Monday, July 26, 2010

Fan Ramblings – Rotating Writers

I’m tired of rotating writing teams. These days it seems as though many ongoing titles are plagued by the fact that they can’t keep a consistent writer. As a writer myself (unpublished), not of comics but fictional prose, I know that it takes some time to find your character’s voices. With fiction I can draft a lot and change things before anyone ever reads it. But with periodicals the deadlines are quicker and you are dealing with characters that you did not create. Especially with team books, it’s going to take a while to figure out all your players. You have to balance the main characters and figure out the relations to their supporting cast and enemies. Some of these relationships are very easy, but others are complex and will take some time to get just right. Even if there are plenty of resources to help the writer it takes practice to get the voices out on the page convincingly.

Probably my biggest pet-peeve with changing writers is the loose story ends. Often a writer has some “big plan” in mind when they start a book, some big reveal they are working toward, a relationship they are building for a specific reason, or hints and teases at something bigger down the road. And then for whatever reason the writer goes away. It seems like nine times out of ten the new writer won’t even look at what was going on before. They have their ideas, which may not mesh well with where the story was going or even recent growths in characters. Do writers not talk to each other?

A big example of this that is eating at me right now is the mystery Judd Winick ended his Batman run with. Dick Grayson found something about an old case, and possibly about his parents’ deaths, that Bruce was hiding from him. Winick was the regular writer at the time, and took a break for Tony Daniel to do an arc. The whole time I was reading that arc I realized that I cared less about who Black Mask was and more about what was on that flash drive. I couldn’t wait for Winick to come back and continue that story. But then Winick started writing JL Generations Lost and Daniels was upgraded to the regular writer. I will honestly be shocked if anything comes of that flash drive now. It will probably just be a loose end that hangs around in the air.

I don’t know if Winick doesn’t want to tell Daniels about it because he figures he’ll be back on Batman at some point and can tell the story himself or if he did tell Daniels about it and Daniels doesn’t want to tell that story. I’m sure those aren’t the only two options either. But I feel that it’s hurting the book. Instead of focusing on the story at hand I’m wondering about the story they aren’t telling.

When the Batwoman ongoing hits the shelves it won’t have Greg Rucka’s name attached because he’s focusing on his creator owned work at the moment. He had a three issue arc planned out to explain the origins of Alice, a new enemy introduced in his recent Detective Comics run. This was supposed to be the end of his Detective Comics run, but for whatever reason he didn’t do it. Now I KNOW that this story won’t be picked up by the Batwoman ongoing because in an interview JH Williams III said that its Rucka’s story and he thinks Rucka should be the one to tell it. I understand that thought as a creator, but as a fan it just makes me mad. That’s a highly interesting storyline that I really want to know about. And now we may never get to see it. By the time Rucka gets back to DC someone else may have messed with Alice making the origin he planned when he created her not fit anymore. At the very least it will have been so long that fans may not care about Alice any more. The buzz is hot right now and it seems a shame not to take advantage of it.

Chris Yost has recently left Red Robin. I’m not too fazed by this particular case for three reasons. First is that the major storyline he had going seems to have ended. Since he seemed to know he was leaving, he had time to wrap things up. Second is that the writer taking over is Fabien Nicieza who was writing the Robin series before it was cancelled for Battle for the Cowl. Since this writer already knows and loves the character I feel a little less apprehensive about the change. But third, and most importantly, I’m not that worried about it because I know that Yost and Nicieza have talked. In an interview with Yost he mentions talking with Nicieza about the things that were still up in the air. Just knowing that makes me feel like things won’t be ignored. Clearly egos didn’t get in the way of these two talking about the book and the character they both love. And even if Nicieza doesn’t do things the way Yost would have at least he should be touching on these things rather than ignoring them.

But since Nicieza is taking over Red Robin he’s dropping Azrael, a book he’s been on since it started. This one bothers me in particular because the very first issue of Azrael showed a future scene with him DEAD. At the time I thought it was a ballsy move, because if the readers know the character is going to die then as a writer you’d better make it damn interesting for the reader in the meantime so when he dies it actually means something. It just seemed like Nicieza had a plan to get him to that point, but now that could all go out the window. Maybe David Hine knows where the story was going, but I’m worried that they are going to try to stretch it out. The sales aren’t great either, which makes me wonder why they even bothered to replace Nicieza. Why not just let him finish the book with an ending that would be satisfying to those of us who were reading it? I won’t judge yet; I like some of Hine’s other stuff, but my view on the whole situation is rather pessimistic.

