Thursday, October 6, 2011

Guest Blog by Barry Pearl

My good friend and comics connoisseur Barry Pearl has kindly consented to add his insightful commentary to my Blog this week (I added the captions on the pictures he sent, but that's all the input from me, although I'm essentially in agreement with his observations). Barry has written an excellent book on Marvel Comics that is not only insightful and thorough, but interactive. You can find out more about it here:

Barry, take it away!

I don't think I can read current comics anymore. I just finished reading 28 issues of Secret Warriors and boy, did I not like any of it. First, the artwork:  the concept that every page needs three or four horizontal panels as it if were a wide screen movie is boring. The over coloring of everything, to cover up, I think weak inking destroys ever bit of individuality in the artwork. I went through this with the recent Captain America Omnibuses. The computerized house style artwork dominates all books, nothing looks very different from the others.
Tony Isabella tells me that I should look outside Marvel and DC, but when I do I still find the same crap. (Except for the Grim Ghost, of course.)

The story jumps from one sub plot to another, so that there are a lot of continued plot lines in each book. Few are ever resolved, but when they are it takes so much time. And, events happen in other titles that are apparently necessary to read to make sense of this plot.  And, sadly, these storytellers cannot come up with any, good, original characters. They keep mining the Marvel Age, 1961-77 to death. (And Captain America). So each storyline seems to say, "Here are the characters, let's ignore their previous continuity. Time means nothing. The Howlers would be 90 years old and they still go out on another “final” mission. But the current crew of creators cannot come up with new characters that have any interest or impact. Norman Osborn, whose death created great controversy in Spider-Man nearly 40 years ago, is back and so is Baron Strucker . Both are very healthy for dead men. 

Norman Osborn -  alive and healthy

(Spoilers ahead) On the opening pages of almost every story, the author says that the Government now is the enemy. There are no longer any good guys. So I have no one to root for. As they bring back well known characters, they are all villains including Contessa Valentina Allegro De Fontaine who was once Fury’s girlfriend. Several times Marvel tried to tie the pieces of the Scorpio/Zodiac plotlines together, most notably in Defenders #46-51.  But all that is thrown out here, along with all the Steranko innovations.  Well, thrown out may be a bad term, mixed up and convoluted is more like it.  But, just like the writers borrow from the past, so do the artists, as they try to copy Steranko’s style. But they are not capable of that, so they just can copy poses.

Contessa by Steranko

Steranko "Hommage"

The story might have made a five to eight issue run in the old days. But the plot is rather weak and preposterous. Early on we learn that SHIELD is supposed to have been a component of HYDRA. This is ridiculous and it negates and ignores so much of the continuity that went before. The Howlers are brought back for a mission. The author jumps around so much in telling the story that it takes four issues to tell the fate of the Howlers. How about one, long uninterrupted segment? In reading the three Omnibuses regarding Cap’s death, I come across the same problems. First, we know Cap would not die, especially if a movie was coming out. We just had to see how long it would be before he got better.  In the second Omnibus, it is revealed that Sharon Carter might be the one who shot Cap under the influence of the Red Skull. Then not a major plot point is developed for over twenty issues!!! It goes on and on, doing nothing.  In his introduction, Brubaker, the author, states that he, himself, didn’t like the Cap stories from 1980-2000, so he picked up right where I left off and stopped reading Cap (issue #214).  How sad to know that in 30 years nothing was developed well enough to stick.

The violence is overwhelming. 
(Big spoilers): Finally there is a twist at the end that negates the ENTIRE storyline, yet there is no evidence that these new facts are real. It purpose is to put you back at square one where another Fury storyline can begin at the same place.  Fury kills Baron Strucker, violently and in cold blood. This is not the Fury I knew. He was heroic and brave and fought for a cause. No one does that anymore.  They are not heroes; they are adventurers and vigilantes, fighting for their own sense of excitement, not for the common good.  As I wrote in the introduction to my book, “The decency, humanity and humor of the original Marvel Super-Heroes was hereditary. They got it from their creators.”

Thanks again to Barry for sharing his thoughts. We both look forward to your comments.


Nick Caputo said...


Thanks for the insightful comments on current comics. A lot of todays product lacks originality and smacks of a collective mentality. Every story has to be overwhelming and involve the entirety of the Marvel Universe. Too many characters belong to groups such as the Avengers (how many Avengers teams are there?), X-Men and FF. Some belong to multiple groups. Everyone is thrown together with little thought to plot or characterization.

