Thanks to our annual Statement of Ownership, space is at a premium this month, and rather than skimp on your righteous responses, I'll keep my bit short and sweet.
This month a new era of Avengers excitement begins as wild and wooly Walt Simonson picks up the scripting reins of Marvel's heaviest hero-group. I trust no one needs reminding of the heights "Uncle" Walt propelled THE MIGHTY THOR to for four years. (Hands up, those of you who recall that I was the editor who coaxed W.S. onto that book back when I edited the title.) Anyway, Walt's determined to make his AVENGERS saga even more cosmic and cataclysmic than his THOR sagas-- after all, as big a menace as Thor can handle on his own, he can handle even bigger menaces with a handful of Avengers at his side! The unparalleled art team of John Buscema and Tom Palmer will continue.
Finally, a tip of the hat to Riotous Ralph Macchio who stepped into the breach these past few issues, scribbling the wrap-up to the Adaptoid Epic, and giving Walt time to hit the ground running. Thanks, Ralfy, feel free to call out "Avengers Assemble" any time you get the urge!"
One of the more interesting things I've gotten to do since being promoted to Executive Editor (I trust everyone read the Bullpen Bulletins item about it some months back) is accompany Editor In Chief Tom DeFalco to meetings of the Comics Magazine Association of America, better known as the Comics Code Authority. As you all probably know, the Comics Code is a set of guidelines which spell out what is acceptable material for the general audience that comic books in America traditionally have had. Membership in the Association is voluntary, and the Comics Code is a form of self-regulation. Originally drafted in 1954 to deflect the heavy criticism that comic books were then under (as being cited as a major cause of juvenile delinquency), the Code guidelines remained unchanged until 1971 when the member-publishers got together to update the document to reflect more contemporary standards of morality.
Well, the time has come for the Code's guidelines to be revised again in order to reflect today's standards, and I have the good fortune of being in on the rewriting process. Seeing as how the work is still in progress, this is not the place to comment on any specific revisions that are being made, but I would like to make a few general statements on my philosophy about the Comics Code. (Here I go again, inviting controversy.)
First, I believe in the spirit of the Comics Code. Self-regulation is always preferable to outside regulation. Second, I believe that the Code ought to be revised a little more often than once every 15 or so years in order to keep contemporary. Third, I believe that great stories can be done within the self-imposed restrictions of the Code; one can still do intense, interesting, dramatic stories within its guidlelines (though admittedly, you be be intenser and more graphically explicit without them). Fourth, I believe that comics characters who were created as Code-abiding characters should never have non-Code-approved adventures, because it is both misleading to the general public's perception of the nature of the character ("Is he fit for the general public or not?") and it is disruptive to the integrity of the character's own history. ("Oh, that? That happened in an adventure that you're not allowed to read yet.") Fifth, I believe that the Code should be more specific, and less open to interpretation, so that if a severed finger is wrong to depict in one context, it is wrong in every context. When the guidelines are too flexible, what guidance is there in them? Sixth, I'm glad there are non-Code-approved outlets for creators who want to create work for specialized audiences (our Epic line, for instance). Now if a writer conceives a story inappropriate for a general audience, s/he can still do it (provided it does not involve a Code character).
So now you know my views. Tell me yours.
Well, I walked blithely into the Den of Controversy again. In this space a few months back I took on the topic of "Revamping Legends" and I compared and contrasted what I felt were the divergent policies of the two big companies who had characters that have been around for several decades. I concluded with what I thought was prety self-evident, that DC believed in wholesale revamping of the legends of their long-running characters (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc.) while Marvel took a more conservative, continuous approach. I thought I had taken pains to present DC's approach as no less valid than Marvel's, but judging by some of the mail I've received, some of you readers believe I was indulging in unfair trashing of the competition. So here's where I try to defend all previous statements (and probably wind up fanning the flames of controversy further).
First, a number of you opined that Marvel revamped the legends of its characters just as much as DC and we just did it more sneakily or something. My own recent replacement of Steve Rogers as Captain America was cited by several as just as big a revamping as anything DC did. I disagree. Maybe I should have defined my terms in my original essay a bit better. By "revamping", I mean making significant alterations; by "legend" I mean the origins and history of a character. When I had Steve Rogers replaced as Cap, I indeed revamped the current status quo of the series, but I didn't in the least invalidate the origins or previous adventures of Captain America. That is to say, I didn't revamp his legend. Someone else asserted that Marvel has made sneaky alterations in the origins of various characters, for instance, in the Fantastic Four's origin, the goal of Reed Richards' rocket project was originally stated to be the stars, and later accounts (also written by the original scripter Stan Lee) referred to it as a moon jaunt. I submit to you that the revising of minor details does not constitute a revamping of a legend.
