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John Byrne
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Posted: 02 December 2011 at 11:12am | IP Logged | 1  

Matt Hawes posted a link to some "animated" comicbook covers, one of which is from the Tony Stark alcoholism storyline in IRON MAN.

Looking at that cover, it struck me that it -- and the story it represented -- is a good (that is to say, bad!) example of where we have gone wrong in American superhero comics. Look back on the Lee/Kirby days at Marvel, or the Lee/Ditko days, or for that matter pretty much any of the years when Stan was either writing or editing the books. How many covers can you find that are dedicated to subplots? And in how many issues are the subplots the main thrust of the story?

Cuz, let's face it, that's what Stark's alcoholism should have been (if it was really necessary to do that story at all -- and I don't think it was). A subplot. Not the main point of the story. Certainly not the part that gives us the COVER SCENE.

No wonder we lost so much of our young audience! What kid would be inspired to pick up a comic with some guy on the cover having DTs?

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Matt Hawes
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Posted: 02 December 2011 at 11:30am | IP Logged | 2  

I do hate that one storyline, and a later follow-up, has branded Tony Stark as a drunk forever in comics and film. I hate it even more that one panel of a Hank Pym, who was being manipulated by Egghead and going through other turmoil at the time, lashing out at his wife and giving her a black eye has forever tainted his character as a wife-beater.
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Michael Penn
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Posted: 02 December 2011 at 11:45am | IP Logged | 3  

It's hard to think of a superhero whose private life figured more directly into his comicbook than Spider-Man... yet, just a quick peruse over the first 50 covers and you find covers that not only highlighted but, thanks to Ditko, virtually encapsulated the main thrust of every story. Here and there, you find a small circle or square added to feature a minor element, e.g., Peter and Flash boxing or a cameo of The Hulk or Aunt May gravely ill. But the emphasis is continually on Spider-Man the hero versus the villain.

When I first read that "Demon in a Bottle" issue, I had already started to rebel against where the storyline had been going previously. So, my initial reaction was that I was pleased to see it ultimately, seemingly wrapped up neatly in a single issue. Soon after, however, I started to consider alcoholics that I knew personally, and that's when the camel's back broke for me. Nothing is "neat" about alcoholism. This wasn't a demon in a bottle, but a genie let out of a bottle. Effectively ruined the Tony Stark I had grown up with, one of my very favorite characters.

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Robert White
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Posted: 02 December 2011 at 12:15pm | IP Logged | 4  

Demon in a Bottle was the first trade paperback I ever bought and read. This being the case, that was my first exposure to Iron Man. In retrospect I think the idea was a good one--add a new layer to an otherwise "vanilla" playboy character--but it should have been toned down. I do have a big problem with the idea of Tony Stark allowing himself to don his armor while drunk. That's the equivalent of a jet pilot getting hammered and then deciding to take an F16 out for a spin...x 10. 
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Peter Hicks
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Posted: 02 December 2011 at 12:15pm | IP Logged | 5  

I have always been a bit puzzled that the cover for Fantastic Four #50 has a splash of the Silver Sufer, and then an inset drawing of Johnny Storm in civvies, and a caption saying "and don't miss the Human Torch's first day at college!"  Kinda pulls the rug out from under any worries that this whole 3 part Galactus story line might end badly for mankind. 
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Robert White
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Posted: 02 December 2011 at 12:23pm | IP Logged | 6  

There is no rule that says that you can't start college and have your planet eaten by an immensely powerful cosmic entity on the same day, Peter!
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Kip Lewis
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Posted: 02 December 2011 at 12:35pm | IP Logged | 7  

But don't subplots often reach their climax as a main plot for an issue
or two? Sure some subplots could be resolved as a subplot, but
alcoholism? I don't think that could ever be resolved as one.

