This is it: the frightening and bloody end. Tucker Stone and I have waded through the entire Showcase Presents: Brave and the Bold volume 2. For the complete experience of the Cowardly and the Castrated, read part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, and part six.
Then read the first half of the final, pulse-pounding conversation about all things brave and a few things bold between me and Tucker at his blog, The Factual Opinion. Then, come back here and read the second half right below.
Whadaya want, it’s a crossover event. You’re lucky we didn’t have variant covers.
Noah: I did want to ask you…in your review of the Metamorpho one, at the end of it you mentioned that comics aren’t really made this well anymore. You’re way more tuned into the current mainstream stuff than I am, but I feel that way too…especially in regards to the art. I know that Aparo, Cardy, and Adams are all very highly regarded…but even Ross Andru and Bob Brown have a level of professionalism — they can put a story together in a way that’s easy to follow, at least, and which has some sense of consistent, workmanlike style. What happened to that? Or am I just being horribly unfair to contemporary mainstream illustrators?
Tucker: I think there’s a level of unfairness to that, sure–there’s plenty of comics I don’t particularly find enjoyable to read, but it’s not because of any particular lack of artistic consistency–but there’s something definitely missing. I don’t know what you can attribute that too–obviously, these Brave & The Bold’s were all bi-monthly, so it can’t be filed under the now-common complaint of missed deadlines. I’d argue that it’s more of a problem of scripts–there just aren’t that many scripts that hit all the beats well, and I think that’s what is most valuable about the best of these Haney stories. Each issue doles out some type of plot, some type of villian, some type of action, and some level of humor and emotional content.
Most of the stuff that’s out today–and this is “intentionality” again–relies on the longer arc to deal out all that sort of stuff. A six-issue mini-series delivers what might be a more heightened version of all of those things, but it takes so long to get to it–six months, if the team is on time–that everything depends on the reader caring about what is, at the core, a repetitive form of plot and story. Very few of these–even the bad ones, like that Wonder Woman thing–don’t move forward in consistent fashion, and that makes them easier to swallow.
I think guys like Stuart Immonen (Ultimate Spider-Man, Nextwave) or Dustin Nguyen (Detective Comics) have an interesting style that works with the script, makes it stronger, and helps to make it more readable.
But yes, there are people who just can’t. Tony Daniel–he’s responsible for most of the art on Grant Morrison’s Batman run–can’t draw a decent fight scene to save his life, he can’t pull off an iconic splash page, he can’t even make it look like somebody is talking to another person without a lot of work on the part of the reader. Ed Benes, who handles the Justice League, is just as bad.
Noah: Fair enough on the art…though is there anyone in mainstream you like as much as Aparo or Cardy or Adams? (You’re going to say Eduardo Risso just to irritate me, aren’t you?)
Tucker: Well, it’s a different skill set with Risso–I liked his run on Batman well enough, but Aparo’s work is far preferable. But yeah, I don’t think Aparo could pull off 100 Bullets–he has a problem doing male faces and making them look distinctive. Lemme think for a second! That’s a good question.
Alex Maleev–he did the art for Brian Bendis run on Daredevil–I loved that. It’s nothing like Aparo, but it’s fantastic stuff. Guy Davis–he does the B.P.R.D. series for Dark Horse. And I’ve really enjoyed keeping up with this lesser known guy named Tan Eng Huat–he did this Doom Patrol revamp years ago, and now he’s exaggerated his work even more, and is currently doing Ghost Rider for Marvel. He’s too weird to get a standard gig, but he’s got a style that’s pretty unique for super-hero books. Michael Allred/Cameron Stewart and Darywn Cooke also did this great tag-team work on Catwoman for a while, until DC threw that book into the toilet.
