Friday, 7 January 2011

"Prepare For Battle!":- Some More Thoughts On Characterisation, Dialogue, The Avengers, Brian Michael Bendis, and Stan Lee: Part 6

1.

It's a sobering fact that the business of blogging about the writing of either Stan Lee or Brian Michael Bendis, and in particular Brian Michael Bendis, brings with it the likelihood of rude, cuss-heavy and offensive diatribes being dumped like the most deliberately disagreeable of stink bombs into the comment boxes here. To write about the style and content of both Mr Lee and Mr Bendis's scripts in the same piece is, I've come to understand, to exponentially increase the probability of such ill-reasoned and nasty-minded comments arriving.

In particular, it's come to the point where I'm quite resigned to receiving furious assaults upon the ability and the integrity of Mr Bendis whenever I discuss his work. What must it be like to be him, to be an honourable and generous craftsman who is so actively and apparently obsessionally loathed by such an vindictive minority of folks? I can't imagine what it must feel like, to be slandered not so much for the detail of the work so much as for the anger it unintentionally provokes in, to name just two representatives from this hopefully small community, Mr Angry-From-Ohio and Mr I-Mock-Autistic-People-from-Western-Australia, both of whose comments reached not the pages of this blog, but the delete dumper. For it just can't be Mr Bendis's work itself


that triggers such expressions of hatred in these fellows. For one thing, anyone who gets that angry about a writer's style is of course, and at the very best, sorely lacking in a sense of perspective. For another, these begging-to-be-deleted commenters are nearly always seemingly possessed of a mind strong on received (un) truths and weak on specific examples and analysis. In essence, they're angry at Mr Bendis because he didn't work harder at not making them so angry. Take, for example, the following statement extracted from a since-deleted, never-published comment left here recently, which has been severely edited for swear words, libellous statements and, I kid you not, a vile expression of anti-autistic sentiment;

"Stan Lee, widely derided .... (by the people who buy Mr Bendis's work) ... as someone who writes corny dialogue still somehow managed to make everyone sound different."

Edited for its various markers of fury and insensitivity, it's a sentence which hardly seems to touch upon a subject worth becoming apoplectic about. Feeling passionate about storytelling is a business that I obvious share, but I'd really rather avoid anger when I think about such matters, and I'd especially prefer to sidestep such extremes of emotion when they've been inspired by what seems to me to be a misreading of how comic-books from both Mr Lee's golden era and the present day are concerned. For the above statement works from a series of questionable premises. Firstly, the writer obviously feels that all of those who buy comics written by Mr Bendis loathe in turn the books written by Mr Lee, which would seem to be at best a considerable over-generalisation. Secondly, our commenter buys into an admittedly generally-held presumption that Mr Lee's characterisation was always far more distinct and effective than that of Mr Bendis. And yet, as is common in such cases of testosterone being triggered before grey matter is fully engaged, the evidence that supposedly supports such a belief actually produces a considerably more nuanced picture of both creator's achievements, if only a little time and thought is given to a careful reading of the various comic books involved.


2.

There tends to be a lot less swearing in the unfavourable and unpublishable comments which arrive when Mr Lee's work is discussed. On the whole, he's far more likely to be dismissed in a spirit of contempt rather than loathing, to be seen as a relic of the past, as a snake-oil salesman who cluttered up the pages he added dialogue to with a lack of restraint and a pronounced insensitivity to the virtues of the artists he was working with. If Brian Michael Bendis is apparently a rapacious hack bent on annoying the heck out of innocent fanboys - they seem to be pretty much all fanboys - then Mr Lee seems for some to be nothing more than a mediocre talent harnessed to the soul of an unprincipled self-publicist.


And the assumption being made by these rather volatile folks is that a respect for the work of any one of these creators must bring with it a loathing for that of the other,, as if Mr Lee and Mr Bendis were polar opposites, and their stories so utterly different from each other that they represent not just "good" and "bad" storytelling, but good and bad themselves. The preferred creator represents the way that things should be done, and the other is nothing more than the comic book commenter's version of the despised apostate.

After all, if that's not so, whyever would these irate folks allow themselves to feel so very strongly about what is, after all, merely a matter of partially different styles of superhero comic books?


3.

If I had to choose between the superhero work of Mr Lee and Mr Bendis, I'd suppose I'd opt for the achievements of the former, just I'd plump for the non-superhero work of the latter if compelled to do so. (But I'd have to be able to cheekily, and indeed dishonestly, claim "Powers" as a comment on superheroes rather than a superhero book itself, because I'm not giving that comic up.) But, short of the world being conquered by an army of psychotic comic-book obsessives, which, thankfully, is a tad unlikely a prospect, I don't have to choose between the one and the other. In fact, and in a fashion that might both scandalise, depress and annoy a small number of folks out there in interblogospherenet land, I rather think that I might continue to enjoy and admire both men's work, while simply ignoring all of that meaningless keyboard-rattling that demands I loathe one and adore the other.

Now, I'm assuming that you too aren't cursed by the obligation and attendant responsibilities of being forever right, and that you're not weighed down by the need to establish and police the hierarchy of acceptable and unacceptable comic books and comic book creators. More so, I'm working according to the belief that you're also not bent double with the weight of righteous


rabidity that comes to those who are blessed to be forever right and yet eternally doomed to be ignored by a world that just couldn't give a toss. For I'm sure that you too can't see the point of convincing yourself that any creator is either 100% brilliant or unconditionally inept, and that you are as fascinated as I am in the skills that all and any creators apply to generate the effects they do, and do not, achieve.

Surely the point is not to wholly embrace one creator while damning the other, but to enjoy both, and, if we have a mind to, to think a little of what we might learn from the work of, for example, both Mr Lee and Mr Bendis.

That's not exactly rocket science as a premise, is it? Making sense of how creator's earn, through their craft and efforts, the success that they do is undoubtedly a difficult process in itself, to say the least, but wanting to make such an effort surely isn't anything of a challenge at all. It may not be a process that adds in anything other than the very slightest way to the sum of human happiness, but as options go, it has to better than all that endless hatred.


4.

I.

Is it really true, as is so often argued, that Stan Lee's characters were always absolutely distinct from each other while those of Brian Michael Bendis are often indistinct and at times even interchangeable? Can it really be said that the work of these two creators is as diametrically opposed as so much interblogosphereanet chit-chat would have us believe, and is the matter of establishing easily-distinguishable characters solely a matter of a writer's words on the page anyway?

For example, to take the dialogue of the first issue of "The Avengers", which we've been discussing for a good while now on this blog, can we say with absolute confidence, and without a glance at a handy copy of Essential Avengers number 1, which characters are made by Mr Lee to say the following?

a: "There is ONE who can save her!"

b: "Don't just sit there, fella! Start sending! Use the FF's special wavelength! Tell 'em to contact me pronto, before any innocent jokers get hurt real bad!"

c: "I thought I saw ... it is! It's the Hulk! No need for me to disturb the others!"

d: "And now that he has fled back to the Stygian depths from whence he came, it is time for you to taste the awesome vengeance of Thor!"


II.

d: "And now that he has fled back to the Stygian depths from whence he came, it is time for you to taste the awesome vengeance of Thor!"

That last quote is obviously the easiest of them all to attribute, given that Mr Lee has the speaker name himself in his best, and indeed perhaps worst, pseudo-Shakespearean fashion. And it might be imagined that Thor is one of the characters who Mr Lee always presented in an immediately recognisable fashion, and especially where his speech patterns were concerned. And yet, the far more prosaic and far less tortuous example of (C) contains the Thunder God's words too, and there's nothing to differentiate the contents of that speech bubble from anything that's said by, for example, Hank Pym or Tony Stark in the tale;

c: "I thought I saw ... it is! It's the Hulk! No need for me to disturb the others!"

Indeed, Mr Lee is obviously still coming to grips with how he wants Thor to express himself in "The Coming Of The Avengers". At times, he has the Thunder God speak just as any other middle-class American might, such as when he introduces himself to the Teen Brigade with a terse but everyday "Why so surprised? Didn't you send for me?". At others, and particularly when he's interacting with his fellow gods, Thor tends to suddenly begin to express himself in a more recognisably cod-formal fashion.


Now, I don't raise this point to slander Mr Lee's work. At the time he was writing the first issue of the Avengers, he was quite literally helping to create with his collaborators a new sub-genre of the superhero comic. But even as the years passed and Mr Lee became more and more familiar with his own entertainingly two-dimensional take on the personality of superheroes, he was always playing with a limited number of types and he was always reliant upon his artistic partners to help him keep his characters seeming as distinct from one another as possible. And the less outstanding the artist, and the less that the paternalistic style that we've been discussing recently was used, the more that Mr Lee's character work would seem less distinctive and more shallow. Indeed, as time passed, it was almost as if adding excesses of angst to different characters was Mr Lee's solution to the problem of keeping his cast interesting and distinct, which then meant that superheroes often seemed to differ one from the other only in the causes of their angst rather than in any unique personality traits.


