The Super Secret Clubhouse and The Glass Teat
By Andrew Luke
[with apologies to Ookla The Mok and Harlan Ellison]
Comics are ever-increasingly moving towards having a beginning, a middle and an end, but have in the past been more episodic in nature. For a while, comic book characters in animated cartoons looked set to take the mainstage encore. The Maxx was sheer brilliance, Spider-Man had some great animated CGIs, the X-Men with its thorough and loyal retelling of some of the best stories from the booklet's 37 year run, coupled with a great opening sequence.
Somewhere, somehow, the cartoon shows lost their way, perhaps scared of the mainstream's renewed interest in animation. Reflecting on faults possibly; they became watered down and a pale imitation. I even have my doubts about the new Batman show. Wasn't it a great cartoon? (Actually, shoot my point in the foot and check out Return of The Joker, a work of genius that deserves to win awards.)
Batman in its element, all dark and brooding shadows, square chins and Harley Quinn. A supporting cast and Rogues Gallery that was the perfect eraser for some of you. It was the near mirror image of what I consider to be Batman the comic book's strengths. Superman, I don't believe, was any near as good, but it did have its moments: The Lobo episodes, for instance.
That era could be over. Or more probably laying low. Quite a few TV shows (particularly late 70s/early 80s) have icons straight from comic booklets. The majority, good or bad, have been bastardisations. Lois and Clark, love it or loathe it, was a step in the right direction. In the eighties we had shows like Battlestar Galactica.
Nowadays, TV is a lot more advanced in what it can offer. We've some great, some weird, some fantastic programmes. Buffy, Angel (Dark and prefix-less), Babylon 5, three (soon to be four) Star Trek spin-offs. Northern Exposure (Fraser is Superman, yeah?), Twin Peaks and Due South too are worth mentioning. The fifty minute show has migrated much more towards science fiction and fantasy (let's lump both together as speculative fiction) styles (I haven't even mentioned Xena, Hercules, Roswell, X-Files, the list just goes on and on), with time slots and ratings precedents.
This breed of show contains luscious helpings of sitcom and soap opera (and varying degrees of speculative fiction, from the merest smidgen in an episode to a full-blown premise behind a series) mixed in for all round enjoyment. Isn't that a large part of what most mainstream comics are about? Take one part sitcom, one part soap opera and one part SF and mix together for ... most of Marvel's, DC's and FOX's (to pluck but one from thin air) output.
This is a near perfect scenario with one great fucking gaping hole. Yes, it's another chance for Marvel and DC to screw creators in the most uncomfortable of places. DC, lagging behind, still come down with a Mister-No-Fun Werthram hand, pulping the coolest of ideas (does anyone really need reminding of Eisner-award winning Superman's Babysitter by Kyle Baker?), but their Vertigo imprint does grant creators certain rights and privileges, even if they continue to keep crawling to their doors like pathetic needy exs:
"Oh, lets try it just one more time. I know we can make it work."
Of course, the problem with Vertigo is that the market's expectation is that this is were DC shove all grim-and-gritty, all sex-and-shocks, all on-the-edge comics, and sanitise their "mainstream" even further. If you're mature, you read the Vertigo range; if you read the DCU is the implication you're immature? The DCU translates to cartoons best; the Vertigo universe to "adult" SF series best. Does this mean never the twain shall meet? But what we tend to see in Vertigo books is that the creator-control, being much greater, often means it is those creators involved in discussions concerning film or TV versions of their creations...in the DCU itself, does any creator get involved in this side of things anymore?
Marvel have taken a sudden and unexpected turn for the optimistic: their new owner seems to have some very sensible ideas about how to market books, treat customers, and steer the leaking ship, from an almost insider-like perspective. The view Ronald Perelman will dream of in hell. Joe Queseda is the editor-in-chief.
Joe Queseda. He's young, popular, influential in the right way and in a position where he can change things. Selected specifically by Bill Jemas. As far as safeguarding creator's interests, I suggest a start. Some kind of first-draft wage could be paid out to the original comic booklet's creative team as payment for their story being used as the original source material. A second-draft screenplay and storyboarding option an automatic. A chance to revolutionise the meaning of work-for-hire is here, will it be taken?
I would appreciate feedback on these remarks, and welcome suggestions specifically those covering the protection of creators' interests. It is imperative if the mainstream comicbooklet would move to that small suburb on the outskirts of Hollywood, something that they have always wanted and would in fact fit right in with.
It is imperative more than ever before that the rights of the penholders are protected and tradition is fought against. As tempting as it may be to leave Dan Jurgens to catch pnuemonia from living in a dumpster and Scott Lobdell pimping himself on the streets, it's just not on. And it's a worrying sign of the times when the likes of Todd McFarlane start behaving like Marvel, DC or a Vietnamese sweatshop. The Big Two have cleaned up their policies in recent years but the situation is far from perfect. Perhaps the enthusiasm comics creates just brings out that manipulative grabbiness in people.
Bangor, Northern Ireland
Got a comment or question about this Soapbox?
Leave at message at the Silver Soapboxes Message Board.