Saturday, 10 April 2010

Leave It Alone! No 1: Jack Kirby's New Gods

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1. My Pitch For Robin Hood (part 1.)

Listen to this! I have a new idea for Robin Hood. It's a good one. I think it'll sell.

No. I know it'll sell.

More than just making shed-loads of money, my vision of Robin Hood is very artistic too. It's going to take Robin Hood to places no-one has ever been brave enough to take the character to before.

So get this!

First scene. No warning. Sherwood Forest burns to the ground.

100 000 acres of very big trees and lots of little jumping animals and birds and frogs and things going up in the hugest firestorm you can imagine. A bigger, fiercer firestorm than anybody could imagine! Nobody could imagine this. The best artist in the world couldn't.

How amazing will that look? It'll look so awesome it'll be like 3-D, no, 4-D, in your head!

Can't you see it now? Don't you want to see it right now?

2. Nuking That Coral Reef

Jim Starlin said a remarkable thing about Jack Kirby's Fourth World saga in an interview with Matt Brady on Newsarama in 2007. Talking about his then-new series "Death Of The New Gods", in which he'd been commissioned to wipe out the entire cast of Kirby's 1970's comic book epic, Mr Starlin said;

"Since Kirby's initial run on the characters others have presented them with mixed results. Looking back I'd say at least half of the past New Gods series have done more harm than good. So for me, Death of the New Gods is half honoring Jack Kirby, half mercy killing."

At first glance, Mr Starlin's statement reads like a respectful and fond statement by a creator weary of the misuse of some of his favourite characters, which all goes to show us how too much familiarity with a subject can obscure our understanding of it. Because we need a little distance here, to make proper sense of what Mr Starlin said. What if, as a thought experiment, we were to imagine that Mr Starlin was a politician talking about a unique and vital physical resource which has until now suffered from mismanagement, some of which has been well-meaning and competent, and some not. Let's say, for point of argument, that the endangered resource was the Great Barrier Reef, and Mr Starlin, entrusted with its fate, made the following declaration;

"There's been alot of harm done to the Great Barrier Reef. Pollution has eaten away at the coral. Tourists are destroying the structure of the reef. There's rubbish everywhere. And attempts at environmental control have been half-hearted and less-than successful. So I'm going to drop an atom bomb on it. I look upon it honouring God. We'll never be able to do as well as the big G. did, so I see this as half as an act of worship, half a really big radioactive explosion in the ocean off the coast of Australia."

4. Mutuality, Stewardship

There's a lovely and pertinent concept in ecological theory called stewardship, in its religious sense, or mutuality, in its secular form. Put simply, these terms refers to a perceived moral responsibility to preserve the diversity, the good health, of the environment. P J Taylor, for example, talks about the need for " ... an attitude of respect for nature ... ", in order to ensure that we don't put what we see as our immediate individual and collective gain above the survival of the complexity of the world around us.

It's not just that it's in our own obvious advantage that Taylor argues we ought to be caring for our world, though he's very keenly aware that there are immediate and pressing imperatives behind saving our world. But there's a moral argument too, which, put simply, is that we ought to care because we ought to care. It's a wonderful, unique thing, this world of ours, and if we screw it up, we can't bring it back. We should look after it, protect it, and pass it on the next generation and teach them to do the same.

It's a lovely idea, of course, and I won't bog down the simple beauty of it by delving here into some of the contorted logic used to support it philosophically and practically. The simple truth of it is that environmental diversity is a tremendously good idea.

5. Embarrassed Before Brilliance - Jack Kirby's Fourth World

I get embarrassed when I read Jack Kirby's Fourth World comics. Some of that is, I hope, the understandable shamefaced realisation that I still don't understand the half of what Kirby was up to with his New Gods saga, a sense triggered every time I come back to those books after a period away and find that they read better on every occasion I return. But more shameful is a sense that I can't ever precisely intellectually justify my belief that Kirby's work here is absolutely brilliant to all and any of those who'd look at his pages and just see the muscles, the grimaces and the krackle. I felt the same trying to defend myself against the cat-calls which went up amongst some mates at a Brentford versus Spurs cup game in 1995 when it became known that I'd thoroughly enjoyed the Ballet Rambert a few night before. In the absence of a common critical framework, there's no defence against scorn, and writing this makes me realise that I feel vulnerable when I can't bring out the heavy guns of critical theory to support me when I say how much I adore, for example, "Mister Miracle" # 9, which contains the quite wonderful story "Himon".

Chalk this shameful embarrassment down, if you will, to Paul Cornell's theory that most fanboys and girls were bullied at some point in their childhood. Or, more likely, to a kind of intellectual cowardice.

But what's wonderful about "Himon", for example, is that Kirby himself operates so far from any great depth of formal education, and is yet so quite evidently creatively brilliant and intellectually incandescent, that he sidesteps critical analysis itself. Indeed, I strongly believe that a Jack Kirby who wasn't such a passionate autodidact, who'd sat through years and years of the conformist grind of tier upon tier of formal education, could never have produced the Fourth World in all its ambiguous and complex glory. Is, to take but one example, his dialogue clunky? Oh, of course, but that's actually part of his brilliance. It's clunky, but then again, it always rings true, which is appropriate, because he's created characters which are literally Gods to the ordinary folks of the DC Universe and they surely don't talk like us. Better yet, and here the accidents of education and ability unexpectedly clash to produce a fantastic synthesis, Kirby's characters don't quite fit any easily-grasped or applied character types, and they certainly don't always sit easily and simply as metaphors for one dimensional qualities such as "good" and "evil". Oh yes, there are lots of exceptions, of course. Lightray is obviously a "mirror", an "enabler", the heroes' best friend, and Highfather is obviously God, of sorts, of course. But there's enough conceptual slippage, enough ambiguity, between what Kirby's doing and whatever theoretical armoury can be brought to bear upon his work, that what he's done retains it's perplexing and consequently-pleasing uniqueness. Or: we can't ever quite get "it" because Kirby didn't produce work that was precisely "gettable".

And that clunky dialogue accentuates this. If Kirby had been considerably more precise in how he had his character's express themselves, if he was hamstrung by formal standards which retarded his wonderfully bright primitivism, then these Gods would just sound more or less like us. But they don't, and even when they're talking about obvious and familiar concepts - fate, duty, loss - they do so in an awkward and glorious way which suggests to us that there's something we don't understand about their lives. It's as if we're listening to a translation which can only capture some of their complex syntax and very little of their Godly culture and its meaning.

Which of course is a very good idea, since they're Gods. I'll say it again because lots of folks in very high places don't seem to have heard the word yet. God's aren't supposed to be so like us that the difference between us and them becomes easy to bridge.

