Monday, March 21, 2005

Most Pretentious Comic Book Moment


  1. Claiming or demanding a position of distinction or merit, especially when unjustified.
  2. Making or marked by an extravagant outward show; ostentatious.

So I was going through my old issues of Batman, looking for Chase's first appearance, when I came across some issues in the early #500s, and my memory was instantly jogged back to what I think was the most pretentious thing I have ever seen in a comic book...

Doug Moench and Kelly Jones' run on Batman

Doug Moench and Kelly Jones had worked together on some well-received Elseworlds graphic novels when Jones signed on to be the regular artist on Batman (inked by John Beatty), written by Moench.

The moment of pretentiousness occured in their very first issue, where, on the first page, they had a little box where they signified the beginning of their run with "DM-KJ-JB 1".

For the rest of the run, they had that box, because, you know, such a historical team just HAD to be acknowledged (Even worse was later on, when Mark Buckingham became the regular penciler on Shadow of the Bat, and Alan Grant COPIED the bit!! Less pretentious, of course, than being the first one to think of it, but still incredibly dorky)!!

I do not believe that I have ever seen anything else in a comic book that better encapsulates the word "pretentious" than that move by Moench and Jones.

Anyone beg to differ?


Anonymous said...

I don't quite follow you. Why is it pretentious for creators to sign their work?

3/21/2005 02:58:00 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

Yes, that was very pretentious, but you know, the actual run was really good. Moench used classic villains and new ones in interesting ways, introduced an eerie threat to Batman that never materialized because that stupid earthquake got in the way, and created Vesper Fairchild. He also tried to show different ways to use comics. Jones made Gotham a creepy town without narration, as he gave it European-style houses and cobblestone streets. The pretentious side of their run is overshadowed, for me, by the excellence of it. But that's just me.

I don't mean to keep harping on it, but Millar's Wanted is much more pretentious than Moench/Jones/Beatty's Batman.

I miss Alex and Joe - your triumverate was always fun to read. Are you the only one posting here these days?

3/21/2005 02:58:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

"I don't quite follow you. Why is it pretentious for creators to sign their work?"

Because, it is claiming a position of distinction or merit, without any real justification.

By labeling each issue as not part of an arc, but as part of a "Moench-Jones-Beatty" run, it was positing to the reader that their run was noteworthy, which I believe is pretentious.

YOU don't say when a run is a good one, you let OTHERS say it, like Greg just did in his reply.

3/21/2005 03:19:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

"I don't mean to keep harping on it, but Millar's Wanted is much more pretentious than Moench/Jones/Beatty's Batman."

Now, I certainly did not like Wanted, but I do not know if I buy pretentious. Please explain!

As for the blog question, this is still a group thing; we're just in a period of adjustment (or does that sound too pretentious?...hehe).

3/21/2005 03:26:00 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

I would say Wanted is pretentious in that Millar is seriously showy throughout the whole thing, as if to say, "Look at my genius at writing this." He wants us to be aware of the magnitude of his achievement by really leaving subtle in his rear-view and not allowing us to understand his point, which, in true recent Millar fashion, he beats us over the head with. I think he wants Wanted to be his magnum opus, so he spells everything out for us and yells, "Look at me!" at every turn. Maybe that's not pretension, maybe that's just crap.

(His magnum opus continues to be Swamp Thing 140-166, by the way. Total lack of pretension, just good solid horror.)

3/21/2005 05:58:00 PM  
Blogger Nik said...

Two words: Arkham Asylum. I love both Grant Morrison and Dave McKean, but find this a pretentious, artsy fartsy slog.

3/21/2005 05:59:00 PM  
Blogger Joe Rice said...

That's pretty pretentious, but I'd have to think comics have had more pretentious moments. The fact that John Byrne and Jim Starlin still live point to that fact.

3/21/2005 08:21:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Now here is why I think my example stands out.

The charge of pretentiousness is something that gets thrown at a lot of creators, but it is also something that is always rebutted, generally using the explanation, "It is not pretentious, I just needed to do it for the story" or some variation of that.

That's where Moench and Jones do not have an out.

Their move has NO defense, because it has no artistic reason behind it.

