I'd like to admit something openly to you. Sometimes, I say things
without realizing the severity of those things I've said. Case in point,
I recently issued writer and editor Joe Keatinge a wanton castigation
when my aim was to make an indictment against DC and Marvel's creative
staffing policies. I made unreasonable criticisms of Keatinge's work in
my attempts to draw up an example of those same staffing policies. Here
are my original words: Several news outlets have picked up on the rather low-key cancellation of Joe Keatinge and Richard Elson's upcoming Thanos: Son of Titan Marvel
Comics miniseries. Marvel seemed to be ramping up reader interest in
the character after his in-credits cameo in The Avengers film. Thanos
has since appeared in the Avengers Assemble
comic series, attaining the Cosmic Cube, which perhaps was all the buzz
Marvel was willing to generate around Thanos before the villain's next
on-screen appearance, thus cancelling the miniseries that would further
flesh out the sinister god-like alien.
I have another idea about this, however. One of the many things that
bothers me about the comic book industry as it stands is the lack of a
revolving door for creators. It seems that once you're in, you're in for
good. Shit, look at Tom Peyer from the 90's. DC continually gave that
guy work for years even as every book he touched turned up abysmal
ratings and readership numbers, and now Peyer is still in the industry,
working for Thrillbent! (I've personally been rereading some of Peyer's
work recently, and have found it somewhat charming--R.E.B.E.L.S.
anyone?--but that's neither here nor there).
That's just one of many examples, but you get the idea. "So, how does
this apply to Joe Keatinge?" you ask. Well, Keatinge is the Eisner-award
winning editor of the Pop-gun
anthology series put out by Image Comics. With the prestige of
"Eisner-winner" under his belt, the editor has some heft to throw around
in the independent scene, and so Keatinge found his ingress into
writing comics with the reboot of Rob Liefeld's Glory and with his own creator-owned property Hell Yeah. Glory has been serviceable, being kept afloat mostly by the monumental artistic efforts of Ross Campbell, but Hell Yeah
has really been another story altogether. I've struggled with hiding my
contempt for that series in the past, finally giving in and breaking
down to scorn Hell Yeah for its utterly worthless existence. To me, Hell Yeah showed
Keatinge's Achilles' heel: his inability to construct engaging stories,
characters, and environments--you know, everything you need to make a
comic book interesting.
Someone at Marvel saw it differently. I imagine the conversation between Marvel big-wigs went something like this:
"Hey, everyone's been talking about this Image renaissance (which is a term I heard was coined by Dan over at ComicBookBin)."
"Yeah, you think we should get in on this action?"
"Definitely. I hear this Joe Keatinge guy writes comics. Let's give him a call."
Bingo bango, the perpetuation of a mediocre career in comics.
Not until Keatinge sends in his scripts for Thanos: Son of Titan do the Marvel editors say, "Holy shit, even WE think this is terrible," and acknowledge the severity of their decision.
Anyway, that's all just speculation as it pertains to Keatinge, but it
is something we see happening in comic books all the time. It is a
community, but in many ways that social aspect is a debilitating
weakness for the medium, because the medium becomes stagnated around
these hubristic creative incumbents that do nothing to propel
comic books forward.
That's my rant, and I'm sticking to it. Keatinge reports via Twitter
that he's got something Spider-Man related still lined up at Marvel, and
thus the cycle continues. Just shuffle the mediocre guy around until he
gets lost in a mega-franchise like Spider-Man or Batman, but god forbid
you'd let someone go.
Not long after posting this vitriolic drivel, I actually had the
wonderful opportunity of discussing my distaste for Hell Yeah with
Keatinge himself. He's really quite a stand-up guy, and pointed out
that, whereas most writers hone their craft in obscured creative
outlets, he had the disadvantage of trying his hand at writing his first
major work for one of the largest independent publishers of comic
books, Image Comics. Of course Hell Yeah isn't going to be Alan Moore,
or even Tim Seeley, right out of the gate. There's quite a lot of trial
and error that goes into familiarization of this craft, and I, a writer
myself, should have given that much more consideration.
In regards to his rocky start, Keatinge acknowledged that he would do
quite a bit differently with Hell Yeah if he could, but will have to
settle with making drastic tonal changes to the book starting with
September's Hell Yeah #6. He noted that I made his meteoric rise at
Image sound--well, too meteoric, as well. Joe pointed out that getting
to a position where he could write comics was an uphill battle that
actually lasted a decade.
Keatinge also poked a few holes in my revolving door (or rather a lack
thereof) theory, indicating Robert Washington, co-creator of Milestone
and the superhero Static who became Static Shock, as the contradiction.
Washington's story is a tragic one, involving periods of homelessness,
and he very recently passed away. But, I don't see Washington's
unemployment in comics as a contradiction, but rather an exception. What
DC did by disenfranchising Washington was a shame and a crime, one that
falls in line with DC's continued attempts to undermine ethnic
characters and creators. There are certainly situations where fantastic
creators like Washington fall through the cracks, but I don't believe
that it's because my revolving door already exists. It happens because
that door doesn't exist.
Could DC or Marvel have given Robert a job if not for the hubristic
creative incumbency in comics, the regimes that dismantled Milestone and
the regimes that built up an Aryan fantasy world in its stead? Yes!
Even the great Dwayne MacDuffie was only getting scraps, while guys like
Geoff Johns were given the keys to the kingdom.
This is a discussion about dominant narratives in comic books that I've
already had, however. For now, I simply want to address the problem I'd
created by virtue of my own irascible fanboy nature. In the context of
Keatinge moving on up, as it were, into Marvel's incumbent ranks when he
was still just finding his voice in the medium, I unjustly ripped him a
new one when I should have been focusing solely on the corporate
construct of Marvel itself. I regret being so ruthless, and I apologize.
I still don't like Hell Yeah #1-5, but I'm willing to give #6 a try and
you'll all be the first ones to know exactly how I feel about it. Maybe
I'll get around to reviewing some issues of Glory one of these days as
well. Best of luck to Joe Keatinge.