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Wait, What? Ep. 68.1: Grist for the Mill(ar)


This one had the best of intentions but somehow ended up being more of the accident-at-the-mousetrap-factory variety. Graeme and I started with the idea of doing a year in review podcast and it morphed, as our conversations usually do, into a verbal catalogue of compulsion and fixation.

Oh sure, we start covering events from 2011 like DC’s New 52, day and date digital, but ends up being more about the paintings of Sharon Moody (erroneously called Shannon Moody by me for the whole damn podcast!), Christmas with the Swamp Thing and a long analysis of the year’s crossover events through the only lens that matters–that of Mark Millar.

But my system crashes partway through the conversation (which you’ll be lucky enough to hear), Audacity stripped all the sound out of the exported file (which I only found out after I spent an hour uploading) and we still have Part 2 for you to come–which I look forward to all but stabbing me in my fucking throat, Chucky-style, while I work on it–so, you know. Happy Holidays! And like that.

[NOTE: Turns out the music that plays us out didn’t convert into the final mix for some reason?  So even though the episode ends very abruptly, you’re not missing anything, we swear.]

In any event, maybe you can find this on iTunes (or iTunes has turned that soundless file into an unstoppable murdering sonic sound file…in which case, I apologize and ask you don’t count it as a typical recording should you decide to leave us a review there) or you can listen to our friendly, non-murderous version here:

Wait, What? Ep. 68.1: Grist for the Mill(ar)

Thank you for listening, and for putting up with our sad sonic shenanigans!

31 Responses to “ Wait, What? Ep. 68.1: Grist for the Mill(ar) ”

  1. Gentlemen, I’m beginning to believe that you both together are the conscience of the comics industry. Yes, it’s a business, but that doesn’t mean that one’s humanity has to go out the window. Work for hire = soulless. It doesn’t need to be that way. Bravo gentlemen.

  2. Although, Fraction being the “love child” of Bendis and Millar made me want to hurl my breakfast. Thanks for that Graeme.

  3. It’s not really surprising to see Millar against the digital comics because he’s such an attention-whore contrarian. He realizes how predictable it would be for him to be pro-digital, it would be a dog bites man story.

    Now as you guys point out, in 2011 EVERYONE has become Mark Millar. So now to stand out, Millar has to become almost more traditional and the anti-Mark Millar. I predict to see him come out against widescreen comics in 2012 also.

  4. Fear Itself: Mark Millar story in a Brian Bendis voice. Mark Millar and Brian Bendis’ love child. You guys are brilliant.

  5. It’s hard to say whether or not Marvel is using Bendis’s voice or Millar’s voice because the two have taken turns dominating the company in the 2000s. For example you can say Marvel keeps going back to Civil War, but I think they’re actually always going back to House of M. I think even Civil War is, to me, a return to House of M. After all, what was House of M but a Civil War itself? Avengers want to save Wanda, X-Men want to take her out.

    Also, Loeb doesn’t do a “smart” anything. He’s hot garbage. I’m no Millar fan, but I think it’s far too insulting to compare him to Loeb. Even he’s not that awful. The only writers I’ve seen as comparably bad as Loeb are Austen and Meltzer.

  6. Who is Geoff Johns the love child of? Roy Thomas and Mark Millar? John Broome and Mark Millar?

  7. @Robert G: Thanks for the compliment. Sorry we didn’t paint that “love child” picture in lovely enough terms for you. By all accounts, it was a touching and beautiful consummation!

    @T: Hmm. I was gonna say Roy Thomas and Mark Millar sounds just about perfect but I think RT could be obsessive to the point of tedium to line up his continuity dots and Mr. Johns does a good job of reading everything and deciding what to ignore.

    So I’m trying to think of someone who was also suitably attentive but loosey-goosey to continuity. The love child of Marv Wolfman and Mark Millar, maybe?

  8. Great job, guys. Wait, What? and House To Astonish have become my favorite podcasts. I may need you guys to do three episodes a week. Cutting out food would certainly clear room from your schedules. Except waffles.

