For years, Brian Michael Bendis and Geoff Johns were the butt of jokes about how they were writing what seems to be 80% of all Big Two comics. Writing for a couple of series a month is all well and good, but these two each released so many comics with their names on it that you had to sit there and wonder where they even find the time.
Unlike those two, Charles Soule isn’t seen as a great architect for Marvel or DC. He isn’t this big leader writing the top books with a less-popular side-project or two on the side. His highest-profile book is Superman/Wonder Woman and that’s probably the fifth highest-profile book about Superman, falling after his two solo books, Justice League, and his team-up book with Batman. Not only is he currently writing three books each for Marvel and DC, but he’s also practicing law, rocking out in a band, and doing a series called Letter 44 with Alberto Jimenez Alburquerque at Oni Press. Seriously, how does he find the time for this?!? He’s like the comic book version of “Hey, Mon!” from In Living Color.
Though not quite an architect, Soule is something just as important. He’s a fixer. If you have a problem, yo, he’ll solve it. That’s the way I see it. It seems whenever they give him the ball, it’s dirty and half-deflated, yet he’s still able to dribble it into a slam dunk.
His first chance at a big comic run came in the form of Swamp Thing, with he and artist Kano taking over for Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette. Snyder’s run was promising, but sadly problematic, much like its sister series Animal Man. Swamp Thing started extremely strong as the New 52 began, building up the title character’s massively uphill threat, the Rot. It took eighteen issues for Swamp Thing to take care of the Rot, juxtaposed with Animal Man doing the same. The finale storyline Rotworld wore out its welcome long before finishing, killing all the excellent build.
Snyder jumped off right after that, which made it tricky. It wasn’t like Superman beating up one threat in a few issues to move on to another. The Rot was the only thing the Swamp Thing comic knew. So much time was invested in it, that moving on just felt off. Jeff Lemire’s Animal Man had the same problem, even with Lemire staying on. Its follow-up wasn’t strong enough to stand on its own.
Soule’s first issue, Swamp Thing #19, started off as a pretty blatant cash grab, as it came out during DC’s big fold-out cover gimmick month while featuring both the Scarecrow and Superman. The end of the arc had Superman pave the way for the theme of Soule’s Swamp Thing in that Swamp Thing’s powers are too great to be trustworthy and can go wrong really easily. The only way he can really keep it in check and do the right thing for humanity is to hold onto his own humanity and make connections with others.
This was a good call, since Snyder’s run lacked a strong supporting cast. He had a star-crossed lovers thing going on with Abigail Arcane, but she was taken off the board by the end. The Baker family was there for a good chunk of it, but Swamp Thing never really had any camaraderie with Animal Man and their team-up felt strictly business.
Then there’s the Parliament of Trees, which got enough lip service in Snyder’s run, but Soule is able to expand on it and make an interesting supporting cast out of three members when they’re forced back into their human forms. All three of them have reason to both appreciate and hate Swamp Thing and each gives us at least one reason to feel distrust towards them, but at the moment, they all appear to be on the same side. Then there’s the Murder Poet, a centuries-old warrior woman attempting to help Swamp Thing so that he can protect her from the wrath of Etrigan the Demon.
That right there is one of the main saving graces of the run. It hasn’t focused too much on a single threat, but has been able to layer them from story to story and give Swamp Thing a real, diverse set of challenges. In the end, it seems like Alec Holland’s morality and compassion will see him through, fittingly leading to an end game against a demon.
At the twenty-first issue, Soule took over Red Lanterns with Alessandro Vitti. Before them, the series was run by Peter Milligan, who never let the concept reach its potential. Outside of the human character Rankorr and maybe the scheming Bleez, nobody ever seemed to have any real depth. Atrocitus is a pretty one-dimensional protagonist and all the other Lanterns feel almost interchangeable. Too much time is spent following around Rankorr’s origin as Atrocitus and Bleez have their own civil war and little is dedicated to outside threats. Or at least, outside threats who aren’t part of whatever big Green Lantern crossover is going on. Meanwhile, it feels a bit too mopey at times for a group of characters who debuted by having a space kitty vomit napalm on a dude. At the time, Red Lanterns was probably the worst of the Green Lantern books.
