Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Comics You Should Be Talking About For March 8, 2006: Thunderbolts 100 and Teen Titans 33

I can’t coax enough material out of one of these for a full entry, but I can get one out of both.

Let’s start with Thunderbolts. Those of you who’ve been paying attention to the successive numbering may have noticed that last month’s issue was #18. And also that there was a “New” in the title. What happened? Well, if you look at all the issues of New Thunderbolts to date, you’ll see, next to the issue number, a second, higher number in grey. That corresponds to the issue number that issue would have if it had simply continued from the numbering of the previous Thunderbolts series (which ended with 81, after a wholesale revamp beginning with issue 76 that was, in terms of reader reaction, an utter disaster). 81 issues of Thunderbolts plus 19 issues of New Thunderbolts equals 100.

This marketing tactic (that’s what it is, let’s not fool ourselves) has gained note in the last few years, as Marvel has returned certain relaunched series to their old numbering as they have hit “woulda been” milestones. Fanstastic Four and Amazing Spider-Man led the way, followed by Avengers (although it was cancelled four issues later to be relaunched as New Avengers. I always thought that was dirty pool; Captain America and Iron Man were relaunched about the same time, but didn’t receive the retronumbering treatment, mostly because a convenient milestone wasn’t in sight).

Since the practice began (or rather, was reintroduced; this has been done with other series in the past, just never ones with this high a profile), debate has raged throughout fandom as to which titles deserve this treatment. The aforementioned Captain America and Iron Man, along with Hulk and Thor, all passed issue 500 before Marvel started the practice, and Hulk may be pushing 600. On the other side, the reshuffling of the Superman titles has led some to question whether the 220-odd issues of Superman Vol. 2 should “count” when Adventures of Superman (which carries the numbering from Superman Vol. 1) is switched to Superman this month. The upcoming Justice League of America 1 would, using some interesting accounting, qualify as the 500th JLA comic, and some have lobbied for its numbering to be restored. The recent 15th issue of Legion of Super-Heroes took a jab at this practice on the cover, with the character Blok (himself a Legionnaire who failed to survive the 1994 continuity reboot) quipping, “Shouldn’t that say 568?”

Well, should it? The strongest argument for reassuming the “proper” numbering is tradition, but I’ve always felt that tradition is never in and of itself a good reason to do anything. And where do we draw the line in what “deserves” retronumbering? Wolverine was cancelled and relaunched a few issues shy of 200; is that enough? Ka-Zar and Black Panther have both had numerous series, none of which got within reaching distance of the triple digits, yet if you add them all together, the current Panther series is due a milestone within the next couple years. Captain America is on issue 15 or 16 of volume 5; should it switch over when the old numbering hits 600? And if so, do we count the old Timely Captain America Comics series? And if we count that, do we count the handful of issues where it was Captain America’s Weird Tales, or the brief ‘50s revival?

What are the rules here? That’s not an easy question to answer, and in fact it avoids the real facts of the issue. Marvel didn’t retronumber FF, ASM, Avengers, or Thunderbolts out of any sense of respect for their long legacy; it did so because it thought jumping up to issue x00 would invigorate interest and sell more copies. As I said, let’s not delude ourselves; any issue of any comic is numbered what it is because someone decided money could be had. If the companies could make every issue #1, they would (and I’d like to see someone try; Evan Dorkin’s Milk and Cheese went three issues without an issue 2, but I’d like to see someone do it for the long haul).

On to Teen Titans, which is a much less confusing issue: I like the fill-in artist more than the regular artist (who’s actually been pretty sucky at meeting his “regular” deadlines). Todd Nauck, whom you may know from Teen Titans Go!, the Image series Wildguard, and the precursor to the current Titans series, Young Justice, is the fill-in artist, as he was last month, and the month before (that time only on the Captain Carrot sequences spliced throughout the issue). The ostensible regular artist is Tony Daniel, who has been keeping up with covers, but hasn’t established a major presence on the book since coming on at issue 24 (He drew 24-26, then was replaced by Rob Liefeld for two issues, then returned for 29-31, then left again for 32 and 33). Daniel is supposed to take the full reins beginning with issue 34, shipping later this month as the book’s first “One Year Later” issue, but I have to say, I’m not looking forward to his debut. This is if he keeps a regular schedule; he was supposed to draw issues 29-33 in their entirety, instead of just covers.

But let’s leave aside the deadline hassles, which may be due to Infinite Crisis shuffling, and get to the man’s style. He doesn’t have much of one; the facial structure has shades of Liefeld, but that’s as far as the similarities go there, as his figures are, if not standout, then at least well-proportioned. He has little sense of panel-to-panel or page-to-page storytelling; I recall several instances during “The Insiders” when I had to repeatedly re-read a section to figure out what was going on. Besides that, his work has very little energy; it looks as if he simply drew a picture of what he was told to draw, but didn’t bother to instill any life in it.

Compare this with Nauck, who has been developing his style ever since the Young Justice days.* His work has definite energy, and his figures are both distinct and believable. Consider the scenes in this issue where Nightwing glides through the air on his old costume’s glider wings; there’s weight and motion in those drawings. Most of Daniel’s figures in flight look like Colorforms suspended on the background, with no real place in their surroundings. He’s, at this stage in his career, a very good pinup artist, but a very poor draftsman.

I understand that DC considers Titans a “tryout” book, one where neophyte artists can hone their chops and evolve their styles under the guidance of one of the company’s top writers. That’s all well and good, but it presupposes that one has a style to begin with. Daniel doesn’t, and thus has several leagues to go before he’s ready even for a lowball assignment. And that, along with the numbering thing, is something you should be talking about.


*I’ll freely admit that my preference for Nauck over Daniel may be in large part due to my YJ fanboyism; I loved the heck out of that series, and judge renditions of these characters by how they were portrayed in that comic. But, I will note, previous artists Mike McKone and Tom Grummet managed to deviate from Nauck’s style and still please me; that Daniel doesn’t speaks volumes.

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