6. My Pitch For Robin Hood (part 2.)

So, the Green Wood has burnt to the ground. And not all of the Merry Men make it out. In fact, most of them won't. Oh, there's lots of good deaths, which I can explain later, and they're not gross deaths at all. There's lots of poetic moments as the Merry Men are burnt to death. There's sacrifice and self-sacrifice, last shouted brave words and men swishing punches at walls of fire just to show that they're blokes who'll go down fighting. And so it's just Robin and Little John and Friar Tuck who survive. And Robin will be utterly haunted by the destruction. All the people and plants and bamboo lemurs and things. He won't be able to feel at home, truly at home, in any other forest. He's lost, you see, and broken.

He never takes his hood down now. (I'm thinking that he might have it sown really tightly to his head so that he can't. As a penance.) And all we ever see are shadows where his eyes used to be. Just so we know how haunted he is.

note: In fact, I'd like your opinion on something here. I'm thinking about him losing one of the eyes. Maybe the right one, or maybe the left. In the fire. It's a symbol, you understand, that he wasn't doing his job properly where the Forest was concerned. You know, he wasn't watching, and now he can't look at things properly. It's like destiny, like a curse. Like fate. It's powerful stuff.

He could even loose both eyes. Ninja archers can be monks without any eyes, can't they?

He could even loose his trigger fingers. To show he's a hero. He could have metal ones fitted, with little string pulleys in them, so he can tighten a bow-string, and let it go too.

It's a metaphor.

7. Open Endings

Kirby's complex, ever-changing version of the Fourth World has proved to be the only environmental niche in which his characters and their settings can lastingly prosper in. Take his characters out of the Kirby-esque milieu and they flounder. Leave them on Earth amidst all the other superpeople and they wither until they're just more super-people themselves. Introduce ordinary superpeople and their mundane, straight-forward conflicts into Apokolips and Super-Town and the entire Fourth World becomes just another super-heroic conurbation, just another big energy-blast punch-up on the traffic news between the weather and this morning's quiz.

But that hasn't stopped DC Comics trying. Within four or five years of taking the Fourth World titles off the stands, the DC editorial offices started re-booting the concepts, and since the late '80s, the pace of reboot-and-revival has dizzingly speed up. And each time, these reboots have failed, and they've failed critically as well as in the market-place. Without the askew brilliance of Kirby, the New Gods became superheroes, and taken out of the ecological niche of Kirbyness, they started to flounder, and then horribly mutate, as comic-book natural selection starts to show why Darwin was so keen not to associate evolution with moral or physical progression.

The problem is that DC editorial over the longterm has rarely proven itself capable of taking a responsible, long-term view of any property they can exploit. (Anyone who saw the two-page spread of a dozen returned-from-the-dead characters in the recent "Blackest Night" # 8 must surely have been less relieved and touched by their return and more appalled at how any publishing house could have killed off so many wonderful, and potentially lucrative,. characters in the first place!) But short-termism and golly-gee-wow-isms rule in comic book editorial land. And where we might look for at best some stewardship, and at worst some basic knowledge about how stories work and how characters function, we get an endless headlong rush towards attention-getting and sales-figures feedback. (It never goes well.)

Because that's how unmediated capitalism works. Companies must make profits, and jobs and promotion-earning prestige rely on generating profit in the immediate short-term too. And no amount of caring political flim-flam can change that until the companies themselves start to see things differently.

Until then, it's strip-mining of every property all the way.

8. A Perpetual Testosterone Apocalypse

I raided the graphic novel section of the library of a local town yesterday. And on the way back, as the splendid wife herself raided a nursery of every flowering thing that she could lay her holiday hands upon, I sat in the warm spring sunlight in her car's passenger seat and nosed my way through what I'd got so carefully stacked in my cannabis-library bag.

First out was the Strontium Dog collection "The Final Solution", wherein the title-character is for some reason killed off and many of the series most familiar tropes, such as the wonderful orbiting "Dog-house", a satellite station for mutant bounty hunters, destroyed. Somewhere back in 1988, where these stories originated, somebody had thought themselves rich enough - or bored enough, perhaps - to authorise the wiping out of much of the story-telling ecology of a perfectly successful strip. And they succeded in wiping the ground pretty much clear, and for what? Some angst, some big bangs, and then some more angst.

I had no idea why the stewards of 2000AD had permitted that, so I shrugged and moved on to "Stormwatch: PHD World's End", from the far more recent vintage of 2008/09. And therein the entire world of the Wildstorm Universe has been effectively destroyed, to be replaced by an apocalypse-101 post-holocaust Earth, populated by a huge amount of traumatised superpeople and a sheep-like mass of human victims. Despite the typically literate script by Ian Edginton, one of my favourite writers of current months, the comic book itself was the ultimate example of editorial mismanagement, as if it'd been designed to symbolise the exploitational processes which have slash'n'burned their way through the comic book milieu over these long decades. All there is on show here in "Stormwatch" is super-people, super-angst, and a ruined world. There's nothing distinctive in what we're looking at. There wasn't a single issue or conflict which couldn't have been played out equally or more effectively against the backdrop of the modern world. A comic book set in modern day New Jersey and Delhi, for example, would provide far more complex, complicated and interesting environments. All there is in "Stormwatch" is a rent-a-role-playing scenario of an exhausted world with lots of cape-fighting cape-wearing muscles.

The third graphic novel in the pile was a "Cable" collection from last year. I need say no more, I guess. It felt as if I was knee deep in the banality of the end of the world. When my wife loaded up the car with Clematis, I felt I ought to check them for radioactivity.

Now, I know that this isn't a random sample. I know that nothing can be generalised from 3 collections idly abstracted from 22 years of British and American comics. I know it's chance that those three books came to hand, and I realise that they no more constitute evidence that super-people comic books have gone to a scorched earth hell than that you could say rock music was dying in 1994 because 3 singles just happened to have a god-awful tame rap in the middle of them.

But sometimes it seems that's so much of what little's left after decades of comic book factory farming is hordes of Mad-Maxian super people fighting over generically identical ruined worlds.

9. My Pitch For Robin Hood (Part 3)

Here's where it really gets sophisticated. Little John is crippled in the fire, and Friar Tuck convinces the big fella that Robin's to blame. So, Robin is being stalked through the ash and stuff left after the fire by the crippled John in his wooden wheelchair - I'm showing respect to people who struggle getting around, you see - while Tuck's off setting light to forests all across Europe. Maybe even the world.

Friar thinks he's serving God, y'see, because he thinks God's told him to bring on the apocolypse so that everyone will be happy. It being a vale of tears in the Forest before with all the plague and the bad diet and the rotten teeth. And stuff.

