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CSBG Archive

Sunday Brunch: 6/6/10

Yes, it’s 6/6/10, the number of the beast’s neighbor, the nice old lady who always bakes too many cookies. What does the comics internet have for us this week?

And yes, I wrote this on Thursday, so that super colossal news that broke over the weekend? I missed it.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: I’ll admit it, I missed a few things last week I should have included in the Brunch. Time to rectify that! Last week, Tom Spurgeon and his readers shared their favorite endings in comics. What are yours? My answers at the bottom of the column. (Yes, Nevett did this earlier. Quiet, you.)

ITEM! One thing I didn’t catch before the Brunch went up last week was the A.V. Club’s Leonard Pierce publicly decrying what he calls “witless, arbitrarily violent, ‘cinematic’ action comics,”:

…writers like [Mark] Millar, Geoff Johns, Jeph Loeb, and Garth Ennis do the medium no further favors by continually writing brain-dead, utterly thoughtless stories whose only value is shock value, and whose only standard is the double standard. Their crimes are nearly innumerable: [...] I’ve got nothing against the darkening of comics, but these books are literally amoral—that is, they have neither a traditional moral stance, as in the great books of the past, or a philosophical inquiry of same, as in the best works of Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Grant Morrison. They’re just insipid, empty brutality and bombast.

Unfortunately, Leonard slipped into a rage-induced coma after reading Rise of Arsenal.

Kidding. Thoughts? I can’t say I agree with his stance on Garth Ennis. Violent, yes, but there’s usually a point to the violent display. Admittedly, I have not read Crossed or The Boys yet.

RANDOM THOUGHT! So I’ve only just received and read the Atomic Robo & Friends Free Comic Book Day Special, and I totally have a pull quote in it. I mean, it just says “Comic Book Resources,” but I know it’s me, America. I know it’s me. At last, the big leagues!

ITEM! Todd “Don’t call me Louisa May” Alcott continues analyzing Bat-films over at the Beat, turning his attention to Batman ’89 and Batman Returns. His thoughts on ’89 are pretty savvy, actually, as he argues that finding the protagonist in that film is difficult at first, until Burton settles his gaze upon Batman in the second half of the picture. I think the Joker tends to dominate the story, however, when he appears in non-comics media. Todd also showcases some narrative weaknesses of Burton’s first film, but my love of that movie makes me blind to any faults (I have seen it hundreds of times by now, and I never tire of it; I can’t believe my VHS copy still works).

Here’s Todd on the darker, Burtonier sequel’s portrayal of the Penguin:

Look at the ark of that character — born evil, thrown out by his parents. Tries one scheme for revenge, gets sidetracked. In the middle of being sidetracked, gets sidetracked again. Is manipulated and used by others, then fails at his appointed tasks. Goes back to his original plan, then fails miserably. Decides to go out in a blaze of glory, then fails at that too. The Penguin’s story in Batman Returns is unbearably sad, and one feels like Batman is a bully for picking on this pathetic excuse for an evildoer. The Penguin has nothing, and builds an empire — Batman has everything, and picks on little people.

GREAT MOVIE OR GREATEST MOVIE? There’s a new trailer out for the Scott Pilgrim vs. the World movie, and it is even more awesome than the last one. There’s my favorite film of the year sorted.

SPEAKING OF GREAT MOVIES: Donald Glover for Spider-Man. Make it so, America.

ITEM(IZED LISTS)! Marc-Oliver Frisch discusses the “Ten Things Superhero Comics Do Better Than Any Other Genre in Any Form“:

9: Let Creators Explore the Limits of Their Imagination Without Being Hampered by Logic or Plausibility

This is related to the previous point, but it reaches farther: The creators of superhero comics are free to imagine and explore all the things mentioned above, but more importantly, they are also free to imagine and explore things not mentioned above—things not mentioned anywhere at all, in fact. The human imagination is limitless in theory, but tends to be hampered by practical concerns like the requirement to adhere to a consensus of what’s acceptable by standards of logic and plausibility.

ITEM! That zany little stuffed bull Bully breaks down the Marvel Universe for us, with the aid of Spidey Super Stories.

REMAKE/REMODEL this week is the 19th century Yellow Book, described by Warren Ellis thusly:

It was a leading journal of the British 1890s; to some degree associated with Aestheticism and Decadence, the magazine contained a wide range of literary and artistic genres, poetry, short stories, essays, book illustrations, portraits, and reproductions of paintings.

But what would the next issue look like? Anders Nygaard and the always-great Raid71 want to show us:

Yellow NygaardYellow Raid71

DOCTOR WHO DEPT: Is postponed until I actually, you know, see the episode.

ANSWER(S) OF THE WEEK: Calvin & Hobbes is an inspired pick for this, so kudos to Chad Nevett for suggesting it. I may not have thought of it on my own, but it’s a fantastic ending to a fantastic comic, and an optimistic one, to boot. Another one is the ending to Flex Mentallo, which is the only comic to give me a contact high. “Welcome. You have been inhabiting the world’s first ultra-post-futurist comic”– marvelous. Also– and I will be the only man on Earth to say this– Thunderstrike #24 is one hell of an ending. Almost brings a manly tear to my eye just thinking about it.

58 Comments

On Pierce’s comments, I tend to agree, including when it comes to Garth Ennis. When it comes to his writing, I see very little difference from one story to the next. His creativity seems to lie primarily in inventing newer and more gruesome ways for characters to die.

I agree regarding the mislabeling of Ennis. The Boys isn’t the best example of his work that goes beyond shock value. Even a casual reading of his Punisher Max run, or even The Crossed, shows how well he mixes the profane and profound.

I think Ennis’s creativity lies in portraying deep, nuanced characters, and depicting humanity in the least human situations. I also think his dialogue is fantastic.

Ennis is nothing like those other three writers. I don’t mean that as a compliment or an insult, just as a fact.

