Saturday, March 15, 2008

Comics Are Sometimes Shit... It's Official (Part Two!)

You may remember that some four weeks ago I started talking about why comics were shit and had two reasons for which, the first of which I only got part way through explaining before losing too much enthusiasm to carry on.

So Spidey makes a deal with the devil to save his hundred-year-old granny, bloggers frothed and Joe Quesada sits back and waits for the quality of the stories to magically improve.

What really irritates me is that the inbuilt resistance of comics to change. Soap operas try to restrict change to when an actor wants to leave or drops dead, having no such constraints comics can go round in circles until the publisher turns the lights out. It's a valid argument that Spidey was married so long that breaking it up goes against this point but by and large most comics have tinkering around the edges with hasty back-steps (or 'retcons') when something proves unpopular, they actually killed off Aunt May many years ago, only to reveal a while later that that Aunt May was an imposter and the real one was safe and sound. A few years ago they published a very well done issue where Aunt May finally discovers that Peter is Spiderman and, rather than fainting and/or having a heart attack, as had been the working assumption for years as to her response, dealt with it. A bonus of the Mephisto deal is that no-one remembers Peter is Spiderman, undoing that little story.

So Superman saves the world, so why can he never get the girl? Even Grant Morrison thinks it was a bad idea to finally allow, after some fifty years, Superman to marry Lois Lane, though he doesn't say why. Again, why should a married couple lead to less interesting stories than an unmarried one? Thanks to the interweb you can see any number of the so-called Silver Age Superman stories where the two of them dance around each other, Superman not wanting to be 'ensnared' into marriage but not wanting Lois to give up hope either. It's not necessarily 'more adult' to have the two of them married but if you work on the assumption that it was going to happen some day why not make that some day today?

The worst and most egregious example of this is DC's caving in to HEAT. In the 90s, DC killed off (alright, turned evil, turned good and then killed off) one of their underperforming heroes, Hal Jordan the Green Lantern and brought in a new character. A bunch of fatbeards took umbridge and, a decade later, Hal was back. Never mind that he was got rid of because he was a consistently boring character who wasn't selling comics. But he was Green Lantern when the people complaining were kids, so he had to be Green Lantern now. Change is bad.

I suppose all that aggravates me is the superficial trappings around the story, I'm not suggesting that Superman/Spiderman/Whoever stop their eternal battle against evil, I suppose that really, I'm annoyed that the people making comics aren't making more effort to disguise the fact they are selling me today what they sold me yesterday. Which makes me as much of a fool as the next comics collecter, or would do if it wasn't for the fact that I don't buy more than a trickle of comics these days and, when I do it's stuff in limited series with a beginning, middle and end planned.

The other point I was going to use to argue that comics was shit, was one of the big black-and-white phonebook sized collections that DC are doing of their old stuff, in this case DC Showcase Presents Metal Men but it's not really worth the time. Most of all comics at any time are rubbish and these are no different. Of course the artwork is appalling and the stories are repetative, they weren't written to be read again in a month, let alone forty years later. So they could afford to have each story follow the same basic pattern, but why anyone would part with money for it defies common sense. Even dialing down my expectations as far as I could manage and reading it based on my memories of more recent appearences by the characters I couldn't last more than about a hundred and fifty pages before tossing carefully placing the book aside.

What I would recommend is Good as Lily by Derek Kirk Kim and Jesse Hamm from DC's appallingly titled 'Minx' range of comics aimed at women. School aged Grace Kwon suddenly finds herself meeting herself at three different ages, one a brattish pre-teen, one a twenty-something and one an old lady. As she struggles to help put on a school play she and they come to terms with the history they all have in common. Unlike the samples of other titles in the series at the end of the book which all look like they are entirely generic stories with 'teenaged and female' pasted into the lead character's position this somehow manages to have an 'everywoman' feel about it, with each of the four ages of Grace's clearly defined. Where it does fall down is in the relationship of Grace and Lily, her dead sister. This gets all of a couple of brief mentions in the story and doesn't occupy Grace's thoughts much, I did wonder if Kim meant to beef that up in a later draft of the script and forgot, it's a plot point that could be excised with absolutely no harm to the story. The artwork is halfway between cartoon and 'realistic', but Hamm has a gift for expressing emotion through a character's body language. It's dei=finitely worth your time, unlike most of the rubbish out there.

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