O Say Can You See: The Greatest Patriotic Super Heroes of All-Time
Now, you just know with a title like that, this is going to be one of those long, pretentious posts where I rant about various things in comics using only a small sample size and coming to generalized conclusions based on that small sample size!Â Those are always fun, aren’t they?
Grant Morrison’s recent output for Wildstorm made me think, which is never a good sign.Â It made me think of the God Of All Comics and just what the hell he’s doing.Â Â I thought the first issue of The Authority was boring (I didn’t buy issue #2)Â and I enjoyed WildCats while still recognizing it wasn’t anything great.Â But that’s just me.
But I don’t want to talk about The Authority.Â I don’t really want to talk about WildCats, either, except that it brings me back toÂ Joe Casey, which brings me back to GÃ¸dland.Â See?Â I can tie things together with the best of them!
Regular readers may recall that I really enjoy GÃ¸dland.Â It was my favorite ongoing series of 2006, and it’s still doing fine this year.Â I come not to bury the book, but to look at it in the context of what Joe Casey has done recently.Â Because, in case you missed it, Casey has been doing some of the more groundbreaking work in superhero comics in recent memory.Â Yes, not Grant Morrison.Â Joe Casey.Â Before we get to that, I want to track a couple of trends in superhero comics over the past few decades and wonder why these trends haven’t become more prevalent.Â The two trends are deconstruction and postmodernism.
Yes, I’m using fancy (and possibly clichÃ©d)Â terms.Â Deal with it!Â I was an English major, so I’m allowed toÂ fling those things around casually.Â I rule!Â “Deconstruction” is a term that people are tired of hearing, which is certainly a reasonable complaint.Â Simply put, to deconstruct something means to break it down into its component parts and examine what makes a work of fiction tick.Â In recent years, it has been trendy to not accept the – let’s face it – inherent goofiness of superhero comics.Â We need to psychoanalyze the characters, explain their powers scientifically, and account for why they are able to perform such wondrous feats.Â We even go back to before this was trendy and deconstruct pure fantastical superhero comics.Â I’m as guilty as anyone.Â Deconstruction, however, can serve to allow us insight not only into what makes people dress up in fetish gear, but how these facets of their personality can illuminate our own screwy psyches.
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The Godfather of Deconstruction is, of course, Alan Moore.Â In Marvelman (which was changed to Miracleman in the U. S. because of a certain comic book company), he introduced the idea of superhero as Messiah/Conqueror.Â No one had ever taken superheroes to their logical extreme with such brutal realism, and everyone who has since is working in Moore’s shadow.Â This was not pure deconstruction, as Moore didn’t necessarily psychoanalyze Mike Moran, but he did show us the dichotomy of the “secret identity” and how putting on a costume frees Moran from basic human morality.Â There are two utterly tragic scenes in Marvelman – when Moran tries to convince Liz to join him in the superhuman future, and she clings to the laughable concept that maybe he should have stayed true to his marriage vows even though, technically, he wasn’t the same person when he was diddling Avril over London; and when Margaret Thatcher says they can’t allow the new super-people to interfere with the market, and Marvelman says, “Allow?”Â With one word, Thatcher realizes that she is obsolete, and the real tragedy is when Avril scolds Marvelman and tells him they’re supposed to be above that kind of pettiness.Â But, of course, they aren’t, as Gaiman makes clear in “The Silver Age” (and even, to a degree, in “The Golden Age”).Â Moore is pointing out that superhumans, for all their strangeness, cannot escape their cultural programming.Â It’s an interesting take on superheroes, and blew the roof off of what was possible with the genre.
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Moore began more deconstruction with Swamp Thing #21, “The Anatomy Lesson,” in which he showed how idiotic a conceit the idea originally was.Â Yes, the original stories areÂ nice gothic horror, helped by Wrightson’s art, but Moore did something very few people had done before: he sat down and considered howÂ Swamp Thing could function in some sort of stand-in for the “real” world.Â He thought about Swamp Thing, in other words, instead of just accepting the conventions of the super-hero genre.Â In doingÂ so, he introduced a new, better Swamp Thing, one that could be used to tell far more interesting stories than had been already done.Â In his deconstruction, he didn’t necessarily examine what made superheroes tick, but he did try to explain how somethingÂ like Swamp Thing could exist.