It's an expression of ego, and nothing more, which makes me view it as the most pretentious thing that I have seen in comics.

3/21/2005 08:48:00 PM  
Blogger Hisham Zubi said...

I would say that Peter David's first issue of Young Justice was fairly pretentious. He started off my making some fairly obvious references to his runs on Hulk, Aquaman, and Supergirl. Didn't have anything to do with the main story, just making a joke that he assumed everyone would get because of his fame amongst comic readers.

3/21/2005 10:42:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

"Maybe that's not pretension, maybe that's just crap."

That's my take on it...hehe.

3/21/2005 10:56:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

"Two words: Arkham Asylum. I love both Grant Morrison and Dave McKean, but find this a pretentious, artsy fartsy slog."

I take no issue with artsty fartsy, but I think the pretentious vibe is a bit more difficult when you take into account that Morrison was HIRED to do the project that way.

It sorta kills the pretentiousness buzz when it's an assigned comic (one that Jamie Delano turned down, amongst others).

3/22/2005 02:57:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

"I would say that Peter David's first issue of Young Justice was fairly pretentious. He started off my making some fairly obvious references to his runs on Hulk, Aquaman, and Supergirl. Didn't have anything to do with the main story, just making a joke that he assumed everyone would get because of his fame amongst comic readers."

Great example, Hisham.

3/22/2005 02:59:00 AM  
Anonymous plok said...

Wasn't it in Byrne's Marvel books where the writer and artist started to be labelled "co-plotters"? This always seemed a bit laboured to me, as if "writer" and "penciller" (or just plain "artist") wasn't good enough or simple enough. What's so special about "plotting" anyway, I mean what the hell is it if it isn't the actual writing and drawing of the book? It always seemed to me that it suggested that these two people were the REAL creators, not so much because they were the primary artistic engine of the thing but because they were the authors of its COOLNESS (as though "cool" ideas meant anything without the craft involved in executing them!) and that everyone else, the inkers and the colourists and the letterers and yes even the EDITORS had absolutely nothing to do with whether the book was any good. Which isn't really fair, and which I took to be signs of a growing rock-star mentality in Byrne.

Also, Claremont's lousy topicality, forever dragging in characters from popular TV shows or books or movies, or dragging in athletes or celebrities or whatever, in an effort to make it seem, don't you think, that his story is good enough to have them in it...making up characters like Lila Cheney is not far from this either, she "rocks hard" or something I guess but to me there's something unseemly about just making up a popular taste for intergalactic power ballads or whatever that probably doesn't exist in the real world.

A bit like having a filk-singer in the Marvel Universe who sells out stadiums like U2 does, or something. I mean really.

Now, I'm not totally heartless: I just think there's a line here, and that it's definitely possible to cross it. I've got no problem at all with the FF knowing who the Beatles are or Richard and Wendy Pini showing up in Ghost Rider or the Thing reading a lot of Harvey Kurtzman comics. No problem with Iceman and the Beast hanging out at the Coffee A Go Go, or Spider-Man going to CBGB's, or EVEN the original cast of Saturday Night Live showing up in Marvel Team-Up (that was Claremont, I should point out, just to show it all isn't just personal).

Because that's just Marvel being Marvel, and maybe it is technically being pretentious as defined in the original post, but I think it's more accurate to call it playfulness. Or even maybe theatricality. Oh, what the hell, let's just call it Stan's Soap. I don't mind it, myself, it's always had a certain lunatic quality I appreciate. But at a certain point this kind of thing ceases to be whimsical, and then that definition above starts to fit real real snug. Dont'cha think?

So those are my two.

3/22/2005 03:31:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

plok, giving yourself a more important sounding title certainly is something that would be pretentious.

I just do not know if it applies in the Byrne/Claremont case, as I believe that really WAS a case of Byrne coming up with ideas for stories and Claremont going with them. According to Byrne (and no one has denied it, so I guess it is true), he came up with the entire story of Days of Future Past.

So that's gotta be worth a co-plotter credit, no?

But yeah, as the second example, I concur.

3/22/2005 04:28:00 AM  
Blogger Hisham Zubi said...

