*New Series* Uncompleted Stories: Preface

Ms Bethany Cabe

Every now and then, I’ve tried to give book readers (if they are interested) an insight into the ways that comics reading differs from book reading.
One principal point cannot be emphasised too much, which is that mainstream comic book characters are corporate properties, not creative properties. They have been written by dozens, if not hundreds in the case of older creations, of writers, each with their own vision, perception, thought and preference, each tempered by an editor appointed to oversee the corporate custody of the character. And each editor has their own vision, perception, thought and preference.
Accordingly, everything the comics reader reads is a purely temporary vision, valid only so long as that individual writer is in nominal control. And sometimes not even then.
Take, for example, the case of Bethany Cabe. Bethany was a supporting character in Iron Man, during the successful late Seventies/early Eighties run by David Michelinie (writer) John Romita Jr. (pencils) and Bob Layton (inker). Bethany, a stunningly attractive redhead, was introduced intially as a new girlfriend for Tony Stark, who was also head of a bodyguarding company and a highly skilled martial artist in her own right.
Micheline et al.introduced the idea of Tony Stark as an alcoholic during their run, and Bethany became an integral part of the series with her (successful) efforts to help him go sober. It transpired that her late husband had been a drug addict, who died in a car smash after she left him: Bethany is determined not to let Stark go unsupported. During this run, she learns that Stark is Iron Man. The pair are incredibly close, and completely open with each other.
Michelinie left after issue 141. The new writer’s first story was a two parter in which Bethany Cabe suddenly became ultra-secretive, betrayed Stark and announced she was leaving him to return to her husband, who suddenly – and miraculously – was discovered to be alive. Off she went, not to be seen for ages.
It was a complete betrayal of everything that had been estalished over a two-year run, completely lacking in emotional consistency or plausibility, because the new writer didn’t want to use Cabe and wanted to bring in a girlfriend he’d create for his stories.
That’s what comics are about. Writers and artists change, abruptly, for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality, or even popularity of their work. And each new team comes in wanting to do their own stories, wanting nothing to do with the ideas and themes of their predecessors, and even less to do with building storylines that their predecessor was not able to bring to fruition.
In the Seventies and early Eighties, readers had to get used to stories that vanished out from underneath them, to certainties that reformed themselves from one issue to the next, to the expectation at any moment that a new writer would abandon something that would remain uncompleted.
The situation did start to resolve itself as the Eighties progressed: between Jim Shooter’s dictatorial regime as Editor-in-Chief at Marvel reigning in the anarchy of the Bullpen, and the Kahn-Levitz-Giordano triumvirate at DC accepting the company’s lesser market share as a given and concentrating on quality and creators as their USP, such things grew rare. Not dismissed, aswe shall see, but far less common.
These are not the only reasons why, in comics as opposed to books, stories fail to end – and I don’t mean the mainstream necessity of superheroes living endlessly in a narrative stream without conclusion.
All this musing comes about because I’ve recently been re-reading a couple of series that have failed to reach their ending, with no prospect of further work in sight, and it’s given me the urge to write about such instances, and the effect incompletion has on what we have available to read.
I’ll be starting with a story that was both uncompleted and completed: tune in to find out what series this involved.