Monday, July 12, 2010

Old, Cranky Comics Fan

I started this post before reading about Mark Waid's Twitter post from the other day.

Annnnd today was the day I stopped reading super-hero comics. One that I won't name finally broke me. Collection stops as of now. No joke.

Mark Waid, the forefront in fans-turned-pro, the guy who became known for not just writing great superhero comics, but his encyclopedic knowledge of superhero comics, has decided to quit reading superhero comics.

Well, maybe. I kind of think maybe Mr. Waid was having a particularly bad day and used a smidge of hyperbole, but...

It wasn't actually one comic, by the way. He later explained it was his basic dislike of so much he'd read of late in the superhero mega-genre. Unlike the trolls on Newsarama, it seems unlikely Waid made any impotent proclamations regarding stopping reading comics if, say, DC didn't acknowledge Jimmy Olsen was the one, true, original Flamebird or that they didn't like some turn of events in a Captain Marvel mini series and so were done with DC... forever*. Instead, you get the feeling Waid is just weary of the state of things. Of course, one could make the same claim when he wrote Kingdom Come in the mid-90's.

...then there was that time in the dystopian future where Superman got the JLA back together and quit taking any BS from the 1990's...

Waid has since further elaborated, stating specific writers he feels are doing a good job, and that he's a bit worn out on what he sees as cynicism in the creation of superhero comics, or messages of cynicism in the comics. In general: cynicism. He doesn't like it.

At first blush, its a bit of a bitter pill to swallow from the guy who is writing the power Irredeemable series about a Superman proxy gone amuck, but Irredeemable is about what happens when hope turns to horror and our heroes turn on us. A bit different, I think, than what Waid is describing.

But he also describes that he's tired of seeing the same thing done over the 100th time (perhaps cynical recycling of stories?), and that's an idea I can get behind.

I started the post around the fourth of July. I was in a mood.

On the Fourth of July, a favorite comic shoppe posted an image to Facebook from The Dark Knight Returns as a sort of wink and nod to the holiday, patriotic fervor, all hat good stuff. Those who've read The Dark Knight Returns will recall the image immediately.

If you were a kid in the mid-80's (and I was), it wasn't so much just that Dark Knight would turn out to be the most influential comic book of the next 25 years. At the time, if you read comics and hadn't read it, you would. It was just done. Like owning jeans or trying to moonwalk when nobody was looking.

But the first comment read:

Never read the Dark Knight Returns (art isn't my style, therefore it's hard to get past it and stay interested) but there is something INCREDIBLY errie about that....

Nevermind the type-o's, but this was enough of a comics fan that the person followed this favored comic shoppe on Facebook, and didn't think it odd that (a) he hadn't read Dark Knight Returns, and (b) that the art not being his cup of tea was a reasonable excuse for shrugging off one of the essentials of the past three decades for enthusiasts of the genre and medium.

Kids today. I swear.

But it is a reminder that the breakthroughs of Dark Knight and Watchmen will be forgotten by subsequent generations, just as breakthroughs in cinema television, the visual arts, etc... are absorbed, reprocessed, and ignored as archaic or strange when the subsequent enthusiasts of the medium become the audience.

I also can acknowledge that a lot of what seems popular with the kids these days just doesn't... do a lot for me as a reader.

The X-Men (the supposed stand in for minorities, but, really, the superheroic embodiment of teen-geek alienation since at least the late 1980's) plus vampires? Yeah, I know vampires are the new zombies/ monkeys/ whatever...

But I can't do it. And I guess at least Neil Gaiman appears to agree with me. But the kids like their memes in comics, too, these days. But jumping on these memes is certainly popular with the kids, or at least it appears to be. And it certainly stinks of a certain bit of that cynicism from the publishers (seriously, Marvel, hoping to get Twilight spill over is just embarrassing, I don't care what mopey teenagers are picking up X-Men.).

After 70-odd years of superheroes in comics, with thousands of characters, with some characters popping up multiple times in a month... I'm not at all surprised that Mr. Waid has detected a certain repetition in superhero comics. I'm stunned that Law & Order ran for as long as it did and spawned a half-dozen spin-offs and countless imitators, as that seemed to more or less be the same show every time I watched it, but there's certainly a comfort factor in repetition, and some of it I can get behind. I was interested in, for example, what DC wanted to do with Brainiac in a post Infinite Crisis DCU. But I could barely muster the energy to turn the pages of the recent Tony Daniel written Batman series when, once again, the inmates of Arkham were loose in Gotham, and, once again, Gotham was experiencing gang war. That may be the third time that's been used since 2005.

But too often it does seem a bit mind boggling, when I'm reading a superhero comic from the big two and realize that was what they decided to put out there. Either the story was pointless, or the plot seemed generic and recycled... and when reading some of the recent excuses DC has had for Justice League and Justice Society comics... it all feels like filler until they can get someone with a vision on the books once again. And in a worse case scenario, you wind up with ridiculousness like the recent "Rise" and "Fall" storylines spinning out of the abysmal "Cry for Justice".

I'm certainly not sure I am ready to quit reading superhero comics, but the number of them I do read seems to be on the decline. My plans to move to largely trades and collections seems to be a smarter move every week that I get away from the comic shop habit. We'll see.

