Thursday, September 15, 2005

Where's the joy and majesty?

Something the always-provocative GreyGlobe said in the comments yesterday got me thinking. He said, if I may quote, "Buy JLA this week, folks. Sure, sure...JLA-how low-brow. Guess what? It's EXCELLENT. However, no one here will get off their holier-than-thou attitude to enjoy a good old-fashioned action and great characterization romp. There is something to be said for a comic that entertains from start to finish. This blog is called,"Comics should be good", but everyone acts as if it should be titled "Comics need to enlighten our very way of thinking and acting". Guess what, folks? Comics are just another form of entertainment. They don't have to be earth-shattering to be good. Comics ARE good in many, many ways. I just picture everyone on this board in berets at the local cafe bemoaning the fact that nothing is original or meaningful anymore. Get over yourselves and remember what made you enjoy reading these pieces of pulp in the first place."

Quite the indictment, I'd say. I did respond to him, so I'm not going to do it here, but it got me thinking about other stuff. Namely, we readers may be snotty and poo-poo the low-brow-ness of straight-forward superhero action, but why do the writers do it? Why do writers of superheroes hate them so much?

I love superheroes. There, I've said it. I love the whole concept of superheroes. From my weekly reading, you might get the idea that I'm too stuck-up for superheroes, but that ain't so. What bothers me is the seeming contempt that the writers have for them. I know it's trendy to deride superheroes as anachronistic and therefore it's fine for them to be morally relativistic, but if a writer feels that way about superheroes, why write them?

Let's look at some people who hate superheroes. Alan Moore hates superheroes. Guess what? Alan Moore doesn't write superheroes. I think it's pretty clear from his work on Miracleman and Watchmen what he thinks of superheroes, and after that, he left them behind and never looked back. Since those halcyon days of destroying everything we knew and loved about our heroes, he has done only a few superhero books: WildC.A.T.s and Supreme. I haven't read Supreme, but in WildC.A.T.s, it's pretty clear he still hates them. His ABC stuff isn't about superheroes. Sure, he uses superheroes, especially in Top Ten, but it's not about superheroes. How can it be, when everyone is a superhero? Let's all paraphrase Dash: "If everyone is special, then no one is." But Moore is an exceptional writer, so we still read his anti-superhero stuff, because he makes it work.

I would argue the current crop of writers ripping their way through the DC Universe hate superheroes too. Why? Because they think that being a superhero means being nasty and stupid and petty and small-minded and, well, like normal people. Listen up, Johns and Rucka and Winnick and your ilk: we don't want to read superhero comics where the hero is just like us! What about the 1960s Marvel characters, you say? Well, sure, Peter Parker had his problems, but Spider-Man still went out and fought heroically, and when he didn't act heroically, his conscience bothered him until he made it right. And Peter Parker was a person. Superman, no matter how much writers focus on Clark Kent, is Superman. Same for Batman. Wonder Woman doesn't even have a "secret identity." These characters are icons, and the writers just don't get it.

That's why I was disappointed by Miller and Lee's rendition of Batman. I flipped through issue #2, which was even more bizarre. Call it satire if you want, but I don't, because it has been obvious even back in his Daredevil days: Frank Miller hates superheroes. His various versions of Batman show nothing but hatred for the character. That's fine, but why he wants to write the character is beyond me. That's why I was disappointed in the latest issue of JLA, which I looked through because GreyGlobe mentioned it. The fight with Despero - fine. Aquaman and J'onn are acting heroically. But the rest - blech. We don't need whining in a JLA book. Even the humorous JLA didn't have whiners.

Do these people even recognize their contempt, that's what I want to know. Does Brad Meltzer even understand that he hates superheroes? Don't tell me he likes them, not after Identity Crisis. Even if you enjoyed it (which I didn't), you can't deny the utter rejection of anything resembling a heroic ideal. It was the most depressing book to come out in a long time, not because someone died (who cares, really) but because of the lack of respect. That's why it angered me so much.