I am sorely disappointed that such a poorly thought out critique was written at such a great site like the AV Club, which usually does very nice work with comic books.

I think Ennis tends to utterly fail at the parts of the writing that are supposed to redeem the gross-out/shocking moments. In Preacher, we’re constantly being told that Jesse and Tulip love each other so much, but he doesn’t build an actual relationship or show us why they do. Lots of sex and constant pledges of love is a teenager’s idea of what it’s like to be in love with somebody. There was no nuance at all, in that entire book. The Boys has largely read the same way to me. I can get a guilty pleasure kick out of seeing superheroes skewered that way, but I’m gonna need a more substantive set of character interactions tao call it “great writing”. All I see are uninventive tragic backstories that are supposed to provide the emotional punch that the dialogue can’t.

I couldn’t stand to watch Donald Glover for an entire movie. His “grocery list” delivery is so off-putting to me. It’s like he’s just trying to get through the physical act of saying his lines, so he can go home and do something else. The guy sucks.

I remember an Ennis Punisher issue depicting the Nicky Cavella’s childhood. The sequence shows how his domineering aunt groomed him to take over the (crime) family business, but also sexually abused/exploited him as a twisted way of simultaneously worshiping his manhood and making a man out of him.

Anyway, I remember someone on the forum ranting about deciding to quit reading Ennis’s Punisher after reading the page depicting Cavella’s aunt raping him. I believe she was bawling, “FUCK AUNTY MO! FUCK AUNTY MO! FUCK AUNTY MO!”

It’s an ugly issue, but it realistically outlines the factors that make a man into a complex monster. I don’t see how tact or subtlety could have benefited this particular scene.

I kept wondering how people could read Ennis’s work and just see sensational violence. It says more about them, I think, than about him.

How does it say more about the reader than the writer, when the reader reacts to exactly what’s presented to them?

Do you honestly not see a scene of a woman raping her nephew and screaming “FUCK AUNTY MO!” as sensational violence?

Here is every story Ennis wrote for Punisher Max (and a large number of Hitman stories as well): Complicated conflict emerges involving several different groups of gangsters, mobsters, and/or terrorists. The Punisher (or Hitman) gets drawn into the growing conflict. The violence grows to a head, and at the climax everybody dies except for The Punisher (or Hitman).

I recently read The Pro, which Ennis did with Amanda Conner. In it a prostitute becomes a superhero and reveals to the rest of the heroes (who are all transparent JLA types) how messed up and backward they are. At the end, there’s an epilogue that says the prostitutes son eventually grows up, which, the narrator tells us, is not such a bad idea. I assume this comment is aimed at superhero comics for being childish, but I think it’s ironic coming from Garth Ennis, particularly in a comic book that derives all of its humor from jokes about super-blowjobs and Batman (sorry, The Knight) being a pedophile (like that’s never been pointed out before). Maybe I’m not giving Ennis enough credit and he was actually poking fun at himself for being juvenile, but I doubt it.

While I acknowledge Ennis is a better writer than those others lumped in with him, I think his work suffers from this same assumption that “mature” or “realistic” comics are the ones that have disturbing characters and gruesome violence. Kick-Ass, the most recent and most glaring example, was hailed as superheroes in the real world, but there’s very little realistic about it, beyond the fact that nobody has super powers. Hollywood has been making equally “realistic” and “mature” action movies for decades that are anything but.

As much as Ennis pokes fun at superhero comics, most of his stories are just as childish and formulaic–just in a different way.

Millar, Johns and Loeb I would totally agree with.
Ennis? Honestly, I haven’t read enough of his work to really judge.

Personally, I was very easily able to push the sex-n-violence of “The Boys” to the background and enjoy the story, without even trying. I don’t know exactly what that says about my being desensitized or whatever, but I found the storyline very engaging, with the grusome stuff being eye-candy, and the sex, which is almost always played for laughs in that book, usually getting a chuckle out of me (Huey’s messy first time with Starlight for example).

I suppose your enjoyment of Ennis depends on how you interpret his insanely-adult way of doing things within comic books; in my mind, his books are like “Shoot ‘Em Up” multiplied an infinite times, without constraint, in an ongoing structure. Does that mean they’re perfect comics, or always good? No, of course not. But it fills a need, a primal sort of thing, and underneath the dirty jokes and sodomy, in the case of “The Boys”, there’s excellent character work, mysteries, and several dozen sub-plots to try and keep-up with.

Plus, the man wrote “Welcome Back, Frank”. This should excuse him for life, no matter what your opinion of his current work. That was a MASTERPIECE OF AWESOME.

Leroy: “insanely-adult way of doing things”

See, this is exactly what I’m talking about. There is nothing “adult” about filling your stories with sodomy, castration, and incest. It’s like saying Kevin Smith’s movies are “adult” because they are so crass. I think it’s quite the opposite: this is adolescent.

Bill: You missed Faith Erin Hicks’ Wolverine short story. Our own Kelly Thompson had it on her blog, and she’s right – it’s made of awesome. It starts here. The first panel features Wolverine dreaming about happily romping through the woods with a deer and just gets better from there.

The reason I don’t put Ennis and Millar in the same category as Loeb and Johns is that at least the former two are trying to say something. Even if it’s not something you agree with, like, or even think is well presented, at least they’re trying. Loeb and Johns on the other hand aren’t even trying to contribute anything thoughtful.
I’ve seen some people say that Johns was making a comment on death and resurrection in comics, death and violence in comics, fanboys and comics, etc with Blackest Night, but that would be ignoring at least the last five years of his comics writing career (I won’t say all of his career, as I’ve only been reading for five).

Kyle: However you want to label it, that’s your opinion. Of COURSE it’s adolescent, and I’m sure that’s the point. I believe Ennis has enough faith in his readers so that he can put whatever zany, immature ADULT situations into his books, and those that enjoy what he does will take it how it’s meant to be taken, maturely, that is see past that act and look at the joke behind it.

