Today over at Fan Fest News I mentioned in my Pull List column that Brian Michael Benids is bidding farewell to the Guardians of the Galaxy series after five years of writing. In a lot of ways Bendis is responsible for getting the Guardians back into the comic book mainstream. Of course the movie helped quite a bit as it made Groot a household name, but up until then Guardians had settled into that cult fandom status. For me, all I’ve known is Bendis on the book and while I mostly enjoyed his run I do think that it’s time for a change. A fresh point of view if you will. Which leads to today’s topic.
When comic books change writers.
Think about it, when you read a series of novels you don’t expect the author to change half way through the series. For example, if you were reading Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, or the Dark Tower you wouldn’t expect the author to leave at any given point thus ruining the validity of the story. How could another author be expected to take the reigns and bring about the ending that was intended for this batch of stories? You’d be angry and disgruntled and automatically would hold a grudge against these new books. They’re not the same feel or voice of the novels you had fallen in love with. You’d feel pretty jipped. Personally it would just ruin that story for me, and that’s why it hardly ever happens in novels. With the exception of when authors die or when characters are given to other writers so the creator can cash in on the characters name (*cough* Jason Bourne *cough*). Or in the case of George R.R. Martin where you’re starting to think that he’d rather his story end through television so he doesn’t have to write them. Come on, you’ve all thought it too.
This is not the case with comics. Comic books are constantly cycling through writers and it’s part of what keeps the medium fresh. Unlike a novel series, there is no real intended ending for a comic book character. These heroes are meant to stand the test of time and to forever entertain us with their heroic exploits. After awhile there’s only so much a certain author can say. Lately, writers come in, tell the story that they want, and then pass the reigns off to someone new. Contained story telling. While this keeps the heroes fresh it does have an effect on the reader. What happens when a particularly good writer leaves a book?
I’ve been reading comic books for a long time and I’ve gone through my share of writer changes. When I first started getting back into comics and was reading Amazing Spider-Man it was being penned by J. Michael Straczynski. I for one loved JMS’s take on Spidey and was spoiled rather quickly. The stories he wrote leading up to Civil War (“The Other” changed the landscape of Spider-Man for quite some time) and after (“Back in Black” is a standout) are some of my favorites. When he left the series with the abysmal “One More Day” I felt that the character never recovered. Part of that was the story he ended on, and there’s a lot of things on the interwebs that explain how it wasn’t the story he wanted to tell, and the other part was the “new” direction they wanted to take Spider-Man in. There was a constant rotation of writers cycling on a bi-weekly basis and I found it hard to find stability in the new direction. Now with Dan Slott fully in charge, I still feel that Spider-Man has yet to recover from “One More Day”. Slott has had some good stories but for the most part I haven’t been a fan of his run, and actually can’t wait for when there’s a new writing change. There has been years of unhappiness for me in Spider-Man comics because of one writing change, so it does carry impact.
There are times though where the transition isn’t too terrible. Scott Snyder recently left the Batman title and it was taken over by Tim King (who wrote the brilliant Vision series), and while the stories have been different they haven’t drastically changed. It’s more like the narrative has evolved. King is an excellent writer who was given the impossible task of following Snyder. No easy feat, but he’s been able to preserve the elements of Batman that readers have come to love and grew accustomed to during Snyder’s epic run. The stories he tells don’t ignore Snyder’s previous works but root themselves as his own. In this case we lucked out.
As a comic book reader you have to grow accustomed to the idea of change. You are not allowed to become comfortable in the writing style of one author because eventually they will move on to something else. In some ways it’s great because you can follow them to another project and maybe fall in love with a character you previously didn’t know about, but sometimes that comes at the cost of your favorite character. There is an ebb and flow to comic book reading and it all depends on your books writing team. When it’s strong the books will sore, but when it’s bad than your character suffers. The only good thing about those time periods is that you know it’s not forever. But as Tom Petty said, the waiting can be the hardest point. Fear not, you’re favorite will come back around again. Sometimes it just takes a couple of writing rotations. Don’t give up hope.
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