Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Non-review gripe session: DC and their treatment of Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel

I have a long-standing issue with DC over their treatment of Wonder Woman and the Original Captain Marvel (and the Marvel family). This will be out of the norm for this blog, but I am going to curse in this article.  A lot, because this really bothers me. 


Pretty much because they shit on both characters to prop up a bland Superman/Batman-centered DC Universe.

Given the origins of the Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel characters, as well as the skill that the creators on those books exhibited back in the day, and DC's route to control of these characters, I find it totally unacceptable.

This is no real knock on recent Wonder Woman creators. While when they launched the new 52 they gave the Wonder Woman book to two males, they gave it to some real comic pros.  I have long felt that Cliff Chiang was one of the elite (and unrecognized) artistic geniuses of the last decade or so.  His characters are beautiful and clean and no one has any bitches about his Wonder Woman.  She is drawn with power and nobility --- even if the new Jim Lee costume design kind of says "tart" more than "warrior".

Brian Azzarello is similarly pretty talented. While he is not one of my favorites---his plots leave me cold --- his scripts have good dialogue and are well fleshed out.

The bitch I have is the same bitch I have had since the 1970's (and really has been true since long before that) --- "Where the fuck is the editorial control?"  Everything about Wonder Woman for the last 50+ years has been "Let's throw shit out there and see if it sells."

WTF, man!

Wonder Woman is now the bastard daughter of Zeus.  And her mom covered up by lying about it for years.

I am sorry, I just don't need that.  If I had a young daughter instead of a son, would I want them reading that?  Hell no.

How does this make the character more appealing?

Wonder Woman as created was made to be a role model for young girls.  This latest incarnation is just the latest take further flushing the core concept down the toilet.  DC is just ensuring the character will not have a similar place in the hearts of women 15 years from now.

This article will piss off a handful of people who liked some of the Wonder Woman takes over the last 35 years.  I have not.  Some runs have been OK.  I would even go as far as to say most of the creators did their best to honestly produce the best books they could.  I have no bitch with the effort.

I thought George Perez's post-crises take was an extremely workman-like attempt to create a version of Wonder Woman who could exist comfortably in Batman's universe, but like the John Byrne Superman reboot which temporarily flushed away Superman's history with the Legion of Super Heroes, The Perez WW reboot threw the baby out with the bathwater.

It isn't like the major weakness of the character was the fact that she wasn't ingrained in mythology enough!  So what was the point?  Again, I keep coming back to the fact that the character keeps getting deconstructed and revamped to fit into the Superman and Batman's DCU.

Gail Simone was for a while one of my favorite writers.  She wrote probably the most appreciated run of Wonder Woman outside of the Perez run.

Her writing is clever and witty and she did a very well received Wonder Woman, but it was basically just stories of the Perez version, which I think is a fairly empty character.  Simone's oft stated "Wonder Woman is a dragon" thing always hit me as entirely missing the point of the character.

So is Big Barda.  So is She Hulk.  So is Knockout. and on and on...I think you are missing a lot if you dwell on that.

If that is where you are coming from you could probably swap out any of the above and with almost no tweaking have the same comic story.

I don't mean to be totally dismissive of Simone.  She clearly does see a lot more of the character than most....

From HeroicGirls.com

...It is just that her view of Wonder Woman as a warrior first is just seems so contrary to the goal of the creator.

It is for this reason that I looked forward to the new 52 so much.  DC had another chance to get to the core of the character....And they missed again.

Now Superman and Wonder Woman are dating....Sigh...I guess that is one way to incorporate her into a Superman/Batman based DCU.

Why not just run with the only version of the character that has ever proven to sell in huge numbers?  I don't get it. 

It's not like you have to base it in the 1940s to show a character with 1940's levels of kindness and personal decency.

And it isn't that there aren't creators who could do the character justice.  There are a handful of writers who have credibly tapped into the heart of the character in one shot stories over the past few years.

I grew up reading my sister's 1971 compilation of Wonder Woman with the foreword by Gloria Steinem. 

This is a character that gave a lot of women of my generation and older generations a feeling of empowerment that paralleled the feminist movement...Even thought most of the 1960's to 1970's Wonder Woman comics were horrible.

That 1970's compilation featuring mostly 1940's stories and the Wonder Woman TV series based on the 1940's comics made my generation's women Wonder Woman fans.

It boggles the mind that DC would flush all of that in order to produce a book that they might sell a tiny bit better to a primarily male comic shop audience.

If you want to know why women don't read comics in numbers anywhere near the numbers for men, it is because what should ALWAYS be the number one book for women has been pounded into the round hole of being a complimentary #3 on the DC totem pole.

As Steinem once wrote, “As a little girl, Wonder Woman was the only female superhero, so she was irresistible. She was literally the only game in town, the only hero that made you feel good about yourself.

Wonder Woman did super heroics from an ALIEN, female perspective.  Where Superman and Batman were beating up bad guys and leaving them for the cops, Wonder Woman would take you down, convince you of the errors of your ways and send you home to take care of your wife and kids!  ---A total breath of fresh air.  While Superman and Batman were pound on their chest  "bring people to justice" guys, Wonder Woman was all about second chances and reforming people.  It is just a very different world view.