Sure, Ennis doesn’t HAVE to portray the Super-Sidekick whore house and the horribly-graphic things that happen to the prostitutes that dare have sex with super-powered nutjobs, but in today’s world? If we did indeed have government-created Supers running around? “The Boys” shows us what more than likely would be the case, just amped-up for comedic effect. And if you can’t allow yourself to laugh and the silliness, because it’s not as if Ennis expects you to take those scenes to heart, then yes…you’re most likely not reading the right comic books. Ennis could just as simply explain what happens in said-whore houses without showing us, but this is the type of artist Garth Ennis is and has been for years; “The Boys” is his manic, amped-up R-Rated movie taken to new extremes, because he can do it, and do it effectively.

Naturally, this way of doing things isn’t for everyone, or we wouldn’t be having this discussion. I think it takes a certain talent that has a certain audience to pull-off something like “The Boys”, and in my mind and the minds of many, many friends and fans I’ve spoken to about that book and others in Ennis’ collection, he’s done an excellent job. Comics are about susending disbelief, after all, and in this case they’re about suspending your convicitons, too. I’ve only read the first three trades of “The Boys”, but I can tell you that all of those “adolescent” situations those characters get into most CERTAINLY happen in the real world, on a regular basis, all the time. The aforementioned messy date with Starlight? Exact same thing happened to a close friend of mine, buddies knocking on the door and realizing what happened before he did and all. Starlight (the poor girl)’s initiation into the Super-Group (name escapes me)? If you honestly think professional women aren’t convinced to do the same thing to get a job, be it as a cheerleader or corporate lead, you’re unfortunately mistaken. Butcher’s anger-filled trists with the Governor? They hate each other, but they have primal urges and give-in to them rather than beat around the bush, so they can focus on the job immediately afterwards. These things HAPPEN, adolescent to you or otherwise, and it is usually older, educated adults that practise them.

This is what I appreciate about “The Boys”, and in turn Garth Ennis. Again, maybe it’s just me, and maybe I’ve been so desensitized to sex and violence that those things affected me completely different than the majority and I’m misunderstanding them. I’m not claiming to be right, or more right than anyone else, but I was thuroughly engaged in those stories and the character arcs of Butcher, Huey, and the rest, despite the raunchy stuff that was happening to and around them. I think it’s unfair to place the man with Jeph Loeb and Geoff Johns, two men who have seen unimaginable success by bringing absolutely nothing new to the table besides attemping to fix what wasn’t broken and waving shiny colors in front of thousands of easily-amused fans, playing to current fads and employing Michael Bay-esque tactics to get their “points” across.

Geoff Johns: Took about several dozen retcons and ressurrections to give us Hal Jordan, perfect man, and “Blackest Night”, a superhero zombie movie that ended with – what do you know – retcons and ressurrections.

Jeph Loeb: “Hush” and “Rulk”. Moving on…

Garth Ennis: “Preacher”, “Hitman”, and “Welcome Back, Frank”. That will be all…

“Do you honestly not see a scene of a woman raping her nephew and screaming “FUCK AUNTY MO!” as sensational violence?”

It’s brutal, but it serves a narrative purpose and it suits it well. It’s not just there to shock. It tells the reader a lot about both the victim and the perpetrator.

The abuse “made a man” out of Cavella, but it took him further over the edge than his aunt anticipated. He went past ruthless leadership into sadistic territory, and began enjoying acts of cruelty instead of just using them to assert his power…and that brought about his downfall. It obviously had a lot to do with his sexual identity as a closeted gay man among thugs (whether it caused with it or clashed with it is up to the reader).
It also implied a lot about his aunt, who craved the dominance/companionship of a “real man” despite her bullying of the men around her who she deemed unworthy.

The reader *should* react to exactly what’s presented to them. But that rape scene isn’t all that was presented to them.

“Here is every story Ennis wrote for Punisher Max (and a large number of Hitman stories as well): Complicated conflict emerges involving several different groups of gangsters, mobsters, and/or terrorists. The Punisher (or Hitman) gets drawn into the growing conflict. The violence grows to a head, and at the climax everybody dies except for The Punisher (or Hitman).”

I could similarly simplify the work of just about any author or genre. How you tell the story is far, far more important than the story you tell. And I think the portrayal of such a diverse range of characters, settings and motivations for what is often the same war, is part of the point.

Tom Fitzpatrick

June 6, 2010 at 12:56 pm

I just CAN’T get enough of ENNIS. It’s too bad he doesn’t do 10 books a month.

I actually laugh out loud sometimes when I read his stuff.

I can testify to the fact that NO other writer has accomplished this.

Doctor Who was an absolute gem this week. You’re in for a treat Bill.

” See, this is exactly what I’m talking about. There is nothing “adult” about filling your stories with sodomy, castration, and incest. It’s like saying Kevin Smith’s movies are “adult” because they are so crass. I think it’s quite the opposite: this is adolescent. ”

And if you think that all there is to Garth Ennis’ stories is sodomy, castration, and incest, there’s been a massive failure in reading comprehension. The grotesque circumstances of his stories always serve the narrative; for example, the humiliation conga Herr Starr experienced in Preacher was a test of his moral strength as the would-be savior of the world ( and one which he failed miserably ).

You never get anywhere knocking someone’s “reading comprehension.”

It is basically saying “you’re not smart enough to get it.”

I’m pretty sure it was more of a cheap laugh at the Catholic Church. Sure, I laughed, but I wouldn’t try and call it any more than schlock.

