Saturday, April 02, 2005

Nostalgia and inertia; or, how DC and Marvel keep you hooked on the sweet, sweet stuff

The good thing about Countdown to Infinite Crisis, I suppose, is that people are talking about comics and trying to figure out what makes comics good. The owner of my local comic shoppe and one of his employees actually like both Identity Crisis and CtIC, for what reasons I choose not to discuss, because it's beside the point. So people do like them, and the rest of us are talking about them. So it's not the worst thing in the world.

The problem with both of these books are that DC and Marvel (yes, Marvel didn't publish either of them, but they did bring us Avengers: Disassembled) don't care about their fans. They are in the position of drug dealer, and we are in the position of junkie. Anything to keep us on the product! Our drugs: nostalgia and inertia. Bear with me here.

We want comics to be like they were when we first started buying them. That's fine, except it's impossible. So what we do is complain about the current comics, whether they are "like" the comics we used to read or not. If they are similar to the comics we used to read, we complain that the Big Two are wallowing in nostalgia. If they are unlike the comics we used to read, the Big Two are not respecting the characters. Either way, we're hooked. We either buy comics in the hope that they will remind of a more innocent time, or we buy them because we always have. DC and Marvel are counting on our memories, and therefore they don't care about always putting out the best product.

I'm not immune to this. However, I've been buying comics for 17 years and think I have a more discerning eye than I used to. Maybe I don't. Also, since I started buying comics when I was 17, I didn't have the rose-colored view of characters that I would have had if I had bought them when I was 10. If Amazing Spider-Man sucks, I don't buy it. If DC wants to turn Hal Jordan into a mass murderer, go ahead. If DC wants to rape Sue Dibny and kill Blue Beetle, philosophically I have no problem with it. It just seems that they did these things simply to engender a reaction from the fan base and stir the waters. Is that any way to tell a story? Maybe it is, but it's not a very good way.

Let's face it: nostalgia is a stupid reason to buy a certain comic. Batman isn't even the same character today! Judd Winnick's Batman is very different from David Lapham's Batman, who is very different from Grant Morrison's Batman. Just because he's wearing the same costume and people are calling him the same thing doesn't make him the same. So there's no way he's going to be the same character that he was 10, 20, or 30 years ago (whenever you liked him). But we are such Marvel and DC zombies that we slavishly pick up anything with our "favorite character" in it - whether or not the story is any good. Brad pointed this out a few days ago, but it does bear repeating. We are perpetuating this kind of thing with our money. The Big Two count on us buying anything they can slap Wolverine or Batman onto without critical judgment. They think: "People want comics that are grim, so we'll destroy one of the few comic-book marriages that work," or, "Comics in the 1950s and 1960s sure were stupid - let's explain why they were." WE DON'T CARE WHY THEY WERE STUPID!!! It was part of the zeitgeist, and we can read them today with a twinge of nostalgia and condescending paternalism, and move on. If you liked the Giffen/DeMatteis JLI, you don't care that they were ineffectual; they were fun, and that was that. DC and Marvel are counting on the decades-old devotion that they have built up, and we keep re-affirming their faith.

This blog is called Comics Should Be Good for a reason. It is our hope that a growing number of comic-book readers are discerning enough to say, "You know what? I love the character of Batman, but all the comics with him suck." (I'm just using him as an example, since I like Detective.) You may like straight superhero action - that's fine. But for those who want something different, it takes a little work. We need to look through Previews a little more closely. We need to check out the Internet for things. Good ol' Saul Colt from SSS Comics comes to this site to plug his stuff! Steven Grant is always reviewing stuff and providing links to them (this week's column also has an excellent look at rape in comics - check it out!). It's not like you can't find comics that aren't nostalgic wank-fests. I buy a lot of monthly pamphlets - over 100 in the first three months of the year, in fact. If you're tired of DC and Marvel shitting all over you to make a buck, here are some interesting titles:

Do you like westerns with an eerie, fairy-tale spin on it? Check out The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty by Beckett Comics, solicited as a trade paperback in this month's Previews.

