Through the Mail Slot

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Having just finished up an ASTRO CITY letter column, which’ll go up shortly, I figured I’d check and see what kind of non-Astro City mail we had here in the blog mailbox.

Ulp.

Looks like I haven’t answered any blog mail in a year. Aheh. Sorry.

Let’s do some, and at least make a start on digging out.

First up, from MIKE, on 12/11/12 (yes, just about exactly a year ago):

Just reread AVENGERS: ULTRON UNLIMITED. Masterful entertainment.

Thanks.

Thank you, Mike! And, um, sorry to be so delinquent in responding.

Next, from THOMAS:

Okay, so you get a brother hooked on ASTRO CITY, then it’s gone. I think it’s the best written book of the last twenty years. Please let me know if it will ever be back.

I’m an English prof at a small community college, and I’ve written a few small projects for small comic book publishers. Your work was not only entertaining; it was inspiring. I hope it will return soon.

Thanks, Thomas. Glad to have had an effect, creatively if not as an avatar of productivity.

I hope you’ve noticed by now that ASTRO CITY’s been back since June, and (so far at least) hitting all our release dates. Hope you’ve been enjoying it!

Next, LARRY:

Any DC plans in the near or far future? You’ve been away from the DCU (and the DCNu) for too long. I, for one, would like to see you writing SUPERMAN as I think you could return that book to the proper place it deserves. It has been floundering (to be kind) since the relaunch, I think.

I haven’t been keeping up on Superman lately, but from what I’ve seen online, people seem to be happy with what Scott Snyder, Scott Lobdell and Greg Pak have been doing with the books, so I hope it’s been to your taste.

No ongoing DCU plans for me, at present—though I am still slowly working on BATMAN; CREATURE OF THE NIGHT, the “thematic sequel” to SUPERMAN: SECRET IDENTITY, for which John Paul Leon is doing a masterful job with the art. But beyond that, I’m hoping to concentrate more on creator-owned material, and have a few projects in the works that you’ll get to see begin sometime next year.

So I won’t be diving into the waters of the New 52, but I hope I’ll be able to do other books that’ll capture your imagination and attention…

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Through The Mail Slot

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So, where were we? What, mail to answer? Okay, mail to answer.
First up, from CALVIN:

Hey, Kurt, we met at the Portland show and I bought SUPERSTAR and thought it was great. Any more of this coming out? Thanks and I am looking for more of Superstar.
Not soon, at least. But more Superstar is definitely something I want to get to—if nothing else, I came up with a big sprawling epic story for the character and haven’t been able to tell even that one, much less all the others. So someday, I really want to get to that one, at least.
And, uh, sorry for taking over a year (!) to respond…
Who’s next? Ah, DEAN:

I really hope this isn’t the end of Superstar! What can we do to revive his career? He has so much potential, not only to fight evil, but really change to world for the better by inspiring his fans to volunteerism and activism.
Captain Amazing, at one point in the movie, violently rips the Pepsi logo off his costume from among the many others festooning it. Does he wear the pink ribbon of breast cancer, the multi-colored one of autism awareness, the black one in memory of MIAs and POWs? Does he go on talk shows to defend against drinking and driving, teen pregnancy, racism, or illiteracy?
If it’s revealed that he can only take the life force of willing givers, that goes a long way to alleviating my former apprehension of his soul vampirism. Superstar is the first hero I know of who has the responsibility to use his power to support itself. Remembering that he uses life force, he has to use it in a way that his fans feel is appropriate or he will lose his fans. With great power comes great responsibility and that is no more true for any superhero than it is for Superstar.
Captain Amazing?
Yes, Superstar’s energy donors are all volunteers. And Superstar’s not devouring their souls, just absorbing some sort of bio-chemical energy, or something along those lines. It’s science, not spiritualism, and he doesn’t take it by force, like a vampire.
But that big epic story I mentioned above? It’s very much about the idea that if he doesn’t do what his supporters feel is appropriate, he loses his support—and thus, his power. What happens when his supporters feel he’s unworthy? Similarly, what happens if he doesn’t want to kowtow to popular prejudices? He’s something of a politician-hero, or needs to be, and that’s very much a two-edged sword.