Anyway, in the end, Robin simply has to kill John. He doesn't want to, but John traps him by blocking off Robin's exit with his wheelchair. Which has arrow-firing devices on its' arm-rests. And Robin has no choice. He can't let himself be trapped there and get killed by the wooden wheelchair of death. So he throws himself at John and drives both his metal bow-string-pulling fingers through his old friend's forehead. He propels them so far in that it's hard for him to get them out. He has to flail around the body until they come loose. There's blood everywhere.

And as he gets the fingers free - or maybe he has to unattach them and leave them there - he knocks off John's hood. (John's wearing a hood, obviously.) And he realises that he's killed his old friend. Which is like losing him twice because he thought he was already dead. It's like twice as many ghosts of Little John are haunting him.*

(*That's why I'm torn about having Robin loose both eyes. I'm not sure if it'll be so powerful a scene if Robin has to feel John's face with his fingers after killing him in order to recognise him. I don't even know whether Robin ever felt John's face when he could see so that he could recognise him now he can't with a quick feel. And, you see, I think you have to go straight from Robin's horrified face as he sees that it's John to the next really important panel where Robin has fallen to his knees and thrown his head back and pushed his arms wide with his eight remaining fingers spread-fingered out and he's screaming "Nnnnnoooooooooooo!!!!!")

10. Factory Farming On New Genesis

So, the Kirby-less New Gods were quickly rationalised, made more explicable, made more like us, and they started to become super-heroes, and super-heroes which in terms of power and appearance made them no different and no more special than any other superheroes. (In fact, shorn of their Kirby krackles, characters like The Black Racer are inevitably degraded from marvelously absurd and kooky to ridiculous and shudder-inducing embarrassing.) Then, with the New Gods flailing around dissolving in the universal-homogeniser that's so often been DC-Earth, characters from DC Earth start to infest the Fourth World. Kirby hardly ever allowed "mortals" into his magic kingdoms, for the very fact that the Fourth World wasn't accessible to humans gave Apokolips and New Genesis their meaning. When Superman famously first visited Supertown, he was overwhelmed by the beauty and harmony of Kirby's heaven, and Superman desperately wanted to stay there, where he could be accepted for himself and not live forever labeled as an outsider. And that story ended with Superman sacrificing his dreams of belonging in favour of doing his duty to planet Earth. But as soon as Superman can just pop in and out of Super-Town, and so often does so, New Genesis isn't Heaven anymore. It's just another commonplace stop on the 15.05 pm Boom Tube Highway.

And still the environmental degradation of the Fourth World continued. The characters had been stripped of their uniqueness, which was never their costumes or powers, and their culture levelled to be replaced by simple abstractions such as "nice" and "not-nice". Endless team-ups, cameos and crises in which Earth-born capes'n'costumed types saved the universe while Highfather and his people looked on, emasculated and presumably not a little frightened by the mortal brutes they so obviously required to save the universe for them every week or so. And then by the 1990s, New Genesis was even being led by (argh!) an earthman, one Takion, a generically-costumed terran superhero, because nothing makes a comic book property more unique and distinct than making it less unique and distinct. And nothing makes the willful destruction of Kirby's creation so obvious as this; God/Highfather died and was replaced by an American psychologist. (Yes, Takion is an avatar of Highfather, yes, I know, but God still needed to create an American avatar. In all the universes, only America could do.)

And so, in the absence of whatever passed at any one moment for economic success, the pace of conceptual degredation increased yet further, until finally - and here it gets abit hazy for me because it's so incompetent that my mind actually can't hold onto the planet-sized stupidity of it all - the Pied Piper, a human ex-member of the Flash's rogues gallery, destroys Apokolips by tooting his pipe really melodically and loudly. (I am not making this up, am I?) And this after one "Big Brother", a sentient satellite built on Earth, nearly destroys Apokolips by its mechanical self. Hurrah! Not only can we humans blow up huge alien motherships by downloading primitive computer viruses into them from Apple Macs, we can also destroy the most advanced and most fearsome civilisation in the DC universes too through, er, very fine flute-tooting. If only Kirby had known that fact in the '70s, he could've had Jethro Tull bring Darkseid down and saved us all the bother of the last 40 years.

Our muscles get bigger. Everything else gets smaller. Everything else disappears from view.

11. The Conservative Steward

What could DC Editorial have done? How might they have cherished Jack Kirby's creation, having of course already taken it away from its creator? (Who, it ought to be noted, might well have destroyed Apokolips and New Genesis himself, given that he saw his Fourth World as a saga to have a definite end. But then, even as he didn't quite know what he was doing, he knew how to do whatever it was he was doing very well indeed. We could trust him there.) Well, DC Editorial ought to have started by noticing that everything they did to sell the Fourth World concepts to the superhero market failed. The more they made the New Gods standard issue characters, either deliberately or because of the limited gifts of the assigned creators, the less the characters took. (Nobody should be blamed for not being Kirby at his early-70s height, of course, and several creators, led by the estimable Walt Simonson, had excellent stabs at the Kirbyverse.) A rational mind not driven by short-term profit would have looked at all this failure and deduced that white-breading the Fourth World further wasn't going to work. But that old short-term hysterical demand for short-term profit insisted that what hadn't worked before should be tried in even greater dosages.

It was as if nobody cared enough to notice how unique and precious the Fourth World was, as if it was either going to be a source of sharp profits now or its' not-dead-yet fields were to be sown with salt. You're either with us in superhero land or you're not with us at all! Which seems ridiculous. If the Kirby characters and settings weren't selling, and if even destroying them bit by bit wasn't selling either, then why not leave the whole damn thing alone?

Because, and this is unfashionably important, the rational approach to any system which we can't properly understand, and which gets measurably damaged with every intervention, is to leave it alone. Just leave it be. And Editorial staff for the Big Two comic book universes are involved in an act of custodianship unparalled in the history of fictional franchises, and the counter-intuitive responsibility to leave things alone may be the most sensible and benevolent option they posses. The DC Universe might not have become, as Grant Morrison prophesised, self-aware, but it might as well be a living eco-system for all the careful management it requires. Keeping something so rich and deep in history alive and flourishing in an age where readers are declining, alternative and threatening distribution mediums flourishing, and where so many other competitors peddle other entertainments at more economic prices, cannot be attained by strip-mining the product and reducing it to bog-standard super-folks in bog-standard punch-ups.

