Max Landis on The Death of Superman

The Death and Return of Superman is one of those things that Steve and I have always differed on. Steve read it in the original issues as a kid (ie how you’re supposed to read it) and thought it was awesome. I read it in my twenties in a public library in Gravesend while local children threw rocks at the windows (ie how you’re not supposed to read anything) and was somewhat less enthused. There’s a good chance that some of you may not have read it at all but thankfully there is a man swooping to the rescue to fill you in on what the event was all about. It’s not Superman, it’s Max Landis.

As well as being the son of movie legend, John Landis, Max Landis is rapidly becoming something of a household name in his own right. With his script for the movie Chronicle earning him a mountain of praise from critics and audiences alike, it’s only a matter of time before he joins the likes of Duncan Jones in the ranks of famous children who have stepped well out of the shadow of their fathers.

First though, Max has a few things he wants to get straightened out and top of his list is ensuring that nobody forgets about DC Comics’ attempt to boost sales by killing off everybody’s Kryptonian. He does this with the help of Elijah Wood, Mandy Moore, Simon Pegg, a bottle of whiskey and some very funny Charlie Brooker esque ranting.

Enjoy

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Practitioners 47: Alan Moore (Part 2)

Having conquered (and irritated) the British comic book industry with his time on 2000AD, Captain Britain and Warrior, Alan Moore was about to cross the Atlantic. DC Editor Len Wein offered him a place in the DC lineup – though reserved judgment carefully and only offered a minor, formulaic, failing title.

Swamp Thing was a stereotypical monster title quite a distance from the mainstream legends of DC. Whether Wein offered it as a low priority title that mattered little if Moore failed or saw the potential in Moore’s alternative and original work in the UK, but nevertheless – few could’ve anticipated the work produced. It remains difficult to know if it is because of Moore’s current reputation retrospectively illuminating old work through association or if the Swamp Thing under Moore really represents timeless writing but along with artists Stephen R. Bissette, Rick Veitch and John Totleben, Moore revolutionised the character. Taking advantage of the low importance of the title, Moore created beautifully experimental storylines addressing environmental and social issues alongside the horror and fantasy, supported further still with research on Louisiana – where the storyline was set.

Moore recognises comic books as a as a mature medium – potentially as influential, challenging and intellectually stimulating as books, theatre, films or television – when at their best. He recognises that there is no limitation to the content that can be applied to any character or situation, whether they wear a spandex jumpsuit or a psychic formation of roots and swamp vegetation with regenerative powers. He elevated the subject matter and the characters and trusts his reader’s intelligence as any writer should. Through Moore’s writing it becomes clear that the base material is not limited in its scope to be elevated and broadened to meet any audience or handle content thought previously beyond it’s remit. In short, Moore fails to recognise limitations. A comic book page is as alive to him as a page of prose, poetry or a painting in a gallery. In turn this elevated him above the rest of his fellow writers.

Using Swamp Thing as an experimental platform to revive many of DC’s neglected magical or supernatural characters, Moore resurrected a number of figures to greater status that even after 3 decades have not seen them recede back into the minor leagues, including the Spectre, the Demon, the Phantom Stranger and Deadman. One such figure was introduced by Moore. John Constatine is a working class magician based visually on the musician Sting, who later became the central character in Hellblazer, DC imprint Vertigo’s longest running title. From January 1984 to September 1987, from issue 20 to 64, Moore guided Swamp Thing to critical and commercial success. Thanks to Wein’s successes with the first UK invasion – featuring Moore and his soon-to-be-counterpart artist Brian Bolland, the doors were beginning to open for UK and European artists such as Grant Morrison, Jamie Delano, Peter Milligan and Neil Gaiman to continue in the same vein. Many were influenced directly by Moore and continued the tradition of brave and successful rethinks of existing titles – such as Morrison’s run on DC’s Animal Man some years later. These titles formed the foundation s for Vertigo comics.

Moore’s two-issue run on Vigilante furthered his credibility as a brave, alternative and unrestrictive writer willing to look at difficult and hard hitting stories. The central figure, Vigilante is rendered sidelined and shocked as a father, having abused his daughter, pursues her until he is chewed up in the back wheels of a vengeful young woman’s car. The daughter, having lost her Mother is traumatised and beside herself at the loss of her Father, offering a difficult, challenging and controversial conclusion more recognisable as literary conventions than the black and white moralism of comics.

