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Wait, What? Ep. 141: Tomorrow’s Controversies Today

Jeff Lester

 photo 47c55d68-7339-4f05-9516-b477e992c3c0_zpsfaea97b2.jpg
The Delight that was Tony Daniels’ Detective Comics. From issue #1.


Actually, it’s not really that bad, but all these holidays and holiday related get-togethers are keeping us very, very busy.  So!  After the show notes, please join us for two hours of desperate comics blabbity-blab and the show notes dedicated to same!

So…right, then.  Where were we? Ah, yes…

00:00-16:29: We are off and running, with a weirdo greeting, an equally weirdo response about the news of the death of Nelson Mandela, before moving on to discuss the Wonder Woman casting, so recently announced:  what did we think?  Our answers will surprise you!  Unless you figured our answers were gong to be a rambling, incomplete personal anecdote from Jeff and a disagreement between Jeff and Graeme about box office earnings, in which case you can pick up your winnings at Window Seven. (One day, I’ll tire of the “people gambling about when Jeff and Graeme bring up a specific topic they seem obsessed on” joke, but that day is, I fear, a long, long way off.)
16:29-20:26: Graeme has been rereading the Villains Month issues to supplement his reading of Forever Evil, and schools Jeff on DC’s event.
20:26-45:42: A transition from the DC event to the Comixology Cyber-Monday sale of New 52 trades: what first volumes trades of the New 52 would Graeme have bought?  Which ones did Jeff buy?  Why did Jeff use “what” for one of those questions and “which” for the other?  Why so many rhetorical questions? Whyyyyy? Also discussed in this segment: a ton of Batman talk, and a long, shameful admission from Jeff about his love for Tony Daniel’s Detective Comics, the tragedy that is Hawkman, whether the awful is preferable to the competent, Jeff’s comics capriciousness this week, Rogues Rebellion by Brian Bucellato and Scott Hepburn, Suicide Squad by Matt Kindt and Patrick Zircher, and more!
45:42-1:12:14:  From there we get to Letter 44 from Charles Soule by Alberto Alburquerque, Morning Glories by Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma, the Lost school of storytelling, epic stories vs. small stories,  the awesome Sin Titulo by Cameron Stewart.  Also discussed: Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern, what’s going on with the upcoming Inhumans series?, and more! (About Forever Evil.)
1:12:14-1:34:24:  And this actually leads us quite nicely into a discussion of the Hunger Games movies—the first two films, the books by Suzanne Collins, storytelling, how they tie into Marvel movies exposition, this terrific review by Peter Rosenthal, and more.
1:34:24-1:57:11:  The Spider-Man 2 trailer: worth talking about briefly?  We think so?  The draw of Marvel characters as cinematic, as opposed to comic book, characters, the secret of Crocodile Dundee 2, and a very funny throwaway joke from Flight of the Conchords (Season One, of course!). Also,  Jeff finally talks about the Wonder Woman casting,  there is a surprisingly robust squabble where we end up yelling about the Hemsworth brothers, not letting the Internet cast movies, and…
1:57:11-end: Closing comments! A reminder that we will be off, yet again, next week…so remember to listen to Graeme and I argue about the Hemsworth brothers at least twice more!

Pretty snazzy, am I right?  Over two hours of comic book podcasting insanity — actually, I don’t think it’s cool to talk about insanity as a value-added bonus, so maybe we should say “over two hours of comic book podcasting neuroses”…and really it’s less than a minute and a half more than two hours, so… I kinda feel like maybe I should just leave it at snazzy, I guess.

Nonetheless!  It’s on iTunes, and it is here for you as well:

Wait, What? Ep. 141: Tomorrow’s Controversies Today!

As always, we thank you for listening and hope you enjoy!!

24 Responses to “ Wait, What? Ep. 141: Tomorrow’s Controversies Today ”

  1. Oh man, I KNEW there was one Nu52 title I wanted to pick up if it went on sale digitally, and I just totally spaced on Cyber Monday. Oh well, having read Battle for the Cowl, I don’t know if Detective Comics could have ever really lived up to Jeff’s synopses.

  2. Guys, RUSH (the race car driver movie) is great and Hemsworth is great in it. Ron Howard channels Tony Scott and Hemsworth both celebrates and subverts the “pretty boy” type.