The individuality of artists and writers, with their own signature styles and personalites, seems missing for the most part. I know there are exceptions to the rule, but overall I see very little out there in mainstream comic books that holds my attention (and its fun that I can leave a comment on MY blog for a change!)

Lefisc said...

In looking back fifty years later I learned a lot about comics and I learned something about myself. Back then, if you asked comic book fans what they liked to read, they would have answered by referring to the titles: SPIDER-MAN, SUPERMAN, X-MEN and others.

I know now that I liked to read Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko, Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, John Buscema, Wally Wood, Gene Colan, Tom Palmer, Bill Everett, Barry Windsor-Smith, John Romita Sr., Gil Kane, John Severin, Dick Ayers, Steve Ditko, Steve Englehart, Tony Isabella, Neal Adams and Jim Starlin.

When they left, so did I. The MARVEL AGE was over. And so was the era where an individual could make his mark, and have his own vision and not be part of a corporate whole.

Lefisc said...

Rob Imes had difficulty posting and had this to say:

I tried to submit a reply on that page's comments section but it didn't work for some reason. Anyway, here's what I wrote:

I started reading Marvel comics around the time that you stopped, Barry, and so I have my own fond memories of certain comics that I know others who were older didn't share. (To use one example: around 1982, FantaCo put out a one-shot fanzine titled "Avengers Chronicles" with articles about the history of the group. The lead article traced the history of the series, but when it got to the present issues -- Jim Shooter's run circa #217, when Yellowjacket went to jail -- the article writer concluded that the series had taken a turn for the worse. However, I consider that era (#212-224) to be my favorite among Avengers comics. And not just because they were the first ones I'd encountered -- I started reading Avengers with #170 circa 1978 -- but because I liked the direction of the series at that time.

I think "an individual could make his mark" at Marvel after 1979. Look at Miller's DD, Byrne's FF, Simonson's Thor. Their runs are considered to be the finest on those titles since the 1960s.

I disagree with Brubaker about Captain America (although I enjoy his Cap issues, and also enjoyed his run on DD a couple years ago). I have an extensive Cap collection, and my favorite issues include many post-#214. Some of my all-time favorite Cap issues are #225 (origin of Cap by Steve Gerber), 237 (death of Sharon Carter), 250 (Cap for President by Stern & Byrne), 255 (origin retold -- and my letter in the letters page!), 267 (self-contained story about a villain named Everyman), etc. Many things happened to Cap during those years; some writers just didn't care for them & had them undone. Mark Waid didn't like the fact that Sharon Carter died in #233 (her death revealed in #237) and so her brought her back when he became Cap's writer, circa #445.

I had my own falling out with new comics in the late 1980s, but I came back to buying new comics in the late 1990s. Not as many as I used to -- not as uncritically as I did back when I was 10 years old, to be sure (and I was pretty critical even by the age of 13, the first time I stopped buying Marvel comics for a while!). But I still do pick up Cap & DD every month -- and will do so until they screw them up! (I've come close to dropping DD on occasion.)

Anyway, you are to be commended for actually reading some new comics and commenting on what you found therein! I agree with you that today's superhero comics often don't seem to depict HEROES... instead these costumed characters are not portrayed as heroes but simply characters. I prefer heroes.

Lefisc said...


I have collected the Daredevil (1 through 235) and many Captain America stories (TOS 39-225) and have bought the Simonson/Thor Omnibus. This was at the urging of you, and a few others. I certainly enjoyed many of those comics, especially the Thor issues, I must say. The DD were also very good, but I found the Caps a bit erratic. But they were all readable. Individual artists, such as Miller and Simonson could still excel. In the late 1970s and early 80s I sometimes thought that I was looking for a needle in a haystack. Some comics were good, but so many more weren’t and I was spending a lot of money and enjoying so few. I think the “corporatization” was beginning then and, as you pointed out, death began to mean so little.

And, as you pointed out, writers and artists came and went so quickly. The didn’t stay long enough to make the comics their own.

Rob, I can’t believe that the difference between those comics and current comics are 30 years.

The Seditionist said...

And I respectfully disagree. Comics are just radically different from what they were 50 or 60 or 70 years ago -- like all pop media. Not better or worse. Just different. You may like one better than the other or not. It's pure taste (up to the point of some of the extremes of the NuDC).

Meanwhile, I too, read the entire run of Secret Warriors. Fortunately, unlike Barry, issue by issue, not more or less in one fell swoop.

