Mark Waid’s Super Power Is Shape-Shifting
Posted September 20, 2009on:
“… another testament to Waid’s skill as a writer; nothing is wasted.”
-Greg Rucka, February 2009
I love comics. I find the stories, characters, legends, mythology, drama, and the inexhaustible “OH S**T!!!” moments to be thoroughly compelling and most importantly: entertaining. That I feel this way is hardly surprising; I am writing for this blog. Also obvious are the talents of our beloved authors who create these fine works of literature. Any connoisseur has their favorite author. Bendis, Moore, Morrison, Ennis- all of these come to mind. Some of us love a solid story about capes (Bendis or Johns), some of us love to see the boundaries of the medium stretched (Moore), and some of us just love to have our minds blown by convoluted stories of higher reality (Morrison- and before you give me crap for saying he’s convoluted: yes he is, I love his work, but he did write Seaguy).
While I’m sure most of you are thinking of someone I should have put on that list, I doubt many of you are surprised at my choices. But, let’s be honest folks: these guys are more than slightly one dimensional. Before you rush to post angry comments, stop and think about it. I’m not talking about the characters they write for, or the scope of the events they depict so passionately. What I mean is this: when you read Moore you know that paranoia, dystopia, and god-hood are probably involved. Reading Morrison? I guarantee that you’ll read about a higher reality, that it will make a lot of sense until the last third of the story when you’ll have to re-read 15 pages to figure out what the hell happened. Johns or Bendis? Classic capes all the way. Are the stories good? No question. But, I’m sure you know the basic premise, scope, and range of the issues you’ll be reading before you open the book.
Again, wait before the angry comments asking, “What about….” I’m not interested in exceptions and I’m most definitely not questioning the talent of these authors. My point stands: artists of any medium are usually good at one thing and they stick to it. But that isn’t why I’m writing this post. What I really want to talk about is an author capable of working in more than one style. I want to talk about Mark Waid. My intense respect for this man may be less than mainstream, but let’s take a minute to look at the remarkable range of technique Waid uses with confidence and ease.
First let us tackle the obvious: Kingdom Come. Any modern comic library without this work is incomplete. No question about this. If you like superhero comics and you don’t own a copy of Kingdom Come then I question why you’re reading a comics blog. If you ever questioned why DC places so much importance on Superman you’ll find your answer here. Plus a whole hell of a lot more. Many characters are beautifully re-imagined, the intense story is delivered with surgical precision, and you’ll come to realize that Mark Waid understands superheros better than you ever will.
Keeping with precision story craft and impeccable understanding of character we see another great Superman tale: Superman Birthright. Birthright was important as more than just a modern imagining of the Man of Steel. Here we see not only a graceful depiction of the Godfather of superheroes (I mean Superman folks) but also a powerful consideration of Lex Luthor. I think this is the only TPB my wife and I both read in one sitting on the same night. I read Birthright, then made her read it after me, and it dominated our conversation the rest of the evening.
While many love Waid for his vision of the future- many take issue with his bold usage of Silver Age style. Not characters. No, I mean style. In works like JLA: Year One and Flash & Green Lantern: The Brave and the Bold Waid actually makes us feel like we’re reading something written in the 1960s, and more importantly we LIKE that he’s doing that. In these works you get more than dystopia or horror. You get something lacking in most modern comics: fun. How many authors would dare to have Martian Manhunter explode his head in an attempt to elicit laughter from a fledgling JLA? And how many would do that two years after writing something like Kingdom Come? I guarantee that many of you read Brave and the Bold and thought: lame. And if you feel that way I guarantee that you’re under 35. I’d further argue that if you’re over 35 you take my side on this one. Mark isn’t just campy or juvenile. He’s taking the same deep understanding he has for Gold and Silver Age characters and he’s applying it to Gold and Silver Age storytelling. Love it or hate it you have to admit that takes skill.
Next we consider something outside of the classic cape stories. A work Gregory Rucka has described as “…inspired, remarkable for it’s depth and ambition” we look at Potter’s Field. This is a classic whodunnit. Released on the Boom! imprint you’d never guess this was written by a man with unparalleled understanding of characters from DC and Marvel. Potter’s Field is remarkable not only for it’s intrigue and mystery but also for it’s gritty and fallible characters. There is no humor, there is no justice. Only mystery, compulsion, and atonement. If you didn’t read the spine you’d never peg this as Waid. (incidentally this book was given to us by the author in exchange for a Green Lantern ring which makes it even more awesome.)
While my favorite Waid stories are his creator owned works like Potter’s Field and Irredeemable– arguably his most epic, ambitious, subtle, and nuanced work to date- it is his crystalline understanding of characters and genre coupled with masterful pacing of story that makes this man a winner. Whether you enjoy Waid as much as I do is irrelevant. What is undeniable is his rare ability to write so well without using the same hat trick over and over. Somehow the dichotomy of being great at one thing vs mediocre at many things doesn’t seem to apply to Waid. I, for one, love him for that. Plus he writes a deliciously cantankerous Twitter feed. My colleagues like to recommend a drink at the close of a post. Waid, you get a strong ale held aloft with sincerest respect. Feel the Power of Rock & Roll.