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Monday, September 09, 2019 

The Daily Beast fawns over Tom King

The Daily Beast wrote a gushy piece about one of today's most overrated comic writers, Tom King, and they sugarcoat works like his take on Mr. Miracle, yet no mention is made in this article about Heroes in Crisis, curiously enough:
At first glance, a former CIA counterintelligence officer’s post-war trajectory from spy games in the Middle East to a star-making run as a Marvel and DC Comics writer might seem, at the least, sort of random.

But Tom King, the multiple Eisner award-winning writer of two of the decade’s best comics—Marvel’s The Vision miniseries and DC Comics’ Mister Miracle—indeed served abroad in Iraq and Pakistan on behalf of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center in the years after 9/11. And once back in civilian life, he indeed became one of the comics industry’s most sought-after storytellers, known for expressing the low-level unease of being alive with emotional resonance, efficiency, and frequent doses of gut-punch wisdom.

In Vertigo’s The Sheriff of Babylon, a globe-sprawling series set in post-invasion Iraq, he vented a war’s worth of frustration at the “bullshitting” he witnessed from the inside out. In Marvel’s The Vision, he told a haunting story about family and a universal need for acceptance—using a cast of androids, no less. DC’s The Omega Men was nominally about superheroes in an intergalactic conflict. But really, it was about the impossible murkiness of our world—about religion and terrorism and the futility of war, and how simple it can be to root for the wrong cause. “It sold nothing,” King jokes.
It shouldn't have sold anything. What this strongly hints at is that, for somebody who fought in Iraq, he sure doesn't seem proud of his service there. He's a leftist with an axe to grind over what he considers right-wing policies, and channeled his misguided frustrations into the comic books more leftists assigned him to script.
Just three years into his full-time comics-writing career, in 2016, King landed DC’s biggest title, the one about the guy in a batsuit. His Batman run ignited a nerd-world maelstrom when Bruce Wayne’s long-promised wedding to Catwoman ended with the bride-to-be ditching him at the altar. The New York Times spoiled the twist early in its wedding vows section and an aghast King weathered tweetstorms—and death threats—from pissed-off fans for months. “There used to be a bounty on my head from the fucking Taliban—I can deal with a few Twitter followers,” he told Polygon at the time, with the towering bodyguard his jittery agent assigned to him at a convention in tow.
I don't think he ever showed any examples in screencaps of the threats he allegedly got. But how come they don't tell why he supposedly got them? It was allegedly because of how he scripted Heroes in Crisis, turning Wally West into a de facto murderer for the sake of defaming a favorite superhero character. But again, no pictorial examples were ever presented, so how do we know it's true? (Do comics writers and artists even have talent agents the same way actors in Hollywood do? That's questionable too.) What this article ends up doing is making fans look petty and gross.
King’s tenure as custodian of Gotham’s favorite son will cut short 15 issues shy of his promised 100-issue run later this year—not due to creative issues, but because King is now busy helping pen director Ava DuVernay’s New Gods movie, adapting the mad cosmic world Jack Kirby dreamed up in the ’70s. More of his work is soon coming to the screen, too: a dystopian TV project dubbed States of America, plus another “secret TV thing” that has yet to be announced. (Bat-fans need not worry: the ending King originally intended for his Gotham-set saga will be repurposed as a Batman/Catwoman standalone miniseries early next year.)
Well there's a movie as well as a comic we can decidedly avoid; it'll probably be as politically correct as Marvel's upcoming Eternals movie is anyway. Recalling Brad Meltzer had a few projects on TV in the past decade, it sounds like King's following the same path, and that just adds up to another waste of celluloid as well as paper. Over in comics, the cast of characters from the New Gods already fell victim to social justice mechanisms, so let's not be shocked if a movie adaptation could undergo the same. Kirby's a guy who never got the respect he deserved in the long run.
He’s riding the kind of career high comics creators dream of—welcomed by Hollywood, the toast of the comics world. (At San Diego Comic-Con, where the Eisner Awards are handed out, King was this year’s most-nominated creator in attendance. He walked away with Best Writer for the second year in a row, and his and artist Mitch Gerads’ masterpiece, the limited-series Mister Miracle, claimed all three prizes it was up for.)

King’s writing might have struck a chord in any decade. But it’s Mister Miracle that, perhaps more than his other work, speaks expressly to the feeling of this moment in time: the nagging suspicion that reality is too strange to be true; the fear of being trapped in it, or inside your own head; how joy and mundanity mingle here with existential threats and the absurd; and ultimately, how each of us must choose how to live with it.