Eventually, after consistent successes, Moore was offered some of DC’s most prominent characters, starting with Superman, entitled For the Man Who Has Everything, illustrated by Dave Gibbons, in which Batman, Robin and Wonder Woman arrive at the Fortress of Solitude to discover Superman overwhelmed by a plant that offers up his wildest dreams. Moore followed this up with Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? – effectively the first example of A Death of Superman storyline – some 8 years before it was thought up by Jurgens and co, designed as the last Superman story in the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths DC Universe and illustrated by Curt Swain. The final fates of Brainiac, Lex Luthor, Clark Kent, Superman and Lois Lane are decided, handled masterfully and with a typically deft touch by Moore.

In 1988 came a Batman story that helped redefine the character along with other titles such as Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One but was cited as ‘a rare example of a Moore story where the art is better than the writing.’ This was The Killing Joke, a script developed based on artist Brian Bolland’s idea of developing a creation story for the Joker. Escaped from Arkham Asylum, The Joker shoots Barbara Gordon through the stomach, crippling her and then parades photos of her broken body, naked, lying in glass to her Father as part of a twisted fairground ride in a bid to drive him mad. It fails. However, while opinion differs on the effectiveness of the writing – a history for DC’s most famous villain was created, a second tier character was offered a chance to define herself as a central character as Oracle in following years and Batman was darkened and hardened further into the easily recognisable figure we know today. However Moore acknowledges it as not his greatest writing and upset Bolland by referring it to ‘just another Batman story.’ However, Moore had offered Bolland a platform on which to create a defining career project. He’d once again created a wave of success at an apparent low point in his own career. Something that illustrates the power of Moore’s writing and the influence of his involvement.

A set of panels from Tales of the Black Freighter - a comic being read by a character in Watchmen

Another artist gained global fame thanks to Moore’s writing. Dave Gibbons was assigned to a limited series known as the Watchmen, on which Moore asked him to maintain a consistent three tier, 9 panel layout. Collected as trade paperback in 1987, Watchmen is a seminal work and mandatory reading in understanding the history of comic books, cementing Moore’s reputation. A Cold War mystery in which the shadow of Nuclear War threatens the world. The heroes that are caught up in this escalating crisis either work for the U.S. government or are outlawed, all of whom are motivated to heroism by their various psychological hang ups. Using political and social climate to define the history and current state and status of the individual heroes it dealt with subjects like moralism, politicised ethics, loneliness, isolationism, mental illness, sickness, economics and capitalism among others seamlessly and seemingly effortlessly, interlacing the fates of characters defined by templates of central DC characters, but developed well beyond their original’s plotlines. Gibbons met Moore’s recommendations beautifully, allowing his vision to come to life. Watchmen is non-linear and told from multiple point of view, and includes formal experiments such as the symmetrical design of issue 5 ‘Fearful Symmetry’ in which the last page is a near mirror image of the first, the second to last the second and so on. Dr Manhattan, a character unrestrained by the limitations of the laws of physics allowed Moore to investigate the implications to free will if the constraints of linear human perception were removed. His most famous character, Rorschach, named after the basic visual psychological test sets the tone perhaps most effectively, bemoaning, pessimistically, a world entirely lost – to him most specifically. Isolated and increasingly unhinged and appearing early in the book as a seemingly inconsequential background figure, Rorschach represents most prominently the outsider aspect that all of the characters suffer from. A masterpiece, it is seen as Moore’s best work and the only comic book ever to win the literary Hugo Award, in a one-time category of Best Other Form. It is widely regarded as the best comic book ever written. Released around the same time as Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez’s Love and Rockets it has been seen as part of a movement in mainstream comic books of the time to reach out to adult audiences. Breifly, Moore became a minor celebrity, causing him, typically, to withdraw from the public eye and refuse to attend conventions. This is unsurprising perhaps as he was said to have been followed into the toilet by overzealous autograph hunters at the UKCAC.

Moore proposed a series named Twilight of the Superheroes in 1987, the title a twist on Richard Wagner’s opera ‘Twilight of the Gods’. A series set in a future DC Universe, ruled by Superhumna dynasties, including the House of Steel (watched over by Superman and Wonderwoman) and the House of Thunder (presided over by the Marvel family). About to combine in a dynastic marriage, a move that could threaten world freedoms, several characters, including John Constatine, attempt to stop them and save the world from the power of the superheroes. Perhaps because the proposition would reinstate the many worlds already eliminated in the Crisis on Infinite Earths it never saw the light of day, though DC retains rights to its contents. Many similar projects have appeared since, Mark Waid and Alex Ross of the most prominent of these, Kingdom Come, admitting to having read the notes but insisting that any similarity was purely coincidental and unintended.