I'm not calling for all superhero stories to be sunshine and light. I like depressing books as much as the next guy. That's not the point. The point is, DC and Marvel have constructed a superhero world. These characters have built up personalities through accretion, and although I'm not the biggest fan of continuity, there is something to be said for it. What is happening in some superhero comic books these days is the attempt to shock the reader without worrying about the reaction, as Bill Willingham pointed out so stupidly when it was revealed that Leslie Tompkins was a murderer. I love Fables, but Willingham is an idiot. He shows his contempt for superheroes by not having Batman cart her away. There is no way a hero like Batman (and despite everything, he's still a hero) would allow Leslie to go free. It makes him less of a hero. I don't want that from my superheroes. They should be heroes, after all. One reason why "Ten Nights of the Beast" was such a shocking story was that Batman left the Beast to die, and we as fans reacted against it. But Denny O'Neil, who wrote it, wasn't doing it to make Batman less heroic. Batman's decision in the story flows from the story itself, and although we think Batman was wrong (and it turns out later that DC couldn't allow him to kill and had the Beast escape), we understand why he arrived at the decision. With Batman's decision about Leslie, it's meant simply to shock us, and we do not comprehend it.

So who does love superheroes? Do any writers? Well, sure. I would argue that the two writers working today who love superheroes more than any other writers are Morrison and Ellis. It's ironic, since they often don't work in superhero fiction. This isn't just a typical Morrison-Ellis love-fest, though. The reason I think this is because they get it. They get what makes superheroes fun - the majesty of it all. That's why people are pumped to see Morrison's Superman. These two guys understand that we read superhero stuff for the iconic goodness of it all - great threats to the cosmic order that can only be solved by people with wonderful powers doing things no one else can. Yes, they can write mean and nasty stuff. But the respect for the ideal is there, and that's what I'm talking about.

Byrne, interestingly enough, is someone else who loves superheroes. Whedon appears to love them. Millar, maybe. Joe Casey digs them. That guy writing Young Avengers appears to enjoy them. You know that Robert Kirkman and Jay Faerber love them. I know there are others, but I can't think of them right now. It's frustrating, because there are people out there who could do great things with superheroes. If you ask Rucka and Johns and Winnick if they like superheroes, I'm sure they would say "yes." The proof is in the pudding, though, and I think it's obvious they have a different idea of what "like" means. If by "like" they mean turning these heroes into regular folk who can be jerks and act nastily toward each other, then I suppose that's true. I don't read superhero comics for that, however. I read a lot of other comics in which the characters act that way, but that's not what I want from superheroes. I want dizzying excitement. I want joy. I want majesty. They're heroes. They should act like it.

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Blogger Bill Reed said...

You've gone completely bonkers, haven't you?

Ellis *hates* superheroes. He's told us this. He *gets* them yes, but he writes them for the paycheck, and screws around with him the way he thinks they should be screwed around.

Alan Moore *loves* superheroes. Reading Watchmen should tell you that. And, if not, Supreme apparently is a huge love letter. I mean, Alan Moore is the guy that threatened Julie Schwartz's life till he let him write The Last Superman Story.

And Frank Miller likes 'em too, but he likes the down-to-earth guys the best.

Did I not note the sarcasm? 'Cause some of that was true. Morrison clearly loves superheroes more than anyone, and the current DC guys are dragging the whole boat down with them... like they're steering toward the icebergs.

9/15/2005 08:35:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

I think you're giving GreyGlobe's ill-informed tirade far too much thought.

Like 95% of the reviews on this blog are of superhero or adventure comics.

I just had a big "Roger Stern is great" thread.

So I don't know what blog he is reading, but it sure as hell ain't this one.

9/15/2005 08:56:00 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

I'm going completely by their writing, not by what they say, Bill. Ellis may hate them, and he may write them only for a paycheck, but guess what - that last issue of JLA: Classified was better superhero stuff than almost everything out there.

As for Moore - well, I don't know about Watchmen - it seems like that is not favorable toward superheroes at all. Again, I haven't read Supreme, but I've heard enough about it to admit you have a point.

Yeah, I know, Brian, but his comment got me thinking, that's all. I'm not trying to defend the blog, because we don't need it, but if his comments got me thinking about this, then more power to him.

9/15/2005 09:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Iron Lungfish said...

Bill, you've got it backwards with Ellis. Ellis wants us to think he hates superheroes because it's part and parcel of his Spider Jerusalem image. He wants us to think he hates superheroes as much as he wants us to think he kicks puppies every morning and eats babies for breakfast. He probably thinks he hates superheroes. But he writes them too well,and he gets them too well, and given the fact that his superhero work presently outshines his non-superhero work by quite a bit, I'd say all this demonstrates a genuine, if reluctant, love of superheroes.

Alan Moore doesn't love superheroes. I don't know if he hates them per se. But he isn't interested in superhero stories, and he's only written a couple in his career - good ones, sure (Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow, For the Man Who Has Everything), but Moore wants to write other stories, and does. Top Ten was a cop dramadey that happened to have superheroes in it; Promethea was a prolonged illustrated lecture on the importance of his tarot deck. Read his proposal for Twilight and tell me that doesn't come from a deep contempt for superheroes.

