"THE MADNESS OF
CROWDS" or "WHY IS ROB LIEFELD LIKE A TULIP BULB?"
I really, really wanted to tell you about a DC book from the early
seventies called "Prez"
...about the first teenage President of the United States and his Native
American Vice President who lived in a Tee-Pee on the banks of the
Potomac. Among other things, they fought vampires and Prez appeared in
an issue of Supergirl. It's some very cool shit, but it will have to
wait. Why? Blame Rob Liefeld.
No, wait. Blame Marvel for paying him actual money (That's an
assumption, maybe it's one of those 'will work for food' deals) and
giving him a book of his own to completely stink up from scratch. Blame
Marvel for not holding it against him that he wrote the single worst
version of Captain America ever, sinking even the most remote chance
their ill-conceived 90's Heroes Reborn relaunch would have of success.
Blame Marvel for not having learned a lesson every other comic reader
learned quite some time ago, that Rob Liefeld's work sucks not just like
a black hole, but like the monstrous mega black hole theorized to be at
the center of our galaxy. Or maybe blame the whole damn comic book
publishing world for thinking that writers and artists who were once
cash cows for any reason, no matter how inane, can pump green out their
udders again. Stan Lee? A great writer once. Created Spiderman, The
fantastic Four, The X-men. Did you know in the nineties he optioned the
rights to the Backstreet Boys to make a superhero comic about them?
And this after he'd already tried to create his own cat themed rock star
by hiring a singer and writing a comic book where she was a singer by
day, cat themed superhero by night? Did you read ANY of the "WHAT
IF STAN LEE HAD THE IDEAS THAT DC'S ORIGINAL GREAT WRITERS HAD, EXCEPT
HE HAD THEM TODAY, AND THEY ALL REEKED LIKE SULFUR FUMES?" No? see,
that's funny, because I'm fairly sure no one on earth read them. Wait,
that's not funny at all, it's really very sad. Speaking of really sad,
anybody read the new "Doom Patrol", written by Chris Claremont and
penciled by John Byrne, the legendary team that made the X-men the
number one book it's been for the last twenty years? SPOILER ALERT! It's
so unforgivably bad every page out to be painted on black velvet and you
should only be able to buy it in Mexican gas station parking lots. And
here's the thing: Lee? Claremont? Byrne? Those folks were good once. Rob
Never good. Not once. Not for an instant.
Not good, but for a few years, very, very, very popular. Now how the
hell does someone who's work is just awesomely putrid become so popular
that years afterward, when association with his name is recognized as
the kiss of death, he keeps getting, second, third, fifteenth chances?
Hello! Were we not just talking about Lee and the Backstreet boys? Have
we learned nothing? Although it's now occurring to me that maybe Lee
didn't option the Backstreet. Maybe it was New Kids on the Block? Which
one is the almost entirely gay boy band that didn't have any Wahlbergs
Okay, if you're all up on the Tulip Bulb Craze of Seventeenth Century
Holland, you can skip the next paragraph.
If not, take notes, because from now on you'll be able to reference it
in conversation, marking yourself as a pithy, elitist asshole without
doing the kind of book learnin' usually required for such posturing. *
HINT! * Don't pat yourself on the back if you already know about the
Tulip Bulb Craze of Seventeenth Century Holland, and don't get all giddy
about what you are about to learn if you don't know about it. A whole
lot of people already know, and already use it as annoying shorthand.
Hell, I know about it. My whole life is made of tidbits like this
collected just to make me look smarter than you.
1559. Conrad Gestner brings the first tulip bulbs from Constantinople to
Holland. People go apeshit. You think Beany Babies were an inexplicable
craze? That was nothing, my friend. Tulip bulbs were rare, pricey and
hard to come buy, but at first only your serious Gardeners, Botanists
and Career Poofters went for 'em. But then 'speculators' got involved.
They saw a hot commodity and they bought in bulk, fought for the market
and drove up prices even though they couldn't give a little tin crap
about how pretty tulips were. * NOTE! * While it was fashionable for a
very long time to read the word 'Speculators' as 'Jews' a more accurate
modern reading would be 'Republicans'. How out of touch did it get?
