Monday, August 29, 2011

Lest We Forget

It's time to say good-bye.

To the Secret Six,

I never felt like you had a plan, a destination you were heading to, and I enjoyed that. Not every book needs to have an end game in place, in fact, that was kind of the point of comics was that characters could live on forever. Alas. You were twisted and weird and darkly funny, showcasing that, yes, villains are still human. All those freaky love stories and disturbing innuendo. Gail Simone, you made Catman respectable, you gave Bane an actual personality (and, finally, a reason why he should be a premiere Bat-villain), and your original creations, like Scandal Savage and Jeanette, despite their blah names were welcome additions to the DC canon. You will all be missed.

To Batgirl,

Stephanie Brown, what can I say? You got screwed. There are plenty of entertaining and exciting books on the stand each month, but yours was the most fun. I would like to think the New DC is born out of the "Batgirl" model, a hero who's already established, but still rough around the edges, still learning, still fallible, still struggling in their fight against crime. Not all heroes need to punch-out bad guys with a smile on their face, in fact it would seem rather out-of-place for most characters, but for Steph, you could tell she was having fun doing good. Hopefully you will be back, and soon, in the new DC... you're just too bright a character to be pushed aside.

To Xombi,

Well dude, the fact that after 15 years you got to have a comeback at all was freaking awesome. I'm not sure why you couldn't have been a Vertigo book and perhaps be granted a longer life, as you would seem far more at home there, alas, it was good to see you and your strange crew again. If it's true what they say about you, that you cannot die, well mate, I hope to see you again.

To the Teen Titans,

Oh Titans, you'd been so mishandled for so long that I thought you'd never get back to being what you once were, but with J.T. Krul in charge, you looked the part and acted it. You're adventures felt like vintage Wolfman-era Titans, but instead of George Perez's hyper-detailed settings, and super-sculpted figures, you had Nicola Scott's more natural take, exquisitely rendered environments populated by characters who looked less like comic book characters and more like people. When I see what they've done to you in the new DC, dear Titans, I feel immense sorrow for what we've just lost, and great pity for what's about to come.

To Oracle,

There's the old adage "Knowledge is power" and if that's the case then you were one of the most powerful characters in the DCU, capable of accessing virtually all knowledge stored or transmitted electronically. And you did it all from a chair, proving that the body doesn't always need to be strong to fight. You were an inspiration, not just to the handy capable but also to the wimps and tech geeks, the timid and the tredpidatious. You made us believe that we could still contribute by sitting on our asses. It's not a great message, really but there you go.

To Wally West,

I miss you, please come back.

To Action Comics and Detective Comics

Your longevity as titles is your legacy, and I'm sorry to see that taken away from you. You have both survived for many, many decades, and indeed will continue on for decades more, however your issue numbers are tragically being reset, which would be like McDonald's reformulating their hamburgers using soy instead and resetting all their volume served signs to "0". Action, you're less than a decade from your 1000th issue, which is a phenomenal feat, and doubtless there will still be a celebration in that honor, but it does actually mean less knowing that it's not contiguous as it should be.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

What If?... Millar Fully Didn't Write The Ultimates

Grant Morrison recently alluded in a Rolling Stone interview that he'd not received credit for certain works of his. On December 29, 2008, I wrote something and left it in draft form and sort of forgot about it. That was until yesterday when someone reminded me about a conversation we'd had almost three years ago...

Take it as pure speculation on my part...

At the time of The Ultimates' release, Grant Morrison was moving on from his Marvel exclusive contract and started in with his new Vertigo/DC assignments. As many folks know, writers Mark Millar and Grant Morrison were great friends and had been known to help shepherd Millar into comics. Millar and Morrison had gone on to receive co-writing credits on such books as The Flash and Skrull Kill Krew.

Millar after having a fairly well publicized fallout with DC Comics' following their handling of his Superman: Red Son series, left to go to Marvel and one of the first announced titles was yes, The Ultimates, a re-imagining of Marvel mainstay, The Avengers.

Ultimates comics suddenly started coming in with some frequency and they seemed to be more polished, less snarky and even snappier than some of Millar's previous solo works. Ultimates Volume One possessed the "Rah! Rah! We can conquer all spirit" I'd very much liked about Morrison's JLA run and less of the cynicism of Millar's Authority work. Frankly, it read as a perfect melding of the two's sensibilities and was generally received as such.

Ultimates Vol. 1 wrapped up to overwhelmingly positive reviews and then a few months later Morrison's work started seeing the light of day at DC. Later on, Ultimates V. 2 came out and fell into the more jaded, cynical style Millar has sort of become known for.

To this day, I am convinced, after reading nearly everything Morrison has put out, that he had a MAJOR hand in ghosting Ultimates with Flash co-writer and friend Millar. If you ever doubt it, read volume two of his JLA run back-to-back with Ultimates and you'll see what I'm talking about. Without Morrison's input, Ultimates Vol. 2 would go on to read as very cynical and dark, something more in line with Millar's Autority work.