I've yet to hear a good explanation of what the hell's wrong with Frank Miller; I suspect he's been writing more or less the same story for the last decade or so, since he wrote his first Sin City story. There's no affection there for any of his characters, capes or not.

9/15/2005 09:28:00 PM  
Anonymous RAB said...

Everything bill reed said, seconded.

Warren Ellis banned any mention of superhero comics from his new online forum, The Engine. Nothing wrong with that; he's quite right in saying there are plenty of other places where superhero fans can go to gripe about Hawkeye or Jean Loring, and he wants a place where discussions of other kinds of comics won't get drowned out. But also, superhero comics really aren't of any interest whatsoever to him.

By contrast, not only has Moore paid overt homage to the history of the superhero in titles like 1963 and Supreme...not only has he said that superhero comics were the basis of his moral outlook...but, perhaps most tellingly, he went out of his way to include several superheroes and a crossover with Tom Strong in Promethea.

One of the things Miller most enjoyed in Dark Knight was the role he gave Green Arrow; this has a lot to do with him later deciding to include the Flash, the Atom, Wonder Woman, and Captain Marvel in the sequel. No one put a gun to his head and forced him; he wanted to pay tribute to the Silver Age.

Neil Gaiman loves this stuff too, BTW. 1602 is the best Marvel title I've read in decades, partly because he understands the essential primal core of all those characters. Even stripped of their continuity and setting and any familiar trappings, all those characters work because the writer knows them so well.

9/15/2005 09:28:00 PM  
Blogger kelvingreen said...

Bravo. These plebs seem to have forgotten the "hero" part of "superhero".

9/15/2005 09:37:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

"Yeah, I know, Brian, but his comment got me thinking, that's all. I'm not trying to defend the blog, because we don't need it, but if his comments got me thinking about this, then more power to him"

Fair enough.

9/15/2005 09:41:00 PM  
Blogger T. said...

You do realize how dangerously close your rant about the moral and cultural relativism permeating superhero comics is my rant of how the cynicism of modern liberalism dominates the genre too much these days, right?

I'm getting worried about you! ;)

Anyhoo, good stuff!

9/15/2005 10:28:00 PM  
Blogger T. said...

Oh, and read my blog and leave your comments on All Star Batman: brilliant parody or unintentional comedy or neither?

9/15/2005 10:30:00 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

Oh, I thought of you, T., don't fret. I was going to mention something about it, too, but decided against it. Despite your raving conservatism, I do think you're onto something with the lack of heroic ideal. I just think we approach it from different directions.

9/15/2005 10:30:00 PM  
Blogger T. said...

"Raving conservatism?" You make me sound like the Question! lol

Trust me, I hate knee-jerk conservatism in my comics too. The pre-Marvel Silver Age stories are so wonderbread and have such moral absolutes that they bore me to tears. My problem with the knee-jerk simplistic liberalism that permeates today's books isn't the "liberalism" part of it, it's the "knee-jerk simplistic" part. But the whole "adults, policemen and the government are always right" bores me just as much as "the government is always run by a secret cabal of evil right-wingers that manipulate everyone." Nothing but black and white morality bores me just as much as seeing the world in nothing but moral ambiguities. Everyone being high and mighty and unrelatable is as dull as everyone being hopelessly flawed to the point where you can't tell villains from heroes.

I just want BALANCE. That's why I love early 60s Marvel, it's perfectly balanced. It has cynicism and relatability, but at the end of the day you sense these people are good, optimistic and better than you are. Fantastic Four bicker but come together at the end. Having a moral compass is seen as a strength rather than a naive weakness. Early Marvel is great, I'd say it's like classical liberalism or compassionate conservatism. You had Ditko, the most conservative, and Kirby, the most liberal (but nowhere near the Winick level) and Lee, who was moderate or apolitical, as the bridge that set the tone and gave the whole line it's balance.

I wonder if we can ever get superhero comics that great again.

9/15/2005 10:46:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Hensel said...

"Does Brad Metzler even understands that he hates superheroes?"

I don't think Brad Metzler hates superheroes at all. He's just a mediocre writer who took something he loved, superheroes and made them a part of his living, writing cheap mystery novels. He just used them as standins for his cahracters instead of them being their actual characters. It's just lazy writing to write such out of character stuff, and since it was so popular, now it's dominating modern DC Comics.