I’m not claiming that sodomy, castration, and incest are “all there is” to Ennis’s work. Like I mentioned above, I’d put him at the top of the writers singled out by Pierce as making empty, amoral stories. I’ll acknowledge that his characterization and dialogue are usually pretty good. And I can appreciate the humor in his stories (I’ve laughed myself at a few of them). But I do think that he’s a bit of a one-trick pony. His stories tend to be formulaic in their construction, and his use of shocking brutality is sophomoric. Other than that, though, I acknowledge his talent as a writer, and I can honestly understand why some people are entertained by him. But I also think that Pierce’s criticism and lumping him in with Millar et al is valid.

Ennis is the ultimate love-him-or-hate-him in comics. To me, it’s just so _obvious_ that he’s the most juvenile, half-ass crapola-salesman in comics that I really, really want to just lose all respect for anyone who praises him. But two guys that I feel are the two smartest internet comics commentators, Chris Sims and Brian Cronin, are both big fans of the guy. I’ve come to accept that I will _never_ understand this. How can they not see through this guy? But it’s just something that I have to get past. They have their reasons. I’ve learned to just shrug when people praise Ennis. I assume that that one day they’ll go back and re-read the stuff and go, “Oh! Oh. Ew.” But even if they don’t, it’s no skin off my teeth. I still agree with both those guys most of the time.

Hyung Suk Kim

June 6, 2010 at 4:13 pm

Garth Ennis is a very different writer from the other three.

However, I do think that his excessiveness hinders his stories and characters even in his best works. I always thought that Preacher peaked early with Until the End of the World and never reached that height.

One of the reason is it was too loose and repetitive after that story arch. I always love how Ennis portrays quiet character moments, and his view on friendship and love interests me. However, Preacher had too many bar scenes are discussions which pretty much talks about the same thing over and over again. In the later volumes I found Jesse Custer “preachy.”

Also his endless jokes about gay sex and physical dismemberments derailed the focused of the story. I though he had just about the right mix of excessive humor and plot development in the early issues. However, as the issues went on, he was often excessive for the sake of being excessive and his jokes became repetitive.

Don’t get me wrong. I think Preacher is a good series with original concept, strong characters, and interesting ideas. However, I also think it is a prime case that shows how Ennis’ excessiveness can hurt his story.

Hyung Suk Kim

June 6, 2010 at 4:15 pm

Also for me Ennis’ dark sense of humor and violence always worked better when it was restrained.

For example, I thought that “Welcome Back Frank” and “Hitman” had the perfect mix of dark humor, over the top violence, and character & plot development

I don’t feel as if “The Boys” is all completely Ennis being “unrestrained”, rather it’s excessive to match the world in which the book takes place. Huey and the others exist in a world where super-powers = doing whatever you want, and in typical, corrupted human fashion, that means taking the primal urges for sex and violence to the extreme. Yes, I’m sure a portion of that is Ennis enjoying having a laugh at his own dirty mind and sick sense of humor, of which I can totally relate, but in the context of the world he created, it all fits-in just fine.

As for the guy who just can’t seem to understand why smart people enjoy Ennis’ work, I think a lot of it has to do with being able to laugh at what’s obviously meant to be laughed at, and enjoy something for what it is. Ennis wasn’t trying to bring forth the next coming of “Watchmen”, or even an ALL-NEW ERA as we’re so accustomed to hearing; he wrote a filthy comic about filthy people trying to take-down filthy superheroes, and as is the case with everything else in the world, it’s not for everybody.

I have no problem with people taking issue with Ennis. Rip him all you like.

He just isn’t the same type of writer as Johns, Loeb and Millar. I’m not even saying that those three guys are similar. Just that Ennis isn’t like them (Millar is the closest to him). He’s also not like Peter David, Kurt Busiek, Roger Stern, Stan Lee or David Michelinie.

It’s not an insult not a compliment – it just is.

Hyung Suk Kim

June 6, 2010 at 6:48 pm

Brian Cronin// I agree with you.

I wasn’t trying to compare him to other writers (whom I think are pretty different too), I was just commenting on Ennis’ work alone.

Andrew Collins

June 6, 2010 at 6:53 pm

I’m not the biggest fan of Ennis’ work, but I’ve enjoyed his “Big 4″ titles- Preacher, Hitman, Punisher/Punisher Max, and The Boys. Violent? Yes, of course. But the violence has always played a role in the stories, whether it’s been as part of an action sequence, to advance a plot point, as humor/parody, and even, yes, for shock value. That’s not a bad thing when you don’t grossly overuse it.

But the other 3 writers mentioned? Absolutely. Johns is frustrating because he has shown such promise in certain books, like JSA, Flash, and Hawkman, but then crapped on those good ideas with senseless violence and unnecessarily gruesome deaths in books like Infinite Crisis and Brightest Day. Millar has only ever written or co-written two books I ever truly enjoyed- his lengthy run on Swamp Thing from 1994-1996 and his brief tenure with Grant Morrison on The Flash, from about the same time period. Every thing I’ve tried from him since then has seemed stuck in the same formula to the point of where I feel like he’s been in a 14-year long rut. And Loeb I can handle when he’s collaborating with Tim Sale on their Silver Age love letters to DC and Marvel. Everything else he’s done- completely unreadable.

Oh, and that Bully article on the Marvel U.? Most hilarious thing I’ve read in awhile. Kudos there.

I’m completely missing the excitement for the Scott Pilgrim movie. The trappings look awesome, but I don’t see Michael Cera (once again playing Michael Cera) as Scott. I’m hoping the trailer is playing up Cera’s usual aw shucks, loveable loser schtick because it thinks that’s the way they need to market it. Because the performance I see completely misses the cocky self-obsession of Scott (and the early 20s manhood he represents), which is required for his character arc from the books.

To me, it’s just so _obvious_ that he’s the most juvenile, half-ass crapola-salesman in comics that I really, really want to just lose all respect for anyone who praises him.

Except he isn’t,, and what you see as obvious goes over my head. Unless you misspelled “Mark Millar.”