  3. Hologram zone
    Two penetrated
    Mountain foot

    Allen Ginsberg, right?

  4. I think the critical acclaim surrounding Hickman has a lot to do with the stultifying awfulness of Bendis’ run- as Nevett, who lied for years that it was readable was forced to finally admit, it was a series of cliffhangers that never paid off. Hickman, even if he doesn’t stick the landing, provideds the illusion of paying off. I don’t get the sense reading Hickman, as I did reading Bendis, that actually telling a story was way too much to ask of him. Avengers for about 85% of the run read like Bendis hated it, but he got to work with great artist and it’s paying for his kids’ college, so he’ll power through. I got the sense it was genuinely making him miserable.

  5. Long lost sisters? Still? Is someone going to stop this or is it an accepted convention of comics? I can suspend my belief for a lot, but I don’t know how many more long lost siblings (and kids– looking at you, Thane) I can believe. If someone slips on continuity there WILL BE accidental incest, which is at least an original and realistic plot twist given the familial environment. Anyways, Daniels learned from the best with storytelling tricks like that. And he is not alone among his peers, seeing as Snyder introduced a long lost bro for Bruce Wayne in Batman.

    @Jeff: I definitely appreciate the crazy, too. I don’t know if you’ve tried Casey’s Catalyst Comix, but on the writing side it is obnoxious and crazy and insanely entertaining. A different crazy is Ales Kot, who I think was unfairly assigned Suicide Squad, a book full of villains, during the gear up for Villains Month. His 4 issues were great. There is room for a unique crazy in modern comics, but it always gets shrugged off as Silver Age comics displaced in time.

    @Graeme: I’ve always had a low tolerance for all things Kindt. I find his ideas interesting but his storytelling very unengaging. But, a lot of people like his original stuff. I’d be interested to know if you think his detachment is just showing more in Superheroes? Or do you think that his original books and series are engaging and he is just not cut out for Superheroes? Or both or neither?

    Good discussions. I’ve been avoiding Hunger Games but maybe I’ll check out the books on Jeff’s enthusiasm. Nice episode guys!

  6. @Dan Coyle: I agree Hickman does seem like he enjoys writing a lot. I’d say he takes his stories almost as seriously as his characters do.

    I think people like Hickman because he treats everyone’s favorite characters like mint condish figurines and we know he won’t make them do anything very stupid but they will be very serious about having to save the universe all the time.

  7. @Michael Hoskin:

    Having interacted with Ginsberg (not like that, geez), I’d say yeah, that does capture the not-very-subtext of many of his last works.

    To the discussion about the fading of “right person, wrong place” origin story for determinism/genetics/heritage/etc.:

    Glad you brought up Superman at some point, because that is in one reading a hero who is that because of the circumstances of his birth. Well, at least his powers are that (cf. the standard “Krypton made me strong; Kansas made me a hero” reading). And also see Pfeiffer’s essay about how this ubermensch, created by two first-generation American Jews, was the ultimate immigrant trying to assimilate.

    But I agree to make Peter Parker programmed from birth to be super, as pure narrative, makes things far less interesting for me, and takes from the common-man/real-world/this-could-be-you metanarrative. (And I also agree that I’d rather rewatch ALL THREE Raimi Spider-Man movies that two scenes of the Garfield movies; couldn’t make it through the first one w/o overwhelming boredom, despite Denis Leary.)

    However, I don’t think this is an artefact of American Exceptionalism, but the opposite. It’s a documented correlation, that in times when the population tends to feel more powerless, narratives of conspiracy (shadowy figures determining the future and present) pop up and gain more traction. Certainly in the States we see more and more people unable to determine their own economic future (less chance for the self-made man, which Kirby and Lee certainly put forward often), and a large subset of the population frantic that there is an Other in the Oval Office.

    So I’d say that if we’re going for “there’s something in the air” (to belittle my own ranting, not your wonderful thinking, of course), I’d say it’s more that people want to feel that there was something that happened, something out of their hands, that has made things the way they are today.

    Really enjoyed the podcast, as always! Listened to it whilst out riding on this chilly day, to keep my ears warm.

