Brill is the Cream of the Crop

Brill is the Cream of the Crop

Just checking in to direct your attention to a wonderful post on “declension” in the superhero game (and in art in general) by Ian Brill.

The rest of this post is just a comment that got too big for Haloscan’s liking, so definitely go read, uh, now, as they say…


Beautiful, Ian!
(Byrne as a hairy racist Norma Desmond? I love it! “I’m ready for my retcon, Mr. Demille…” I wonder if Byrne’s butler plays all of the other roles on the Forum?)

I second Johnny’s full concurrence!

I yield to none in my appreciation of the superhero titles of the sixties and seventies, and the reason these things are so good is that none of the creators involved allowed themselves to get locked into an idea of how they “should be done”… (as the lettercols demonstrated, the market was expanding too rapidly–into unprecedented demographic groups!–for such petty concerns to enter into the debate)

You hear a lot of talk about the Silver Age at Marvel, but, really, this “epochization” (the “aging process”?) is counterproductive. A Marvel comic from 1962 is very different from its 1965 descendant. And, once Roy Thomas and the epigoni took over most of the writing chores in 1966-69, things changed even more drastically. The process of continuous revolution is so rapid that you can almost see it from month to month!

I believe that this continued into the seventies, and even, in some regions of “mainstream storytelling”, into the eighties… Aside from the usual suspects that Ian mentions, I would add: Conway’s explorations of memory and identity in Amazing Spider-Man and Firestorm, Thomas’ insanely detailed ventures into “thick description” of the WW2 homefront in both corporate universes (All-Star Squadron is where this really blossomed!) + his underrated re-invention of Dr. Strange late in the decade, Cary Bates’ decision to abandon his fun puzzle plotting in favor of a God-like plot against Barry “Job” Allen in the last 75 issues of Flash (aided and abetted by Carmine Infantino, who, along with Gene Colan, was perhaps the only Silver Age “master” that refused to settle into a definite style–impaling his own “smooth” rep on the stalagmatic visions served up in Spider-Woman, Supergirl, and “The Trial of the Flash”) and delving into problems of morality and government service in Captain Atom; Gruenwald’s experiments with Cap as the embodiment of the “infinitude of the private man” and “metahuman momentum” in Squadron Supreme… you can tell when an artist is moving forward–which is not the same thing as “moving comics forward”–and when they’re just paying homage…especially when they’re paying homage to themselves!

Okay–back to my research!

Good Night friends!




  1. Thank you very much Dave, I really enjoyed your response. The post really is the distillation of everything I wanted to say in the GS Avengers #2 thread a few weeks ago.

    I completely agree with your stance on “Ages” in comics. First of all I hate to hear people go on about “The Golden Age of Comics” or “The Silver Age of Comics” and have it be defined entirely by superhero work. I always want to ask those people “where does Carl Barks, EC and the undergrounds fit into that?” Even if we were to just consider superheroes in that argument your point about the difference in a 1962 Marvel book and a 1965 Marvel book is important. Hell, look where Marvel was in ’60s with Kirby and Ditko compared to ’70s with Starlin and Gerber and tell me that’s the same age!

    -Ian Brill

  2. See, the thing is…

    I could do Superman. I could take the 60+ years of his publishing history and do cool shit with it without raking over the coals of past glories. I *know* I could do it, the same way I know that I shouldn’t drink scotch anymore or what color my hair is. Same with Green Lantern.

    But should I?

    I mean, the ideas I have for those characters, if I twist them around a little, I could do them with my own characters. In some ways they wouldn’t be as cool… Alan Moore’s Supreme was a great comic, but it would have been almost infinitely better as an actual Superman title… but in other ways, the freedom to do whatever I want with a concept might make up for the loss of the iconic character, I’m not sure.

    I’ve always felt that there’s a line between the good, cool, interesting uses of a character and the derivative, repetitive, doing what’s been done before uses. In some ways, Fantastic Four never recovered from that original 102 issue run: Stan and Jack left shoes so big, no one’s ever filled them. You can try and emphasize that the FF are a family, but Stan and Jack did it. You can try and go for balls to the wall gonzo creative ideas, but Stan and Jack did it. You can drag yourself back to the Galactus well, but you’re never going to do Galactus as well as Stan and Jack did. Consider it the FF version of the ‘Simpsons did it!” problem.

    If I was going to do FF, I’d need to find a way into the characters, and no matter what Mark Waid or Karl Kesel think, that’s not by going back to the Lee/Kirby well. At this point, the FF is a venerable Marvel institution, but it’s not the muscle of their creative universe the way it used to be. And as long as people keep trying to do retreads or revisions of what Stan and Jack did, it’s never going to be. Walt Simonson did a pretty good job on the book, but even he fell a little short.

    The same holds true for everything when you’re stepping into someone else’s shadow, but some books are easier to overcome it with than others. Legion of Super Heroes should be a slam dunk, in my opinion: you’ve got an enormous cast of super-powered teenagers in the future. You can do anything you want.

    To me, there’s a balancing act. I want to do my own original concepts. I also want to play with the toys, you know?

    –Matt Rossi

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