Die, Author, Die!
It's Sunday, and that means it's time for another newsletter - the first on a week where no new comics by me are set to come out on the following Wednesday!
WHAT'S OUT THIS WEEK?
Nothing by me! But X-TERMINATORS #3 by LEAH WILLIAMS and CARLOS GOMEZ is out on Wednesday and it's a hoot and a holler.
SO WHAT AM I GONNA TALK ABOUT?
Well, there are going to be some weeks like this where I just run a short newsletter. But this past week, the final issue of DEFENDERS: BEYOND came out, wrapping up two five-issue minis that gave myself and fellow storyteller Javier Rodriguez a lot of freedom to experiment. It was a series that attempted a lot of things at once - drawing connections between various "higher realms" of Marvel that until now have been unconnected in the cosmology, asking deeper questions about identity, religion and responsibility, and laying down clues for something big and heavy to come.
The people who liked it seemed to really like it - so thank you for kind words if you've expressed them. If it didn't land for you, I hope my next thing does.
Anyway, I was thinking it might be nice to chat a little bit about how DEFENDERS and DEFENDERS: BEYOND came to exist - though if you've read interviews with me about it, you already know why they are what they are. To repeat for anyone who wasn't there - DEFENDERS, the title/franchise, has a reputation unlike anything else at Marvel. Through the work of Steve Gerber, David Kraft, Peter B. Gillis and many others, it's developed an identity as Marvel's book for strange, very personal, poetic, somewhat metaphorical ideas, stories that drift outside the norm of the modern cape genre. So in my view, if it's doing its job, DEFENDERS should be a wild psychedelic experience, a hot-line to 70s Marvel, the counter-culture to the superheroic mainstream - and I'd like to think we delivered that over these past 200 pages.
Not that I could have done it, or would even have attempted it, without Javier in my corner - he's the main reason why DEFENDERS came into being, because the opportunity to work with him again - on anything, never mind on a psychedelic trip of a series - was way too good to pass up.
Part of the gestation of DEFENDERS: BEYOND, meanwhile, was - having got the nod for another five issues after being certain that we only had the one go-round - needing a journey to send a new team on. (It'd have to be a new team - Dr. Strange was dead, alas - but more on the nuts and bolts of that another time.) So I decided, for this new journey, to map out how various "higher realms" of Marvel cosmology connected. And that all started with a scene from a previous DEFENDERS run, written by Matt Fraction, where the Silver Surfer went to heaven and met God... or a bunch of people using the words.
I'd already equated the Death Celestials in that run to the Aspirants in Kieron Gillen's IRON MAN and the Celestial Destructor in CIVIL WAR II, and made them all the same people in ULTIMATES. It's addictive, putting jigsaw pieces together like that. It occurred to me that there were a lot of white spaces in Marvel Comics, where higher beings hung out - the White Hot Room, for example - so they were probably linked. How? And would this be a place to continue my thinking about religion? Maybe it'd be an excuse to do some more research into Kabbalah and the Tree Of Life - with five issues, we could start in Malkuth and travel up the middle pillar. I ended up placing the White Hot Room at Tiferet, spelled "Tiphareth" in an old issue of X-MEN where Claremont does a very similar thing and places Phoenix right at the middle point - except I discovered that detail long after I decided to do it myself. Synchronicity!
Which makes a good place to segue away from DEFENDERS: BEYOND - because since this delves into a lot of cosmic characters and big concepts, one of the ways people have been reacting to it these past few days has been asking me to explain it. And I figured I should give an explanation of why I don't do that.
THE CLOCKING-OFF OF THE AUTHOR
For the most part - barring those individuals of great craft and talent who produce the whole box and dice soup to nuts - comics is a collaborative medium. A whole bunch of people do their part in a big looping chain and the product is then finished - or is it? Nope. Because even when the final, finished issue is printed and on the shelves, there's one more person in the chain who needs to give their input - and that's you, dear reader.
The comic doesn't fully exist in your universe until you read it.
I remember I was a big fan of THE PRISONER as a kid - the Patrick McGoohan show. For various reasons, I managed to miss the last episode, and it didn't get taped, so for years I wandered around with a vague description of it supplied by my brother - and while I knew some of the beats of the finale, when I eventually got to see it for myself, I wasn't expecting them to land so... metaphorically.
For the final episode, McGoohan and his team divorced themselves entirely from the necessity to make sense as we, the viewers, had previously understood it. The series had always been dreamlike and poetic, but now everything on the screen seemed like a matter of metaphor, performance art, something for the viewer to discern the meaning of for themselves. I dived right in and thought I'd understood it, but I was curious what other people thought - some opinions I read over the years agreed with my take, some took it far more literally, some dismissed it entirely as nonsense, some took it in wildly different directions than I had. I never felt like any of these people were wrong, exactly, apart from the dismissers - but at the same time I knew in my bones that their interpretations did not apply to the work I had seen, because I had seen it, not them. In forming my own interpretation of the work, I had altered the work.
One of those other opinions I mentioned? Patrick McGoohan's. I read his take on the last episode in a big book about the show, and disagreed. And if there's a single voice behind THE PRISONER - a single person who could be said to be the authority on what the work means - it's McGoohan. But I don't believe my enjoyment of the show revolves around a single "correct" interpretation. In fact, I think my own personal pleasure in it would be diminished if I felt forced to cede my own interpretation in favor of his.
(I'm the same way about METAL GEAR SOLID V, oddly enough. But that's a topic for another time.)
Anyway, I see the reader as the final arbiter of what the work means. That's your job, and to an extent you get out what you're willing to put in. I can hold your hand or beg your indulgence for most of it, but if a work is to have any deeper meaning at all than a fun caper with the capes, the final steps - whether you end up liking the work or lumping it - have to be yours alone. And when you ask me to interpret the work for you, or worse, to confirm your own interpretation as the correct one - I usually feel I have to turn the question around.
Why does it matter what I think? It's your head that the magic happens in.
I don't think I've had the bravery yet in my work to create something as completely open to interpretation as the last episode of THE PRISONER. I've come close a couple of times, though - with a lot of help - and DEFENDERS: BEYOND is one of those times. And a lot of times I've put something on the page not for any rational reason but just because it felt right. I hope that keeps happening. And I hope I never have to explain any of it.
And don't even get me started on power rankings! Phooey!
THAT SOCIAL MEDIA
So, the Brain Genius who bought Twitter is opening the floodgates to whatever toxic sludge wants to ooze back in - though notably Trump seems to be making him grovel for it, even after the Mind Success Of The Ages not-so-subtly dropped the number 88 to prove his bona fides. I'm still pretty sure the place is going to collapse in an infrastructural way through his incompetence - he clearly wants to have his cake (a hub of far-right extremists with him as their king) and eat it (but with real advertisers! And celebrities! And... people!) but he's fired all the bakers and the people who clean the kitchen and the people who tell him he's great while they actually do the work. But either way, the place is so compromised now it's hard to justify maintaining more than a ghost presence.
So I'm going to drop this link and then lock my Twitter account tomorrow and stop taking new followers. Maybe I'll keep linking, maybe I won't. Maybe I'll go to Hive - though if a lack of a moderation team is my problem, I might wait for word on that first. Whever I end up, I'll let you know.
But we got through another Sunday, so the place to find me is still right here. Until next time - love and strength.
Playing us out with IT DOESN'T MATTER TO HIM by JOHN GRANT.