  8. I think the debate about how well Superman performed can be summed up thusly: yes Graeme is right that Superman did great box office. Not as great as excpectations maybe given the budget and the performance of other less iconic superhero movies, but still great. The lack of confidence in a Superman sequel however I believe had to do mostly with the very lukewarm and mixed reception. Even the best reviews were very lukewarm, with the rabidly positive reviews coming from only the most extreme of comic fans. With the Marvel movies, everyone was salivating for the next one the minute each one ended. Not so with Superman. I’m pretty sure they realized that the response was too lukewarm to expect a second movie to surpass the first without some help.

  9. Thanks for another podcast, boys. I agree that Inhumanity was a lot of dull exposition. Let’s change that chap’s name to Karnak the Chatterer.

    I have never seen a Fast and Furious film because, well, cars, but I saw Natasha Henstridge in a lovely Christmas TV movie at the weekend about a school Christmas song called Christmas Song. She was marvellous. Obviously.

  10. “the stultifying awfulness of Bendis’ run- as Nevett, who lied for years that it was readable was forced to finally admit”

    Whoa, stop the presses. When and where did that finally happen?

  11. I always found it interesting that Spiderman was basically a story about the WW2 Generation trying to graft their story into a story about someone from the Lost Generation. That’s why early X-Men and Spider-man sounded more like Dobie Gillis than actual teenagers. Even Spider-Man himself is a homage to a WW2 Pulp that is updated for the readers of that day.

    Today’s Spider-man (Ultimate and Movie) is the story of Generation Xers trying to graft their story onto someone of the Millenial Generation. Generation X thrived on the conspiracies that were fueled by anxieties about the future. The Millenial Generation is fueled by informaton and civic mindedness.

    Which all probably means that when it becomes 2030s, the Millenials will be writing the type of Spider-Man that existed when it first came out: a Spider-Man that becomes a hero through unusual circumstances to a Homeland Generation (those born after the start 9-11 from veterans of Iraq) that are anti-establishment and in need for social change for things unheard of yet.

    – l.k.

  12. Brooklyn’s in New York, Jeff.

  13. What if Warners isn’t trying to copy the success of the Avengers, but rather, they’re trying to copy the success of Fast Five: a bunch of charismatic characters that probably wouldn’t hold their own movie, put into a bunch of movies that are tied together in a very loose way until they get to a larger movie where they could incorporate everyone.

    Look for Justice League Presents: Wonder Woman or Justice League Presents: Green Lantern and Flash (Brave and the Bold).

    – l.k.

  14. I think the point about “competent” comics is a really good one, but one thing I think you underestimate (although admittedly I’m only halfway through the ep) is the effect that the art can have on that feeling. The more photo-referenced and/or movie-esque art is, the drier I think it makes the underlying content.

    There are long stretches of Brubaker’s Cap, for example, that felt very dull to me as presented in Epting’s style that could’ve felt much “crazier” and more entertainingly comic-book-ish if rendered with a little less of a focus on realism. I definitely notice this in Hickman’s work as well — certain artists really emphasize the dull Spreadsheet Comics elements of his work, while others manage to highlight the loony specifics he fills those spreadsheets with.

  15. Jeff, I never tire of your descriptions of crazy-ass shitty comics. You came dangerously close to selling me on that Tony Daniel run right there.

    Re: Hickman and “cosmic”: I think there’s a lifelessness to Hickman’s approach to storytelling that dovetails neatly with how rote and by-the-books Marvel’s approach to its big “event” comics has become. If you go back and look at the old, classic “cosmic” Marvel stories – Starlin’s Warlock, for instance – you see there’s plenty of action and big stakes, sure, but there’s a tangible, emotional core and a psychological throughline. Warlock is fighting to save the universe, sure, but the story is just as importantly an interior one about facing doubts and fears and the possibility that you’re a much worse person than you thought you were. The Infinity Gauntlet has a lot of great slam-bang action sequences and disaster scenes, but at its heart it’s a story about what happens when you get your heart’s desire and realize it’s not enough and never will be. That emotional, psychological core was always present in Starlin’s best stuff – and of course, he learned the importance of that from Kirby and Ditko – and it’s utterly missing from Hickman’s stuff. What was “Infinity” about? It was about the Avengers fighting aliens, and about Thanos’s goofily-named sidekicks getting to be all vampy. There is no interior – everything is on the surface. And why should I care about a story that’s about “the Avengers must stop [GENERIC THREAT]!” when I know that the Avengers always stop the generic threat?