I’ve read two of Ennis’ longer works to completion– Preacher and Punisher MAX. I would say that Punisher run– the MAX run, yes, not the Knights run– is one of the comics masterpieces of the 21st century so far. It’s not only the definitive Punisher story, it’s maybe the definitive Ennis story. It’s fantastic. Does Ennis know how to tell a story? Hell yes. Does he get us to care about characters? Indeed. Does he also throw in dick jokes? Yes! He can do it all.

Also, Apodaca, have you not been watching Community? Donald Glover is that show’s secret weapon.

Come on Brian, it’s hard not to put Millar and Ennis together when so much of Millar’s work has been based on parroting Ennis.

Mike Loughlin

June 6, 2010 at 8:30 pm

Ennis can write characters far better than the other three writers mentioned. Hitman was full of distinct people, with different goals and shortcomings, who had to try to make it through an unforgiving world of assassination and loss. It was also really funny. While I agree with Apodaca that Jesse & Tulip weren’t a realistic couple, the arc of Jesse & Cassidy’s relationship worked. I was shocked when I learned Cassidy’s true nature, and his final fate (due to Jesse’s actions) was the most effective part of Preacher’s final issue. Ennis has a sense of sentimentality and respect towards certain characters (e.g. Enemy Ace and most of the casts of his war comics) that comes through even when surrounded by sophomoric humor.

In fact, 2 of his best comics, the Hitman story with Superman and Heartland, go from beginning to end with very little in the way of shock tactics. Ennis focused on Superman’s self-doubt and Kit’s family troubles without relying on anal rape jokes. In the end, I had a better sense of who the characters were, and wanted to read more of Ennis’ take on them (I was rewarded several years later with Superman’s portrayal in JLA/ Hitman).

Millar, Johns, & Loeb have written comics I like, but none as effective and affecting as Ennis’s best stories.

As for favorite endings, I loved Transmetropolitan 60 and Incredible Hulk 467, Peter David’s “last” Hulk story.

” I’m not claiming that sodomy, castration, and incest are “all there is” to Ennis’s work. Like I mentioned above, I’d put him at the top of the writers singled out by Pierce as making empty, amoral stories. I’ll acknowledge that his characterization and dialogue are usually pretty good. And I can appreciate the humor in his stories (I’ve laughed myself at a few of them). But I do think that he’s a bit of a one-trick pony. His stories tend to be formulaic in their construction, and his use of shocking brutality is sophomoric. Other than that, though, I acknowledge his talent as a writer, and I can honestly understand why some people are entertained by him. But I also think that Pierce’s criticism and lumping him in with Millar et al is valid. ”

How are Ennis’ stories formulaic? And if they are formulaic, how much repetition is in his work as compared to other writers? Yes, he reuses themes, but all the great writers have pet themes that they rework in different projects. What am I missing that would make me see him as a ” one-trick pony “?

Punisher MAX, Preacher, The Boys, Battlefields, Crossed, and Chronicles of Wormwood seem plenty distinct from each other to me.

With Ennis, its the inability at times to get around the gore. I found this out the hard way when I taught Dangerous Habits in a lit class as a modern take on religious themes. Instead of having a nice, nuanced discussion about the portrayal of the Devil in modern times, religion, hell and faustian bargains among other themes that have ran rampant in literature for hundreds of years (see Chaucer, Milton, Dante, Mann, Marlowe, etc.), I had to deal with talking about the awful swearing, the blood and violence, and anything else surface that prevented a deeper discussion.

I’m not saying that there isn’t any merit in making an argument that he could tone it down at times, but such surface concerns tend to miss the deeper ideas of the work (for example, the idea that the Devil has a differing self-perception of himself and his role in Hellblazer, and then, on reflection, realizes that Constantine has turned him into the cartoon character that he feels people portray him as, is great use of character development and makes me feel something for the character, even if it’s a character I’d be repulsed by; Ennis’ Devil seems more real, and thus more terrifying on some level, than other characters that play the same roles, like Mephisto). This is the strength of Ennis to me; Hellblazer, Preacher, Punisher, Hitman…all are filled with characters that in the real world, I’d want nothing to do with. Yet I’m compelled to come back and find out more, not because of the violence, but how they react to the violent worlds in which they live (the violence is an indirect part of the story and not the story itself). This is the mark of a good writer and why I see him in a much different light than someone like Johns, who I see as, of late, making the violence the story. There’s a big difference there, to me anyway. But to each their own.

Peirce seems like a pretentious ass who not only insists that everything be high brow but also doesn’t understand how Ennis uses brutal violence at the same time as and often as a method of putting forward some fascinating ideas.

I always have trouble reading garth Ennis’s work. I think that it somehow simultaneously registers with both the “this is awesome” and “this is shitty” knee-jerk reaction centers in my brain.

On other topics, Donald Glover is awesome in Community and I really want to see Toronto playing itself in Scott Pilgrim.

Sam out!

Travis Pelkie

June 7, 2010 at 1:29 am

So I had to read the AV Club thing linked above, and from what I’ve read of the 4 writers mentioned, I wouldn’t group them together. It sounds more like the things Pierce dislikes about Millar, he’s expanding on to the others (although they have some common elements). I didn’t get the “they all use characters that look like celebrities” bit (the only one I can think of is Millar using Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury in the Ultimates, but I think Bendis originated that, and it seemed an obvious “carrot” to dangle to try to cast the movie — “hey, he looks like SLJ, let’s get SLJ for the role!”). Loeb with Superman/Batman and Hulk is blatantly crafting those comics as “popcorn movies” but he’s admitting that. Johns I don’t see doing this so much either (but I haven’t read Blackest Night, either). Millar, I would agree that the stuff I’ve read of his is big dumb and violent. Ennis, I wouldn’t group with these guys, as Cronin said. He uses blatant and disturbing imagery in part for shock value, but he does seem to have a deeper point to make. I found it amusing that Pierce termed Ennis “misogynistic” for having the “only” major female character in the Boys called “The Female”. I’ve only read the first 8 issues, but isn’t the superhero Annie a “major female character”? And isn’t complaining about no major female characters in a book called “The Boys” perhaps missing the point? I’m not the biggest Ennis fan, but I have liked some of his stuff, and there are certainly times he seems to be visiting the well again and again, but he’s also not like the other writers in that he’s not writing “mainstream” superhero books. The themes he’s exploring, he’s not trying to shove onto mainstream superheroes to make them more “adult”. That said, I wish he and Dillon would do City Lights, but I’ve been led to believe that that project is dead in the water. It’s a shame, because it’d be interesting to see what he was going to try to do.