It would seem that the height of pretension is when a writer inserts themself into a story. Yet, this has become such a common practice that you almost expect a writer to do it at least once in their career. So maybe this shouldn't be considered pretentious unless it's done to excess. The first time's a freebie.

3/22/2005 12:52:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Yeah, that is pretty darn pretentious, Hisham.

Like when Morrison did it in Animal Man.

But you're right, it has become such an accepted storytelling method that it is kind of hard to really knock people for it.

3/22/2005 02:40:00 PM  
Blogger Johnny B said...

Aaah, it didn't bother me all that much. I don't mind if the creators toot their own horn a bit, as long as the product is worthwhile. Maybe they only wanted to do x number of issues, and this was they only way they could keep track of it!

For my money, that run wasn't bad. Not great, but pretty good...and of course there was the introduction of Chase, a significant event as far as I'm concerned...

3/22/2005 02:55:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Oh, I agree, Johnny, it's not a big deal.

It amuses me much more than it actually irks me.

But it IS pretty darn pretentious.

As to the run...for the most part, I think it was some quality work, but Moench has always been a writer (okay, not ALWAYS, but quite often) who lets his personal interests interfere with telling the best possible story (not intentionally, of course).

I cannot even count how many Batman stories turned into pretty much lectures on something Moench was interested in at the time, usuallly something paranormal.

Combine that with Alan Grant's penchant at the time to turn any Anarky appearance into a seminar about anarchy (even going so far as to include RECOMMENDED READING!!!), the Batman books of the time were really I guess some pretentiousness should not be all that surprising.

3/22/2005 05:40:00 PM  
Anonymous plok said...

I dunno...I think of a lot of that stuff is just fine, hurts no one, after all it's just comics, right? You know Cary Bates once narrated a Flash story in his own first person, and what's wrong with that? Nothing. Stan and Jack being threatened by Doctor Doom -- Roy Thomas seemingly always running for his life while superheroes duke it out behind him in the Seventies -- Gerber talking to Howard or showing up in the Man-Thing's swamp -- even Byrne being scooped up by the Watcher so he could write about the Trial of Galactus (who by the way used to wear short-sleeved Cosmic shirts and have a big "G" on his chest, God I miss those days). All of that is not pretentious, because it's supposed to be fun. Anyway, I found it fun. But it would be easy enough to list other self-appearances that were totally and obviously ego-pinned, and those are disgustingly pretentious, and not fun at all. Because they know the words, but not the music.

Still, to my mind, the most obvious atrocities of pretension would be things like Spider-Man: Chapter One...or worse, Mark Waid's use of Jack Kirby as God in his FF run, which I think can hardly fail to strike the sensitive reader like a wet flounder across the face. Seriously, how do you top something like that as a gaucherie?

3/22/2005 08:13:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

The Kirby bit definitely was pretentious.

3/22/2005 08:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Mike Loughlin said...

I may be misremembering this, but:

When Byrne was plucked from New York to witness the Trial of Reed Richards, didn't the Watcher refer to him as "The Chronicler?" That pulled me right out of the story, and it annoyed me that Byrne would use a comic book to service his ego rather than focus on the story.

Stan & Jack put themselves in stories as a joke. Byrne was dead serious.

As far as I know, penciler as co-plotter began with Steve Ditko, around Amazing Spider-Man #25. Hell, if I came up with entire stories and some guy put words all over it and called himself the writer, I'd push for the credit too.

3/23/2005 08:27:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

I will say this, if it was Byrne's idea, then totally.

But that was Assistant Editor's Month, right?

And we all know the Assistant Editor at the time, Mike Carlin, lurved Byrne, so if it was Carlin's idea, then I think that saves Byrne.

But if not, then yes, total pretentiousness.

3/23/2005 03:25:00 PM  
Blogger Brad Curran said...

If we're going by the first definition, I'd say any story where characters were killed off to add weight to it. Which would include the last issue of Morrison's Planet X arc, along with stuff that really struck me as dumb, like the end of No Man's Land or all the damn deaths in Identity Crisis or Disassembled.

3/27/2005 08:20:00 PM  
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