Oh, J. Michael Straczynski, what can I say about JMS that hasn’t already been said by poets and balladeers? The man, the myth, the goatee. Whatever I say about him, it’s not likely to upset him much, since he doesn’t like me any more than I like him, he’s already blocked me on Twitter.
The funny thing about that was that what he blocked me over wasn’t actually me making fun of him. What I was saying was that he has a thin skin and he should be able to laugh off criticism. To prove, I guess, that he doesn’t have a thin skin, he immediately blocks anybody who says anything he doesn’t like.
What I was responding to was a little bit of a smackdown that had developed between JMS and writer Tim Marchman, who, in an article about the state of modern superhero comics, took on several people involved in mainstream comics, and about JMS specifically said, “The first issues of Before Watchmen will be published next month. Among the writers working on it is former He-Man scripter J. Michael Straczynski, who once penned a comic in which Spider-Man sold his marriage to the devil. (This is the rough equivalent of having Z-movie director Uwe Boll film a studio-funded prequel to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver.)”
Maybe it was a low blow, but it was phrased humorously and I think that he was spot on in the difference between something that, completely successful or not, purports to be serious literature like Watchmen, and the general mill of chum for prequels and sequels and spin-offs and lunchpails that DC and Marvel are actually in the business of producing. The occasional things that slip through the cracks with some level of realized ambition behind them are the exceptions, not the rule.
People have said worse things about my comics, and generally I just pity them for their lack of ability to understand the sublime virtuosity of my masterpieces. I haven’t felt the need to start calling them names, which is where JMS went pretty quickly when responding to this Tim Marchman guy: “Your behavior was dickish. I became a better writer after He-Man. You will always be a dick.”
If JMS had become a better writer, he might know that sloppily paraphrasing the most over-quoted witticism that Winston Churchill ever slurred through brandy breath might not be the most effective way of trying to prove how superior your sassy jibes are.
JMS took issue with the He-Man comment. I wouldn’t like people mentioning it either if I had written He-Man. JMS said, “You had to go back to 1984 to insult me? Really?”
Well, alright J., let’s talk about things you’ve written since then.
There was the brilliant double punch in which he did drastic relaunches on Wonder Woman and Superman a couple of years ago, and managed to do two of the biggest clusterfucks in recent comic book memory simultaneously. For Wonder Woman, JMS decided to erase her entire history in favor of making her a street-level heroine wearing a leather jacket with Jim Lee-designed shoulder pads. Then on Superman, he thought, wouldn’t it be great if we took everything that’s remotely interesting about Superman and instead, we had him *walk*? Like, for a bunch of issues? Wouldn’t that be awesome?
When both storylines proved within issues to be historic failures, rather than doing something to fix them JMS bounced from the titles mid-storyline and let other people deal with it. Just as well, his fix might have been to have Wonder Woman dive deeper still into Blossom’s wardrobe.
He correctly pointed out, though, that you can’t really blame him for the Spider-man marriage-erasing Mephisto debacle, as he’s made it clear since that that was an editorial decision, and he left the series during it.
Alright, then, so let’s look at the *rest* of his run on Spider-man.
There was the whole “The Other” storyline, which saw Spider-man’s origin redone into some bizarre thing where he was a totem for some kind of spider-god or something. A willful, complicated extended effort to remove the kind of retro sci-fi vibe of the Spider-man origin and replace it with, I’m not sure what exactly. I read the whole storyline, too, and I really have no idea what any of this bullshit was all about.
Then we have the “Sins Past” incident. Gwen Stacy’s death has been one of the only major events in the life of a mainstream superhero that’s been held somewhat sacred and hasn’t been fucked with. Maybe the only one. At least, it was. JMS thought it would be a bright idea to retroactively add a whole mess of stuff about the original Green Goblin, Norman Osbourn, having been fucking Gwen Stacy at the time, adding a weird pedophile thing and some strange layers with one of Spider-man’s classic villains and the dad of his best friend fucking one of the major loves of his life. Then JMS, having grown so much as a writer since He-Man, also added some weird shit about Gwen’s kids fathered by Norman having growth acceleration or somesuch so that they could be part of the current storyline.
I mean, I’m not one of those anal retentive fans that gets all up in arms any time that something about a character is changed. Personally I think that the obsession with having everything in superhero comics be in continuity with everything else is pointless, and the noose that DC and Marvel have built to hang themselves, and it’s just been gradually tightening for decades as the weight of all the baggage they turn out pulls on it more and more.
BUT on what planet is any of that shit in the storylines I mentioned above possibly a good idea?
And there was the 9/11 issue. Now, this one is hard to criticize, because it was undoubtedly done with sincerity, and many of the people involved were New Yorkers at the time of the attacks. But we’re talking about JMS’s skills as a writer here, and the whole thing, whatever the intentions were, just comes off as so mawkish and inappropriate that it took me about an hour to scrape my chin off the floor after I read it.