But while I think I get what Pierce is railing against, I think his examples are poor ones. While I would say Millar’s Ultimates probably fits what he doesn’t like, something like Identity Crisis is more like what he doesn’t like. But then, I don’t like IC, so I may be filtering my own dislikes as well.

You know, I was going to ask if you’d been watching Happy Town, and mention that the episode coming up Wed. looks to be Amy Acker centric, and the show has improved slightly. It didn’t start out that great, mind you, but the third and fourth eps got better. And as someone said about the Human Target finale, Amy Acker makes everything better.

Come on Brian, it’s hard not to put Millar and Ennis together when so much of Millar’s work has been based on parroting Ennis.

I did note that of the group, Millar is the closest to Ennis.

But they really aren’t that close.

And, once again, I feel compelled to point out that I don’t mean that as an insult to Millar (I keep mentioning that because since I like Ennis’ work it really does sound like a shot when I say “No, writer X, Y and Z are not like Ennis!”).

War Stories and Punisher Max both show that Ennis is capable of greatness, but everything else I’ve read by him is undermined by him trying so damn hard to shock/offend/gross you out. I get kind of annoyed by his presumption that it’s that easy to push my buttons.

It’s analagous to the way I feel about South Park versus Family Guy: South Park doesn’t care if something’s offensive as long as it’s funny; Family Guy doesn’t care if something’s funny as long as it’s offensive.

I’m not sure why it works in Punisher Max, because god knows there’s plenty of over-the-top violence and material likely to offend, but he just seems to have got the balance right there.

So I kind of agree with both sides: Ennis is fantastic some of the time, but he’s also boringly juvenile much of the time.

I have no problem whatsoever with connecting those writers…within the context of the quote. I’ve never understood the hubbub about Ennis at all and reading his work I come away with the same impression the writer does: gratiutious? check. witless? for me, yes. violence and shock value for its own sake? check. dark to the point of being completely amoral? check. Yeah, it’s the same impression I get out of Bendis, Johns and Millar.

Perhaps Ennis is better than that as you all suggest and more worthy and substantial–it won’t be the first or last time I don’t ‘get’ an author everyone else loves– but so is Bendis (at least in his crime comics-influenced work) I would argue. And I suspect others could argue for Johns and Millar (though I wouldn’t). The point of the author in question isn’t so much about whether there is artistic merit, but the overall impression their work leaves and the trend in comics they represent. I find Ennis often in the same camp as the others.

And to answer the question of the week, which seems to have gone ignored in light of the discussion on the merits of Ennis, my all-time favourite ending in comics is V for Vendetta. It’s a satisfying conclusion to the series and the various threads within it even as it leaves several of its elements–including the identity of V and whether or not the future of humanity is secure– completely ambiguous. I think it’s beautiful.

funkygreenjerusalem

June 7, 2010 at 4:26 am

Time to rectify that! Last week, Tom Spurgeon and his readers shared their favorite endings in comics. What are yours?

Starman #80.
IT may not hold up, but I’d been following Starman for a while through highschool, and that was probably the first series I read to get a natural conclusion, and so reading it was a great bittersweet experience.

I think Ennis tends to utterly fail at the parts of the writing that are supposed to redeem the gross-out/shocking moments.

That depends on the book – in works like War Stories, Battlefields, Pride And Joy, Back To Brooklyn, 303 and Streets Of Glory – it’s all for the story… there aren’t real ‘gross out moments’, and nothing just there for the shock.
Punisher MAX and Crossed I think manages it by it all being straight up horrible – there may be parts you can laugh at (when I’m not reading the issue ‘fuck aunty mo’ is pretty funny), but it’s played as horror.

The Boys is a comedy and so I’m fine with that sort of silly/gross out stuff, same with Hitman, and Preacher is much the same – it goes too far in places, and it loses it’s way towards the end, but in the context of their world, it works.
I also think their romance works due to the world around them and the adventure they are on.
It could also be that Ennis was younger than we are when he wrote it – I believe he was 21 when he was on Hellblazer, and Preacher was only a few years after that, wasn’t it?

Also, as he considers superhero books to be the medium of comics, and his writers they should be like are the biggest crossover names, I’m not so certain – based only on this article – that the chap really knows his comics.

I am sorely disappointed that such a poorly thought out critique was written at such a great site like the AV Club, which usually does very nice work with comic books.

I mentioned on another board discussing this, that I also took issue with taking these guys at their worst, and comparing them to Moore, Morrison and Gaiman.
If you took the three he dislikes work and stacked it up against Badrock Vs Violator, JLA/Wildcats or Angela, Ennis, Millar, Johns and Loeb would come out on top.

Since no one else wants to talk about Scott Pilgrim vs the World, I want my vote counted in the Great Ennis Debate ™, under whatever column Gavin Bell’s is. Not even counting the wunderbar South Park v Family Guy analogy, he say it better than I could. Not that that would ever stop me from typing out my two cents…

I am an huge admirer and fan of Punisher Max, War Stories, most of his Hellblazer run and a few issues of Hitman. I’ve been unimpressed and bored by the rest of his work that I’ve read, including critical darling The Boys and generally accepted masterwork Preacher. I’ll defend any creator’s right to shock, titillate or disgust, but I don’t think it’s a great way to get a point across – especially when used repeatedly in service of the same point, which is how much of Ennis’ stuff (especially the latter two books just mentioned) seems to me.