Geoff Johns does not hate superheroes. Green Lantern has nothing incredibly bad happen to them. JSA doesn't either. It's just in Countdown that tries to emulate the Identity Crisis' mood, the editorially mandated DC stuff (that Johns no doubt had a hand in. But Metzler started that trend). It seems to me you're not ranting about comics deconstructing supheroes so much as DC's current mood, which is capable writers aping a bad writer, which never results in good literature.

9/15/2005 11:05:00 PM  
Blogger T. said...

If you ostensibly love something yet are ashamed of it, do you truly love it? That's the question to ask when considering if Meltzer loves comics. I think he has a "guilty" love of comics, where he needs to justify his love (no Madonna jokes please) by taking these kid-friendly concepts and making them into a spec script for CSI or an episode of Law & Order:SVU. He feels like it'll give them some mainstream validation and approval and he won't have to feel ashamed anymore.

It;s like being in love with a broad you feel is homely and dumpy, so you pay for her to get a whole bunch of plastic surgery done so that you can show her off and not be embarassed. The only problem is that any guy who's impressed by such a superficial, insecure move is likely not to be anyone worth impressing, and anyone worth impressing will just see it as transparent, lose respect for you and think your new Barbie doll just looks hideous and pathetic.

Okay, I'm getting confused by my own metaphors. Did that make any sense?

9/15/2005 11:23:00 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

I think the Johnuckanick (do I owe Cronin a royalty for using that word?) crew doesn't hate superheroes, they're just still stuck in the early post-adolescent stage of being ashamed of what they loved as kids. What was that quote Meltzer had going around about Identity Crisis? Something about taking all those old stories that everyone thought were silly and dumb and showing everyone that they were actually about something worthwhile. As if they have to justify the Satellite Era somehow. Overcompensation brought on from buying into some very ridiculous and mean-spirited hype (I point the finger of blame mostly at Wizard, who have taken great pains to show their love for all things Marvel and disdain for all things Pre-Crisis DC. To hear it from them, DC didn't publish anything worth reading before 1986).

The truth is, those old stories were fine the way they were. And superheroes are fine as they are at their core: examples to hold ourselves up to, and feel inspired by, as we go about our daily lives. We don't fight mad scientists with Kryptonite battle suits, but we do face choices about right and wrong, easy and hard, and having the example of Superman or Batman or Wonder Woman to measure ourselves against can make a difference in that manner. But not when they're too busy bickering with one another to actually be heroic.

9/16/2005 12:09:00 AM  
Anonymous RAB said...

T., speaking as a fanatical left-winger...I like the way you think!

9/16/2005 12:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Murrkon said...

I won't attempt to sort out writers/artists into "love" and "hate" camps, but other than that, your comments are an arrow-splitting bullseye.

I have heard from a rather good source that a lot of this problem stems from a lack of experimentation on the part of DC and Marvel. In these days of lean sales, it seems only the established characters succeed. So, you have a mess of writers pitching oddball, whacky and grotesque ideas and being told "no". Frustrated, with the rent due, they go home and fiddle with their oddball idea so it stars Batman or Hulk or somebody. And thus, we get freakish stories that do not suit the beloved character at all.

Whatever the reason, superheroes get no respect.

(Okay, I have to name one name that I believe loves the superhero concept: Alan Davis)

9/16/2005 12:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Iron Lungfish said...

So, speaking of Geoff Johns and his love for superheroes, who wants to start up the official Martian Manhunter deathwatch?

9/16/2005 12:18:00 AM  
Blogger Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

Let's all paraphrase Dash: "If everyone is special, then no one is."

Actually, that was Syndrome, the bad guy, monologuing the key to his master plan.

As to the rest of the post, I don't think the problem is that a lot of these guys hate superheroes, as much as it is they've simply lost touch with what makes them interesting. As someone else pointed out w/r/t Identity Crisis - which, for the record, I mostly enjoyed, except for the ending that required more knowledge of DC continuity than should have been reasonably expected - they're more interested in telling their own stories instead of the characters' stories. ie: I haven't recognized Batman since I returned to comics back in 2003.

Also, I think most of them hate comic book fans. It's like some form of projected self-loathing.

9/16/2005 12:20:00 AM  
Anonymous David Looney said...

It is Dash that says it. the mother goes "You're special, like everone else." And he goes "that's the same as saying no one is." or somesuch. It is right after he gets in trouble for harrasing the teacher.

Anyway, I agree in part. Moore loves superheroes. And you are just silly to suggest otherwise.

