Friday, July 23, 2010

Quesada Of Solace

Or: "So I will never work at Marvel Comics, ever."

So, Joe Quesada's reign as head creative mind over at Marvel is now into entering its second decade, the first of which had about three good years wherein there was unprecedented creative freed from the usual restraints of corporate comics followed by another seven of foisting his own stagnant illogical interpretations of the various properties under the Marvel banner.

One might charitably score that as a "push."

There's plenty of reasons not to like Quesada--he's obnoxious, confrontational, narrow-minded, stuck in the past, reacts to criticism roughly about as well as say, Galvatron (I take that back--Galvatron never justified his capricious decisions by saying "Oh yeah?! Well, my mom died! My father smoked himself to death! Trees hate me!" Also, Galvatron could turn into a laser gun.) He's undone 20 years of Spider-Man continuity because "a married Spider-Man doesn't work" (despite the fact that it did) only ten years after the last time Marvel tried it, and managed to do it in an even more inane and less-justified fashion, forced an arbitrary limit on the number of mutants in X-Men, hobbling the franchise with an edict that crippled the entire concept for five years, and OK'd a comic wherein the Green Goblin busts a nut all up in Spider-Man's girlfriend.

These are all great reasons to loathe Quesada's vision or lack thereof, but I think people are missing out on another great reason to hate Quesada--he's a breathtakingly shitty artist. Always has been. The sweet irony that a man who continues to be venerated for "making Marvel more creative and less corporate" is that he's actually a worse artist than Rob Liefeld. long the Patron Saint of Bad Artists. Wizard, in fact, once called him "a mix of Liefeld and Mignola," and surely any horrifying hybrid like that would live only a few days in oozing agony like the baby in Eraserhead. Seriously--I don't even want to think about it.

This is, on the face of it, sacrilege--Rob Liefeld has been the whipping boy for lazy hipster writers writing comics-themed articles on the Internet for ages now (myself included), and I certainly don't begrudge them for it, but what these people neglect is that there are much more awful artists than Liefeld--he just had the fortune to be the most popular at the wrong time and ended up the most notorious.

But let's spread the wealth around. There's plenty Liefeld does that Quesada can't manage. For one, Liefeld doesn't tend to leave half of an entire page black so he doesn't have to draw things he might find difficult, like anything. For another, occasionally Liefeld characters can stand erect, however difficult. For another, Liefeld does not approach the business of rendering muscles as if his characters are wet sacks of oatmeal held together by full-body condoms--muscles shouldn't be that gritty, really. Also, Liefeld's Spider-Man was never hydrocephalic, at least as far as I can remember. What I'm trying to say is looking at his art one begins to think that "Hmm, maybe we've been too hard on Rob Liefeld," which, like dividing by zero , is not a naturally tenable thought to hold in the human mind.

Also, Quesada was quite fond of that whole "open mouth, drool between teeth" bullshit which was all over comics from 91-96, and that was just . . .man, I never want to see that again.

Quesada's art is not as well-known, mostly because he never did that much. Quesada's major during the 90's was that he was the regular artist on X-Factor, which meant I think he did maybe five issues and none of them were consecutive. In between this, he was offered multiple opportunities for designing various new and old Marvel and DC characters, this despite the fact he has, in my humble opinion, about as much business designing characters as I have operating the Large Hadron Collider.

This article, then, is a journey, a dark ride if you will through Quesada's character designs. Come with me for a not-so-fond look back at Quesada's character designs from the past. Perhaps on the way we will look a bit skeptically at the idea of The Q as a "great creative mind." Or perhaps you will find my series of cheap shots and naked unvarnished contempt amusing. Either way, you're reading this and that means I've won already.

Random--Lift me lord, to a place where I will never see another Lobo clone again. In addition to everything else being ripped off in the oh-so 1990s, DC's Lobo was a big target. Liefeld spun off the utterly mush-brained Bloodwulf, and Marvel actually had TWO knock-offs--Random and Lunatik because my pain was like candy to him. Random had no reason to be in X-Factor, wasn't all that compelling (his hands turned into GUNS and he SHOT PEOPLE WITH THEM!!) and his power set was woefully inconsistent, and yet he became a member of X-Factor, and his origin got far more confusing from their because it turned out he was a little kid made of goo who had a crush on Polaris and turned into Lobo clone because oh Jesus Christ I hate goddamned comic books sometimes.

