Friday, September 11, 2015

Comics: A reflection (a review that got away from me very early on)

I just picked up a comic book hardcover that I've been putting off for awhile and that's been part of a very conscious effort.

For one thing, I really don't buy many superhero comics anymore. It's a genre that works in cycles, which is what I both love and loathe about them. These are, after all, characters that have endured in some cases 8 decades, and have of course been written and drawn by scores of people. Each one of these characters has been retold, rebuilt, retooled and rebooted over and over again. The character is constantly being shaped according to the story that the creators has in mind, and that's fantastic. It means that I can read one book where Batman is wacky (like the great Batman '66, based on  the 60s TV series) and another where is a complete lunatic (see, Miller, Frank with mixed results).
This has become more and more prevalent in recent years, as each new creative team is asked to provide an origin story or even as the publisher decides to start over completely (as both Marvel and DC have done in the past few years). Traditionally, re-telling origin stories was strictly for back matter reprints or the flashback that occurred in almost every issue to bring the reader up to speed. Publishers have even begun to eschew the traditional numbering sequences 1in favor of the rebooting, or in some cases treating the run as a group of miniseries.
I'm fine with that. It means that I don't feel like I have to read everything. It also allows me to hop around and follow the creators I like more than the characters I like. It also means that I'll end up picking up books I never would have imagined picking up based on the creative team. Which is great because I'd rather have a variety of titles than feel obligated to buy every single issue of a book that I feel varies too much in quality to enjoy.

Crap where was I?

Oh right. Another reason why I've put this book off is because I have a kid now. And although I certainly don't plan on foisting comic books on her, I have taken to buying titles that a) I feel that she might actually enjoy and b) provide well-rounded positive female characters. It's not like I'm buying these books for her, but if struggling to decide between two books I like, I will pick the one she might like more. This is a LOT easier than it was even a decade ago. The era of the spandex-clad superheroine with an absurdly proportioned body is sliding to a close. The evolution of comics (superhero or otherwise) has expanded to include a host of incredibly well-written and powerful female characters and storytellers. I could get into a whole thing right now telling you more about them, and I hope to someday soon.

For now, though, I want to talk about superhero comics. It's not the best way to start this hopefully recurring feature (although neither is going on about issue numbering) since I hope to mostly talk about other stories (or at least ones that aren't published by the big 2 publishers). But there are a few reasons I chose this book to start this. For one thing, starting with a superhero comic can set the tone for what I want to accomplish here. I love comics, I have since I was 12 and I spent weeks at summer camp trying to learn about the difference between the green and grey Hulks, or who Forge was2. But I also hate most of the baggage that comes with the culture of comics3. I have no desire to sit around arguing which Marvel character could beat up which DC character or whatever. I love stories. I love that comics (for better or worse) represent a contemporary mythology paralleled only perhaps by Star Wars4.

But there's also a duality within the genre of superhero comics that is difficult to reconcile. For each supremely talented storyteller or ingenious take on a popular character, there are three garbage books about female subjugation or dumb vengeance or violence as a plot device. As a result, anyone who enjoys comics has to be prepared to dispel the notion that yes, they read comic books and no, not all of them are written for 8th graders or just about tits and gore. Comics are an art form like any other. When done correctly, they can carry the pathos of literature, the gravity of fine art, and the passion of film. Or they can just show useless pandering to sociopaths.

Like any art form, there is a spectrum here in regard to quality.

and so I, as a reader of these books, owe it to myself to possess a bit of self-awareness as I read these books and talk about them. I'm hardly an expert, trust me. But I want to present my view of these works not only as someone who loves to read comic books, but also as someone who eschews the subculture that is built up around them, and superhero comics in particular.

As I'm still typing this (and banging my head against the wall trying to figure out how to create a better footnote system than the multi-asterisk hell that I've been using), I realize that this post is already WAY too long and that nobody in their right mind is still reading. Also that I have very little time left before I want to get this thing published and move on to the next feature. So I'm going to stop typing in a minute and just throw this thing up there and maybe hope my dumb little footnotes have worked out in the end. If not, I'll be doing some editing over the weekend.
Sorry I didn't get to the actual comic I wanted to discuss. I can to that later, but it seems cruel to squeeze it in at the end of a lengthy post like this, especially when I'm not all that sure how much I have to say about the book in question. It is a gorgeous book, though, and hopefully I'll get to it in a few days. As always, my ambition outstrips my abilities. I'm working on it, though. In the meantime, I got some irons in the fire.

P.S. My dusting off of html skills should convince you how seriously I want to start this thing up again. Or at least convince you how much I hate using those asterisks. It's just like how I can't use italics in twitter and it drives me NUTSO.

1. the reasons for this are twofold. For one thing, people are far more likely to start reading at issue 1 than at issue 660 (about where Captain America is about now). This is compounded by new readers brought in by the insanely popular movies. Another reason for the renumbering is because number 1 issues ALWAYS sell more. This isn't just because of new readers, but also because of the idea that they tend to be worth more on a collector's market later on. I don't know if that's true or not because I don't really collect comics, but the collector's market is massive and still drives a lot of publisher decisions.

2. At the time, Forge was the dumbest X-Man. Now, I'm not even sure he'd break the top 20.

3. This is an issue with almost every interest of mine. For nearly every one of my interests, there's a bullshit subculture that I can't stand and go out of my way not to be associated with. This is probably why I don't get out much.

4. It is not lost on me that both Marvel and Star Wars are owned by Disney, increasing exponentially the notion that in 100 years we might have SEVERAL corporate-owned religions. Laugh now... but watch how serious this May 4th shit gets next year.

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