    Fear Itself and Flashpoint had more than a few problems. I really don’t see how the company-wide crossover survives as a yearly event.

    Fear Itself failed to establish any weight behind the villain. We’ve seen the marvel heroes go through much worse. So, for the heroes to literally give up and resign themselves to defeat, the villain and his actions taken have to be thick with context, scale, and believability. As much as you guys will hate this, he should been set-up like Onslaught was (as they were both new characters). Tons of small clues dropped throughout the preceding months, hinting at motivations, machinations, and abilities. As it was, The Serpent was another Sentry retcon, but the Sentry was established piecemeal (even as a retcon). Fraction clearly didn’t feel the weight of The Serpent either, hence the context and connective tissue of the story going MIA. Then again, Fraction’s X-men was missing that same context and connective tissue, most notably in the Sisterhood story.

    Flashpoint established weight behind the wrong thing. The alt-u was believable and well developed, but that wasn’t (or rather, shouldn’t have been) the point of the story. The reason for the story was to create a bridge to the new dc universe. For readers to care, we have to travel the thread with a POV character we know; Barry. However, his struggles to revert the universe or even to fix the broken one he’s stuck in take a backseat to the troubled universe itself. Barry’s struggle is relegated to the first and last issues in which his actions are either unknown or under-motivated. The final issue was so terrible because it tells readers, “Nothing you read/ we built mattered. Now back to the storyline we invested no time in developing.” Ultimately, the alt-u didn’t matter to creators and wasn’t supposed to matter to the readers. However, for the transition to new dc to be believable, readers had to see (and believe) Barry’s journey. Instead, readers saw a creative pit-stop along the way with no idea how/why we got there or how/why we were leaving.

  9. Graeme has never played pinball or watched Match Game? And we gave him citizenship? Good gravy, I’m calling the State Department fist thing tomorrow morning.

  10. On why Millar succeeds where other fail, a suggestion: it’s the classic issue that’s been the case since the 80’s. Guys from the UK know how to not take superheros ultra-seriously. (And I don’t know why that is– I think having Pat Mills and John Wagner in their DNA might be part of it.)

    With a Millar comic, he can sell the big ludicrous moments because at some level, we all know he’s having a laugh. Civil War was RIDICULOUS. And it knew it was ridiculous and then just went further from there.

    And that “we’re not taking it ultra-seriously either” is a formula that … Well, it worked for Stan Lee when they were building the thing to begin with, right? Because otherwise you end up with Fear Itself. You can’t laugh with it because it’s not LAUGHING at itself at all– it’s about FATHER ISSUES! QUIT LAUGHING– TONY STARK IS DRINKING! PATHOS!!!

    Bendis — I think he has a sense of humor about things that you’d see in Powers, say, but the crossovers haven’t been presenting those sides of him. If there are jokes, it’s just schtick– but given the amount of pre-planning that went into his crossovers, I don’t think he could be in a “this is all silly” place for it. How much planning went into his?? Those have been the selling points for his crossovers– “Bendis has planted seeds for the last twenty years of his life, in lockers across the country, like a hobo mystery for this story”– whereas Civil War, it was just like “HAHA, Speedball exploded and blew up children and a schoolbus and a nursery! Game on!” (FEAR ITSELF by comparison started with characters talking about the ECONOMY and JOBS! So seriouszzz!)

    The American guys take the stuff more seriously, too seriously, and that’s only going to get worse– superheros pay for people’s kids in a bad economy. So the idea that floated that everyone else is “too smart”– it’s a definition of smart that’s flawed.

  11. I don’t know if this is true of the version of the podcast submitted here, but the version I downloaded off iTunes just cut off. Or to put this in a comics frame, um, hrmmm…
    There’s a scene in an early issue of Stray Bullets where 2 characters are talking about Empire Strikes Back, and one gangbanger says to the other: “Did you see Empire?”
    “Yeah, it didn’t end, man.”
    And the 1st gangbanger thinks his buddy is waxing quixotic and says “Yeah, wasn’t it great?”
    And 2nd gangbanger replies “No, it didn’t end. There was no ending. It just stopped.”

