Practitioners 30: Jeph Loeb (Part two)

Hate is a strong word. Saddham Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, Adolf Hitler conjure that idea pretty well. I hate Jeph Loeb. Not the man. I have no idea what the man is like but I hate his output in the comics industry. I am not alone in this. In Forbidden Planet a short while ago a member of staff (a fan of Loeb) intervened at mine and another member of staff’s leering at the prospect of picking up a Loeb. She was pretty adamant. It seems there are feelings on both sides. While I was determined to keep him off this list for subverting Ultimates into a knee jerking cartoonish wasteland of 90s cliches and effectively ripping off 30 years of X-Men continuity and invention to claim Heroes as an original series, Loeb is the man responsible for the hailed Batman: Long Hallowe’en and Batman: Dark Victory with Tim Sale.

Modern comic book readers on the whole are disregarding of Loeb’s influence on central Marvel characters in particular, however with further scouring you start to discover that Loeb has had a massive (and on the whole very positive) effect on modern popular culture. Joseph ‘Jeph’ Loeb III is an American film and television writer, producer and award-winning comic book writer. Loeb was producer/writer on TV shows Smallville and Lost, writer for films Commando and Teen Wolf (making him responsible for one of the greatest Arnie lines in history ‘ Vhy don’t you let off zome zteam..’) and was a writer and co-executive producer on Heroes from 2006 and 2008.

If you think he’s a crappy writer, you’re wrong… he’s a four time Eisner Award winner and five-time Wizard Fan Award winner, producing comic book writing that has appeared in the New York Times Bestseller List. Most of his work, which has incorporated almost every major character in the mainstream comics industry, has been working alongside his collaborator and creative partner, artist Tim Sale.

There’s no doubt that Loeb got off to a considerably impressive start. Having just left Columbia University with a Masters degree in Film, he received his debut in filmmaking in collaboration with Matthew Weisman in authoring the script for Teen Wolf. Loeb and Weisman then collaborated in writing the script for Commando. He went on to create Burglar, unusual as it offered a central comedic role to a female actor, Whoopi Goldberg and then returned in the same year to the Teen Wolf canon with Teen Wolf Too starring Jason Bateman. It was here Loeb met Tim Kring with whom he would work on Heroes more than two decades later.

Loeb is known for his extensive use of narration boxes as monologues for his central characters in order to communicate their inner thoughts, though dialogue is sparing and intermittent. There is no doubt that Loeb has very much influenced comic books and broadened their appeal beyond the standard demographics. This will always be perceived as selling out, commercialism or lack of interest in the base material by some quarters of the comic fan fraternity but its not up to Loeb to answer to that. As long as he continues to sell books, whether to the purists or those who don’t check the name on the front cover and continues to be enjoyed, Loeb will be paid to write comic books and rightfully so.

Loeb’s first comic book work was Challengers of the Unknown Vol.2 Issue 1-8 (March October 1991) which was the first of many following collaboration with Tim Sale. Loeb and Sale’s later collaborations included ‘Year 1′ orientated Batman: Long Hallowe’en, Batman: Dark Victory and Superman For All Seasons among others. The Long Hallowe’en has been noted as having influenced 2005 Christopher Nolan Batflick Batman Begins, the others being Batman: The Man who Falls and Batman: Year One.

In 2002, Loeb teamed up with super-artist Jim Lee to create a year-long story arc ‘ Batman: Hush’ which sat at the No.1 Spot for sales for 11 of its 12 months of publication. The following year Loeb launched the DC team up title Superman/Batman: his run spawning a Supergirl series, and an animated film adapted from Loeb’s ‘Public Enemies’ story arc.

Loeb’s son, Sam, tragically died on June 17, 2005 at only the age of 17, following a three year battle with bone cancer. At the age of 15, Sam wrote a story in Tales of the Vampires #5 with Jeph’s long-term collaborator Tim Sale. In 2006, Sam’s final work appeared in Superman/Batman #26, which was nearly completed before his death. His father finished the work with the help of 25 other writers and artists, all of whom were friends of Sam, including Art Adams, Joe Casey, John Cassaday, Joyce Chin, Ian Churchill, Allan Heinberg, Geoff Johns, Joe Kelly, Mike Kunkel, Jim Lee, Pat Lee, Rob Liefeld, Paul Levitz, Joe Madureira, Jeff Matsuda, Ed McGuinness, Brad Meltzer, Carlos Pacheco, Duncan Rouleau, Tim Sale, Richard Starkings, Michael Turner, Brian K. Vaughan, Mark Verheiden, and Joss Whedon. The issue also featured a tale titled “Sam’s Story,” dedicated to Sam.

In 2006, Loeb chose his hometown of Stamford Connecticut as the launch pad for a major crossover event for Marvel. It was a tectonic shift in the view of Marvel characters and something that not even Marvel’s recent attempts to return to a Golden Age of Avengers has been able to fully recede. Taking the premise of civil rights, the heroes (and villains) of the Marvel universe were forced to choose sides on an ideological battle over attempts by the government to introduce a superhuman registration act. A brave and bold concept it was launched by Loeb with the destruction of a school by a haphazard and destructive superhuman battle.

In 2007, Loeb wrote Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America, using the five stages of grief as a motif to explore the reactions of various Marvel characters following the death of Captain America. The final issue, released on 4th July (Independence Day) was the ‘Funeral of Captain America’, which was covered by the Associated Press, the Washington Post and ABC.