So, DC Editorial might've recognised that the Fourth World certainly has a limited but valuable purpose of its own on the deliberately-maintained periphery of their superpeople universes. Why not recognise the value of Apokolips and New Genesis as effective settings for occasional stories for the DC super-people? (Not the "if-it's-Thursday-Superman-must-be-punching-Darkseid" approach. By "occasional", I mean £let's preserve the value of these rare comic-book commodities by not over-exposing them".) Apokolips is, to take but a single aspect, not just another Hell. It's a wonderful Kirby fusion of Hell and the early Industrial Revolution and the Marxian concept of false class consciousness. It should be the deadliest environment in DC, a place where character's morality and bravery are played out against the backdrop of a hideous world where even the most powerful capes'n'costumes struggle simply to survive. (It shouldn't be a mindlessly humourous playpen where, for example, the costumed acrobats of the Justice League Interrnational bicker their way through menace-less fights against pathetic hordes of parademons. That degrades the product, turns it into something pathetic, its characters worthless.) More challengingly, creators might have considered investing some energy in creating occasional scenes set on New Genesis, Kirby's heaven-in-space; what better place to play off such themes as altruism and religiosity and morality? (Without, of course, blowing it up so Superman can knit its' shattered continents together with his wishful-heat vision.)

Or perhaps DC editorial might have accepted another practical argument wielded so usefully by environmentalists, namely that we humans simply don't know enough about the resources we have to know what use they might be put to in the future. And in fact there's plenty of evidence of this in the past few decades to surely convince some clever bod in the company that this is a valid point. Who ever would've foreseen just how lucrative Mr Kirby's character's would have proved to be in the days when Carmine Infantino was wiping out the Fourth World? Consider simply the single example of the DC animated Superman and JLU shows of the past 15 years, and note how everyone from Darkseid to Forager put in an appearance there. Then add up the revenue from TV shows, DVD sales, comic-book knock-offs and merchandising. The Fourth World has indeed ended up a cash cow. It might not look like one, but it has been, and it still might be, if only folks would leave the damn thing alone until they know what they're doing with it.

For ending things, breaking things, blowing them up, is always the easiest, but rarely the smartest, thing to do. Stewardship is the only way forward.

12. My Pitch For Robin Hood (Part 3)

Maid Marion survives the fire too, of course. It wouldn't be respectful of women if Robin Hood's woman didn't make it through the fire. I'm not quite sure exactly what to do with her, but I've got lots of ideas. Basically, I don't know if she gets raped by the Sheriff Of Nottingham's men and becomes a bitter old sorcerer-nun in a convent, or if she gets raped by the Sheriff of Nottingham's men and becomes a sword-wielding girl-barbarian warrior who can't let herself be touched by any man. Or woman either. (Which is a shame, but taste is important.)

I think the second option would allow her inner dynamics to be more action-fully externalised in a visual medium, though.

13. Let Mr Diamond Speak

In his enlightening-as-always "Collapse: How Societies Choose To Fail Or Survive", Jared Diamond comes to an unexpectedly optimistic conclusion about how the capitalist economy might be reformed:

"Businesses have changed when the public came to expect and require different behaviour, to reward businesses for behaviour that the public wanted, and to make things difficult for businesses practising behaviours that the public didn't want."

And I suspect that the time is coming when the comic-buying public is going to have to be more discriminating, and comic book companies more far-sighted and responsible, or we're going to see an end to this lovely little hobby of ours. (I'm only about the billionth Jeremiah to say this.) Of course, things can't look too bad from the NYC offices of the Big Two publishers. Superhero movies are raking in gazillions of dollars, everyone's getting paid more and more, the media deigns to pay some little attention; it must all look pretty good for the folks up there behind the tinted windows in the air-conditioned offices. But on the ground, the Faustian deal comic book publishers made with super-hero fans is not just leading to its inevitably terrible consequences. The terrible consequences are here. The number of hard-core fans has collapsed. (More people visited Broadway in a single week in February this year to watch "Billy Elliot" than bought that month's edition of DC's "Red Tornado"!) The factory farming of fictional concepts has reduced the market to endless superhero books which month-on-month rely more and more upon hyperbole, soap-opera hysteria and endless apocalypses, while ageing fans pump desperately-needed revenue into the market buying expensive action figures and collected editions of comic books they read decades before printed then on inexpensive newsprint.

Things are bad, folks, we've strip-mined the characters, we've strip-mined their ecologies, and we've strip-mined the readership too. Indeed, the degree of collaboration between readership and editorial offices is so strong now that I can't see what could bring the hard-core audience, which want just core-event superhero books and high-quality hardbacks, to insist on being given something more diverse in addition to their meat-and-two-punches diet.

All that's left as a market of any scale is the addicts. They aren't going to vote for anything other than the costumed crack they've been demanding month after month. They're going to ride this train as it crawls to a stop and then they'll interpret the momentum of the train toppling sideways to its still death as a thrilling sense of movement promising so much more.

Who is going to tell the stewards to start practising stewardship?

14. Apokolips Today

It could be argued that DC, and by extension Marvel, doesn't need to be careful with its properties. Whatever is done in the little-read pages of their comic books, the properties remain, and can be exploited by whoever cares to turn up and put them to work in the future.

But the ecologies of comic books don't work like that. If you constantly undermine a properties' strength and uniqueness in the marketplace, there's a real risk that that abused property will get defined as impossible to make work, or useless, or even forgotten. If that property is abused and yet manages to keep just a toehold in the marketplace, then there's the risk that the banal and superheroically-energised version of it might be the one that gets remembered and perpetuated in other more lucrative media.

For example, Grant Morrison has, whether on his own volition or as part of an Editorial mandate, now removed Kirby's Fourth World from the major universe of the DC Multiverse - how ridiculous that reads - out into its own dimension. Which as an act of desperate ring-fencing conservation makes some sense. Out there, few will meddle with it, but few will look for it either. And the whole point of the Fourth World as it worked in practice was not that it was just another superhero system, but that it was an environment where the mighty superheroes towering over their "normal" human fellows could discover that they too were just one notch on a very long and very dangerous food chain.

Used properly, Gods bring humility, a rare and precious commodity of its own, even to Supermen and the massed thousands of superpeople.

Jack Kirby knew that too.

15. My Pitch For Robin Hood (Part 4: The End)

Eventually, all the forests in the world are burnt down. Everyone's dead. And Robin catches up with Friar Tuck in the Amazon where there's just one tiny forest left. (They were all burnt down but one of them.) And it's a kind of jungle-forest, being where the Amazon is. And after alot of fighting, where Marion gets killed by a razor-edged bible thrown at her by Tuck's tame mutant-Lemur, Robin paralyses Friar Tuck and plants him in the ground and sets light to light to him, as a poetic symbol of Robin's loss of Sherwood Forest, and that does kill the faithless fat old Friar.

But Robin's been played by the demon who mislead the Friar, you see. It's the Friar's death that brings down the dimensional walls between Earth and the demon dimension and as the air runs out - 'cause the forests are mostly all done - Robin Hood has to gather 12 good men and true and take a stand against the devilisation of the world.

But everyone's dead, so he has to make a little army of a dozen Zombies.