Again Moore’s relationship with DC had deteriorated over rights as Moore and Gibbons were paid no royalties for a Watchmen spin-off badge set as DC defined them as ‘promotional items’. Reportedly, and rather appallingly, Moore and Gibbons earned only 2% of the profits earned by DC from Watchmen. Completing V for Vendetta for DC, which they had already begun publishing, Moore slung his bag back over his shoulder and made his way out into the cold wastes and warm embrace of independent comic writing.

Part 3 – Tuesday, 3rd December 2012

Practitioners 40: Dan Jurgens

Now, let’s make this clear. Dan Jurgens killed Superman. There were others involved of course, talented individuals -each with their own individual styles, across the four titkes of the time – most of whom will appear here. The editorial team was monitoring the whole process as well – however, one man wrote and illustrated the moment the man of Steel and his mysterious opponent, Doomsday, struck each other for the last time, shattering the front of the Daily Planet in the heart of a decimated metropolis. He captured the two characters hitting the street and the shocked reaction of the surrounding onlookers. Jurgens presented a moment a determined and fatalistic Superman embraced a desperate and frightened Lois Lane, shrouded in steam and smoke before the final, tumultuous cataclysm. Jurgens was responsible for all of the editions of Superman, the most popular of the four titles at the time (the others being Superman: Man of Steel, Adventures of Superman and Action Comics) and a Justice League of America issue in the story arc in which Doomsday took apart the current members. In the intervening time, the Death of Superman has become an irrelevancy – not least because of his return a year later – and even a joke but at the time the images of Superman’s cloak ripped and torn on a post in the heart of Metropolis made world news. At the centre of the story was the writing and assured artwork of Dan Jurgens.

Dan Jurgens, born June 27, 1959 is an American comic book writer and artist with a clear, concise and uncomplicated style that has earned him a reputation as a safe pair of hands. He is best known for creating Booster Gold (present in the JLA taken apart by Doomsday in ’93) and his lengthy runs on the Superman titles Adventures of Superman and Superman (Vol.2). In spite of this notable writing and artistic accolades, making news globally with the death of arguably the most iconic hero in comics, he appeared in books that , perhaps unsurprisingly, never reached the same level of popularity and critical acclaim. These included The Sensational Spider-man, Captain America, Thor (Vol 2), Justice League America, Metal Men (Limited Series), DC Crossover Zero Hour, Tomb Raider. Aquaman and the creator of DC Comics’ imprint Tangent.

Jurgen’s started out in comic books for DC Comics on Warlord 63 following a recommendation from Warlord series creator Mike Grell who was deeply impressed by Jurgens’ work after being presented with his portfolio at a convention. He began, naturally, as an artist for the Sun Devils limited series from 1984-1985 with Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas. Jurgens’ took on a writing role as he scripted from Conway’s plots and took over the writing duties fully within 2 months (artist for issue 8, writer/artist by issue 10).

His successes in his early career were with DC – Jurgens is credited with creating Booster Gold, who became a member of the Justice League, whom Jurgens wrote and drew with the introduction of Doomsday in his rampage to reach Gotham City. As to who created Doomsday, this remains a mystery. He has enjoyed successes with other companies, namely Dark Horse – with Superman vs Alien – and Sensational Spider-man during the Ben Reilly period with Marvel.

But it was with DC that Jurgens proved most notably to be a safe hand. He pencilled and wrote the wide scale Zero Hour crossover in the mid nineties which incorporated all of the DC Universe in a rarely coherent and accesable storyline that tied the threads of a faily convoluted universe together well enough for laymen to understand what was going on – something perhaps only recently valued by DC with the recent title relaunches. This is perhaps Jurgen’s greatest strength. His style assured and uincomplicated, Jurgens presents very clerly the events being portrayed in any series he involves himself in. A less stylistic artist than most, it can be arged he lacks flair which is perhaps why he hasn’t been hailed in the same way as others. But his line work and naturalistic style is as distinct and effective as George Perez and more so than old hands like Jerry Ordway yet fresh and clear. Relatively timeless, it is often difficult to place Jurgen’s work into a particular period if you are unfamiliar with the storyline he is working on. It is a hard case to push to place Jurgens among legends but he is the professional Practitioner, hard working and diligent, efficient and clear – and perhaps unusually – unselfish in his style. His is a page of creative draftmanship, and his pride is in the simple imparting of feelings, ideas and story – setting him apart from the many peers of his that arew notable for their distinct style. Jurgens is a legend because he appears not to be. His stories live on in legend where his name, perhaps, does not. Surely, when a true artist is pressed that is the value of his work and for me, it is something that Jurgens represents. Unsurprisingly, without even trying.