  12. Hey, I super-enjoyed visualising Marvel as the train in The Taking of Pelham123. I guess the twin role of Jeff Lester and Graeme McMillan would be played by Walter Matthau? You can save them guys! It was all good as ever, but I had particular fun with that bit in my head.

    Geoff Johns has to be the spawn of Roy Thomas and that naughty kid in Toy Story(is it Sid?)

    Cheers as ever.

  13. @JohnK (UK): Yes! I think Abhay had also referenced Geoff Johns as being Sid from Toy Story (in the Flashpoint/Fear Itself roundtables) and it’s such a good comparison. I’m frustrated it hasn’t stuck to this ol’ teflon pan of mine.

    @James W: Hmm. So….how long is the version you got off ITunes, James? I actually had trouble getting iTunes to show the ‘cast until last night, so (since every other god-damned thing has gone wrong with this one) I’m worried you actually have a truly faulty one.

    But maybe you don’t, because there’s a tone & sad trumpet at one point for that installment and then we go on talking after that. Did you get to that part? Is it showing up a a full hour twenty four minutes, thirty seconds? And if so, when does it cut out for you?

    @Abhay: That’s a really good point though…hmm, it’s tough for me because I’m such a humorless fanboy I’d balk at that being the problem? But you’re probably right?

    I think it’s a little bit more like what Graeme was saying–even in Red Razors, which is early Millar and especially terrible, there’s a sense of the “big beats”. It just took Millar almost a decade to learn how to make them work. I think Fraction might be on the same path, if the amount of time he spends defending the work in public (while having a segment kiss his ass for it) doesn’t atrophy his desire to keep making those beats work until they do.

    But I do agree there is a desire to shoot for the ridiculous and then move from there…you have to be willing to risk that if your work to reap any rewards.

    @Ian: Probably my favorite post ever, and that was before you used the phrase “Good gravy.” Why aren’t I saying that at the start of *every* sentence?

  14. @James Woodward: Ep. 68.1 ends abruptly because for some reason the outro music didn’t transfer. But all the words are in fact there, and it stops where it’s supposed to stop.

    Thanks for letting us know! I’ll make the appropriate revisions to our podcast entry here and on the RSS feed.

  15. after listening to the Swamp Thing Christmas Special, I not only want that book, I also want Hostess Cream Pies.

  16. Hibbs and Millar joining forces against the onslaught of digital comics should come as no surprise to longtime comics fans. Old enemies are always finding themselves flung into new allegiances by changing circumstances. It’s like the time Nimrod teleported back from the future and the X-Men joined forces with the Hellfire Club.

    …actually, it’s EXACTLY like that. Shit.

  17. Just a heads up–I subscribe via iTunes, and the file I got for this episode is the full length, but there is no sound until around the 1 hour and 3 minutes mark, when it suddenly plays normally, saying “What did the program stop recording on me?”

  18. @Julie: Hmmm, thanks for the head’s up. Is there any chance that episode downloaded for you back on Monday night? The first version I put up was indeed soundless, which I had to remix and re-post on Tuesday morning.

    I think–in no small part because I’ve tried listening to a version downloaded from iTunes on a different computer–that you might have a better result if you deleted the file and re-downloaded it….but if I’m completely wrong and this is something iTunes downloaded for you, say, this afternoon, lemme know.

    Again, thanks for the head’s up!

  19. You’re right; it worked. I guess redownloading should have been my first move. Thanks!

  20. To answer the question at the end of 68.2 (spoiler alert!): shorter episodes are easier to fit around the rest of my life. No idea how you’d manage the editing, though.

  21. Holy shit, your discussion about the generic Marvel voice blew my mind.
    And in a way, it kinda makes sense (even in a non-cynical sense).
    Unless your putting out some artsy indie comic you want something to reliably come out each much.

    The few times Marvel has put out a critically acclaimed book it hasn’t sold well, so at this point why bother? (this is of coarse ignoring long-term book store success like DKR, Year One, Long Halloween, etc).