And as they all lumber towards the centre of the middle of the ruined Earth, two figures appear through the mist. One of them is dressed in green and one in purple. Robin has found himself on the edge of an inter-dimensional zone where time and space get all warped up. And he's meeting people from other worlds. One of them is Hawkeye, in the purple, and one of them, the one in green, is Green Arrow. And they all bicker and fight and then they join together and Robin gets to visit Marvel Earth and DC Earth, where he and his shuffling co-fighters join together with his new friends to form "The Brothers Of The Bow & Their Shufflin' Zombie Merry Men"!

And Robin's original Earth is left forest-less and home to devils, as a terrible warning to us all of what happens when you don't look after forests.

What'd'ya think? (Did you think I wasn't going to have a message too?)

I've got a million of 'em.

16. Ecocide!

In the "Guardian" of the 10th of April 2010, the British lawyer Polly Higgins has her campaign for "ecocide" to become an international crime highlighted in an article by Juliette Jowitt. Ms Higgins argues that a legal definition of "ecocide" would be:

"The extensive destruction, damage to, or loss of, ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished."

And she later goes on to be quoted as saying "... if you keep over-extracting from your capital asset we'll have very little left ... ", before Jowitt closes the article with the statement that; "An ecocide law ... should include damage done to any species, not just humans."

Now all we need to do is to get Ms Higgins to add "... and fictional ecologies too ... " to this law and I think we'll be OK. A change in the law might be the only thing that does it.

I can see it now. Rows and rows of short-termist, know-nothing, profit-maximising editorial comic book staff in the International Court Of Justice in The Hague, accused of crimes against fictional representations of humanity.

I'll buy tickets. I'll be there.



  1. Great post.

    One of the charms of the DC Universe is its incredible breadth. The vast majority of the major construction at Marvel was done by a handful of creators over a short span of time. That gives Marvel a consistent vision that I think people relate to.

    By contrast, DC had a major wave of characters in the Golden Age created by many folks who likely never met. That was followed by another wave of creation in the Silver Age by a hugely diverse set creators. Finally, that was capped in the Bronze Age by a generation of Marvel ex-pats, led by Kirby himself.

    Add to that the diversity of genre and a reader could happily enjoy DC Comics while detesting the core of its superhero universe. That is why the factory approach has been so destructive at DC. The pieces do not neatly fit together. Getting them to fit together requires altering them.

  2. Now that's some mother@#$%ing blogging right there.

  3. To Dean: Thank you for the kind words about the post, and for your well-reasoned ones too about this issue. I wonder if the solution to the quandry you so effectively raise is to stop trying to make the pieces fit together altogether. It's something Marv Wolfman discussed way back in the 1980s. Leave the connecting up to the readers, let each book have its own continuity.

    I think I'd like that. I already find myself ignoring 'official' contnuity & creating my own anyway. I suspect, as I've rambled on about before, many of us do so anyway.

    Thanks for commenting!

  4. To Jeff: Thank you for those kind words. Fair cheered me up, they did. Good night to you, sir!

  5. Let each man have his own canon. In mine, there have only been two incarnations of the New Gods-- Kirby's (everything that's in those fancy Fourth World Omnibi I bought, including the Hunger Dogs), and Simonson's follow-up. Walt was the only person to do justice to Kirby's works, and while he couldn't match the personal intensity Kirby brought to it, he crafted an excellent story out of what was at hand. Simonson treated the Fourth World like an actual mythology-- which, well, I guess it is-- and spun stories out of it, the same way he did with his epic run on Thor.

    Great post.

  6. To Bill: Thank you, Bill. And I couldn't agree with you more, both on Simonson's work - which I'm exceedingly glad I had the common sense to show respect for - and upon the motto "Let each man have his own canon", which should be translated into many ancient languages and inscribed onto little cards for all of us to carry about in our wallets. Everytime our fan-person hackles get raised, we ought to pull out that card, stare at it for a moment, and hopefully calm down.

  7. My first experience with the Fourth World was in the Legends crossover issues of the Superman books. This was brought to mind because of what you wrote, "[Apokolips] should be the deadliest environment in DC, a place where character's morality and bravery are played out against the backdrop of a hideous world where even the most powerful capes'n'costumes struggle simply to survive." And boy, was it. Superman was beaten down and brainwashed by Darkseid into being the god's puppet and warrior against the New Genesis gods. At the time, New Genesis was still being depicted as being destroyed (per Kirby's "Hunger Dogs" miniseries), which made the power of Apokolips that much more frightening.

    The depiction of Apokolips in the Superman animated series gets a bit of a bad rap, but I think it was a good choice for the series, if not for the Fourth World characters. Superman desperately needed a villain to fight who was far more powerful than himself. He had been reduced to fighting the Prankster and the Toyman on several occasions, and the writers obviously had a hard time finding a good fit for the Man of Steel, which was quite a letdown after they did so well with Batman. Darkseid was used more like a badder-ass Mongul than an evil god, but the Fourth World still served the purpose of providing a larger scope or playing field for the series. It's a pity that Darkseid was used so cheaply in the JLU finale. (What, Superman gets to punch Darkseid around, but not Orion?)

    Morrison's take on the gods has at least been anything but mundane. He was right to complain that the DC editors had been passing Darkseid around "like Hepatitis B," and it's a pity that Final Crisis came at the end of a severe outbreak. He used the Fourth World very well in its god-like capacity in his JLA books, which is probably the only place I've personally really enjoyed reading those characters. I can't fault him for wanting to wrap up the Fourth World saga in Seven Soldiers and Final Crisis, even though he did so in a way that—as even Morrison admits—Kirby would never have done. The idea that the Apokolips and New Genesis finally destroyed one another and that their inhabitants fell to earth and began thrashing around like a shark suddenly beached, desperately trying to kill kill kill before it dies... well, it made for good drama if not for an entirely satisfying wrap-up of the saga. My only complaint is that the New Genesis gods just traipse over to Earth-51 at the end of it as if they didn't just, you know, violently die three or four times in a row.

    (to be continued)

  8. (continued from last time)

    The Fourth World had a built-in end point, even if Kirby didn't know himself how it would play out. It's like Asgard—no, not the one floating over the Marvel U's midwest—which gains most of its profundity because it is doomed to end. The Fourth World isn't a coral reef, because it is actually supposed to die. The worst kind of stewardship is the one that would keep it artificially alive when the whole body is irreversably failing. New Genesis is definitely Asgard, not Olympus. The Olympians were never meant to die (unless they might be defeated by their children as they defeated their own parents), because they are, in Homer's words, the immortal, happy gods. Zeus is not sad and anxious, like Odin watching over the world with his ravens.

