Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Unsung Heroes of Comics: Will Pfeifer

For over five years, I've been part of a comic book review collective with Devon and numerous other talented writers (we're on hiatus now, but will return soon) and during that time I've come across more than a handful of reviews from the gang that made me say "hmm, I need to check that out". Will Pfeifer's run on Catwoman was one of such, covered by a few of us in a more than favourable light, including Devon's bittersweet review of the "final" issue (more on the "final" in a moment). Hell, at one point I even picked up a random issue myself (#59) to review just to see how accessible it was, noting "writer Will Pfeifer has multiple balls in the air, and he skilfully juggles them, creating interesting character and plot turns, fitted underneath on-point dialogue and a general sense of knows-what-he's-doing-ness." And that, ladies and gentlemen, is Will Pfeifer in a nutshell. A criminally underrated talent who weaves intricate, yet immensely enjoyable and accessible stories that are endlessly readable, filled with solid characters, some incredible action and an alternating sense of cleverness and excitement.

In the same year (2006) that I sampled his Catwoman, I had also amassed the complete run of HERO, the comic book series based on the Dial 'H' For Hero concept which Pfeifer wrote 22 issues of, ending in 2005. I still insist it's one of the greatest superhero epics I've ever read, funny, exciting, and utterly imaginative, just what comics should be. There's a circular nature to the structure of the series which is best left discovered, rather than told, and it's absolutely brilliant. Also 2006 saw Captain Atom: Armageddon conclude, in which Pfeifer brought a recently 'sploded Captain Atom (from the Superman/Batman: Public Enemies" storyline, iirc) into the Wildstorm universe and masterfully used him as the paragon of the DCU, contrasting starkly against the Wildstorm hordes, and highlighting exactly what the differences in the two universes were, without beating you over the head with it.

I've been trade-waiting on the Catwoman series for years now, having picked up three of the four Brubaker trades that were made that are criminally out of print (pun intended). I'm still missing "Crooked Little Town" and the completist in me hasn't wanted to move forward without it... that is until I realized that there's a huge gap between the last Brubaker trade ("Wild Ride", "volume 4" ending with issue 24) and the first Pfeifer trade ("The Replacements", "volume 5" starting with issue 53), and that "The Replacements" picks up at the "One Year Later" jumping on point that followed Infinite Crisis, making it as good a place to start as any. And so, in recent months I've reprised my interest only to find that like the Brubaker trades, the Pfeifer Catwoman trades are by and large out of print and it's not so easy to collect a set of five. "The Replacements" ("volume 5") and "The Long Road Home" ("volume 9") are the most readily available of the trades but the middle three have been a pain to track down, and I'm happy to say, after scouring a dozen book stores (used and new), a comic convention and comic shoppes in Toronto I've just completed my set and am now gleefully working my way through them.

They don't disappoint. I'm reminded why the series landed on my radar in the first place, and it's not that I'm a Catwoman fan. It's all about Will Pfeifer. Every ounce of energy I've expended is more than worth it for the rather incredible, shockingly so, events of Pfeifer's story. To wade into his Catwoman trades is to find Selena Kyle adopting a new name, giving birth to a baby girl, her protege Holly donning the costume and fighting crime alongside Wildcat, her grizzled P.I. friend Slam Bradley losing a battle with the bottle, an obsessed cop trying to nail her for the death of the Black Mask, an obsessed Angle Man (yes! Angle Man!) trying to do the same, a necessary intervention by Zatanna, and the introduction of the new and absolutely ingenius Film Freak, which if you've ever made your way to Pfeifer's blog you'd know is a maniacal reflection of the writer himself. And that's just the "The Replacements". It carries on even more in-depth into "It's Only A Movie" ("volume 6") wherein the Film Freak becomes one of the most clever serial killers in the Bat-books in recent years.

Whilst still writing Catwoman, Pfeifer did a fill-in issue on the new Wonder Woman series when other-media writer Allan Heinberg dropped the ball and the relaunch became something of a laughing stock. Pfeifer's issue dealt with how Wonder Woman was seen as a symbol of strength for women who were survivors of domestic abuse. It was a well crafted, intelligent, and most of all an honest use of a superhero facing an intangible, real-world opponent. Compared to what came before, and Jodi Picoult's maligned story that followed, it was a tragedy that Pfeifer wasn't handed the series.