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Brad Krawchuk
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Posted: 02 December 2011 at 1:04pm | IP Logged | 8  

If they were going to do the alcoholism story, the least they could do was treat it with respect. Once an alcoholic, ALWAYS an alcoholic, even if you hop on the wagon and never drink another drop again. It's a lifelong thing, not something that wraps up in a few issues. Doing that disrespects the real people who have to go through it. 

In other words, they just shouldn't have done the story. Option A forever alters Tony's character. Option B treats alcoholism like a "curable" condition that can be fixed in a relatively short amount of time. Neither of those is good for ANYONE. 
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John Byrne
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Posted: 02 December 2011 at 2:15pm | IP Logged | 9  

If they were going to do the alcoholism story, the least they could do was treat it with respect. Once an alcoholic, ALWAYS an alcoholic, even if you hop on the wagon and never drink another drop again. It's a lifelong thing, not something that wraps up in a few issues. Doing that disrespects the real people who have to go through it.

In other words, they just shouldn't have done the story. Option A forever alters Tony's character. Option B treats alcoholism like a "curable" condition that can be fixed in a relatively short amount of time. Neither of those is good for ANYONE.

Denny O'Neil very much agreed with your first paragraph, which is why he revisited the alcoholism storyline -- unfortunately, in so doing emphasizing it as a major part of Stark's makeup.

My biggest problem in terms of doing the story was that Stark had to be knocked down in order to tell us about him getting up again. There was nothing at all in his portrayal up to that point that suggested he was an addictive personality of any kind, let alone an alcoholic. This was a guy who had been seen as a very low key social drinker at most -- something an alcoholic cannot be.

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Mark Waldman
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Posted: 02 December 2011 at 3:04pm | IP Logged | 10  

JB, I agree with your sentiment how Tony's alcoholism was out of left field. Wondering what your opinion is of the famous O'Neill/Adams Speedy on heroin story in GL/GA? Thanks in advance.
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John Byrne
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Posted: 02 December 2011 at 3:39pm | IP Logged | 11  

JB, I agree with your sentiment how Tony's alcoholism was out of left field. Wondering what your opinion is of the famous O'Neill/Adams Speedy on heroin story in GL/GA? Thanks in advance.

Altho the Speedy story had no more actual set-up than did the Stark story, at least it had some internal logic. It was possible to accept what had happened to Roy "off camera" while Ollie had been distracted by the turmoil of his own life. I was only a few years older than Roy, when I read that story, and I could see reflections of it in my own life (in friends, not in myself).

But the Stark story never for one moment felt anything other than writers deciding to do a particular storyline, and using the character they had in hand to do it. It's like I've said many a time before:

Good Writer thinks "Can I tell good Captain Fonebone stories?"

Less Good Writer thinks "Can I use Captain Fonebone to tell MY stories?"

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Joe S. Walker
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Posted: 02 December 2011 at 5:47pm | IP Logged | 12  

"In other words, they just shouldn't have done the story. Option A forever alters Tony's character. Option B treats alcoholism like a "curable" condition that can be fixed in a relatively short amount of time. Neither of those is good for ANYONE."

In fairness, Option B used to be a very common trope in popular fiction, especially TV - somebody needing a "life-saving operation" in one episode, or being shot or blinded and getting over it by the end of the show.
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Brad Krawchuk
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Posted: 03 December 2011 at 7:31am | IP Logged | 13  

Just so we're clear, while I don't think the story should have been done at all, I would have gone with Option B. 
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Shawn Kane
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Posted: 03 December 2011 at 9:52am | IP Logged | 14  

Echoing Matt, I hate that Bendis, Fraction, Millar and alot of the "hot" writers think that those are features that make these characters interesting. Not being heroes. The final straw for me with Iron Man was the Point One issue spent at an AA meeting. Bendis tried to rehash alot of the "abuser" stuff about Hank Pym in his Avengers titles. And of course Millar took two of the worst characterizations of the two and made them the emphasis of their personalities in the Ultimates. I just don't get how that makes them compelling.

