Friday, June 17, 2005

"Haw Haw"

Being chronically behind on everything, I just recently read this week's Lying In The Gutters - and I found the bit about Steve Gerber calling Jonathon Lethem to task for his Omega the Unknown revamp to be both sad and absurd. You can read more details here.

I feel for Gerber, I really do: he's been fighting "the good fight" for almost as long as there has been a good fight. He's walked away with a few good scars, but he's certainly given as good as he's gotten. The fact that he still makes at least a part-time living in this industry is a testament to the fact that even if the good guys don't always win, sometimes they don't lose, either.

But I also feel bad for Lethem. I don't know him, know next to nothing about him... but coming into all of this must be the equivilent of a dinner guest being caught in the middle of a decades' old fight between an unhappily married couple... yes, actaully he reminds me a little bit of the George Segal character in Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe? I don't doubt he means well, and just wanted to write a weird little comic about this character that inspired him as a kid... little did he realize that he was stepping into the kind of moral, ethical and (if Gerber's hints are to be taken at face value) legal quagmire that the comic book industry excells in. He probably didn't even know Gerber and Skrenes were still alive, let alone nursing thirty-year old war wounds. I imagine he wasn't happy when he found out.

You know, the whole Omega revamp has always seemed rather odd to me. For one, this is just about the single most absurdly obscure Marvel property in existence, and yet even though a Big Time Award-Winning Literary Author wants to write him, there are still people online who not only remember the series but are bewailing the fact that it's not going to be a "real" superhero book, but a weird faux-indie (I'm not going to link to Newsarama - you know where to find these people if you so desire). But this latest turn of events really clinches the bizarre factor. Without even trying to, Lethem has put himself into a possible position of (percieved) ethical compromise. Working for Marvel, there is almost no way to avoid this kind of moral ambiquity. Thankfully (for Marvel) Hollywood doesn't care as long as there are no lawsuits, and the Hollywood machinery is such that the actual creative people who make the films are relatively insulated from these issues. I'd be extremely susprised if any of the cast members of the Fantastic Four movie know who Jack Kirby is, and if they know who Stan Lee is, it's probably because they briefly shook his hand when he came on the set to do his obligatory cameo. But getting real, live flesh-and-blood talented prose authors to work for their comics is another thing entirely. I can't predict the future, but it seems to me that this is the kind of thing that could cast a pall over Marvel's ability to ever swing these high-priority literature crossovers again.

Most prose authors come from a world of relative moral clarity, where all the creators' rights that comic book folk have fought decades for are taken for granted. Why would they want to place themselves in a position of being compromised when their buddy Jonathon Lethem got burned by some angry creators? No one purposefully sets out to be an asshole lightning rod, and if this story gets Lethem even a drop of negative press in the "real" world, you can bet this will be the last project of its kind for a long time to come. I feel bad for Lethem, who can be forgiven for knowing absolutely nothing of any of this beforehand, I feel bad for Gerber, but mostly I am feeling sort-of sorry for poor old Marvel (don't laugh), who can't win for losing. Because no matter what they do they're always going to be carrying around sixty+ years of baggage. The faces in the corner office change every few years, but they all inherit Marley's chains, accrued from the very beginning and kept up-to-date with interest.

But, it's still only "sort-of" sorry, because there's still the matter of karma, and even if the folks in charge now didn't actually do the screwing way back when, they could have chosen to work for a less morally culpable company, like, I don't know, Exxon or Halliburton or something...

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