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These two titles led, of course, to Watchmen, which is the ultimate deconstruction of superheroes.Â What Moore understood, and what several other writers haven’t, is that it’s notÂ enough to simply break superheroes down and show what makes them go.Â You have to put them in aÂ good story (which Watchmen is) and you also have to show why, despite all their human foibles, they are necessary (at least in the context of the superhero world, something else Watchmen does).Â Moore wanted to show that these people who put on costumes mightÂ be a bit messy in the head, but they rise above their complexes and they overcome their fears to actÂ as true heroes.Â Watchmen is a terribly complex work,Â but at its core it is deconstructionist.
Ironically, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and even “Year One” (in Batman #404-407) were also deconstruction, even though they are somewhat diametrically opposed to Watchmen.Â Miller took Batman at the beginning and the end of his careerÂ and delved into why he started what he did, why he continued, and why he returned.Â Batman is a treasure trove of neuroses, and although Miller would probably tell you he was just writing a good noir tale (or two), it’s fascinating to see how well he understands the disturbing cornersÂ of Batman’s personality without beating us over the head with it.Â Â Miller might not describe his bookend take on the Caped Crusader in such high-brow terms, but that’s what he does.Â In DKR, he breaks downÂ why aÂ hero is always a hero, despite theÂ ravages of time.Â He also sets up the dichotomy between Batman and Superman that has been with us ever since: theÂ God of the SunÂ and theÂ God of the Underworld.Â Prior to this, Batman and Superman had been two sides of pretty much the same coin, but Miller pointed out their fundamental differences, and, despiteÂ Jeph Loeb’s efforts on Superman/Batman, we have never gone back.Â Frank Miller’s take on their relationship, which is a deconstructionist take, is just so much more interesting than any of the previous ones.Â In “Year One,” Miller went the other way, andÂ constructed his hero, which is just another way to deconstruct.Â We were able to follow along as familiar tropes were revealed to have darker meanings, and familiar characters were given deeper backgrounds.Â These two Batman projects, coming as they did on a flagship character, set theÂ bar high and also, like Watchmen, spawnedÂ innumerable, mostly lesser imitations.Â DC is still looking for lightning to strike again: There are no fewer than five “Year One” mini-series in the pipeline (Green Arrow, Metamorpho, Teen Titans, Black Lightning, Huntress).Â Deconstruction is still with us, even if we think we’ve seen it all before.
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Enterprising writers recognized that once it had been done once, there was little place left to go.Â How often can you point out the fetishistic nature of spandex costumes before it becomes trite?Â Enter Grant Morrison and his wacky postmodern ideas!Â Morrison came into comics at the height of this “Deconstructionist” period, which for lesser writers meant “grim-and-gritty.”Â It’s ridiculous to join the two, but that’s what a lot of writers in the late 1980s did -Â breaking down what made superheroes tick meant putting them in the “real world,” with all the inherent bloodiness.Â Morrison certainly wasn’t immune to this – Arkham Asylum being the prime example of excess – but he also had a love for the pre-Crisis DCÂ UniverseÂ and the idea of irony-free superheroics.Â When he got his big break in American comics with Animal Man, he was apparently given carte blanche to do whatever he wanted with an obscure character.Â So he deconstructed Buddy Baker … with a twist.Â Animal Man quickly became a postmodern masterpiece.
