Thursday, January 13, 2011

Under Rated and Under Appreciated

So tonight, I was reading Heroes for Hire #2 and I realized something – Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning are two of best writers in comics today.

Abnett and Lanning (or DnA as they’re affectionately known) are a British writing tandem that have been working together for a looong time in America and England, and though they aren’t industry superstars, they have quietly been producing some of the best superhero comics in recent years.

DnA don’t take flashy assignments. They’ve never been handed the reigns of a marquee franchise. They’re typically given work on lower tier books that no one else has been able to make work. Yet they find ways to take these castoffs and make them thrive.

I first discovered the two writers on Resurrection Man, an interesting mid 90’s DC book about a man who comes back to life every time he is killed with a different set of superpowers. Despite being published at a time when DC wouldn’t let something by Grant Morrison and Mark Millar together get past 10 issues, they lasted for two years and packed it full of the interesting, off kilter British scifi sensibility that has since become their trademark.

Their big breakout hit (alongside a little known artist named Olivier Copiel) was Legion Lost, a soft reboot of the Legion of Super Heroes. A few years earlier the Legion books had been rebooted to give them an entirely new continuity that started from scratch. Despite a very strong first few years, the books began to flounder creatively and they faced the same impenetrable continuity that plagued the series before the reboot. DnA came in and solved that problem neatly by blowing the whole thing up. A small group of Legionnaires got shunted halfway across the universe and forced to fight their way home through an unexplored and unfamiliar universe.

Most remarkably, these may be the only Legion stories of the past 20 years (and probably the next 20 years) that barely made any reference to past Legion continuity. It was fresh, it was interesting and it helped revive the Legion of Superheroes. They had a nice run on a more standard LSH ongoing called, “The Legion,” until in the mid 30s, people did what they have done on every Legion run since the 80’s: lost interest for no good reason.

Perhaps their most impressive accomplishment came a few years ago at Marvel when they made the cosmic Marvel books some of the best stuff on the market. Keep in mind how monumental a task this is: cosmic Marvel hasn’t been interesting, let alone good, since the Infinity Gauntlet stuff of the early 90’s. With the exception of Mark Gruenwald’s Quasar run, the only creator to ever do anything remotely successful with cosmic Marvel since Jack Kirby was Jim Starlin.

The Silver Surfer is basically the only character with any real mainstream cache and most of the characters are knock offs of DC characters (Thanos=Darkseid, Nova=Green Lantern). So, that they were able to make a Nova ongoing successful is commendable. That they were able to successfully get three major crossover events, a Guardians of the Galaxy ongoing, and a handful of mini-series out of this AND have them all be good is nothing short of miraculous. With only the Annhilators mini-series coming out, it looks like their time at cosmic Marvel is largely over, though I hope they can keep doing more work.

Their latest book is Heroes for Hire, which is taking another long slumbering franchise that hasn’t worked in about 20 years and seems to be breathing new life into it again. Featuring Misty Knight and Paladin hiring various Marvel heroes on an as-needed-basis, they seem to have found a way to make this book work. Its only in its second issue, and we’ve already had the Falcon, Black Widow, Elektra, Santana, Silver Sable, Moon Knight, and Ghost Rider. None of it feels forced and it feels cool in a way that Heroes for Hire hasn’t in any of its previous relaunches. I cannot emphasize how little cache Heroes for Hire has for me and 99% of the comics audience. Yet, they’ve found a way to do what they have always done and turn this title, which legions of writers have failed to make work, into exceedingly good superhero book.

It wasn’t until I read the latest issue of Heroes for Hire that I realized what an extraordinary body of work these two authors have created over the last 15 or so years. Sure there’s some forgettable runs on some Wildstorm stuff and video game properties, but I think the highlights of their bibliographies are as good or better than anyone in mainstream superhero comics today. I’d suggest that they should get turned loose on a major franchise, but honestly, I’m way too excited to see how they’re going to turn Force Works into the most exciting book of 2012.


  1. Agreed, DnA always tell good stories and seem to write for the characters and not shoehorn a character into a s story they want to tell. Chuck Dixon is another example of a writer who is a pro but never gets the recognition he deserves.

  2. If only they hadn't ruined Nova's costume, I might have hopped onto their cosmic odyssey at the beginning. I was enjoying Guardians for awhile until they kept changing artists. Most of their Marvel material is collected in HC, so maybe one day I'll get to read it.

    Their DC material sounds really interesting.

  3. Jim, I used to agree with you about Dixon. His work on Green Arrow and Nightwing is some of the most solid superhero stuff of the 90's. He sorta lost it in the 2000s though. I'm not sure if the industry passed him by or what, but ever since DC took him off the bat books he's never felt the same to me...

    The new Nova costume is weird. When someone like Adi Granov (the artist in the pic in the article) draws it like armor, I think it looks great. When Mike Deodato tries to make it look like a superhero costume, eh. Not so much. You should give their Nova run a shot. If its not the best run on that character I'll eat my hat.

  4. I love their Legion work. It's some of my favorite and is the anti-thesis of the crap that is considered Legion nowadays.