Here's what some poor Dutch bastard paid for a SINGLE TULIP BULB
Four tons of wheat
Eight tons of rye
One suit of clothes
Two casks of wine
Four tons of beer
Two tons of butter
1,000 pounds of cheese
One silver drinking cup.
Fortnightly unsupervised conjugal visits with his son, Dieter, who
incidentally never even got to see the Tulip bulb, which was far too
valuable to be planted.
A Purple Velour Tracksuit with the words "Deiter's Never Prosper" hand
stitched in scarlet satin on the front.
Okay, I made those last two up. In fact, if you translate the words on
the track suit into Dutch, the play on words is lost, which was
something of a give away. The point is, Dieter Leasing aside, that's a
hell of a lot of merchandise to put up for a friggin' bulb, and a lot of
people were doing it. It's called "The Madness of Crowds", it's part of
human nature, and it explains a lot of weird ass human behavior without
resorting to explanations involving Ergot poisoning. *TIP!* You don't
even need to know what Ergot poisoning is to get elitist street cred!
Just drop it into any conversation involving odd group behavior,
followed by a derisive sniff! Check it out!
SOME GUY: WHAT THE HELL?! HOW IS IT POSSIBLE MORE THAN HALF THE
COUNTRY VOTED FOR THAT FRIGGIN' BUSH?!
YOU: Ergot poisoning. (derisive sniff)
WOMAN: That was so urbane I believe I shall let you 'bone' me.
In case you think I've forgotten this is a column about comics, bite me.
This is exactly what happened with "The Death of Superman",
...a very bad punch fest
of a book that I recently bought in the black bag with the arm band and
commemorative issue of "The Daily Planet" for a dollar. When it first
came out, speculators bought warehouses full of "The Death of Superman".
They disappeared from the market as fast as they were printed. For a
while serious dorks could only get their Necrophilic Super-Weenie on by
forking over hundreds of dollars for two copies, one to shove under
their friends noses and the other to lock in a temperature controlled
vault as a college fund for children anyone could have told them they'd
never have. And the joke was on them as it always is in these cases
because now they are cheaper than toilet paper. Well. Good quality
toilet paper, anyway.
But you can't blame it all on the speculators, because while they
manipulate popularity, they don't create it. THAT part of the madness is
a human mystery. Sometimes there's a grain of sense way down in there
somewhere. I mean, Tulips are sort of pretty. But Rob Liefeld?
Now I'm not here to Bash
Mr. L. That's been done, there are thriving websites devoted to nothing
else. I'm here to speculate on how he was ever popular in the first
place and what the nature of the insanity was that gripped the comic
buying public to the point that Liefeld appeared in a friggin' Blue
Jeans commercial. And there's no way to do that without some bashing
along the way. Good, hard, serious bashing. The kind of bashing that
requires dental records to identify the remains.
I first encountered Liefeld on the 1987 DC mini series, Hawk and Dove.
H&D were old, abandoned favorites of mine from the late sixties, early
seventies. It was very high concept, fully deserving of a column all
it's own. See, they were brothers, but they had really different
They got these powers from
some unexplained mystic mumbo jumbo. When the brother that was really
into sports said "Hawk", he turned into the big ass, red and white
superhero who was very macho and hotheaded and hated hippies and liked
punching people. The other brother (who was more of your debate club
kind of fella) would say "Dove" and he'd turn into this skinny but well
muscled light blue and white superhero who was ethical and calm and dug
hippies and only used judo as a last resort. Steve Ditko, who created
the visuals for Spiderman and Dr. Strange was the original artist and
brought his stark, angular, chemically unbalanced look to the book, and
like everything I really loved, it was cancelled in short order. All I
remember about the Liefeld revival of the book...
...is that EVERYONE
in it was really beefy, and they had teeny heads. Even Dove, who was now
a girl, was very beefy and had a teeny head. Oh, and Hawk had slightly
larger than average machine guns and a really big bullet bandoleer. But
what the hell, it was Hawk and Dove and I liked it.
