Sunday, July 26, 2009

Everybody's Tryin' To Buy My Babies



My biggest disappointments from SDCC09 may be found in some of the biggest announcements, acquisitions made by DC and Marvel. I've only read bits and pieces of what on my shores was known as Miracleman, but in its country of origin as Marvelman. This was the Alan Moore series that inspired most of his contemporaries to create deconstructionist super-heroes, who themselves ended up competing with Watchmen years later. I've always wanted to read the whole series, including the Neil Gaiman stuff that ended the run. Both writers can be a bit too remote/precious at times, so I've looked forward to seeing them at a more youthful, emotionally raw place. So long as securing the Marvelman rights from original creator Mick Anglo extends to the later revisions of his work, we've got some very desirable collected editions coming in our future. Heck, Marvel could even milk this thing by rereleasing the book as a maxi-series if they wanted to, so long as they promised the incomplete Gaiman/Buckingham trilogy of arcs would first see print in floppies.

On the other hand, this is Marvel we're talking about. How long after the series has returned to print before someone sees a new ongoing series as a perfect addition to the Ultimates imprint? How long before there are revolving arcs by Paul Jenkins, Warren Ellis, Mark Millar, and God help us, Garth Ennis? From there, how long until the obligatory throwdown with the Sentry in the 616? Marvelman vs. Marvel Zombies. I'm not saying Todd McFarlane's studio was the best home for the property, but at least there was a time a (technical) person was in control, rather than a corporate entity. Reprints aside, won't this all end in exploitation and tears?

I recall when I was a hard core DC fan, and a modest Wildstorm reader, but was ecstatic when the former absorbed the latter. I wanted to see DC pick up some of Wildstorm's edge and talent. Instead, DC poached the creators willing to stick around to grind out the s.o.s. big name books, then nit-picked and generally marginalized the rest. Soon, Wildstorm became a piss poor Vertigo-for-Super-Heroes, as well as a studio to pawn off licensed properties upon. Not only did I lose one place I enjoyed reading comics from entirely, but the appeal of DC has been steadily diminishing as well.

Which gets me to the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. I was first introduced to them through my back issue dealer in the early '90s, specifically David Singer's Deluxe Comics series on the mid-'80s. Singer brought together the finest artists of the day: George Pérez, Dave Cockrum, Keith Giffen, Jerry Ordway and more to honor the Tower Comics series that did the same in the '60s. Singer had claimed the property had fallen into to the public domain, but lost any moral high ground when it turned out he came to that conclusion while associated with the properties' alleged current owner, John Carbonaro. Previously, Carbonaro had taken several stabs at publishing new T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents stories, and to put it mildly, they did not feature the finest artists of their day (although Mark Texeira later improved enormously.) However questionable Carbonaro's claims might have been, and the debate left the door open for a slew of publishers to attempt their own T.H.U.N.D.E.R. revivals at the time, Carbonaro was tenacious enough in his claim to take all comers in a court of law. However, that claim led to one stalled effort after another, so that the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents announced more returns to publishing than had actual issues produced.

I went back and found old copies and reprints of the original T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents stories, featuring gorgeous work by legends like Wally Wood, Steve Ditko, Gil Kane, Reed Crandall, Al Williamson and many more. They were perfect time capsule of swingin' sixties attitude, offering super-spy adventures along the lines of Bond and the Man from U.N.C.L.E., but with the same tongue-in-cheek humor as Matt Helm and Get Smart. In other words, already well out of step with the '80s, and absolutely foreign to the new millennium. DC already licensed the property once a few years back, offering a radical new interpretation that Carbonaro found so unpalatable that he pulled the plug on the whole project. Even if Carbonaro was tone deaf to the original material, offering sincere Silver Age pathos in his attempts, at least he wasn't post-modern.

Well, John Carbonaro died this year, and DC seems to now hold the rights to the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. To some degree, Jim Lee's Wildstorm was a successor to Tower, even if it traded more in overly sober military conspiracies (though the light-hearted cheesecake of Gen-13 would have done Woody proud.) It might have been nice seeing T.H.U.N.D.E.R. integrated into that universe, but I understand they will now be part of the DC proper. I guess I get to look forward to the rape of Kitten, the murder and replacement of the clumsy Dynamo, Iron Maiden becoming a sadomasochist (well, more so,) and NoMan no longer getting his kicks by wasting millions of government dollars on android copies of himself. In the geekiest depths of my heart, I'd always hoped I or some other fanboy could one day sort out the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents rights and do the concept justice. Instead, they've been gobbled up by The Man, and will be treated to inferior, limp efforts while Superman and Batman keep all the names. Just look at DC's much-ballyhoo'd Red Circle line, which was meant to see J. Michael Straczynski go all Supreme Power on it. Instead, he wrote four introductory comics, one for each character, and then passed the actual series on to nobodies.

Well, there's still Vampirella, and most of the Image founders still own their characters. There's a little life for super-heroes outside DC and Marvel. It just makes me sad that the ability to work with actual, built-in history on a property is limited to public domain figures from the Golden Age, and even then there's the compromise of those awful Dynamite Entertainment books.

2 comments:

Nick Ahlhelm said...

I am tentatively excited about the THUNDER Agents reboot. I too am a huge fan of the characters thanks to Singer's books and reprints... and the idea of rebooting them in the DCU does sound way better than the planned revamp from 2002 or '03.

Once I see the Red Circle reboots next month, I suppose I will have an inkling of how bad/good THUNDER could be.

Frank Lee Delano said...

I'm reserving all optimism until I have confirmed talent named. I read Marc Andreyco's work on Manhunter for half a year and I still can't explain why anyone should care enough to drop his name outside the LGBT community. Utterly blah. If DC dusts off his unpublished bid, I'll be greatly disappointed. My luck, they'll take a new pitch from Judd Winick instead. Nooooooo!

...nurghophiles...

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