And Ellis says he hates superheroes, but he still gets the idea of superheroes better than most other writers.

And I agree with what you say about the current crop of DC writers. I read superhero comics to see them act like real people. I read superhero comics to see people with strange powers have fantastic earth shattering adventures. But to each their own.

9/16/2005 01:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So basically your saying that superheroes must be pure and heroic? Any depth to the characters, any flaws, any "shades of grey" or realism in their personalities is not what "we" want? You know, I don't have a problem with that sort of character. You see it in Saturday morning cartoons and 90% of Hollywoods output, but I prefer realism.

You seem to think that any writer who portrays superheroes in simplistic "pure" terms love them, and any writer who lends them realism hates them. I can't see the logic in that thought process. And to say that Moore hates superheroes? Thats borderline insanity. As others have said, Supreme is the biggest display of love for pre-crisis Superman on record!

At the end of the day, there are people who like stories with their heroes wearing white hats and villains in black, and people who prefer stories with more realistic characters. Neither preference is right or wrong, its just taste. The DCU seems to have swung pretty heavily to the later, which understandably is upsetting fans of the former. I, on the other hand, am quite content with it. At the end of the day, its all about personal taste.


9/16/2005 05:31:00 AM  
Blogger Pól Rua said...

I got no problem with superheroes doing the whole shades of grey thing, Sleeper for example is a gas gas gas... but seriously, why do I HAVE to flip though an issue of Superman, JLA, or Amazing Spider-Man before I sell it to a kid to make sure his parents aren't going to be in my store the next day screaming about Doctor Light raping Sue Dibny?

9/16/2005 06:09:00 AM  
Blogger Pól Rua said...

As for the 'you're so elite, why don't you review JLA' stuff, I don't usually review JLA because people don't need to be told to read JLA.
It'd be like me begging people to read Wolverine. It's already happening. I LOVELOVELOVE Superheroes, but I've been reading superhero comics for 30 years plus.
These days, it takes more than just the same ol' same ol' to entertain me. In many cases, I've seen it before.
However, when a Superhero comic reminds me of just why I love Superheroes (Tom Strong, DC: The New Frontier, Manhattan Guardian, Brubaker's Captain America, Dan Slott's She Hulk, Runaways, Adam Strange, Invincible...), you can bet your sweet bippy I'll be jumping up and down and screaming from the rooftops that it's the bee's knees!

The reason I for instance don't usually recommend mainstream superhero comics isn't because I'm a latte-sipping elitist, it's because most superhero stuff isn't that great. It may not be actively BAD, but it's nothing to scream about, and besides, the average comics reader doesn't NEED to be told to read X-Men, or JLA... if that's the sort of thing they like, they already are.
However, it's not always easy ponying up that cash for an unknown quanity like The Goon, or Scott Pilgrim, or Walking Dead, or Cromartie High School, or Blacksad, or whatever...

9/16/2005 06:16:00 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

I have no problem with realism in superhero comics.

As soon as there is some, please let me know.

9/16/2005 09:29:00 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

There's absolutely nothing wrong with realism in superhero comics (I like Michael's comment - when there is some, let me know). As I pointed out, Spider-Man is an example of realism in superheroes done right. What I don't like is nastiness for its own sake, and heroes not acting heroically for the sake of "realism." At the end of the day, they're superheroes - act like it.

And it's interesting that people have been bringing up about doing this to characters we have seen for years. I was going to say something about that, but couldn't figure out a way to fit it in. I don't have a problem with creators doing things to their own creations, as long as they're telling a good story. It does seem as if the latest crop of bad superhero writers want to tell a story and who cares what characters they use. That's why I think Ellis likes superheroes, despite his public pronouncements. He can write evil, nasty stuff, but he understands that superheroes require a different kind of storytelling. His "realism" in JLA: Classified is to explain more about the Flash's speed force, which is fascinating to me, and not that Wally's wife should get raped on page 1.

9/16/2005 09:46:00 AM  
Blogger mapletree7 said...

I couldn't disagree more.

You don't go to such trouble to deconstruct something you despise. Only those things that you love.

9/16/2005 10:51:00 AM  
Blogger Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

It is Dash that says it.

Your quote is correct, but the way Greg phrased it, it seemed more like he was paraphrasing Syndrome:

"I'll give them the most spectacular heroics anyone's ever seen! And when I'm old and I've had my fun, I'll sell my inventions so that everyone can be
superheroes. Everyone can be super. And when everyone's one will be."

Full script here for anyone interested.