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But what does that mean, “postmodern”?Â Unfortunately, no one agrees on a good definition.Â The best way to describe it is fiction that is aware of itself as fiction.Â Thus, the author and audience become participants in the text itself, with various effects.Â Others have defined it differently, but generally, that’s as good a definition as we’re going to get.Â Literature has done some marvelous things with the idea of the text being a living, breathing entity that changes based on the reader and even the time at which a singular reader enters it.Â The idea of the reader actively engaging the text has given us several great works of literature, including Slaughterhouse-5, If on a winter’s night a traveler, Picture This, Dictionary of the Khazars and other books by Milorad Pavic, and even horror books like House of Leaves.Â Â Postmodernism is just a term by which we can categorize certain aspects of fiction.Â It’s handy, even if it’s ill-defined.
How does this relate to comics?Â Well, comics have always been somewhat postmodern, as their relationship with the audience has always been far more immediate than “high-brow” literature, and therefore the connection between the creators and readers has always been a bit more symbiotic, if you will.Â Comics have, for decades, brought the reader into the comic book experience, withÂ omniscient narrators and even characters speaking directly to the reader.Â In many ways, comics showed what can be done with the idea of the reader actively taking part in the experience of the text itself.Â This is most evident in letter columns, especially Marvel’s policy of “no-prizes,” where readers were encouraged to explain continuity errors made by the creators themselves, thereby becoming part of the creative process.Â PerhapsÂ the fact that comics were seen as utterly disposableÂ entertainment, along with their serial nature, helped make them more fast and loose with the “rules” -Â Choose Your Own Adventure books, which were for children,Â were also “postmodern” and didn’t care about violating the “laws of fiction” – and this helped create a strange world in which readers were interacting with the writers and artists.Â If a reader didn’t like where a title was going, it’s conceivable he or she (more than likely he) could change the direction of that title, even if the changes were only subtle.Â Later on, comics became even more “postmodern:”Â Creators dropped themselves into stories – Chris Claremont has shown up in more than one issue of X-Men; there was that fun story in which Bat-Mite visited the DC offices and made life unbearable for theÂ people working there; and John Byrne made She-Hulk realize she was actually in a comic book.Â In each of these instances, the idea of comic book characters interacting with their creators is played for laughs, andÂ in the case of She-Hulk (in which the joke is sustained throughout the series), it becomes little more than a trick among a creators’ entire bag of tricks.Â Clever, yes, but ultimately simply part of the status quo.
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Morrison did something different with Animal Man.Â The series became a true postmodern masterpiece as it wore on and Morrison decided to turn Buddy Baker into a) his own personal mouthpiece for social issues, notably animal cruelty; and b) a commentary on recent (at that point) comic book history and its effect on both the characters and the reader himself.Â As Buddy becomes aware of his status as a comic book character, it’s not a liberating event like in Jennifer Walters’ case; it’s a traumatic event that costs him everything good in his life simply to satisfy the whim of “God” – in this case, the writer and the readers.Â Morrison drew the audience into his comic book not only because he wanted to involve us in Buddy’s fate, but because he wanted to indict us in the “darkening” of comics themselves.Â We become complicit in the fact that the Crisis on Infinite EarthsÂ took away all the great stories of the past, and we can no longer simply sit back and allow DC to do it to us.Â We are accomplices.Â Buddy goes on a Grail Quest, at the end of which must sit the creator.Â Morrison, in issue #26 (aptly if prosaically called “Deus Ex Machina”), claims that he has run out of ideas, but the issue has been carefully built to, and when Buddy meets Morrison, it is the ultimate blending of reality and fantasy, with Morrison no longer being the creative force, but also the passive force upon which the ultimate creators – the implication being that it’s the readers – work.Â We can no longer be sure which is reality and which is fantasy, which is truth and which is fiction.Â Morrison lives in a world without magic, yet Foxy answers his flashlight signal at the end – conveniently after he has left.Â Morrison tells Buddy about his cat and how it died and how he realized he (Morrison) could use it in an Animal Man story.Â It’s a poignant tale, but it’s Morrison the (fictional) character telling the story, and therefore Morrison the writer could be making up even the existence of the cat to elicit an emotional response.Â Â These layers of reality and meaning make this issue, and the series asÂ a whole, a true postmodern classic.