Mr Lee was facing, and remarkably often overcoming, a problem that everyone who's ever worked in the sub-genre of the post-Fifties superhero has faced, namely, how to make all these costumes and the folks who are wearing them recognisably individual and interesting on the printed page? For it is a challenging if not impossible business to constantly make every figure on a page sound and act in a way that's quite different from everyone else around them, and that's a fact that we can see illustrated in "The Coming Of The Avengers" when we consider quote (b) from above;

b: "Don't just sit there, fella! Start sending! Use the FF's special wavelength! Tell 'em to contact me pronto, before any innocent jokers get hurt real bad!"


Lifted out of context, it's remarkable that these words were given not to the likes of Nick Fury or Captain America, but to Rick Jones. (Only the sentence-ending phrase "hurt real bad" seems to evoke anything of Jones's character and background. Elsewhere, these words are closer to those that we might expect to come from a fearsomely determined sergeant taking control of an imperiled redoubt on a battlefield.) Of course, neither Rogers or Fury could have appeared in the first issue of The Avengers, but Jones is shown here assuming the language that Lee typically gives to adult authority figures from the working classes. It's a discontinuity between who Jones is and how he's portrayed that


should be immediately obvious to anyone who reads the story, but it doesn't jar as it should, and we'll discuss why that might be so in a moment. But no-one could identify Jones as a sub-James Dean youthful rebel from how he's shown speaking in that quote. But then, Lee was always good at representing a narrow range of white middle-class types, but anything beyond those, and a sprinkling of salt-of-the-earth foot-soldiers like Fury or Ben Grimm, often proved problematical and, in retrospect, on occasion disappointing. He certainly never possessed a wide range of voices for his younger characters or his various interchangeable superheroic women, and of course his representations of minorities, though laudable in the context of the time, was never a highly informed business.

Yet noting that this was so doesn't make Mr Lee any less successful or important a writer. It certainly doesn't diminish the value of his radical achievements. He did introduce a measure of character and distinctiveness to the American superhero tradition which was utterly unique. His work is engrossing and enthralling and often laugh-out-loud funny. But to push forward Stan Lee's work on character as an ideal, as a model which can be used to right supposed wrongs in contemporary superhero comic books, is to vastly over-simplify our understanding of his achievements, as well as those of his co-creators.


III.

a: "There is ONE who can save her!"

Finally, I'm working on the assumption that at least one or two folks reading this will have thought that the above quote was probably associated with Thor too, and that I'm the kind of blogger who'd fix his quick-quiz by having three out of four quotes all coming from the same character. And, of all of the lead and supporting cast present in the Avenger's first appearance, it would surely be a good bet to think that such a line might most likely be expressed by the bloke with the wings on his shiny, pointy helmet. Yet, it's actually Iron Man who's speaking with such vainglorious self-assurance. And of all the characters in "The Coming Of The Avengers", Mr Lee has the most problem finding a distinct voice for Tony Stark. Hank Pym and Janet van Dyne are cleverly given the roles of jousting lovers from a screwball comedy, giving their


relationship a definite context and the characters a mutually defining voice which they've most-often lacked ever since. It's a truth that can be hard to immediately see from the context of 2011, because the sexism of Pym and the powerlessness of van Dyne alienates the modern reader, who can lack the cultural experience to hear the playfulness and repressed-but-fierce desire carried by the pre-sex wars banter of Ant-Man and the Wasp. Indeed, it's hard today to hear anything in their sniping beyond the faintest echoes of Rock Hudson and Doris Day, and what's left seems to be a bullying and self-obsessed man and a pixie-headed, womb-and wedding-ring obsessed girl. It takes an effort of considerable will to recognise Pym as a Cary Grant type trying to hide the depth of his emotion, though van Dyne is perhaps more recognisable as a woman so fiercely committed to a taciturn partner that she has to constantly express her feelings in the form of caricature or be overwhelmed by them. Audrey Hepburn could have played that part to a tee.


But if Pym and van Dyne together had an identity that allowed Lee to bring the characters to life and mark them out as a couple with a specific relationship, Pym as a character outside of that coupling was a problem to Mr Lee, just as Tony Stark was. In common with most Marvel characters of the period, both men are WASP scientists, middle class, educated, privileged and able. They are, when presented together away from the settings of their own strips, remarkably similar. Yet, whether by chance or design, they're given separate roles if not speech patterns in the narrative, and it's what they do combined with how they look that distinguishes them from each other rather than their often inter-changeable dialogue. Ant-Man, for example, is presented as the field-leader, constantly improvising and leading the implementation of strategy, while Iron Man comes as close as he'll ever be to functioning solely as the Avenger's unquestioning heavy artillery, occasionally expressing as he does empathy with the Hulk's predicament as a hunted outcast.


And so, for all of the cleverness and achievement that can recognised in Mr Lee's script for The Avengers # 1, it doesn't mark in itself a Utopian period of crystal-clear and utterly-distinct character work, and nor does much of the work which follows. In particular, Stan Lee's script relies heavily on Mr Kirby's art to give, for example, Ant-Man a sense of being an individual quite distinct from any other white male, except for Rick Jones, in the story, because judged by Lee's words alone, Pym away from van Dyne is no individual at all. And it also helped the business of character differentiation that Marvel had so few superhero properties on its books in 1963, since the chances for confusing one with the other were far more limited than they are today. Certainly Mr Lee and Mr Kirby were in the helpful situation of having created for themselves a set of superheroes with quite distinct physical appearances; the Hulk was a great green brute, Iron Man a shiny gold-painted tin can, Thor a polite and rather cute viking, and Ant-Man and The Wasp really, really small. (As we'll discuss in the next piece to go up on this blog, Mr Bendis has had no such favourable a situation to work from.)

But if the working assumption is that Stan Lee's scripting, and particularly his dialogue, could alone produce characters which were quite distinct in themselves and easily distinguishable from each other, then I'd suggest that there's a lack of hard evidence supporting the point, and a mass of examples to contradict the case. Mr Lee's work was highly innovative, competent and great fun too, being quite revolutionary in the context of its time. But it's not the Holy Grail of storytelling clarity that it's often presented as being when modern-era writers are being criticised for their presumed sins, as if it's solely the idiot presumption of stepping away from the hallowed Marvel tradition that has caused whatever problems are apparently at hand, as if the solution for every challenge facing today's superhero books is simply a matter of doing it as Stan used to.


5.

Now, only a fool would note problems with Mr Lee's approach to characterisation and assume that his work is therefore poor because it's not perfect. Speaking personally, I'm terribly susceptible to his work's charms, and my fondness for his scripts isn't affected in the slightest by the knowledge that he was as fallible as he was entertaining. Stan Lee was a fine writer of paternalistic superhero comic books, and in the end, that's all that counts to me.

Yet, I am interested in more than just the degree to which Lee's dialogue was or was not absolutely particular to specific characters. I'm also fascinated by what it is about Stan Lee's work, and particularly that of this period, that convinces so many his readers, now as then, that he is providing them with quite individual and distinct superheroes despite all of the obvious qualifying evidence. After all, part of the skill of any conjurer is how he convinces his audience that his version of events is the valid one. And that's something which all of these recent pieces about Stan Lee and Jack kirby's Avengers on this blog have ultimately been concerned with, namely, why do those old Avengers tales seem to speaking to us with an authority that later takes on the property can seem to lack? I hesitate to repeat in any depth the arguments I've been trying to make on this matter in the past few weeks, but it is worth saying that I'm


convinced that it's the paternalistic method combined with the unique mixture of long-mastered craft and radical innovation carried by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, in particular, which makes the comics of that period seem so definitive. And just as unbelievably fundamental flaws in plotting and story-construction can be skillfully obscured and rendered irrelevant by Stan and Jack's vigorous and inventive brand of paternalism, so too can inconsistencies and indeed fundamental weaknesses of character be hidden, until the reader thinks that they're reading perfectly sensible stories with highly consistent three-dimensional characters, despite the fact that, of course, they're just not.

And if the fact is that Mr Lee's work can often appear to be more coherent than some of the constituent parts of it might suggest, then perhaps Brian Michael Bendis's characterisations might actually be far more able in his Avengers stories than they're often held to be, especially when compared to Mr Lee's work. So often criticised for producing reams of indistinguishable dialogue, and regularly compared disparagingly with the comicbook storytellers of earlier eras, is it possible that Mr Bendis can be shown to be writing work that to a greater or lesser degree contradicts the views that a significant minority hold about his work?


Is his dialogue, for example, really inferior at all to that of many of his predecessors, including the most celebrated of them all, or is there, perhaps, something about the form that his storytelling takes which leaves some of his audience feeling alienated and dissatisfied despite the evidence of the work before their very eyes?