    But I think you make a great point that the DCU needs some sort of godlike heirarchy in place. The MU has those giant anthropomorphized abstractions whose skin is made of stars; the DCU has, what, The Spectre? Not that I dislike the green ghost, but he's not a god, just a servant of some vague and undefined deity or demiurge. Even the Lords of Order and Chaos are just the Fourth World-lite. The Fourth World had to end, so either something needs to replace it, or something needs to be introduced that transcends that world of temporary gods. I think there needs to be an Olympus that exists unchanging above Asgard. Ostensibly there is a heaven and hell in the DCU, occupied by legions of angels and devils, but there is a notable lack of a Jewish or Christian deity. Did Zauriel ever chat with Jesus while he was beating up the bull angel? I don't think so.

    Neil Gaiman made an attempt at creating a pantheon that existed sort of on the fringe of experience. The Endless were fashioned in such a way that writers would never really want them to guest star in a superhero book. They all sit around being mopey and rarely act; they just are. Geoff John's recent light-bright rainbow corps has ended up in a pantheon of emotions, whose avatars are all shaped like animals, and are too bestial to be considered as transcendent deities. (As an aside, I can't help but think of the Color Corps as John's answer to Gaiman's Endless. Like Wikipedia says, both groups were "created from the emotional energy generated by sentient beings," and there seems to be a lot of correspondence between the two. Nekron = Death, Will = Destiny, Love = Desire, Rage = Destruction, Fear = Despair, and maybe Hope = Dream?) Every attempt at creating some kind of overarching pantheon in the DCU has refused to take. Maybe it's because, as noted above, the DCU is a conglomeration of ideas from a lot of disparate sources that never were meant to fit together. If DC editorial can't keep things under control, how could any gods?

  9. Hello, J - thank you for the splendid comment. I'm answering part 1 here with some reference to what you said in part 2. Reading what you've written frustrated me greatly, because I had so much material, so many examples and qualifications that I wanted to add, to what was already a massively long blog entry, and much of what you've refered to I would have loved to have touched upon. (I am always grateful that folks will plough through what I've written. I am always overjoyed when they come back at me with a reasoned counter-argument as you have here.) To be honest, I considered doing several blogs on the Fourth World, but my feeling was, as I wrote, that my point was actually not centrally Kirby's characters so much as the idea of Stewardship, and so, though it might not seem so, I had to edit large chunks of material; reluctantly I put away material I really did want to play with, from Conway to Evanier to Byrne and onwards to Morrison. Your comment about the end of the JLU matches pound for pound another point I dropped, though I suspect you're making your points much clearer than I would have! What I wouldn't have discussed - and I should've have had notes on these, and I didn't - was those '80s clashes with Darkseid that Bryne & Ordway ran; thank you for reminding me of them, as I very much enjoyed them as they were published and as you so clearly state, they're relevant to the matter at hand here.

    You said: "Darkseid was used more like a badder-ass Mongul than an evil god, but the Fourth World still served the purpose of providing a larger scope or playing field for the series." Yep, excellently put; that's a fine point, and one which underscores for me the function that the Fourth World has and the reason why letting the New Genesis v Apokolips conflict end would be a mistake. (That's my opinion, of course; I know we may disagree there.) I know that Kirby might have destroyed those worlds, but Kirby was capable of replacing them with a setting equally as fuctionally useful and artistically exciting. In the absence of another Kirby, I would, as an editor and steward, leave the Fourth World alive & intact.

    I agree that the Morrison scenario was interesting. But interesting isn't enough where stewardship is concerned. (In my opinion.) I did say I was relived to a degree to see Morrison remove the Gods to an elsewhere, but even that conservation is only a good idea because it keeps other people's hands off them. The truth is that scenarios like Apokolips and New Genesis are so wonderful and so useful and so rare that I contend they should be left intact and passed down to each new generation.

    But I'm aware that that's neither the only feasible view here nor a very popular one. I can't fault your evidence, your argument or your passion. In fact, I can only admire them. All I can respectfully do - and I mean the "r" word absolutely here - is disagree with you in places.

    And after the break, my next comments on your next comments!!!!!!

  10. Hello again, J -I'm responding to your comments in your part 2 here! And here the odd thing is that I agree with you about almost everything except your feeling that freezing the Fourth World as Kirby left it in New Gods 11 would be "the wrong kind of stewardship". I think that you're right that the Fourth World had a built-in end point, but that doesn't mean that it had to end. I think part of the glory of the concepts Kirby crafted together is that a terrible end is facing both New Genesis and Apokolips, but that it hasn't arrived yet. That sense of impending doom is not to me something that needs to be resolved; instead, it's part of the essential nature of the concept. These are doomed worlds, but they are yet alive and their inhabitants are taking arms against fate. And I don't think that gets old as long as it played right. I think there's a terrible pressure to close stories when their very strength is that their narratives exist at a point when an end is imminent, but it's an end that isn't here yet. The human supeheroes exist on a different time-scale, they think a victory now opens up the possibility of a perfect future. The Gods know better. But the Gods too fight on. This of course involves creators playing very carefully with the material, and it's a tough ask. But it can be done ....

    I loved your words on how DC need a pantheon of great powers. There's nothing you expressed there that I wouldn't applaud in court with my hand on George Orwell's essays. However, given that we both love the Fourth World and that we both doubt the possible alternatives in the DC universe as a pantheon would work, doesn't it make sense that the Fourth World - I'm of course using that imprecise term as shorthand for the Kirby-verse - should assume that role? Another key environmental concept is of course the making use of existing resources which might otherwise go to waste to perform essential functions. (You're also absolutely right to point out how Dean's analysis in his comment of the Marvel Universe's relative conceptual-unity is thought-provoking here.)

    You're welcome over here any time with your fine words, J. I've thoroughly enjoyed being made to think, although there are times when my ego whines "I wish I'd said that". I hope these words of mine find you well.

  11. [Looks like Google is splitting up this one as well. Onwards and upwards...]

    My awareness of the Fourth World is pretty well limited to the sources I cited above, which you'll notice does not include any Kirby-written stories. I know that Kirby is well-loved by comic writers and readers alike—and your notes in the post are a fine testament to that love which does not overlook his defects—but I've never really enjoyed his stories, although I have a fondness for his art. I've enjoyed seeing the Fourth World play out in the hands of later writers, and I don't want that pleasure ruined by looking at the original stories and being disappointed. I remember seeing references to Crisis on Infinite Earths ubiquitously in the comics I read in my younger years, all of which made me yearn to find the original story (which had not yet been collected). When I finally got my hands on the trade collection and read it through—in one evening, as I recall—I came out of it with a deep sense of betrayal. It was like reading Paradise Lost and then being disappointed with the dullness or simplicity of the book of Genesis. I figure if I don't read the collected Kirby, I can always imagine a better story cobbled together from Wikipedia abstracts.