Is pulp action in the Indiana Jones tradition for you? Pick up Captain Gravity and the Power of the Vril from Penny-Farthing Press. Gorgeous art by Sal Velluto, fun story by Joshua Dysart.

Want JLA-type hijinks without feeling creepy that two of the characters are dead? Giffen and DeMatteis bring you Hero Squared (which has jumped around to different publishers, but should be out soon).

Miss the sprawling, soap-opera aspects of old-school Uncanny X-Men, Amazing Spider-Man, and Fantastic Four? Noble Causes throws personal conflicts and action at you faster than you can handle it!

Loved The Last Samurai and Shogun? Hell, do you think the only cool Wolverine is a samurai Wolverine? Samurai: Heaven and Earth by Dark Horse is beautiful to look at (Luke Ross is awesome in the title) and tells an intriguing story.

Dig police procedurals? Why not read Small Gods? Wonderful art, interesting stories, and the added twist of telepaths existing in the real world.

Are war comics your deal? Garth Ennis does 'em better than anyone, and he's in the middle of a soon-to-be classic with 303.

John Ostrander is one of the best writers in comics, and he's working with his old partner Timothy Truman on GrimJack from IDW. Gritty science fiction, hard-boiled police action, sex - it's got it all!

Did you enjoy Mark Millar's Red Son? Do you dig Elseworlds and What If? Atomika is about the Russians creating their own superhero in the 1920s. Weird, wild stuff!

Rex Mundi remains my favorite book. Murder, alternate history, religious persecution, political intrigue - it's all there!

Spooky, creepy, slightly-Satanic mysteries with some real-life drama thrown in your cup of tea? Perhaps Shiver in the Dark is a nice-looking book.

Guy at Comic Book Commentary is giving away Elk's Run #1. It's free, people! Well, it's a contest, but still - it's free if you win!

These don't even take into consideration the boutique lines of DC and Marvel, where you can find Vinamarama, Ex Machina, Ocean, Supreme Power, The Twilight Experiment, Otherworld, The Intimates, Powers, Fables - and many others! In the coming months, we have Desolation Jones, The Matador, Mnemovore, Girls (by the Luna brothers of Ultra fame), Beowulf, Scarlet Traces: The Great Game (a sequel to Scarlet Traces - Edginton and D'Israali have also brought us Kingdom of the Wicked, which is excellent), Godland (by crazy Joe Casey), Sea of Red (to fill your pirate comic jones left gaping by the death of El Cazador), Black Diamond On Ramp (by the always interesting - and sometimes really good - Larry Young), Action Philosophers: All-Sex Special (for all ages!), and Heartbreakers Meet Boilerplate. Holy crap!

These suggestions barely make a dent in what is out there, and they're just what I think is good - you might have totally different opinions. If you are angry about how you've been treated by the Big Two (or even just their mainstream superhero divisions), you need to do the work to find stuff you like. Bitching about Maxwell Lord blowing Ted Kord's brains out is fun, but ultimately fruitless. You are the consumer. Hold these publishers to a higher standard. Why should we stand for crap when we're really in a Golden Age of comics goodness?

17 Comments:

Anonymous Brad Curran said...

Great post. Even if it implied that Dark Horse and Image were Marvel and DC's boutique publishers, the actual message? Spot on, and something I wish I'd covered more in my "completists suck" manifesto.

4/02/2005 05:11:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Good idea for a post, Greg.

4/02/2005 07:10:00 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

I too have noticed that most of the books I pick up are for nostalgia ... but there are excellent titles out there. We just need to stop buying the crappy ones. So after the end of this ridiculous Uncanny X-Men "Saurion" arc, no more Uncanny for me.

I will continue to pick up titles such as Ex Machina and The Goon because that's quality material.

(P.S. after constantly complaining about Ultimate Nightmare to the owner of my local shop, I picked up Ultimate Secret on a whim ... wow! There is potential for coolness.)

4/03/2005 12:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Talk more about comics you like.

4/03/2005 01:17:00 AM  
Blogger Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

I agree with Anonymous. This blog is infinitely more interesting when it's focused on the positive, especially w/r/t to low-profile indies. Greg, in particular, put me on to a few comics on his old blog that I hadn't heard of and have since come to enjoy, including Captain Gravity, and his rundown here has convinced to me try a couple of others I've been passing up. Small Gods is one I'm now going to check out next week. Thanks!