    But the generic, sterile nature of Hickman’s approach is perfectly suited to Marvel’s current model. Hickman’s style is at once the flipside of Bendis’s style and the logical continuation of it. If Bendis’s approach represented a buildup to a payoff that never really came – all dialogue and board rooms and scheming, occasionally punctuated by visually incoherent fight scenes – then Hickman gives us a constant state of crisis that never ends or resolves, and simultaneously never feels like it matters because it doesn’t feel remotely human. Both approaches are well-adapted to a company which has embraced the perpetual crossover model, in which we’ve gone from the annual big event to the constant big event which is just periodically rebranded – in which the big important story everyone must follow never really has a beginning or an end, just a prolonged, interminable middle.

  16. It seems like the “all middle, all b-plot all the time” approach is possible because of the Internet and a-synchronous viewing as much as anything else. “Lost” was possible because it came out when people could catch up on DVD (still a fairly recent development at the time), and anyone with a smart phone can go to the “Hunger Games” or “Thor” wiki to get a gloss on the mythos. Thanks to YouTube we don’t need to sit through the closing credits… I can watch the stinger online before I get to the theater and leave before the parking lot gets crowded. Anyway, that’s the technological determinist side of the argument.
    There’s almost certainly a social itch getting scratched, also. Maybe it’s that like a Hickman comic insofar as the lack of exposition flatters our sense of expertise and makes what is a massive waste of intellectual energy feel worthwhile.

  17. Jeff, thank you for making me feel less guilty about adoring Tony Daniel’s Batman work that he has written and drawn himself. It’s utterly not self-aware, goofy, old fashioned “pop” superhero comics. Dare I say, a thinking man’s Rob Liefeld? Because Tony actually draws well (he’s less sparse and elegant in his linework, but his actual DRAWING style is not that far off from Capullo) and Tony actually writes FUN goofy comics, because, again, he ain’t being ironic. He seems to love this shit and it shows. He’s not trying to be cool, he’s just having a blast. Dear God help me, I actually find Tony writing for himself as an artist vastly preferable to when Grant Morrison wrote for Tony. It always seemed that TD’s storytelling, layouts, and verve were being reigned in, hamstrung even, by his forced subservience to Morrison’s wackiness (which I generally love, of course) But Tony Daniel is a wild stallion… and you gotta let that sumbitch ride free.

  18. Nate A.: I think the technological argument has some merit to it, but there’s also a huge economic motivation behind the perpetual crossover (or, in movies, the endless succession of sequels). As movies have become more and more expensive to make (there’s your technological determinism), studios are more and more reluctant to spend money on big-budget projects that aren’t sure-fire blockbusters with instant name recognition and built-in fanbases and followings. Thus, the slew of films based on old TV shows, cartoons, toy concepts, etc., that can be adapted for an audience that grew up with the original, and will show up to at least the first installment out of sheer nostalgia. Now, of course, comic book superheroes have provided the perfect material for the movie industry to adapt, given that superhero comics long ago resigned themselves to long-form, indefinite serialization within a genre that already provides plenty of summer-movie material (smash-’em-up action scenes, over-the-top villains, etc.). Marvel Studios has perfected this by coming up with a formula that essentially exports the formula it was already using for its comics to film (you like Iron Man? Well, now you have to watch Thor, because you have to see how he fits into the greater Marvel Movie Universe! You like Iron Man AND Thor? Here they are in Avengers, our big event! And now follow the repercussions in the next Iron Man and Thor movies!). In an industry where the stakes for success and failure are bigger than ever, everyone wants a sure thing, and constant serialization is the closest thing there is to it.

  19. “everyone wants a sure thing, and constant serialization is the closest thing there is to it.”

    Until, of oourse, you burn out the audience. Westerns dominated pop culture for a long time. Buddy cop flicks used to rule the box office roost. Now, zombies are everywhere. Eventually, oversaturation and the accompanying decline in quality take hold.

    The only saving grace for Hollywood this time around is that there’s still enormous growth to be hand in the global market and that international audience appears to be even less discriminating than U.S. viewers.