Noah: On the story; I think these are obviously aimed at a more general audience, right? I mean, there’s a sense in these that somebody who doesn’t necessarily define themselves as a comic-book fan might pick one up…say, from a 7-11 rack (which is where I got my comics way back when.) Haney clearly, clearly, doesn’t give a crap about continuity…which is pretty darn funny considering this is a team-up title. Today, I think writers tend to aim their work at people who they figure are already invested; if you’ve got the comic in the first place, then that indicates a certain level of knowledge about the DC universe, and a willingness to follow a series month after month after month. That makes it possible to attempt more complicated stories, which can be great at times (Swamp Thing, Animal Man, etc.) But I think though it can be great, there are diminishing returns at some point, mainly because super-heroes really weren’t ever originally intended for that kind of story. It’s a silly idea, when you come right down to it, and there’s only a certain amount of mileage to be gotten from debunking or complicating it. I think we’ve passed that point, myself.
I haven’t seen any of those artists you mention, alas…except for Darwyn Cooke…who I like all right…. Would you agree at all that contemporary mainstream art is generally not as good as the older stuff, or is my whole thesis misguided?
Tucker: ….off the cuff, I’d agree, sure–but then again, there’s such a massive amount of stuff that i’ve got zero relationship with. If it’s reprinted–and as much I’ll joke that everything is reprinted, that’s not really true–then it’s got to have some potential value to it. There’s a ton of comics that get mentioned in Haney’s interview that I’ve never seen available except in the quarter bins, and I’m sure there’s got to be a lot of crap there, you know? It’s sort of unfair to use some of Jim Aparo and Nick Cardy–while they were at work on a successful title, which B & B was–to showcase how bad the art is on Uncanny X-Men.
Noah: Oooh…here’s some Maleev. Very nice.
Tucker: At the same time, fuck comics. Old stuff > new stuff. I don’t think you have to go to the Library of Congress to figure out if that’s true or not.
Noah: All right; well a slightly different tack…what do you think the best stories in the volume were? We seem to be agreed Deadman was the best; I think my second favorite is probably that Black Canary one from #91, mainly because of the great Noir art…but the story was also pretty fantastically preposterous from beginning to end. After that maybe the insane Phantom Stranger one with the paranoid covens and Batman killing his godson and not really giving a crap. What do you think?
The evil Mormons and the crazy Adam Strange evil-future-Batman and the one with Flash where Batman becomes an obsessed, possessed paranoid nutjob were all great too…but the art kind of drags them down a bit….
Tucker: My favorite panel in the entire book was the guy going off the bridge “nononononon” in the Black Canary story. That’s my number two as well. After that, I’d probably go with the Sgt. Rock story–the violence, the Alfred kills the dude ending–I just loved everything about that one. It also had “Bat-Hombre” which is something I’d sort of like framed in my home. No love for Metamorpho? I loved that there was no real team-up, and that Metamorpho didn’t seem to have any interest in doing anything but saving his lady. Bad guys? Rex doesn’t care. Rex just likes saving that girl and punching that monkey.
Noah: That panel is amazing. And the Dinah Lance cheesecake. The Sgt. Rock one didn’t do as much for me, though your review did make me appreciate it more. I think, though, that I liked the depressed Plastic-Man as noir avenger more than you did; that was just so, so wrong I had to love it.
Tucker: Well, the Plastic Man went for that whole “hangs-on-a-spoiler” thing that just…I just can’t do it anymore. Keyser Soze, heads in boxes, that Shamalame guy and his dead people–I’m just tired of “you’ll never guess what comes next” kind of stuff. It wears me out, and while I had some appreciation for the weirdness of Plastic Man continuing to maintain his false identity months longer then sanity or logic required, that story was a spoiler end, and that part of me is just dead in the ground.
Noah: But it’s such a stupid spoiler…don’t you want to be meta? Sigh. I guess post-ironic irony is dead….
Tucker: I don’t know what those words mean!
Noah: Anyway, I wanted to ask you too what you made of the whole Haney-intentionality quandary I wandered into. Especially in relationship to that Deadman story. Is Batman in that supposed to come off as an unfeeling cad, do you think? Does it matter? It seems to me like he had several modes; one where the story was just completely off the wall and running in every which direction (Adam Strange, both Phantom Strangers, the beginning of the Sgt. Rock one) one where you basically get a fairly straightforward adventure story (Metamorpho, Green Arrow, etc.) and then the Deadman one, where it’s just a brilliant noir plot. It’s awfully hard to resolve all of that into some kind of auteur function. I wonder how much of the scattershot quality, in every sense, is the result of just having to grind out so much material….?