Exodus--Hey kids! It's a flying elf--kill it with fire! No, really, Exodus was . . .well, I'm not sure what the hell Exodus was supposed to be. The first harbinger of those moments when the X-Office would think up stuff and jam it into the books without thinking it through completely, Exodus came at the tail end of a whole bunch of new X-Men villains who were built up as huge threats despite being neither effective nor charismatic (Fabian Cortez! Trevor Fitzroy! Sienna Blaze! The Soul Skinner!) or ones that clumsily had "X" somewhere in the title (X-Cutioner, X-Treme, and some others. No X-Pialidocious, though.) Exodus was set up to be Magneto's right hand man and in service of that was given a ridiculous costume (seriously, what's up with the shoulder hooks?) an utterly inscrutable power set (basically "whatever the plot demands") and one of the most batshit insane origin stories ever: He was a knight from 1000 years ago who fought the Black Knight and went into a coma and look at the time: It's half past Jack Daniels!

Ninjak--Ninjak is what happens when a guy decides to become a ninja in the towel section of Bed Bath and Beyond. Ninjak was a comic from Valiant, a comic book company everyone loved, then hated, then loved, then forgot about again. The nicest thing I can say about Ninjak is that of all the titles Valiant put out, it was certainly one of them.

Ninjak is also the first example in our little list of one of Quesada's most irritating design tics--Big Chunky Gloves. I can only surmise that instead of How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way, Quesada took his cues from Popeye's anatomy. I wonder if that's the reason none of his characters can't stand up--their arms are too damned heavy.

Either that or Quesada sees every character as a painfully constipated ball of angst whose high-fiber diet has just kicked in and are scant seconds away from busting a grump equal for about 3/4ths of their body weight.

Also, his name wasn't "Jack," which I thought was bullshit. Maybe Mighty Bomb Jack threatened to sue.

Azrael--Big Chunky Gloves, again. Oh, and he only has three fingers, for some damn reason. Azrael's suit looks hella cool until you realise the following: One, he just designed the top half of it and left the rest blank because he only had a half-hour to go before lunch and Two, unless he's standing in a vacuum all the time, there's no way his cape, his ascot, and those weird things on his back aren't constantly whipping around and slapping him upside the head.

But hey! BIG FLAMING SWORD HANDS! The best part about this is this was only a harbinger of what was to come, because Azrael would one day take over for . . .

Batman--Re-designing Batman's suit is not easy. Hell, DC put out a whole sketchbook of potential Batman redesigns in the 1990s (before just deciding to make the whole thing black) Quesada, however, was having none of that bullshit, and gave us the following: The Black Panther in a yellow traffic warden's vest, with a few little hooky things poking out of his shoulder (I have a feeling the words "Cape?" were scribbled in the margins) and gave him big chunky claw-gloves and once again didn't bother to detail anything below the chest. Joe, you can not knock this shit off a few minutes before lunch on a Friday--there's a certain lack of effort that is becoming apparent.

Ash--Ash is a firefighter powered by angels, and if you hate him, you hate Our Brave Firefighters and Jesus. Also, his hair is on fire, but just the one little bit there. I recommend a change of conditioner to take care of that. You would expect me to write something here about his Big Chunky Arms, wouldn't you? Well, I'm not going to. I will, however, say that I left Painkiller Jane off the list because some things are too stupid even for me to mock and also Painkiller Jane can kiss my ever-loving ass.

The "Iron Spider" Costume--OK! So, uh, why are there three arms instead of four? We're too good for balance or symmetry I guess. Created to signify that Iron Man was Spider-Man's new BFF (because comic readers are too stupid to work that out for themselves unless the characters involved CHANGE THEIR CLOTHES to underlie the point. Remember: Comic readers of today are subtler, more genre-savvy, intelligent and everything I just said is a wet tissue of lies) so Iron Man made him an ugly new outfit which he apparently came up with by looking at the ketchup and mustard bottles in the Stark commissary. Spider-Man apparently didn't eat that day, which is why he looks so emaciated in the picture.

