There’s a reason 90% of my floppies collection is from Jenette Kahn‘s reign at DC Comics. It’s the same reason the corporation’s current live-action multimedia platform involves mining as much material from her tenure as the market can swallow (and then some.) To paraphrase a line from her competitor’s best-selling character, she was the best at what she did, ushering a creative renaissance that the succeeding presidents and editorial hands have been foolish not to replicate.
In a way, the simplified shared-universe strategy of now looks remarkably similar to Kahn’s in the eighties. The core difference is that back then it was used free creators from the chains of continuity to expand the types of stories being told. The New 52’s unsustainability came from its using that simplification to reign in talent and institute a clumsy line-wide mandate to sell more diluted flavors of the same shit to the same audience that couldn’t keep up with Marvel’s oversaturation just over a decade earlier.*
Marvel may be dominating the box-office with it’s more meticulous, but arguably just as confining, studio through-line, but just look at the fire sale of diverse television properties Warner Bros. contracted through all the major networks. CW’s The Flash has miraculously quieted cynical fanboys with its all-out embrace of the wacky source material, owing as much to the Wally West run Kahn oversaw with editor Mike Gold as it does Barry Allen’s Silver Age legacy. CBS’s Supergirl is giving little girls a reason to make Daddy stand in line at comic-cons for a change. Oh, and FOX’s Gotham proves there’s always money in a Batman franchise, even if it’s stupid.
I obviously left out Arrow, which I don’t watch** but am experiencing through the eighties Mike Grell run that inspired Oliver Queen’s gritty, street-level antics there. Although my understanding of O’Neil and Adams’ Green Lantern/Green Arrow run derives from secondhand articles and excerpts (I know, I know), it’s apparent from the main series and the preceding Longbow Hunters mini that Grell’s winning formula is in crafting scenarios that challenge from every angle the bleeding-heart liberalism that series pumped into Ollie’s veins.
As someone in issue #7’s letters column amusingly points out, this new Ollie, whose survival instincts were supposedly bred in the now beaten-to-death desert island vision quest origin, is rather shit at detecting traps and not get knocked every which way regardless of his opponent’s skill level. This motivation for this, if conscious, seems consistent with John Byrne and Grell’s own post-Crisis depowering of Superman and Black Canary, although I suspect it’s more interestingly Ollie’s self-asserted moral superiority that catches him with his guard down in these situations.
There’s a lot to be said for Grell and Ed Hannigan’s experimental storytelling choices here as well. In the intro to The Longbow Hunters, Grell’s longtime editor Gold goes as far as to call him “to writing what Alex Toth is to artwork”, which is bold shit considering Toth was still churning out masterpieces like the above cover even after his seventies “decline”.*** It’s also as tough to dispute as it is to backup.
Grell and Toth are polar opposites while largely succeeding on the same front. Both excelled at stripping the DC heroes to their bases in a uniquely defiant manner, but Toth’s approach would never involve adding politics to achieve that. Toth was also slavish to basic tools and rigid page structures, whereas Grell effortlessly incorporated everything from watercolors on Dinah Lance’s bruised face to textured grey charcoal paper cutouts to weigh her solemn, contemplative expressions. But, even as Green Arrow‘s panels pop in and out from their grids and warp into elastic rhomboid frames to match the action’s dynamism, the pages are vastly readable and far less of an eyesore than, say, the late George Tuska’s broken glass arrangements from his early Iron Man run.
The art’s frequently changing hands, however, are an unfortunate precursor to today’s publishing trend (“write for the trade, but assign different artists to punish and disorient trade-waiters.”) Hannigan and Dick Giordano, accomplished artists in their own right, never quite gel together, the latter’s angular inking—better suited to ground the fluid, anatomical renderings of Neal Adams, or give life to Greg Land’s soulless swimsuit models—sometimes serves to cross-eye and exaggerate the former’s occasionally ghoulish faces.
Their collaboration peaks for me at issue #5, when Giordano’s line thins out, giving way to this rotoscopic flatness that resembles a primitive cross between A Scanner Darkly and Shaky Kane of all things. It’s fucking great, but totally reverts to ugly proto-Todd-McFarlane cross-hatching by the end of #6.
The subsequent fill-ins by then-newcomers Eduardo Barreto, Randy DuBurke and weirdo Paris Cullins were all treats.
More to come on this wonderful series soon.
* Both failures can be traced to the inexplicably rehired editor-in-chief Bob Harras.
** I actually don’t watch any of these shows, so I’m just talking out of my ass. I’m just glad these properties have opened up opportunities to introduce new fans to the comics, which they will subsequently never return as I lend them out.
*** Here‘s another challenge to that notion posted by the Bristol Board earlier this month.