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Mike Norris
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Posted: 03 December 2011 at 12:17pm | IP Logged | 15  

Didn't he do that with all the Ultimates? His take on Cap was so wrong I can't find the words to express how much I hated it.
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John Byrne
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Posted: 03 December 2011 at 12:36pm | IP Logged | 16  

Echoing Matt, I hate that Bendis, Fraction, Millar and alot of the "hot" writers think that those are features that make these characters interesting. Not being heroes. The final straw for me with Iron Man was the Point One issue spent at an AA meeting. Bendis tried to rehash alot of the "abuser" stuff about Hank Pym in his Avengers titles. And of course Millar took two of the worst characterizations of the two and made them the emphasis of their personalities in the Ultimates. I just don't get how that makes them compelling.

Roger Stern used to say of one writer, years ago, that he could not write superheroes because he could not conceive of anyone more noble than himself -- himself not being very noble at all.

These days, I sometimes get the impression that's actually REQUIRED of people who want to write for Marvel or DC. The concept of the "antihero" has been stretched so far out of shape, we no longer find the right thing being done for the wrong reasons, we find the right thing, when it happens at all, being almost accidental!

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Brian Hague
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Posted: 03 December 2011 at 1:08pm | IP Logged | 17  

I was genuinely surprised to find the nu-52 Aquaman first issue containing a scene of the hero... stopping a bank robbery...

I literally couldn't remember the last time a mainstream comic had a hero actually fight a crime in progress. So much of the current output deals with avenging mass slaughters or genocides or have the villains eleven steps ahead of the heroes to the point where killing three or four of them over the course of an arc seems pathetically easy. Why did we in the audience ever think these do-gooding nobodies were up to the challenge of Osborn, or Sinestro, or Superboy-Prime, or Black Adam...? Seriously, they're lambs led to the slaughter every single time. Whatta buncha goofy-lookin' cannon fodder...!

The notion that they could actually accomplish something beyond mere survival doesn't seem to have crossed the mind of a modern writer in the past 15 years or so...

 

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Tim O Neill
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Posted: 03 December 2011 at 1:16pm | IP Logged | 18  



I thought Stan Lee, Gil Kane, and John Romita had the best approach in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN.  In "...And Now, The Goblin!" (#96), drug abuse happens to other people around the hero, not to the hero.

Having it happen to the hero just doesn't work for all ages literature like this.  I could never wrap my mind around how people thought this was a good idea.



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Brian Hague
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Posted: 03 December 2011 at 2:20pm | IP Logged | 19  

I bought two of the early Marvel trade paperbacks within a couple of weeks of one another: "The Uncanny X-Men" and "The Power of Iron Man." The similarities between the two were striking I thought at the time. Both dealt with long-standing Marvel characters becoming corrupted from within and without as a sub-plot over the course of a number of issues, doing the unthinkable, and coming to a head with them having to face the consequences of their initially blithe, careless responses to their encroaching downfall.

Jean Grey doesn't tell anyone about her "timeslips" into the body of what she assumes to be a bad-girl ancestor... Why? Well, because it's kinda kinky fun, suddenly finding herself courted by this dashing, charming, if slightly skeevy gentleman of earlier times, and being shown off to his kinky compatriots in fetish-gear, brandishing a whip... Hey, what Scott and the gang don't know isn't going to hurt them, right? Who's she hurting (well, non-consentually, anyways :-) by going along for the ride when these fugues overtake her every now and then...?

Tony Stark is drinking a little bit more at parties these days... Maybe having one or two in the office. Hey, his job's tough... Competitors moving in on him, problems with some outside entity gaining access to his armor's weapons systems... A really nice ambassador's blood on his hands... Hey, who wouldn't drink, right?

As the subplots built, neither seeks help from anyone to deal with what they each consider an escape from their current reality, and a pleasurable escape at that. Here, the difference in theme begins to take over, as Jean's descent into corruption empowers her while Tony's begins to lessen his effectiveness, causing him to screw up and make embarassing errors in judgement...

