Good books’ bad flaws

by

Comic book writing isn’t an exact science. You can be one of the best in the business and still suffer from annoying tendencies every now and then. Even among my favorite books, I’ve noticed some recurring weaknesses. How big of a deal those weaknesses are tend to be relative to each reader. For instance, I grew to absolutely hate Brian Michael Bendis’ writing because of his incredibly slow pacing, redundancies, simplistic characterizations, and over-reliance on certain characters and on deus ex machinas. But judging from Bendis’ enduring popularity, others view those as mere speedbumps in otherwise good storytelling. Meanwhile, Peter David’s tendency to sometimes needlessly inject sex into stories can probably disrupt his writing for some, but with the exception of his old Captain Marvel title (where the random sex really did go overboard sometimes), it hasn’t interfered with his stories for me.

So here is a look at some flaws I’ve noticed popping up. Finding a weakness in a weak book is easy, but these are all ones in titles that are nevertheless mostly enjoyable. Most of these are more on the minor side, but some threaten to become bigger and more disruptive if not reined in.

Captain America by Ed Brubaker

*James’ “Fuck everyone but meeeeee!!” method of superheroing

Bucky has grown into his own as Captain America, complete with the fact that no one calls him Bucky anymore. But though James has a strong supporting cast of girlfriend Black Widow and bffs Falcon and Steve Rogers, he remains intent on going it alone whenever possible, even when it makes no sense. To some degree, you can’t entirely blame him; his supporting cast, despite being highly accomplished heroes, always gets the shit beaten out of them in this book — Falcon has been particularly prone to a frequent beating. And yet, Brubaker has gone too far. If he wants James to be a lone gun, so be it; plenty of solo titles go that route. But if you’re going to give him a supporting cast, especially that cast, don’t always have them be losers.

Which brings us to James’ stubborn determination to do everything himself. Whether it was Zemo or the new Red Skull, he refuses to trust the people who are essentially his teammates. The most recent issue was the worst example. Cap risks a lifetime in prison or even the death penalty rather than trusting Steve Rogers — the most accomplished hero, like, ever — to take care of a villain without him. This is becoming a bigger flaw, one that’s starting to hurt the book a little bit, imo.

*Everyone is a Neo-Nazi

I’ve lost track of how many times Brubaker’s Caps have fought random Nazi thugs, but it’s a lot. Sometimes, they’re the principal villains in a story, but usually, Cap and friends are just busting up a random group of Nazis or beating up Nazis for information. Are there really that many Neo-Nazis in New York these days? I get that it’s the classic Cap villain group, but branching out is OK.

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Green Lantern by Geoff Johns

*History is always changing

This has been most fans’ chief complaint against Johns for years now. For me, the retcons are really the only complaint in a run that could nevertheless go down among the all-time greatest. What really bugs me though is that so many of his changes have been unnecessary. His latest retcon victim, Krona, illustrates again that Johns tends to pick the easy way out — retelling a story and changing whatever he sees fit — rather than the harder, but often more gratifying, method of working within an old story. I think we’re only about a year away from a big reveal that Hal Jordan’s REAL origin is that he’s Sinestro’s son and ohbytheway, the Guardians were the real reason Coast City got destroyed. Come on. Enough.

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Justice League: Generation Lost by Judd Winick

*Too many death fake-outs

I feel for Judd Winick. He’s on a biweekly schedule, and because of DC’s bigger picture scheme, he had to drag out his central conflict for two dozen issues without becoming boring or redundant. We’re now reaching the end of the book, and despite all that, he turned it into one of the best reads on the market. I love it; where Brightest Day has failed, this book has succeeded. But if I had one complaint, it would be the number of times he’s given a character a seemingly fatal wound, only to have him/her miraculously recover thanks to some deus ex machina. The most recent one was the first to kinda cross a line for me, even though I did prefer the ultimate outcome. (Spoilers: Blue Beetle got shot in the head by Max, was pronounced dead, mourned by his teammates, only to be revealed to have been saved by his armor keeping the bullet from reaching his head — no explanation is given for why, then, we see blood splatter out the other side when he’s shot. But oh well, I didn’t want to see another BB die.)

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Fables by Bill Willingham

Just kidding. This book has no flaws, except for the fact that it only comes out once per month.