“Yes, he reuses themes, but all the great writers have pet themes that they rework in different projects. What am I missing that would make me see him as a ” one-trick pony “?”

I would compare his homogeneity to the old joke about Taco Bell: they serve burritos, tacos, enchiladas, gorditas, chalupas, etc., but really all those things are all just different ways of combining tortillas, lettuce, cheese, and meat.

When I first heard The Boys described all I got from it was that it was about some “regular” guys living in a superhero world. In my mind I imagined a truly character-driven work about some guys sitting in an Irish bar, talking, cursing, telling stories, fighting–you know, what real people do in bars–and this would be in more subtle contrast with the outside world of superheroes. I thought it actually sounded like a good series. I started reading it, though, and found out that it’s really about guys committing ultra-violence on superheroes. YAWN. It has the same ingredients as Hitman and the Punisher–just assembled a little differently.

If you want an example of someone who has real diversity, look at Alan Moore. He’s gone out of his way to not repeat the same story in his career (now I know you’re going to try to find two that are similar or share a common theme, like Marvelman and Watchmen, but for the most part he’s stretched himself to do different stories). And not only that, but the characters he creates can only inhabit their own stories. Tom Strong could not inhabit the world of Watchmen. Rorschach has no place in Top Ten. These aren’t just diverse stories: they’re diverse worlds (and this isn’t even getting into radically different works like From Hell and Lost Girls).

Ennis’ characters tend to be pretty interchangeable. Grotesque villains like Jody or T.C. from Preacher would be equally at home in Hitman, Punisher, or The Boys, because all these stories take place in the same type of world.

I won’t weigh in on the Ennis debate because it seems like the two signs are firmly entrenched, but man, some of the comments regarding Punisher MAX are just way too fucking out there for me to even want to get involved.

On another note, why the hell would Donald Glover be a good choice for Spider-Man? They’re rebooting to high school, and he looks at least mid-20s. Not that the other choices being floated around are any better, but I’d rather see a teenager, (or at least a young guy who looks like a teenager) in the role if that’s what they’re aiming for. That was my biggest beef with Smallville too.

You know, I was going to ask if you’d been watching Happy Town, and mention that the episode coming up Wed. looks to be Amy Acker centric, and the show has improved slightly. It didn’t start out that great, mind you, but the third and fourth eps got better. And as someone said about the Human Target finale, Amy Acker makes everything better.

Not that great? It had the most abysmal drama pilot I’ve ever seen. I shan’t fall to your Amy Acker temptations! Or maybe I will.

On another note, why the hell would Donald Glover be a good choice for Spider-Man? They’re rebooting to high school, and he looks at least mid-20s.

Well, he already plays an 18 year old in/on Community and Mystery Team, and he’s awesome, and that’s all I really care about.

“Ennis’ characters tend to be pretty interchangeable. Grotesque villains like Jody or T.C. from Preacher would be equally at home in Hitman, Punisher, or The Boys, because all these stories take place in the same type of world.”

Nothing wrong with that.

I’m not gonna bust for saying he could try to mix it up every once and a while, but I would make the point that most writers (comic book or otherwise) find what they like to write about and write about it. That typically means the same type of worlds, same type of characters, and so on. Largely, I’ve found this is because something in the author’s life resonates with the topic at hand, but that’s immaterial. Suffice it to say, whether we’re talking Shakespeare or Ennis, we’re likely to find similar themes and worlds in the vast body of the work examined.

Even Moore, who you cite as doing different stories, tends to throw governmental power abuse/conspiracies into a lot of his work to varying degrees (Watchmen, From Hell, V for Vendetta, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen…I’d even stretch that there’s political commentary on rules and society in “For the Man Who Has Everything” and “The Killing Joke”). Does that make it bad? No, but there’s no denying that it’s there.

We could all clamor for Ennis to write something like Superman, for example, but I doubt: 1) he’d be interested in that, and 2) it would be very good because it’s not his thing.

Ennis already wrote one of the better Superman stories of the last however-long-it’s-been-since-that-issue-of-Hitman in an issue of Hitman, so it might actually be very very great if he tackled the character again.

I mentioned on another board discussing this, that I also took issue with taking these guys at their worst, and comparing them to Moore, Morrison and Gaiman.
If you took the three he dislikes work and stacked it up against Badrock Vs Violator, JLA/Wildcats or Angela, Ennis, Millar, Johns and Loeb would come out on top.

Excellent point.

Like I mentioned before, I’m not even saying Pierce is correct about the OTHER three writers he mentioned, just that Ennis doesn’t have much in common with those other three writers.

So that’s a good point that he’s not even doing a good job knocking those writers.

I have no problem whatsoever with connecting those writers…within the context of the quote. I’ve never understood the hubbub about Ennis at all and reading his work I come away with the same impression the writer does: gratiutious? check. witless? for me, yes. violence and shock value for its own sake? check. dark to the point of being completely amoral? check. Yeah, it’s the same impression I get out of Bendis, Johns and Millar.

The writer did not include Bendis in his list.

Bendis would make some sense.

Ennis doesn’t, but Bendis would make some sense as being part of that “camp.”

Although, as Funky notes, the entire premise of the guy’s piece is not exactly solid, but for whatever he is complaining about, Bendis makes a ton more sense than Ennis (and I enjoy Bendis’ work, but at least he seems to vaguely match what the writer was complaining about).

