Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Home  >  Features  >  Come Back, Judd Winick!

Sam's back with another MightyVille Editorial, this time asking, "Where art thou, Judd Winick?" The prolific writer/cartoonist (and former reality TV star) recently left comics for the world of digital cartoons, so Sam takes a quick look at the man's career through the eyes of a fan.


Sam's back with another MightyVille Editorial, this time asking, "Where art thou, Judd Winick?" The prolific writer/cartoonist (and former reality TV star) recently left comics for the world of digital cartoons, so Sam takes a quick look at the man's career through the eyes of a fan.


It was while watching the third episode of Hulu’s newest cartoon The Awesomes, or more specifically, the credits of the show, when I was suddenly struck with a sense of longing.  Not the longing for a family member passed, or an ex, not nearly that strong.  Maybe the longing of a friend, someone who had snuck their way into your life, stayed around for a bit – never becoming a huge part of it but just enough to have an impact, and then left just as quickly and as quietly as they had showed up.  There was no fanfare or long goodbye.  The person wasn’t that important.  But every once in a while something happens and you smile at a memory of that person and wonder what they are doing now.  I had a similar moment at the end of The Awesomes’ credits when I saw a name ...  a name I never thought I’d miss, but suddenly missed a great deal.  Someone I had never met, but had seen on TV and had read a good amount of the work they produced.  The name was Judd Winick.



If you are in my age range, it’s likely your first experience with Judd Winick was with him as a member of MTV’s Real World San Francisco.  It’s a season made famous by the inclusion of openly gay and HIV positive cast member Pedro, and a certain trouble-making man named Puck.  How apropos.  Winick was another member of that cast, an out of work cartoonist who was doing everything he could to make it in the profession he loved.  The show’s audience developed a certain affinity for Judd Winick as we watched him try and try again to make it and as the other cast members talked about how they felt for him because he was so poor he had to eat pasta every night.  In the end he wasn’t focused on as a star for the show and when it ended we lost touch with him outside of the occasional reunion show.  This was one of the earlier incarnations of the show, before they started up with Road Rules and Challenges and All Stars and whatever else they have today.  It was at one of those reunion shows that most people learned he had met the love of his life on set and that it led to his big break.

It was a few years later that I, and other comic book fans, started to hear Judd Winick’s name again and again.  First it was with his autobiographical breakthrough book, Pedro and Me, which told of his friendship with his Real World cast-mate.  As shameful as it is to admit now, I have never read this book.  At the time of its release and amazing reviews and awards, I was of the age that I found it cheap to make your big break to take advantage of a story you only got because you were on an MTV show.  I was angry with him for it.  I wanted the story he promised me while on the show.  Not this one that I had already watched over and over for a whole summer.  I was so angry that I even started to boycott his work.  How dare he make his name because he was one of the lucky ones to get chosen for an MTV reality show?  So no to Barry Ween, Boy Genius.  Gosh what an idiot I was on that one, huh?  But it was even more upsetting when his editor at Oni Press, Bob Schreck, brought Winick over with him to DC Comics.  Not only did this guy get famous writing about his time on Real World, but now he was going to get to write some of my favorite heroes?  Not fair.



Thankfully, he was placed on books I wasn’t reading.  His first big assignment was Green Lantern, then still Kyle Rayner.  It seemed a fairly simple, non-descript run for a new writer.  He didn’t rock the status quo to pieces or anything, just told decent stories Green Lantern fans seemed to enjoy.  I wasn’t one of them.  Then he had the audacity to make one of the supporting characters gay and give them a very sad tale that ended in their deaths by a group of hate mongers.  Winick got a lot of notoriety for this.  He was on talk shows.  He was honored by LGBT groups.  And all "Angry Young Sam" did was get angrier.  Great, now not only did he get famous for being on Real World and writing about his gay friend with AIDS, he now was injecting that into the DC Universe in order to make a name for himself.  Young Angry Sam needed to be smacked.  But he also was prescient, for the first words out of my mouth when I heard about this storyline was “Watch, next he’ll give a character AIDS.”



Mia Dearden was introduced as a new sidekick character for Green Arrow when Kevin Smith resurrected Oliver Queen from the dead.  I read through and enjoyed Smith’s 12 issues.  I tore through and loved Brad Meltzer’s six succeeding issues even more. (Note – Meltzer and Winick were once roommates.  So even though I had no idea at the time, it’s entirely possible that Winick had a hand in bringing me that beloved storyline.)  But after those 18 issues they announced a crossover with Green Lantern and afterwards Winick would be taking over the book.  Cue Young Angry Sam leaving.  And cue Young Angry Sam getting even more upset with Judd Winick when he wrote the realization that Mia Dearden, Green Arrow’s erstwhile sidekick and former teenage prostitute, was HIV positive.

It became a running joke for me.  “I won’t read any Judd Winick book because all he’ll do is make a character gay or give them AIDS.”  Set aside that it was merely two books in the growing output of Mr. Winick, and that his books were selling well and getting very good reviews, I stood fast in my boycott of his work even when people were raving about it.  He wrote the Titans and Outsiders series leading up to Infinite Crisis.  I was admonished every week at my LCS for not reading it.  With this book my excuse was that they had two issues devoted to America’s Most Wanted in it.  See, even when he’s not adding in his two favorite things, he’s still forcing social issues down our throats.  That’s what I said.  SMH.  SMDH.  But by this time he was ever-present and soon it was going to be impossible to ignore his work.