Like a lot of Hickman's stuff, I found it interesting -- enjoyable -- conceptually but the actual breakdown of the story was too jittery and hard to follow and the follow through was relatively weak. The latter may be due to the fact that it was a limited series but the number of issues kept getting changed. For someone like Hickman especially, that could screw things up. So towards the end, the focus was on some sort of immediate closure. Generally, the kids were never fully drawn, as it were, and the concept of Leviathan -- the entity that played Hydra and SHIELD -- suffered from a lack of follow though.

That said, I have no problem with Barry's dislike of the series. Different strokes and all that. And at the end of the day, they're just stories that entertain or don't.

Next problem with Barry's post was editorial: You can't make a generalization about modern comics, even limited to Marvel, from a single title.

So. We have one man's opinion about one title from which the only fair extrapolation, I hope, is that it was a flawed work.

'Nuff said?

Lefisc said...

Of course everyone is entitled to their preferences. I am sure that there are people who loved the music of their youth (although their parents didn't) and dislike the music of today.

I tried to be specific about which comics I have read and why I did not care for them, but I have also read dozens of others which I have not enjoyed from many companies. So the Cap and SHIELD stories are examples of a much large sampling. I have two friends who keep current with comics and I read many, but not all, of them.

Again, generally, I feel that the artwork of most of what I have seen is not up to the standards that I have enjoyed in the past. The storytelling is drawn out and the dialogue dull.

Sadly, I disagree though, when you say that it is no better or worse than it was years ago. I think it is strongly worse, in every element that is important to me. And there is so much less originality, in plots and in characters.

Also, there is an abundance now of reprints of older comics and comic strips and I enjoy them so much more than current comics. Right now I am reading a lot of the EC war comics....their art and stories are greatly better than any recent comic I have seen.

But not for you and that is good. Keep reading, keep enjoying and keep us posted about what you like that is out there.

The Seditionist said...

Barry, the sense I got from your piece was that you were extrapolating from a single title. If you have read enough new stuff to make a general opinion, that's a) something else and b) you have my condolences.

My own reading is limited and mostly based on writers I enjoy as writers and as creators. Overly generalizing, I'd say both of the Big 2 regurgitated the same old, same old, for for decades. Marvel has, to a degree, broken away from that under the current regime.

Also note that some of the stuff you like in the Marvel Studios movies have been in turn reflected back in the comics -- and some it has come *from* the comics. Thor, especially, owes *a lot* to the recent reboot and the film story was muchly written by the writer of the comics reboot. Bucky's characterization in the Cap movie is straight out of the last couple of years of the comic.

Not trying to sell anything, just noting. At the end of the day, you enjoy stuff or you don't.

Nick Caputo said...

I enjoy the comics form as much as always, but I've found it difficult to become absorbed by mainstream comics. Over the years I've gravitated more towards independent creators who bring their own personal ideas and feelings into the stories. Folks like Seth drawn me in more than any superhero comic of the present day.

Perhaps its because my tastes have changed, yet I can go back and enjoy the creators of my youth and often pick up something new I haven't noticed before. I don't think my sensibilities have changed all that much; I still appreciate creators who add something unique to the mix. That was evident in the work of folks like Kirby and Ditko, who brought their own unique vision to the genre. I don't see those qualities in most of the current output.

The Seditionist said...


There's a couple of mainstream creators I generally enjoy, and that's it: Bendis, Fraction, Brubaker and, with difficulty, Hickman. at Marvel, Morrison at DC. Again, hit and miss.

But factor in the plethora of independent work, and it may well be a second golden age.

And as you imply, there may well be an age issue. Tastes change.

What I find I like at Marvel is the same old, same old but with greater depth. As I think I've pointed out somewhere or other, Fear Itself is FF 25-26 all hopped up. On a certain level, they're the exact same stories, just done differently.

Barry Pearl said...


I have a very serious complaint about your blog! You call it “Marvel Mysteries and Comic Minutiae.”

Frist, how many posts have you had just on Marvel? Your blog is much more universal than that. It is false advertising. I want my money back. Or at least do a post just about Marvel.

Second, the OED defines Minutiae as “a small or trivial matter or object. Usually pl.” In the Universe of comics nothing you have brought up has been trivial, except maybe the post on Thursday, October 6, 2011. These are important matters for comic book fans, we don’t want to see works by Charlton, or Bob’s Big Boy forgotten.

So you need to change the name of your blog. Let’s See, “Nick’s Pearls of Comic Book Wisdom” sound nice. Or “Sequential Punch?” Or “20th Century Nicky Boy?” How about “Not Just Marvel and Certainly not Minutiae.”

Just one more thing: Happy Birthday, Nick!