Now, I’m not saying that under Soule, Red Lanterns became the best Green Lantern book. No. I’m saying that under Soule, Red Lanterns became DC Comics’ best book. It’s such a fun time and I look forward to it every month. The hook is that Hal Jordan gave Guy Gardner a mission to infiltrate the Reds and keep tabs on what they’re up to. Guy usurped Atrocitus and became the new leader, but after his rescue plan went awry, Guy decided he had enough of the Green Lantern Corps. He came clean to his fellow crimson ring-slingers and admitted that after having to put up with the Greens for so long, he’d rather be a Red to the end.
Even Bleez has done away with her need to take over, mostly because Guy doesn’t share Atrocitus’ tyrant beliefs and they’re mostly on the same page. While dysfunctional, the group has become a tightly-knit team of anti-heroes who don’t answer to anyone. Instead of seeing them growl and plot against each other, you instead see Skallox and Bleez pouring liquor down Zilius Zox’s giant mouth while Guy and Rankorr bond over being from Earth. Everything is just more upbeat with these guys now with the angst replaced with a strong sense of humor. All the while, Atrocitus is licking his wounds in a more fitting villain role.
One of the highlights is how one of the villains temporarily puts a stop to the Red Lanterns by taking away their anger. How? By forcing them to be totally high to the point that they’re completely cool with their impending death. It’s amazing.
The fact that Guy Gardner later grows a Lemmy mustache is just the icing on the cake.
In the land of Marvel, Soule followed up on Daniel Way’s rather unfortunate take on Thunderbolts. If you haven’t read it, Way’s Thunderbolts has very, very little to do with the preexisting incarnations of the team (which is the second time Marvel’s pulled this stunt). Instead of a bunch of villains fighting as heroes, it’s a bunch of anti-heroes being a team. Red Hulk leading the all-star cast of Punisher, Elektra, Venom, Deadpool, the (Red) Leader, and the unpredictable and overpowered Mercy. He had some interesting ideas in there, like bringing back the long-forgotten pairing of Punisher and Elektra, introduced as a punchline in an old Garth Ennis comic, then playing up Deadpool’s jealousy over it. The idea of Red Leader is also pretty decent. Unfortunately, his eleven issues are a confusing “wheels within wheels” mess with little payoff and no identity.
Soule took over the comic at #12, where he spent the first two issues cleaning up after Way. Then at #14, he finally laid down the idea of what the comic is even about: everyone would put their name in a hat. At random, someone would be selected. That person would have a mission in mind that they accept isn’t possible for them to fulfill alone. Bam. There you go. Interesting hook.
What’s really amusing about the current run of Thunderbolts is that Venom had to leave the team due to how he’s about to join the Guardians of the Galaxy. To make up for him leaving, Ghost Rider (Johnny Blaze) joined the team. You see, when your team is made up of an emotionless serial killer vigilante, a super-serious assassin, a mercenary infamous for his insanity, an old general who can turn into a rampaging beast, and a sinister mad scientist, it’s the alcoholic with an alien for pants who is the designated down-to-earth character. With him gone, the best replacement is the Satanic biker with a flaming skull head. Comics rule, man.
There’s a great three-part story with Carlo Barberi on art where most of the team ends up in Hell. They work out a deal with Mephisto, but Red Leader uses his legal knowledge to keep them from being stabbed in the back by the Lord of All Lies. And by his legal knowledge, I mean Charles Soule’s legal knowledge.
Sadly, Soule is leaving Thunderbolts soon because he’s decided to try that whole, “sleep for three hours a night instead of zero hours,” concept. Good luck on that.
With Tony S. Daniel drawing, Soule has been writing Superman/Wonder Woman since its inception. While he isn’t exactly following up on a run, he is following up on the very idea that Superman and Wonder Woman are now an item in the New 52. It’s not a new idea, as countless Elseworlds stories have fallen back on that concept for decades, but it’s one of the few slivers of reasoning for the New 52 reboot’s potential. Geoff Johns introduced it in Justice League, but because of the bloated storytelling that comes from a team book, it never truly got any play. All the scenes with them have been about talking about how they’re in a relationship without them really being in a relationship.
