Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Pulp Hero Guide to Good Comics 2: The Batman says, "What Have You Done?"

First of all, the best Batman story I've read since sometime in the early 1990s has run its course. I'm speaking of BATMAN CONFIDENTIAL issues 26-28, with the beautiful art of Jose Garcia-Lopez (pure dee old school, folks) and inking by Kevin Nowlan. The story is three parts and was written by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir.

Not only have I never heard of DeFillipis and Weir, I hadn't known this title existed. It's ancillary, a Batman book that seems fairly unrelated to whatever f*cked up weirdness is going on with Grant Morrison's work on the regular Batman books. Which I guess are cancelled now or something. Maybe my ass cares, but I don't.

However, any time Garcia-Lopez is working is a good damn thing, as he's one of the premier anatomists (along with John Buscema) of comics. So somebody handed me these Batman comics explaining how good the story was. I'd read how good it was. I generally find myself incredulous in the face of a concensus. But I tried it and found the story pretty much had everything a Batman story needs, and a "flagship" characters deserves: good art, fine characterization on both Batman and the Riddler (whom he's reluctantly partnered with,) and a villain with a stupid name (King Tut, but not the great Victor Buono) yet has plenty of threat and gravitas. Color me shocked, but this book could have come out back in the 1980s heyday of Gerry Conway and Gene Colan (you know, back in the day when Batman didn't sell very well? Remember that?) It's that well-done.

Of course, nothing lasts forever, but you should mark down to follow DeFillipis and Weir, whoever they are, and always support Garcia-Lopez whose art will make you bust out crying for its radness.

This story started me on a new/old rant...the flagship titles of DC Comics (and Marvel Comics) absolutely working James Brown hard overtime to alienate future readership.

I haven't seen anything like it in my whole life: a comic book company like DC, with the greatest, firmly iconic, most recognizable characters on Earth this side of Spider-Man, has warped their comics into completely inaccessible religous tracts. Unless you are a longtime convert to DC, you are not only not going to understand their stories, you're probably unaware of "which version" of the iconic character(s) you're supposed to be following.

DC in the last couple of years has been attempting to "return" to recognizable identities for such characters as Green Lantern and the Flash (while managing to ostracize Superman and Batman from their own titles-- no small feat, friends and neighbors.) The editorial mandate is for the original versions of these characters be returned to the forefront of the reading public's consciousness. However, instead of creating comic book stories to reflect a "generalized" approach to the characters, DC has decided to parlay their moneymakers into vehicles for their "star" creative talent, namely Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison. This leads to the unfortunate problem of the iconic characters being unrecognizable to a general audience.

These two writers, Johns and Morrison, are spearheading DC Comics these days. They've both written decent stories, even great stories, at times. They also both suffer from a myopic view of comic books. Their work and its "themes" suggest they are embarrassed by superhero comic books, to a degree, and like most of the adults who read them, they want the superhero comic to be Something Else. "Graphic Novels" is the preferred nomenclature. I must emphasize, again, superhero comic books should be designed with the most wide, most general audience they can attract. You know, like back in the 1960s when they were never more popular. They eschewed adult language and extreme violence, as such things were regulated by the Comics Code Authority, a watchdog of "censorship." The thing is, comic books could do anything they wanted, it just took a little imagination and skill not to do it blatantly.

These days, the secret is out: censorship wasn't the problem being kept under control by the Code. It was actually the creative talent's over-indulgence and selfishness that the Code apparently kept in check. It's clear now that the Code made comic books about superheroes better than they ever have been. Why is that? You'd think the opposite would be true. And everyone will point toward the Spider-Man issues by Stan Lee and Gil Kane, in which Harry Osborn is popping pills and hallucinating, which Marvel released in the late 1960s without the Code approval.

Fine and dandy, except Marvel didn't kick the Code in the nads and spit on it--Stan Lee was instrumental in putting the Code together, he respected it. He knew what the Code was supposed to do, and why it had to exist.

The comic book is a very special art form. I won't overstate it: comic books aren't going to supplant Ernest Hemingway, or Johann S. Bach, or Ingmar Bergman. But the guys working on superhero comic books think that their work should somehow be elevated, just because they believe it should be so. They don't want to accept that telling adventure stories about men in long underwear, mainly for a general audience and primarily for kids and teens but enjoyed by consenting adults (meaning, adults who understand who comic books about superheroes are originally intended for,) is not going to win them the Pulitzer. It is never going to happen. Stop justifying the superhero to everyone who will listen, while also making it impossible for a general audience to read about them.

What has DC Comics done? Well, for one thing, they removed the excitement of younger, newer readers from reading their comics. People in the "Industry" don't understand what they are doing, and it's a fact. They've isolated the adult reader as the only viable reader for their brand of comics. They've shut off all other avenues to find future readership, and talent. That talent, the future of comics, is going off to design video games and Disney cartoon movies. They don't care about the corporate shills, Superman and Batman. At this point, they never cared, because Superman and Batman have never appealed to them. Which is to say, they weren't given the option to find out there's more to Superman and Batman than the f*ckbags at DC Comics are telling them.

DC Comics has hired talented people who are telling you, and you, and you, and me, that their version of Superman or Batman or the Flash is the "best" version. Not only will you have to like their bizarre takes on the icons, you'll have to wait longer than the usual month to read about those heroes. Because, unlike the grindhouse days of the 1960s and 1970s, comic books are art, and they take time. This is shorthand for, "You're lucky we're working on these lousy superhero comics at all. And oh, we're in a recession so you're gonna pay $3.99 per comic and you're going to like it, fanboy..."

Batman, in the comics, is always the character least likely to buy into a concensus. He's always going to have questions about anything everyone else agrees upon. He's careful and precise, generally. I think he'd be the first to speculate that DC Comics and the people running it have no idea what they are doing. None. The people who run the company are way too busy suckling at the teat of "stardom" within their ranks, the few "name" talents DC has who draws attention to their comics. It's a humilating experience for me, personally, to watch. Superhero comic books were meant to be an experience for younger people, a way to link them to avenues of imagination unlike any other medium, be it television or books or movies or especially video games. The comic book can outshine them all, as a medium. Superheroes in general must be designed to support the medium, not the other way around. Superheroes bring the kids to comics, and the genre comics, the stuff branching off from the superhero, the War comics and Westerns and Horror and Science Fiction comics, the surreal adult themes of Charles Burns, the poignancy of MAUS, these are examples of what the adult reader will have available to them after they have "moved on" from the superhero.

The superhero doesn't have to "grow up." The adult audience needs to accept that the superhero doesn't need to explain itself to them. As inexplicable as the "science" of the superhero is, it is that much more inexplicable how the adult audiences continue to cling and mutate comics to suit their desires.

1 comment:


The babe's are always hot in comic books.