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Animal Man didn’t exactly lead to a flowering of postmodern comics, but it at least showed what could be done in the medium.Â Morrison continued to be at the forefront, however, with works like Invisibles and The Filth, in which he attempted to rewrite history and change the way we view reality.Â Many of the themes he used in other books reached an apotheosis in Flex Mentallo, which is perhaps the most postmodern book ever written.Â Flex Mentallo is only four issues long, but it expands upon the ideas of Animal Man and becomes a critique of comic book history, its “degredation,” and whether or not we as readers are in any way culpable.Â It offers no real easy answers, but does hold out the possibility of reconciliation with our childhood desires and our adult needs.Â The idea that Wallace Sage, by which Morrison means every reader of every comic book, is creating the world as he goes, allows the audience to actively participate in the book.Â We become part of the process of creation, and the comic becomes more of a personal artifact with meaning in our own lives.Â The genius of Flex Mentallo is that we feel, as we read it, that we are assisting Morrison and Quitely as they create it, even though it is already completed.Â We have become essential to the making of the comic.
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Few writers took up this clarion call of expanded meanings of comic books.Â Alan Moore wrote brilliant pastiche in 1963 and followed it up by recreating the Superman of the 1950s in Supreme.Â Neither of these books were truly postmodern, but they did bring the audience in and allowed a select group of comic book readers – those with a knowledge of the history of the medium – to laugh along with Moore.Â Peter Milligan put himself into aÂ few issuesÂ of Shade, the Changing Man as Miles Laimling (the last name is an anagram) and commented on the nature of reality and comic books and other such things.Â Other writers continued to use the “tricks” of postmodernism without really getting into the ideas behind it.Â At the turn of the century, however, Morrison went to Marvel and began work on X-Men.Â At the same time, Joe Casey began working on Uncanny X-Men.Â It was an interesting synchronous beginning, because Casey had picked up the gauntlet thrown by Morrison and run with it, beginning with Wildcats.
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Casey’s work on Uncanny X-Men was not terribly interesting, and when it’s compared to Morrison’s X-Men and Milligan and Allred’s mind-blowing X-Force (another fine postmodern book), it looks even worse.Â However, just prior to getting the Marvel gig, Casey had taken over Wildcats from Scott Lobdell and Travis Charest.Â He and Sean Phillips went in a new direction and turned the book into something fascinating and, to an extent, postmodern.Â Despite its pedigree and some nice stories by Alan Moore, Wildcats had never been about more than a big superhero bash.Â Moore did come up with the idea of the war between the Kherubim and Daemonites being over without anyone telling the WildC.A.T.s themselves, which is a great idea, and once the war was over and the main Kherubim – Marlowe and Zealot – rejected their life on Khera, there wasn’t a lot of places to go with the book.Â So Casey killed Marlowe, allowing Spartan – in a new identity as Marlowe’s nephew – to take over the Halo Corporation.Â Casey’s move led to a brilliant new comic book – the superhero as corporate entity.Â Others had done similar things with this before, but Casey took it a step further and showed that superheroes could have a positive effect on the world of business and, more comprehensively, the world in general.Â This wasn’t Marvelman or the Squadron Supreme or the Authority taking over the world by force in order to “fix” it.Â This was Jack Marlowe introducing products that would make the world better.Â Casey wanted to show what happens when capitalism made things better.Â Sure, Marlowe had a secret power source, which made his batteries last forever, and he sold the batteries, making money in the process, but he used the money to invest in industries for the betterment of all.Â In a comic book world where big business is often looked at as sinister – Wilson Fisk (yes, he’s a gangster, but also a businessman), Lex Luthor, Justin Hammer, et al. – Casey changed the paradigm to show that it didn’t have to be that way.Â Wildcats wasn’t truly postmodern, as it wasn’t aware of itself as a text, but it was a bold step away from what had been done before, and showed what could be done with superheroes.Â It failed, of course, despite a relaunch with snazzy art by Dustin Nguyen and later Duncan Rouleau.Â Casey never took it as far as it could go, and fell back into the standard superhero patterns, which left it with nothing to distinguish itself from the myriad other books out there.Â But it appears that Casey had learned his lesson.
