In the wake of the successful Avengers franchise this summer and Jack Kirby’s heirs losing their lawsuit to Marvel, there exists, whether it’s obvious or not, a campaign at both Marvel and DC to put more emphasis on their ongoing series of corporate properties and less importance on the creators behind them than ever before. Marvel has gotten this down to a science, their event books premeditated by committee and the alleged superstar creators being little more than typists (former editor Jim Shooter called creator credits on a Marvel comic a courtesy. That’s likelier more true than ever now). DC Comics is behind in this, but this summer they look like they could actually take the lead, having finally stepped up their shamelessness in an entertainment era of no shame and diluting one of their strongest books, Watchmen, in an attempt to make it indistinguishable from endless volume schlock like most other DC books.
Then again, there’s the breaking news concerning the increasing likelihood of Marvel publishing Marvelman (which they forced to have renamed Miracleman in the states). Make no mistake: Marvel’s not doing this to publish the lost stories by Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman. They’re looking to make more stories by everyone wanting to “do the character right.” And if it makes money, that’s right enough for Marvel.
The other ongoing challenge these companies have is that of reproducing nostalgia that once came naturally. Twenty years ago, companies could evoke longing for the silver and bronze ages of comics. Now they face the challenge of creating the illusion of it for the nineties. The prime example for this is DC’s attempts to invoke a yearning for Rob Liefeld art and storylines spanning across annuals of multiple comic titles (who doesn’t miss that?), as if they’re going to bring people back into comics with the same things that likely drove most of them away twenty years ago.
Having it’s own intellectual property touched by Moore, Image Comics now attempts to conquer both challenges thanks to its on-again off-again relationship with co-founder Liefeld and his creation Supreme, a character and title of his that languished in limbo since Liefeld’s Awesome Entertainment went under, leaving an unfinished story first begun by Moore. Image was supposed to continue this book years ago, with Robert Kirkman as writer (I even saw pages of finished promotional artwork), which I remember actually looking like a continuation, not the whitewash that Erik Larsen provides to reinstate the character as a property devoid of charm and innovations, interchangeable with any would-be movie property out there.
I question Larsen’s ability as a storyteller. He has a tendency to build concepts and then clear the board when they grow stale to him, or he can’t make them work for long. It’s something akin to a kid who scatters or breaks his toys when he is bored with them. The whole “everything is destroyed in less than 22 pages” routine in issue #64 seems like a waste. Especially now that he’s off the book as of issue #67. More importantly, he’s one issue from finishing without giving us any indication of a logical ending or any idea why he wanted to take over the book in the first place.
Larsen claimed in issue 64’s editorial that he partially wanted to bring the Supreme character back to his original roots as an ultra violent superhero. I don’t know how true his version is to the original books, though the wiki page suggests Larsen might be overstating his case. His Supreme seems more like the ultra violence in (wait for it) Moore’s Marvleman. A funny coincidence that after all that defending of Todd McFarlane during the Neil Gaiman lawsuit over the promised pay of the Marvelman property, he invokes the ultra violence found in Alan Moore and co.’s final Miracleman arc. Funnier that he invokes the idea that enough people missed Liefeld’s original version as justification for destroying a Moore construct, going out of the way to “reset” everything even when Moore had set things up so that a reset could happen without Larsen having to break everything.
When Scott Snyder recently called Moore’s seminal Swamp Thing storyline an “abomination,” what he really meant to say was “inconvenience.” Moore has a tendency to bring stories to logical conclusions. The Swamp Thing was pointless to do anything with for decades because when Moore wrote “The End,” it meant something. That’s a hindrance when working in the mainstream where everything needs to be reset more and more frequently. Characters that could become movie and television properties cannot be beholden to well told stories by authors of all things.
Supreme was never Swamp Thing, but it was charming enough to make Larsen’s wet work pointless. That said, here is nothing legally wrong with Larsen’s work on Supreme. As far as moral implications, given the efforts of DC comics and other industry professionals to wipe out Moore’s reputation and paint him as an eccentric with overrated talent, Larsen’s latest contribution to this, while artistically disappointing, is barely noteworthy otherwise. If Watchmen was the foundation of a historical house that got raided and burned to the ground in a riot, Larsen would be like a young scavenger running away with a burnt mailbox. It would be pointless stop him, but no should try to applaud him either.