In 1988, Marvel gave Liefeld a dying book called New Mutants (who'd
think a book with a clever titled like that could die?) and said do what
you want with it, we'll look the other way.
New Mutants before Liefeld | New mutants after Liefeld.
The first major change was
to make all their heads teeny. The next change was to introduce a new
character, the cornerstone of Liefeld's popularity, Cable. (Editor Bob
Harrass and writer Lousie Simonson say that Cable was a joint creation
of all three. Charmingly, Liefeld says he created Cable all by himself
while the writer and editor of the book stood by wetting themselves in
admiration.) Cable was a big, beefy, one eyed, cyborg middle aged guy
with lots of really big guns and a teeny head.
He had all kinds of scars
and a lot of lines in his face and it was hard to tell which were which.
Fans really liked Cable and I guess Liefeld did too, because as a
tribute from then on, all of his characters, male and female, had lots
of lines and/or scars all over their faces.
Cable was from the future
and his continuity is so messed up it doesn't border on self-parody,
it's invades, occupies and becomes a dictatorship of self-parody. His
parents are founding X-man Cyclops and the clone of his former love,
Founding X-lady Jean Gray, who at the time was believed dead. They sent
their baby Nathan into the future 'cause he had this virus that made him
part machine. In the future he's raised by Cyclops and the actual Jean
Gray, Who turns out not to have been dead. Their essences got into the
future somehow, and possessed the bodies of people who
the wrong place at the wrong time for them, I guess. Cable grows up to
wage a life long struggle against his own clone and chases him back in
time into current continuity where he arrives older than his parents who
don't know him because they haven't yet gone into the future to raise
him. And that's just the parts of his story that aren't painfully
stupid. In flashback we discover When he first arrived the past, he ran
with a mercenary group called, I'm not making this up, The Six Pack.
'Cause, see, there's six of 'em. Add that to your list of things Liefeld
grooves on. Beefy bodies, big guns, teeny heads, lines all over the face
and wickedly stupid superhero names. Think "Six pack" is dumb? Try these
on for size: "Boom-Boom". "Feral". "Stryfe". "Sumo." "Dragoness." "Bad
Rock." "Joystick". Okay, that last one was a porn name, but you get the
I have to confess something. I really liked Cable. I thought he was
great, and I bought every damn New Mutants book, and then when he
changed the title to X-force I bought all those books too. I bought his
Tulip Bulbs. Why? Here's what I think sold Cable. First, Mystery.
Everybody likes a guy with a shrouded past and nobody bothers much about
the fact it's a trap writing wise. You have to reveal bits and pieces or
interest wanes, and the more you reveal
well, at best your guy stops
being mysterious and at worst his origins get complicated and ludicrous.
But it works in the beginning. Cable was tough, short on dialogue, a man
of action, and we all wanted to know what his deal was. The second
thing? Cable was, as I've said, middle aged. He was grizzled and battle
scarred, he'd been to the wars, and THAT was new, that was innovative. I
don't think we'd ever seen a superhero that was like what you wished
your dad was before. Even Marvel, who'd made a WWII vet the head of
their spy agency, drew him like he was maybe in his mid forties. Hell,
my Granpaw was in the Big One, and he was OLD! Cable had to be a very
buff 57, more like 65 if you ask me, but he was Clint Eastwood old and
that rocked. I'm pretty sure Liefeld never got that part of Cable's
success, because every other thing Liefeld ever did, he did over and
over, more and more until the guns were so big they looked like hand
held ICBM's and the faces had more lines than dried apricots. If Liefeld
realized Cable's age was part of his success, he'd be drawing a
superhero team of desiccated corpses by now. Desiccated corpses with
teeny heads and humongous, homoerotic guns.
There was also a lot more action than most superhero books had. They
were like the first two Terminator movies, little hunks of exposition
sandwiched between big hunks of all out action. Come to think of it,
Arnold is a lot like a Liefeld drawing come to life. Beefy, teeny head,
very bad dialogue. Hmmmm.
