Monday, October 20, 2014

Top 10 Least Favorite Current Comics Writers

These choices are not to say anything personal against the writers listed, nor to suggest they are terrible people or anything negative about their body types or ancestry. This is just a way to examine what I don’t generally care for in their work, and why their writing may not connect with me. If a writer mentioned below is one of your favorites, that’s fine. I don’t mean to suggest their storytelling is inherently bad. Except for JMS. Kidding! This is a companion piece to the entry "Top 10 Current Favorite Comics Writers," which you can find here. On to the list.

Brian Michael Bendis
- Brian Bendis: Bendis is generally a good writer. But the quirks!  Ten years ago, I thought Bendis was talented and would mature into one of the best in the business. That has been slow in coming, and I’m not sure it will ever happen. First off, he is in love with the “F” word. Not everyone talks like Al Pacino in Scarface all the time, even gangsters! In Bendis creator-owned books, every other word from every character is “f***.” I don’t understand it. At first I thought I did—Bendis was young and testing the waters. He was getting the piss and vinegar out of his system, rebelling against whatever he was rebelling against. Ten years later, every character is still a potty-mouthed sailor. Very few professionals speak like that, Brian! Please hang around a few and find out. Bendis characters tend to speak unprofessionally and out of character—in Scarlet, a Chief of Police, negotiating on the phone with a terrorist, yells, “I call bullshit!” Marvel’s Thing calls someone “dude.” Bendis needs to understand his characters, where they are in life, and why adults don’t talk like petulant teenagers. He is also one of the architects of one of Marvel’s biggest mistakes, the “Ultimate” universe. The concept as a whole seemed redundant to me. If you have good stories to tell, why not just tell them in the regular books? Why reboot the concepts in an alternate universe? But I hope Bendis continues to grow as a writer and portray his characters as more believable and authentic people.

Warren Ellis
- Warren Ellis: One of the most grating things about Warren Ellis is his stark hypocrisy. Ellis hates superheroes. He doesn’t like people who write superheroes. He resents the fact that there are superhero comics on the market. He once referred to people who write Batman stories as “bending over for the Bat.” So what makes up the bulk of Ellis’ work? You guessed it. Superheroes. Excalibur, Thor, Wolverine, Iron Man, Thunderbolts and Astonishing X-Men are only some of the superhero comics he has written. Oh, and don’t forget that Batman story he did for Batman: Black & White. Bend over much? Ellis has one stock antagonist for his stories: jerk, hates authority figures, wisecracking, bad attitude, smokes. That is every Warren Ellis main character ever written. His writing can also be frustratingly opaque. I tried to read his graphic novel Switchblade Honey because I liked the premise (instead of a noble Captain Kirk type, the starship captain in the book is a jerk, hates authority figures, wisecracks, has a bad attitude, and smokes). I’m not sure if it was the script or art, but I defy anyone to tell me what happened at the story’s climax. I puzzled it out for long minutes, then just decided it was for smarter folks than me to decipher. A lot of this could be excused if Ellis’ writing was generally good or interesting to me, but regretfully it has never connected. I don’t deny he certainly has his fans.

J. Michael Straczynski
- J. Michael Straczynski: I used to somewhat like Straczynski’s work. I never cared for his Babylon 5 television show—truth to tell, the few episodes I’ve seen mark it as most dreary sci fi. But his comics weren’t bad in the early years. While beset with constant delays, Rising Stars was a creative, original look at superheroes. Marked with the same delays but outstanding art was Midnight Nation, another original idea. Then came JMS’s Spider-Man. This work was so dreadful it made one question the quality of all of his work that had come before. JMS does not understand mainstream superheroes or how to write them. He made Spider-Man a legacy character with hundreds of Spider-powered characters before him. That’s overthinking the concept and not how the character was created. Then came the storyline “Sins Past” in Amazing Spider-Man. JMS took a lovable, innocent character who had been dead for years, Gwen Stacy, and retconned her into a neurotic, slutty cheater with daddy issues. JMS revealed that Gwen became pregnant with the twin children of Norman Osborn (Spidey arch-villain Green Goblin), then left the country to give them birth behind the back of boyfriend Peter Parker. That ruined a character I really liked and I haven’t read a Spider-Man story since. What followed was an unbroken line of unfinished or long-delayed work (Supreme Power, The Twelve) and universally panned stories (“Superman—You’ll Believe a Man can Walk,” which JMS also abandoned mid-story). I think this is a writer that comics would be better off without. I’ll continue to vote that way with my wallet.