Eventually, the "broken" version of themselves that they've been nursemaiding into existence through the subplot arrives full-blown on the cover of their comic, Jean as Dark Phoenix in Uncanny X-Men #135, and Tony's "Demon in a Bottle" on Iron Man #128...

As such, the sight of the hero at their worst didn't seem out of place on either cover to me at the time, although Jean's certainly had that element of fetishtic thrill while Tony's was just ugly and demoralizing. Again, the themes were different, one gaining unimaginable power through their walk on the wild side and loss of self, the other losing everything through their self-indulgence and weakness. The story progression, however, more-or-less synced up.

Both covers feature the "bad guy" the hero (or heroes, in the X-Men's case) must fight next... Dark Phoenix, shatterer of worlds, in one case and in the other, that guy looking back at Tony from the mirror who has dragged him into degradation and ruin.

Jean's problems, being more super-hero/space operatic in nature, appeared less jarring, although no less tragic. Her cover shows a sexy super-villain for the team to fight. Tony's ills, being set more in "real world" of business, finance, and high society, were more ugly. His cover-featured villain is particularly unpleasant to look at, even today.

Being merely one of many X-Men, Jean's road to ruin didn't impact the central thrust of her book to the extent that Tony's did, (although Claremont's unwillingness to let the matter drop makes that open to question.) Both storylines, however, altered or "ruined" the nature of the character to the point where, in 25 years or more, neither has had a storyline since that didn't in some way reference these two pivotal events.

Much of that impact, I think, had to do with the sight of those characters appearing so very much altered on the covers of those two issues. I can see where routinely cover-featuring sub-plots could be an ill-considered move, but in these cases, the creators waited until the sub-plot fully manifested to become the main storyline beforehand and in so doing, for good or ill, made comic history.

 

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Brian Hague
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Posted: 03 December 2011 at 2:31pm | IP Logged | 20  

Tim, by and large, I agree with you. Supporting casts and characters written specifically for certain storylines are far preferrable as the focus for these sorts of story experiments.*

Daredevil's character-redefining story arc and major 80's event was the Elektra saga, in which the degradation and corruption happened to the love of his life and not to Daredevil himself. Daredevil was shown to be something of a lovestruck fool throughout, allowing a ruthless assassin to get the better of him on multiple occasions out of love for her, but when the story was done, grief and resulting mental instability notwithstanding, the character dragged through the depths of corruption and self-destruction was not the title character.

When Miller returned and did "Born Again," he did take Daredevil down a dark, apparently hopeless path, one that smacked of irreversible character damage, but in the end, he allowed him to re-emerge as strong as ever, rededicated to his cause, the resulting damage occuring mainly to his supporting cast (Karen Page especially) and to his law practice. Daredevil himself, while potentially unstable, was still the hero of his own book.

*Again, Jean being merely "one of many" amongst the X-Men, I think, makes her "supporting cast" material and hence, a more appropriate choice for this sort of thing than Tony, the main player in his own franchise.

 

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Carmen Bernardo
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Posted: 04 December 2011 at 7:39am | IP Logged | 21  

I agree with Brian here, in many respects...

   My biggest beef with the whole matter with how heroes are written these days is the emphasis on what I've heard called "deconstruction".  Perhaps the "con" should be removed from the word to make it destruction.

   Per John Byrne's reiteration of a statement that one of his Marvel editors made concerning the worth of certain writers in superhero comics, it seems that the "new normal" is for that type of person to be writing material once considered acceptable to all ages, though focused primarily at pre-teenage boys.  As it turns out, the current generation of writers have dragged the heroes of our youth down into the mire until they've become even sleazier than most of the villains they're supposedly set up against.  Back when the word "anti-hero" actually meant something, I found it acceptable for Wolverine to be an otherwise-noble figure who grudgingly accepted the leadership of a "boy scout" like Cyclops, the Punisher to be a tragic figure whose focus on fighting crime went beyond what was acceptable for American citizens, and the Hulk to be a monster unleashed from within Bruce Banner when overwhelming circumstances beyond his control overtook him.