Spider-Man, like Batman, is a tricky character to redesign--the original suit is such an effective design (although I'm sure it's a pain in the ass to draw all those webs) but they've succeeded a couple times with their redesigns. The black suit is very effective and strips the design down to the essential elements in a Batman Beyond kinda way and even the re-design they gave Ben Reilly (and later Spider-Girl) is a good riff on the original suit. There's room to play around with it and come up with something visually cool.

This . . .well, this is more on the Spider-Armor scale of things, which means it's pretty awful. We have the three arms, the half-boots (seriously, did he run out of yellow or what?) and also the fact that Spider-Man is goddamn red and yellow for some reason I don't understand or care all that much for. It's like Daredevil has a large tick on him or something.

So, there you have it--a small peek into the works on the man who has pushed Marvel into the 21st century for a whole decade now. Are you excited? Enlightened? I'm excited! What will he do in this brave new decade? Who else will he give big chunky arms to? Who else will he redesign with garish colours and stupid shit coming out of his back? Suckas gots to know!


Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Marvelous. Absolutely marvelous. Well played, sir. :) I'd disagree, though, that Quesada is worse than Liefeld, if only because good old Joe can't hold anything remotely resembling a regular schedule, which means we only have to put up with him once in a blue moon. Liefeld, though... the man just won't go away. :)

So... a mix of Liefeld and Mignola, eh? That's, what, giant frogs with tiny feet? ;)

To be honest, after that Ashley Wood run on "Ghost Rider 2099" and Chris Bachalo's... well, anything by Chris Bachalo, even busty Cap is tolerable. If I can tell what's happening on the page without squinting for twenty minutes, it's better than those two...

As for the Iron Spider... yes, quite an unfortunate choice (and I don't think much about the upcoming Neon Green Joel Schumaker Edition Spider-Man either). The best Spider-Man redesign I've seen in recent years was that look he had in the #500 flash-forward, with the red jacket and regular jeans. Simple, stripped-down and effective. So of course they ditched it for something that makes him look like a hot dog.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Also: I think that overall, he's done far more damage to comics as a writer/editor than he ever did as an artist. Big Chunky Gloves is one thing; arbitrarily depopulating the mutant race while moving them to San Francisco to play up the racial analogy... well, it's taken them over five years to right the ship again.

Kazekage said...

Thank you, thank you. Thing of it is, I wish they'd both bugger off for all time, and neither of them are great artists, but I . . .*rigor mortis begins to set in* . . .kind . . .of . . .prefer . . .Liefeld . . .to . . .Quesada.

It's more, "Somewhere the creator of Hellboy is shaking his fist at the sky and cursing cruel fate." :)

It boggles my mind that Ashley Wood got a run on a 2099 book, y'know. They just didn't give a shit, did they?

I still think the Black Costume, followed by the Ben Reilly suit are probably the most effective new costumes they've done for Spidey but the new neon one is . .. uh . . .so, they just took the black suit, filled the white in with green and added a 20% inner glow filter to it? That's . . .lazy.

Oh, and the question remains whether the ship is indeed righted, as the one-two punch of vampire bukkake and Generation Hope (they have people for coming up with titles for new series, don't they? They can do better than this.) makes me wonder if they weren't better off being babysat by Sentinels.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Oh, that's understandable - Liefeld is an utter twat, but he's got nothing on the sheer levels of so-help-me-God-if-you-were-standing-in-front-of-me-I'd-slap-your-face-clean-off-your-head obnoxiousness Quesada radiates.

And chanting about Yog-Sothoth, no doubt. :)

By then? Not really. More's the pity: it's one of the few "alternate futures" Marvel cooked up that really worked.

The black costume's iconic for a reason, I completely agree, but I never cared much for the Scarlet Spider outfit. Not so much because of the design itself, but because it seemed to imply a tougher, more urban edge to the character (ie: torn denim vest/hoodie, the lack of any elaborate lines on the rest of the costume) that - as far as I know - never actually manifested.