NB.

Well, I don't know the answers to those questions yet. I had believed that I might be closer to a coherent argument than I now know, but it's obvious to me now that I've not finished researching this piece yet! I thought it might be worth mentioning the fact of my own ignorance, and the fact too that these pieces aren't written to declare to the world what it ought to be thinking, so much as to help me make sense of topics that I'm not clear on and of which I'd like to understand more. And so, that last paragraph in particular isn't meant to be read as ending on a rhetorical question or two, so much as a real live debate where I'm concerned. I've not made my mind up about the matter, that's all, and it's what I'm going to try to think about over some of the next few days.

But I'm not one of the constantly right, and, of course, I'm not here to tell you what's right and what's wrong. Heavens preserve you and me both. In fact, I'll probably have changed my mind by the time we next meet, and if you've any evidence or opinion that isn't vented through the spleen and which might help me think in a clearer fashion, I really would appreciate, as I always do, your comments.

Or, to no doubt unfairly appropriate Mr Beckett from "Worstward Ho"; "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."


As always, splendid days are wished to all, and the appropriate measure of sticking together is wished for everyone too.


.

37 comments:

  1. Thank you for trying to elevate the discourse a bit. I have a part-time position moderating the comments of bored, angry people on a news/politics website, and to do it for free and of your own will suggests a remarkable amount of patience and good humor.

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  2. "But, short of the world being conquered by an army of psychotic comic-book obsessives, which, thankfully, is a tad unlikely a prospect, I don't have to choose between the one and the other. In fact, and in a fashion that might both scandalise, depress and annoy a small number of folks out there in interblogospherenet land, I rather think that I might continue to enjoy and admire both men's work, while simply ignoring all of that meaningless keyboard-rattling that demands I loathe one and adore the other."

    Good Lord, I want to paste that statement all across the Internet. Well said, sir!

    As for Bendis, I haven't read any of his mainstream Marvel work, so all the vitriolic commentary has kind of passed me by. The closest I've come is the trade collection of the first story arc on Alias, which I thought was decently written and entertaining, although it ended rather abruptly.

    One thing I liked about it was the feature you mentioned in a reply to a comment of mine on this blog - that it featured an intelligent dissection of the class system that has inevitably sprung up in a long-running superhero universe. For example, in the first issue Jessica Jones has a drunken one-night stand with Luke Cage, someone who was (at the time) third-string enough to associate with her. And at the end of the arc, a visit from Steve Rogers (Captain America) leaves her visibly awed. (Incidentally, I love Rogers' throwaway line in that scene - "I've met a million people since the Thirties" - a great way to highlight the painful aspects of an extended life without pouring on the angst.)

    In the end, I think the difference between Lee and Bendis is the result of 40+ years difference in the titles themselves, and in the medium. Lee had to hook and thrill an audience that were significantly younger than the average reader that Bendis now writes for. Nowadays, the standard Avengers reader knows the characters and their standard storylines inside and out, and Bendis' appropriation of spy-fiction, noir, Mamet-esque dialogue, and all his other tricks, is simply moving with the times rather than staying in the past.

    (It's been a pleasure to read these articles. Thank you for sharing them with us, and all the best for the new year!)

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  3. Hello Greg:- I hope this evening finds you well, and thank you for the kind words.

    I think I'd find your part-time job something of a challenge, shall I say. Although I do receive a small percentage of contributions from the aggressively challenged, the overwhelming majority of comments to this site are from bright, rational, well-informed folks. I'm very much in the debt of those who drop in here and comment, and when the time comes to move on from blogging in the sense that I undertake it now, I shall miss that sense of good-humoured and bright-minded community tremendously.

    As a point of interest, to anyone reading through these comments, Glen's blog "Malapropist" is always a fun one to pop into, so folks might well consider doing so. I've not added a link in my side-boxes to it because I've focused on sites which are on the whole solely about comics, but I shall be adding a box for mixed-medium sites, and "Malapropist" will be there, I assure you.

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  4. Hello Jim:- thank you for the kind words! I was trying to find a way of explaining that I don't mean for this blog to be a statement of what I think is right so much as a way for me to work through my confusions where this wonderful medium is concerned. I do think that blogging offers an incredible opportunity for the blogger to be quite wrong and to work their way through that in a reasoned way over time, and I worry that my blog can sometimes read as if I'm declaring THIS IS WHAT'S TRUE rather than THIS MIGHT BE, OR IT MIGHT NOT BE, BUT LET'S HAVE A THINK ABOUT IT. Receiving a few nasty e-mails just made me think that it was a shame such fierce emotions obscured the debates at hand, so that what got discussed was the emotions rather than the work that in some part inspired them. A good chance, I thought, to own up to NOT KNOWING and NOT WANTING TO BE RIGHT either. I suspect that's how the good folks who visit this blog tend to feel anyway, far less interested in being right than in not being rather stupidly and avoidably wrong.

    In fact, this blog has actually increased my faith in humanity rather considerably, which isn't what I thought would happen when I started. I think I'm far more optimistic about folks now, so there you go, the internet as promoter of good humour and rational debate! I appreciate you contributing to such an unexpected and welcome development, I do.

    On Alias: I've not thought about the book for a good while now, but the points you raise are excellent. There really is a superhero class system on show there of sorts, as can be seen when Carol Danvers and Jessica take lunch, Carol being an insider and a socially-sanctioned success and Jessica being a woman struggling to get by. Your words certainly made me wonder whether Jessica would even have got to meet the "new" Luke Cage, Avenger team-leader, owner of a mansion and ramrod of the Thunderbolts, had the series been set in today's MU. I guess the fact that such a thought saddens me shows again that I do have a regard for Mr Bendis's character work, because why should the idea of Jessica having missed out on her marriage move me otherwise?

    Thank you for commenting, Jim, and I really wish you and yours the kindest of new years! It's quite late at night as I type this, but I enjoyed your comment and wanted to respond before collapsing into snoring. I hope what I've written here makes sense ....

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  5. That "...THE TROLLS" panel should've been the first pic on this entry. ;)

    Good and thought-provoking entry as always. Y'know, I never actually thought of Pym that way before, but you're right: he is tactically-minded and field leading in some early stories. And doesn't that just contradict with what we "know" of Pym from every other MU story, where he's The One That's A Mess? The new cartoon actually has him as a super-competent, tactical thinker with strong ethics, and I thought that was an upgrade for the man but it turns out the show's going back to basics all along!

    "he has the Thunder God speak just as any other middle-class American might... at others, and particularly when he's interacting with his fellow gods, Thor tends to suddenly begin to express himself in a more recognisably cod-formal fashion." - y'know, inadvertently that makes me think that Thor is either trying to be 'one of the guys' with mortals or (since back then Blake was turning into Thor and not vice versa) he's trying to fit in with the other immortals by aping their speech.

    - Charles RB

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  6. I had to get over being angry at the idea of someone making a disparaging comment about people with autism, so I hope I didn't miss any of your points. It's a good thing you didn't publish said comment, because I know I'd have let myself get dragged down to the level of that individual, and I'm just fine avoiding said result. Some people...

    ... anyway, i feel like you've only unpacked a fraction of what you could write about this topic. That is not a complaint, as I'm sure you know, as you're getting at this from angles I hadn't considered.

    A major difference between Lee & Bendis is their level of control. Lee was the editor, dialoguer, & co-plotter, but Kirby, Ditko, & Co. controlled the flow of the story. They often threw in elements Lee didn't anticipate (e.g. The Silver Surfer), and Lee maybe tossed in some dialogue as cover-up. Bendis, on the other hand, has had other artists drawing comics from his thumbnails or layouts. Compare Goldfish, Jinx, & Torso with Powers, Sam & Twitch, and the early years of Alias, Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate X-Men, Daredevil, & New Avengers. The layouts were often quite similar. I believe that Ult. Spider-Man was a better read month in and month out because Bagley didn't follow Bendis' layouts or thumbnails as closely. Bendis' written & drawn talking heads coincide very closely with Finch's, Medina's, Maleev's, Gaydos' and earlier Oeming's. On the other hand, a Lee/ Kirby comic was much different from a Lee/ Ditko comic.

    Bendis has trouble writing various powers, as seen by his relegating Dr. Strange and Sentry to the sidelines and his reliance on super-strong and/ or acrobatic fighters. Lee had Ditko & Kirby, so it's probably unfair to give him all the credit, but he sure knew how to incorporate everything from insect control to forcefields to causing thunderstorms to magic.

    Also, Stan Lee and his partners weren't all that great when it came to writing women. Kirby later redeemed himself with Big Barda, but Sue Storm, Scarlet Witch, Jean Grey, and the Wasp were near useless. I know, product of the times & all, but I have always had a hard time dealing with Lee's dialogue for his heroines. Bendis has the advantage of being from a modern age, and his treatment of Scarlet Witch and Tigra was deplorable, but he has given us several notable female characters.