Most of the time I dread a writer shift. I know many people see it as a jumping off point for a book. I think a lot of those people follow writers more than they follow characters, but I too have dropped a book at a writer change. I dropped Outsiders when Dan Didio took over. I picked up the book because it was tied to the Batman universe after Battle for the Cowl and because I liked Tomasi’s work on Nightwing. The solicits after he left the book seemed to take the team away from the Batbooks. And I was frustrated because I felt that most of the upcoming teasers from Origins and Omens would never happen (honestly, did they hold true for any book?). I don’t hate Dan Didio as a writer or anything (although I am still of the opinion that editors shouldn’t be writing anything more than a mini here and there. If you want to be a writer, quit being an editor and be a writer like Tomasi did. If you are an editor you should be focusing on editing /end rant).

I suppose the other thing that chased me away from Outsiders is a common problem that plagues team books (I’m looking at you Teen Titans). Every time a new writer comes on board we have to have a new team lineup (normally with the tagline of a “bold new direction”). I HATE this. I’m buying the book because I like the characters that are in it. If you want to add one or two new characters during your run that’s alright. I don’t mind meeting new faces, and it’s a team after all. And if you are going to have someone leave, that’s okay too, but it better damn well feel organic to the character and not just put them on a bus because you don’t feel like writing them.

Teams work because the members trust each other, know each other, and are able to depend on each other. The “bold new direction” the books always claim to have often works out the same way: the team DOESN’T know each other and so they don’t trust each other and so they get their asses kicked and fight a lot until they can learn to be a team. This can be a good story. However, it is only a good story when it doesn’t keep happening every few years (or months in some cases…). Because the end result of this kind of story should be the team functioning as, you know, a team. Then you can get back to telling real stories about bad guys and how the good guys stop them. It seems like writers don’t remember how to do that lately. It seems like it’s easier to tell the “team doesn’t trust each other” story than the “team working well together playing off of each other’s nuances and getting the tough job done” story.

As I was thinking about this, I remembered another loose end that never got tied up. In the Nightwing comic there was an arc in which Nightwing was targeted by a braces wearing assassin who was rather obsessed with his iPod. He kicked Nightwing’s ass and buried him alive (we’ll ignore the fact that shooting or stabbing him would have been much more effective, and he would have had proof to show who ever hired him). Anyway, Nightwing digs himself out of the grave and survives. As far as I remember there was maybe one more scene with the mysterious assassin (I don’t think he never got a name or even a clear shot of his face) finding out that Nightwing was still alive. And then the writer changed and this was never brought up again. This feels like a wasted plot. He was established as a real threat to Nightwing and honestly, what assassin wouldn’t go to correct their mistake. It’s a matter of professionalism. And it would ruin your rep. It’s always been something I wished they would pick back up, mostly because I want to see Nightwing kick his ass this time around.

I understand that things come up and sometimes can’t go as planned. Someone who had planned to be on a book for a while has some important personal issues and needs the time away or just can’t handle the schedule they are on. Sometimes company politics get in the way and writers leave for long periods of time. Sometimes writers get a better offer. However, it happens way too often to be excusable and there has to be something that DC can do about this. I simply refuse to believe that this is an unfixable problem. Two of the bestselling books right now are Green Lantern and Batman and Robin. Geoff Johns has been on Green Lantern for a good chunk of time and has been able to develop huge stories (and thankfully for fans of the book, has no plans of leaving). Grant Morrison has been on Batman for several years now and is working on the newest chapter of his ongoing epicness. This is what happens when you give writers a chance to grow a title and work with it over time. This is how you keep fans reading a series and excited about what is to come. When it comes to writers I and many fans appreciate some consistency. Even if they don’t click at first, give them a little time to work it all out.

I could continue rambling about the importance of consistent art on a book, but I think this one has gone on long enough. I can’t be the only one this bothers. Share your thoughts below!

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