Equally, when John Rogers finished his brilliant run on the re-launched Blue Beetle, a well-suited Pfeifer stepped in for two issues only to have the series handed over to Matt Sturges (who has done a fine job but I was looking forward to Pfeifer's layered take on Jaimie and co.).

And who's written the absolute best Aquaman storyline in the past decade? Will Pfeifer's "American Tidal" story in which San Diego fractures off the mainland as a result of an earthquake and sinks into the ocean. The man has ideas.

Of course, most fans, perhaps even more than those familiar with his Catwoman work, will likely remember him for Amazons Attack the maligned "event comic" that wasn't and likely shouldn't have been. It was poorly received and, from everything I've read (as I didn't stay with it beyond the first issue myself) poorly executed, marred by bad timing, having been bumped from it's original publishing date to a period in the DCU history where it just didn't make much sense, and its editorially-forced cross-overs into other series annoyed fans more than anything. We haven't seen Will Pfeifer's name in a new comic since August of 2008 when Catwoman ended, and I think Amazons Attack is the reason why. Should he be blamed? Was it his bungle? Hardly. Karl Kesel, Geoff Johns, John Byrne are only a few of the writers that have put together rather unfortunate DC "event" books that failed, yet their names didn't go missing from comics racks. And, really, the recent and awesome Secret Six storyline was partly borne out of AA, so it's not all a failure.

In January, DC is resurrecting a handful of cancelled titles to tie into the "Blackest Night", bringing them back for one more issue. Catwoman #83 will be appearing on comic stands on Jauary 13 written by Fabian Nicieza, with art by Julian Lopez and Bit. It's solicited as "Catwoman faces a dead villain that she was responsible for killing – the original Black Mask!" The murder of Black Mask, and emotional effect it had on Selena was a key element to Pfeifer's run, and that he wasn't asked to return to write it is shameful (understandable given the business of comics, but still shameful). At frist I was glad that at least Pfeifer's artist for 30+ issues would return as well, only to realize it not David Lopez, but Julian, leaving yet another bitter taste.

Will Pfeifer's blog post regarding the end of Catwoman stated "I don't have anything else lined up right now, but I'm guessing it's just a matter of time. And when I hear about my next project, I'll make sure you hear about it, too." I only hope that it's not too long before he's back in the fold. Will Pfeifer is a true unsung comics hero.


BIG MIKE said...

Well said, Graig. I agree with you 100%.

Devon Sanders said...

Excellent post!

When you said you were gonna do an "Unsung," I had NO idea it's be Pfeifer. That man would be in my Writers Top Ten any old day.

His six issues on Aquaman were what I consider "definitive" and it's just an absolute shame this man isn't working in comics right now.

An absolute shame.

samax said...

when Pfeifer and Gleason were on Aquaman, it was my favorite book by a country mile. Sub Diego was the perfect setting for a hero that gets absolutely no respect... in my comic shop, i shut up Aquaman-haters on a regular basis when i paraphrase that concept.
Pfeifer is a seriously under-appreciated talent.

Shelly said...

Thanks for a wonderful post on one of my favorite comics writers. His run on Catwoman was excellent.

Will Pfeifer said...

Graig, you're making me blush. Imagine my surprise when my Google alerts (which usually "alerts" me to nothing but Amazons Attack auctions on eBay) pointed me in the direction of this blog. Thanks for the kind words, and it's nice to know those stories are still entertaining. I had a great time writing them.

I don't have any DC series work lined up, but I do have one original graphic novel in the works and a good possibility of a second one after that. When I get the OK to announce details, I'll give them on my blog. In the meantime, thanks again. This post made my morning.

Graig Kent said...

Will, great to hear that you have some new work forthcoming, your absence from comics this past year has been palpable to more than just a few of us.

I'll keep a keen eye out for news on what's coming up. In the meantime, I've got Crime Pays and The Long Road Home to finish up (plus hunting down your Catwoman issues with Pete Woods that, mysteriously, were not collected in trade) and digging my wife's copies of Finals out of the long boxes in the basement.

Hamish Campbell said...

Absolutely agree, been following Will since HERO and miss his writing terribly as his titles were usually at the top of my reading pile.
Great news about the original graphic novel, can't wait to hear more!!