That is what Wonder Woman should be...At least IMO.

(I am guardedly optimistic about the movie.  It appears that they may have Wonder Woman around since the WWI or WWII.  I have often suggested that would be a strong strategy to take with the character as it fixes a ton of issues.  But she kinda sucked in Superman v. Batman.)

from bleeding cool

The simple truth is that Wonder Woman is a far, far more compelling character than Superman or Batman and should be outselling both of them.  The book just hasn't been done in a way that evoked the original concept since the original creators' runs ended.  Despite how many times life-long hardcore fans like Ms. Steinem point it out.

Captain Marvel is even more of the same.

What Wonder Woman is for women and little girls, Captain Marvel was for little boys in the late 1940's and early 1950's.

Fawcett created the Captain Marvel character.  It was a fresh take on the idea of a flying, super strong hero.

This one would be a very mature, irrepressible young boy who was quite wise and excessively brave who would magically transform into an entirely separate person --- an adult superhero with an entirely different perspective.

From MajorSpoilers.com

It gave kids a chance to imagine themselves turning into a hero the same age as their Dads or Uncles, with similar adult worldviews. To instantly become a peer.

After a few years the character was outselling Superman by several million copies a month.... so DC sued them.

After years of court battles, Fawcett gave up and stopped publishing the Marvel Family.

A few years later, DC licensed the rights to publish the Marvel family and hired Fawcett artist C.C. Beck to draw new stories. 

Sigh.  Yes here Superman is "introducing" comic readers to Captain Marvel in Shazam #1.  Could you throw any more salt in that wound DC?
Well at least they brought in CC Beck.

The DC stories were simply not as clever as the Fawcett stuff.  DC was fairly clueless and didn't know what they missed in the magic formula.  After a few years DC revamped and then cancelled the book, moving the stories to the pages of one of their dollar giants, "World's Finest".

During this era DC finally closed in on getting the character right for the sensibilities of the age while retaining what had gone before.  They had decent stories but importantly with the right elements and creators who cared.  They incorporated whimsy, fantasy, adventure and even a touch of horror and were drawn by an up-and-coming artistic genius who loved the Marvels --- the late Don Newton.

Even with some muddy printing, you can see Newton had talent and a slick style.

Then Newton sadly passed away, far, far too early.

Newton's Phantom #74 for Charlton clearly shows his talent

DC then decided to merge all of their universes into a single universe.  Wiped clean were all of CM's incredible villains.

Lost were the faces of real villainy

The decision to put CM on Superman's earth has crippled the Captain Marvel character ever since.  Gone was the mature Captain Marvel persona.  Now Billy Batson transformed into a superhero saddled with a far less mature version of Billy Batson's personality. 

The grab for kids was mostly gone.

DC consistently used Captain Marvel as prop for Superman in the 1970's and 1980's.

If DC didn't have to sell X number of copies of Superman every month, we all know how this fight would end......:p
Post crises they also briefly used him as a ridiculous comic element in the Justice League.

Tom Mandrake and John Ostrander's 4 issue Shazam series following the "Legends" crossover was absolutely sunk by Mandrake's art, which isn't bad by any means, but is just far, far too dark for the character.

Sometime around this period Alan Moore had written Watchmen (originally envisioned as a deconstruction of the Charlton Action heroes) and followed that up with a proposal for a deconstruction of the Marvel Family called "Twilight of the Superheroes".

The story thankfully never saw print as it crossed a ton of lines that should never be crossed with these characters (and like the Watchmen proposal might very well have permanently burned the characters if it had been allowed to be produced), but the proposal would clearly influence a lot of Marvel Family writers in the coming years.  It was like a green light to twist the characters, in spite of the fact no one was writing any "real" Captain Marvel stories to counterbalance against that kind of deconstruction story.

In the 1990's Jerry Ordway did for Captain Marvel and the Marvel family what George Perez did for Wonder Woman...he lovingly stripped all the whimsy and revamped the characters so they would fit into their defined round holes in the DCU.

Ordway's Power of Shazam series is widely appreciated by Marvel family fans for the love and care that Ordway clearly has for the characters, but while his art will always stand on his own and Ordway's scripts were solid, you can't help but wish he had teamed with a one of DC's better (or at least more imaginative) writers.  More than any other version, this series (aside from a top notch story arc featuring Billy and Mary's parents---see image) strips all the magic out and evokes Ordway's very mundane and earthy Adventures of Superman work far too much for my tastes. (Disclaimer:I have always considered Superman to be a bland character with little appeal and no "wow" factor.)

CM was mostly mothballed for a while.

Peter David wrote a couple of awesome Mary Marvel guest appearances in his Supergirl book.

Kingdom Come came out and Mark Waid gave Captain Marvel fans what they have wanted to see for years...the magic based "world's mightiest mortal" kick the living crap out of DC's flagship hero Superman.  Talk about a cathartic moment.