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Casey’s next project was Automatic Kafka, which for nine hallucinatory issues showed us what an adult superhero parody could be like.Â Combining Casey’s razor-sharp scripts with Ashley Wood’s psychedelic artwork produced a comic that took elements of several previous comics and blended them into something marvelous.Â Kafka is a harsh examination of superheroes and a culture that worships celebrity and bloodshed, and it sold not even a little bit.Â Instead of trying to “fix” Kafka by changing its tone, Casey and Wood killed it, showing up in issue #9 to tell their hero that he just wasn’t marketable.Â Kafka’s pathetic line about how he’s a superhero, so he ought to sell is a nice coda to the series.Â Casey and Wood freely admit that they’re ripping off MorrisonÂ (among others)Â by appearing in the comic, but that’s one of the hallmarks of postmodernism: it’s not only aware of itself as a text, but it’s aware of the texts that have come before, and therefore postmodern writers have no problem ripping off other works and acknowledging it.Â The key is fitting this into an original work of art.Â Readers of the final issue of Automatic Kafka would probably know about the previous times a creator appeared in a comic, so Casey and Wood cut off their cries of “plagiarism” by acknowledging it themselves.Â The fact that they’re copying from others adds to the surrealism of Kafka, and itÂ helps create a comic that is disturbingly familiar yet totally unique.Â KafkaÂ is a failure as a superhero comic book, actually, but it’s a masterpiece of commentary on the comic book industry and the people who read comics.Â So of course it failed.
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While Casey continued to write typical mainstream superhero stories, he rolled up his sleeves and got to work again with another postmodern comic, The Intimates.Â This book, which lasted a grand total of 12 issues, is not as brilliant as Kafka, but it is still far more interesting than a lot of superhero books that are published, and it stands as a nice postmodern look at superheroes-in-training.Â The story itself is standard superheroics, but Casey attempts to turn his book into a strange book/television hybrid, with a 24-hour-news-channel-style crawl at the bottom of each and every page (well, not every page, but almost all of them).Â In this crawl, Casey comments on the characters, other books he’s writing, and the state of comics themselves.Â He also addresses readers’ concerns about the crawl itself, as people complained about it because it was hard on the eyes to read (and it was).Â The fact that these kids are training to be superheroes in a world where superheroes are commonplace, and that they have to learn not only how to use their powers but how to deal with the publicity of being a superhero, makes for a nice idea that gave Casey plenty of opportunity to comment on the essence of superhero comics themselves.Â The Intimates is not as excellent as Milligan’s X-Force, to compare it to a close contemporary, but it shows, once again, Casey’s willingness to test the boundaries of how comic books can be presented.Â The readers of The Intimates are anything but passive – Casey drags them into the book and invites them to comment on the proceedings.Â Granted, all comic books do that, but Casey is also an active participant in this process, and it’s right there as part of the book, instead of being relegated to a letters column.
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The Intimates went the way of the dodo, and Casey tackled his next project: GÃ¸dland.Â GÃ¸dland is in many ways far superior to The Intimates.Â Giuseppe Camuncoli’s art on the former book is fine, but somewhat slick.Â Tom Scioli’s art on GÃ¸dland is majestic and crazy, whichÂ is just what the book needs.Â GÃ¸dland is wild roller coaster ride, but at the same time, it’s a step back in terms of what can be done with the genre.Â There is nothing revolutionary about GÃ¸dland, and that’s a shame.Â Â I doubt if Casey sits down and thinks to himself that he’s going to revolutionize superhero comics.Â If he did, he wouldn’t be very good.Â I’m sure he’s simply telling the story he wants to tell, and that’s fine.Â But I would argue thatÂ GÃ¸dland is less revolutionary than its predecessors becauseÂ of the prevailing culture of comic books, and this is where I blame Grant Morrison, if only a little.