    But I have read Morrison, who strikes me as someone who is like Kirby in a lot of respects, such as that he is capable of portraying deep pessimism and exalted optimism side by side, and also that he is a constant font of ideas. One thing Morrison is not so good with is writing the "connective tissue" (a term he coined in derision) of narrative structures. Hence we have the assassination of Orion by Darkseid, which reportedly happens after (maybe before?, if we include time travel) their "final battle" in the firepits of Apokolips, but we never see that battle. I can only think that Morrison imagined that battle in his head, and then refused to write it down because it would ruin the perfection of that Platonic story he had conjured up. It was a very telling fault of Final Crisis that Morrison had to explain so much of the story during interviews even while the story was still being published. In this light it is really no surprise that DC commissioned two—two!—separate stories depicting the final battles of Darkseid, Orion and the rest of the New Gods (Death of the New Gods and Countdown, in case anyone doesn't know).

    (to be continued)

  12. (continued from last time)

    Morrison once said that he wanted to raise the DCU to a level of self-awareness. After what's been noted about the disjointedness of the overall structure of the DCU, I have to imagine that it would be very much like a Frankenstein Monster situation. This grotesque, misshapen creature would look at itself—Lords of Chaos and Order splitting its fingers in twain, endless pantheons battling for dominance in its brain, limbs that don't fit together, constant organ transplants from the retcons and reboots, a tumorous growth of superheroes on an otherwise unimportant planet—and scream in despair. Morrison did things the wrong way around when he revamped the Nebula Man; Neh-Buh-Loh shouldn't have been our own, mundane though coherent universe, but the DCU.

    As to the Fourth World continuing to serve in the role of DCU deities, you may be right. After all, the Norse worshipped their gods even while looking forward to an eventual dissolution of the gods' rule. I like the idea that the Fourth World is fated to end, and the gods have accepted this even if the silly little superheroes haven't yet. When the Fourth World ends, so must the universe. But of course, how would one make this coherent with the fact that the DCU has died and been recreated many times over without any real notice by the Fourth World? Were New Genesis and Apokolips rebooted or even affected by the Anti-Monitor? Zero Hour? Our Worlds at War? If the death of the Fourth World makes an end of the DCU, why couldn't Superman just fly back in time and punch the Big Bang in the face until it creates a new universe just like the last one? That's worked pretty well before. Wait, did I just describe Final Crisis? Hmm, well, I will point out too that Morrison had to create the world of the Monitors as yet another level of being that exists above and surrounding the DCU. I guess the Fourth World was too small of a playground for his purposes.

    There's a running theme in JLA that Earth is prophesied to be the cradle of the Fifth World, presumably because of its immense superpowered population and its raised level of consciousness... or something. Morrison was preparing for the death of the Fourth World even then, because what he really wanted was to make superheroes into gods. (Anyone remember All-Star Superman creating life on the Earth of another universe?) The heavens need to be emptied so that we can rise up to fill them. This concept, I think, is less interesting than portraying beings who are greater than our protagonists and who always will be, no matter what. Milton's Satan may have preferred to succeed in his rebellion, but his smashing against the ceiling of God's omnipotence lends him a pathos he would not otherwise possess. (It also gave Mike Carey something to write about.)

    Sorry for all this talk about Morrison in a Kirby-centric post. He's definitely the filter through which I've received much of Kirby's creations, which has its good and bad aspects. And thanks for your kind words. I'm enjoying the give-and-take.

  13. J - First off, if you're not writing a blog, you ought to be. I say what I've said to several splendid correspondants here, such as Smitty, & that's that I'd certainly turn up to read these words. But only, of course, as long as I get visitations such as these as well.

    I'd be amazed if ALL the original Fourth World comics were less-than-enthralling to you. If I'm not teaching Grandpa to suck eggs, I'd recommend New Gods # 6 & Mister Miracle # 9 as deal-makers. Any lover of Morrison would surely love the first, and Simonson is obviously a particular fan of that issue specifically. The second is a strange masterpiece which fools me twice at least every time I come back to it. Quite brilliant.

    I find it strange that Morrison ignores that "connective tissue". It's not as if he can't construct transparent, logical stories. "Animal Man" works as smoothly as a Swiss watch, and each 8-page chapter of "Zenith" from 2000AD works perfectly well as a short-story & part of a longer story. And I agree with you that no story works if major events have to be explained outside of it. I suspect some post-modern devilry has contaminated our Grant's creativity.

  14. Morrison's storytelling skills certainly have grown sharper but not keener since his early days. It's too bad. He's a great idea man, but he doesn't have the patience to let a story unfold at its own natural pace. It's as if he gets bored with his own stories while he's in the middle of telling them.

    I've tried my hand at blogging before, but I've never been able to keep at it for more than a few months at a time. I honestly don't read enough comics these days to write about that, and the books I do read take a lot of time and can't be easily condensed into blog posts.

  15. J - I admire Morrison greatly & I think it's good for creative folks to take on tasks too big for anyone's abilities to solve. By that I mean that its one impossible thing to do before breakfast to get the various parts of the DC Universe functioning smoothly & effectively together. But it's another to do so while keeping to the editorial & commercial demands/constraints of DC in the marketplace. I agree with you about the problems he's faced, but faced with the impossible, I tend to swallow any irritation with the problems in his work & hold to my gratitude that he's out there trying.

    I tend to think that the Kirby Gods know the difference between a cosmic re-boot & THE END! That's how I see it. They see it as we might a difficult but swiftly-over illness. It hurts, but it's over soon; the real pain is there awareness that the real END is coming & the shadow they've just passed through isn't a fraction of what's coming. The Monitors? A passing fancy to the Gods. They think so little of it that they rarely even refer to them. End of the universe? No problem. The REAL end will be here soon.

    You said: "This concept, I think, is less interesting than portraying beings who are greater than our protagonists and who always will be, no matter what." I totally agree. Given that Morrison has his theory about consciousness arising as part of the evolution of the Earth as a wordly life-form, he seems to feel compelled to return to the old chest-nut of everybody becoming a superhero; I find it wearisome, but it's only part of his work.

    No problem at all about discussing Morrison here. His work raises and illustrates many of the problems which stewardship may be a solution to. (Or may not be.) And give and take seems to me to be the point of these comment boxes! You're very welcome on these premises, sir.

  16. J - I'm amazed that I ever manage to think of another entry when the previous one is finished, just as I'm utterly amazed anyone ever reads them. Well, if you're not blogging, you're welcome here if the urge to put fingers to the keyboard overtakes you.

    As for Morrison, I don't think it's patience. I think Morrison is trying to work out how to tell stories in a new way which reflects the mental processes of a highly "media-ised" world where information hammers down on us constantly.

    And my feeling is that stories still need those old fashioned structures that they always did, just as they constantly need innovating too. But I am something of a conservative there, I'll conceed. And I can't fault him for trying even if its not always to my taste!

