Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Lazy Writer's Joke Book

Over the desk of the lazy comic book creator is a scrap of paper with the following words written on it. "If all else fails... Amazing Adult Fantasy #15".

I see it over and over again. New fresh series and what do we get?

Young hero unsure of himself and his powers.

Highlight how much he enjoys flying/leaping/blasting rats with eyebeams/lifting heavy stuff... but make sure to show that even with all his superpowers, he still can't catch a break... girl troubles, school troubles, and those durn pesky bullies... and no-one ever appreciates his super feats of derring do!

Darkhawk, Speedball, Danny Ketch, Kyle Rayner, Nova, Gravity... the list goes on.

Sometimes, it works a treat. You get a decent writer with a good execution, zang! solid gold. Case in point - Invincible. It reminds you that sometimes the old jokes are old jokes because they're funny.

Anyway, I was flipping through 'House of M' and I think I may have discovered a second note above the desk of the lazy comics writer: "Only the names remain...: The World-Wide Re-Vamp".

Not a hell of a lot happens in HoM #2... it's basically a travelogue for how different the world is. Two pages of Cap, two pages of Ms Marvel, couple pages of Luke Cage and the Falcon, page of Collossus... no real depth, just "Hey, look kids, Cap's OLD! Wanna know why? Keep Reading!"

And just like the Spider-Man ruse, it WORKS, because it IS immediately engaging. We recognise someone, but they're something different... we need to know why? how? huh?

It grabs our attention.

Hell, it did mine as a kid. My favourite comics as a young 'un were JLA stories featuring the JSA... my three favourite superheroes existed on Alternate Earths in the pre-Crisis DCU (Jay Garrick, Alan Scott and Captain Marvel).

Alternate worlds have been a stable of science fiction for ages, and have appeared in comics for a hell of a long time, but I'm not talking about your one-off "hero meets evil twin" alternate worlds, I'm talking about your long-term worlds.

Comics has on occasion, fallen back on this one when all else fails:

Crisis on Infinite Earths is the big one, but lest we forget Kingdom Come, Earth X, Age of Apocalypse, Ultimate Marvel, Marvel 2099, Heroes Reborn, Amalgam, DC One Million and the Post-Infinite Crisis 'One Year Later' thing. Not a dream, not a hoax, not an imaginary story...!

Again, this comes down to execution.

On one hand, you get the masturbatory fan fiction of the alternate universe where 'everything's it would be if *I* was in charge! So there!'

And of course, lest we forget, 'Watchmen' was originally conceived as an alternate Charlton Universe.

The strength of it is, as mentioned above, it is immediately engaging. We want to know what's different and we want to know why. Also, it's particularly effective in open-ended serial stories like superhero comics because all of a sudden, a character who's been in enforced stasis for 40, 50, or 60 years is suddenly all-new, all-different!

The weakness is that it can be an excuse for intellectual laziness. You start with what's familiar, but there's no burden of history - of 'continuity', if you will - and so there's the freedom to 'do as you please', and you run the risk of pandering.
However, the main weakness is that, like a copy of a copy of a copy... eventually, you'll end up with a munted dupe. You discard the old and dull for the new and shiny! "Not Your Father's Superheroes!" And what do you do when the new, shiny thing gets old and dull again... a NEW coat of paint?

How long 'til all you've got's a thick coat of enamel over a hollow centre?

A good example of that's the Legion of Superheroes, which I've finally stopped collecting after almost 20 years. Reboot on reboot on reboot. It's too late, kids, it's irreparably corrupted. Time to take it out to the woodshed.

How long until ULTIMATE Ultimate Spider-Man?

Read More


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This sort of argument always cracks me up. You're not SUPPOSED to be enjoying the same entertainment when you're thirty than you did when you were ten. What sort of relevance do you think THE HARDY BOYS would have for you now?

Complaining that a kid's adventure comic like LEGION OF SUPERHEROES doesn't do it for you now is like complaining that hot sauce gives you indigestion now when it didn't when you were in high school. You're just too old for it. And that's OK. Lots of other things that fit your diet out there.

Larry Young

6/23/2005 08:36:00 AM  
Blogger frantic9k said...

I disagree with what Larry said.

Really think about it, the writers know who read comics the most these days, age 18-35 will be where most readers fall in the age category.

Nice Blog!

6/23/2005 09:15:00 AM  
Blogger Julio Oliveira said...