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Through the Mail Slot

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Just wrapped up another Astro City script—and just signed contracts for what used to be called American Gothic, but now has a new title, which I’m sure we’ll be telling you about in time. But for now, let’s see what’s come in via e-mail.
Hollis writes…

Don’t have a lot in common with you, except for one thing—Sept. 16, 1960.
‘Twas a fine day, that day.
Well, I liked it! And it gave us Mike Mignola, as well. And, if I recall correctly, inker Keith Williams and Legion fan and onetime Marvel typesetter Brenda Mings. A pretty productive day, September 16, 1960.
Nikko Elliott writes…

I just saw my letter in the Astro City lettercol! That was awesome! What a beautiful cover on that issue. Give my props to Alex. And I loved that ending. Dark Age was a decent story, not my favorite, but that ending covering Samaritan made it worth while. I’m a big Samaritan fan.
Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks for putting my letter in the lettercol and, also, I wanted to make a prediction. I think Old Soldier is the Silver Agent after years/decades/(centuries?) of time travel. I’m eagerly awaiting the Silver Agent specials (there are two, right?). Keep up the great work!
Thanks. The Old Soldier and the Silver Agent, hmm? It’s an interesting idea, at least. And I guess you’ll find out if you were right or not pretty soon.
Next up, Xiko de Couto…

I do not speak your language, then translate the Portuguese to their language by Google. Forgive me.
I’m 29 and I became a fan (of carterinha, as they say here in Brazil) when I read Superman: Secret Identity. For me the best Superman story ever written. I say this because I was tired of the sameness of the comics. Nobody grows old, no one dies (and remains so), nobody does child, very annoying. Unlike the manga, where the stories have a beginning, middle and end. No wear of the hero. Then comes before me this story his own, I wanted to film that turned the world to see his genius, proving that the character may be subject to major routes.
Well after this statement, I humbly ask if you want to do a similar project with other iconic characters from DC or another editor and if you use twitter, so you can follow more readily their future work.
I am indeed on Twitter, Xiko, and you can find me here.
As for doing another project like Superman: Secret Identity with a different iconic character, all I can tell you is to get ready for Batman: Creature of the Night, by me and John Paul Leon—along with letterer Todd Klein and editor Joey Cavalieri, who also worked on S:SI.
It’s not the same as S:SI, since Batman’s a different character and deserves a different kind of story, but it’s definitely in the same territory—and John Paul is doing absolutely gorgeous work. It won’t be scheduled until a lot more of it is done, but it’s in the works, at least.
Who’s next? Ah, Daniel Solzman…

I’m writing a paper on comics and politics and wanted to ask you a few questions.
Is it common for writers to inject their own political views in the content they are writing?
Is it fair to say that most writers tend to be liberal in views?
Also, I just now had a chance to read the Jefferson related post on your blog and I can’t believe that someone would drop your books just because you made a comment relating to the tea party. Right now, my home state of Kentucky is in the national spotlight because of Rand Paul of the tea party—he doesn’t represent Kentucky values—that much I know.
At some point, I’ll stop answering questions for school papers, I expect, but that day doesn’t seem to have come yet. To address Daniel’s questions:
1. I think it’s almost impossible for a writer to not put some sort of viewpoint—social, philosophical, political and more—into their work. It’s their work, after all. It comes from them, and reflects who they are. But I suspect that’s not what you mean—you’re probably thinking about writers having characters serve as a mouthpiece for political speech. And there’s been plenty of that in comics over the years, whether it’s Cap socking Hitler, Bucky urging readers to buy war bonds, Stan Lee’s anti-Communist stuff of the early Sixties, his anti-racism stuff on the later Sixties (and Bob Kanigher’s, and Denny O’Neil’s, and Roy Thomas’s and more), Steve Englehart’s politically-disillusioned Cap or feminist Wonder Woman, and on and on. Comics are fiction and fiction says things; it’s unreasonable to expect them to be viewpoint-free. That said, I think good writers will write stories informed by their own sensibilities, while still respecting the characters’ established personality. A conservative writer may think liberals are a bunch of nutcases, but he shouldn’t write Green Arrow as a John Bircher, because that would be inappropriate to the character, just as it would be for a liberal writer to make USAgent into a knee-jerk lefty.
2. I don’t get into that many political discussions with my fellow writers. I know more liberals than conservatives, and if I had to guess I’d guess that comics writers skew liberal, but I know folks on both the left and the right (and a batch of libertarians, too).
And hey, Rand Paul’s going to be interesting to watch, at least.
Wrapping it up, we hear from Jim Arrowsmith…