“We should be in a relationship.””That’s a good idea.””So here we are. In a relationship. How do you think everyone will react?””I don’t know, but we totally are in a relationship.””Hey, guys. It’s me, Batman. Just thought I’d tell you that I know you’re in a relationship.””Hell yeah, we are!”
They did go on a date at one point, but then actual action happened and interrupted it like four panels in.
Not only is Superman/Wonder Woman a series where the concept is allowed to breathe, but it also does its best at pulling together the two worlds. No, not the worlds of Superman comics and Wonder Woman comics. I mean the world of Wonder Woman comics and Wonder Woman comics. Considering how different the character appears in Justice League and her own series, Soule at least gives us some kind of attempt at a bridge.
While it’s not my favorite of Soule’s stuff, it does have a truly inventive inclusion of Wonder Woman nemesis/half-brother Apollo. Early on, he gets in Superman’s face and tries to punk him out, only to realize that that’s a bad, bad idea because Superman gets his power from the sun. When Superman’s warned about Apollo holding a grudge, the New 52’s more brash Superman brushes it off because as long as he’s the God of the Sun, he’s got nothing. Superman definitely eats those words down the line.
Soule’s lawyer experience has netted him a pretty perfect spot in writing superhero lawyer She-Hulk, accompanied by the wonderful Javier Pulido art. She-Hulk has been on the backburner for quite a while. Dan Slott had a run back in 2005 that started strong, but started to fall apart a little in the end, including a rather groan-worthy final issue that went a bit far with Slott’s tendency to police continuity as he sees fit. After that, Peter David took over the series and it failed to set the world on fire. She-Hulk remained a staple in Marvel, but was momentarily overshadowed by Red She-Hulk, who was also given her own series. I think the world of Jeff Parker, but nothing was going to keep that series alive for long and it promptly got canceled. After all, she is a derivative of a derivative.
Charles Soule’s She-Hulk is three issues in as of this writing, but it’s already got me locked in with its quirky depiction of Jennifer’s fantastical law career, which she describes as 90% talking and 10% fighting robots. Funny thing is, in all four issues, she’s done battle with robots, so her pie chart might be a little off. Her first real case brings Kristoff, adopted son of Dr. Doom, into the fold. The way he’s regal, narcissistic, yet respectful and nonplussed about the ridiculous comic book life he lives (ie. his first three girlfriends were all robots programmed by Doom and he’s cool with that) makes it the first time I’ve found Kristoff at all interesting. And I say that as somebody who’s read and enjoyed Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four/FF run.
That brings us to his latest project, Inhuman. The Inhumans have always been one of the trickier set of characters in Marvel. They are iconic enough to be considered fixtures since the days of Kirby, but they’re just too out there to really grab the mainstream. They’ve been given series after series, but Marvel appears to be more focused on the property now than ever. Much of that is supposedly because of some popular movie loophole rumors based on how the Avengersverse movies can’t use the X-Men, so might as well use the weirder X-Men. Whether or not that’s true, Infinity set up the new Inhuman series as a status quo that actually integrates the lore into a more down-to-earth setting and Marvel really wants you to pay attention to it.
Matt Fraction was originally set to do the series with Joe “More Capcom Than Marvel” Madureira, but split due to undisclosed reasons. So of course, you send the fixer in there and now you have Soule writing a comic that Marvel is trying so, so hard to make a big deal. With only one issue out, it’s hard to really judge it, but it’s enough for me to read at least a little more. But that’s more on Madureira than anyone else because the main villain Lash is essentially just Akuma from Street Fighter and I love Akuma from Street Fighter more than I love my grandmother.
Though Joe Mad has that problem with keeping to deadlines, at least we know that if he takes too long, Charles Soule can probably just learn how to draw just like him and have an entire dozen issues finished in a couple days, all while writing the first readable Hawkman series in years and being brought in to do a rewrite to make Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark a viable success.
Hats off to one of the hardest working writers in comics!