Thursday, November 25, 2010

JMS, Guggenheim & Acton Comics

Death: What Happens To Some Pitches
Rich Johnston did a little interview with Marc Guggenheim to help promote his new book, Halycon. In it, he addressed some of the rumors that had surrounded his leaving Action Comics before he really got started.

A few interesting notes:
  1. Guggenheim, like JMS before him, stresses in his response that the two never talked about the situation. This is arguing against a straw man: no part of the rumors have anything to do with the two parties having words at all. When you refute an accusation that isn't being made, it implies you're doing so because you can't directly refute what's actually being said.
  2. In not being able to personally attest that no mandate was requested that Superman not appear elsewhere, he basically indicates that the pitch JMS made more or less requires Joe getting Kal-El all to himself. It's almost as if Guggenheim is saying, "I'm sure JMS is telling the truth when he says he never specifically asked for control of Superman...he let his pitch do the asking."
  3. The official version of Guggenheim leaving Action Comics said his pitch turned into something that he felt he wasn't the best writer for. Guggenheim's answer seems to suggest that Superman being out of Action happened sometime between his being picked for Action and JMS being announced on Superman. So HIS pitch was something else before editorial informed him that Superman would be confined to his self-titled monthly. 
  4. The pitch that he wound up not fitting was what was a mix of him trying to make lemonade out of the situation and taking editorial direction. "In fact, I'd worked out a whole story that would lead up to Superman's triumphant return to Metropolis -- in it's darkest hour, natch -- that turned his absence into a virtue. But then, as these things often happen, discussions ensued and ideas evolved and the focus started to fall more on Lex and the story started to become more about Lex's quest for a Black Ring... and I realized that while the story had become extremely cool, it had also evolved itself out of my wheelhouse." See right there? His own pitch, even after the JMS developments, was to focus on setting up Metropolis's darkest hour, not so much Luthor's jaunt across the globe and universe trying to find a black ring. Writers don't generally pitch something out of their own wheelhouse, but have feedback from above that steadily pushes it out. 
  5. It would seem that what led Guggenheim to not be a part of Action Comics was a combination of JMS taking advantage of his position in pitching an angle that required his owning Superman and editorial having strong feelings about what they wanted the title to be used for after the Kryptonian was subtracted from the mix. Which, when you boil things down, just reduces to Guggenheim being off the title because DC Comics kept changing the circumstances around the assignment until he was no longer comfortable with it. The discussion of the rumors have always seemed to center around it being JMS's fault, but that's ignoring that he only has the power to make a pitch, not accept the pitch and, by doing so, put limitations on the work of others. When you factor into it that Guggenheim seems to have been happy enough to stay on the title without Kal-El, the driving factor in his leaving would seem to be editorial taking even more of the freedom to tell his story away. 
But what's the point of the rumors if there's no malice behind the story?

It looks to me like Straczynski had a genuine idea that he wanted to execute. DC had an earnest desire to let him take a crack at it in hopes that it would move units. Guggenheim was still able to have enough enthusiasm to keep bouncing around ideas on where to go. Then DC seemed to want to hedge their bets by using Action to accomplish some other goal besides just telling interesting stories. 

Given the sales on the traditional Superman titles in the recent past when they didn't have Superman in them, you can't blame them for possibly having thought, "if we're going to risk pissing away money on the book, we can at least do so in a way that maybe helps re-establish a historically important supporting cast member while hopefully telling good stories." It's obviously a shitty spot for Guggenheim to have been caught up in, but the kind of bad situation that happens to good creators all the time. Tough decisions are made every day that pull sweet gigs out from under freelancers. I guess you could say the silver lining here is that it happened to a creator that is so successful in other avenues that he could afford to bow out of the project, rather than suffer from working on stories he had no interest in or having his reputation tainted by such stories that he felt ill-suited for. 

The surprise for me is that Cornell seems to have been given so much of the direction he's working on. He's still executing it in a very entertaining fashion, as even Guggenheim seems to agree. But I was more inclined to think he came up with much closer to 100% than it turns out. 

The way that both JMS and Guggenheim devote so much energy to denying that they ever talked about this leads me to feel that there may have been some degree of a debate or power struggle...SOMETHING that would explain their need to create a straw man here. But there's no way of confirming that happened right now and it's not likely to be a "sexy" enough story to encourage the effort it would take to dig it up. 

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