Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Year Grinding to a Close

Around this time of year, folks wonder about things that are wrong with themselves or their governments or humanity. Well, I know the answers to those questions but they're too boring to talk about.

No, my focus often falls on comics these days. If you follow comics, particularly the two major exporters of the form, then you know that Hollywood got ahold of comics and throttled all the imagination, originality, and dynamism from them.

I won't rehash the downfall of one of the truly American art forms, except to say there are exceptional comics being produced today. You can count on anything Mike "Hellboy" Mignola-related to be well above-average, for instance. Eric Powell's THE GOON with its mysterious neanderthal crime lord, who pretends to be Just Another Goon. Ed Brubaker's work. Darwyn Cooke. Marcos Martin. Paul Pelletier. Anything they touch gets a line of frosty sensory-heightening addiction up its fiery nostrils.

The problem is, comics have become another kind of animal than they were in 1977, or 1988. They've become a creature of habit, and not good habits, ill-formed and -executed, pointless and shallow. They reflect their culture better than anything I know of.

I continue to imagine the world through the characters, even if I can't stomach the comics produced about them. The Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Superman, these should be archetypes of grand adventure standing firm against the changing tides. Throw in Spider-Man and Batman, but I was never a big fan of those guys. The point is, accessibility to this four-color medium begins and ends with a connection to these icons, for most readers. What's lost in current times is the sense of grandeur associated with the characters, that they truly are larger than our mundane world would have them be. Their initial power stems from that fact: we need these character to be specifically "out-of-reach" of our trivial, vapid experience. They battle menaces to an idealized way of life, of living, for all people, for most all people fundamentally wish to protect that which is most precious to them. Since the menace at hand, whether a giant amoeba or alien invaders or a Nazi-esque regime complete with cyclopian robots, is too much for the idealized human being to deal with, here comes a big green bruiser to set them straight. Even if by proxy, in our imaginations only, these icons protect us from horrors of reality...in a world where someone created Superman, how could genocide occur?

Understanding whether or not a bunch of hubris-engulfed Hollywood hacks have ruined your favorite character on paper or in movies for everyone to see, the fact is we've lost the characters, the icons, for the generalized heroic presence they provided in our lives and, generationally, our children. And that's a crime, folks.