“I know one thing though: writers write.” Nearly a decade later and Brian Bendis’ words from the introduction to his Powers Scriptbook still ring out loud and clear.
While Bendis may not have been the origin of this new movement where the producers and the production of cultural artifacts (writers, but also scripts) are themselves entertainment, he certainly epitomizes the sentiment.
It was a heady time for this new kind of entertainment; production as a process story. The three years around the cusp of the millennium would Bendis in particular ramp up his cultural visibility. He would manage superhero properties with aplomb. The newer, darker retelling of the Macfarlane-owned Spawn in Hellspawn would meet with critical acclaim (although not with the commercial success Image Central had expected). Bendis would also be responsible for the reboot of the Spider-Man character for Marvel’s ‘Ultimate’ line. And the hard-hitting police procedural Sam & Twitch also for Image. And Alias, the superhero noir political thriller for Marvel Max. And Daredevil for Marvel Knights.
And independent projects like Torso, the real-life story of Eliot Ness’s pursuit (after Chicago) of the first American serial-killer. And of course Powers which married together superhero stories and cop stories in the person of Detective Christian Walker, de-powered superhero now working the superhero-slayings department at the local PD.
But it was just Bendis’ voluminous contribution to both mainstream and indie-comics. It was a cultural shift.
Bad-Ass: Crime writer Ed Brubaker saves the day by blowing away the Forbush Man
Writers found that their creative processes, their own struggles with the production of their work, was itself innately entertaining. And could easily be sold as entertainment. Publisher Avatar would soon join this cartoon cavalcade, with its issuing of such projects as From the Desk of Warren Ellis and a re-issue of the seminal essay by Alan Moore Writing for Comics.
And that was only the beginning. Marvel would shortly launch its ‘Nuff Said’ campaign wherein contributing writers would script 22 pages of silent comics. Scripts for these comics (including scripts by Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka and Bendis) would be available online. Image would reprint Matt Fraction’s Rex Mantooth, the story of a superspy Gorilla, as a standalone project, but this time would include Fraction’s scripts. And creators like Brian Wood would dedicate large sections of his projects to detailing the creative process. This trend would culminate in Wood’s magnificently lush 2008 production of Local (with art by Ryan Kelly). And by 2004, Ellis would inaugurate an entirely new comics format, ‘the slimline’, that would require a mandatory 20% of the book to be a ‘datashadow’ of creative process for the story being told.
With books like Fell, Casanova and Doktor Sleepless, selling the creative process would not just be entertaining for fans, but would become a viable business model for companies.
From this steadily supplied, verging on saturated marketplace for the creative process comes Marvel’s newest parody Captain America: Who Won’t Wield the Shield?. Jason Aaron pens what is conceivably the funniest satire of Marvel writers, editors and fans yet.
The central conceit of the tale is the Forbush Man’s (a fan with a grudge at Marvel writers’ willful and cavalier violation of his treasured memories) arrival at a meet-the-maker event at a local comicbook store.
They’ve Turned Me Into A…: Warren Ellis’, a supporter of creative-process culture, memorable line from Transmet is evoked by Forbush.
With characterizations of Eisner-Award winner Ed Brubaker as mistaking colleague Jason Aaron for the coffee-guy (in the slick, unplugged Hollywood-operator kind of way), the insertion of Matt Fraction’s Ditko-esque vision of Cap as Doctor America, Occult Operative of Liberty pastiche, and Stuart Moore’s ‘reboot’ of Deadpool as the Golden Age anti-terror operative “Veapon Manji” (the reversed swastika), Who Won’t Wield the Shield? is just good clean fun.
For the infinite creativity demonstrated by Aaron and all creators involved in this project. Captain America: Who Won’t Wield the Shield? gets full marks.