    Add to that the fact that it has been done before. Archie comics have a distinctive look and voice and come out regularly. To a slightly lesser extent the same has been done with the Mignola books. And of coarse you mentioned Tv shows and show runners.

    If you love the current Marvel flavor than this is an awesome idea. And if they really refine it and can teach this style of writing to new people you could ship the same title every week (which in my mind is the only way Marvel can beat the new 52).

  22. “On why Millar succeeds where other fail, a suggestion: it’s the classic issue that’s been the case since the 80′s. Guys from the UK know how to not take superheros ultra-seriously.”

    Yeah, I’m not so sure that works. The British take on super-heroes too often slides straight into loathing and mockery of the very concept and has been a major force is driving super-hero storytelling away from the mainstream and into the fanboy ghetto. The idea that Stan Lee didn’t take super-heroes seriously is ridiculous. Stan just knew he was writing juvenile adventure stories and tried to make them as good as he could.

    The “Who gives a crap? It’s all ridiculous” attitude you describe might be superior to the “A story about a guy in bright yellow tights and a cape is serious literature, dammit!” approach, but both are inferior to just trying to best story you can.


  23. “The idea that Stan Lee didn’t take super-heroes seriously is ridiculous”

    There’s “serious” and “ultra-serious”– and Stan Lee’s schtick of “This story will be shelved next to Shakespeare!” or whatever to me doesn’t seem very serious. As much as I’d credit Kirby, Ditko, whoever, I think that attitude that Lee brought to things was an important part of the fomula early on. Millar’s “this is a shocking story that’ll be a movie starring Charlie Chaplin, Marlon Brando and Linda Lovelace” thing is just the modern equivalent of that.

    Even the work itself–Lee-Ditko Spiderman more so than his later work, Lee-Romita or whatever, but Lee-Ditko Spideramn seemed funny to me– a lot of that book’s early run seemed like it was built around making fun of the invincible pulp hero. It’s not outright parody but it’s tongue in cheek, certainly.

    Or the FF would segue into serious beats, but the first few pages would be, like, everyone on the team yelling at each other… if the FF were a DC book, at that point in time, it wouldn’t have had that stuff, and I’d say that’s the equivalent of what I’m talking about, once you count for… like, inflation. (DC had a weirder sense of humor, to the extent it had one at all).

    Lee at his most serious was arguably the Silver Surfer– and I think its his best book without Kirby or Ditko where… who contributed what is fuzzy, but also… it’s the one that got cancelled, you know?

    I think there’s a difference between “loathing and mocking” and what I’m talking about though. I don’t think Millar’s stuff slid towards loathing or mocking– maybe the Authority but that was that book’s DNA. There’s a difference between Millar and Ellis. Millar likes the stuff– he just … thinks things I think are ridiculously stupid are hilarious.

    I just think there’s a reason why Millar’s the guy who won the whole thing other than he was lucky and the audience is stupid or everyone else is “too smart” to sink to his level. Those don’t feel right to me.

  24. British guys don’t take superheroes too seriously? My copies of Miracleman (or Marvelman, if you want to be all foreign and use the name that doesn’t sound as cool) sure do disagree. Watchmen too. Okay, pretty much any Alan Moore comic prior to the ABC stuff.

    Grant Morrison, too, albeit in a different sort of way that doesn’t abandon the whimsy like Moore would, but too often amps up the pretention to potentially toxic levels. Especially bearing in mind that The Invisibles and The Filth are superhero comics, but see also, of course, Animal Man, All-Star Supes and all those awful Batman books. “What I’m writing is so IMPORTANT it can’t even make SENSE!”

    Note that I actually *like* all those books(except, as stated, Mozz’ Batman). But they sure feel like they’re taking themselves really seriously to me.

  25. (Oh, and for Moore, post-ABC too: Promethea clearly thinks it’s pretty righteous stuff too. On the plus side, it’s not as dour and you’re-depressed-because-it’s-meaningful as MM or Watchmen managed to be most of the time.)