Matt Fraction
- Matt Fraction: I found Fraction’s X-Men work impenetrable, his Punisher work execrable and his Iron Fist stories a politically correct bore. I haven’t read everything he has ever written, but I’ve tried a pretty wide sample and I have to say his writing is not for me. There is no inherent understanding by Fraction of heroism, self-sacrifice or goodness in his characters. They’re just selfish jerks like the rest of us. That’s not what I want in a superhero comic. Friends whose opinion I trust rave about his Hawkeye series. That’s fine, but I’m not interested.

Mark Millar
- Mark Millar: Millar has two writing modes: Nihilistic sociopaths and worse nihilistic sociopaths. For some reason, Millar can’t seem to grasp the concept of a person who would care about others or put the safety and happiness of others in front of his own. Every character he writes is a publicity-seeking scumbag out for himself. This was perfectly fine in The Authority, a book about such attitudes, but didn’t work as well in his mainstream Marvel work. His Civil War made no sense. Characters who had been friends for years suddenly wanted to kill each other for no reason. Captain America turned evil. Johnny Storm, commenting on some young superheroes who were killed filming a reality show, referred to them as “C-listers, at best.” And Johnny used to date one of them. According to the comics I’ve read for the last 40 years, Johnny Storm isn’t a prick.  Book after book, Millar’s characters acted as his plot-hammering forced them to, not as they had since the ‘60s. His Ultimates (Millar’s take on the Avengers in an alternate universe) was appalling—the Hulk was recast as a cannibal and brother and sister Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch were recast as an incestuous couple. In his creator-owned work, the protagonists are even worse. No character has any thought for anyone but themselves. Everyone screams the “c” word (Millar’s favorite giggling twelve year-old boy curse word) at the top of their lungs. His ego is out of control too, constantly bragging about his wealth and how Marvel “backs a money truck” up to his house and regularly empties it on his lawn. Forget the awful stories, the profane dialog, the lack of characterization skills, the out of control ego. Millar is simply a one-trick pony who writes the same nihilistic story over and over again. And it’s not very good.

Kevin Smith
- Kevin Smith: I think Smith is simply out of his depth. As in his films. all of his comic characters are obsessed with sex and bodily fluids. Under his pen, every character becomes a sex-obsessed, pants-wetting adolescent. His bland Green Arrow work was highly overrated, as were his wordy Daredevil comics. His nadir was the Spider-Man miniseries “The Evil that Men Do.” It wasn’t enough to feature child rape, or homosexual child rape, in the story. It had to be incestual homosexual child rape. In a Spider-Man comic? It’s hard to blame Smith himself—he is constantly rewarded for his low class, immature behavior by money, fame, and funding for new movies. Someone is paying him to write comics. But what was the Spider-Man editor thinking? I’ve tried many of Smith’s works and some of them are funny—most of them intentionally. But he is another one-trick pony—writing endless dick and fart jokes told by sex obsessed boy-men in superhero costumes. Kevin, go make a jillion dollars in movies, but please stay away from comic books!

Joe Casey

- Joe Casey: Casey is a writer whose work has just never connected with me. I have no opinion on it, good nor bad. I’ve read many Casey books and I can’t remember the plots or themes of any of them. I’m not sure he has anything to say as a writer.

Dan DiDio

- Dan DiDio: I know this is shooting fish in a barrel. But he is horrible. If he didn’t keep hiring himself to write comics at DC, where he runs the company, no one else would.

