At my old blog, I once did a short post on trying to get back into reading comics, that was titled something like "Some Comics are Bad." Brilliant, I know. Not sure why Pulitzer hasn't called yet.
Still, the issue was that, with the totally unscientific sample of books I had been able to grab off the shelf of my local library, I found precious little from either DC or Marvel, that was worth the time it took to read. Thus, I largely pulled back in and read only what I could get of work by my friends Greg Rucka and Jen Van Meter. This kept me largely away from Marvel and often put me in the Indie Comics world with stories that I really enjoyed. Based on that limited view, I knew that comics could be very good, but I doubted much could be found, particularly at Marvel.
Why so down on Marvel? Well, even though there are a ton of characters that I love from Marvel, I often find the universe and the editorial management of it pretty awful. I could cite a lot of things, but the crazy, messed up storyline that resulted in eliminating Peter Parker's marriage to Mary Jane really exemplified the kinds of style without substance that I perceived working at Marvel. Trying to read Civil War in trades (again, yay library) also reinfoced that. Here we had a mega event, with tons of talented people working at it, and yet I found the storyline just bad (my opinion, doesn't have to be anybody elses, but I'll say again, it was BAD). What stuck with me was the event was extremely plot driven and the organic development of or reactions by the characters were subordinated to the plot. For me, that is never good. The characters in many cases came off as cardboard pieces on a big game board, rather than interesting and complex individuals. Since Marvel was doing one of these plot driven monsters pretty often, it just seemed like, even where you had a solid creator behind a title, it was likely going to be hijacked and the characters would start doing really stupid out of character things to advance the plot.
So, I stayed away, read my Rucka and Van Meter stuff, and dove into the past getting trades of the old Question, Justice League International, and Walt Simonson's run on Thor.
Two things made me reconsider. One, Greg started writing The Punisher. Now, while The Punisher has been a long established and somewhat interesting character from time to time in Marvel, mostly I considered him kind of a bad joke. Hey, let's have a superhero whose power is, wait for it, GUNS! In general, not my thing, and not, I would have thought, Greg's thing.
Ah, but the power of a good editor and a writer given a chance to write a character (a bunch actually), that, I had not counted on. Now, I just have to say, thank you Stephen Wacker, I think you are the best! Suddenly I was pulled into the Marvel Universe by a character I had scant given consideration to. Great writing and great editorial changed my mind. Still, I was not that interested in going deeper in.
Then, Margaret Weis Productions new Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game came out, and it is really fun. It set me on a path back to exploring Marvel, and suddenly, I found out that, despite all the things wrong with Marvel (and I still maintain they are many), there are some really terrific writers who have written some fantastic books in the last 10 to 15 years. So, while you know I am totally biased towards Greg Rucka, here are some other writers I am really happy to know.
Ed Brubaker (Secret Avengers, Captain America, Daredevil, Winter Soldier) I know, you all are saying "duh!" He wrote Gotham Central with Rucka, and that was amazing. How hard was it to find him? Well, I have to admit the heresy of not liking Criminal very much and while I enjoyed his reunion with Rucka on an arc of Daredevil, I was just kind of avoiding Marvel comics in general. But dang, Secret Avengers! Those totally rock. The other stuff then follows and there is no doubt he is a terrific writer. I have been reading what I can get my hands on (on a limited budget).
Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente (Incredible Hercules, Prince of Power, Chaos War) OMG! Hercules was this B-list character, a foil for Thor. Not ANY MORE! These guys reinvented Hercules and gave us Amadeus Cho. The world will never be the same.
Mark Waid (Daredevil [and a million other things I am going to discover]) Mr. Waid is poised to win a number of Eisners, and despite my rabid Ruck bias (who was not even nominated darn it), I have to say he is really deserving. The current run of Daredevil is astounding. And, he handles both sides of the character right. A lot of writers really don't understand what Matt Murdock does as a lawyer. However, that is a really important part of the character. Waid gives a lot of time to it, and he does it right. I am really, really impressed. I know he is a long time player in the comic book world, and I am looking for more stuff to read, especially some Fantastic Four stuff, becuase I hear that is great.
Brian Michael Bendis (New Avengers, Moon Knight, and like a gazillion other things) Okay, I know, "DUH!!" Clearly, he has changed a great deal about Marvel. Mostly for the good. Now, I have to qualify my love for Bendis. He does some great character work, and I think nobody does Spider-Man like him. He also did some really intersting things with Moon Knight and I am sorry they have cancelled the title. However, he does have a terrible habit of having characters go on, and on, and on, in rambling di/monologue. You can get used to it, but sometimes he has a story really humming along and you hit a page that is just a person talking, talking, talking, for like six, eight panels, all down the page, and it is like hitting a traffic jam. Still, he writes good characters and gets to do things no one else has done at Marvel.
Jeff Parker (Agents of Atlas, Gorilla Man) Okay, another OMG moment. I love Agents of Atlas. I can't say that Marvel didn't try to make them work. Maybe they didn't do it the right way, maybe some other plan would have made the first or second ongoing survive. It's hard to know. All I can say is, thank you for the time we had with Atlas, because it was really good. Now I have to seach out other stuff Parker has done.
Paul Cornell (Young Avengers, Captain Britain & M.I. 13) Captain Britain & M.I. 13 was another series that did not last, but the writing, for me, was top notch. I didn't love every element of the first arc of Young Avengers, but in general it was good. Must see what else Cornell is doing for Marvel.
Matt Fraction (Defenders, and lots of other stuff) Just "discovered" Fraction's Defender stuff. It is gonzo fun. Hope to read more by him.
Honorable metion: Joss Whedon (Astonishing X-Men) Yeah, super-"DUH!" Don't have to look for his comic work though. Whedon had a very solid run on Astonishing X-Men. He really hit great character notes. Some of the plot stuff did not wow me, but he inherited a lot of it. I more appreciated that he really understood the characters and even in plots I disdained, I enjoyed the characters, because he understood how they would act and react. Now, he is (hopefully) going to be making many insanely popular bockbuster movies, and punctuating that with little side projects, and he probably won't write comics for a long time if ever again.
On the horizon: Kelly Sue DeConnick (Captain Marvel (2012)) I have not read a word by her in comics yet, but she is pioneering the latest effort to get a female flagship hero into the stable of Marvel Comics. I want that to happen, and so, how can I not start buying. Captain Marvel is slated for release in July 2012 and I have my preorder in at my local comic book shop (Beyond Comics, yay!).
So, that is my growing list of authors for whom I will search. Marvel, I have a love hate relationship with a lot that you do, but you have employed some terrific writers, and I am going to do better about finding and following them.