Sunday, February 27, 2005

Cynics: Wah-Wah Crybaby Losers

When was it that comic fans and writers first came to the idea that cynicism was the smart, hip, cool thing? Was it when so many completely missed the points of Watchmen and DKR? Was it when Wolverine and the Punisher became names as big as Captain America and Iron Man (or bigger)? I don't know and I don't really care. All I know is that cynicism is for petulant children and it's time to wipe it out.

Don't get me wrong. Naïveté is childish. Naïveté is the Child, but cynicism is the Child Without Charm. It's the toddler first denied a desire. It's the junior high nerd who sees Cute Suzie preferring Hot Steve, and KNOWS that something is wrong with the world. Cynicism is a stage in human development when we learn some primary selfishness. And it IS a vital stage. But it's one the healthy person moves past when the time comes. And it's one to which far too many cling. Now, clearly I'm not addressing the whole big world here, but it's something I see as rampant in comics, both in fandom and in professional circles.

Cynicism is easy. It's easy to do dark without hope. It's easy to tear things apart and leave them that way. It's easy to depress or to use tragedy to pull heartstrings. More difficult is genuine observation and genuine work. Yes, the world is inherently flawed. Yes, people are, too. BUT you keep working. A Real Man or Real Woman doesn't sit there and bemoan his/her shitty life; doesn't simply sit and snark about the inevitable pitfalls. You find a way to keep going. You don't fall back to naïveté or cynicism, because you're a grown-up now and it's time to see reality in more than one dimension.

What cracks me up is how all the main inspirations for this stuff in comics are totally non-cynical. Bruce's smile at the end of DKR. The Dan/Laurie love in Watchmen. Logan's (James'?) hopeless romanticism. As usual, though, when less talented people try to imitate more talented people, they screw it all up.

If you're a "kewl" fan or pro who wears his smirk like a badge and uses spoiled cynicism as a way too feel grown up, knock it off. You're not fooling me; you're not fooling anyone except the other children in the sandbox. Find the good with the bad, the hope within failures, and the beauty within tragedy. It's harder, but nobody said being a grown up reader or artist would be easy.


Blogger Brian Cronin said...

It's certainly something that I've been thinking about a lot recently.

In that I think that Millar's work has been way too cynical, and I am so happy that Morrison's work is not.

2/27/2005 09:36:00 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

Incidentally, Joe, you just pointed out why Dark Knight, Watchmen, and even Wolverine are cool, and the Punisher still sucks. No silver lining with that character.

2/27/2005 10:19:00 PM  
Blogger Joe Rice said...

I actually quite disagree, Michael. I left out Frank out of carelessness more than planning. He's not cynical in the slightest. He's got a life's mission, and that's to destroy that which he finds bad. Now, under a clumsy writer that could (and almost always does) turn into cynical shoot-'em-ups. But under a talented pen such as Mr. Garth Ennis, you get more facets of Frank's life and his world. The current arc in particular has strong strands of love and hope.

This is also not to be misinterpreted as "dark is bad" or "tragedy is bad" or "mean is bad." Some of art's greatest accomplishments are, at their very hearts, tragedy. But tragedy means nothing to a cynic. It's just another "eh." To really feel the impact of tragedy one must go beyond cynicism. Frank's origin means nothing to a cynic. And were he a cynic, it would mean nothing to him.

2/27/2005 10:24:00 PM  
Blogger alex said...

Am I the only person who saw "I, Spyder" in SEVEN SOLDIERS as a response to the Jaded Cynic stereotype? In the story, he's a rehash of an old character, with a new, surly attitude, shades and tattoos. He's totally "Ultimate".

Yes, yes?


2/27/2005 11:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know man, I disagree. I think romance and optimism is born out of cynicism. Realizing that the world truly does fuckin' suck acts as an encouragement to go out and do something about it.
I personally love cynics as long as they come up to bat, destroy the objects of their hate and replace it with something better.
And let's be honest, one of comics' best characters, Spiderman, is a total fucking cynic. Haven't you seen the t-shirt with a Ditko drawn Spiderman gesturing contemptuously at a crowd of New Yorkers and shouting "Fuck the world!"
That sums up Spiderman to me.

2/28/2005 12:43:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

I don't buy Spider-Man as a cynic.