James Robinson
- James Robinson: Robinson’s Starman in the ‘90s was his magnum opus. A sprawling, epic story of a true hero told by a master. His Justice Society Elseworlds project, The Golden Age, was pretty good too. Robinson left the comics field for a decade or so to write screenplays. When that didn’t work out, he came back to comics. I really wish he hadn’t. His work since he returned has been strewn with tedious stories and politically correct diatribes. His recent Action Comics Superman stories were bland and just missing something—excitement, maybe? Justice League: Cry for Justice may be one of the most mocked and awful comics of the decade. His Fantastic Four has been a total letdown. His Earth 2 series for DC is a politically correct mess. I’ll stop going on, but I have to ask, what happened? What turned one of the finest comics writers working into a sensationalistic, politically correct activist? Again, this is referring to the work, not Robinson himself.

Grant Morrison
- Grant Morrison: I admit it, I don’t get the universal wonder that is Grant Morrison. Morrison is so fixated on telling a story on seven levels and forcing metamessages and multiple layers of meaning into every word balloon, he fails in telling an engaging story. I used to find myself putting down Morrison’s books and just scratching my head, missing the experience some folks in the fan press had. I used to wonder if we read the same books. Going back as far as Arkham Asylum, his work has been tiresome, pedantic and inscrutable. I never read Invisibles or Animal Man (except for the last issue, which was a horrible secular humanist screed). Morrison is so busy telling readers how smart he is, how ahead of the curve he is, how other writers rip off his every concept that he doesn’t realize how dull his stories are. His Final Crisis is so obtuse I can’t make heads or tails out of what happened. Characters appeared out of nowhere and the plot jumped from one non-sequitur to the next. It was even worse than a typical Morrison story. I prayed for his long Batman run to finally be over—Silver Age Batman stories don’t work today, despite Morrison’s insistence that they do. I half-expected Batman to turn up in a Rainbow or Zebra costume. I believe Morrison would think that was cool. His New 52 Action Comics work was the worst of his career and perhaps of all time. It’s not 1938 anymore, Grant. Superman doesn’t have to fight embezzling politicians or auto makers who don’t install seat belts. We have teams of lawyers who do that now. Morrison’s New X-Men run was the worst in that group’s history (perhaps tying with Chuck Austen’s). Morrison is in love with his own voice and ideas for a story, no matter how bizarre or ineffective they may be. It seems he has enough power in comics do whatever he wants while writing a title.

To be fair, there is one exception to Grant Morrison’s oeuvre. The late 1990s Justice League. It was earlier in his career and my guess is that an editor kept him in line and insisted stories make sense and have a beginning, middle and end. Some of those stories were wonderful and told me a decent writer lives in Grant Morrison. He just doesn’t come out very often.

Apathetic Mention: Ann Nocenti, Joe Kelly, Kieron Gillan, J.T. Krul


  1. Joe Kelly, ugh. I was enjoying his JLA until he had them tell me how unjust the Iraq war was. I haven't read anything of his in 10 years.

  2. Kelly acquired Bush Derangement Syndrome during his JLA run and it affected his writing from then on. When an agenda is more important than story to a writer, it's over (I'm lookng at you, Gail Simone!).

  3. While I am also not thrilled with anyone on your list overall, I actually HAVE enjoyed comics from all except Didio, Casey and Straczynski at one time or another. Millar and Morrison work for me depending on the project. Bendis, Robinson and Ellis I respect more than "like." Like you, I don't "get" Fraction's HAWKEYE but I found his SEX CRIMINALS one of the best comics series I've read all year. I must admit to enjoying Smith's writing style very much. It just doesn't work all that well on actual comics.

  4. It's weird how it just boils down to different strokes. My friend Eric isn't a huge Fraction fan, but loves "Hawkeye" and has enjoyed some of Fraction's other work. He dislikes Millar but enjoyed Starlight. So not that these guys are incapable of turning in a good story occasionally--I just don't enjoy or get their general "vibe." I also forgot to say I liked Warren Ellis's "Crecy" graphic novel, mostly because I love medieval history. But it still had that arrogant, amoral vibe I pick up from his work. Thanks, Steven!