14/2 SUPERMAN and THE AUTHORITY annotations
GALLERY artefact #005
‘Thinky the Head! Activate Virtual Pyramid Helmet!’
Picture: Rian Hughes - 2012 -
LIBRARY artefact #002
SUPERMAN and THE AUTHORITY annotations PART 1
Promised from before – stark backstage realities of the cape fic biz!
By the end of 2019, it was pretty much over between me and DC superhero comics.
This explosive opening serves to conceal a whimper worthy of Eliot. There was no falling out. No fireworks. I’d been cheated and ripped off over the years as much as any freelancer, but I saw it as my own responsibility and an occupational hazard of dealing with the rapacious ungrateful pirates who guide the destiny of pop culture. Truth was, I’d already decided to call it a day eight years earlier, but it can take a while to decelerate through obligations.
By the time 2019 came around, a full 40 years since my first pay cheque for writing a comic script, I felt I’d watched generations rise and fall, seen superstars blossom to novae then fade as brown dwarfs.
I’d lived through too many crises, falls and rises, watched DC differentiate back to its roots as separate editorial fiefdoms, with multiple auteurs, myself included, building personal narrative islands that slowly took the place of ‘continuity’, until it felt like one of those dreams where you find yourself back in school but you’re 36, or in my case 59.
I had no-one but myself to blame.
The writing was so obviously on the wall there was more writing than wall; while the back catalogue stayed steady, monthly sales of new work were on the wane and the kind of inventive and exuberant audience engagement that characterized the 2000s when I was in the spotlight as the writer on various Batman titles seemed in decline. I’d always considered my work in comics as a kind of live performance where the feedback was nearly instantaneous – but the cheers of the crowd were being replaced by a clearing of throats, a shuffling of feet, and although punctuated by the odd half-hearted ‘yay’, it was clear that ‘Wednesday Warrior’ readers of DC superhero titles were less and less interested in what I had to sell.
Meanwhile younger creators who had grown up absorbing the lessons of my work were rendering me obsolete or refining my approach into an easily reproducible house style.
Having prepared myself for this sudden glide into verse 3 of Momus’ hilariously ultra-bleak and medicated song The Vaudevillian, it seemed like the right time to move on from regular superhero comics, leave space on the stage for younger bands, and focus instead on work that provided fresh challenges.
With that as my credos, I intended the concluding volume of the Wonder Woman Earth One trilogy to serve alongside my final issues of The Green Lantern with Liam Sharp as a wry goodbye to the old alma mater.
Since my last run on a monthly title – Action Comics from 2011 - 2013 - I’d confined myself to special projects like The Multiversity (planned since 2007 over a 52 wrap party dinner in Las Vegas - with an original proposal for the eight books to be divided, two each, among the four writers of the 52 weekly series – Geoff Johns, myself, Greg Rucka, and Mark Waid - more on that story sometime, readers…) and Wonder Woman Earth One which I’d been talking about since 2008 when it began life as a pitch for Warner Bros (during my two year tenure as a consultant on Warners’ superhero movies, alongside Geoff Johns and Marv Wolfman. Wonder Woman was one of several pitches I was asked to submit, which also included a version of The Flash, different from the screenplay I wrote in 2019 with Ezra Miller, as well as several different takes on Superman – one of which inspired my Action Comics run - and Aquaman. This went on to influence the midwestern desert set-up for the new Aqualad, with its opening reverse where Arthur Curry’s adopted dad the lighthouse keeper relocates to the Midwest desert to keep the young Prince of Atlantis as far away from the ocean as can be arranged in the USA).
Those commitments aside, as far as I was concerned, I’d moved on. Naturally, this was the moment at the end of 2018 when former DC publisher Dan Didio chose to deftly manoeuvre me, in his inimitable style, into accepting an assignment to work with artist Liam Sharp on The Green Lantern.