    In addition to the technological and economic, there’s also a cultural factor at work. It used to be that the folks who ran movie studios were filmmakers themselves, or at least came out of that field. Now, I’d bet the management infrastructure of an entertainment company is similar to the people who run car companies, grocery chains and commodity firms. But while a lot of corporate leadership protocols can be interchangeably applied to different industries, trying to tell stories the same way you make candy bars is obviously problematic. Even if you could make the technological and economic influences disappear, you’d still be left with the same management class.


  20. “If you go back and look at the old, classic “cosmic” Marvel stories – Starlin’s Warlock, for instance – you see there’s plenty of action and big stakes, sure, but there’s a tangible, emotional core and a psychological throughline.”

    Starlin was also writing a fairly disposable product that was intended for, and was understood to be intended for, a juvenile/all ages audience. It was the structure given to him by the demands/restrictions of that product that helped enable Starlin’s creativity. Hickman, however, is writing super-hero comics that are intended for, and understood to be intended for, an adult audience. But not a normal adult audience. It’s one that wants the style and appearance of juvenile adventure melodrama haphazardly mushed together with dramatic elements that are completely incongruous. The end result seems to be a generation of comic book writers who are tremendously skilled at various storytelling techniques but are hopelessly befuddled at grappling with deeper issues of theme and meaning because such things simply can’t intelligently exist in modern super-hero comics.


  21. I guess the show dropping today has been recorded. But whenever you do your next show, I’ll be shocked if this isn’t the entire episode (I’ll link to Graeme’s article): http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/marvel-replaces-inhuman-writer-delayed-666074

  22. “Until, of oourse, you burn out the audience.”

    Well, yeah. I think it’s a question of if, not when, readers of comic book superheroes decide the latest of these Major Events is their last, and the bubble that the Big Two have been inflating over the past decade bursts. The mainstream industry hasn’t been this much of a hothouse since the nineties; a bust is inevitable at this point.

    With the movies, things are a still a bit fresher – but there’s still the question of, say, what happens when Marvel has their first genuine flop on their hands – if it’s “Ant Man,” they might just shrug and sigh and drop the character from their plans – but what if it’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which is supposed to be the followup to the Thanos thread started in “Avengers”? Or, for that matter, when audiences just start tiring of the characters – there are really only three or four things you can do with Iron Man as a character, for instance, and the movies have done pretty much all of them but the “down-on-his-luck drunk” story at this point. In the comics, you could recycle those stories pretty much endlessly – at least, you could while you had a steady stream of new readers to replace the old readers who left, and weren’t as aware that they were reading recycled plots – but that won’t work for movie audiences, at least not forever.

    “The end result seems to be a generation of comic book writers who are tremendously skilled at various storytelling techniques but are hopelessly befuddled at grappling with deeper issues of theme and meaning because such things simply can’t intelligently exist in modern super-hero comics.”

    This is spot-on. There are dozens of writers who have read Watchmen and who learned that the lesson there was to keep writing stories about Batman and Wolverine punching things, but to do it in a really dour and po-faced way that would let middle-aged readers know that it is very very important that Batman and Wolverine punch things.

  23. @MBunge says: “The end result seems to be a generation of comic book writers who are tremendously skilled at various storytelling techniques but are hopelessly befuddled at grappling with deeper issues of theme and meaning because such things simply can’t intelligently exist in modern super-hero comics.”

    Yeah, but aren’t we talking about Hickman — a guy who’s had a whole line of standalone Image minis which proved to be as airless, insular and devoid of character as anything he’s done in the superhero world. Hickman is a Storytron 3000 who plots with pure vectors of math, and whose only virtue is his “big ideas.”

    But unfortunately, even those “big ideas” generally prove to be paper thin because they’re poorly thought out, with no suggestion of the deeper logic that informs them, or of their consequences, or of their impact on individuals’ lives.

    Sure, mainstream superhero comics have huge storytelling limitations, and its regretful that the industry operates on a kind of Peter Principle that sets up Big 2 Hero Comics as the Brass Ring, so any major talent eventually gets their shot in the big leagues… no matter how ill-suited their skills are for spandex superstories. But Hickman’s alleged virtues have always been highly dubious even when he’s left completely to his own devices — so let’s not blame his undiluted suckiness on superheroes.

  24. Stephen Wacker moves to the west coast…to get closer to Graeme and Jeff? http://www.bleedingcool.com/2013/12/19/spider-mans-steve-wacker-to-move-west-to-marvel-animation/

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