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What did Morrison really do with the X-Men?Â Not much, in the grand scheme of things.Â Â His forty issues on X-Men, despite being a wonderful story, are possibly his most conventional work (even his run on JLA was slightly more off-beat), so of course it’s probably his most commercially successful (I don’t have the sales figures).Â During his run,Â a regime change at Marvel meant that the company pulled back fromÂ pushing the envelope, and several books from the early part of the century that tried to explore different aspects of what it means to be aÂ character in the Marvel U.Â (X-Men; X-Force/X-Statix; X-Factor; Alias; Priest’s Black Panther, just to give a few examples) were allowed to run their course without replacing them with anything similarly boundary-pushing.Â The Marvel Universe revertedÂ to safe superheroicsÂ that can easily be perpetuated whenÂ one creative team isÂ replaced by another.Â Â Superhero comics that push the boundariesÂ usually have a logical end, and when they do end, it’s just easier to hit the reset button instead of ending the series altogether and trying to come up with something new.Â Morrison moved on from Marvel and returned to DC.Â As the godfather of postmodern comics, this move should have allowed him to break barriers, as DC – through its imprints that aren’tÂ plugged into the regular DCU – has always been more willing to give these kinds of experiments a chance.Â Morrison had a golden opportunity to continue with the kind of groundbreaking storytelling he had done years earlierÂ at DC.
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What did we get?Â Seaguy.Â This is a good start, as it hearkens back to his earlier postmodern work – a mind-bending puzzle of a comic that invites the readers to look deeper at the symbolism behind the events happening on-panel.Â Morrison has always been good at casually dropping symbols into his work, and Seaguy is loaded with them.Â It is a bold story in that it challenges us to reconsider our own habits of consumption, and warns of side effects we may not understand.Â As he did with Flex Mentallo, MorrisonÂ involved the audience actively.Â Â The series, though brief, offered us a peek at what Morrison could still do about creating aÂ comic that was outside our expectations and therefore good for us.
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The follow-ups, however, were less encouraging.Â We3 and VimanaramaÂ are entertaining in their own right, andÂ show us some interesting things artistically (QuitelyÂ does a magnificent job on We3, in particular, while Bond’s style is marvelous for the Hindu-Kirby thing of Vimanarama), but in terms of story, there is nothing that breaks the mold.Â Â He uses some tricks of postmodernism, but as we’ve seen, a lot of comics do that.Â Morrison’s next endeavor was Seven Soldiers.
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Seven Soldiers is an epic in storytelling, but in the end, it’s fairly conventional.Â Morrison again plays with the tricks of making a text aware of itself and making the audience an active participant in the experience, but ultimately, that’s all they are.Â Zatanna addresses the audience, true, but it has become shorthand for Morrison, without the emotional impact of Buddy Baker seeing the audience.Â In the final issue of the epic, Morrison toys with a true interactive reading experience with the crossword puzzle in the pages of the Guardian, but again, this is a trick without much heft.Â The puzzle does not illuminate much about the text itself.Â Zatanna’s invocation of the audience as participants in the final battle against the Sheeda again has little emotional impact.Â Seven Soldiers is a stellar piece of work throughout, but Morrison is not challenging the structures of how comics work, despite his contention of making the DCU something alive (he did say that, didn’t he?).Â There is some very good work in the 30 issues of the epic, but when we are finished, we’re not any closer to a new form of comics.Â That’s okay, but it points back to the title of this post.Â Because while Seven Soldiers was going on, Morrison began work on All Star Superman.Â When he finished with Seven Soldiers, he moved on to 52.Â What can we learn from these choices?Â All Star Superman is almost pure pastiche.Â It’s a fine comic book, but whereas Morrison’s love for the Silver Age turned Animal Man into something different in comics, there is nothing revolutionary about All Star Superman.Â Similarly, 52 is unworthy of Morrison – it pays the bills, I suppose, but that’s about it.Â It’s something that should be left to the superhero fetishists like Geoff Johns and Mark Waid – it’s what they’re good at (and, to be honest, writing good superhero stories is harder than it looks).