9/16/2005 11:10:00 AM  
Blogger kelvingreen said...

It's not about shades of grey. Shades of grey are good. Professor Xavier is interesting because he's a liberal humanitarian but he's also mean-spirited, arrogant and overbearing.

Complex, interesting superheroes are great, but they should still be heroes, and that's what's being forgotten nowadays.

Didio gave an interview as all this Countdown stuff was starting up saying (and I paraphrase, but not much) that he wanted the DC heroes to be dangerous, that he wanted civilians to actually be scared when Superman walks into a room, because if he's there, then someone's in trouble. Superman. Not Batman, but the uplifitng hero of DC's America. To get Superman from hero to someone people should be afraid of doesn't require "shades of grey", it takes a lack of understanding of the concept of the hero.

9/16/2005 12:12:00 PM  
Blogger Chad said...

Both Dash and Syndrome said it. That was the point- disillusioned kids become evil super villains.

As for the topic- meh. There is grandeur in comics. There is shit in comics. There always has been. The trick is to find the grandeur througvh the shit.

Now if you'll excuse me I must be off for a beret fitting.

9/16/2005 12:40:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Reed said...

Maybe it's me, but the themes of The Incredibles completely bewildered me. I'm not a fan of that movie.

And we shop at the same haberdashery, don't we, Chad?

9/16/2005 01:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Tenzil said...

This is a really interesting discussion.

If I may throw gasoline on the fire:

1. Why is is that when villians commit crimes such as genocide (Dark Phoenix), mass murder (Joker), mind control of entire planets (Darkseid), forcible genetic engineering/amputation (Dr. Doom), outright war (Dr. Doom), and attempt to start race wars (Magneto) these are considered crimes suitable for children's entertainment, but crimes such as rape (Dr. Light) are completely unsuitable for the medium, unless Alan Moore writes it (Comedian)? Discuss.

2. Didn't Grant Morrison open his X-Men run with the murder of millions of mutants, and end it with Wolverine decapitating Magneto? Didn't he murder Animal Man's family and have several attepted rapes of Animal Man's wife just to show how nasty comic creators are- in 1989? His X-Men was nihilistic and nasty, but Sebastian O, which was supposed to be sexual and offensive, could have been published in 1966 (with careful editing). Discuss.

3. Who was the last brand-new superhero created at Marvel or DC that has become a major character or true fan favorite? Not a revamp, rename, or variant on a character they already had. I mean BRAND NEW from scratch, mainline, non-Ultimate/Elseworlds. Figure this out, and you have cracked the code on where the majesty went.

9/16/2005 01:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Alan Moore likes SUPERMAN. I'm not too sure what he makes of any other superheroes, and I think even his enjoyment of Superman is more from nostalgia than real love or respect. Some of Moore's superheroes actually remind me of HP Lovecraft protagonists, so mentally fragile and having nervous breakdowns whenever they meet something bigger than they are...

Kurt Busiek is a guy who likes superheroes.

9/16/2005 02:08:00 PM  
Blogger Shaenon said...

Comic-book nerds are constantly complaining that such-and-such a writer "hates superheroes." 99% of the time, "___ hates superheroes" is code for "___ isn't writing my favorite superheroes the way I think they ought to be written." On the John Byrne forum, for example, people are always claiming that Grant Morrison hates superheroes, apparently just because he handles them differently than John Byrne does. Out of all the writers who get accused of being spandex haters, I think Warren Ellis is the only one who ever actually claims to dislike superheroes, and I think his only complaint is that they shouldn't dominate the industry.

This stuff always gets on my nerves because it sets up a false "us vs. them" dichotomy. Either you love superhero comics with a burning passion that supercedes all else, or you hate them and want each and every one of our four-color childhood icons dead. It's like the political argument that anyone who criticizes the President is in league with terrorists, and it's equally dumb and misleading. Can't a writer just think superheroes are kind of okay? Frequently, those writers do a better job on superhero comics than the writers who adore them. Alan Moore, for example, doesn't seem to have any special attachment to the superhero genre, but he's written some of the best superhero comics of all time. Conversely, there are plenty of Marvel and DC workhorses who have never wanted to do anything with their lives but write superhero comics, and the stuff they put out is boring as hell.

And no one ever stops to ask if superheroes are really deserving of all this unconditional love. Sure, we love superheroes. But do superheroes love *us*?

9/16/2005 02:31:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Reed said...

Of course they love us. Read Flex Mentallo. :)

As to the argument above about the apparent nihilism of Grant Morrison, well, yes, on the surface his work looks cynical, but Grant writes the most optimistic comic books in the world, man.