My son and I have been collecting comics ever since Arrowsmith came out…I was trying to get him to read more, which he struggled at, when he saw ‘our’ name in Atomic Comics window on an Arrowsmith poster. He started reading and never stopped.
I am now in my mid 40’s and he is 21 and we still enjoy comics…Astro City…Walking Dead are our favorites. Although we don’t see each often…when we do…we always spend some of that time commenting on the latest editions.
He was wondering if you were ever going to do another Arrowsmith Volume 2 series? Thanks for your creativity and Imagination…
Thanks for the kind words, Jim.
There will indeed be a follow-up to Arrowsmith, though it’ll take a while. We’re doing it as a heavily-illustrated prose novel, sort of like Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess’s Stardust (but instead of Neil and Charlie it’ll be me and Carlos, and instead of Stardust it’ll, uh, be Arrowsmith). But between my writing schedule and Carlos’s deadlines as an exclusive artist for Marvel, it’ll take a while. But we’ll make it as good as we can manage, and I hope you’ll think it’s worth the wait.
And so goes the mail. More in a while, I’d assume!

Don’t Mess with Batman’s Cake

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I’m stealing most of what follows from a blog called The Hooded Utilitarian, largely because it’s stuff I wrote in the comments section a year or so ago that I thought made the point I was trying to make reasonably well, so I wanted to have it over here, too.
The question at hand was about Batman, and how if he’s a self-made man who does what he does on willpower, grit and drive, why shouldn’t be come a Green Lantern? Their rings are fueled by willpower, so he’d be the most badass Green Lantern ever.
Since the blog entry was titled “Question for Kurt Busiek or Mark Evanier,” it popped up in a Google search, and I threw in my response, which was:
“Whatever in-story answers are offered, the real answer is that Batman works really well as Batman, so he’s going to stay Batman. Just like Tony Stark isn’t going to build armored suits for all the Avengers as an ongoing thing, and Richie Rich isn’t going to hand out millions to his pals even though he’d never miss it.”
It was pointed out that Tony Stark and Richie Rich are dicks, and that Batman often doesn’t work really well as Batman—bad Batman stories abound. So why not give him a power ring?
I noted that to be fair, the Guardians are dicks, too. And it’s not as if there would suddenly be no more crappy stories if Batman had a power ring. I expect there’d be more—if for no other reason than that Batman would have a power ring.
What was really going on, of course, wasn’t a push for Batman to join the Green Lantern Corps, a development that I don’t think many people think would make Batman stories consistently terrific, but rather the more story-management-centered question of, “Well, if you don’t want Batman to have a power ring, shouldn’t there be an in-story reason for it?” It’s not about giving him a power ring, but about explaining why he isn’t given one. In a setting where it would be logical for Green Lantern to hand out rings to his JLA pals, if it doesn’t happen, then should you be doing that kind of universe in the first place? If you’re not going to do it “right,” should you do it at all?
Me, I tend to think the reason Tony Stark doesn’t armor up the Avengers isn’t because he’s a dick, but because it would make both the Iron Man book and the Avengers book less special if you turn all those characters into Iron Man variants (though it did make a dandy issue of What If, way back when). And to the extent that Richie Rich is interesting at all, it’s in the contrast between his over-the-top wealth and his friends’ comparative normalcy; giving them all millions might be logical for the characters, but would making it more logical actually make it a better comic book for the Richie Rich audience?
So why do that kind of world, if it’s not logical? Well, ignoring for a moment that some of those problems still exists even if the books aren’t part of a “universe”—Tony Stark could make armor for his supporting cast (and on occasion has, but it doesn’t stick), and most of Richie Rich’s friends don’t have their own series anyway, the answer to the overall question, why put Batman and Green Lantern in the same universe if it creates illogical situations, is:
