10.21.2008

An Open Letter to Jeph Loeb

by VM

Oh Jeph Loeb, where did it all go wrong?

You started off so well in my estimation. THE LONG HALLOWEEN caught my attention many years back as a sharp, well paced, smartly written, intelligent and engaging murder-mystery. The type of story that you don't actually see that much of in the mainstream comics world, and especially not where it felt well enough put together that the reader doesn't feel cheated at the end. Yes, on the basis of this read I made a note of your name and decided you were worth following.

And you, sir, have betrayed my trust.

Your next projects were a mixed bag. I read DARK VICTORY which was, frankly, a half-assed rewrite of THE LONG HALLOWEEN, but one that had less internal logic and said nothing new about the characters or situation. Still, I followed it up with A SUPERMAN FOR ALL SEASONS which, whilst lightweight, had some really nice character moments and a general feel for the character of Superman that grounded the book. And of course in all these cases you were supported by the rarely-less-than-glorious Tim Sale.

At this point we probably could have gone either way. Sadly we hit your Marvel 'colour' book phase. None of which were terrible, but none of which were particularly good either. It was here that I learned your caption boxes were frequently more annoying than beneficial to a story. You appeared to have moved so heavily into spelling out exactly what a character thinks that you forgot one of the basic tenants of storytelling is not to tell a reader what a character is thinking, but rather show them. Good characterisation became, instead, long winded lecturing.

And then we have HUSH.

Now, frankly, I have to concede that HUSH was commercially successful. There are many people who loved the Jim Lee art, and the way it kept them guessing with all the twists and turns till the end. I concede this, and yet I must note that your story was complete and utter tosh.

There was no mystery, it was obvious from the start exactly who Hush was, the only surprise being that you actually went with the most obvious and cliched tact of making the killer the main character's never-before-mentioned childhood friend who has just mysteriously returned all of a sudden. Everything else was done for shock value and nothing else - from Poison Ivy getting her claws into Superman simply so that Batman can fight him (again) to Two face having reconstructive surgery. The whole thing was all style and zero substance. It was essentially the third version of THE LONG HALLOWEEN, except this time you had successfully removed all the remnants of a story that made sense.

You then followed this up with SUPERMAN/BATMAN which was yet more style over substance, only with even more over-the-top dialogue boxes that revealed just how much Superman and Batman like and admire each other. All the time. And it was a lot. They really, really like and admire each other. As you constantly reminded us. Of course, the plots were borderline nonsensical, but a veritable masterpiece compared to SUPERGIRL.

With Supergirl it seriously felt as though you no longer saw the need for a coherent plot or characters, and just felt it would be enough to string together a series of random events and moments. None of it made sense. If anything, I have to give you some credit: you successfully proved you could write something and sell it, even if it had only a passing resemblance to what would normally be considered a story. It read like bad fan-fiction.

And that's basically where you appear to have ended up. And are content to be. And that's what's sad. Because right now, your name appearing on a book is an instant sign that it is not worth spending my money on. You've gone from being a draw to a deficit in my buying patterns, and that's sad.

I don't question your success. I can certainly see why you'd feel that you had no reason to change - HULK and ULTIMATES 3 are the same brand of no-story-big-fight nonsense you devolved into selling by the time of SUPERMAN/BATMAN and they sell by all accounts like hotcakes. I do not question the monetary reward or popular success. And yet, I can't shake the feeling that you should be better than this. I think you're just stopped trying. LONG HALLOWEEN is still good. Very good. SUPERMAN FOR ALL SEASONS showed you can have a light touch. Hell, I'm writing this because I really, really think you're better than the last five years have suggested to me. I can remember picking up DARK VICTORY and expecting greatness.

I remember thinking you were good. I still think you could be. I'd really like you to start trying again Jeph. Please?

8 comments:

Chris Ware said...

A few thoughts:

1) I enjoyed Dark Victory, but haven't gotten around to Long Halloween yet (long story). I also haven't read Superman: For All Seasons or Catwoman: When in Rome.

2) I thoroughly enjoyed all three of his Marvel 'color' books and look forward to Captain America: White.

3) I thought Hush was fun, but couldn't believe that he actually used Tommy Elliot. I figured he was just a red herring, but then he ends up being Hush. Was that a twist? I also thought his Superman/Batman run was fun.

4) Supergirl made no sense whatsoever, but was clear as crystal compared to Kelly's run.

5) Hulk is completely mindless and I may just drop it if it doesn't get any better.

Still, props for writing what is one of Arnold Schwarzenegger's best/cheesiest films (Commando).

Matt said...

I liked Long Halloween/Dark Victory and thought his Marvel color stuff was pretty good. He lost me on Superman/Batman. That was way to cheesey. I think Ultimates Volume 3 would have sold regardless who was the writer.

Brandon said...

I'm not a Jeph Loeb fan, but does crap writing necessarily indicate a betrayal of trust? I think it's more a disappointment of expectations than anything else.

Vocal Minority said...

I have high standards when it comes to writers I take an interest in. I trusted him, he's let me down. Repeatedly.

I'm tempted to blame this season of 'Heroes' on him too.

Mr`Orange said...

I really enjoyed his Long Hallowen, though it was a very quick read, it was a well crafted story and one where the plot was executed really well.

Dark Victory I found rather dull, it just didn't seem to be in the same class as Long Halloween.

Then came the colour books, I bought and read Spiderman:Blue, which I just loved, and have re-read many a time. It is such an emotional book, so well done, that it does make you think, reflect upon people in your past.

Daredevil Yellow was awful, and I never bothered with Hulk Grey, and since then I've not been interested in any of his work. A passing interest in Hush, but well now I know the "twist", well to be honest it makes no difference to me, as I would have only really bought it for the art.

Ultimatum is a book I was looking forward too, especially as Ultimate Origins is such an ejoyable read, lets just hope he does something decent with it.

Jon Quixote said...

For All Seasons is awesome.

But other than that...

Even THE LONG HALLOWEEN is convoluted and borderline nonsensical. It's the atmosphere that makes that one great - and Loeb gets some credit for that. And the cool noir feel buries the needlessly complicated plot.

I think the truth is that Loeb never really was all that good. He just got worse when people started telling him that he was.

Patrick Gaffney said...

Loeb can do a good beginning and middle, but the man cannot end a story well if his life depended on it. Look at Hush. That was a fun ride for 11 issues as it came out, but the finale of that blew chucks across the DCU it was so bad. Long Halloween and Dark Victory were, as Jon said, a victory of style over substance. He's done well with his Marvel color books, because he is just retelling classic stories and added a little Tim Sale to them.

KACH! said...

Ha Ha.

--J.