    (If I touch upon things you are planning to expand upon, I understand if you delete or edit my comment)

    I could do this all day. No wonder you're on part 6 and it feels like you're not done at all.

    - Mike Loughlin

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  7. Well in order to be clear: I have read and enjoyed work by both Lee and Bendis but wouldn't say I was a fan of either (in the way I am of say Moore or Morrison). If there was anything that grated on me about their work, then I'd just not buy their work from then on. I certainly wouldn't be seeking out places where I could vent my spleen on the topic. In the end they are only comics, I doubt either man has popped around to a commentators house and stabbed their dog or started romancing their sister.

    Also while it is a common complaint that Bendis writes all his characters the same I haven't seen any evidence of this or at the most no more so than any other writer.

    "Stan Lee's script relies heavily on Mr Kirby's art to give, for example, Ant-Man a sense of being an individual quite distinct from any other white male, except for Rick Jones, in the story, because judged by Lee's words alone, Pym away from van Dyne is no individual at all."

    It was a nice comparison you give because it highlights that characterisation isn't just about the lines of dialogue. A writer has to understand the character and walk them through the scenes: how do they sit on a chair, at a table, standing in a door, etc. I also like to try and work out what a character's fighting style would be: would they get in close and brutalise their opponent quickly, would they tend to stand-off and throw kicks/punches, would they tend to use throws, would they go for the balls, etc. All this would tend to filter down into the script, although you can slack off if you know the artist is on the same page as they will then layer on such visual characterisation. I don't think Lee would point to the dialogue as being how he gets someone's character across, in the end it is what is on the page (so the Thing would tend to charge in fists swinging, while Reed would hang back to analyse the situation and strike where it does the most effect). Of course, given the Marvel Style he would largely adding words to what the artists drew, so he was damn lucky to be working with such titans as Kirby and Ditko, but even then they'd have plotted it out together and they were often in the same office so they'd have got on the same page on the characters, even acting them out (who could you not when describing the Thing?), which is clearly a big help. Operating with change art teams, in full script and at a distance means you'd have to make sure a lot of this is down on the page before it goes to the artist.

    In team books you can go further - you not only get to show their interaction with each other in the quiet times but also in combat. You give each character their moment to shine and demonstrate their powers (which are going to be part of their character) but in how they work together, or not, and how they ultimately defeat the enemy. As I mentioned in a previous discussion in reference to DA I think this is where Bendis' character work can falter. However, that might be because I was expecting a different style of story or it might be the real focus of the book (Osbourne) squeezed these key team moments out, but if so should it have been a team book or should the balance have been different? Tricky questions that might say more about the underlying concepts and ideas than "problems" with characterisation per se. So it is difficult to analyse these elements in isolation.

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  8. Speaking as someone with an unfashionably strong faith in humanity, I'm glad yours has been strengthened rather than weakened by your experience of blogging. The tricky thing to grasp about the internet is that the commentary on it is reflective without being representative – it signifies important things about humanity, but it gives no clues as to the proportionality of that that significance, if that makes any sense.

    Which is what makes your experience of bile about Bendis so interesting. Even if Bendis were guilty of everything his detractors accuse him of (and I'm not for a moment suggesting he is), there would still be something odd about the time, energy and vehemence those detractors invest in attacking him. When writing about a particular person's work is a guaranteed magnet for the sort of vitriolic remarks you've been receiving, then whatever the merits or demerits of that work, you know it's not about that anymore. The person is being used to fill some sort of need.

    There are many examples of this besides Bendis. For example, there are entire websites dedicated to minute dissection of Rob Liefeld's inability to draw feet. Furthermore, one of the most popular creators of online video critiques of comics has the line 'Liefeld is not an artist' in the opening theme song of each of his videos. Granted, Liefeld is hardly Will Eisner, but what's going on here?

    The phenomenon is broader than comics. For example, Doctor Who fans who think that the show sucked during the years 1980-1989 (nearly half of its original run) continue to dedicate an incredible amount of time to dissecting each of the stories broadcast during that time, saying just what they think went wrong not only in terms of what was onscreen, but also in terms of behind-the-scenes bitching and melodrama. At the risk of disregarding my own advice and conflating reflection with representation, I'm convinced that many of these fans spend much more time elaborating upon the flaws of 80s Who then they do extolling the virtues of their (supposedly) favourite programme when it was 'good'.

    I've got nothing against robust criticism, and nor am I immune to the joys of kitsch, 'narm charm' and 'so bad it's good' (which are the terms in which some people would approach Stan Lee's writing, especially from a contemporary vantage point, although as you suggest here that sells his virtues short). But what we're seeing with discussion of Bendis, and with the other examples I've given, doesn't come under either of those categories. It's a phenomenon unto itself, that I think is grimly fascinating but not very well recognised or understood. And I won't even go into what Star Wars fandom has come to represent, since fanboys popularised the (knowingly offensive) expression 'George Lucas raped my childhood'.

    In addition to analysing comics, it seems that you're destined to become something of a fanboy anthropologist!

    Alex S

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  9. Hello Charles:- yes, that Troll panel could well have been a suitable start, couldn't it? I didn't actually notice the relevance of the content at first, as I was just looking for a panel which I hadn't used before to close the piece. Serendipity, I guess.

    One of the advantages of having time to really dig into stories old and new is the chance to notice things which have been right before my eyes and which had yet passed by me unnoticed. (I know that such close reading is something you do, because of all the times you've pointed out to me things that have quite passed me by.) I love for example much of the elegance in which Lee and Kirby allocate responsibilities in that first Avengers tale so as to give each character separate identities and purposes, and Pym really is the field leader and strategist there. It would make comic-book sense, I suspect, since he's a man who's used to seeing situations from different angles and who is also used to controlling a large number of variables - insects, height, etc - to get things done. Yet Captain America's arrival did for Pym there, I'd presume, though I've not checked it out in any depth. I'd certainly want to check it out. I recall, reading your words, how Pym's first return to The Avengers around issue 25 was delivered with the sense that this character's re-enlistment was a major deal. Now, of course, it's something else entirely, though I've discussed that elsewhere, and I'm not against characters being redrafted as time passes ...

    I thought that too about Thor's speaking-voices in Avengers 1. Yes, was he faking godly-speak because he felt he should amongst the Asgardians, because the Don Blake persona was still so dominant and he couldn't remember how to express himself, or was he faking being one of the guys on Earth. Or, perhaps, his two personalities were warring with each other, in that poor old "Don" was gradually being worn away by the Odinson and what we're seeing is the slow death of a false personality, somewhat like a much slower version of that suffered by "John Smith" - I believe - in Paul Cornell's marvellous Human Nature.

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  10. Hello Mike:- I'm sorry if I got your perfectly understandable ire up by mention that commenters statement. Given the job you do with the good folks you work with, I'm sure you didn't need that at the end of the working week. Actually, there were other - shall we say - problems with just that one comment that was left, let alone a few others. For example, if memory serves, the commenter presented a sentence which argued that the Avengers shouldn't contain members of the "underclass". There was a possibility that that word was referring to less-popular superheroes, but there was also the possibility of a far less pleasant grasp of respect for other sub-cultures, races and so on on the part of the writer. Life really is far too short, and such things far too upsetting, but blogging about it did help me get a sense of optimism and perspective. I do hope I didn’t ruin any end-of-week mood on your part though.

    A real advantage of blogging is that the blogger can keep worrying away at relatively small areas of interest, or at least it is if the blogger is writing to learn as a pose to maximising readership. After all, I'm sure that someone new to this blog might arrive, see "part 6" at the top of the latest entry and quite rightly think that this isn't for them. Well, I say that, because it's logical to think so, but the visitor figures and time-spent-reading figures actually aren't hurt by such a thing, and, for a little blog like this, visitor still seem to be gradually rising (!). But I suspect that they'd rise somewhat more if I'd just keep it shorter and sweeter. Certainly brevity and precision are virtues, I'm not being snotty about that, but ,as I started saying before straying typically from my own train of thought, sometimes I learn more from close study in depth than I do from a broader sweep of topic and content. (I recall BMB talking on Word Balloon about bloggers who want to write about issues such as storytelling and saying that they should do so and not be intimidated by reader numbers; if it's work worth doing, then it's worth doing, he said, pointing to his own long years working for a small audience and learning from it, and I found his hard-headed idealism inspiring.) I'm SO glad that you've found something of value in the process too.

    cont

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  11. Mike - (cont)

    Yes, your point about different working methods is well made and well taken. In a sense, BMB has more control of what he's doing, because Stan never sought that level of control. He was the manager of a line as well as the chief writer, and his skill was as much in organising a team and giving it context as it was in being a writer. Mr Bendis is actually doing a completely different job in many ways, and I've certainly not given that point the weight that I should have. My thanks to you for doing so. And I'm especially grateful for the information of Mr Bendis's working methods, and, for example, Mr Bagley's digressions from layouts. Having heard BMB talking about collaboration, I have no doubt he welcomes that innovation, but it's a long way from that to the Silver Surfer turning up on an inter-galactic surfboard half-way through a story unannounced, isn't it? As my Mum would say, swings and roundabouts. All these organisational approaches have their advantages and disadvantages, but to consider a writer's achievements separate from them, as so many do, seems to me to be as daft as considering any work of popular serial fiction in total separation from the terms of its making.