This begs a few questions: why is Morrison “partly to blame” for the death of the postmodern superhero, and why does it matter?Â I would argue that Morrison’s stature in the comic book world is why he is partly to blame.Â He is a rare writer who can change the way comics are written simply by his output.Â There are only a few writers like that, and too often these days they are regurgitating what has come before.Â Mark Millar, who can be a talented writer (read his Swamp Thing if you don’t believe me), wastes his time with ham-fisted political commentary.Â Warren Ellis has never really shown much of an interest in doing anything truly revolutionary with his work, although he might be able to.Â Alan Moore dabbled in postmodernism with League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Promethea, but he has largely vanished from the comics scene.Â Many of the other powerful writers in mainstream comics (Loeb, Johns, Brubaker) are either not interested in pushing the envelope or are incapable of it.Â Morrison is a rare talent in that he is very popular among mainstream comic book fans, but he’s also very good at stretching the boundaries of what is possible in comics.Â Again, I’m not suggesting that Joe Casey sat down to write GÃ¸dland and thought, “I’m not going to push the boundaries of comics because Morrison has stopped doing it,” but perhaps he recognized the moment had passed and it was time to write something that is sheer entertainment.
But why does this matter?Â I would argue it matters because mainstream comics are slowly withering on the vine.Â Sales are down, new readership is down, and DC and Marvel seem to rely on fake news stories to increase sales of a particular comic book.Â There is nothing long-term in their planning, and there probably has to be a paradigm shift or they will die.Â Maybe not in the short term, which is where most people worry about things, but soon enough.Â The lack of experimentation means that they have become stagnant, and other, more interesting forms of entertainment have passed them by.Â Comics, after all, encourage (or should encourage) reading, and they are a marvelous way to get people to read and learn without making it appear they are.Â But by simply recycling “whatever worked in the past,” comics become redundant and static and dull.Â What comes out of the superhero comic does nothing to engage the reader, even on a rudimentary level.Â They are sold to more people than a small independent book, but they make a much smaller impression.Â Mainstream superhero comics have a perfect opportunity to challenge readers in a variety of ways, but Marvel and DC take the path of least resistance.Â As with any other money-making venture, they have no intrinsic right to exist.Â For some reason, they can’t read the writing on the wall.Â Perhaps a short burst of media attention is enough of a drug that they don’t care to look ahead.
The point is not to simply make comics that are aware of themselves as texts.Â Not every comic should be “postmodern.”Â The point is to push the envelope.Â There is room in comics for old-fashioned superhero comics (like GÃ¸dland, Invincible, and Noble Causes, some of the better examples) as well as stuff that challenges the status quo.Â Kids, ironically, are far more accepting of “pushing the envelope,” because they haven’t been conditioned to what is and what isn’t “normal” in a comic book.Â Recycling ideas turns quickly into diminishing returns.Â Being part of the vanguard of new forms of comic books might be cost-prohibitive in the very short run, but it will pay off greatly in the future.Â Writers who have the sort of power within the comic book industry, like Grant Morrison, don’t necessarily have an obligation to challenge the normal parameters every time out – All Star Superman, after all, is a hoot to read – but it would be nice to see them test the accepted norm of what can be done in comics.Â Automatic Kafka and The Intimates and to a lesser extent Wildcats were failures commercially, it’s true.Â Casey, apparently, has not reached the place in the hierarchy where he can dictate the kinds of comics he wants to write and have it accepted unequivocally, especially at DC (it’s noteworthy that the three comics I just mentioned were published by DC under the Wildstorm imprint, while GÃ¸dland is an Image book).Â Morrison is, and I hope to see him use it more often in the future.Â 52 didn’t need Morrison.Â Morrison didn’t need 52.Â Comics need Morrison and others to write something different.Â We’ll see if that’s what they’re going to get.
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Or, you know, I could be full of shit.Â It’s possible.
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