9/16/2005 03:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Mike Loughlin said...

"Sure, we love superheroes. But do superheroes love *us*?"

She-Hulk does. YOU CAN"T HAVE HER SHE'S MINE SHE LOVES ME ME ME! (oh if only you were real my chartreuse cherie *sob*)

(is chartreuse even green?)


The "loves vs. hates superheroes" dichotomy sounds more like "gets vs. doesn't get superheroes." Ellis, Morrison, Moore, Busiek, Waid, Peyer, and others understand why and how super-heroes work. They know how to bring out the fun aspects behind the concepts, and riff on them. While none of the above writers bat 1000, their superhero stories are written with a respect for the genre (even deconstructionist stories, and including genre limitations).

Johns can write by-the-numbers superhero books, and Winick & Rucka have written a few super-hero stories I enjoy. What these writers don't understand (and some of this may be due to editorial mandates):

1. Violence, even ultraviolence, does not equal "mature," and never has.
2. Neither Change not Stock Characterization equal real character development.
3. Worshiping the heroes while you write them (and having characters in the stories constantly compliment them) does not equal awe or admiration in the reader.
4. Superheroes can not always be grafted onto other types of stories. See: "Identity Crisis."
5. Continuity dredging AND continuity ignoring for the sake of a stock plot are no substitutes for real stories.

Have I lost my point? Probably. At least She Hulk understands me.

9/16/2005 03:47:00 PM  
Blogger Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

Personally, I think The Incredibles nailed the superhero genre even better than Watchmen did. It dealt with the "human" aspect of superhumans in a way few comics writers get these days.

9/16/2005 04:43:00 PM  
Blogger chasdom said...

"mapletree7 said... I couldn't disagree more. You don't go to such trouble to deconstruct something you despise. Only those things that you love."

I agree with this in sense. But I don't think it's a good idea for DC to publish such stories, regardless of love or quality.

Deconstructive super-hero tales such as "Watchmen" and "Dark Knight Returns" are endings to a theme. Once the character has been taken down the deconstruction route, it's very hard to bring the character back without just ignoring the deconstruction altogether.

I don't know whether Meltzer and the rest "hate" super-heroes. But I do think it's a bad idea to turn them into murderers and passive participants instead of do-gooders. Feet of clay is one thing, hearts of coal is another.

I think this sort of approach works a lot better if you create your own characters ("Grimjack", "Grendel") or perhaps even minor unused DC characters. But to take on the big icons of the DCU is to really damage those characters so that they are no longer heroes.

Is it more realistic? Sure, in the sense that we all have decisions in our past that were morally suspect. But in a dramatic storytelling sense, you've come to the end of a theme, and you can no longer promote your characters as "heroes" anymore. DC is going to be publishing a very different kind of book from now on, one that can no longer be defined as "super-hero".

And some will find that to be fine. Certainly someone like myself, who hasn't read Superman or Batman in years, isn't directly affected. But it seems to me that DC's powers-that-be are creating a very short-sighted ploy that, if taken to its logical continuity extension, will deny future readers the opportunity to real super-heroes. Instead, they get to read about more realistic human failings.

There's plenty of venues for that. What's so wrong about letting super-heroes live in heroic fantasy worlds?

9/16/2005 04:47:00 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

"1. Why is is that when villians commit crimes such as genocide (Dark Phoenix), mass murder (Joker), mind control of entire planets (Darkseid), forcible genetic engineering/amputation (Dr. Doom), outright war (Dr. Doom), and attempt to start race wars (Magneto) these are considered crimes suitable for children's entertainment, but crimes such as rape (Dr. Light) are completely unsuitable for the medium, unless Alan Moore writes it (Comedian)? Discuss."

I reject this question on the premises. The Dark Phoenix/Doom/Darkseid examples generally take place on an outlandish pulp-fiction level of reality. They may plot to take over the world or exterminate all the humans or even destroy a planet, but we rarely see a story about the logistical planning for the death-camp phase of their plan (the fact that we did see this in Busiek's Kang War story in Avengers is one of the many, many reasons I dropped the title).

On the topic of rape's suitability as a topic in superhero books, I don't think it necessarily needs to be taboo; I imagine it would be possible to tell powerful, worthwhile stories that could be told in most of DC's big three heroes' comics, for instance. But I also can't imagine that such stories would treat a rape as the McGuffin to kick-start an utterly unrelated plot, or that the authors of such stories would never once use the word "rape" in the actual stories themselves and then run around talking about how mature their comic was for dealing with the issue. For me, it's not that the subject can never, ever be broached, just that it should be treated with appropriate seriousness and thought by those who do, not used as a cheap gimmick.