I confess to being a bit curious about "Generation Hope" - Kieron Gillen has a knack for creating quirky, interesting characters, which is exactly what these five need to be if they're supposed to represent the climax of Hope's return. The bit with the vampires, though... yeah, I just don't get it. Just because Claremont threw Dracula at Storm in one issue thirty years ago doesn't mean it's time to go back to that particularly dry well.

Kazekage said...

For all Liefeld is an utter prat, I do feel that he, like Jim Balent, loves what he does (however weird and off-putting to the rest of us), and whatever you can say about his shortcomings as a person and an artist, he has never pretended to be above the material (for obvious reasons, hur hur hur) or felt like working in comics was slumming it. Genuine enthusiasm in superhero comics is a precious commodity these days.

The Old Ones were reportedly very miffed, yes. ;)

Probably because they were allowed to do whatever they wanted the whole time, provided every #1 had a foil cover. :)

Oh I meant Ben's actual Spider-Man suit (AKA the "Spider-Girl" suit)--the hoodie is just absolutely stupid. :)

Well, Storm and the Black Panther met twice and it was justification enough for a marriage, an awful John Byrne story in West Coast Avengers (that he never even finished) that all right thinking people had tried to forget was justification for Wanda to lose her damn mind . . .I'm used to this kinda flimsy justification.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

I think I'd still prefer talent to enthusiasm - Ellis' bitchery regarding the superhero genre is old and tiresome, but the man's work has never offended me the way Jim Balent's does. And don't even get me started on Liefeld scheming to retcon Rictor and Shatterstar's relationship upgrade because that ain't how the good Rob made 'em...

If we were in Japan, this would be the part where the naughty tentacles would appear, I'm sure. :)

I'm rather sure 2099 was the only alternate future Marvel ever published where the protagonists weren't direct descendants of the original heroes. In retrospect, foil and holograms weren't such a high price to pay for a bit of originality...

Ah, that's the one with the larger spider taking up the entire front of the costume? Subtle but effective difference; I liked it. :)

What drives me crazy about these situations is that, in going back to those older stories, these twits tend to overlook the fact that those supposedly loose threads had been dealt with ages ago. If Storm was going to marry anyone, you'd think it would've been Forge, the guy she'd been dating for about a decade - or at least Wolverine if it had to be a top-tier character. And Bendis goes back to Mephisto Ate My Babies territory despite John Byrne of all people closing the door on that storyline. So it's not even faithful nostalgia - they're just cherry-picking old plotlines regardless of their actual status. Just another reason to toss the nostalgia fetishists out the door, really.

Kazekage said...

Thing is, if anyone should have been bitching about Rictor and Shatterstar, it was probably Fabian Nicieza (who didn't, bless him) who did more with them than Liefeld could ever be arsed to do. As to Balent, well . . .yeah, Tarot is not good, but then neither is Ellis sitting and stewing waiting for his big break in Hollywood. God, no wonder comics are in such a bad away.

If it were only naughty tentacles, we would be lucky.

I actually liked that aspect of it. It felt a bit like what DC did over at Tangent (before we decided that had to be a goddamned parallel Earth to) wherein they took either the name or basic concept, and went in their own direction. This would probably never happen today, because Wolverine would still be alive in 2099, as would Deadpool and everyone else I'm sick to death of seeing.

Yep! I really liked it too--it evoked the original suit, but was different enough to read as "new." And it probably ended up working better on Spider-Girl but good design is good design.

YES. That's why we don't need the 90th redemption of Hank Pym--Steve Englehart covered it in Weast Coast Avengers, and it was a very good bit of business, thank you, let's do something else. This is why we end up with comics about other comics trying to reconcile other comics which explain other comics which retcon other comics which tell the secret origin of comics. I don't even think that last sentence is hyperbole anymore.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Wasn't Nicieza the one to set up the subtext in the first place, though? I imagine he'd take David's current direction as a compliment - how often do writers affirm their predecessors' work in this medium?

