Dream's Lost Years

If you don't want to watch the above video, which you should, but if you don't have four and a half minutes and haven't already heard I'll cut to the chase: Neil Gaiman has written an as yet untitled, J.H. Williams III drawn, Sandman mini-series, out in November.

Williams drew a preview image:

There's a lot of reasons to be excited about this. For one, Gaiman has spent his time since Sandman ended doing all sorts of things, and that added variety to his experience that has almost certainly turned an already wide, almost limitless, imagination into a kind of force. American Gods, although already ten years old, took some ideas Gaiman had been working on since the very beginning of Sandman and transformed them, and I have nothing but the utmost confidence that the writer, returning to the particular character that embodied all of that, will produce something of good quality, that he will tell a story worth telling. For another, J.H. Williams III is doing the art. If there's a more perfect artist for the things that Gaiman can dream up, I have no idea who it is. Williams's work on Batwoman sort of subtly revolutionized what was possible in terms of layout and design in comic books, and we now have consistently more interesting, that is, better, panel layouts and general design.

Of course, there are a lot of reasons to be wary of this, too. I have some of the same concerns that I have with Before Watchmen. Obviously, there's no moral issue here, since Dream is Gaiman's character, and he's doing the writing. Instead, I'm worried about the impulse to tell a new story in an old universe. I get that Gaiman is filling a hole, giving us something he had only hinted at before, even if maybe it was fully or partially conceived back in the Eighties. That's good-- it means he had to keep the old stuff in mind as he was putting together this new bit. But if it he feels he had to tell, why didn't he tell it in the eighties? If it was important to Sandman, important to what Gaiman was building twenty-five years ago, why didn't he tell the story then? Why does he feel the need to go put that piece, never really missing, back into the puzzle?

I'm sure there's a good reason. Maybe he wasn't ready to tell that bit then and he is now. Maybe he was constrained by editorial. Maybe this, maybe that. Unless Gaiman comes out and says why he's writing Dream again, after so long, we'll never know. And, doubtlessly, this new mini will be good, even great. I certainly hope that its as good as Sandman ever be. But it does concern me when someone, anyone, a writer, an editor, feels the need to explain everything, or when a fan wants everything explained. I'm sure I'm going to read it when it comes out, and I'm sure I'm not going to be the only one. But, as a reader, I'm going to lose a little bit of the wonder of those first issues of Sandman. I'm going to stop imagining the why, because I know it.

And I just wonder if I want that or not.

Update: It comes out November 2013, which Gaiman pretty clearly says. My bad.

Nick Fury, Agent of Silly Brand Synergy

So I was looking at that MARVELNOW! preview image when it came out last week, and I was all "who is that guy in the Super Soldier outfit with an eyepatch who looks like Movie Nick Fury/Ultimate Nick Fury, because isn't the adjectiveless Nick Fury a white guy with an eye patch, as opposed to Sam Jackson with an eyepatch?"

Nope. Via Wikipedia:

Ok, so Nick Fury had a secret son whose name is also Nick Fury but is called Marcus Johnson by everyone who knows him. Ok, I'll buy that. I've seen James Bond. International Men of Mystery have illicit affairs on a pretty regular basis. The law of averages says sooner or later there are going to be babies sired via such International Men of Mystery. Sometimes people have their names changed, or their children's names changed, so I guess that makes some kind of sense.

Nick Fury's (secret) son is African-American? Cool! Diversity is good! There aren't enough black characters in comics!* Oh, he's been described as looking like Sam Jackson? Eh. I dunno. How many times has Marvel rebooted the Ultimate universe, in which a Sam Jackson looking Nick Fury existed well before Sam Jackson played Nick Fury in the movies which, admittedly, works? How many times have they asked for a mulligan on that one? Three? Four?

