Friday, July 13, 2007

Everything new is old again

This week, Comic Art Friday celebrates the return of Nexus, the nuclear-powered dispenser of cosmic justice cocreated by writer Mike Baron and artist Steve Rude. After a decade of dormancy, Nexus reappeared in comic shops everywhere this past Wednesday, with the first issue of a brand-new, four-part adventure entitled "Space Opera."

If you like your superhero comics old school, they don't come much better than Nexus. I highly recommend that you check it out.

Steve Rude has long been an advocate for superheroes in the classic style, a return to Silver Age basics from the dark, hyperviolent, angst-ridden fare that has pervaded the genre since the late 1980s. While certainly modern in sensibility — Nexus is no exercise in nostalgia, as even the most cursory reading would reveal — Rude and Baron's creation delivers the kind of energetic fun I came to expect from comics when I first began reading them in the 1960s. Rude's clean, muscular art, heavily influenced by such industry giants as Jack Kirby and Alex Toth, is always a joy to behold, and Baron's quirky scripts remain among the most entertaining in the business.

A couple of years ago, I was fortunate enough to find my way onto Steve Rude's commission list. My efforts were rewarded with this action-packed pinup featuring one of my favorite heroines, Mary Marvel.

Notice that Rude's rendition of Mary shows her exactly as she ought to be depicted — as a strong, vivacious teenager, not as a glorified Hooters girl in a superhero costume. The insistence of the current DC Comics editorial department (I'm looking at you, Dan DiDio) upon portraying Mary in an increasingly grim and hypersexualized fashion, especially in the new Countdown series, burns my biscuits to no end. There are plenty of overdeveloped hotties in the DC Universe. Mary Marvel doesn't need to be one of them.

I know that some may suppose that I'm an immovable old curmudgeon who doesn't think comics ever ought to "grow up." Nothing could be further from the truth. My only contention with the "grim 'n' gritty" direction of the superhero genre over the past two decades is that grimness and grit has marginalized every other stylistic approach to superhero fantasy. I'm all for people who enjoy darker fare having books that suit their tastes.

But not every superhero book ought to be "dark." Spider-Man and Superman shouldn't be dark. The Fantastic Four, the Legion of Super-Heroes, and the Teen Titans shouldn't be dark. Nor should Supergirl, or Wonder Woman, or any member of the Marvel Family, Mary Marvel included. These characters weren't conceived with a grim, gritty sensibility, and imposing such on them ruins the appeal of the characters, transmogrifying them into something they were never intended to be.

I've never forgiven Frank Miller for destroying one of my childhood heroes, Daredevil, back in the early 1980s. Miller took a character who had always been something of a more adult Spider-Man and turned him mean-spirited and ugly. More than 20 years later, DD is still being written that way by Miller's successors. It makes me sad to pass up the monthly Daredevil comic every time I visit my local comics retailer. But the character Marvel Comics calls "Daredevil" now is not the noble hero I once knew.

For creators who want to explore the dark side, there's ample room to manufacture new creations that suit their vision. Alan Moore did it with Watchmen. Keith Giffen did it with Lobo. Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson are doing it today with The Boys. Even the dreaded Miller did it with his popular Sin City. None of these works appeal to me, but I appreciate their service to their particular target market. I'm glad they exist for the people who enjoy them.

But I'd sure like to have my old Daredevil back.

Fortunately, there are the Steve Rudes of the world, artists who are determined to see to it that comic book superheroes I can love and admire do not vanish from the earth. Even among the new school of talents are those who still appreciate and value the classic characters as they ought to be, as in this charming pinup of Mary Marvel by Sean Chen.

Call me a fuddy-duddy, but I like what I like.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.

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3 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger Sank offered these pearls of wisdom...

I have to compliment you on the comic art... I've got a couple boxes of old comics from the days when I was trying to be a collector. Frankly it was too overwhelming for me to keep track of what's worth buying and what isn't... I love this stuff but am at a loss on what to buy when I'm in a comic shop. Which BTW seem to be a dying breed of store. Sad

2:00 PM  
Blogger MCF offered these pearls of wisdom...

I got into DD post Miller, around the Nocenti JR JR era, so he's always been a dark character with a crummy life. I know he's friends with Spidey, but never thought of him as an adult Spider-man, more Batman to Spidey's Superman.

I wonder if the return of Nexus will cause my site to get more hits. ;-)

6:05 PM  
Blogger Joel Bryan offered these pearls of wisdom...

Excellent! I'm happy about the return of "Nexus," too. I'm hoping people jump on the bandwagon this time around. Nice Mary Marvel art, too. The Dude actually thinks about characters and their qualities of heroism when he draws them.

5:57 AM  

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