I suppose if Ellis has one redeeming quality, it's that he's not exploitative in the way Balent or Adam Hughes is.

Wouldn't you know it, they actually tried for a 2099 comeback... was it last year? Or 2008, I forget. It was a miniseries with Brian Reed, and two characters from the present ended up visiting a take on that future timeline. Have a guess as to who.

Well, it had a bit more iconic significance for Spider-Girl, in that she wore it as a tribute to her "uncle", but as you say: good design is good design. :)

There's a Witless Dictionary entry in there - a permutation of Legacy Disenfranchisement where not only are the creators digging up old bits and pieces like Victor Frankenstein after a 30-car pile-up, they're picking up "loose threads" that had been sewn shut ages ago. It's that rather baffling situation where Writer A remembers the first part of Story B to the letter (enough to recreate it thirty years later) and somehow forgets all about the second half of the story, where it all worked out.

Kazekage said...

Well, kinda. I think his intention was just that Shatterstar was "asexual." Unfortunately, he left X-Force soon after that and that left the door open for Jeph Loeb to do the utter confusing Benny Russell thing and . . .my life needs to be about more than keeping Shatterstar's continuity straight. :)

That's praising with faint damns, to be sure. ;)

Well, of course. I know the FF used to explorer heroes and everything, but I'm beginning to think that now whenever they find a new place or new dimension, they just chuck Logan in. "Here boy! Go find bad guys! Get a biscut!"

Yes indeed. Thank God we got the "tron" outfit coming up. The Spider-Armor was getting lonely there in the Hall of Crap Design.

There is, and as soon as I can come up with a better metaphor than "scab picking," I'm totally going to do it. Because I really don't need another installment in the further adventures of Drunk Tony or Wife Slappin' Hank again. I'm good on that for . . .ever.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Well, if they can't, why should you? ;)

And from what I can see, Ellis doesn't exactly get that very often either - to the extent that critical discussion mentioned him at all in recent years, it was only to poke fun at what he's become.

I think once they figured out he could regenerate from a single drop of blood, they started building Logan Dispatch Tubes into Utopia's architecture...

The way things are going, they'll have to start building annexes by 2013.

And now I'm wondering whether it might be as simple as envy: Brian Bendis is jealous that he never got to do That One Scarlet Witch Story, so now that he gets the chance, he basically tells the exact same tale the way he would've done it. And it is, inevitably, an inferior product because it's constantly comparing itself/being compared to "the original".

Kazekage said...

I can't really be bothered. It's terrible to admit, but honestly, as soon as Morrison left, I really found it easy to draw a line under everything X-Men and not worry very much about ever going back.

Or to say "God, I love Planetary." I love the fact that Ellis' big idea for X-Men is to bring in Jim Jaspers and the Fury again. Because that's really gonna refute Alan Moore's assertion that no one has any new ideas and all anyone can think to do is plunder his old stuff. Warren, you've outdone yourself.

Logan Dispatch is totally gonna be my new band name, I think. :)

And to think we thought nothing would be more dated than the Scarley Spider hoodie, eh?

Yeah, and the damning part of it was is that the story he's ripping off is fucking ghastly. If I were going to pay homage to any story, I would at least try to pick a good one for Christ's sake.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

I don't know if I'd go that far - Whedon's run had a few weak story moments paired with very strong character work, and Carey's got a bit of Morrison's penchant for innovation. Granted, there's not much competition in the field of "competent storytelling" right now, but I'd say that's all the more reason to appreciate good work when it comes along...

I'll take the Vegas odds on Ellis redesigning the Fury with nanotech. :)

You can throw Wolverine beanie babies into the audience during your signature song. ;)

Of course, what really keeps me up at night is the fear that Joel Schumacher will pick up the comic, see Spider-Man all decked out in glowing neon, and perpetrate more crimes against humanity. :)

Maybe it's deliberate? They figure they can't do much worse than the original? (The fact that they can, and often do, doesn't seem to have registered yet...)

Kazekage said...