Following signing an exclusive contract with Marvel in September 2005, Loeb has launched Ultimates 3 (with artist Joe Maduriera) and Hulk (with artist Ed McGuinness), in which was introduced the arch-villain Red Hulk. He also worked with artist David Finch on Ultimatum and Tim Sale once more on Captain America: White, the fourth in the ‘colour’ series for Marvel.

Loeb currently shares his writing studio, the Empath Magic Tree House with Geoff Johns and Allan Heinberg.

His run at Marvel aside – Loeb has exhibited great writing at times – in particular with the Batman canon. His largest problem appears to be diversity as certain titles lend themselves neatly to his style of writing. Indeed his continued collaborations with Tim Sale are even more indicative of a tendency towards noir and crime thriller writing, something that clearly the Batman titles support beautifully. His pursuit of diversification has seen him demonised – not always- unjustifiably – but there is no doubt that Jeph Loeb will leave an indelible legacy on comic books. He rebooted Batman with Year 1, killed Captain America and introduced Hush to the world. He brought comic lore to the small screen with Smallville and Heroes. But mostly, he has shown a love of comic books, no doubt very personal to him. He returns and remains in an industry less profitable than TV or Film, having made his money from it. That love of comic books should not be discounted because in that, is something that those who stand in Forbidden Planet and deride Loeb’s work share with him. A love of an art form and ultimately, at times, enabling the expansion for it. Loeb belongs in the hall of Practitioners. Not always popular or well loved, he has no doubt influenced and furthered it and shown great love for it.

Practitioners 30: Jeph Loeb (Part One)

Hate is a strong word. Its a word that slips easily from the tongue on a myriad of subjects. It can be applied forcefully and popularly to many things; the ignorant actions of a maniacal religious fundamentalist and terrorist, the despotic and arrogant foreign policy of industrial nations at times. It can be used in a more personal and specific vehemence, reactionary to a set of circumstances, aimed at a personal and immediate target of contempt; such as getting up in the morning or the discovery of a rainy day. But it can also be applied more blithely and at times more aggressively at figures that have dared raise their heads above the parapets of creative output and deemed themselves worthy of outputting material on the popular stage. One such man to have created such contempt is Jeph Loeb.

Red Hulk makes a good point.

A marmite figure in the starry fermament of the comic book industry sky, Loeb has been the subject of just such a vehement and outspoken attack by me, in the middle of Forbidden Planet. Shamefully, as I make my way, hopefully into the industry I always hoped to work in I am guilty of declaring my ‘hate’ towards a figure I’ve never met. I have existed in a state of contempt of Jeph Loeb for many years now.

There are numerous reasons for this; He dips. Dancing around between industries (Television and Comic book primarily) he never remains on anything for very long. He enjoys a symbiotic relationship with comic books and appears and reappears occassionally from time to time as he feels like it. And they just keep letting him in. As a freelancer, desperate to enter the industry myself it is perhaps galling to see someone allowed to choose when he feels like working. In particular when everything I’ve read of his is hackneyed bollocks. I’d like to point out I haven’t read everything he’s written – or even much but never the less the majority of it is commercially minded, heartless pap with almost no reverence to what’s gone before (pretty much just channelling my rage about Ultimates 3 there). This is jealousy. The most arrogant and divisive motivation to hate. Effectively I’m saying – I could do that, get out of my way – you’re not even doing that good a job – why do you get to be in that position and I don’t?

Next is the most recent actual comics output. Red Hulk: Hulk but angrier. That’s right. Angry Hulk, the angriest of the angry characters in the Marvel Universe. Capable of splitting the crust of the planet with his anger in fact while green is now red. And he’s angrier. This off the back of the exceptional Planet Hulk. A moment in which The Hulk had found pathos and scope and strength in character almost unseen since he was handled by the almighty Peter David (with deft subtlety and aplomb), Marvel choose to hand it to Loeb. This would be fine except that Loeb is now reknowned for taking existing characters at their most beloved and popular and shitting on them from a great height seemingly because everyone knows the smell of shit. It’s popular and well known and people do talk about it Loeb, no doubt. But nobody actually likes the smell of shit.

Then, there’s Ultimates 3. Ultimates but more Baywatch! People like Baywatch. No, they don’t Loeb. They like tits. Baywatch had tits in it. So did Ultimates 3 thanks to the yank up the ranks of Valkyrie; an admittedly nubile and stunningly beautiful warrior maiden, ‘mysteriously’ imbued with powers that levelled her up to Avenger status. Happily. Off the back of Mark Millar’s gloriously dystopian military- industrial complex super human thriller that reinvented central characters and made them as recognisably flawed as the best literary characters, Loeb was handed free reign of the book. Saved effectively by Joe Maduriera’s stunning artwork, Loeb presented us with a morally bankrupt set of misanthropes seemingly happy to watch each other having sex on a wide screen (and that was the opening page) and never really leaving the house. Plodding, self absorbed, hackneyed and laboured Ultimates 3 was a commercial success. I own it, I like reading it. But I like watching Mega shark vs Giant Octopus so don’t pay any attention to me.

I also hate Heroes. Effectively taking 30 years of X-Men continuity and development and repackaging as an ‘original’ show on ABC. Enjoyed by millions and considered ‘original’ by those who never picked up an X-Book, this one just plain makes me angry. Loeb was writer and co-producer, following a run on Lost and receives my rage through this by association.

But who is he? This hate figure I’m so determined to despise? Check in here on Thursday to find out as I actually take a crack at uncovering who Loeb is to the comic industry and whether he has, does or should have the credentials to be considered a Practitioner….