My problem with the argument that "these aren't the comics you are looking for" is that the Big Two don't do enough to make comics fresh for the new generations, sure Ultimate Spider-man was a good attempt for a time, but know is engaged in repetitions of the status quo that are designed to either please or enrage old fans... I mean, with your intention is to write to people younger than the "comicfandom blog generation", maybe you should let go entirely of them... is sort of halfway, half-assed compromise is the thing that don't attract new fans and make old ones bitter.

You see, I think Young Avengers a excellent new title with a nice premise. Is a comic that can be read without a huge grasp on continuity, but at the same time the continuity is there. Reallly few titles can achieve this sort of balance. But at the same time what will happens ten years from now, when they decide that they want a slighty older franklin richards on FF, but at the same time with the Young Avengers get older they will lose their original appeal?

You know what you happen? Reboots. "Oh, nothing that you read in the last ten years happened! Read them together again for the first now." I will probably feel insulted, no doubt.

Well, if I had my way, we would be reading Superman III, the grandson of Superman. Runs would be self-contained and designed to appeal to a specific comics generation. I think then maybe, just maybe, they would be able to sell more comics then manga to "the kids".

I don't have a problem with "DC One Million". I just think they should stick with revamp concept and make it work, instead of rebooting every 5 to 10 years. And that is too small a interval between reboots... it means a typical comics reader will see at least too in his reading lifetime (well assuming is a casual fan). Is enough to poison any well.

I will gave my "kid's adventure comic" when people prove it that kids are actually them. Them I will know they are not meant for me.

6/23/2005 10:03:00 AM  
Blogger mapletree7 said...

Speedball - bwa ha ha. I came across the first issue of this in my husband's comic book collection and taxed him with it. SOOOOO BAAAD.

But, the Legion of Superheros? C'mon? Lighting Lass! Saturn Girl! I can't let it go.

And what's with the continuity for Young Avengers? Wasn't Ant Man's daughter, like, five?

6/23/2005 11:22:00 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

"This sort of argument always cracks me up. You're not SUPPOSED to be enjoying the same entertainment when you're thirty than you did when you were ten."

I dunno about that. When my dad was a kid, he really liked reading books about planes. Now he's sixty, and he still really likes reading books about planes. He's added more interests, but he never considered jettisoning the older ones to be a property of "growing up."

6/23/2005 11:29:00 AM  
Blogger mapletree7 said...

ps. who are you guys?

6/23/2005 11:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michael, you've extrapolated all sorts of stuff there. Your dad still read THE CHILD'S BOOK OF AIRCRAFT or HOW DO PLANES FLY, MOMMY or whatever? Of course not. I didn't say anything about jettisoning old loves as a part of growing up; I merely noted that an adult complaining that his kid's adventure comic doesn't do it for him anymore is not the fault of the kid's adventure comic and more due to the advance of the observer.

I still miss the copious amounts of hot sauce I used to put on food, though, when I was a kid.

Larry young

6/23/2005 01:19:00 PM  
Blogger Pól Rua said...

It's not really that I don't enjoy stuff now that I did when I was ten (or younger)... I still have my treasured copy of Mae Gibbs' 'Snugglepot and Cuddlepie' at home, and I still enjoy 'Bottersnikes and Gumbles' and 'The Moomins'.
Hell, I still have a couple of the old Australian B&W reprints of old JLA stories which were my comics 'bread and butter' as a kid, and I love my old Legion Best of DC Digests.
Bugs Bunny still makes me laff to beat the band, and I KNOW that my ten year old self would've lost his mind over 'Castle of Cagliostro'.

I hate to disagree with you, but I have no problem with enjoying the same stuff now that I did when I was ten.

Admittedly, I enjoy stuff now that my ten year old self would think was weird, stupid or icky. I'm sure 10 year old Pól wouldn't be that keen on William S. Burroughs, Craig Thompson or the Coen Brothers.

I don't even really have an argument, really. I'm not stating definitively that something is BAD, because the right execution can make almost any concept good.
As much as the continuous cyclical rebooting of the first ten years of Legion Appearances in 'Adventure Comics' annoys me, Alan Moore doing the same thing with Superman in 'Supreme' or Moore and Veitch doing the same thing with 'Greyshirt' is great stuff.

It just worries me that sometimes, comic creators look at their lot and decide that the only way out is to just burn it all down and start again. How often can you do that until, like a tape that's been copied over and over and over again, you lose whatever it was about the original that made it worth copying?

6/23/2005 09:38:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home