Second, a number of you took me to task for my pro-Marvel bias and my general arrogance in stating my opinions. My statement "Yes, it's true, Marvelites, there are folks out there who say, 'Make Mine DC'" was especially singled out for its obnoxiousness. Okay, I now know that facetiousness does not come off in print. I can't believe that anyone needed to be told there really are DC fans. If DC had no fans, it would be out of business. I was trying to make a little play on the old "Make Mine Marvel" slogan. Okay, so it was a bit flippant for inclusion in this otherwise deadly serious discourse (yikes, I did it again-- folks, this sentence has a smidgen of facetiousness in it, sorry). Arrogance aside, how about this pro-Marvel bias? Guilty as charged! If I didn't think Marvel's product was superior to everyone else's, I'd be hypocrite to work here. I like Marvel, I like the people who work for Marvel, and I like the books we do-- no, not all-- but a great proportion of our product line than I like of anyone else's. So does that make me a Marvel Zombie (which I think is defined as a person who only buys and reads Marvel and thinks all other comics are crap just because they're not published by Marvel)? I don't think so. I get DC and Eclipse comics free (a publisher's exchange program) but if I didn't know I'd be shelling out my hard-earned cash for some of their books. Sometimes I can't wait till I get my free bundle and buy selected books off the stands. While I think Marvel is the best, I recognize quality (or at least books that appeal to my weird tastes) no matter who publishes it.
To sum up this defense, I just want to say that I still perceive different publishing philosophies between Marvel and DC. I'm not saying which is better. That's for you readers to decide. I will say which I prefer, and in fact just did.
Why am I doing this? Why do I write three or four of these columns a month? Do I write these columns out of some over inflated sense of ego-- as if what I have to say is so darn important that it's worth eating up a third of my letters page space? Well, I do have things to say-- that should be obvious-- and obviously I think they're worth obliterating 1/3 of this page for. But, is it purely ego? I don't know. I can think of a number of egotistical things to do that wouldn't involve as much thought or work as writing this column.
I guess I write it because I'm a frustrated educator (my dad was a teacher and it must have rubbed off on me a bit). I get a certain pleasure of out explaining things, imparting information, and sharing ideas about subjects I know and like. And yes, letting my opinions be known, as well. I'm hardly an objective writer-- I admit it. This column probably has two opinions for every fact presented. Of course, I'm as entitled to my opinions as anyone else is to his. The difference is that my opinions get to go in magazines with circulations of several hundred thousand.
Sometimes a few of those several hundred thousand potential readers (I can't be sure that just because my they bought the book, they're reading my column) write in to respond to my Remarks. Some say they liked what I wrote, other say they didn't. I would not be truthful if I didn't say that it disturbs me to read negative reactions to my writing; while I know that everyone is different and can't love and approve of everything I write, I can never deny that everyone is entitled to his own reaction.
The major thrust of criticism I get is that I come off like a smug, arrogant, know-it-all. I don't think I am one, but if that's how someone thinks I come off, that's how I come off to him. Any writing I do is bound to have an underlying sense of "I'm an editor and you're not, so my opinion counts more than yours." But, deep down, (as Howard Mackie can attest) I don't think I'm better than anyone. I just think that I have insights afforded me by my experiences and position here in the comics biz. I'm not the only one with insight-- I'm just the guy whose insights are shoved in your face at least three times any given month. (I have this weird fantasy where all my fellow editors are forced to express their opinions to you in this manner in all their books-- then you readers could see how moderate and reasonable my opinions are compared to some!) Maybe I should spend some more time polishing my first-draft prose-- sand off some of the hard edges of my crusty writing persona? Nah, I think I'm more honest this way.
So why do I write this column? I guess because I want to be known as someone who likes his job...enjoys sharing with his readers...someone who talks straight and is willing to tackle the tough subjects. I offer them up to you, my reading public, so that you might learn something-- even if what you learn is "This editor is a jerk." Keep letting me know what you think, people, good or bad.