  26. I see what Abhay is saying and I think it is a vald point. There is a strong strain of humor ingrained in modern Brit comic history. Stuff like 2000 AD he mentions or Simon Furman’s original Death’s Head and even Alan Moore with DR and Quinch and Captain Britain. It is still prevalent today in the works of UK writers like Paul Cornell or Kieron Gillen.

    Though I don’t care for his work, I think a big part of Millar’s charm is the work doesn’t take itself that seriously.

    I think UK writers have a more recent history of embracing the silliness (for lack of the better word) of superhero comics especially in the mainstream Big 2 world.

    It is not to say current American writers are humorless (though I think that is a big flaw of Fear Itself), but it more in quips than slapstick style action. Of course, there are exceptions such as the Parker/Pak/Van Lete group at Marvel.

  27. Watchmen’s got a Ditko-ish character as a right-wing nutcase waving a sign around with the End is Night on it, teaming up with a fat Batman who’s impotent around women and a Black Canary-type hero who almost gets gang-banged by her boyfriend Captain Atom creating multiple versions of himself. Watchmen may not be slapstick but it’s got an awareness of the ironies relating to the characters– that’s the whole project. Isn’t that how the first issue even ends with characters joking about how some supervillain got thrown down an elevator shaft? (Am I remembering that right?)

    (Moore’s superhero stuff before that is VERy serious but…)

    You have a point with Miracleman, and I’ll grant that, but even that’s got Miracleman letting his sidekick turn back into a little kid and then snapping his neck, right? Or I’m not saying they’re not serious comics. But I think there’s some strain of humor there, a very dark humor in their conception. Miracleman’s basically a HORROR comic, transposing the superhero ideas into a horror comic. I think that takes a … a willingness to run roughshod over the concept.

    I mean, consider it in its time, when people might have been more intent back then on how superheros had to provide moral examples. The history of that issue of Miracleman’s lady giving birth is, you know– that’s one of the pivot points in comics history, if you read the Steve Bissette history of the Direct Market, those articles. And, you know– wasn’t that was on-page birth? (My memories are SO vague, so I may have some of this wrong but… but.) That takes a certain anarchic sensibility, at the least.

    Maybe the word “serious” isn’t the right word, and so to some extent, what I’m talking about may be limited by my poor diction, but… A willingness to work in a way that might be “disrespectful”.

    Total disagreement on Morrison, though– guy wrote the Beard Hunt, Flex Mentallo, and Monsieur Mallah; the Coyote Gospel; even his modern iteration, I think that Bulleteer series was half-satire. (Or what was the best part of 7 Soldiers for me was… Sex Secrets of the Kid Gang, what was that called?). Morrison totally has his curveball down cold. I think he totally has a sense of humor about all the stuff.

  28. “A willingness to work in a way that might be “disrespectful”.”

    You need to think of it this way. A world where one basketball player acts like Dennis Rodman is a more interesting world. A world where every basketball player acts like Dennis Rodman quickly becomes an untenable mess. Being disrespectful toward authority can be a healthy thing. But when authority falls and disrespect is all that’s left?


  29. I always thought Millar was trying to do Morrison in the mid-90s, or at least wants the credibility of Morrison in the JLA-90s. As for Geoff Johns, I always thought Johns is trying to do Mark Waid. Flashpoint, to me, read like warmed-over Kingdom Come, without the emotional impact.

  30. As for the British sensibility of American Superheroes, I think almost all of them comment on how weird America was portrayed in superhero comics as this gleaming place next to the crap they were living in. Morrison grew up with poor but politically activist parents who were against the bomb. Moore grew up in a very poor area of Northampton with blue-colar parents. Mark Millar took up writing to support himself after his parents death. Almost all of them have in their background 1) poverty and 2) a vision of American comics portraying a very skewed version of a really amazing America. The dark humor aspect of their comics writing really shows their upbringing. I mean, look at John Cleese’s work in comics. He had a very posh upbringing. His satire of Superman is just funny in a Rutles-ish sort of way, but not in a dark Alan Moore way.

  31. I also wanted to mention how great Jeff’s analogy of Marvel being like the inside of the train in The Taking of Pelham 123 was.

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