Your Favorite Character You Don’t Like

Posted: August 23, 2011 in comic books, Jeff Holland, Threat Quality
Tags: , , , ,

A question for…I was about to write “superhero fans,” but really I guess this applies to any protagonist that’s had multiple interpretations over the years –

You ever fall in love with a character, only to grow frustrated that nobody who’s working on him or her seems to do anything to validate that opinion?

I was putting together a “beginner’s list” to good Batman stories (which I’ll post next week, and would like some input on), and it struck me how few really knock-it-out-of-the-park Batman stories I’ve seen within my own lifetime.

I was trying to find anything from the post-KnightFall era that encapsulated what feels like a “regular” Batman story – Batman investigates odd crime, turns out it’s the work of one of his rogues’ gallery, fisticuffs and gadgetry ensue – and generally the best I could find were occasional, brief runs of “normalcy” inbetween the world-shaking (sometimes literally) crossovers.

That said, when you fish through the deluge of available collected material, you’re gonna find a lot more classics than duds. More Strange Apparitions than War Games. And once you start digging around for “deep cuts,” you’ll probably unearth the Alan Grant/Norm Breyfogle stuff, or Chuck Dixon’s brief but memorable Detective issues.

And then if you add in the great TV shows and movies…it’s pretty easy to be a Batman fan and point people to why you are a fan.

But then there’s a character like Doctor Strange, for whom the title ALONE should be enough to draw readers in. He’s a character I am continually fascinated by and constantly hoping to read a great story about…but am so often left wanting.

I think the way I got into the character was when, during college, I did a few bargain-bin hunts for old mid-90’s Warren Ellis comics, and came across his single issue of Doctor Strange.

Fell in love right there. Beatifically weird guy. A plotter, not a fighter, preparing for mystical assaults that were too outlandish and alien for a reader to find old-hat. A quick burst of research told me the only other thing I needed to know: his hands were for shit.

The origin – skilled surgeon wrecks his car, ruins his deft touch, goes in search of a mystical cure and ends up a student of magic – was brilliant in its simplicity. But that added detail, that despite his mastery of the otherworldly, his hands, his one natural ability, would always be somewhat deficient, always made me deeply sympathetic.

(Thanks to a thoroughly stupid condition known as “essential tremors,” the use of my hands is also not 100% reliable, so I’m an easy target.)

Anyway. Point being, I am clearly in the tank for this character…so why can’t I find any good stories?

Outside of Mark Waid and Emma Rios’ mini-series from last year, and Brian Vaughn and Javier Pulido’s before that…finding a really good Dr. Strange comic is like pulling teeth. I had to go back to the earliest stuff – the Lee-Ditko run – to get that fix.

Granted, it only takes one really good creative team to turn it all around. I had

Of all the potential manga-inspired Iron Man armors, THIS is what we got. Siiigh.

similar feelings for Iron Man – loved the idea of the character, but was bored to tears by so many stories – until Warren Ellis found a strong angle, and Matt Fraction built on it.

So here I sit, waiting for someone to look at Dr. Strange, say, “Oh! I see what needs to be done,” and start the ball rolling. But man, some days I grow quite impatient.

(And yes, the recently-announced Matt Fraction Defenders book does give me some hope.)

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s had to deal with this. And it’s not always relegated to what I grudgingly accept as “b-list” characters – I found a lot more chaff than wheat when I went on my Superman walkabout last year – SUPERMAN, of all characters!

So I’m just curious to hear who else has been disappointed by a lack of glory in characters who might deserve it.

*A brief note about that first picture of the good Doctor – everyone got to wear a trenchcoat in Marvel comics back then, but only Dr. Strange managed to find an in-story reason for it: his cloak of levitation had been practically destroyed, leaving only the fancy collar. So Strange had it sewn into a flowing red overcoat. If they’d only designed in the blue shirt with the snakey logo thing, I’m sure this design would still be in use today. It just works nicely.