    Your comment on the difference between Lee/Kirby and Lee/Ditko made me think again of how different BMB's work when he works with a truly paternalistic storyteller, such as JRJR and Alan Davis. That's something I think I'd like to discuss more when the more recent Avengers tales have been collected.

    All writers have their weaknesses, don’t they, and what I appreciate about this discussion we’re having is that we're talking about them without letting them define the writers concerned. BMB does seem to have problems writing the less-street level heroes to the quality that he regularly attains with the likes of Spider-Man, and Stan Lee really did struggle with his female characters. I appreciate how, when discussing BMB's female characters, you point out the strengths and weaknesses of his approach rather than - as of course I'd never expect of you - following the lazy-headed "BMB hates women" argument I've seen – unbelievably - in a few places. I too am uncomfortable about how some female characters have been treated in his scripts, but his work is awash in strong and admirable female characters too, as you say. And given that some women, just as some men, will loose control over their own thinking at times, and given too that some women who fight crime will be horribly beaten just as some men are, the issue really is how regularly do such things happen to women and not men in his tales, and how much empathy does he display when presenting such matters. From what I've read, despite my being uncomfortable with some scenes, I think he has a very good case indeed for his gender representations, but that's a hypothesis and I don't know enough to do anything more than say that so far, I'm not angry-from-Hampstead over his work at all. But I need to read more and I will. All I know is the little I know, so I've added the issue to my list of topics to read up on!

    As always, you get my rusty mental cogs turning. Thank you, Mike!

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  12. Morning Colin,

    Thanks for keeping my virgin ears pure and defending your front yard. I have to say that if it doesn’t add to what you’ve set out to do here, you’ve certainly no obligation to air the laundry of others for all to see. There happen to be a number of places on the net for that whereas what you have here is not so prevalent. Right then, enough ballooning of your dangerously large ego and on to MY dangerously large and ego driven comments! Ha!

    The points you’ve made here and in previous pieces about both Bendis and Lee clearly mark them out as titans of their respective eras. The market and readership may have changed but success is defined more often by circumstance and not necessarily conquerable by any measurement of individual greatness. As any sports fan knows it is largely nothing more than an interesting exercise to compare greats across generations but here, in more narrow pursuits and within a changing common medium we might at least define the terms of engagement.

    For all I know you might be planning on mentioning this in future writing but where I suggest we devote some digital lifeblood is how the art manipulates our perception of both Bendis and Lee’s storytelling gifts and or shortcomings. As I think / hope will become clear one writer benefits from the relationship and the other - whether by his own style, the inadequacy of his companions, or the nature of the publishing business – is dreadfully shortchanged.

    Taking as offhand reference material the scans in your own piece and depending on your definition of motion within comics we have 12 panels of action or dynamic shifting happening WITHIN the panel. Thor’s swinging hammer short hand, Jan and Hank swooping into action with accompanying speed lines, the Hulk’s almost ceaseless forward motion (always stepping into the panel – isn’t that neat?). This wedding of short, direct prose and relentless motion creates and evokes characters in motion doing deeds far beyond the ability of mortals. This action sets apart these characters as super – different and powerful in the same way that The Thing is often remembered holding up huge pieces of equipment for Reed. These depictions are far more memorable despite the simplistic dialogue. That dialogue does, however, deliver the ESSENCE of the characters. What you need to know is provided. The relationship between Hank and Jan, the directionless anger that is the Hulk, eager for a fight Thor and so on.

    Bendis has a completely different approach. Thinking musically he follows a Pixies / Nirvana style. Loud, Quiet, Loud. For those of you unfamiliar with the term the form is alternately melodic and bludgeoning. The difficulty comes when this approach is wed to the visual comics medium. That arresting of motion and the stillness generated by Bendis’ large tracts of dialogue often serve to derail the narrative effect a comic can lean on. Bendis is also handicapped by the pin-up generation of artist. Following in all the wrong footsteps of Lee, Miller, McFarlane, et al has led to great deal of illustration devoted to the moments before and after action. The posed generation delivers not a lot of the “doing” of deeds but the moments before and after. If you look at a Bendis comic, save for the “loud” segments of all out ninja action, do you ever see anyone striding into a scene? I remember thinking Deodato was his best partner at showing casual motion and Finch his worst. Couple that with our all too human tendency to let the mind wander and some of Bendis’ best lines – the ones that really lock down his characterizations - are lost in the middle of “Word War III.” His desire and need to write more realistically – while a commendable effort - might be shortchanging his ability as a dynamic storyteller in this medium.

    CONTINUED

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  13. Why then if Bendis has all these handicaps does he continue to succeed? There is enough there to lure people back again and again. It comes down to hits and misses within each issue and Bendis does keep the material coming hot and heavy.

    He keeps you moving forward in the plot and that can't be denied.

    Again, where I feel he is shortchanged or hamstrings himself is that the art (OR HIS DIRECTION TO THE ARTIST) rarely conveys that forward motion. (Steve Rogers briefing Ronin springs to mind as this might have been done in a more visually rewarding way.) The West Wing transformed television in the States by depicting the characters as constantly walking. Moving through the scene lent the material a very real urgency and told us – “These people are important, what they’re doing is important, and they haven’t time to sit around.” With some exceptions the best that can be said of a great deal of comics illustration these days is that it's pretty to look at or "beautiful" not necessarily serving the best interests of the story.

    Colin, the alchemy of word and picture is the answer…as ever…illusive.

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  14. Hello Emperor:- and you realise that you've started a new "I read it somewhere so it must be true" scandal, namely of Lee and Bendis killing commenter's pets. WHY WOULD YOU FEEL THE NEED TO DENY IT IF IT WASN'T TRUE?

    I'm with you on not feeling obliged to buy anyone's stuff, or rather I am if I'm not writing this blog. For as long as I am, I feel I really ought to work out some little of why certain books sell. And there are times that I suspect that I learn more from thinking about work that I don't warm so much to than work I'm fond of.

    On character: that was indeed what I was working towards about character, Emeperor, namely that creating an identity for a superhero is far more than simply constructing a fixed and distinct identity, and that sometimes a recognisable character can exist even when a superhero ISN'T so fixed or distinct. It's a broad discussion and I wanted to focus it on the issue of dialogue and character, but I'm glad we're thinking on at least similar lines.

    I'm reminded of both Gene Colan and John Romita describing watching Stan Lee acting out his plots. I'm sure that one of them described Lee striding across a crowded table top, though I may well be wrong there. I also recall Alan Moore describing how he "got" his take on The Demon, wandering around as if he were trapped in such a body and imagining how the world would seem to such a creature used to living in hell.

    I would agree with you that one of the oddest things about BMB's work is that he writes about superheroes without having a great deal of interest in aspects of the genre such as super-powers. I'm looking forward to reading the first collections of the Heroic Age books, because from what I've read, there is something of a change of emphasis in those books.

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  15. Hello Alex:- it’s splendid to hear from you again.

    “When writing about a particular person's work is a guaranteed magnet for the sort of vitriolic remarks you've been receiving, then whatever the merits or demerits of that work, you know it's not about that anymore.”

    You’re quite right of course, and for all that it can be rather disturbing at times, the fact is that there will always be folks who either on occasion or as a full-time occupation vent themselves at others. In world where Dr Hare estimates that 1 out of every 100 Americans are psychopaths, who're no doubt up to things which are far less pleasant than shouting about BMB in my comments box, the problems caused by a few comic book zealots soon fall into perspective.

    ” For example, there are entire websites dedicated to minute dissection of Rob Liefeld's inability to draw feet. …. Granted, Liefeld is hardly Will Eisner, but what's going on here?”

    Liefeld is a figure who is indeed loathed to the degree that his influence on the superhero sub-genre is quite obscured. The energy and single-mindedness which he brought to his work was incredibly popular in its day and triggered a recognition of certain storytelling possibilities in Mark Millar, for one. I really ought to get hold of a Youngblood tpb and pay some close attention to it, or perhaps a Heroes Reborn collection. I bet I’d learn a great deal that my own tastes have prevented me from absorbing so far if I did. I simply don’t believe in the myth of the talentless best-selling creator, although neither do I subscribe to the idea that work which sells is by that very fact work of quality.