Putting superheroes at ground zero. Bad idea. The Fantastic Four have stopped how many alien armadas, and in the Marvel Universe New York is overrun with superhero types, but nobody could stop a plane? And in the big battles with supervillians these characters routinely engage in buildings are knocked over continuously for the sake of a cool panel where you get to see a building get blown up, and no mention is ever made of who was inside it. So to try to use these characters to state the importance of those two buildings coming down is just radically awkward and frivolous.
Then there was the Doctor Doom panel. Upon witnessing the devastation, Doctor Doom, of all fucking people, wells up in tears.
There’s no way to overstate just how stupid this is. This is Doctor Doom, he’s a supervillian, he’s tried to take over the world how many times? Doctor Doom is a cold sociopath, and he generally doesn’t seem to have an objection to war, violence, or mass murder. But, when the murder is committed by Muslims, that’s a two-hankie kind of night in Latveria for Doom.
So, you know, I don’t think we *quite* need to go back to 1984 to find something JMS has written that’s less than stellar.
The Watchmen prequels in question are the main reason I wanted to do a Douchebags of Comics card of JMS, though. Not just because he’s working on the prequels, although that alone makes him a scab in my opinion and means that I don’t think he has a proper respect for creators’ rights. The real reason is because, out of all the artists working on the Watchmen prequels, he’s the one that’s repeatedly gone out of his way to slag off Alan Moore and say that the guy who made the thing doesn’t have any right to his opinion on what they’re doing with it.
JMS: “It should be pointed out that Alan has spent most of the last decade writing very good stories about characters created by other writers, including Alice (from Alice in Wonderland), Dorothy (from Wizard of Oz), Wendy (from Peter Pan), as well as Captain Nemo, the Invisible Man, Jeyll and Hyde, and Professor Moriarty (used in the successful League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). I think one loses a little of the moral high ground to say, ‘I can write characters created by Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle and Frank Baum, but it’s wrong for anyone else to write my characters.’ ”
Let’s leave aside for a moment the obvious fact that Alan Moore using old public domain characters in an Alan Moore storyline is completely different than making a prequel to a novel by a living author, against that author’s wishes. It’s different morally, legally, and creatively a prequel or continuation is an entirely different exercise than using an element of another author’s work within a creation of your own.
I think JMS is perfectly aware of that distinction, but his aim is to try to show Moore to be a hypocrite for people who might not be that informed about the controversy and would be assuaged by JMS’s comments. What’s absolutely mind-boggling to me is somebody going on about an author losing the “moral high ground” while they’re cashing paychecks to use that author’s work against his wishes.
The other creators involved in the Watchmen prequels have, more or less, regardless of whether they really feel respect for Moore or not, gone out of their way to at least feign respect and say, well I’m sorry he objects but we have the deepest respect for him- and then whatever rationalization they’re using. I mean, if you’re raping the guy, at least tell him it’s because of how pretty he looks in that dress or something.
And JMS hasn’t just said one or two comments about Moore’s stance on the prequels, he’s repeatedly felt the need to, at great length, dismantle Moore’s position and, of course, each time he’s done it he’s willfully ignored pertinent parts of Moore’s position to make his own responses seem much more cut and dry than they are at all. There’s a good round-up of some of the things JMS has said about it at Comics Alliance, but he’s said quite a bit more. Out of all the creators involved in the Watchmen prequels, he’s the one that’s really needed to tell the world why he thinks he’s right about what should be done with these characters, and the guy who created the characters doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
There’s something strangely brittle about JMS. Dude’s not big on, agree to disagree. Which is why I think it’s funny that his response to some guy he’s probably never heard of before telling him on Twitter that he doesn’t take criticism well is to immediately block that guy.
The I’m a Seven thing in the drawing I did is a reference to something I’ve seen JMS say a few times, the most recent one being on this panel here. When talking about criticisms of his work, he’s fond of saying that he’s always striving to improve, and that he’d like his work, on a scale of 1 to 10, to be an 8 or a 9, but he feels like most of his work is a 7.
It’s just kind of an odd thing to say that I’ve puzzled over, and since I see JMS as being so defensive and having so little of a sense of humor about himself, I knew I didn’t want to draw him smiling or doing something goofy like some of the other portraits in Douchebags of Comics, but rather I wanted to draw him drawn up, dressed well and chest puffed out, thinking he looks very dignified, and then having him say he’s a 7 when taking himself very seriously just seemed funny to me.
I would assume calling himself a 7 is meant to be his way of being humble, but really, on a scale of 1 to 10, if 10 is perfection, a 7 is a pretty high rating to give yourself. And then, on the other hand, when you’re being paid to write licensed characters and whatnot, the response of most people is to say they did as well as they could, not to say, I felt it was a 7, but eh, I sent it out anyway.
It’s just an odd, odd way to view your own work, but even more so, it’s an odd way to talk about it. Which is how I feel about most of the things that JMS says.