As a wise man once said, ‘I don’t know art but I know what I like’. It’s been a few months since Metallica’s latest studio album, Death Magnetic was released but I still have the same reaction every time the radio DJ announces their ‘new’ single on the playlist. Having fond memories of … And Justice for All, not to mention the wonderful kismet of St. Anger’s summer release with Ang Lee’s Hulk movie, I couldn’t help but look forward to this new release.
And then I heard the single.
It just wasn’t the same, not at all what I expected and, more importantly, not at all what I remembered. It didn’t sound the same as all my favorites and I had to wonder, Did Metallica lose it? Did they get too old for their own music? Or was what I listened to back in my youth not as great as I thought it was? Is nostalgia coloring my view and, because I’m not an angry teen, the music isn’t as exciting as it used to be?
If you’re thinking of Metallica, the only next logical progression in thought is Jeph Loeb.
Amongst the comic connoisseur, Mr. Loeb’s work is award winning and unparalleled. He’s just one of those names that rests on a leather spine on an expensive bookshelf, part of the comic writing elite and given due gravitas. Despite it being over ten years old, Batman: the Long Halloween is still one of those classic graphic novels you can give to new and old fans of Batman alike and his ‘Color’ series for Marvel are truly superb examples of both character and storytelling. The man can easily be held as an example on how to get involved with characters while still keeping an air of mystery about them. Personally, I’d like to thank him for being the first writer to really take Cable seriously of all characters, giving him some history set in the future and writing something more coherent and meaningful that ‘Boy, that guy sure has some guns!’ All in all, Jeph Loeb has a very deserved reputation for being a very classic and honestly classy writer.
This opinion does not match up with his current work.
Looking at any issue of the Hulk doesn’t give you a sense of character at all. The Ultimates 3 was not a well-crafted narrative and Ultimatum is … well, doesn’t it seem like we’ve read this before? Don’t get me wrong, David Finch can sure draw an incredible flood taking over New York City (continuing its reign as Worst Place to Live in the collective Marvel Universe!), but with Magneto at the center of it all on an isolated base swearing vengeance in overly quotable dialogue, I can’t say I’m looking forward to the next issue as so much tolerating what I’m going to have to read in order to learn what happens next. Sure, some people may really like a red Hulk talkin’ smack and easily trouncing the God of Thunder through implausible means that do a disservice to both characters, but for the sake of staying on target, I know there’s a healthy majority who don’t. People who still have no idea what was going on in the Savage Land and Quicksilver had to throw himself in front of a bullet when it was aimed for the Master of Magnetism. I recently had to pay $3.99 to find out why Black Panther was already in the Marvel Universe and therefore was used in another story that not only assumed his presence, but an easily detectable Cap dressing up like him. Information has been scattered, dialogue lacking substance… why am I so disillusioned with Loeb’s work lately?
The standard to which he’s writing now does not match his previous works. Then again, the standard by which I’m reading him does not match the way I used to regard him just as much. It’s a lot easier to be wow’ed and blown away by people you don’t put up on pedestals; perhaps Loeb’s success is as much a hinderance as it is a help. Working at the local comic shop such as I do, customers come in all the time and ask for something ‘just like’ what they just read. Going to movies, the idea of a sequel to the really good ones is already in our minds as the credits roll. Success means repetition and that can kind of get a little stifling. If all Warren Ellis did was write stories of Transmetropolitan, I’m sure he’d be on a rooftop somewhere with a pair of pantyhose over his head and a high-powered rifle. Then again, I’m not sure he’s not doing that right now, but my point is that you can’t expect the same stories out of the same writers time after time again.
Except for Chris Claremont, whose story style not only propelled the X-Men into a comic reading generation’s collective consciousness, but is still duplicated to this day in books like GeNext and New Exiles. Picking up these books, there’s a sense of familiarity that is both easy to parody and easy to enjoy at the same time for fans of Mr. Claremont’s work. Again, I think of him as the exception and not the rule.
The notion of Change We Can Believe in extends to comics writing; when Peter David took over on She-Hulk, he praised Dan Slott’s style that had made the character and title a success, but promised he would be going in a completely new direction. What may seem like madness (if the book was doing so well one way, why change it?) is just a very plain statement on the nature of comics. Like the weather, something new will be along shortly, so holding Mr. Loeb to his old standards of storytelling is pretty ridiculous. What it then becomes is a question of quality. Iron Fist and Punisher War Journal are two books with completely different themes but I consider them to be of the same quality that has made Matt Fraction one of my favorite writers. Is Jeph Loeb’s work at the same level of quality that honestly won him two Eisners (the other two were for reprints of the same story, so it counts but not in regards to this)? Is Hulk just as exciting as Hulk: Grey was thoughtful?
Beauty truely is in the eye of the beholder. Taking nothing from his past works and my continued admiration for what he’s brought to comics, I just can’t compare the two. The question is, should I? Should any of us hold a standard to an artist when the nature of comics is changing faster than its price rates?