Category : comics

All Good Things…

I’ve been watching the entire run of Sapphire & Steel recently and just watched the final story, which is weird even for this show, with an ending that is pretty mindblowing and a definitive way to end the series.

(If you’re not familiar with Sapphire & Steel, it’s a British SF show that ran from 1979-1982 and starred David McCallum and Joanna Lumley. It’s pretty much like classic Doctor Who with 90% fewer special effects and 90% less explanation of what the fuck is going on. If David Lynch did Doctor Who, you’d have Sapphire & Steel.)

Aaaaaanyway, the end of the final story remind me of a thought I had after getting to the end of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, which was, “What if ongoing comic book and TV series were written like novels, with specific beginnings and endings?” What if Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster had written Superman comics as if they were an adaptation of an epic SF series of novels, and after five or ten years of stories in Action Comics and his own solo title, the stories built up to a dramatic conclusion that tied everything (or most things, at least) up. And then it was over. Same with Batman, Captain Marvel, Captain America, the Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, the Spirit, and so on. There could be sequels and spin-offs, but it would also leave room for new characters and stories, while also leaving behind seminal “graphic novels” that could stand with Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 as classics that inspired later generations of stories. (John Byrne’s Superman & Batman: Generations trilogy of limited series is a terrific example of an epic superhero series where time passes normally, instead of legacy characters barely aging from decade to decade, and the stories build to definitive endings.)

I’m not knocking ongoing, never-ending, legacy characters. Besides Dr. Seuss books, the earliest things I read that made a big impression on me were ongoing legacy superhero comics. (Coming in on long-running series like superhero comics and Doctor Who is, I think, a big reason why I love in medias res and am frequently bored by origin stories. Throw me into the middle of a story and let me figure out who the characters are and what’s going on. Let me be confused at first. It’s all good.) But the longer a series goes on, a series with no long-term plan and no ending in sight, the more you have stories repeat themselves and the more protective companies are of the financially-secure status quo, so any changes to a character (Lois Lane finally figures out that Clark Kent is Superman and they get married) are almost always changed back to the status quo (or the changes are made irrelevant to the overall series, still protecting the status quo). There’s also the problem of the difficulty level for new readers to jump into a series with so much backstory (unless they’re like me and enjoy coming in at the middle point). Reboots are an attempt to solve this problem, but so far, that hasn’t shown to be much of a solution.

On the television front, Babylon 5 was the first SF show to be plotted and executed as a five-year series with a beginning, middle, and end, and while it wasn’t always consistently great, having a story that was constructed like a novel on TV worked in its favor. The various Star Trek series, starting with Star Trek: The Next Generation, haven’t always had the kind of “there is no status quo to protect” that Babylon 5 had, but they’ve all had definitive endings that, while variable in quality, worked to tie up the series and put a cap on them, which I think ultimately made them stronger. On the other hand, I started watching The Simpsons when it first premiered–over 25 years ago. I was a big fan for a long time, but I eventually lost interest because the show has just kept going but I wasn’t seeing anything new to keep me interested. I’m a massive Doctor Who fan, but after 26 years of the classic series and nine of the new show, I’m starting to feel fatigue setting in (and as much as I’d like to, I can’t blame it all on current showrunner Steven Moffat). When the original actor became too ill to continue in the role, the writers and producers came up with the imaginative idea of the character being able to regenerate his body into a new form, played by a new actor. Somewhere along the line, it was established that the Doctor could do this a total of 13 times, but when the last actor, Matt Smith, was leaving the show and it was revealed¬†that he was technically the last regeneration, they wrote in a kind of escape clause that allowed them to change it so that the Doctor can once again regenerate any number of times, and the show never really has to end. But what if it did? What if they built everything up to an ending that finished the series for good. There wouldn’t be any new Doctor Who episodes, sure, but there would be around 36 seasons of shows to rewatch and enjoy, without the pressure of coming up with new stories that aren’t repeating the old and aren’t based in so much past continuity that it makes it difficult for new viewers to come in and understand everything that’s going on.

Like I said, I do still love reading and watching the adventures of legacy characters and franchises. But I also think stories with a definitive ending (even if the ending is “And the Adventure Continues…” or a total mind screw like the endings of The Prisoner and Sapphire & Steel) are stronger than stories that are written to never end. (Although series written towards a definite ending are not always successful. I’m looking at you, How I Met Your Mother. *) And I think the only real reason to have ongoing, neverending series is to keep the money coming in. Since I’m not a businessperson, I care far less about the money a story generates than I do about the strength of a story.

And…okay, I started this post without any idea of how I was going to finish it, so…I’m just going to stop writing and¬†race off to my next exploit. The adventure continues…

* When the finale of How I Met Your Mother first aired, I liked the ending (unlike a lot of people), even though it completely flipped the expectation the writers had established at the beginning and maintained right up until the end. But the more I thought back on it, the more it felt like an utter betrayal of the audience and a really shitty way to end the story it was supposed to be telling.

The Carnival of the Strange

A recent post on io9 about the Doom Patrol, “the world’s strangest heroes,” reminded me of my profound, uncanny love for Grant Morrison’s version of the team. I was 19 or 20 when I stumbled upon Doom Patrol #28. I was mostly burned out on the superhero comics of the time and wasn’t completely up on who was doing what. But Simon Bisley’s cover was unlike any comics cover I’d seen before and I was intrigued enough to grab it off the shelf and throw some cash down for it. (more…)

figaro & his friends

About 15 years ago, I decided to participate in 24-Hour Comics Day just for a lark. I hadn’t drawn anything more than random doodles in a notebook in over a decade and hadn’t written anything but poetry and prose in 5 years or so. I decided to basically make a comic out of my poetic sensibilities, drank a lot of coffee, sat down with some blank printer paper, pencils, and pens, and produced…”figaro & his friends.” I’d forgotten all about it until doing some unpacking recently. So for this Throwback Thursday, I present to you the one and only issue of “figaro & his friends”:


Who Lurks in the Swamps? SWAMP-MAN!!

Here’s a throwback to a time when I was completely unselfconscious about what I wrote and drew, fueled by nothing but enthusiasm, stealing shamelessly–like an artist–from the things that excited me. I wrote and drew a lot of comic books when I was a kid, but sadly, the only one to survive to this day is Swamp-Man #2, done when I was in 3rd grade (1978-79).

Swamp-Man #2

Monsters of the Id

From 3rd grade to 8th grade, I wrote, drew, and daydreamed lots and lots of comics. One character I created was Monster Man. (I’ve reproduced him here as best as I can remember him.) He was clearly inspired by the Hulk (a pretty prominent character for kids at the time), Forbidden Planet (a movie that made a big impact on me when my mother took us to see a showing of it on the big screen), and my own anxieties about being teased for being shorter and more sensitive than most other boys my age.Monster Man!

Monster Man was a shy, little guy named Tim Id. (Tim Id, get it? Get it?) When Tim was threatened, when he felt nervous or frightened, he would transform into some sort of huge monster, about twice the size of, say, Andre the Giant. The monsters tended to look like a cross between a dragon and an ogre or a smaller version of Godzilla. When I drew scenes with Monster Man becoming a monster, the bad guys were generally scared enough at the sight of him that there was no need for any actual fighting. The bad guys just ran away, drops of cartoon sweat flying off of them, and Monster Man never actually hit anyone.

I haven’t thought about little Tim Id much since middle school, but I still like his punny name and his simple costume. And while it’s been a long time since anyone tried to bully me, I can still call up the feelings of being threatened and teased, and I appreciate the power fantasy of Monster Man.¬†ROOOOOAAAAAARRRRRRR!!!