creatures need to talk like creepy mystical creatures. I understand there’s a need for accessibility in comics, but artful writing, or even a little bit of artful silence, never hurt anyone. A natural progression for the new era of Animal Man would be toward more high horror concepts and there’s no one better to give fear some class than Mignola.
5. Brian K. Vaughan’s Superman – Art by Tony Harris
“Nobody gives a #!*& about Superman. You don’t give a #*@! about Superman even if you think you do.” Max Landis is just…so correct in saying this. It’s sad, but true because I love Superman. I love his image, I love his mythology (bugnuts crazy though it may be). People think that Superman is irrelevant because he can’t be killed. I have news for you. Every superhero can’t be killed. We all know that. It doesn’t matter who dies, he/she will always come back. No, the problem with Superman is that we moderns don’t have any imagination. Superman is a messiah figure and we just don’t know what to do with messiah figures anymore. I am perfectly serious when I say this: I will be feeling a lot better about the state of America when someone can finally write a good Superman series again. This is not to say there have not been decent, good, yea even great Supes stories done by great people, but there’s a reason they’re not in continuity. They can never go mainstream because the only thing that speaks to anyone anymore is darkness and death. All attempts to put some efficacy and relevance back into Big Blue have all been preachy, pretentious, bad bad bad bad bad or just not Superman. Superman deserves better. The tricky thing is to get the optimism just right without making it out of touch. Nope, we need a flip-flop: a series from the perspective of Superman that shows that it’s not him, it’s the world that’s out of touch.
Vaughan is the perfect guy for this. He’s a brilliant plotter at heart, but his dialogue crackles even when plots hit slumps. This is where he’d make a strong fit for a modern Supes book. The reality is this: Superman cannot just fly around and pound people anymore. Nobody cares how hard Superman can punch things or how fast he can run or how hot his laser eyes get. So make him the boss. Seriously, make a comic book where superheroes go corporate and Supes is the CEO. Don’t give him big, stupid aliens to fight, or big smart aliens to fight, make him a manager and put him up against the challenges of dealing with people: other heroes, villains, governments, corporations, delegations, The UN, putting out fires and casting a vision for a better world. Make him a visionary, not a boy scout. It may steal a little from Morrison’s Batman Inc. but not too much. If anything it would be a throwback to Vaughan’s own awesome Ex Machina. I usually hate books where superheroes do nothing but talk, but when it’s Vaughan, you might as well be watching a Sorkin show (he’ll just need to dial down the bad language to, you know…like zero). For all his books’ mature content though, optimism pervades. This is the main thing I like about Vaughan, he has no problem believing in something and letting you know it. His heroes pose solutions to huge problems and that’s exactly what Superman needs to be. Bringing Tony Harris back from Ex Machina may seem a little to obvious, but I like his photo-cartoon style and how it makes dialogue spreads pop.
6. Joss Whedon’s Wonder Woman – art by Frank Quitely
Every time somebody starts griping about how comics are sexist, it aaaaalways comes back to how nooooobody wants to make a Wonder Woman movie, we’re a patriarchal male-dominated society with no respect for–okay, really you come up with a decent Wonder Woman story that would look good on film. Everybody who whines about all the aborted Wonder Woman projects do. not. understand. what comic fans already know: Wonder Woman is friggin’ weird. Seriously. Read up on her backstory before you cry about how girls can’t be Superheroes: in brief she’s a warrior princess of the all-female society of the Amazons, a mythological race with some sort of connection to Greek mythology. And somehow she loves America(?). She has an invisible airplane and a magic lasso that forces people to tell the truth when they get lassoed. Hmmm…relevance…realism… Folks have tried a lot of things. Letting a female novelist writer her, giving her a jacket, making her really, really, mad all the time. There have been good runs and these days Azzarallo is apparently killin’ it, but again, his covers show WW tridenting a gigantic octopus. Yeah, pitch that to ABC. So, one of these dead projects was a Joss Whedon film. I say he should let his ideas go on the comic page. Critical consensus is that Whedon is the man to write women. He’s proved how the powerful female figure is an enduring staple and, in my opinion, he knows how to write them endearingly. My problem with females in comics is not that they’re strong, it’s that the issue of their strength and perceived weakness based on gender is a constant plot/dialogue/character device. Men are always stepping in to help out and then the chick is all like “I can handle myself” and then she kicks the crap out of whoever the villain is and then she OMG, totally turns the tables by rescuing the guy!!!!. OMG did you see that??? Then the dude gets up dusts himself off and is like “well I guess you can take care of yourself…and then some.” She suuuure showed them a thing or two didn’t she?
Sorry. But nobody really seems to get that the thick-thighed butt-kicking superchick is as male a fantasy as they come. The simple fact is that Wonder Woman is, and probably never was, relevant to anybody, much less any thinking female. There are plenty better-conceived female comic characters out there worth reading (most of them are butt-kicking lesbians now, which seems like another suspiciously male trope with a thick sheen of modernity over it, but at least they’re a decent read and nobody whines about them). Anyway, the cool thing about Whedon is that he won’t write a strong female if the character is not a strong female, which makes his strong females more believable. Does that make sense? His take on Kitty Pryde for example was perfect. She was the main character, but was still vulnerable, feminine, prone to romance and when she did finally save the day, it actually meant something. Her foil is Emma Frost, the traditional tough-girl stereotype, and Armor was a welcome new take on the non-tomboy who is still completely fearless. They were all tough in their own way without conforming to pre-formed stereotypes. Zoe’s in Firefly, but so is Kayleigh. His girls, tough or not are fully themselves, and that’s a trick that needs to be brought to Wonder Woman. Also, any decent take on Wonder Woman should understand that there’s no getting away from her weirdness. If you don’t want to write Silver-Age weirdness then don’t write Wonder Woman. Create some new character. I say embrace it, do something clever with it or take a Morrison-esque bid for some psycho-cool surrealism. That’s where Frank Quitely comes in. He’s the best at making Silver-Age goofiness fun and interesting. Wonder Woman should be free to go fight giant people, cat ladies and tirelessly defend the planet from the perennial nemesis of volcanoes and icebergs. The crazier the better. Nothing is relevant about Wonder Woman, but that doesn’t mean she can’t be fun.