Again, speculation but hey, go back and read between the lines of the interview.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A call to arms

If you haven't caught it yet, Rolling Stone did an interview with Grant Morrison (as Devon amusingly put it on Facebook "Well, they're only 20+ years too late but Rolling Stone finally "discovers" Grant Morrison.") The online sidebar is a "deleted scenes" grouping of questions and answers that didn't make it into the print version.

Within contains this juicy tidbit regarding the fact that some think superheroes need to disappear from comics altogether to be relevant:

I can appreciate someone like Chris Ware for his artistry, which I think is beautiful, but I think his attitude stinks, it just seems to be the attitude of somebody really privileged, and honestly, try living here, try living on an Indian reservation and shut up, and really seeing all that nihilistic stuff, it really makes me angry, it's unhelpful to all of us, and it's coming from people who have money and success to talk like that and bring those aspects of the way we live in favor of all the others, and it's indefensible.

So I never liked that stuff, I always thought that I had a real Scottish working class thing against the fact that these were done by privileged American college kids, and they were telling me the world was flat. "You're telling me the world is flat, pal?" And it's not helpful, it doesn't get us anywhere.

Will this be the point where the shit really hits the fan, placing a further dividing line between the alternative and the mainstream? Morrison was one of the few crossover voices between the two worlds, in terms of the people who wish to only see comics as an art form and the people who generally like it for entertainment. Morrison's rather epic brain stimulated the art-crowd-kids ("the ACK") in a way few other genre writers do, and his books were routinely the few mainstream works that would penetrate the ACK best-of lists over the years. I imagine there is already a plethora of message boards, blogs, tweets, websites rallying against what Morrison says here. My main bone of contention would be that a lot of these ACK never went to college, and also that a great many of them aren't American. There's a lot of them in Canada too. I see them all over the place here in Toronto, many of them taking after the Crumb aesthetic of what a starving ACK comic artist should look like, so they're easy to spot.

I also don't think most of them are all that rich, which I'm sure he's going to get shat on for generalizing. Perhaps he should. But he's going to have a huge target on his back, or perhaps in the middle of his brow like Bullseye.

Back to the point, is it an elite viewpoint to say that superhero comics are irrelevant? Yeah, it is. To say that any genre is inherently without merit smacks of elitism. The general attitude Science Fiction was saddled with for decades, or marginalizing Fantasy up until Lord of the Rings went from being juvenile to phenomenon. Like Star Trek did at addressing certain issues in the 1960's via metaphor, superheroes frequently have that same capability to transcend the sheer entertainment value. Entertainment is so often the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down.

That said, I'm not sure I fully get the gist of Morrison's comment, and really what he's calling Ware and his ilk out on? He states:

My book wasn't academic. I can't take on those Comics Journal guys, they flattened me, as they did, it's just defensive, smartass kids.

So is he upset with those that see comics only as an academic exercise, who only look at the material produced as inferior and beneath their time or attention. Is he basically pointing out the same kind of ACK snobbery that some people have towards cinema, the foreign film goers versus the Hollywood plebs, or the indie music scenesters who immediately dismiss anything that broaches the mainstream? Is he upset with exclusivity, because I don't think he's just upset that TCJ gave his book a bad review (sounds actually like he could care less).

I think the Art Crowd Kids, the ones producing very insular, very depressed little books about their own narrow, self-marginalized lives, I think many of those artists and writers simply reject the mainstream in advance of the mainstream rejecting them. Look at Marvel's Strange Tales collections, with indie and alternative writers/artists providing their own vision for Marvel's characters. You have to think so many of the ACK really do want to write/draw superheroes but just don't fit the mold, so to speak. In that way, I think a lot of the ACK's downplay of the mainstream stems from that fear of getting ostracized or having their fragile egos further demeaned. I should note I'm saying none of this in a derogatory fashion, there are plenty of damaged and broken people out there and the ones that are fortunate enough to learn how to express it creatively, through art, music, comedy, etc often produce something that is rewarding, influential, meaningful and helpful to plenty of others through the curing powers of the shared experience. Then again, there are those that say that dwelling in one's self to the point of mental illness is a form of elitism and entitlement, a by-product of socialist societies and the corruption of primal survival instinct. But I digress.

As a regular reviewer of comics for the past 7 years, I've tried, heartily and often, to embrace the entire medium, but I still trend towards genre works, seeking out the cream of escapism rather than sinking into the morass of the alternative world of comics. The books I tend to review the highest, however, are genre books that do more than tell a story, they have an emotional, social, or political contingent to them, sometimes subversively, others overtly, though I'll also rate highly a book where the story fails but the art succeeds, so I'm not beyond looking at things strictly for the art of it.

There shouldn't be an "us versus them" debate in comics. There's enough crossover material on either side that people, even if they're preferential to one or the other, could find something to enjoy. Shitting on one or the other, as a collective perpetuates an old, fruitless argument that further minimizes the medium as a whole.

(NB. Morrison said a lot more that deserves commentary but I wanted to try and stay on topic here.)