Alex Maleev is the Kabuki guy! I do like him…though possibly not as much as Aparo or Cardy. There’s a bit of slickness in his realism that sets my teeth on edge…I haven’t seen the Daredevil stuff though. He’s obviously extremely talented, in any case.
Tucker: It’s difficult for me to reconcile Haney into the category of a guy who was just working to finish product, just grinding out scripts to meet deadlines. At the same time, i think it’s difficult because I don’t want to believe that people go into the creative field–any creative field–and do that. (But that’s an optimistic, unrealistic fantasy, and it’s just as likely that comics writers end up doing the same kind of grunt work that people do when they work on Gray’s Anatomy, so on.) Of course, some of them go on to do good work–Shawn Ryan, who did the Shield, always talks about the time he spent on Nash Bridges as being an excellent writing/creative school. The thing is that with comics guys you’ve got evidence of their actual goal. Brian Azzarello (who i know you don’t like) did these really terrible Comico books, and then he did short stories for Vertigo, and then he got the freedom to do 100 Bullets.
Haney doesn’t have that in his catalog. He was a comics guy who did comics-as-product.
Sometimes he did them really well, but his limitations were vast. He couldn’t do a four-issue Noir Batman story, because that wasn’t what he was hired for.
He had to make do with a bunch of titles, different art teams, and an editorial group he doesn’t seem to have had much love for. So sometimes he could take shit and make it fly–like Deadman, where he made the story the primary engine–or he made do with letting the heroes carry the weight, like he did with the Bat-Metamorpho story.
I went a different way with your question: I think Haney felt that he was free to do with Batman whatever he needed to so he could fit his story. More and more, the problem is that comics writers seem to worry that they’ll “break” Batman, and they cater the story to fit in with his ridiculous “mythos” or whatever.
We’d be a hell of a lot better off if Batman was just left as more of a reactionary force, which is pretty much what he is throughout this entire series.
Noah: I don’t think grinding stuff out has to necessarily be a sign of bad art or anything. There’s not necessarily any correlation between how something is made and whether it’s good. Philip K. Dick basically wrote as fast as he could type, and that’s how his books read…but they use that, too, and they’re incredible. Haney sometimes seems to be doing something a little like what Dick did; all that amnesia, storylines that can’t stay straight for more than a panel, Batman going off the deep end again and again; it’s pulp crap as metaphor for the way the world falls apart if you look too closely at it. At the same time, you never get a moment where he manages to make that explicit, the way Dick frequently does.
Tucker: Don’t get me wrong–grinding it out isn’t indicative of bad art. But if we’re talking about what Haney’s intentions are, it’s hard to reconcile “intention” with “finish this comic and get it to the artist and get my paycheck for this comic.” There weren’t opportunities in comics for the kind of creative freedom that Image or some Vertigo titles allow. Haney was in a one-job market, and what he wanted was never going to be met by what was available.
Noah: I agree that the Batman mythos has become a problem. Again, it’s that comics cater more towards a specific community; consistency is much, much more important. Haney’s Batman is way more flexible; he isn’t just a reactionary force right? I mean, sometimes he’s a mad scientist, sometimes he’s an advocate for teens, sometimes he’s dumb as dirt, sometimes he’s a murderer…and my point is there’s something a lot more realistic there than having him be a consistent archetype.
Tucker: I couldn’t agree more. Having a flexible Batman opens the gates for more stories.
Just “more” though. Not necessarily “better.” Grim and dirty bludgeon for justice though–that’s getting old.
Noah: Which suggests that Haney did in some ways have more creative freedom than someone like Grant Morrison or Frank Miller, who, despite having more control over plot and length of story and so forth, have to fulfill these expectations for the character that are quite, quite strict.
