Now, shall we begin--?! I.
I got a request to review the latest issue of GHOST RIDER. So:
Sure, sure: steel wire.
It was kind-of shitty.
It was the second spin-off of the popular Marvel WW2 comic NICK FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS to fail. CAPTAIN SAVAGE AND HIS LEATHERNECK RAIDERS didn’t catch on, either (except in my homoerotic dreams). Here’s what Gary Friedrich said about the two failed spin-offs later:
I think there wasn’t anything original about them. Martin Goodman, who owned Marvel at the time[…], saw that Sgt. Fury was doing pretty well and told Stan ‘Let’s do some more war comics’. Stan’s ideas were to do more of the same and that’s what we tried to do. I was in it for the money. If they wanted me to write ten war comics, I’d write ten war comics.
So: what do you do when it comes time to write the last issue of a failed comic? Do you have the main character wake up in bed with Bob Newhart? Do you have the main character chat with Grant Morrison? Do you have a mermaid fart, but then have her fart bubbles get trapped in her mermaid fish-tail, one after the other until the fish-tail finally explodes in an underwater orgy of liquidy-shit and sulfur?
If you’re Gary Friedrich and Dick Ayers, and it comes time to end COMBAT KELLY, it turns out you have a Nazi rip out your female lead’s Achilles tendons without using any anesthetic before the surgery.
You know: someday, you’re going to click that Read More and get an eyeful of Not-Safe-For-Work Nick Fury. You’re far too trusting. “Oh, I’d like to read mo— NO, NICK FURY, NO.” You'll have deserved it for being so trusting.
Wait, no: nobody deserves that. Look at him. Look at poor Nick Fury. What the hell were they thinking? What IS that? Anyways, let's get back into character...
35 years later…
Jason Aaron’s first GHOST RIDER came out a week or two ago. I went to pick that up; also picked up a book at random, on impulse—the 4th issue of Greg Rucka’s 52 AFTERMATH CRIME BIBLE FIVE LESSONS OF BLOOD (MAN IN MOTION) (featuring the Question!). All the talk about Greg Rucka cutting out on his exclusivity with DC (plus Mr. Douglas Wolk’s writing for this site) got me curious.
Aaron’s coming off of the “critically-acclaimed” SCALPED, which delves into the previously unseen world of crime on Native American reservations. When Rucka started in the mainstream, he was coming off of the “critically-acclaimed” WHITEOUT, which delved into the previously unseen world of crime in Antarctica.
There’s a noticeable learning curve, when people first start working for Marvel or DC. They launch books like the ORDER or ALIAS or GOTHAM CENTRAL where they try to offer a fresh perspective, try to offer something new to an audience; then, those books go away. They do things right; they do thing wrong, etc. Learning curve.
But: by the point they’ve settled into the Job, when they’ve gotten good, I guess I’m long gone. Shit, I haven’t read a Greg Rucka comic in years.
I’m excited that Jason Aaron’s writing GHOST RIDER. I’m not excited that Greg Rucka’s writing the Question. But, shit, they’re kind of similar guys, doing kind of similar jobs.. so...
Jack Kirby quit working for Marvel in 1970. 1972 comes around, time to roll out COMBAT KELLY... Aaah, fuck it: why not just rip off THE DIRTY DOZEN? COMBAT KELLY AND THE DEADLY DOZEN is about a WWII-era suicide squad of convicted criminals given one chance at freedom—all they have to do is go on a series of high-risk missions to kill Nazis.
No big deal; happened other times: The EXORCIST had been a bestselling novel in 1971; a hit movie would come out in December 1973. Inbetween, Marvel says: why not have a book about an exorcist called SON OF SATAN? Let’s get ourselves one of those new-fangled exorcists! The kids, they love the exorcists!
I want Marvel Comics’s version of WELCOME HOME, ROSCOE JENKINS? “Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins… I hope you survive the experience!” Fuck it— it could work! It will work!
COMBAT KELLY was—it just wasn’t good. The “Deadly” Dozen—there’s a Dean Martin Deadly, a psycho Deadly ala Telly Savalas in the Dirty Dozen, a Native American Deadly with a bow & arrow. Two “British” Deadlies whose accent consists exclusively of randomly ending sentences with “Wot?” and using the word “Ruddy”. INCREDIBLY ANNOYING. There’s a black Deadly, a Japanese-American Deadly, a sexy lady Deadly (eventually Mr. Kelly's ill-fortuned girlfriend).
My favorite is issue #2— Combat Kelly sneaks into a FUCKING CONCENTRATION CAMP in order to rescue three *Native Americans* the Nazis are holding in their Concentration Camp. The Native American POWs teach the Jewish victims of the Holocaust about the importance of hope before they die giving their lives fighting the Germans.