I’ll be honest, when Judd took over Batman I braced myself for Dick Grayson’s new, AIDS-riddled boyfriend to show up at any time.  But instead what I got was a really impressive run.  Tight storytelling, sharp and true dialogue, fun twists and angles, and Winick used every member of the supporting cast.  It became impossible to hate him.  I played it cool.  “Sure, it’s an OK run.  He’ll pull a Winick eventually though.”  In this case "pulling a Winick" was delivering Under the Hood, a fantastic storyline bringing back Jason Todd (Superboy Prime-punch and all).  A storyline so good that it was later chosen for a DC Animated Feature Batman: Under The Red Hood, which Winick himself scripted, doing away with the Superboy Prime-punch aspect of Todd's return.  (Am I allowed a joke here pointing out that Neil Patrick Harris, a gay actor, voiced Nightwing in the animated movie, and therefore Winick did end up making him gay?)  People won’t end up talking about Winick’s run on Batman like they do Grant Morrison’s or Scott Snyder’s; it’s sad that it’s a somewhat forgotten run in that it came right before they arrived because it gave a great story every month and made Batman a book you read first each time it arrived at the store.  

At this point I had to admit that I enjoyed Judd Winick’s writing.  It wasn’t enough to make me search out and collect his other stuff.  But if he came onto a book I was reading or interested in reading?  Sold.  In fact, I had no worries whatsoever when he took on a massive task, co-writing (at least early on) the Brightest Day Bi-weekly miniseries Justice League: Generation Lost.  Most people were excited as one of the original writers of the “Bwah-Ha-Ha” Justice League era, Keith Giffen, was involved as a plotter and co-writer.  These were the characters he and J.M. DeMatteis made famous with their infusion of humor and witty dialogue.  And here I was psyched to see what Judd Winick was bringing to the table.



Early on, with Giffen as a co-writer, the story had hints and teases of its past humorous content.  But as the series gained traction in telling the tale of these characters chasing after their former benefactor Max Lord, Winick took over as full writer and gained a real sense of who these characters were and where they were going.  He nailed all of their voices and motivations.  He never tried to match the original “Bwah-Ha-Ha” style and tone of the original, DC had made sure that could never return after their new characterization of Max Lord and the death of Ted Kord, and it would have been incredibly difficult of him to match that style anyway.  But despite that, the characters felt 100% true to themselves.  He imbued them with heart, readers didn’t just root for them because they were the heroes, and we liked reading about and listening to them.  We were genuinely interested in what was happening next.  We wanted them to succeed more than anything else.  And I can’t be the only one who had a smile as big as Gavril did after Fire kissed him.  Winick didn’t just capture all of this; he delivered it every other week.  Yes, Giffen was around to help, and of course he had some wonderful artists along for the ride, but by the end, the voice of the series was all Judd.  It’s a shame that the New 52 did away with the entirety of the series (and later, Rocket Red himself).

But what the New 52 taketh away, the New 52 also giveth.  In the two years since its inception, DC’s New 52 has been a real mixed bag of critical and fan responses.  None have been more emblematic of that than Judd Winick’s Catwoman.  It caused a furor within the internet comic book community for the ending of issue #1 showing Catwoman and Batman having sex in costume. People screamed that it was too much.  Did they forget that Catwoman has been a sexual being her entire existence and that that is half of her charm?  Every depiction of Catwoman on screen has her as an extremely sexual being, one who is not afraid to use what God gave her to get what she wants.  Why did we hate it now?  People screamed about misogyny and too much sex and violence.  What I eagerly ate up every month was a tautly written action thriller about a girl who consistently bites off more than she can chew and somehow works her way out of it.  People around her die simply because they are involved with her.  She has to keep everyone at a slight distance.  The good guys and bad guys all want her dead.  The book was exciting, had a large revolving cast, sharp dialogue, and tons of action.  Not to mention a sexy anti-hero.  This was pretty much a perfect Wolverine book.  But since it starred a woman, everyone wanted to complain.  I dare everyone to read it again; the first 12 issues of Catwoman are the crown jewel of the New 52.  A crown, I’m sure, she stole while no one was looking.  (This doesn’t even address my favorite part of the series, that the title of each issue was a line of dialogue from within.)



But after 12 issues of Catwoman (and guiding Batwing through his early New 52 adventures) Judd Winick suddenly left DC and comic books.  He thanked DC and everyone involved, claimed that he wanted to write some more books that his growing kids could read and enjoy, and disappeared into the ether.  Or into Twitter. Which may or may not be the same thing.  But he was done with superhero comics.  At first I didn’t notice too much.  Sure I stopped reading Catwoman, but DC comics continued to put out books.  Their characters continued to grow just as they wanted.  

It wasn’t until I watched Hulu’s The Awesomes that I realized just how missed Winick was in the world of superheroes.  It’s a show about what happens when the son of the world’s greatest hero takes over as leader for his father’s team.  It’s a comedy starring Seth Meyers and numerous Saturday Night Live alumni with Winick as Producer and sometimes writer, with his voice clearly shining through.  The show is funny, heartfelt, and action-packed.  It’s almost a spiritual successor to the “Bwah-Ha-Ha” Justice League he came close to writing.  At the utmost, The Awesomes shows what a talented writer and creator he is, and how much we should be begging him to come back and write more tales for our favorite superheroes.  I know I, for one, will be buying it when it comes out.  In the meantime, "Older Wiser Sam" can make up for stupid "Young Angry Sam’s" mistakes and finally check out The Adventures of Barry Ween, Boy Genius.



(Sam Moyerman is a professional demon hunter. He editorializes on the hunt while camped out within the protective womb of hollowed monster husk.)


What's your favorite Judd Winick story or title? Let us know!


More from Sam on MightyVille:

FAGIN THE JEW - A MightyVille Review

WOLVERWEEK: The True Origins of The Wolverine

Mr. Moyerman Goes to (Wizard World) Philadelphia


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