    On Doctor Who: it’s an incredible world, that of Dr Who fans, and some of them are hardcore and seriously self-involved. I enjoy reading Andrew Hickey on Doctor Who’s past, so I’m not trying to tar all the engaged fans of the good Doctor with the same brush. And yet there are times when I feel that certain fans are losing, or have indeed lost, track of the business of trying to enjoy as much as they can, life being short and hard and all that, while learning as much as they might. In truth, all communities of fans, to use that term in its widest sense, have a tendency to disappear in that direction of self-absorption, and it’s the folks who stand in the middle of such wild thinking and talk sense that I most admire.

    ”But what we're seeing with discussion of Bendis, and with the other examples I've given, doesn't come under either of those categories. It's a phenomenon unto itself, that I think is grimly fascinating but not very well recognised or understood. And I won't even go into what Star Wars fandom has come to represent, since fanboys popularised the (knowingly offensive) expression 'George Lucas raped my childhood'.”

    A thought suddenly leaps into my rusty mind, which is that what we’re discussing here isn’t just the province of fans/fanatics, though that’s how we’re trained to regard it. Because this is exactly the kind of thinking that John Stewart has been trying to illuminate and challenge in the Daily Show, although of course his concern is the political arena. And yet, the behaviour of the powerful and the oft-rich suddenly doesn’t seem any different to that of die-hard original trilogy fans at all, except that the latter are hurting far less people through their daft thinking.

    That’s an obvious thought, but sometimes the obvious ones can be the hardest ones to get to grips with. These apparent self-absorbed, irrational, rude and threatening individuals aren’t unique to their own niche environments at all. In fact, it’s better for all of us that they stay in such niches rather than turning their attention to health care and taxation.

    ”In addition to analysing comics, it seems that you're destined to become something of a fanboy anthropologist!”

    Ah, not me, Alex. I taught enough of anthropology to know I had no right to be teaching anthropology.

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  16. "Bendis, on the other hand, has had other artists drawing comics from his thumbnails or layouts."

    Are there any good examples of his thumbnails around? It is an interesting aspect of story-telling that I have largely avoided, partly because of an incident decades ago where a friend and I decided to thumbnail so Viz-style story and post it to an artist he knew. Unfortunately, I can't draw, presumably as an extension of my extreme cack-handedness (I even acquired the nickname Captain Cackhands, which would have got me a whole different set of friends online, mucky ones), and thumbnailing people led to a nightmarish talking penis parade that had the artist considering contacting the authorities.

    The 2000AD artists I've talked to about the topic would probably chin you if you tried to offer them thumbnails (they are largely big fans of John Wagner scripting brevity) and I have found leaving the space for a good artist to play, results in some unexpected treats (I just got a few sample panels from the upcoming ABC Warriors special for Zarjaz and found myself wishing I'd thought of some of the details that were included, but then they'd have never have been as rich and detailed as they are). A guy I know is no fan of overly detailed scripts and looked over one of mine to check the Glaswegian dialogue - he thought it was fine on that front, so I am hopefully at least resisting the urge to go into wild detail (it shouldn't be much of a surprise that brevity is no houseguest at Chez Emps - word limits have always been bordering on the wildly optimistic). I've also worked in a form of Marvel Method in a limit capacity and if the artist was up for it, which has also worked fine but you do have to know and trust your artist. That isn't something you can do when you are a cog in the Comic Book Machine where artists might be swapped out and you never know who you are working with (not a problem for Stan Lee either).

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  17. Good afternoon, Smitty:- I will also fight for the cause of keeping those unsullied ears of yours pure, just as I know that I can trust to you to keep my dangerously ballooning ego notified of its dangerously ballooning status.

    ”The points you’ve made here and in previous pieces about both Bendis and Lee clearly mark them out as titans of their respective eras.” They are, aren’t they, and that’s got nothing to do with my taste at all. Neither of them would feature in a list of my favourite writers of superheroes, but that’s got nothing to do with it, has it? They’re able, successful, innovative and ought to bloody well respected for it. A great deal of comics-chat on the net reminds me of the UK’s now largely disappeared music press, all about what a small group of partisans think rather than an engagement with the matters at hand.

    The market and readership may have changed but success is defined more often by circumstance and not necessarily conquerable by any measurement of individual greatness. As any sports fan knows it is largely nothing more than an interesting exercise to compare greats across generations but here, in more narrow pursuits and within a changing common medium we might at least define the terms of engagement.

    Smitty, your whole discussion of how the form of the paternalistic comic book combined with the talents of Lee/Kirby creates a powerful illusion of coherence and character is exactly what I’m most fascinated with at the moment. If I don’t comment further on your specific comments, it’s because all I could offer is “here, here”. And to a large degree, what I’m going to publish next in the last piece on The Avengers and SL/BMB will echo exactly what you’ve stated here. Indeed, I fear it’ll look like I’m cribbing from you, for I agree with much of what you write about how the form that BMB’s work takes can diminish its appeal regardless of much of the content of what he’s doing. Having said that, the form that he often adopts for his writing also allows effects to be achieved which can’t be pulled off in the paternalistic form, and I’ll have some chit-chat to deliver on that issue too!

    I love the idea of BMB as the comic book writing version of the Pixies, and I do recognize that tension you refer to between what he’s trying to achieve and what the comic book form will perhaps allow. I think I’ll have to re-write what I’ve got ready to put up next time and concentrate on other issues for fear of being accused of plagiarism.

    (cont)

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  18. Smitty: (cont;)

    “Why then if Bendis has all these handicaps does he continue to succeed? There is enough there to lure people back again and again. It comes down to hits and misses within each issue and Bendis does keep the material coming hot and heavy.”

    Well, he does, and yet I wonder if we couldn’t say more than that, because how you’ve argued the above could be applied to any successful creator, namely that in the reader’s cost/benefit analysis there’s more good than bad on offer. I think we might ask your first question in a slightly different way: why do we keep qualifying BMB’s achievements? Why is it so hard for us – myself too, just in case I look like I’m not owning up to the tendency too – to register his style and content as a whole, rather than as collection of individual and sometimes apparently contradictory elements?

    I wonder if might not be that there’s a great deal of resistance to alternative models of the superhero story, as if there’s the one model, which I call the paternalistic one, and everything else is either successful or not depending on how it delivers a recognizable version of what’s gone before.

    I don’t know how to resolve this, but I am giving it considerable thought. I will report back from the bunker of thunking in due course.

    ”Colin, the alchemy of word and picture is the answer…as ever…illusive.”

    Tis true, Smitty. I feel I do sympathise with your description of the advantages of movement as illustrated in The West Wing, and yet it must be acknowledged that BMB is a great fan of modern film and video games and so must understand those issues you’re describing. He must be doing what he’s doing for a reason rather than ignorance, because that’s just not a tenable position for us to adapt. (I know you’re not, of course.)

    I worry that a quarter of a million folks “get” BMB every month where the Avengers are concerned and I’m not yet fully engaged with his craft yet. I know I’m missing a great deal still, but talking about such matters with you and the other kind folks here helps me get a touch closer, for all m’stumbling.

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  19. "Hello Emperor:- and you realise that you've started a new "I read it somewhere so it must be true" scandal, namely of Lee and Bendis killing commenter's pets. WHY WOULD YOU FEEL THE NEED TO DENY IT IF IT WASN'T TRUE?"

    Good points - would my issuing disclaimers just make some of the naysayers stroke their beards and suggest that I doth protest too much?

    "I'm with you on not feeling obliged to buy anyone's stuff, or rather I am if I'm not writing this blog."

    Ah well, yes. As you are in the critical game you do need to engage with a range of material but it was more directed at the rabid fanmen with raging hate-ons who are on a jihad to hose away their precious time bukkaking the Internet with spite. Taking an example from above, I am no fan of Sylvester McCoy's run on Dr Who but that is about as worked up I'd get about it - I even saw him in person and had no compulsion to rush up and tell him how much I disliked it (not only would it be mean but it was hardly his fault the franchise was lacking at the time - it needs a time effort to produce something that painful to watch, even then it wasn't Bonkekickers bad, but I chose to laugh at that, rather than develop ulcers worrying that some distant corner of the Web hadn't been treated to my bileful pronouncements on it).

    "And there are times that I suspect that I learn more from thinking about work that I don't warm so much to than work I'm fond of."

    Definitely. You can sometimes only understand how something works when it breaks. Sometimes the problematic aspects can also throw the areas that do work into relief, allowing one to tease out the pitfalls as well as the techniques that work. It is why I find it difficult to get a handle on John Wagner's work as it is usually a teflon-coated torpedo that streaks passed - you can admire its effect but getting at why it works can be tricky. Part of that comes from writing the character since 1977, which is a bit of an advantage when getting under the skin of the character (it also means he can direct the character's development down rods that suit the story he wants to tell, this means he has the character set-up just how he wants him and other writers taking him on have to work from this starting position. Sneaky).