I mean, he may bitch and moan, but at the end of the day, he'll lift that big ass pile of machinery to go get Aunt May the medicine she needs because he believes good things can happen.

Hmmm...I think I may have answered my question from a ways back about why Millar hadn't used that particular Spider-Man is just too optimistic for Millar.

2/28/2005 01:26:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Regarding "I, Spyder," Alex...I think there is something to what you say, but I think more so Morrison was, by showing us the MAKING of I, Spyder, what he thinks it underneath the cynical exterior of characters like I, Spyder....guys who get misty when you take away the tunic his father originally wore.

2/28/2005 01:27:00 AM  
Blogger Joe Rice said...

Spider-man as a cynic totally doesn't work. A cynic thinks the world is unceasingly screwed up. He wouldn't try to make things better like Parker does. Spidey makes jokes about his own failings and he ridicules others, but his jibes don't have the pungeant aroma of cynicism. Smart asses aren't the same thing.

I actually was thinking that about I, Spyder myself, Alex. Last night I started going through the Six Soldiers and Who They Represent. I'll post it if I get some time.

2/28/2005 06:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Brad Curran said...

"Am I the only person who saw "I, Spyder" in SEVEN SOLDIERS as a response to the Jaded Cynic stereotype? In the story, he's a rehash of an old character, with a new, surly attitude, shades and tattoos. He's totally "Ultimate".

Yes, yes?"

I caught that, too. I thought his intro at Vigilante's compound and posturing were especially meant to evoke the Authority/Ultimates. I also noticed what Cronin did, the scene where they gave him a new costume, and how he reacted to it. That seems like a commentary on the "Ultimatizing" of characters to me. His reaction to it can be seen as a comment on the conflict between updating these characters and throwing out what's interesting about them.

2/28/2005 01:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Brad Curran said...

About the Punisher; what little I've read of Ennis' run, which is pretty much all I've read of the character in solo stories, has some emotional heart to it, like all of Garth's work (again, that I've read, but I've noticed it in Preacher, Hellblazer, Pride and Joy, and Hitman), but it seems more focused on dark comedy and how many creative ways Frank can kill people than showing us "factes of Frank's world."

Maybe it's changed since Welcome Back, Frank and the scattered issues of the Marvel Knights regular series I've read, but those stories were more about how many ways Frank could kill mobsters. There was some emotional content there, especially when it came to his interactions with his neighbors, but I'd say it's more like an ultraviolent Road Runner/Wiley Coyote story than something like Preacher. I do have to say that Born does fit in with what you're saying about Ennis' work on the character, and I have to concede that his Punisher isn't cynical in the way that, say, Ultimates is.

2/28/2005 01:45:00 PM  
Blogger TCSmith said...

You're dead on about the whole Wiley Cyote thing on the stuff before Born, but Brad's really talking about the MAX stuff. I keep saying it, but that is my favorite book these days. Nobody knows the Punisher like Ennis. Nobody can write a psycho killer with such heart, and somehow make you understand and empathize with him. The latest storyline is the best so far, and I can't help but scream out "HOLY SHIT!" at the end of each issue.

2/28/2005 02:31:00 PM  
Blogger Joe Rice said...

What Top Cat said. The post-Born Punisher is as different an animal from the Welcome Back era as that era itself was from what came before. My God, the heart in some of the stories. Rather like Apocalypse Now: extremely dark, but with soul and lack of cynicism.

2/28/2005 02:58:00 PM  
Blogger TCSmith said...

I meant JOE is really talking about the MAX stuff, not Brad. Sorry. It's Monday.

2/28/2005 03:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Spider-Man a cynic? Radical misreading, there. Even as puny Parker he is touchingly naive, not bitter. And becoming Spider-Man permanently rescues him from any future cynical tendencies he might have had to grapple with anyway, don't you think? Although I guess you could argue that when he lets the burglar go he is acting cynically, but then look what develops from that one moment of peevishness. Cynics are people who don't truly understand consequences, so you could say Spidey is really the perfect anti-cynic, if you want to go that far.

3/01/2005 10:43:00 PM  
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Anonymous Anon said...

If you really think cynics are crybaby losers, then why don't you try tellin' that to every satirist there is? They're cynics.

6/19/2014 04:47:00 PM  

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