There really is quite a bit out there that I do find worth my time with superhero concepts and ideas. Grant Morrison's Batman has been nothing short of terrific for about four years. Geoff Johns' Green Lantern is a sleek jet fighter of a comic that may not be the most complex reading you're likely to do, but always stays interesting. His Flash is also promising. Rucka's Batwoman and Question stories were a highlight of 2009. Amanda Connor worked wonders with Power Girl for 12 issues. Sterling Gates fully rehabilitated the modern Supergirl title, and saved the character. I've liked REBELS that I've read in trade. Levitz's new Legion books seem like the real deal. And its going to raise some eyebrows, but I'm actually a bit enthusiastic about JMS coming on Wonder Woman and Superman.

I'm nowhere close to Mr. Waid's assessment, but I also want for superhero comics to try to do more with themselves and start working toward fulfilling the promise of the 1980's, and quit tracing back to the lazy and bad habits of the 1990's.

*comic nerds: when you pick some arbitrary thing that's going to mean you will no longer ever, ever, ever read a company's comics, like, ever... it makes you look kind of crazy. Go ahead and stop reading, but, you know, keep it to yourself or bounce it off a friend or two before making bold proclamations. Honestly, your opinions in the comment sections? Nobody cares. It makes you look a little nutty.


horus kemwer said...

The evils of twitter - it's not just comics, but society as a whole which is going straight to hell in a handbasket as well!

The League said...

Perhaps Mr. Kemwer would like to join me on my front porch, in a round of shooing the kids off the lawn?

Fantomenos said...

When you mentioned the meme-ness of current X-men comics, I couldn't help but remember the issue in Claremont's run that was basically Kitty Pryde as Ripley fighting an Alien in the mansion.

But as for superhero comics, I'm more of a Fables/Gravel/The Boys guy, but I'm reading Astro-City in trades. I'm know I'm really late to the party on that one, but if you haven't read it, it really captures the charm of the genre.

Oh, and I'm reading Millar's Avengers 2 cuz I like things blowing up.

Simon MacDonald said...

I think part of the problem is that these iconic reads like The Dark Knight and Watchmen influenced a generation of comic book writers. If you noticed from the 90's on everything became edgy, realistic and adult. While this was absolutely great for us ageing fan boys who were looking for more mature reads it has almost completely abandoned a whole generation of new comic book readers for the big 2.

Now after 25 years of reading these edgy stories they seem a bit tired so I can kinda see where Mark Waid was coming from. I certainly don't read as many super hero comics as I used to as I'm picking up more things like Chew, Unwritten, Walking Dead, etc.

However, I'd absolutely love to see more books that are all ages fun. I bought the recent Fraggle Rock mini and both Anna and I love it. The first issue of Thor the Mighty Avenger was a win on both art and story and I'd like to see more books like that.

The League said...

Simon said: If you noticed from the 90's on everything became edgy, realistic and adult.

I kind of want to build on that, because I think that's sort of where I have a problem.

I'm not sure that 95% of the comics out there are even trying to tell a mature or well-conceptualized story to go along with their inclusion of mature content. It's not a requirement, but when you look at as obvious a target as whatever the hell is going on with Arsenal right now, its not too hard to see how "adult elements" minus a well conceived story seems to create a negative value.

And I don't think exploring characters or pushing the definitions of their world is wrong. But when it just becomes about stabbing, kicking, and exploding people's heads in the most graphic way possible, count me out. Its actually part of why I cited Irredeemable, as its at least an exploration of power that Waid is looking at with all the mayhem and horror, and asking what would happen is Superman were as human as all the rest of us.

I don't mind winding down superhero reading, if the trend continues. In the early to mid-90's, I really didn't read any superhero books, and there's sucha variety out there from all-ages stuff I like (I was so late coming to Scrooge) and more mature stuff (Ennis's Battlefields) and exploring things when those "best of" lists come out (some of the lists are surprisingly not just hipsters proving their indie cred).

We can all find stuff we like, and there's a place for, say, stuff blowing up for Mr. Fantomenos, but I want to believe that writers are actually trying, even if the story is a bit fluffy. And way, way too often I have a hard time believing somebody is doing much but cashing a check.

Simon MacDonald said...

Right, and forgive me for firing off some half thought out punditry while at work. I guess what I was trying to say is that books like the Watchmen and Dark Knight are mature comic book stories. However it appears that some writers have just missed the point of what mature actually means. It's not about exploding heads or beating gang members with a dead cat.

However, I do enjoy a good parody book like The Boys which really takes on the current vien of super hero books.

The League said...

forgive...? Man, now that is Canadian politeness. No need to apologize. I'm terribly embarrassed if you thought you had any reason to apologize.

And I just read the first Boys trade the other day and it was pretty darn amusing. I have a very hard time envisioning anybody but Ennis making it work.

The League said...

One of the versions of cynicism that's starting to wear me out:

Simon MacDonald said...

Yeah, that marketing device where the flood the buyers with one shots that center around an event is tired. I'm also thinking that shock character deaths are pretty much burned out as well. And don't get me started on the anti-hero or hero becoming a villain stick.