Every week in 2018, the plan is that my friend Rod is going to ask me some geeky question that will answer in a post. This week is Week #31, and this week’s question is really the same last time.
What are my three comic book wishes?
I’ve stretched this answer out to two weeks because the first time I answered with an idea that would make comics more affordable, more manageable and overall more enjoyable for me–three wishes but really just one actual suggestion.
This time I want to answer it with three specific wishes–three changes to comic book history, really, that I’d be happy if they could somehow be retroactively applied.
1. I wish that Jack Kirby could have finished his Fourth World Saga
In the early 1970’s, Jack Kirby, the co-creator of just about every famous Marvel superhero ever, left his long-time home at Marvel to work for DC, where he started off by creating three brand new series that would each tell their own stories, but all circling around the same overall concept. The books were New Gods, Mister Miracle, and The Forever People, with Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen getting thrown into the mix as well, and the overall story was known as the Fourth World saga. The basic idea was that an ancient war between two celestial worlds–Apokolips and New Genesis–was on the verge of breaking out again, with earth as a battleground. The leader of Apokolips, the tyrannical Darkseid, believed that the “anti-life equation” could be found in the minds of human beings, control of which would rob the universe of free-will, and his forces were slowly and quietly invading earth to seek it out. Various heroes from New Genesis were attempting to stand in the way of this malevolence.
The whole thing started in 1971 and lasted 55 issues all together (11 each for New Gods and Forever People, 15 for Jimmy Olsen and 18 for Mister Miracle, although by the end of that longest lasting series, the actual connections with the greater Fourth World saga were pretty tenuous.
Now, the truth is that Kirby did get to finish this saga, with a special one-off issue published in 1984 which led into a graphic novel called The Hunger Dogs in 1985, which was intended as a conclusion to the whole storyline. However, those books suffered from a lot of things, including the fact that they were done more than ten years after the series began. A lot of the Fourth World is connected to political and social issues of the 1970’s, and so the long delay had cost the series some of its dramatic weight, nevermind the changes in Jack Kirby’s own skill and style.
So my wish is that Kirby could have finished it all back in the 1970’s, when it was coming out. Now, I’ve heard different reports about what Kirby originally intended for the Fourth World saga–that it was intended to be a miniseries, that it was intended to be a longer ongoing that he was hoping to pass on to different writers, etc. Given all that, the specifics of my wish is that we break in in September 1972, after the 10th issues of Mister Miracle, New Gods and Forever People were published, and that we then give Kirby two years to do whatever he wants to conclude the story. Most of the titles were published bi-monthly, so that means we could theoretically get up to #22 of each series (although I’m happy if he wanted to wrap it up earlier than that). Kirby was already off of Jimmy Olsen by then, but of course if he needed an issue or ten of that series to cover all of his ideas, then he’d be welcome to them.
The result of this, of course, would be that we as fans would have a comic book epic of unprecedented scope available to use as early as 1974, which would certainly have changed the way readers of the time would have experienced the format. In reality, it’d be another ten years before the idea of the maxi-series or longer limited series became common. Imagine what it would have been like for audiences to have seen such a complete story so much earlier?
Of course, the other impact is depending on how Kirby ended the series, it might have meant a bunch of his characters (like Orion, Mister Miracle, Metron or Darkseid) might hot have been available for a long time afterwards. However, that’s not likely to have changed much–the characters weren’t used much for another ten years anyway, and certainly comics have never struggled with retroactively changing things when it suited them.
2. I wish that the Legion of Super-Heroes had never “threebooted”
The Legion of Super-Heroes was originally a spin-off of Superboy, about a group of teenaged superheroes from many worlds who protected the galaxy in the distant future of the 30th (later 31st) century. You can read more about this here, but the series has had multiple “reboots” and “restarts” in its 60 year history. Of course, this is true of most major ongoing superhero characters, but this was especially jarring for the Legion because a big part of its appeal is the ongoing, continuous space opera quality that it has. The constant revamps and remixes that the series has had has serious undercut that.
The last time that a version of the Legion was around long enough to develop that quality was what is known as the “Reboot”, which came into play in 1994. By that time, the Legion’s characters and setting were so far removed from their original concept that they were barely recognizable. The Reboot started the story again from scratch, remixing the series in a way that was both recognizable and fresh. It was written, originally, by Mark Waid, Tom McCraw and Tom Peyer.
This continuity went on for about ten years, telling stories that were sometimes brilliant, sometimes terrible, and sometimes in the broad area in between. There was one major relaunch in the midst of that time, under the creative leadership of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, but they managed to inject fresh life into the book without altering previously established continuity.
The Reboot came to an end in 2004, when it was seen as necessary to increase sales for the concept to go through another complete overhaul, which became known to fans as the “threeboot.” The Threeboot contained some interesting stories, but always felt like a bit of an “elseworlds” take on the Legion, in that it contained some novel but unsustainable “alternate universe” ideas. And those increased sales didn’t last, leading eventually to yet another version of team, this one hodge-podge remix of what Paul Levitz had created a couple of decades earlier. This didn’t last either, and now the title is dormant, waiting for DC to decide to try again. The Legion will be back eventually, but when it returns it’ll likely be another remix, requiring years of investment before it’s possible to have the same sort of creative immersion that we used to enjoy. And it seems increasingly unlikely that the title will ever last long enough again to give us that.
That’s why I miss the Reboot…it wasn’t always perfect, but it stuck around long enough for the changes within the series to really mean something. It had a simple premise–teenaged heroes functioning as a symbol of peace and unity in the future–that felt like it could go the long haul. And it had takes on the characters that were for the most part just expansions and updates of the characters we’d known before, as opposed to subversions or change just for change’s sake.
I wish the Legion had never “threebooted”, so that the 10 year history of the Reboot could have stretched for many more years–14 and counting at this stage–even if the series had had stops and starts in the meantime. Imagine the stories and development that we could have gotten.
3. I wish that the annual team-ups that were mentioned in the JLA/Avengers crossover were real
So in 2003 and 2004, Marvel and DC teamed up and produced JLA / Avengers, a giant four issue miniseries which teamed up the premier superhero teams of both companies in a massive adventure of epic scope. It was written by Kurt Busiek and drawn by George Perez, and featured appearances by basically everyone who had ever been part of either team. At one part in the story, alternative universe shenanigans led to the creation of a reality in which the Avengers and the Justice League were well acquainted with each other, having had a history of cross-dimensional team-ups similar to what the Justice League and the Justice Society did for years in the world of DC Comics.
Brief references are made to some of these adventures, which include team ups of villains like Ultron and Amazo, or Kang and the Lord of Time (which was actually the plot for a previous cancelled Justice League / Avengers crossover). And I couldn’t help but to wonder…what if that had all been real? Imagine years of team ups between the greatest heroes of two universes. Even if it hadn’t happened annually. Let’s see, the Avengers debuted in 1963, and in 1986 DC revamped everything it was doing with Crisis on Infinite Earths. Imagine if in those intervening 23 years, the companies had managed to produce, say, nine two-part team ups. I’d definitely own that series of trade paperbacks.