Because it’s fun to have the characters meet.
It’s fun to have Batman stories, and it’s fun to have Superman stories, but it’s fun to have Justice League stories, too. It’s not really any more complicated than that. It’s entertaining.
The stories are the cake, and the shared-universe stuff is frosting. Things tend to go horribly wrong when people start to think the frosting is more important than the cake, and then get better when they remember that it’s about the cake after all.
The real answer to questions like, “Why doesn’t the Flash clean up Gotham City, too?” is “It would make Batman’s cake lousy. People read Batman because they like crimefighter stuff where Batman’s cool, and don’t really want to see Superman or the Flash or Green Lantern mess with that particular cake.” On the other hand, people who like stories where Batman and Superman and Green Lantern work together have the JLA cake, and some people like both kinds of cake.
But if you start to tie it together with logic foremost in your plans rather than entertainment, then you need to explain why Superman doesn’t help all the other heroes almost all the time, and why aren’t the crimefighters turned into SF-type heroes to make them more effective, and you end up with everything being JLA cake, and no solo Batman cake left. Or you come to the conclusion that it doesn’t work, so Batman shouldn’t be in the JLA, which maybe preserves the Batman cake, but it messes up the JLA cake.
So in the end, the answer to all of these questions is: Don’t mess with my cake.
Batman cake, when well done, is good. JLA cake, when well done, is good. But if you pay too much attention to the frosting, the cakes all start to taste the same, and that might be logical, but it’s boring.
This is also known as the Go ‘Way Kid, You Bodda Me school of comics continuity. Shared universes are fun as long as they make reading comics more fun, and not fun when they start to tangle things up and mess with or distort the individual series concepts. When that happens, you can either go with it even though it messes things up, in the name of logic and continuity maintenance, or you can sweep it under the rug and look the other way.
Much as I love continuity, I’m a big fan of sweeping it under the rug and looking the other way. If it serves the X-Men series better to let Kitty Pryde age while it serves FF better to have Franklin age a lot slower, then that’s good—that’s cake, and both the FF cake and the X-Men cake should be good on their own terms. You just don’t have the characters talk about how they’re aging at different rates.
And if Batman could solve most of his cases by getting on the JLA communicator and asking Superman or Rip Hunter or someone to use time-travel or super-powers to solve the mystery, then that would make for boring Batman comics, so you ignore it, because that’s frosting, and the important thing to do is make it a good Batman cake, not to make the frosting all the same. Batman can do all that stuff with Superman or Rip Hunter in the other cakes, cakes where those flavors enhance the story rather than messing it up.
This isn’t unique to superhero comics. Just like readers who don’t let it bother them that Nero Wolfe was 40 years old for 40 years straight, or that Linus was in kindergarten when Sally Brown was an infant and later they were in the same class, there gets to be a point where you decide whether you want it to be strictly logical, or whether you want it to be fun.
Used to be, things sold better when they didn’t tie in too much, and nobody asked why the Avengers didn’t show up to help out with Galactus or where Spider-Man was that day. Nowadays, it seems like you can’t do a big story without it sprawling over most of the other books in the line, and that’s selling well…for now. But next year, or five years from now, who knows?
Maybe the individual cakes will be more important. Or maybe it’ll be mostly frosting, and Batman will have a power ring.
I doubt that’ll ever happen. If it were to happen, though, I’d be happy reading Hellboy and Fables and Scalped and Usagi Yojimbo and Girls With Slingshots and such.
If the frosting gets in the way, there are other good cakes.
[Art by Joe Quinones]