Tucker: Yeah, I don’t think that’s what you’d be saying if you were reading Batman RIP. Grant’s got all kinds of freedom there, and wow. Not great. He’d be better off if he did have some type of Denny O’Neill controller making him hit some beats, deliver some payout. Haney though–I just can’t see the creative freedom thing. He could improvise, sure, but the level of improvisation was limited to this story, which is why so many of these stories are so widely divergent in level of quality. Guys like Grant and Frank–they have open contracts to do what they’d like. Haney was working in a shop where he knew he could lose his books, because he took those books from the guys who lost them. Did you read how Levitz ran him out of hte store? They clearly didn’t give a shit about him..
Nowadays, after the Alan Moore debacle, you know DC has to worry about burning bridges. They can shit on Chuck Dixon, but they know that Frank Miller, Jim Lee–guys like that could sell Aquaman. They have to keep them relatively happy, even though the real draw might be Batman.
Noah: Well, once again I will defer to your willingness to actually read all this stuff. Still…I don’t know. Frank Miller clearly doesn’t feel he can, or isn’t able to see his way clear to, or just doesn’t want to do anything else with Batman than what he’s done already. There’s a way in which…a small, focused, in-group audience — a real fan base — can be the ultimate creative trap. I mean, yes, you read that stuff about Haney was treated, and those people were obviously (at least in this way) evil corporate drones who didn’t care about him at all. But there is some kind of freedom in that. Nobody cared about him. He had to put Batman together with some other DC hero. After that…he could have Batman kill people. He could have him suffer a mental breakdown. He could have an entire robot liberation movement for an issue. He had to deliver payout, but if he did, it didn’t really matter much how he treated Batman, or even that the story made logical sense. There’s maybe a little bit of an analogy with exploitation films, where you had to have the T, you had to have the A, and you had to have the violence, but after that there was really a surprising variety of things you could do precisely because nobody was really paying attention. In comics now, people are really paying attention. Morrison and Miller can do what they want…but they write in a way and for an audience that brings a ton of expectations to their work. That’s part of why Alan Moore’s career has been so interesting to watch; he’s been desperately trying to jettison expectations. It hasn’t exactly worked, but I think the impulse makes sense. I think…it’s a little like why rock bands have trouble not sucking after the first couple of albums. There’s an intensity of attention which is strangling.
Just as an example…could you have Batman walking down the street in broad daylight admiring pretty girls in a comic today? That seemed totally like a personal touch by Haney…and I wonder if you could get away with it now.
Tucker: Again…there’s little there I can argue with. No, you couldn’t get away with a lot of what happens in these stories. (Of course, that’s part due to the popularity of those writers to meet expectations, like you said.) But still: is that all Haney wanted? One-shot stories?
Noah: Yeah…I mean obviously, the gig sucked. He was treated like crap. I would love to know what Haney would have done with the gloves off (Metamorpho is a taste I think.) At the same time, artistic freedom…there’s some sense in which it’s what you make of it. You look at alt comics autobio stuff, where personal vision is the buzzword…and then you look at Jack Hill’s women-in-prison movies where he has to hit trope after trope…and the one that seems more free isn’t that one where the creators are doing whatever they want.
Tucker: Oh, there’s definitely a lot of truth to that. I think improvisation language works well–the way guys like Meisner defined it was that it would always work best within a forced structure. My problem with painting Haney as a free spirit is just that he didn’t have the wide range of time to operate with–it was all these closed chapters. There’s a lot of horrible shit about serialized stories that never end–see super-hero comics as an example–but sometimes that long-form range works. Animal Man–Swamp Thing–to some extent, even something like Punisher MAX. Haney didn’t get that opportunity, and I’d kill to see what he did with it.
Noah: It’s funny we were talking about Haney not having any control over what he did or how…and here’s Morrison, who’s got all this creative freedom, and what he wants to do with it, is he kind of wants to be Haney. Bring back all the goofy silver age stories, nut-job plots, etc. etc. Except it’s all wrong precisely because he *wants* to do it, which means he’s reverent of the material in a way Haney never would be. I mean, Haney would never write a story just to say, “There will always be a Batman.” Why would it occur to him to do that? Batman’s not an icon; he’s a steady paying gig.
And that’s all she (or in this case, we) wrote. Thanks to all of you who read and/or commented; it’s been a blast.