But what else made Liefeld so wildly popular? I've gone back to reread
his stuff in my collection, and honest to God, I don't know. Maybe they
put Smack in the ink and when it was fresh off the press you absorbed it
through your fingers. Because whatever they did, it didn't keep. These
books are lame, even in historical context. Their woodenness has some
charm, but the bad=good factor is nowhere near, say, The Saga of the
Sons of Superman and Batman. They're just
tepid. Liefelds' women are
sort of like Drag Queens.
A version of sexiness
dreamed up by someone who really has no interest in women at the
chemical level. I'm not saying Liefeld's Gay...
I have no idea. I'm saying
he draws like he's Gay. And not the kind of Gay that likes women.
Liefeld draws women like a Gay guy who is revolted by women, perplexed
and angered by their anatomy and yet utterly reliant on drawing them for
a paycheck. They're all angular and stretchy and sickeningly thin in
some spots and blocky in other parts and all the joints are forever at
Just as X-Force's inexplicable popularity peaked, Liefeld's began to
spiral downward. He left Marvel to join up with some other young guns of
the period to form Image. Their Beef was more than respectable, and a
long time coming. They argued that the folks what created iconographic
characters like Spiderman, Wolverine and, say, Cable, ought to get a
slice of the mega dough their creations earned. The problem was, while
the Image books all sold very well originally, they couldn't get them
out on time, they couldn't work together and none of them could write
even a little bit. Liefeld's heroes were so torturously yucky one has to
assume that if he did actually create Cable (as opposed to Simonson, who
could actually write her name on the ground with a stick.) it was a
And then there was his run on Captain America. Poor Steve Rogers. He had
so many lines on his face, it seemed to be on the verge of collapse. He
looked like a dried apple kitchen witch. And he brought in a new Bucky,
a character so universally unmissed, he remains the only dead superhero
EVER to stay dead. He made Bucky a girl...
...a teen-age, teeny
headed, broken jointed girl, and in so doing did the unthinkable. He
created a Bucky people liked less than the original Bucky. And then
Marvel fired him and he got the rights to a Kirby Character called the
"Fighting American" which was a cap rip-off by the guy who invented Cap
and he did the impossible again. He managed to make a transparent rip
off so much more transparent and so much more of a rip off than it had
been, he got his ass sued for copyright infringement.
And for quite a while,
that was all we heard of Rob Liefeld.
Every once in a while
there'd be some property of his optioned by some Hollywood idiot who
didn't realize that Liefeld's fifteen minutes were long over, but no
movies were ever made.
But now he's back. At Marvel, doing X-force again, no doubt. Is this
evidence of a deal with the devil? Internal sabotage at Marvel? Is he
screwing one of the editors? Maybe he's holding one of their kids
hostage. There's good news and bad news here. The good, this won't last.
It's execrable, even worse than the stuff he was doing before he
vanished. The heads are teenier, the women's bodies yet more broken, the
faces now so lined that in panels where you can't see the costume you
have no idea who's talking. The bad? That's trickier. There's some bugs
so nasty, you can't kill 'em. You spray 'em, you stomp on 'em and they
still waddle nonchalantly under a kitchen cabinet. How many amazingly
shitty movies does Eddy Murphy have to make before no one wants to loose
another fifty million on him? How many incarnations of Sylvester
Stallone do we need to live through? You remember a comedy duo called
"The Mommies"? They had, what, twenty-eight incarnations of a show that
rarely rose above last in the ratings? Did you know that "Yes Dear" is
now in it's 50'th season even though no one has ever watched it more
than twice? Liefeld will be back. Like the end of "Carrie", you'll think
he's over, but he isn't. Somewhere in some alternate future he's already
suiting up to come back to our present, all beefy ass and scar faced,
his body dripping with impossibly big guns and expensive Tulip Bulbs.
BACK TO MORE COMIC STUFF
Support our sponsors!