It’s fucking ghastly.
Issue 9 rolls around, and the entire team gets killed off. Most get shot in the back— two don't. Only Combat Kelly survives – but he quits the military. And then Combat Kelly and his shitty comic are forgotten, completely forgotten-- as is appropriate. Oh, wait, also: Combat Kelly’s girlfriend gets her Achilles tendons torn out by a crazed Nazi, and she gets crippled for life.
Combat Kelly? No matter how bad his comic was, or how few Achilles tendons his girlfriend had, someone's going to bring him back. You can set your clock to it. Fans just like that move from the playbook. Bring back a way-forgotten character? See, e.g. Jonny Double, Slam Bradley, Amazing Man, White Tiger, etc.
Yeah: Combat Kelly will be back.
It's all turning straw into gold, wot? GHOST RIDER? The Question in 52 AFTERBIRTH OF BLOOD CRIME BIBLE FIVE (THE LOVE THEME)? They’re just popular straw. They're both characters that would’a-could’a-should’a been forgotten decades ago, just like Combat Kelly.
I'll pick up an issue of Whatever if a writer I’m following is hired. But: but: but: what do I want to see that writer DO exactly? And how do I judge if they've done it well or not? Whoever’s writing GHOST RIDER is not going to get me to care. I’m going to care about Mr. Rider and his problems? I got my own problems, sister.
Straw into gold, though. Well, it's part of the big ruddy myth of the whole thing now, wot? Alan Moore took SWAMP THING and he- or no, Frank Miller took DAREDEVIL and he-- or no, when all hope was lost, Mark Waid took THE FLASH and he...
“Straw into gold” is an expression from the fairy tale RUMPLESTILTSKIN. In the fairy tale, Rumplestiltskin (or Grigrigredinmenufretin as he's known in France) turns straw to gold in order to impress a girl. He does it over and over and over for her, until she doesn't need gold anymore. She marries some other guy; tells him to fuck himself. He ends up ripping himself into two. I'm leaving out some parts (Rumplestiltskin's usually the bad guy of the story) but...
See: I could write a review of GHOST RIDER but here's what I find interesting tonight. It isn't the review of GHOST RIDER I would write. It's... it's the extent to which that review would be inherently dishonest, completely dishonest, totally dishonest. As revealed by, e.g., a review of 52 FIVE BIBLES OF CRIME LESSONS (FOR A FILM) I could write.
It's funny; I read this Don MacPherson "where is the early Brian Michael Bendis; early Bendis rules; late Bendis drools" piece today that got linked to here and there— the author was confused why he liked Bendis’s early stuff but not so much the later stuff...
My answer incorporates Grigrigredinmenufretin...
So, you guys like AD&D? It's more advanced than regular D&D.
But fuck it, let's just keep rambling on: the GHOST RIDER review would also be dishonest because of the COMBAT KELLY review as set forth in section III, supra.
Marvel’s got a character named Galactus. Big fucking ruddy space-giant eats planets, wot? Not because he’s evil— fool just has this fucking crazy-ass hunger for planets that can never be satisfied. Some people look at the character as metaphor for capitalism or the Cuban Missile Crisis or environmental degradation. I like when he’s seen as a metaphor for fans the most.
Every month, 22 pages; the fans just keep coming and coming, and they’re never satisfied. They just eat and eat and eat, and nothing ever satisfies them. At the end of that first story, Galactus is only beaten because Mr. Fantastic waves the Ultimate Nullifier in his face-- "Here's some shiny New Bullshit to obsess over. Feel better?" Like jiggling car keyes in front of a baby!
Galactus is kind of like one of those rock songs about how the road’s hard, but some big-haired girl in Acid Wash jeans tragic enough to blow the bassist from WHITE LION makes it all worth it.
It's just the all-consuming hunger.
I’m always amused when critics talk about reading ESSENTIAL volumes—I love those too, guilty as charged, but I love that thing of: “Comic XYZ reflects a poor sense of pacing, composition and panel construction, with a narrative that frequently devolves into poorly crafted and meandering subplots. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to read 800 pages of the ESSENTIAL CONTEST OF CHAMPIONS. Don't bother me-- I'm eating.”
I could write a big fancy-pants review of GHOST RIDER— sometimes it has this totally cool vibe, it’s got moves, but sometimes it’s going on and on about Mr. Rider’s origin which I don’t understand even a little; art’s *rad* though. Or 52 MATH LESSONS OF THE BIBLE (WE SALUTE YOU)... there's a nice scene set outside, in the snow...
But if the very next thing I read is COMBAT KELLY AND THE DEADLY DOZEN...