Sep 9, 2013

Back Issue Ben: That Dude Seems Like This Dude

Back Issue Ben is a column written by Ben Smith for the Comics Cube! See his archives here.

An Exploration of Comic Book Writers and Artists by Era and the Similarities Between
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That Dude Seems Like This Dude
Back Issue Ben

One of the great things about being a sports fan (other than the frustration and disappointment over a crippling loss by your team or favorite player, wait…why are sports great?) is comparing and debating players and teams from different eras and their similarities, or lack thereof. (Lebron is not, and will never be, better than Jordan. Lebron is a very good basketball player. Jordan was an American icon that once beat out God on a popularity poll.)

Something I thought would be a fun thing to do, is look at the great superhero comic book writers and artists of the ‘80s, and see what the modern day equivalents of these masters of yesteryear are. Before we get started, I want to assure you that I make no claims to be an expert on these matters, and have done little or no research to back up my claims. It’s an opinion! It will not kill you (even if mine are always correct). If any of these comparisons seem arbitrary, that’s because they probably are.

DAN SLOTT = ROGER STERN

I don’t think Stern was ever considered to be the best superhero writer in the business at his peak, but he should have been. His runs on Spider-Man, Captain America, and Avengers are considered some of the best in the histories of those books. Among many other brilliant ideas, Stern recognized the gap that Norman Osborn left in Spider-Man’s world, and filled it with a new character called the Hobgoblin. Just one example of his ability to build off the past, while creating something new for the future.

Much like Stern, Slott doesn’t get the credit he clearly deserves for his excellent work on She-Hulk, Mighty Avengers, and Amazing Spider-Man, among others. One of Slott’s first moves after taking over as full-time writer on Amazing Spider-Man was to reintroduce that original Hobgoblin co-created by Stern all those years ago, as well as immediately create his own new version.

In short, both writers excel at using a character’s history and continuity to help serve the story without overwhelming it. Both guys clearly have a love for the characters that shines through in their work, and make for stories that seem new and interesting, yet still feel like they exist within the ongoing history of the characters. They seem like fans first and foremost, as well as talented writers.

RECOMMENDED READING: (Slott) Amazing Spider-Man, Arkham Asylum, Superior Spider-Man, Mighty Avengers (Stern) Avengers: Under Siege, Amazing Spider-Man, Captain America with John Byrne

BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS = CHRIS CLAREMONT

Bendis and Claremont are arguably the top superhero writers of their respective eras. Both are known just as much for their unique dialogue quirks, as they are for their solid plotting, soap opera elements, and strong female characters. Claremont sustained a legendary run as the creative mind behind the X-Men universe, writing several books per month. Bendis has seen long runs on Ultimate Spider-Man and multiple Avengers books, and has recently taken over as the main creative vision behind those same X books that Claremont shepherded for so long.

Claremont may not have created the All-New X-Men, but he was there pretty much from the very beginning. Taking these new characters that weren’t the X-Men readers might have been used to, or even preferred, and making them into without a doubt the top franchise in superhero comic books. A title they held until a guy named Bendis took over as writer of the Avengers, making an all-new team with members that many readers didn’t consider “Avengers material,” and turning it into the current top franchise in superhero comic books.

RECOMMENDED READING: (Claremont) Avengers Annual #10, Iron Fist, Marvel Team-Up, Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine with Frank Miller (Bendis) New Avengers, Powers, Scarlet, Ultimate Spider-Man, All New X-Men

JEPH LOEB = MARV WOLFMAN

Loeb and Wolfman may not have been the most talented writers of their eras, but they knew how to do big spectacle stories of blockbuster proportions. Crisis on Infinite Earths may get more respect online than something like Red Hulk, but both are big “popcorn movie” type concepts executed in the world of comics. But at the same time, both writers are capable of doing something more personal and reverential, in books like Spider-Man: Blue or The New Teen Titans.

Both guys have had significant careers in television, film, and animation. Both are probably known for doing their best work with specific artistic collaborators (Tim Sale in the case of Loeb, and George Perez in the case of Wolfman). Marv Wolfman was one of the creators of Nova for Marvel, a book and character which Loeb recently took over a bold new relaunch of in 2013. Neither of them may be the guys that made you think deep thoughts while reading their stories, but many times they were entertaining, and isn’t that the most important thing?