He took a character of Kirby’s invention, a god and escape artist named Scott Free, and centered him amid mythic forces of good and evil that amount to set dressing in a story about how hard it is to be a person. (Let alone a new father, as King was when he left the CIA and as Scott becomes by Mister Miracle’s end.) King has lived with PTSD and depression of his own; he does not pretend that Scott, even by the series’ end, can be “cured.” But that’s the point. “That’s what makes you live, right?” King tells me. “It’s still a part of you. And it’s not part of you in a bad way. To be alive is to have this.”
Being alive is fine. But to make a fictional character he didn't create out to look like a basket case who doesn't have what it takes to face the hazards he does any more than say, Spider-Man, is taking away what made the stories work in the first place, acting as though nobody can possibly overcome a trauma at all, to say nothing of slapping past, more talented veterans in the face. Spidey overcame any guilt he felt over uncle Ben Parker's death at the hands of an armed burglar to become an effective crime fighter, and if King feels this way about Mr. Miracle, I hesitate to think what he'd do if he got his mitts on Stan Lee's wall-crawler. He applies his alleged experiences in a way that's not organic, refuses to recognize the differences between reality and fiction, and then expects everyone to just stand aside and not be critical for valid reasons? Just totally galling.

And no shock he'd be such a celebrity in comicdom and Hollywood. The most overrated usually wind up the most accepted in Tinseltown today, and get the most awards they don't deserve.
Comics had been a refuge for him as a shy, sometimes bullied kid growing up in Los Angeles. He hoped one day to write them. While a student at Columbia University, he interned at DC’s Vertigo imprint and at Marvel Comics, where he was an assistant to celebrated X-Men writer Chris Claremont. But by the mid-’90s, the comic-book market crashed spectacularly and left the industry’s future in serious doubt. At a time when it seemed possible that there might not be a Marvel or DC Comics much longer, King turned to more stable job prospects. He thought of going to law school. And then he became a spy.
And then he became a terrible comics writer. Who does something not all that different from bullies to the superheroes. In that case, what was the whole point of reading superhero comics in the first place? If he understood things properly, he'd never have treated fictional characters so negatively, as he did in Heroes in Crisis. And this is certainly a surprise to discover he once worked for Claremont.
King’s own anxiety informed his idea of Scott Free, an escape artist who can’t get out of his own head. “The book started when I had one of those first-episode-of-the-Sopranos panic attacks and I ended up in the hospital,” he says. “It was one of those things where you ask the doctor, ‘Am I dying or am I crazy?’ And they tell you you’re crazy and you’re like, woo-hoo! Oh, wait a second.” He laughs. “I thought I was a pretty tough guy. I’d been to war twice, I’d had three kids. In my own little nerdy corner of the world I was pretty successful. But there was something brittle inside of me.”
By his phony logic, even Harry Houdini couldn't get out of his own head. Whatever King's experiences, he's not going about things the right way, and it only makes people like himself look destructive and contemptuous of all the wrong crowds. The irony is that decades ago, Vietnam vets were unfairly labeled as going nuts post-war, and in a way, King risks making Iraqi war vets look almost the same. What really raises eyebrows when you think about it though, is when they make clear where they stand on Donald Trump:
Mister Miracle was his chance to write about those brittle parts—and about the creeping suspicion in the age of Trump that reality is fundamentally, metaphysically even, coming undone. “We live in a time of anxiety right now and we gotta acknowledge this at some point,” he says. He starts and abandons several thoughts mid-sentence until, in revved-up emotion, he utters “fuck it” and plows ahead: “I don’t care if I’m political. What the president is putting out there is reflecting on everybody. And the people who are angry at the president have that anger, and the people who get their anger from the president have their anger, and there’s nowhere for that anger to go except at each other, or inside, and we’re all living with that everyday.”
I'd say this is where the article starts coming unglued, and it's clear at this point his Mr. Miracle yarn was written as a political metaphor. That King doesn't even care he's become political - and must blame the Dubya administration for all the wrong reasons as much as Trump himself - sums up perfectly what he thinks of comics as a medium. Not for entertainment, but rather, politics.
Part of Mister Miracle’s ambition is to capture a feeling many know intimately, but which can be hard to put into words. King and Gerads articulate that dread succinctly, often with a single phrase: “Darkseid Is.” Panels black out without warning, flashing the phrase in typewriter lettering. It interrupts moments of loneliness or disassociation. But it can also be a punchline, or a shrug: When Big Barda says it, for example, she could just as well say “shit happens.”
I think the line "Darkseid Is" appeared on a JLA issue cover in the late 2000s when Grant Morrison wrote it. I had no idea it somehow "resonated" with anybody. But I don't see the point of it here either. Just empty use of a catchphrase without putting it in any meaningful context.

And in the end, again, King's proven he's just another leftist with an axe to grind politically at the expense of other people's creations and pastimes. Again, no mention of Heroes in Crisis in an article that seems more interested in his forced and contrived take on Scott Free and Big Barda, and as expected, they only fluff-coated his resume without looking at it objectively. Far as I'm concerned, the DB writers made up their minds where they stood on King's overrated work from the very start.

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"What this strongly hints at is that, for somebody who fought in Iraq, he sure doesn't seem proud of his service there."

Well considering the fact that the war and aftermath there was a tad half-baked in both planning and execution...

There are a lot of Iraqui vets who feel they were lied to and abused by their country. They have earned the right to take that stand.

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