Thought Balloon: Please, Don’t Crush The Sandcastle

Posted: July 22, 2010 by silvertomatoproductions in Uncategorized

Good morning, Scratchi-verse!

Maybe all of this summer heat is getting to my head, but I’ve been on a huge beach kick lately. Baking in the sun, enjoying the fresh air, and yes, reading some awesome comics! So, as thoughts in my head often do, these two thoughts crashed into each other, blending into a philosophical smoothie of comic goodness!

Comics, I’ve figured out, are a lot like sandcastles.

Wheeling around the beaches of Indiana (as a side-note: I didn’t know there were beaches of Indiana!), I noticed a ton of sandcastles. Some, admittedly, were crafted by younger hands, resembling amorphous sand-piles more than castles. Some were masterful, crazy-awesome constructs of sandy soul-searching. No matter which group they fell in, though, I knew one thing: I was scared out of my mind that I’d accidentally crush a castle. It seems like a silly phobia at first, but think about it. Regardless of how much I personally liked a castle, somebody put at least an afternoon’s work into them. Just by my being on the beach, I was liable to completely dismantle  somebody’s castle. It didn’t even matter if it was an accident or not: somebody was still going to come back to that beach and see a crushed pile of sand in place of their personal masterpiece. Within a few minutes of being on the beach, I wheeled off into the grass. I didn’t want to to crush a castle, after all.

Now, there’s probably two groups in the audience of readers here. One group  knows exactly why I’m rambling on about sandcastles and beach-hopping on a comics and animation blog, while the other group thinks I probably haven’t taken enough meds today. For those of you in the latter camp, let me bring you up to speed.

I recently finished reading Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers of Victory maxi-series. In it, he takes seven (really, eight) lesser-known DC superheroes and freshens them up in individual 4-issue miniseries, giving them new supporting casts and a leg to stand on in the wider DC Universe. The results are sometimes amazing, and sometimes less so, but that’s not the point. The last issue of Seven Soldiers was published in December of 2006. Four years later, can you guess how many of these character are active in a major capacity in the DC Universe? A grand, whopping, final total of…

One. Yep, one. Only Zatanna, backwards-speaking mistress of magic, has her own ongoing series (Which, I might add, almost completely ignores Morrison’s series.) As for the other 7 major characters of this saga, not one of them have garnered more than a few-panels cameo in any sort of DC title. Can you guess why? It’s not because of any lack of quality, at least from where I stand. It’s because DC is afraid of crushing sandcastles.

When you work in a shared universe*, as DC (and Marvel, and Image) writers do, you always run the risk of crushing somebody’s sandcastle, or even having your own castle crushed. As such, writers and editorial try to avoid the “shared” part of “shared universe”. The reason why no writer has had the cajones to write  a Seven Soldier is that they’re afraid of screwing the characters up. Because, supposedly, they belong to Morrison. He is their keeper, and only he knows how to write them. Despite, y’know, Morrison expressing a desire in the forward to Seven Soldiers that other writers would build upon his groundwork. But, at the same time, I don’t blame any fears that other writers may have. In the interest of beating a dead horse, let’s talk about Roy Harper, whom I’ve already talked about on this blog  before.

In the past few years, a plethora of writers including James Robinson and JT Krul have completely crushed Roy Harper’s sand-castle, even though he never had much of a large one to begin with. This mass-crushing has happened to the point where no writer or artist worth their salt wants to even touch the entire Arrow family. The character has basically been declared radioactive, locked in a game of editorial Hot Potato. But, for every failure, there’s a success story. Or, should I say, for every Blackest Night, there’s a Brightest Day?

Green Lantern, circa 1990 and into the mid-2000s, had a bigger sandcastle than most, but was easily dwarfed by the still-sprawling sandcastles of Batman, Superman, and even Wonder Woman. That is, until Geoff Johns came along and decided to do the unthinkable: instead of destroying the sandcastle and making a new one, or letting it sit there, he picked up a pail and shovel and decided to add on to it. The Green Lantern mythos had not been revised or re-imagined. All of the previous elements from other writers, good, bad, or ugly, were there. They were just re-ignited, re-purposed. I guess you could even call it a rebirth. And, lo and behold, the once-ailing Green Lantern comics have become nothing less than the cornerstone of DC Comics today, with a sand-castle rivaling Wayne Manor itself, even spawning a solo summer blockbuster (despite the awful costume made out of Flubber and spirit gun, but that’s a rant for another day.) “So, Tomato”, you may be asking me, “what’s the point?” If you take nothing else away from this post, take away this:

Writing for shared-universe comics isn’t exactly a beach-side vacation. You’re constantly dealing with other people’s goods. Odds are that any character you touch has, at the very least, a decade’s worth of other, and maybe better, stories under their belt. As Grant Morrison so wonderfully addresses in another of his comic series, Animal Man, there’s a constant stream of sand-castles on this big, 75 year-old beach considered either too large to even attempt to add to, or too small to ever even bother with. But, most of the time, the very best ideas in comics come from the writers who embrace the beach, and have faith enough to put their unique stamp on a sandcastle. So, please, don’t CRUSH the sandcastle, but don’t live in fear of doing so. Throw sand on it boldly. Pad it down, dig for years. And maybe, someday soon, you’ll be the king of the beach.

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