Posted by: Graeme McMillan on March 23, 2010
James Robinson has just blown my mind. I was reading the STARMAN OMNIBUS VOL. 1 (Good, for those who want an old-school SavCritic take on it; I haven’t read the series before, so the material manages to be both fresh and dated in that 1990s comic kind of a way, but more than anything, it reminds me of the first Sandman collection in its uncertain first steps with a writer too eager to impress and art that isn’t bad, but isn’t perfect just yet. I’ve already moved on through the second and into the third volume, and it’s steadily getting better, even if the collections make the book look as if it has ADD, what with all the fill-ins), and there’s a bit in the afterword where Robinson talks about writing the series not because he was in love with the character, but because he wanted to write a particular kind of comic that he loved. I read that, and I thought, huh.
(First off, it’s easy to see what kind of comic he’s talking about. The first Starman issues have the same practiced, “casual aside” tone of Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol or Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing; the book only really comes into its own, in my opinion, when Robinson settles into his own voice, instead of trying to write a Smart DC Superhero Book.)
(Secondly, and this is a complete aside, but it’s my first time back here in a long time for reasons both in- and out of- my control and I’m feeling chatty, so tough: Yeah, I get that CRY FOR JUSTICE was kind of shitty, but I can’t quite bring myself to feel as morally outraged at it as the rest of the internet; for me, it’s an Eh, a soulless book that melodramatically tried to move characters around to desired locations like chess pieces. It was telling, though, to see James Robinson say at Emerald City Con that he should be given credit for not killing Speedy as “they” also wanted. It reinforced my – perhaps naive – belief that Robinson was pretty much filling in editorially-mandated blanks instead of actually writing the story on the series, and/or that there was a fairly significant rewrite to the finale. To return to the theme for a second, the longer the series went on, the more it felt like Robinson had been given the job of writing Identity Crisis all over again, and his heart wasn’t really in it.)
The thing is, I read that, that Robinson wrote Starman because he wanted to write a particular kind of comic, and I thought, Wait. Aren’t all the superhero comics I like these days like that? The vast majority of Grant Morrison’s Batman, for example, are his takes on various Batman tropes of yore (Something that’s really brought home by the backmatter in the Very Good BATMAN AND ROBIN: DELUXE EDITION VOL. 1 HC, especially when you see the rejected costume designs and why the cover to #2 looked like it did. For those who’re curious, by the way, the hardcover makes re-reading the stories more fun, and the stories, despite their pop pizazz really benefit from re-reading; “Revenge Of The Red Hood” went from a disappointing follow-up to the first arc to maybe my second-favorite story from Morrison’s run so far, behind “The Black Glove”). What I love from Ed Brubaker’s Captain America are the moments when it seems like he’s attempting to write Steve Englehart’s Cap, and Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man is his attempt to write Brube’s Cap (That sound you heard was Fraction punching a wall and imagining it was my head, but come on: Am I the only one who enjoyed “World’s Most Wanted” but spent a lot of it thinking “Isn’t this like Iron Man’s ‘The Death of Captain America’?”).
This isn’t new, of course, nor all-encompassing (Rucka/Williams’ Detective run with Batwoman feels like something more original; Williams bringing so much to the table that his presence is missed on the current storyline considerably), but the more I think about it, the more Superhero Comics As Cover Versions sticks in my head. Maybe that’s why something like Siege doesn’t work for me – It’s a cover of the kind of Mighty Marvel Epic Slugfest that I like, but done in such a disconnected, distracted way that it feels tossed off, careless (The latest issue of the main series felt like the final issue of Secret Invasion in all the worst ways possible. Show, not tell, for the love of God) – while Bendis’ Ultimate Comics Spider-Man (or whatever it’s called these days) does; it’s not the singer, or the song, but all in the way they handle what I don’t even realize I find familiar and worth loving in the original. Sometimes you get Mark Ronson doing “Stop Me,” and sometimes you get Mark Ronson doing “The Only One I Know.”
(And here’s where I hope you all have heard Ronson’s Version album, or at least know your British pop music.)
That’s not even to write off the good attempts at recreating former glories. The Beatles, after all, got their start trying to be rock and rollers, and look what happened to them (Who’s the nearest comic equivalent…? Morrison’s Doom Patrol, maybe? Gaiman’s Sandman?). But now, whenever I go to read the latest exciting episode of some superhero series, there’s this vocal part of my brain that’s wondering who did it first, and what comic this is trying to be. I can’t work out if that adds to the fun, or not.