  17. When does a custodian (responsible for upkeep and maintenance) become a caretaker (responsible for interim preservation) become an iconoclast (deliberate destruction of form)?

    I, for one, was equally interested in your Robin Hood proposal until it entered the realm of intentional parody. I see the potential there if "done right."

    The problem is that I think the great hook, which so often is the launching point for later bad decisions, is excellent. Unfortunately, the "wouldn't it be cool if..." style of brainstorming leads to just the type of story you describe, deliberate, derivative, and base.

    However, if one sets out with a deliberate story - an examination if you will - the potential is not limited by what has gone before but contained only by what may come. Our problem is one of scope and execution.

    What if Sherwood forest were dealt a blow not unlike the "Shock and Awe" of modern military policy?

    Would that not make a TREMENDOUS think piece? What is Robin prepared to do in the name of vengeance? What is he NOT prepared to do?

    The crux of the argument is that Editors are caretakers and custodians. Their job is to preserve and maintain a certain, profitable, status quo. Writers tend more toward iconoclasm - that tendency to break ideas or systems which may or may not be absolutely flawed.

    I think I'll be blogging about this one...

  18. Good morning, Smitty! I think you raise a good point about which properties need to be stewarded and which ought to be allowed to close off their narratives. I was a little taken aback by your suggestion about "shock and awe" and Sherwood Forest for a moment, given as you say the tongue-in-cheek nature of that part of the piece, but then I thought of the great Hermann and what a wonderful job he'd do with a story based around the Sheriff of Nottingham smoking out Robin. And so even there, where I feel there are certain core elements which shouldn't be removed from a character, there's a good case for doing so. I think that with Robin Hood, however, the facts of his imaginary existence - the ur-truth, if you like - are so embedded in the popular consciousness that one creator blowing everything up is unlikely to do damage to the original set-up. But in shared superhero universes, with properties which are so very much less known, the chances of destroying something and ruining it is very much greater.

    I guess you're making me think, as I'm so grateful the correspondants above have, about where the line is drawn. And, as in environmental science, there are no hard and fast lines, only judgement, only stewardship. And faced with a fragile environment under constant attack, I think it's always vitally important to be as careful as possible in preserving it. Destroy New Genesis all a creator wants in "imaginary stories" ("Aren't they all" tm Mr A Moore) but in the core universe. leave it alone! So in another generation a new creator/s can blow it up again in another imaginary story while the core concept carries on.

    On your last point, I think the problem is that editors perhaps don't see themselves as custodians as much as perhaps they did, even unconsciously, all those decades ago. I suspect that in the rush for column inches & extra income, editors even lead the destructive rush. I wonder who came up with the current Green Arrow kills Prometheus, Red Arrow loses daughter and arm, fiasco? Whoever it was, writer, editor or cabal of both, stewardship wasn't on their mind too much.

    I look forward as always to you blogging on this matter, but I expect return visits here, y'hear? Thanks for commenting!

  19. Speaking of burning Sherwood Forest to the ground, here's J. Michael Straczynski talking about his upcoming run on Wonder Woman:

    "Our story puts Diana, alone, against almost impossible odds in a situation that begins with the destruction of Paradise Island and nearly everything she holds dear. Pursued, hunted, with the events that led to this a mystery, and her future uncertain, Diana must go into the depths of her soul, and the darkest places in the world, to try and rescue the people, and the world, she cares for. Something, or someone, has flipped a switch so that the world she lives in is not the world that was...and she's the only hope of restoring that world."


  20. Hi J - And you're right, that sounds precisely like the sort of thing to keep an eye on where the whole idea of stewardship is concerned. I don't mean that in the sense of "We must keep our eye on this! For how much longer must we put up with this!", but rather in the sense of how interesting it'll be to see how JMS plays with the balance between respecting what's come before & innovating re: his own vision of where WW should go.

    Fingers crossed we don't see Paradise Island written out, destroyed or turned into a community of America-invading BAD women this time around. JMS has some previous with Sipider-Man, where I thought he began really strongly, respecting Peter Parker's history and at least adding to it in a way that didn't demean what went before. (I know some folks would disagree with the Spider-Totem concept.) But then the Gwen sleeps with Norman plot arrived and me, well, I was gone.

    But it's going to be interesting, to see how he puts the pieces together, just as I enjoyed watching how Ms Gail Simone approached the same task. But I hope the forest stays unburnt to the ground!

  21. J - I don't know if you'll see this, but in response to your last post I wrote "Fingers crossed we don't see Paradise Island written out, destroyed or .... ". Today on CBR, the following appeared; "DiDio said .... J. Michael Straczynski's run would begin with the destruction of Paradise Island "and it gets worse from there."

    Oh well. Best let's see how it plays out before gnashing teeth.

  22. I had to give your blog a mention after reading Tony Lee's Midnight Kiss which features, yes, a grim 'n' gritty take on Robin Hood. Among others.

  23. Hello Emmet - thank you for the kind words, and for making me laugh at the end of a long, long week with the realisation that that grim'n'gritty Robin Hood was actually with us!

    As always, I thoroughly enjoyed the piece you wrote. I too have some concerns about Mr Moorcock's judgements where comic books are concerned. I admire the heck out of the man, though I've rarely read anything by him that moved me. But having read a terribly humdrum Tom Strong two-parter by him this week, and humdrum is being kind, I'm at a lost to grasp to understand what he thinks about comics and what standards he applies to them. I know of his career as a young man writing them, of course, and if his respect for Simonson and Chaykin. But I can't get a grip on what I know of his work in comics, even down to the last series he did for DC. It read as if he'd not thought about how comic books work at all.

    No doubt I've missed the point. I ought to go back and read that series again and put myself right.

    My best to you, Mr E!

  24. I understand he wrote a bible on magic for the DC Universe, deciding how it works and what rules it needs to abide by, so that writers could have a definitive guide. This was I think twenty years ago, so yes he has a relationship with the comic book industry.

    While I can relate to the desire to give a younger creator a leg up with a glowing introduction, but the really did not warrant it in my opinion.

    At any rate a rage-consumed Robin (ok his Marion is not who she claims to be and this drives him to seek vengeance on the book's protagonists)instantly reminded me of your piece.

  25. Emmet, now I have to hunt down a copy of the "rage-consumed Robin". That and Mr Moorcock's introduction of themselves will be worth the energy invested, I suspect, though perhaps not entirely for the right reasons.

    I would love to read that Moorcock DC-magic bible. I'd forgotten I'd ever read it existed. Thank you for reminding me. It would go nicely with other unseen artefacts such as Larry Niven's contributions to the GL franchise in the '90s as well as whatever it was he added to the world-building of the Ultraverse.