The Overlong Goodbye: Tom King and Comics in 2021


I despair at times. This begins with my ordering issue 6 of the Batman/Catwoman limited series written by Tom King, which replaces the additional twenty issues King was originally going to write for the ongoing Batman title, as issues 86-105. I was a big fan of King’s Batman, the only run since the classic (but much shorter) Steve Engelhart/Marshall Rogers/Terry Austin run in Detective Comics as long ago as 1977/8 that had truly captured the Dark Knight for me.
When it comes to Batman, I have read more of his comics than I could ever count, going all the way back to repeats of the nonsensical SF stuff of the late fifties, under a dispirited Jack Schiff. But over the last twenty years at least the character has been over-exposed in the manner Jack Leibowitz used to fear in the early days. Sometimes it feels like two out of every three comics DC publish are Batman stories, and the number of mini-series about him is truly exhausting. That, and the over-emphasis on the Dark Knight aspect, the aftermath of Frank Miller, has more or less destroyed any interest I have in the character.
But a few years ago, a review of Batman Annual 2 attracted my attention. I bought that, and the associated issue of the title. It was my first exposure to Tom King’s writing, and I loved it. I filled in the back issues with the Deluxe editions and bought the series, twice a month, until it was abruptly halted with issue 85. I have not read any Batman since. I have finally been overwhelmed to the point of boredom with him.
Obviously I want to complete that disrupted story by getting the limited series. But this is where it starts to get complicated.
Batman/Catwoman was originally supposed to start in January 2020. It was already delayed when the effects of COVID forced the comics business into suspension. It was rescheduled for December 2020, to run for two six monthly runs each by artist Clay Mann, with a skip month in the middle to be filled by a Special drawn by another artist. Enough issues were intended to be in house before being scheduled to enable Mann to draw all the issues.
It’s now August 2021 and we’re only just getting issue 6, three months after issue 5. The Special has been rescheduled to December. It has been announced that issues 7-9 will be drawn by a different artist.
At the same time as this, King is also writing Strange Adventures, another twelve issue series starring Adam Strange. Eleven issues of this have limped out. I have, for a long time, found the whole thing to be abominable and have only continued buying it because nothing short of a full set of twelve will resell on eBay. It is four weeks since issue 11 was published. Issue 12 is not due for another five weeks from now.
Given the intense scheduling problems that caused Doomsday Clock, another twelve issue series, to take two years to come out, these latest developments have me wondering, aloud and loudly, just what the FUCK is going on!
Let’s step back from this a second or two.

Batman_Catwoman_1_1a_cubierta_DEF

Excepting a three-and-a-half-year period in the back half of my teens, I’ve been a comics fan all my life. Those years have seen innumerable changes, many of them good, and many of them bad. During the first year of the pandemic, when Forbidden Planet in Manchester was inaccessible, I took stock of my ongoing interest in the field. Ultimately, I decided, as I’d joked many times down the years, that at the age of 65 I had finally grown out of them.
I was down to only three series at that point, the two by King and Moonshine by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, that comes out in short ‘seasons’. I decided to wait for the collections of that in future, rather than buy it twice, only to find that, disappointingly, the next one will be the last.
My frustration at all this faffing around is the greater because King’s two series are keeping me from leaving comics behind. I can’t even quit comics with any sense of a clean break. Is it just no longer possible to get a comic book – especially a prestige, high-publicity series – out on time?
The only explanation that seems plausible is yet another reminder of the difference between then and now. In the Eighties, DC under Jeanette Khan and Paul Levitz accepted that they were the Number Two company, with no real prospects of overtaking Marvel on any long-term basis. Instead, they opted to emphasise quality: individuality and creative freedom. Editors became more like traffic managers than directors of commerciality.
By the Nineties, and the era of Superman titles as a fifty-two week of the year serial, individual creators were once again being de-emphasised, with a dominant Editor in Mike Carlin basically controlling storylines and ensured a multiplicity of writers stayed in line.
That kind of editorially directed title has only grown ever more dominant, and we’ve read endless tales of writers and artists being second guessed, forced to make changes, answer demands from above, often with little or no notice. I can only assume that this is what has fucked these two series about so right royally.
You may remember me carping loudly about the treatment of Wally West in King’s Heroes in Crisis, a ruination of the character that DC has tried manfully to overturn since, without the least scrap of success in this reader’s eye. But what seriously condemned the series for me was when King admitted that he had submitted the story, had it approved, and then and only then was told which characters to use for what.
I cannot think of a clearer abdication of a writer’s responsibilities.

Strange Adventure

In it’s way, Strange Adventures has been the worse experience of the two, the real bring down. As a plotline it’s over-extended and would have been more comfortable in only six issues, but it’s the nature of the story that has been the real turn-off for me.
A major element in my resignation from comics is that I have grown increasingly weary of the one-note darkness, death and degradation approach to comics that has been near-universal for far too long. Dark is at its best when it’s balanced against light, and there is no balance because light has been eliminated. Pain is all there is. My reaction to this has been compounded by my extensive access, in recent years, to old series on DVD, where even as I’m critical of some of them I find them generally more enjoyable because they employ intelligence in a different manner to nowadays.
One of those series was Mystery in Space, which of course featured Adam Strange, Strange the hero, the good guy, the planetary saviour due to ingenuity and scientific knowledge. King’s Adam Strange series is a process of destruction that, even more than Wally West, renders the character toxic. Even worse than Wally West, King’s story doesn’t undermine him in the present and for the future but violates the entirety of the character’s existence back to his first appearances in the original Showcase. It’s vile.
The story starts with Adam and Alanna on Earth, promoting his autobiography as a War Hero who has saved Rann from the previously irresistible force of the Pykkts. When Adam is denounced for War Atrocities by a man who shortly after is killed by a laser blaster, the JLA appoints Mr Terrific to investigate. He uncovers evidence that Adam and Alanna’s daughter, who he has told his wife was killed by the Pykkts, is alive and has been given up to them as a hostage whilst he buys the safety of Rann by giving them Earth. I can’t imagine a more thoroughgoing betrayal of everything Adam Strange was created to be, and I can’t resent it more as utterly despicable.
There’s an issue to go to wrap this up more or less intelligibly. I hold out very few hopes. This is me: the general reception of Strange Adventures is completely the opposite, which is one more reason why I want out, but I can’t until these last two DC series are done.
Which, at the current rate of progress, I’ll be lucky to do by the end of 2022, if then.

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