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  20. Your 'obvious thought' is well put, as is the sense of level-headed perspective you bring to these matters. Nor am I above succumbing to some of the tendencies I was criticising, although I do try to catch myself doing it and stop.

    What with niche subcultures having a paradoxically high profile these days (the geek will inherit the earth and all that), and all manner of communities now conducting much of their business online (where it's easy for nuance and civility to be lost and sniping to become the order of the day), there is as you say two-way traffic between 'George Lucas raped my childhood' and the more alarming 'no to NHS death panels'.

    Here's to what you called (and I can't put it any better) 'the business of trying to enjoy as much as you can, life being short and hard and all that'. My best to you.

    Alex S

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  21. Hello Emperor:- I must have examples of Mr Bendis's thumbnails in, for example, the Write Now compilation. I will see if I can dig them out.

    Captain Cockhands wouldn't even make it into the Inferior Five, would he?

    The 2000ad writers you've spoken to may well believe that way, but there's a long tradition of very fine writers who present thumbnails without demanding that artists follow them. By chance, I have before me fine books written by Archie Goodwin and Mike Baron, the latter at his brief but not-inconsiderable height. And if thumbnails are unacceptable, then what if anyone other than Alan Moore delivered those huge thick phonebook scripts? I can't imagine what could be wrong be receiving more information from the writer as long as the artist is given the freedom to contribute as more than an art robot. Perhaps the editor is a key player here, keeping both parties working together and fairly too. In the case of the Marvel method you mention, the editor's role surely is central. If not everything, then a great deal, it seems, comes down to the editor and the amount of power and the degree of emotional intelligence that she/he has.

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  22. Hello Emperor:- there's no reasoned or playful argument to be had here, for I'm in the middle of a piece for tomorrow about how excellent some of BMB's writing is and you've labelled him a kitten-killing monster. I've not even blogger-published yet and you've already undone any good I might do on the "let's think about this clearly" front.

    BEING REASONABLE, FAIR-MINDED AND QUITE FRANKLY HONEST WON'T SAVE YOU. I've been reading Italian crime novels recently, Emperor, I know how the world works ....

    On fan-loathing~: Mr McCoy got a rotten deal for Dr Who fans, or at least some of them, for a long time. I'm tremendously glad to see that he's now very well thought of, and that some of his stories are regarded very highly indeed. Big Finish has had a great deal to do with that, but the opposite tendency to that we're bemoaning here has come into play too, namely level-headed and bright fans constantly and calmly presenting a sensible set of judgements. In fact, for several years now at least, it's been hard to recall that they're ever were such problems.

    On John Wagner: - I tell you, I have a big project which I can't attend to now, namely, to try to identify something of the specific components of Mr W's style and content. I suspect I'll fall over in trying to do that, but I suspect I'll learn a very great deal in doing so. Fail harder!

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  23. Hello Alex:- it's almost impossible not to give in to that snarky, angry instinct, isn't it, but it should be possible not to do so on a public forum. And that's especially so, if, of course, there's enough folks to set a good example and take responsibility for the virtual ground they stand on.

    But I am concerned about that very point your words inspired me to think more of, namely that the worst excesses of geek culture are in fact no worse, and often far less dangerous, than those of other mainstream, apparently respectable groups. Mr Anti-Autistic who leaves an anti-BMB comment on this blog is a depressing thing, but as we've seen in many different places in the world in the last week, from Pakistan to America, a lack of compromise and common decency in the public discourse seems to be gathering pace and reaping some awful results.

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  24. On a sidenote I looked up what CBR said about the DA issues I've read and I thought the review of DA #3 is worth a read on the topics we've discussed, there is also a preview of a lot of the key pages in that instalment. Its a very powerful scene, possibly one of the best in that first trade with some subsequent issues being less successful. It is also an interesting point raised in that last review, the whole dynamic was imported from Ellis' run on the Thunderbolts with elements of The Sentry, Ares and Noh-Varr all of which have had high-profile, recentish outings elsewhere and were done better (with the possible exception of The Sentry but even then the split personality aspects were done better in his first series and should probably been left there rather than pushing it to the point the character was almost useless. This brings him back from that brink but not to the point that his story is as strong as the initial one).

    "Captain Cockhands wouldn't even make it into the Inferior Five, would he?"

    Cockhands!! I think you've got confused with Edward Penishands. ;)

    to be continued...

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  25. continued...

    "The 2000ad writers you've spoken to may well believe that way"

    It was artists, which is different thing, they may be happiest with more modest direction but if a situation requires thumbnails they'll get thumbnails because, in the end, it is about what gets the story across. There are example scripts on the 2000AD site and Barney has a script archive and you can see they vary in detail, so I'd assume it is partly the writer's own style combined with adding what the story demands (so for example on Dante I'd imagine Morrison, R. doesn't have to go mad when scripts are for John Burn who had a long run on the title or with co-creator Simon Fraser as both will be well under the skin of the main characters). I'd be interested to see one of John Smith's scripts, there is so much that goes into the writing on the page I can't believe the directions and descriptions are sparse. I'll see what I can rummage up.

    As I think I've mentioned before (if not here then definitely elsewhere), one of the many interesting things in Thrill-Power Overload was the way Dave Gibbons and Ian Gibson would approach Moore's massive scripts - the former would do what it said on the page and the latter went through seeing what he could take out. I can't see the approach harmed any of the stories they worked on but when it came to recruiting the artist for Watchmen he picked Gibbons and one of the reasons has to be that the story structure was so precise and layered that it pretty much demanded an artist who would follow the script to the letter. The whole venture was about control on all levels - Gibbons did his own lettering and he and John Higgins lived near each other at the time and would get together to thrash out the art to a level you'd not find within the Comic Book Machine these days (or even in those days).

    The only thing I have found is that providing a massively detailed script (which I have done, including plans and diagrams - I may not be able to draw but I was very good at technical drawing) is that you can confuse an artist and they may miss the key aspects of the panel, which could also be a problem stemming from the writer but I have also worked with someone who will put everything down on the page you put in the script and they did a superb job. So it all probably arises from the strange alchemy that can occur in such collaborations and the grey area where their areas intersect. It is also very handy knowing who the artist is in advance and their strengths and weaknesses, so you can adjust the level of detail accordingly.

    "BEING REASONABLE, FAIR-MINDED AND QUITE FRANKLY HONEST WON'T SAVE YOU"

    Oh I know, that is why I have a mean right hook too.

    "I tell you, I have a big project which I can't attend to now, namely, to try to identify something of the specific components of Mr W's style and content. I suspect I'll fall over in trying to do that, but I suspect I'll learn a very great deal in doing so. Fail harder!"

    Amen. Just remember Fail Harder is actually the sequel to Fail Hard, which doesn't sound so bad. The beauty of a blog is that you can return to a topic and chew it over again, you might not get there first time but you can get iteratively closer on each pass.

    I can't wait to see what you come up with on that front and I'm sure others will too.

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  26. I've never really understood the sense of entitlement that the veil on on-line anonymity seems to grant people - they express thoughts here that they wouldn't dare (or at least, I hope they wouldn't dare) give vent to in public, despite the bluster. Things just tend to get out of hand.

    Particularly in relation to matters as trivial as Bendis writing the Avengers, which ranks below "shall I wear navy or grey socks tomorrow" on my internal matter-ranking system. Don't get me wrong, I'm as big a fanboy as they come, but - if I can't come up with a reason why I dislike a book without using the phrase "raped my childhood" or "the worst atrocity in the history of mankind" or any other hyperbolic nonsense I've read - I'll just shut up and not read the book.

    At the worst, I like to think that the bare minimum threshold for me passing comment is to, as you observed in the very first post, remark it doesn't "feel" right. Sure, it's an intellectual copout and betrays my secret status as an uncultured philistine, but it expresses my opinion without crudely threatening harm on another human being.

    Which, while not the stuff of intellectually stimulating debate, gets across the fact that I have a problem with the book.

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  27. Hi Colin

    Although I hardly ever comment (something I really should do more), I just want to say again... Bravo for your wonderful, thoughtful, insightful writing, and as far as Mr Bendis goes... well all I can say is for all his faults, I have enjoyed more of his work then I have disliked, and Ultimate Spiderman #13 is one of my all time favorite Spiderman issues, because I believed I believed every word that was spoken, it was funny, sweet, and at the end I was truly moved by it! (I also thought it was a brave piece of scripting, since it was an 'all talking heads issue')

    Bless
    Dave H

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  28. Emperor, I can comment no more on the good Captain or his compatriot Edward. I fear for my soul should I abandon my attempts to restrain the 13 year old boy in my soul.