” I would compare his homogeneity to the old joke about Taco Bell: they serve burritos, tacos, enchiladas, gorditas, chalupas, etc., but really all those things are all just different ways of combining tortillas, lettuce, cheese, and meat. ”

Meat, cheese, lettuce, and bread/tortillas are so base in Western diets that this is hardly a fair criticism. It’s all four food groups covered; you just have to do it well and do it in a novel fashion.

” When I first heard The Boys described all I got from it was that it was about some “regular” guys living in a superhero world. In my mind I imagined a truly character-driven work about some guys sitting in an Irish bar, talking, cursing, telling stories, fighting–you know, what real people do in bars–and this would be in more subtle contrast with the outside world of superheroes. I thought it actually sounded like a good series. I started reading it, though, and found out that it’s really about guys committing ultra-violence on superheroes. YAWN. It has the same ingredients as Hitman and the Punisher–just assembled a little differently. ”

And if you kept reading it, you’d see plenty of quiet conversational scenes, many of which are in bars.

funkygreenjerusalem

June 7, 2010 at 8:39 pm

And if you kept reading it, you’d see plenty of quiet conversational scenes, many of which are in bars.

You come to see the New Mutants in a circle-jerk, but you stay for the quiet conversational scenes in bars.

@Bill:

Very true, and doubly bad on me owning the issue and forgetting about it when I typed. That said, the issue there was largely conversation, and my point was just to say that in an extended run (with Supes facing off against Luthor/Metallo/Bizarro/ whatever), I’d have a hard time seeing his style mesh. But maybe he could pull it off.

The writer did not include Bendis in his list.

Sonofagun, he didn’t. Sorry… it was early when I read that. He listed Loeb instead. I can’t possibly fathom why I blanked out on criticism of Jeph Loeb…

Travis Pelkie

June 8, 2010 at 7:22 pm

I love Gavin Bell’s South Park vs Family Guy analogy. It’s so right. I’ve watched more Family Guy than South Park in recent years, cuz the girlfriend likes FG, but it leaves a bit of a sour taste in my mouth, because of what Gavin says, FG would rather be offensive than funny. That said, there are some good bits on FG.

How it applies to Ennis, not sure.

I also love FGJ’s comment.

Well, Bill, I won’t claim Happy Town is GREAT by any means (I assume you didn’t watch past ep 1), but it’s a little better than it started. The “small town harbors dark secrets” motif is played out, but the Magic Man mystery is JUST interesting enough to keep me watching, especially knowing there’s only 8 eps, and according to the initial story I saw on CBR, the Magic Man IS revealed to the audience by the end of the 8 eps. There were some infuriatingly stupid bits (Henley [the hot chick] is going up the stairs to the secret room at the end of ep 1. She’s talking on the phone at the start of ep 2, saying “With all of the warnings against going up there, I just never thought it’d be locked”. Really? Really? You’re threatened with being kicked out of a boardinghouse if you break the rule about going upstairs, and it doesn’t occur to you that it MIGHT BE LOCKED?!?! And then how she got a copy of the key was absurd too. And I can’t see the inbred hick brothers arguing about the lyrics to “You’re So Vain” Really?)

But, like I said, Amy Acker. Hell, I was flipping through the channels awhile back and saw her on Lifetime Movie Network in some Ghost Whisperer ripoff/takeoff, and I watched more of it than I would have, just due to her. So this Wednesday’s ep might be ok.

That said, if you’re not watching the Good Guys, you’re missing out. It’s a fun show, created by the Burn Notice creator, and Bradley Whitford is f!@##ing hilarious in it.

Hi, all!

Just wanted to respond quickly to a few points raised here:

- One thing I found very curious in the (gratifyingly numerous, if often pretty hostile) reactions to that article is that a lot of people responded by saying “I can obviously agree with what he’s saying about [Millar/Johns/Ennis/Loeb], but I can’t IMAGINE how he thinks that [Millar/Johns/Ennis/Loeb] is anything like that! To me, the similarity between the four is obvious, which is why I singled them out; to others, it seems, the difference is equally obvious, which is why people can’t imagine why I stuck them all together. Over at the A.V. Club, most people took me to task for including Geoff Johns in the list, and I’ll admit he’s probably the least guilty of it from my perspective — which is why it bothers me so much when he DOES do it. I’m a bit surprised to find so many people defending Ennis, though, since he strikes me as the greatest offender next to Millar. (By the way, with the exception of Mark Millar, all of these writers have done work I enjoy — in the case of Loeb and Johns, quite a lot of it.)

- I think it’s important to ask, when dealing with excessive gore, nihilism, and bad behavior, the context in which it’s presented. I have no problem with extreme behavior in fiction — I’m a fan of Lars Von Trier, Alan Moore, and Kathy Acker, for Christ’s sake — but when it becomes arbitrary to the point of numbness, that’s when it bothers me. Is there some other way a character could arrive at his development than in a graphically portrayed incest scene? Is there some other way to show that superheroes are flawed human beings like anybody else other than making them ALL into rapists and drug addicts? Is there some way to tell an epic big-screen story WITHOUT the castrations? It’s like nudity in a film: no sane person opposes it, but it’s easy enough to tell when it’s just there to be exploitative.

- Finally, I’m very appreciative of the debate my article seems to have spurred on the comics internet; it’s a debate I think needs to be had. I only used superhero comics in the post because it’s a problem that, to me, is largely native to superhero comics, so please don’t think I’m ignorant of comics in general; I was just specifically talking about a certain tendency in superhero titles, so I didn’t feel the need to expand the discussion outside of that territory. I’ve been reading comics for over 30 years, and my criticisms shouldn’t be taken as those of an ignorant outsider; I love comics, and I think, well, that they should be good. I love lots of contemporary titles; I just dislike this particular tendency in them.

Cheers!

\”Cinematic actions scenes\” may have ruined adventure comics…

Over at the AV Club (via Comics Should Be Good), one contributor tells what he doesn\’t like about several overrated writers, with Mark Millar the biggest of the problem…

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