Thursday, December 3, 2009

Bendissed, Spindled, and Morrisonated (a.k.a. My OPINION concerning “great” and/or “hot right now”, contemporary comic writers: An OPINION piece detailing my OPINION from a suitably OPINIONated perspective, not be mistaken with your OPINION, which is yours and also an OPINION...)

I know many peeps are going to disagree with many things I say and they’re going to say so via private messages or links to this post, but what I have to say has to be said...Okay, I’m way too much fun repeating the same word in run-on sentences. :)


Alan Moore:
Is he good? Yes, he’s not hate-worthy, but...Is he great? Alan Moore likes to deconstruct the superhero. Someone once said – I think it was in reference to Watchmen – that ‘to deconstruct’ actually means ‘to take way too seriously’ and I think that person hit the nail on the head concerning Moore’s pre-occupation with deconstructing subject matter that needs at least a thin veneer of escapist fun. Personally, I find Moore’s writing (especially his dialogue) pretty wordy. It’s almost a universal writing rule: To write well, write tightly. Say as much as you with as few words as you can. In some of Moore’s comics, he uses 26 words where 16 would have done the job and better word choice would have imparted more meaning trough those fewer words. Another gripe I have Moore’s writing is illustrated in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, where I’m sure I’m wasn’t alone in asking: Why do we need this character? Yes, I’m looking at you, Alan Quatermaine. However, as troublesome as those tendencies are, Moore really lets rip when he gets a run on comic he didn’t create. If you love a comic, Moore will warp it. Not just a different direction, but near-reboot level changes. Unfortunately, he is not alone in this compulsion (see below). Moore earns 5.25 out 10 on my opinion-meter.

Warren Ellis:
Mister Ellis can be a real douchebag at times (e.g. doing a parody of a celebrity death), but sometimes he can be right on the money (when blogging). Okay, on to his writing. Like some of the other Brits on this list, Ellis loves to take established comics into unexplored territory. Unfortunately, like his countrymen, he transforms a comic for the sake of making an impact or leaving his mark or as a friend of mine put it ‘marking his territory.’ I like some of his work – Planetary comes to mind. On the other hand, he once killed a favourite comic of mine to create his own comic and not only did kill my sweetheart, but he did it with an inter-company cross-over one-shot! I wonder how Spiderman fans would feel if Batman killed Spiderman in a cross-over and Spidey was really dead after the crossover ended. On the third hand, I seem to have some random things in common with Ellis and I find it impossible to totally hate anyone who likes the same stuff that I do, because that would be like hating myself and I’m adorable. Still, Ellis isn’t my cup of tea. Ellis earns 5.75 out of 10 on my opinion-meter.

Grant Morrison:
Turning the DCU into the Morrison-verse is an impressive feat, indeed. Other writers at DC seem to ask him if he thinks an idea is cool before they start writing. This can never be good. Is he good? Yes, at times. One of my main problems with the Scotsman is that he can give you something really cool and then pair it with something so HOKEY that instantly causes the story to lose all of its immersive quality (for me). Another problem is that eventually every comic will be Morrisonated (read: mutilated Morrison-style or marinated in Morrison crazy juice), then he’ll lose interest, and finally the downward spiral will occur. On occasion, he’s also shown only a scant knowledge of the comic he was writing (in terms of history and previous arcs created). Final Crisis – that’s all I’m going to cite if Morrison Die Hard fans start singing his praises. Final Crisis was the most disjointed events s that I have ever come across and there have been some doozies over the years. Really, it was like every character or group whose name popped into Morrison’s head got put into the script at the exact second he was thinking about them. Some of the characters that play microscopic parts in the entire series actually dominate the final issue. Actually, I could also mention his runs on JLA and X-men as well. In JLA, Grant roped in every flavour of the month DC hero that he was involved with to become a member or guest star. In addition, Batman villains became JLA villains and ditto for Superman villains. Now, as a writer, if you don’t knock it out of the park with JLA, it is rather easily fixed by the next writer. He or she can change the cast of heroes quite easily. With X-men, however, his successor was pretty much stuck with what Morrison had done for a spell and what Grant created there was just awful. Another Morrison trait seems to be that he gets progressively worse the longer his run on a comic is and this usually occurs when the particular run is longer than 6 to 8 months. A final observation/query concerning Morrison: Is this dude spread too thin at times? Morrison earns 4 out of 10 on my opinion-meter.