4/03/2005 10:13:00 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

Matt: It's like pulling off a band-aid - it hurts briefly, but soon, you won't even notice it. That's the point about nostalgia - it's comfortable, and you can't imagine living without something. Then, you do live without it, and everything is better!

I will try to do more about comics that are good, simply because I try not to buy comics I don't like, or I quickly drop them.

4/03/2005 11:38:00 AM  
Blogger C.Brown said...

Bless you, sir.

That's exactly how I've felt for a while now.

and another good suggestion for aiding these weary times is Eric Powell's THE GOON (DH)
It's fast, funny, and good.

4/03/2005 05:52:00 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

I don't read The Goon (gasp!), but I'll probably have to start (the latest cover made me chuckle). That's my point - there's more good titles out there than I could ever point out.

4/03/2005 06:04:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Drat.

I put up my "Three Comics I Read" before I saw you guys mention the Goon.

Otherwise, I would have picked a comic that no one was talking about.

I only choose three books, so I don't want to repeat anything...hehe.

4/03/2005 10:33:00 PM  
Blogger saulcolt said...

Great Post guys.

I am going to pick up a few of these on your say so!

saul
www.ssscomics.com

4/04/2005 09:00:00 AM  
Anonymous GreyGlobe said...

I agree that there are many, many books out there to choose from in today's market. Comics ARE good, they've been good and they will continue to be good in the future. However, as has been stated, not ALL comics are good. Nostalgia can motivate you to buy some comics and it can even warp your opinion on how good an actual title is. To me, purchasing lower quality books only decreases my enjoyment of the better books because it's just another storyline that I have to remember from month to month. A monthly recall of titles has actually been a good indicator of whether or not I keep a title. If I can remember vividly what happened in last month's issue, then the storyline obviously made an impact with me on some level and I continue to purchase it. If I have trouble recalling anything but the smallest details, then I know that the book is not living up to the quality that I would expect from it. Not every book is excellent from month to month, but there should be enough of an impact to make it stand out from other titles on the rack.

That being said, I will put in my vote for a few things I've read in the last few months that I enjoyed.

Owly: Just a Little Blue-
This is simple storytelling that is simply amazing. Even without the aid of dialogue, the art and emotions of this book really make an impact on the reader.

Project:Superior
A great book from adhouse books. It is a collection of various superhero stories told by an amazing variety of artists and writers. Some stories are funny, some are serious, and some are grim. A quality paperback with quality talent.

Fragile from DC/Humanoids
Anyone that currently digs The Walking Dead should check this books out and anyone that isn't reading The Walking Dead should have their head examined. This is a FIRST RATE horror/zombie book told from a great new angle. You like zombie romance? It's in here! You want gore? This book has it! Not content to just be a standard zombie book, Fraglie manages to mix humor, horror, and romance into a well-told tale.

That's all for now....

4/05/2005 12:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Paradox said...

The overwhelming presumptive tone of your first few paragraphs almost made me miss the second half. Please don't preach about "what the fans want" because there is no such thing. Everyone likes something different and "we", as comic readers, haven't got anything resembling a consensus of tastes.

It also irritates me immensely when people talk about "not respecting" or "shitting on" characters merely because they're doing something with them that doesn't line up with the speakers' view of "how things should be".

Too bad you thought you had to take that tack to make your point, because in the second half you give a bunch of good recommendations. The bile was far from necessary to do that.

4/08/2005 06:28:00 AM  
Anonymous gestalt said...

I'm afraid I have to take issue with that, Paradox. After all, sales figures themselves do a pretty good job of telling us "what the fans want" en masse, and to the degree that having Wolverine on a cover sells comics, or having Batman be a hard motherfucker sells comics, then yeah. So there is something at least resembling a consensus there, undeniably, and I think Greg characterizes the basis of it pretty well. God,if only comics fans DID all like different things! That would make things so much better! If only people would stop typing themselves as being part of some sort of consensus...