Eager for a long time to collaborate on something with Liam, I rationalized The Green Lantern as a kind of summing up and consolidation - a don’t need to do this for anything but fun tour around to my space fiction ‘70s sci-fi roots as a teenage writer for DC Thompson’s Starblazer series and the New Wave inflected Near Myths - a way to acknowledge and recapitulate early artistic debts to Jim Fitzpatrick, Roger Dean, Bruce Pennington, Rodney Matthews, Marvel’s Cosmic Comics and Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction – with a dose of 2000 AD, Metal Hurlant and ‘80s Britpack invasion comics thrown into the mix.
As I wrote in the intro to Liam’s art book Encore Gold (recommended along with his truly amazing novel Paradise Rex):
‘I liked the idea of going out as I’d come into the business; doing outlandish space fiction stories set on distant worlds of satire and metaphor.’
And so The Green Lantern concluded its run on planet allegory - hero Hal Jordan must choose to walk away from a vivid fantasy planet he’s cultivated as what amounts to a personal vacation paradise, thereby giving it room to develop on its own without his influence.
When space cop Jordan leaves the future to others of his kind and jets off into the unknown, subtext becomes but text in its underwear.
Wonder Woman Earth One, with artist Yanick Paquette on the other hand, set out to be a stately swan-elegant, meticulously constructed Gloriana ‘art d’amour’ – a heartfelt hypersigil with magical intent and an eye on the future, as mediated through the metaphorical filter of an imagined oncoming Aeon of Ma’at and the energies of the Qabalistic Sphere of Binah.
In each case, the message, I hoped, was plain as the nose on your sister – I was saying goodbye to this fictional universe where I’d spent so many happy hours, leaving it in the capable sweaty hands of younger, more dedicated, enthusiastic and energetic open cast mind workers.
I had no appetite for another project in the DC universe – which attitude naturally made me a sucker for the old ‘just one last job’ trope, the downfall of many a grizzled warhorse…
In late 2019, a year after agreeing to do The Green Lantern, once again over drinks and dinner at the Sunset Marquis in West Hollywood, my second home pre-Covid, Dan outlined to me his ‘5G’ plans for the most radical overhaul of DC continuity since the ‘50s
(If I may make one more intrusive intervention here, when some of this story was revealed by me on a podcast chat with the remarkable Daniel Fee, the information was used by others to vilify Dan Didio and cast doubt on his judgment yet again. It was never my intention to provide ammunition for haters and I’d like to make it clear that Dan has been one of my closest friends in the comics business for a long time. I wouldn’t have stayed with DC so long if not for Dan. Without him there would be no Seven Soldiers, All Star Superman, Batman, Final Crisis, Action Comics, Multiversity, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern or Superman and the Authority. Many readers disagreed with his decisions and in some cases at maximum volume I did too but his exuberant love for comics and support for my work was never in doubt).
The 5G timeline is a fascinating document – an heroic attempt to unify all of DC’s history and allow characters to age and die in real time. It had genuine potential to shake things up but was seen as too radical.
In this amalgamated continuity, Superman arrived on Earth in 1938, worked in secret, and didn’t show himself in public until the ‘60s – the classic Justice League had been replaced in the present day with a middle-aged Titans team, and so on.
I pointed out some glaring problems with the way years and decades, hours and minutes worked in relation to our consensus understanding of the conventional flow of calendar time - but easily impressed as I am, I was otherwise captivated by 5G’s ambitious do-or-die grandiosity.
(Fellow freelancers felt differently – such was the massive and catastrophic impact on their plans that DC’s most prominent writer at the time, someone I respect a great deal, called to enlist my aid in what he described as an ‘intervention’ – I felt we should just let it rip and make hay, which was easy for me to say, as I knew I was on my way out and I wasn’t having years’ worth of story planning thrown out!)
Join us on Wumsday 16th Feb in 2 days next for MORE MOREDOM!
Happy Valentine’s Day!
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You have been warned.