RECOMMENDED READING: (Loeb) Spider-Man Blue, Daredevil Yellow, Batman The Long Halloween, Nova (Wolfman) Amazing Spider-Man, Crisis on Infinite Earths, The New Teen Titans

GEOFF JOHNS = JOHN BYRNE

Both guys were extremely popular writers in their eras. Byrne saw an extended run on the first family of Marvel comics, the Fantastic Four. Johns had an extended run on the first family of the DC universe, the Justice Society. Both guys became very well known for being able to explain away, or “fix”, continuity errors or mistakes from the past and use them to spark new directions for characters moving forward. Byrne had arguable levels of success doing this for the Fantastic Four, Superman, Iron Fist, and Namor, before bottoming out at the abomination that was Spider-Man: Chapter One. Johns received much praise for Green Lantern and Infinite Crisis, before bottoming out with Flash Rebirth. Showing that their reputations as continuity cops may have eventually worked to their detriment in later projects.

RECOMMENDED READING: (Byrne) Fantastic Four, Superman, Avengers West Coast, Sensational She-Hulk (Johns) Infinite Crisis, Green Lantern, Green Lantern Rebirth, Flash, Justice Society

ED BRUBAKER = FRANK MILLER

Frank Miller was arguably one of the biggest influences on introducing crime noir into mainstream superhero comics since the golden age of crime comics in the ‘50s. (I know Eisner was probably doing it for 100 years at that point, but I don’t care.) Miller brought a darker edge to comic books that kids in the ‘80s just couldn’t get enough of. There was a level of violence that many of us just hadn’t experienced before with these popular characters.

Ed Brubaker is the modern master of crime noir in comic books. Besides his work on amazing books like Sleeper and Criminal, he brought a level of noir to projects like Captain America and The Marvels Project that worked quite well for the characters.

Both guys spent as much time working on their own projects outside of superhero comics as well as coming up with crazy ideas like Batman coming out of retirement as an old man, and what if a supervillain was trapped in witness protection.

RECOMMENDED READING: (Miller) Daredevil, Batman the Dark Night Returns, Sin City, Batman Year One (Brubaker) Criminal, Sleeper, Incognito, The Marvels Project, Captain America

IVAN REIS = GEORGE PEREZ + ALAN DAVIS

Perez became a superstar based off of his uncanny ability to draw hundreds of characters, yet still giving them all something to do in their space, and all while making it not seem cluttered at all. Davis stood out for his strong superheroic figure work, highlighting muscular male characters and strong, attractive women. Both Perez and Davis are still going strong to this day.

Reis is almost a perfect blending of the best aspects of these two legendary artists, spotlighted in his work on books like Green Lantern and Blackest Night. His ability to draw a large group of characters, with the strong linework reminiscent of Alan Davis, makes him a truly special talent in modern comics.

RECOMMENDED READING: (Perez) Avengers, Crisis on Infinite Earths, The New Teen Titans, JLA/Avengers (Davis) Excalibur, Captain America, Avengers, Batman, Legion of Super-Heroes (Reis) Blackest Night, Green Lantern, Aquaman

STEVE MCNIVEN = JOHN BYRNE

Byrne and McNiven both are considered one of the more popular and talented guys of their eras. Both had a “realistic” style for their time, no doubt following along the same evolutionary chain started by legends like Neal Adams. Chiseled and handsome men, with equally attractive women. What more could you want?

RECOMMENDED READING: (McNiven) Civil War, New Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy (Byrne) Uncanny X-Men

There’s probably a bunch more I could do, but I’m tired and going to stop it here.

While most of these ‘80s legends are still around, and still probably capable of doing solid comic book work, they just don’t seem to get as many opportunities as they once did. Whether by diminishing ability, lack of current connections, or having burned too many bridges, the jobs aren’t pouring in from mainstream superhero comics like they used to. That’s a shame. I’d love to see Stern get an extended chance on a Captain America or Spider-Man book, or Byrne drawing the Marvel heroes again. That’s not to assume they need or even want these jobs, that just for me as a fan, I’d like to see these guys still at it on the classic icons.

Well, that’s it for now. Hopefully this got you talking and debating the similarities between writers and artists of different eras, and thinking of your own lists. I recognize many of the points I made could be considered generalities and applied to a dozen other creators from a dozen different eras, but that’s kind of the fun of it all. Feel free to let Duy know what you think I screwed up, and why.

Until next time!

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