Brian Michael Bendis:
Turning the Marvel Universe into the Bendis-verse is even more impressive. Bendis is in many ways the ‘Anti-Morrison’ of comics and for that he should be applauded: He doesn’t feel the need to warp everything beyond the point of recognition. It seems as if Bendis understands that when working on an established title he is the custodian or steward of shared history and present experience. Even in his Ultimate universe, you’ll recognise Spiderman. Sure, he’s been modified, but he’s still recognizable.* He does really good dialogue (if slightly wordy at times) and if Marvel had any sense they’d get him to do Captain America or write a ‘Dialogue guideline for writers writing Cap’ so that character’s awful way of speaking can be tweaked/improved to a less annoying level. The name Brian Michael Bendis may sound like Chad Michael Murray, but unlike a ‘teen dream’ actor he’ll outlast a lot of his red hot peers. The seeds of greatness are here, both within his attitude and his craft. Bendis earns 6.5 out of 10 on my opinion-meter.

[*Another difference between DC and Marvel: DC reboots, retcons, and rebirths characters and concepts in and out of continuity while the red team will create parallel universes for such ideas to see which (the original or the modified) is more popular.]


Frank Miller:
Frank Miller is perhaps the most technically proficient guy on this list (in terms of pencilling and writing). Heck, Frank Miller comic scripts are often used as teaching aids, because Frank uses most (if not all) scripting techniques known to comic writers. Miller reminds me of the sports expression: form is temporary, while class is permanent. Just to clarify, in this context ‘class’ refers to how good your game is. Professional athletes and comic pros who possess great technique come out of slumps in form a lot faster than those with weaker techniques. Yet, being technically proficient does not a genius make. You have to bring it all together. Sometimes, Miller does. Sometimes, Miller overdoes the grittiness of his stories so that he has the opportunity to do dynamic panel art – Daredevil, anyone? Miller earns 6 out of 10 on my opinion-meter.

Alan Davis:
Alan Davis is the ONLY genius on this list. There, I said it. Mister Davis is a writer who embodies the following axioms of comic writing: One, know every rule/convention before you break said rules/conventions. Two, know the comic and its characters before you start to write. See JLA: The Nail to see someone who is a great writer who knows all the tiers of characters connected to a comic as steeped in history as the JLA and can write an alternate history tale at the same. The latter is rarely done well in superhero comic writing, because it requires an in-depth knowledge of characters and their actual histories. His Clandestine series (now collected as a trade) is awesome and again shows how Mister Davis rolls with characters (and indeed teams) with baggage. And how does he roll? Better than anyone else. When comparing his writing to his art, it’s really difficult to tell which is better and that, my friends, is saying a lot. Davis earns 8.5 out of 10 on my opinion-meter.

Some general observations:

Only two or three of the pros – Davis, Bendis, and Miller – mentioned above get solid to great passing grades from me and there seem to some similarities between the ones did not.

1] They seem to lack an internal editor* (at different levels). Quite literally, Moore doesn’t have a dialogue editor in his head who can pare down dialogue to a more efficient number of words per balloon. Morrison seems to go with his first idea for every story he writes and predictably...unique...stuff is created.

* Note: Having an internal editor, does NOT mean self-moderating or self-editing the creativity out of your ideas. No, having one goes hand in hand with being able to switch your internal editor on and off.

2] Maybe it’s predominantly a UK comic writer thing, but Moore, Morrison, and Ellis are all guilty of this: Only being able to write an established title by totally changing (read: revamping or redesigning or hacking or warping) the hero as well as the supporting cast and/or the feel of the book.

Here’s a hint, guvnahs: It is possible to write NEW STORIES for a comic WITHOUT REINVENTING the CHARACTERS.

That’s just my opinion. As always, your mileage may vary.


  1. Thank you! You are my personal hero for writing this post!! It's almost like a taboo to criticize Morrison, in some circles. I wouldn't even READ Final Crisis. I wish I could go on forever and respond to your post but time does not allow. I would rank Miller lower than you did, only because of The Dark Knight Returns. I took issue with that. Mostly the 28 panels-per-page execution and the mis-characterization of Batman.

    Here’s a hint, guvnahs: It is possible to write NEW STORIES for a comic WITHOUT REINVENTING the CHARACTERS. Amen.

    Morrison has his merits, though, and I think he's much better at generating ideas than actually EXECUTING them and seeing them through. I'll give him points for creativity, but dock him for execution.

    If I was making this list, I would put Greg Rucka on it. Oh, do I have a love/hate relationship with Greg Rucka. The man can be a genius, and then can turn around and ruin established characters by imposing his own predilections onto them. Argh! I think I should hurry up and make my blog already so I can post endlessly about Greg Rucka and Batwoman.

  2. Thanks, that's a mistake on my part - I thought I gave Miller 6 out 10 and NOT 7. Also wanted to type...Davis is the ONLY genius on this list. Can't have the world getting the wrong idea. Will EDIT NOW.