   No longer.  We can now say that the heroes have become ciphers, more like Hollywood celebrities and sports stars than characters with some grounding in the noble ideals that they once represented for us.  So much for the golden rule (which the cynics have more or less suborned).

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Garry Porter II
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Posted: 04 December 2011 at 5:34pm | IP Logged | 22  

It is things like this, concerning the Superhero that really bug me, i.e. becoming an alcoholic, rape, physically abusing your spouse, and just plain having a bad attitude(so the hero can look "cool").

But, what even bugs me more is the justification of those drastic changes to the heroes by the writers/editors.  I have read in quite a few articles over the years how certain writers justify negative changes to the character by claiming to only be doing what  Lee, Ditko, and Kirby had been doing all along with these characters....which is giving them pathos and feet of clay.  And, I always disagreed.

Yes, Lee, Ditko, and Kirby gave our heroes feet of clay, but it was the manner this was given that stuck out.
Example:  Lee, Ditko, and Kirby's characters were just flat out good people fighting the good fight despite their persecutions, pressures, challenges, problems, or issues, NOT because of them.  Every issue, a hero was faced with regular pathos and life's problems we all can identify with, and every issue the hero either triumphed over those life's problems, or if he/she did not, at least faced it with dignity and respect the next issue, or dealt with it in a positive manner for the next several issues(plus defeat the bad guy).

Fast forward to the 80's, and you have the beginning of some writers/editors having the characters giving up or giving in(starting off in a subtle way at first) to their insecurities or inhibitions, or trying to escape or negatively "cope" with their pressures(which as someone posted, is not fair to real people going through that process).  When that happens, you get things like the "Tony stark is an alcoholic" story, the Hulk has BPD, Hank Pym is a wife-beater, the Killing Joke, or Watchmen.




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Flavio Sapha
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Posted: 04 December 2011 at 5:46pm | IP Logged | 23  

A few years ago I picked up some Gotham Knights issues, enticed by the
Brian Bolland covers. I quickly realized that the stories revolved around
dissecting Batman's relationship with other members of his cast, while the
villains and their plans were very perfunctorily displayed.

Batman titles: emphasis on psychobabble!   
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Carmen Bernardo
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Posted: 05 December 2011 at 8:09am | IP Logged | 24  

My example involves the X-Men and some of their spinoff titles, things which I had for some reason never dropped when I should've (by the time John Byrne left in 1981):

   Referring to Garry's comment about the heroes basically taking the easy way out under certain writers, I saw the X-Men going from fighting the good fight (publicly opposing both would-be genetic supremacists like Magneto and anti-mutant loonies like Henry Gyrich and Project: Wideawake) to behaving like an armed camp of militants holding out in the X-Mansion waiting for the bad guys to break in and knock a few of them around.  After the third time, it should've become obvious where this was going, and yet I came back again with the "New X-Men: Academy X" spinoff in 2003.

   The straw that finally broke my camel's back came in early 2004 when I jumped back on following the "House of M" crossover expecting things to revert back to the way they were, never knowing that in the conclusion to that gimmick Scarlet Witch had basically turned into God and wished all but 200 mutants away, leading into the whole "Decimation" story arc that greeted me in NXM:AX (now with a new creative team that replaced the one that attracted me to the title in the first place).  The X-Men proved to be more ineffective in dealing with a revived Reverend Stryker and his goons than a kid with a toy archery set against the 103rd Airborne with air support...

   This was the "new tone" of superhero comics on steroids.  After a few minutes of rage, I finally quit.  I haven't come back to Marvel since, and have glimpsed at enough to make me realize that it continues to be that way.



Edited by Carmen Bernardo on 05 December 2011 at 8:09am
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Wallace Sellars
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Posted: 05 December 2011 at 5:34pm | IP Logged | 25  

Archie, IDW, Image (!), Dark Horse and other publishers are producing
books that are more accessible and entertaining than those being offered
by the Big Two.
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