  1. Erin says:

    Have you read Paul Dini’s run on Detective Comics? It’s mainly Batman investigating odd crimes which usually involve characters from his rogue’s gallery. Really good, really accessible Batman stories.

  2. John Jackson says:

    I’m not well read enough to blame the creative teams for me not finding the good stories. Though I do have a suggestion. My friend had a ‘collector’s DVD’ of Batman Begins. It included a small reprint of a couple of great issues, the one I remember the most is from way back. The Man Who Falls. Just a great look at the character, I thought at the time.

  3. Jeff Holland says:

    @Erin: I really loved Dini’s Detective run. I even loved how he kind of rehabilitated Hush to be the Daffy Duck of the Batman rogues gallery.

    This was one of the runs I ended up recommending to “Seamus,” though he had to buy the second or third trade, since the first one’s apparently out of print (which is totally baffling to me, but hey, it’s DC).
    One of the things I liked best about Dini’s run was how the one- and two-part stories eventually built up into something a little bigger than I had expected at first.

    @John Jackson: I have that same DVD, and yes, “The Man Who Falls” is just excellent (and VERY relevant to the movie, so that was a nicely thought out tie-in).

    What really surprises me is there isn’t like a giant “Batman by Dennis O’Neill” omnibus to point people to (again, hey, it’s DC). For trades, you have to settle for “Batman in the 70’s” and “Tales of the Demon.” (If someone knows about an O’Neill-centric collection, please let me know, I’d buy that in a heartbeat.)

    I’ll try to post this Batman primer soon so we can have a decent forum to talk about such matters.

  4. Eric says:

    Legends of the Dark Knight was probably my favorite Batman series, outside of maybe the Grant/Breyfogle run for this reason. The premise was not, “Tell a Batman story that can fit into this massive jigsaw puzzle of continuity and crossovers,” but rather, “Tell a GOOD Batman story.” They weren’t all winners, but I almost always appreciated the effort more than whatever Batman was doing in his regular book.

  5. braak says:

    This is how I feel about almost all characters that I like. Wolverine, Ghost Rider, James Bond.

    The Batman problem, though, is the reason why I don’t think I ever would or even could write a Batman ongoing.

  6. Jeff Holland says:

    @Braak Y’know what I’ve been reading lately? The “Wolverine Classic” trades that collect the start of his ongoing series from the 80’s. It’s fun to see Claremont work really hard to set up a true spin-off with its own feeling – the Madripoor setting, the Casablanca-esque supporting cast, the intrigue, the central conceit that this is Logan HIDING OUT, and not being able to put on the costume and only popping the claws when absolutely necessary.

    And then of course, after that first year, Peter David comes in and goes “Eh, that’s stupid. Let’s do something with vampires instead!”

  7. braak says:

    I actually have almost all of those as single issues. It’s a neat idea, and I just wish that Chris Claremont had been writing at a time when he could have made it really, really noir, instead of this sort of all-ages kids version of it.

  8. dmart says:

    As far as Doctor Strange goes, MightyGodKing has an amazing series of story pitches: “Why I Should Write Doctor Strange.

  9. Jeff Holland says:

    @dmart: Oh, thanks for that!

    I want to make “Flaws do not define a character or make him boring: bad writing does that. Flaws don’t make interesting stories: conflict does.” into a Successories poster.

    There’s been this trope over the last few years, that every writer has a Dr. Strange pitch. (I think it might be due to Joe Quesada answering in this manner every time he’s asked “When’s there gonna be a new Dr. Strange comic?” at every convention.)

    Usually, it doesn’t amount to anything (see: there not being a new Dr. Strange comic, outside of the occasional miniseries and Bendis not really knowing what to do with the guy).

    But on the other hand, I’m 95% sure that’s where all Warren Ellis’s “William Gravel” stories came from, so there might be a positive in writers taking their unused Magical Hero ideas and turning them into something new.

    (I also have a Dr. Strange pitch I ended up reconfiguring into something more my own, and it’s definitely better for it – though if given the chance I would write the living HELL out of the character, for the five issues is remained publishable.)

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