Wait! In the course of Battle Scars (which, full disclosure, I can't comment on as text because I haven't read it), the Sam Jackson looking secret son of Nick Fury loses an eye, so now not only does he vaguely resemble his father, or, at least, he has the same iconography as his father, since icons are the only way that people resemble other people in comics, but he more specifically resembles not only the most well-known Nick Fury, but also the Nick Fury in the other comics?


Look, I get that Marvel is trying to use its wildly successful and popular movies to boost sales of its less than wildly successful and popular comic books. I also understand that, if Marvel stopped publishing comics tomorrow, it would remain a profitable brand for Disney for however long that company continued to make movies based on Marvel properties, and probably even for a few decades after that. Does the company really think, though, that it's going to sell more comics by retiring one of their best characters? Keep in mind that best and most popular are not the same. Remember that the nineties happened. 

Now, it's also true that Nick Fury hasn't had an even moderately successful ongoing series in decades (you know who would be perfect for that book? Ed Brubaker and David Aja.) He's barely appeared at all since that last Secret Wars series. So maybe the time is right for a new Nick Fury (it's not, but bear with me). If that's the case, where is he, this new guy? I read a lot of comics, not all of them, but a lot, where is he? 

The last issue of Battle Scars, and one issue of a Scarlet Spider comic that I didn't even know existed.

I think this strategy could have worked. I really do. I really think that, if Marvel had wanted to, they could have published a new volume of Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D in the wake of the Avengers movie, and, you know what, I bet it could have been good. Hear me out. Guy discovers who his father is, and then inherits the family international spy business, but makes a whole lot of mistakes doing it because he hasn't been a spy since the mid-forties like his father. Seriously, a little bit of humor, a little bit of espionage. It could have been great! Get Brubaker to write it and Aja to draw it. Marvel would sell fifty-thousand copies, easy. Hell, want to sell another twenty-five thousand? Replace Aja with, say, Olivier Coipel, and it's done. The book wouldn't look quite as good, but it would still be fantastic and would probably appeal to a broader audience, particularly an audience of people who saw the Avengers movie and walked into their friendly neighborhood comics shop because wasn't that movie awesome and do I really have to wait three years for more stories like that?

That helicarrier, though, has sailed. It would have worked, maybe, if they had done it in May. The movie's already been out for a couple of months. Everyone who was going to walk into a comic shop on its strength probably already has. Maybe a few of them discovered the magic of comics, and stuck around, and maybe a few of those will discover Jason or Jordan Crane and realize that comics are art, dammit, and not just white men in tights. The people who wanted the Nick Fury from the movie, they've picked up an old Ultimates collection or something because there were no accessible regular universe Marvel comics with a one-eyed guy resembling Sam Jackson in them, and they probably read it and kind of liked it and then they saw Prometheus or remembered that they were playing fantasy baseball and that was that.

They aren't going to pick up whatever books has the new Nick Fury in October, when Marvel is NOW! (it's not NOW! now, but it will be) because they're gone and they're not coming back, at least not until the next Iron Man movie comes out, when we'll repeat the process and maybe those poor saps will buy another copy of the trade paperback they've forgotten is under the bed. And Nick Fury, a character with a history and with fans, a character who will sell some comics, although probably not very many, has been replaced by a Nick Fury who's not going to sell any at all, because no one cares.

I've argued before that comics are stagnant because comics fans (and the people who make comics are also fans, don't ever doubt that) are resistant to change, and celebrate a return to an old status quo whenever it happens. I still think that that is true, and I still think that fresher, newer stories with fresher, newer characters will sell more comics. But new characters (or the return of an old one) has to have a better reason than "there's a movie coming out." There has to be a new story to tell, and the new Nick Fury is not a new story, not really, just an old one that's been repackaged.

I'm setting the over/under at Nick Fury Sr.'s unretirement at 12 months. Unless, of course, that's him, in that picture up there, in the middle of the very left hand side, but it could also be Cable, it's hard to tell.  If it is the old Nick Fury, though, what was the point of the new one, exactly?

*Unless Nick Fury's secret son is secret because he's black. That's the opposite of cool.