Ah, well, but that's the whole post right there, don't you see? To say, as Greg does, that "WE DON'T CARE WHY THEY WERE STUPID!" (highly defensible point of view, IMHO: are there really people out there who can't get to sleep at night because they're obsessing over how some old Superman comic depicts a more innocent time?) means that we as a readership can free ourselves to move on to what it is we really do like, rather than forcing ourselves to pick up every retconned Bat-Wolverine that comes our way, only to end up hating it.

And as far as shitting on characters goes, you kind of get a bit personal there, don't you? Like I shouldn't complain about how my crazy ideas about "how things should be" are being screwed with, because you find it tiresome. Gee, sorry, guess I'll just go fuck off now, huh? Shame on me.

Good post, Greg!

4/08/2005 08:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Paradox said...

"I'm afraid I have to take issue with that, Paradox."

'Sokay with me.

"After all, sales figures themselves do a pretty good job of telling us "what the fans want" en masse, and to the degree that having Wolverine on a cover sells comics, or having Batman be a hard motherfucker sells comics, then yeah. So there is something at least resembling a consensus there, undeniably,"

I don't know that it's "undeniably". Frankly, the distribution system is such that it only vaguely resembles actual sales. It represents what the retailer THINKS will sell. Sometimes they're right, and sometimes they're not. And it certainly, to my eyes, doesn't note a concurrence of the things Greg mentions.

"and I think Greg characterizes the basis of it pretty well. God,if only comics fans DID all like different things! That would make things so much better! If only people would stop typing themselves as being part of some sort of consensus..."

While I agree with Greg that there are fans like that, they're a sub-set. There's lots of people who don't care if comics are like when they were kids at all. There's lots of people who don't care if changes are made, and even others who actually...**gasp**...enjoy the fact that comics aren't like when they were kids. Stereotyping "us" in such a vein does us no more service than the "fat, smelly and living in the parent's basement" cliché does. I post at several message boards where this issue has come up before, and the variety of responses are wide. Granted, I won't claim message board posters as "representitive", but it's certain we're not one big "lump".

"Ah, well, but that's the whole post right there, don't you see? To say, as Greg does, that "WE DON'T CARE WHY THEY WERE STUPID!" (highly defensible point of view, IMHO: are there really people out there who can't get to sleep at night because they're obsessing over how some old Superman comic depicts a more innocent time?)"

Heh, maybe not exactly, but I know of a couple who come pretty close. :)

"means that we as a readership can free ourselves to move on to what it is we really do like, rather than forcing ourselves to pick up every retconned Bat-Wolverine that comes our way, only to end up hating it."

We always could, and many, many do. While it's not as big a market, certainly there's a bunch of people exploring indy books, or they wouldn't survive at all.

"And as far as shitting on characters goes, you kind of get a bit personal there, don't you?"

Only if one takes it so. It was directed at many people who use such phrases.

"Like I shouldn't complain about how my crazy ideas about "how things should be" are being screwed with, because you find it tiresome. Gee, sorry, guess I'll just go fuck off now, huh? Shame on me."

No, it's not the complaint, it's the degree and hyperbole that always bugs me. Throw in "betraying the fans" and "slap in the face" along with those phrases. It's the phrasing that bothers me, not Greg himself or his dislike. It doesn't matter to me who's using them, it has a tendency to "sound" (in text) like the spittle-flying ravings of obsessed fanboys. Clearly, Greg is not, as the second half of his post shows, but I was rolling my eyes through the first half in an assumptive "not another one of THESE posts" because of it. Exersizing such bile can hurt the message, IMHO.

"Good post, Greg!"

I'll agree, once I got past the "pet peeves" triggers.

4/10/2005 06:37:00 AM  
Anonymous gestalt said...

Oh, well okay then. Forgive me, I thought I was dealing with a crazy person.

4/10/2005 08:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Paradox said...

Heh, well, you are dealing with a crazy person, but that's beside the point. ;)

4/10/2005 11:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Paul Guinan said...

Woo Hoo! "Heartbreakers Meet Boilerplate" made the reccomendation list.
THANKS! My wife will be thrilled!

4/15/2005 09:18:00 PM  

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