I've kept up with what Whedon was doing and I just couldn't see why I'd wanna read about the Breakworld or a sentient Danger Room in between his various love letters to Kitty Pryde. Just didn't sound as engaging and exciting as Morrison's stuff had been.

Close! Paramilitary black ops squad! Blazing trails, he is.

I'll save it for the encore. :)

"I've got one that can SEE!" *skinless alien blinks out of existence.*

Yeah, but what's the advantage in that? Homaging past errors is one thing, but at least when you make your own mistakes you can at least stand on on your own.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

On the level of plot, certainly, but I'd always felt that Morrison's run was a bit light when it came to extensive character development - he certainly made the effort, but Whedon was much better at getting into their heads and justifying their behavior. Emma's psychotheraputic mindrape of Scott did more to rationalize his "New Man in Town" mindset than anything I've seen in the post-Morrison milieu.

More like blazing crop circles. :)

Of course, now that there's apparently a new "Lost Boys" movie coming out, starring Corey Feldman no less, you have to wonder if we've reached rock-bottom yet or if there's further to go... and if there is, would it be appropriate for me to pay homage to Bart Simpson by constantly asking "Are we there yet?" in a high-pitched voice? :)

I suppose they think that if they can fix an allegedly "broken" story, they'll be recognized as better writers than the originals. Setting aside the whole 30-year difference, of course...

Kazekage said...

Oh, I dunno. I thought he had a few good arcs with Emma, Scott, and Jean especially, and most of the second string seemed to get a moment or two.

In that they are wholly meaningless and at best a prank, I would agree.

Wow, because if any movie needed a sequel and totally didn't exhaust all its ideas on one go, it's the Lost Boys. For every time I think we hit rock bottom . . .well, we seem to plunge down another level.

Yeah, no. That's totally not how it works. I mean, in literary circles if you write a response to or alternate take on or alleged "fix" of it, it's always just a curio, mainly because it's entire existence is based on the broken story and can't exist without it. Y'know, rather than something that can stand on its own.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Well, Morrison did set up some interesting changes, but I couldn't help feeling that on some level the characters were only going through the motions - for example, Emma was the main focus of the "psychic affair" subplot, but he never really explained why Scott sought her out in the first place, why he confided in her specifically. And Jean didn't seem to be part of the equation at all; granted that her entire storyline is about the gradual shedding of her humanity, but even so, they had exactly one confrontation and that was it. More could've been done with that whole scenario.

They're also a magnet for stupid people who don't know any better. :)

I suppose there's some comfort in the notion that we haven't hit the ninth circle of Hell just yet... :)

That's exactly right. Either your readers remember the original and constantly compare it to what you're doing, or they have no idea what you're talking about and lose interest immediately. And in the extremely unlikely event that you actually do fix whatever had been broken the first time around... well, who cares? It's certainly never going to achieve the same status as the original story, warts and all.

Kazekage said...

Hmm . . .I'll have to re-read it to be sure, but I never felt like much was missing from that. Not a great amount of detail from comics pre-Morrison was injected into it, but there was enough there that the progression felt natural. As to their confrontation . . .they didn't have much time between their first tiff and the climax of the story, because those last few issues really move awfully fast.

Those that don't get caught in the Virgin Mary appearing on fridge doors trap, that is. ;)

Well, yeah, but we are still traveling downward. That ain't good. :)

I've never really known of a successful fix that wasn't called "The Anatomy Lesson," and even that's more an attempt to draw a line under what has gone before and move in a direction the author felt like going in. Oh, and it was also a pretty interesting story. Most of these fixes feel like such a dry recounting of why Something That Happened Didn't Happen The Way You Think They Happened, they read and feel like damn homework.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

The Virgin Mary? So they've given up on Elvis? :)

Quite right: the key to the success of "The Anatomy Lesson" is that you don't need to know anything about Swamp Thing going in - Woodrue's narration covers the premise, and the force of the revelation is rooted in Swampy's breakdown, those panels of his wide, unseeing eyes, etc.

Kazekage said...

He can't appear on every door, Diana. They got to spread out to cover all the crazy.

Oh, if only half the people in comics had read it even half that closely, we'd be in such better shape than we are now . . .