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Red Robin by Fabian Nicieza

*Not every new character needs to be a potential love interest

Fabian Nicieza has done a nice job of maintaining the quality Christopher Yost established on this book, but if I had one small complaint, it would be the number of hot women in Red Robin’s world. Weird complaint, I know. But in addition to Tam Fox, the established love interest, we’ve seen a few new villains who keep just so happening to be hot chicks with whom Tim has significant sexual tension. I know that’s hardly uncommon in superhero books, but the law of averages would seem to suggest one or two bad guys would pop up without presenting a to-bone-or-not-to-bone dilemma.

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So how about it, readers? Disagree with any of the flaws I’ve listed, or better yet, have some different ones that you’ve noticed in otherwise enjoyable books?

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6 Responses to “Good books’ bad flaws”

  1. gokitalo Says:

    Meanwhile, Peter David’s tendency to sometimes needlessly inject sex into stories

    Wow, really? I didn’t know people thought this was a tic of his. I thought you were going to bring up the humor!

    I haven’t been reading Cap, but maybe James’s over-reliance on himself stems from doing all those solo missions as the Winter Soldier. Maybe Brubaker will address his reluctance with being a team player at some point.

    You’re spot on about Johns. I mean, Brubaker’s done this a bit too (Winter Soldier, X-Men: Deadly Genesis), but Geoff’s starting to do this all the time. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if he somehow DOES find a way to make the Guardians indirectly responsible for Coast City (Geoff: “Hmm, Mongul used GREEN bombs to blow up Coast City. That can’t be a coincidence!”). Hal’s supposed to get mad at them over something, right?

    If the Justice League: Generation Lost fakeout involves a certain character who likes to dress like a bug (as a quick highlight over the spoilery part reveals), I’m cool with it. He’s too new a character to disappear so quickly! Although I do plan on reading this thing myself…

    I think Fabian Nicieza has semi-jokingly said in interviews that certain people in Red Robin are out to snatch Tim’s V-card from him. So there you go 😛

  2. davidry214 Says:

    Except for his Hulk, I’m pretty sure every PAD book I’ve ever read has featured needless near-nudity, massive cleavage, or random sex that had nothing to do with the story. Fanboys love boobs, though, so the only time I’ve ever heard a complaint was in Cap Marvel when Marlo and Moondragon randomly decided they were lesbians.

    Hal’s dislike of the guardians has been coming to a head for quite some time now. I hope it’s resolved for good, one way or another, in War of the Green Lanterns (which is off to a pretty good start).

    It’s not that I minded the character not dying, just the need to make us think he/she did or was going to. Every once in a while, it’s fine, but we’ve had four “there’s no way that character survives” moments in the past 10+ issues. Kinda reminds me of parts of Chris Claremont’s original run on Uncanny. He’d get in a funk and keep almost killing someone (usually Colossus).

    Ha, Tim and Tam is only a matter of time. I do like that love interest.

  3. gokitalo Says:

    Batman: “Hmm, why did Tim jam the door shut with this Batarang? And what is that strange music coming from his room?”

  4. davidry214 Says:

    Any flaws you’ve noticed Goki?

  5. gokitalo Says:

    Oh, sure. I mean, pretty much everything you said about Bendis and Johns are spot on. I was just looking at an upcoming preview for Bendis’ Avengers, which has the Watcher showing up, and even though Bendis writes him pretty true to character, his dialogue has those familiar redundancies and repetitions. Bendis also tends to use the word “this” in ways that sound a little awkward for a guy known for his realistic dialogue. “And that is how I know this,” for example, is a phrase a LOT of his characters say once they’ve finished explaining something.

    Let’s see… Millar’s characters use terms like “darling” and “sweetheart” more frequently than the average person. Not to mention those modern day cultural references he loves inserting into his Marvel comics could seriously date his work further down the line. Rucka sometimes gets a little too carried away with military and technological jargon (which becomes pretty problematic when he uses it incorrectly– not common, but it happens). Grant Morrison’s villains, though well-written, can have awfully complicated origins (e.g. Dr. Hurt and Cassandra Nova). Kurt Busiek’s writing (particularly his dialogue) can get a little “old school” when he’s writing in the main Marvel and DC Universes. James Robinson’s post-Starman work sometimes suffers from overly- purple dialogue and inaccurate characterizations.

    Just a few I’ve noticed 😉

  6. davidry214 Says:

    Excellent observations. I especially agree on James Robinson. I’ll have to pay more attention to Millar’s writing, though it’s actually been a while since I’ve read any of his stuff.

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