Now it wasn't a perfect series.  Waid weaponized Shazam's magic lightning in a way it was never, ever done before.  Previously it was well established that if you were hit by magic lightning you were embued with the power of a Marvel.  No harm ever befell someone hit by magic lightning.

The whole point of the magic imbued World's Mightiest Mortal having to "cheat" to beat the very mortal Superman --- who had for decades been written to be vulnerable to magic --- makes zero sense.  Waid's "innovation" has just about erased who the character is in the years since as every writer wants to do that now.

But there is denying that Alex Ross scene of a grinning Captain Marvel standing over a staggered Superman and preparing to take Superman apart is freaking magical.

Then Judd Winnick did a fairly nice take on the character in a Superman/Shazam mini-series.  Billy is depicted kind of like the old Fawcett super innovative and daring kid with a heart of gold.

I had real hope for the character, until Winnick went off the reservation with the "Trials of Shazam" mini-series that made Captain Marvel Junior take over the CM role.  That was just terrible. I forced myself to buy most of it, but really I think he lost me in issue #1 when he reveals that Mary Batson has been in a coma for months after losing her powers in mid-air and that Billy has inherited the powers of the Wizard....and hasn't done jack shit to help his sister.


Really it was "The Trials of Shazam Fans."

If memory serves, this is the era where billy is frequently drawn as a white haired dude with lightning coming out of his eyes.  Call it the "I cry lightning" Marvel era.

Anyway... They retconned that.

Then there were some truly great Shazam related stories in "52" by the braintrust of Grant Morrison and Keith Giffen.  They played fast and loose with the Marvel Family's villains (even creating a Black Adam family) but managed to capture the maniacal and untethered nature of CM's villains in a way no one had since the 1950's.

And then nothing.

Finally in the past few years DCU has reintroduced a version of Earth S, the new Earth 5 "Thunderworld".  Grant Morrison has written a couple really engaging Captain Marvel stories set on that world.

Then Flashback occurred and the DC Universe was rebooted temporarily into a version of the character where a posse of orphans merge into CM.

Luckily that was somewhat retconned with the release of the new 52..

Sadly the Earth 5 version of CM isn't the only one in existence today.  A new cluster fuck version of Captain Marvel still exists in the main DC universe.  He is a C grade character in the JLA.  Now he bleeds lightning from his chest and wears a costume evocative of the worst of the Ultraverse's Prime ---except it is even cheesier. 

(The "I heart Lightning" Marvel era?)

The Geoff Johns version is as popular today as that version of the character's potential will ever allow.

New Billy Batson in the main DCU is a jerk.  He was given his powers by an aborigine wizard Shazam (not joking) who is also a jerk. I know...Can the PC multi-cultural push get any worse?  As a brown guy, I wish the comic companies would just create new minority characters if they feel we are not represented enough rather than screwing with existing characters...

Now Billy's main weapon is lightning attacks.  So I guess he is the new not-Black Lightning on the team.  And he goes by "Shazam" now.  And people say his name and are not hit by magic lightning.

Did I mention he is a jerk?

In the 1950's Fawcett's Captain Marvel books peaked at something mind-blowingly ridiculous like 5 million copies sold a month.

CM was Harry Potter.

How do you blow that repeatedly for 40 years?

I am shocked that DC cannot get either of these characters right.  It seems so straightforward and obvious to me.

Well, I guess eventually DC will either get it right ....or get desperate....so let me throw this out there...If DC needs a consultant on their 2020 or 2023 universal reboots,  I can get both of those franchises back on line and would consider it an honor and a pleasure.   In terms of sales you really can't do much worse than you have the last few decades....

Let it percolate...

Zot! by Scott McCloud

ZOT! was a book that came out from 1984-1990 and ran for 36 issues.

It was written and drawn by Scott McCloud, IMO one of the elite comic storytellers in the last 40 year.  McCloud was inspired by Astroboy in his development of ZOT! and the book is visually stunning and clean.  (I miss his art.)

It starts out as a book brimming with innocence and charm and progresses into a semi-awkward transition to young adulthood.  (By this, I mean for the characters, I am not referring to the writing or art which is great throughout.)

It was a fun, well conceived comic that turned very ambitious.

McCloud would go on to brilliantly write Understanding Comics (I got to meet him when that came out and he wrote me a very nice personal message in my hardback copy back in the day ---still one of my prized possessions) and a few other books.  He also wrote some very good comics like Superman Adventures in the following years. 

Should one of my patent ideas ever come through or I land a big lottery ticket, I'd love to offer to pay to get the whole run professionally colored and keep it in print for the next 100 years for McCloud, because I love the core concept of this book and admire his execution.

But there is no guarantee he would be up for that. Mr. McCloud is a bit of an online comic advocate the last I had read, but for me, I love the tactile nature and would hate to see that lost.

Ah...maybe one day.

I am a printed comic reader, so Mr. McCloud has unfortunately fallen off my radar.  I hope he is doing well.