    Thank you for the links to those reviews, which are illuminating. Having read them, I then stumbled upon the Bleeding Cool link to a Dark Avengers Omnibus being published in a few months time, which I can, if I restrain my chocolate and fizzy drink habit, save the pennies for. So, I suspect we'll be returning to these issues again as the world turns towards what might possibly be summer.

    Ah, I did mean "artists" and not writers. I plead the lack of sense in the sentence as I wrote it, though I fear I could use that to excuse myself a great deal.

    On Moore, Gibson, Gibbons & Watchmen: that's a really interesting sequence of points, and I must admit that it's hard to imagine that Halo Jones is an example of an artist trying to remove material from a script! Grud knows how complex those particular phonebooks must have been. Have we evidence that Mr Moore decided not to go with Mr Gibson for WM for that reason? I can certainly imagine that any writer would rather go with a artist who kept as closely to the script as possible, which is not to say that Mr Gibson did a poor job, for HJ is fantastic, and nothing like the mess that a certain Rob L achieved with Day Of Judgment, which was a charming enough script utterly sabotaged by a lazy, cack-handed art job.

    But in the end, alchemy can be everything. Who's to say why Claremont/Cockrum worked so well first time around on Uncanny X-Men and less well second time up to bat? How is it possible that Waid and Hitch didn't gel as they might have on the JLA?

    Who'd be an editor, let alone a hard-working, good intentioned creator? (Er .... )

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  29. Hello Darren:- the standard of public discourse is incredibly poor these days in so many places, isn’t it, and I fear our betters in the worlds of media and politics ARE expressing thoughts which I’d be ashamed to make in public. I share your bafflement with that sense of “entitlement” which drives both the private and public SHOUTING, and I worry that there’s a kind of social contract being struck between the powerful and the powerless, by which each one side gets the entitlement to be as vile as possible without the consequences ever being recognized.

    And though I’m hesitant to ever suggest force as a solution to any dimensions of this problem, I would argue for any legal move to introduce the stocks for anyone who suggests that Mr Lucas did anything terrible to their childhood and actually believes it. (Well, I wouldn't, but I might take a sadistic pleasure in imaging it.)

    What I find heartening about the chatting which goes on here is that good folks aren’t in any hesitant to state a preference – “I liked it/didn’t like it” – but never add the vile follow-up of “And because I didn’t like it, I’m right and good and you’re a representative of bad-bad-badness”. I always tend to charge towards any text that I’m not “feeling good” about because I’m fascinated by the decisions my emotions are making without involving me! And yet, there’s so many things that we make decisions about every day, and none of us can engage with our feelings on all of them, or indeed, the slightest fraction of them.

    In the end, Mr D, it’s unavoidable that we’re all usually on cruise-control where our judgments are concerned. If I may disagree with you, therefore, I don’t think it’s an intellectual copout on your part at all! I think it’s unavoidable. What is avoidable is, as you say, “threatening harm on another human being”. Given that’s your starting point to the matter of debate, you'll always be welcome over at this blog when and if you decide to pop in again.

    And, for the record, I too still feel I have a problem with a lot of the books I babble about here. I really do. But then, I‘ve found that I don’t have to feel the kind of warmth I always do towards, say, Alan Brennert or Steve Gerber’s work to respect the craft of the folks who create books that I find hard to love. In fact, I can be quite amazed and respectful of someone’s craft and yet not be emotionally convinced by their work in places. Most of the time, where any kind of public discussion is concerned, I’m unsure what importance my feelings have for anyone but me. (Actually, I do know; they’re of no importance at all.) I am not “entitled”, thankfully, and I suspect strong to the point of being convinced that you feel the same. Huzzah!

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  30. Hello Dave H:- thank you for your kind words. They really are appreciated. And thank you for reminding of Ult Spider-Man 13. I couldn’t recall what specific story was in that issue, so I popped off to Marvel Digital, for which the Splendid Wife bought me a half-price sub some months ago. And, yes, you’re right, you’re absolutely right. It’s a lovely issue, isn’t it? There really is a sense that Peter and MJ are teenagers, and that they’re individuals rather than cardboard cut-outs.

    I think “brave” is exactly the word that ought to be used, as you did. At the time, it was far, far less common to have a book that was all talking heads, and it’s still a trick that too many creators struggle to pull off. Like most tricks, it looks easy until you try to do it yourself, and before an audience too.

    Thank you for reminding me of that quiet triumph. I suspect I may be “investing” a few hours looking at those early USMs this afternoon when I should be – quite literally – chopping firework.

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  31. "So, I suspect we'll be returning to these issues again as the world turns towards what might possibly be summer."

    I look forward to it. I'm sure there is plenty in there for you to get your hooks into.

    "Have we evidence that Mr Moore decided not to go with Mr Gibson for WM for that reason?"

    Not that I'm aware, but I'd need to look up the relevant bits of TPO and nose around a few interviews. I am unsure it has been stated quite so bluntly and there are clearly a lot of reasons for picking Dave Gibbons, obviously both artists deliver the goods of a breathtakingly high quality but just stylistically Gibbons seems a better fit for a superhero comic (although we can only imagine our "What if Dave Gibbons drew Watchmen"). However, Moore was clearly looking around for people he'd worked with and knew could deliver the project to his specifications. I imagine for most projects he doesn't insist that his artists follow the script perfectly it is just the (big) ball he passes to the artist to play with, but it is possibly some stories rather demand the precise descriptions he provides and Watchmen is one, Neonomicon is another (the script for that sounds truly mind-boggling and I'm not aware of another writer who even works in that manner describing the panel as a physical plane and specifying the placement of the elements in it). So it was, presumably, a factor in his hunt for the right artist for Watchmen.

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  32. Hello Emperor:- Reading your above comment, to which I fear I can add nothing beyond saying that I enjoyed reading it, made me realise how much I'd enjoy a new edition of writing-comics-the-alan-moore-way. Except that now I'd love a series of phone-books, involving scripts and roughs and collaborators imput - especially considering how important and influential so many of his co-creators have been. It strikes me that there's so much knowledge of the form in Mr Moore's mind, and it's informed with so much joy, that it's a shame some more of it isn't available for the likes of us to enjoy and learn from. Of course, Mr Moore has alot more that's important to do than worry about any such thing, and we'll never see it, but it's a shame. For all that's there a huge amount on his work out there, there's alot more than isn't. I suspect even the failures of RK re: Judgment Day would be instructive, allowing us to compare Mr M's intentions with Mr L's excution.

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  33. "Except that now I'd love a series of phone-books, involving scripts and roughs and collaborators imput - especially considering how important and influential so many of his co-creators have been."

    Me too. Printing the doorstep of the script and a running "director's commentary" discussion alongside it (or even as marginalia) would be fascinating. Then again there aren't a huge amount of Moore's script published in book form, I wonder if he'd prefer we just saw the finished product, peeking behind the wizard's curtain might just spoil the magic. Personally I think it'd enhance it though.

    Worth noting the Watchmen Wikipedia page has a great overview of the creation, like:

    "Despite Moore's detailed scripts, his panel descriptions would often end with the note 'If that doesn’t work for you, do what works best'; Gibbons nevertheless worked to Moore's instructions."

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watchmen#Background_and_creation

    Also if you are looking for differences in Gibson and Gibbons approach to Moore's scripts see TPO pages 95-96 and 104 (in the original hardcover edition). It isn't specific about that being one of the reasons he greenlit Gibbons on the project, although Moore does perhaps hint as much on page 96.

    Captcha code: Phisto!

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  34. And I should have said:

    "(although we can only imagine our "What if Ian Gibson drew Watchmen')"

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  35. Hello Emperor:- it would be a fine thing to do if one were wealthy and had already invested in suitable charitable works to fund an Alan Moore foundation, producing such documents for future generations and, I'll admit, for myself.I think it would be a fine thing to do, though I've no doubt that Mr Moore is far far far more cocnerned with his various projects, from magazines to LOEG to magic.

    Of course, if money were no object and science the same, a time machone to create the cirumstances for a Gibson Watchman in 1986 would be another investment. And a Kevin O'Neil one, and a Rick Veitch one, and so on, all from parallel universes. A daft conceit, of course, but it's always interesting to consider what form a collaborative work of art might have taken with different participants.

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  36. No need for a time machine, which violates all sorts of laws of physics (crucially thermodynamics), it is a multiverse machine we want and I am working on it. we could then scoop them all up: Robert Crumb's Watchmen, Hell Moore drawing his own Watchmen with the added material at the back in the form of outlandish cartoons, featuring penises. All there for the taking.

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  37. T'would be a job that would make a man of a somewhat obsessive mind exceptionally happy, Emperor. Of course, all these books are of course in Lucien's library alreay ...

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