Travis Hedge Coke
For all we make of intention and carefully laid plans, there’s a quote from Die Hard With a Vengeance (an original script adapted to be a Lethal Weapon sequel then adapted from that to be the third Die Hard): “You can stick your well-laid plan up your well-laid ass.” Intent is noble and plans are good, but what matters is what plans produce, what results. The road to Hell is paved with the best intentions. The road to pop glory is sometimes cleared of all traffic and ridden down at top speed like a maniac on uppers by happy accidents that improve the whole damned ride.
Serial comics are going to have accidents. Many flubs occur due to divers hands, some are printing errors, more often than not, when a scene is revisited years later it is misremembered and thereby laid down incorrectly the newest time. The penciler on Doom 2099 once derailed a story absurdly by just adding stuff that violated the script and, I presume, not thinking of the consequences. When Grant Morrison introduced an in-continuity biological son of the Batman, he recalled the out-of-continuity comic where Talia al Ghul and Bruce Wayne had a child wrongly, and wrote the scene from that flawed memory. The writer on Doom 2099 was able to steer things around, and Morrison lucked out in that a) the other story was out of continuity and b) he frames it in dialogue, so it becomes a character moment instead of history. Iron Man had a nose built into the armor for a few years, due to a misunderstanding involving Stan Lee. Other things are just a mess and you’re best off putting them out of mind. Green Arrow was sexually assaulted once, and another writer, misremembering, turned it into an extramarital affair.
But, on occasion, a flaw appears that improves the comic.
1. Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth
Dave McKean refused to do some stuff in the script, completely (including just having Robin in the comic at all), illustrated some parts nebulously or in highly exaggerated fashion (Batman shoving a big piece of glass right through his hand), and sometimes just did his own thing. The comic probably would have sold, either way, since a lot of people were buying it from the cover and a sudden rise in Bat-fame, but I doubt it would have been the perennial seller if the art had been closer to the original plan. Some touches appear to exist only because McKean was interested in this particular texture at the moment he was working on a page, or because this visual flourished while communicating the details took a backseat, and it looks exciting for that. Arkham Asylum feels incomplete, it feels a bit like a Rorschach blot sometimes or like throwing dice, drawing three new cards and keeping two hoping something lines up. It’s because of the art, because of the conflict between the script and the art, that it stays new.
2. The Dark Knight Strikes Again
Partway into this sequel to The Dark Knight Returns, 9/11 happened, and the comic changed. It was hella fun already, but the parody politicos give way to caricatures of real politicians, the scope of even small-scale city-leveling damage is reevaluated from something you — and the superheroes — can shrug off to something that will be messed up for awhile. The idea that superheroing, that massive street fights with aliens and robots can be without consequence went out the window like a baby on fire with the bathwater tossed out just after in hopes it’ll extinguish the flames. It’d been the biggest show of arms against American citizens in the continental United States since, what? The AIM War?
It wasn’t the biggest attack ever, but it hurt people, and in that selfish but earnest way, it hurt us. Frank Miller started working with that immediately, raw and rough about it, but in earnest. It’s big, it’s tragic, it’s hilarious, angry, weird, and most of us reading it didn’t know how to deal with it. But it’s kept the comic feeling more relevant with every passing year, and the more insular story it began as would not.
3. The Invisibles
The Invisibles has a few flubs, some of which were corrected for collections, such as a bizarrely symbolic rendering from Ashley Wood of a page that’s meant to be an explanation of a complex idea, that hilariously includes in the dialogue, “Hard to make understand not soon.” But, one flub made that comic so much better for me, and that’s the accidental rescue of Jolly Roger.
Roger was sort of all the negative stuff about King Mob without the positive. She was angry, vengeful, murderous, self-righteous. The plan is that she dies at the end, while he is given a new chance to be a better person. We see her body dumped with dozens of others, nothing but landfill. But, we see someone pull themselves up, too, in that comic, and while the script calls for KM, the figure has hair and he doesn’t. Or, it has a squiggly top of the head, but I’m going with hair because that means Roger lives! Karma is BS, life goes on, don’t sweat the small stuff.
4. Civil War
It has recently come to my attention that pretty much no two comics involved in Marvel’s Civil War had talent who agreed on what the registration laws actually entailed. Is it superhuman powers? Is it people using superhuman powers to be vigilantes or otherwise criminal? Is it people who have high tech armor or weird magic headbands? Is it just about mutants? Does registering draft you? Nobody knows! Nobody ever agrees! They just fight over it because Captain America resisted arrest, stole a jetplane (and its pilot!) and said “Resist.” Even, when Cap finally allows himself to be arrested, admitting culpability in all the damage this conflict has caused, no clear idea of the registry or mechanisms for its use are presented, it’s just whatever the comic on hand wants or needs.
Which is essentially how we respond to hot button laws or actions being pushed into actuation in real life. Even something like the recent US health care bill has so much misinformation around it, as well as having many concessions, some seemingly at odds with the bill itself, that it’s not a matter so much of for or against as what are you for and what are you against. Legalese is nuts, why shouldn’t it be in fiction, too? (And like real politics, the journalism angle was the most interesting part and a lot of people died unnecessarily. I’d like to pretend any of that was planned so.)
5. Post-Crisis Superman
John Byrne decided that Clark Kent, when he was growing up, was the alpha dude. He was the star football player in high school, the handsome, muscled local boy everybody loved. And, as an adult, he was a bit yuppie jogging suit passive-aggressive, but ultimately still Clark Kentish in the classic sense. This was not particularly well thought out.
A few years later, talent such as Jon Bogdanove and Louise Simonson would take these three faces of Kal El, the Clark as he is, public Clark, and Superman, make it it’s own thing. During their lengthy run with the character, he changes when he’s with close friends, when he’s at home with Lois Lane or with his parents, and he isn’t being Superman, he’s not posing or thrusting his chin out, arms folded over his chest, but he stops pulling his body inward, stops pretending to be so clumsy or naïve. He’s comfortable. Here’s a guy who spent nearly two decades not knowing he was very different, who had a life and identity, and in private, he still has that. He doesn’t have to be either act. And if John Byrne hadn’t shifted things up, despite apparently having no interest in dealing with it, Simonson and Bogdanove would never have had their opportunity to make something of that trichotomy.