9/16/2005 06:19:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

"On the topic of rape's suitability as a topic in superhero books, I don't think it necessarily needs to be taboo; I imagine it would be possible to tell powerful, worthwhile stories that could be told in most of DC's big three heroes' comics, for instance. But I also can't imagine that such stories would treat a rape as the McGuffin to kick-start an utterly unrelated plot, or that the authors of such stories would never once use the word "rape" in the actual stories themselves and then run around talking about how mature their comic was for dealing with the issue. For me, it's not that the subject can never, ever be broached, just that it should be treated with appropriate seriousness and thought by those who do, not used as a cheap gimmick."


9/16/2005 06:29:00 PM  
Blogger T. said...

"Maybe it's me, but the themes of The Incredibles completely bewildered me. I'm not a fan of that movie."

The Incredibles is a conservative libertarian movie, it's basically Atlas Shrugged meets Fantastic Four. You know how most comics today have the government or some other right-wing cabal or shadow agency conspiring to hold down the little guy and take over the world? Or portray corporations and businessmen evil masterminds? Incredibles is one of the few modern works that takes the opposite view and casts the liberals fighting for the little guy as the shadow agencies that conspire to destroy the world.

Class-action and personal injury lawyers, the greedy little guy, touchy-feely teachers preaching self-esteem and big government legislators trying to overregulate the powerful are all brought to task. Syndrome's plan basically translates into progressive taxation or redistribution of wealth. He wants everyone to be equal so that no one can be powerful anymore. Of course, like the pigs in Animal Farm, he wants to be more equal than the rest at the end of the day. It's an ode to laissez-faire capitalism and individuality.

9/16/2005 07:04:00 PM  
Anonymous red_ricky said...

"So basically your saying that superheroes must be pure and heroic? Any depth to the characters, any flaws, any "shades of grey" or realism in their personalities is not what "we" want?"

I think there's a difference between depth and flaws, and the sheer implausability (or Bull-Shitty Way) in which these characters are being written in the name of "Realism."

I- I mean, what was so realistic about Identity Crisis?

That if YOUR wife dumps you, she is more likely to kill your best friend's wife in orther to get you back?

Isn't that the most ABSURD thing you ever heard?

Wouldn't it be easier to just offer some free nookie?

Isn't that what most ex-girlfriends do?

I mean, is it just me, or was that killing spree kind of forced?

II- And what did we learn from Countdown?

1- That Blue Beetle can dodge semi-automatic cross-fire, but can't handle a single bullet after all these years.
2- That Wonder Woman is a Bitch
3- That J'onn is a Prick
4- That Superman is a Dick

In the end all I have to say is that if you are a SuperHero, and you can read minds, and you can't help a fellow human being; well, then that's a BIG FUCKING FLAW to have!!! Wouldn't you say?

III-The OMAC/Batman Protocols...

You gotta love this.

Batman has this codeword, you know, in case somebody steals the Batmobile; he goes "Fuck You", and the damn car shuts down or explodes, whatever.

He also has all these hidden safeties so that whenever he gets kicked out of the JLA, he can still hack and re-hack the JLA Transporter and Computers. And yet for some reason he forgets to install a shutdown mechanism when designing the Omacs?

Oh, wow!

Better yet!

He designs this Ubber-Techno Suit that lets you fly, and gives you super strength, and overall puts all the technology from Batman Beyond to shame... and what does he do? Well, nothing. He puts it away and continues wearing his silly tights and his silly cape and spending all his money gussing up all the gotham gas his batmobile and batplane can handle.

I wonder, if being stupid a flaw?

Shit, the whole OMAC premise is flawed.

For starters, Batman doesn't kill; right? But yet, OMAC is based on the premise that Batman designed a way to kill every other Superhero in the planet.

Riiiiiiiiight. Cause that's what he would do. Cause that's what everybody does whenever they think a Friend, a co-worker, a roommate or a teammate is about to betray them! They create Protocols!

Too bad Batman's JLA Protocols never got mixed up with Bruce Wayne's Playboy Protocols! That would that have been cool! Call it Girls Gone Wild' JLA edition!

Wonder Woman

Come on. That whole issue was retarded! Are people even defending this?

Cause cold blooded murder isn't a shade of gray. It's black. Pure and simple.

Only a retarded writer would think death is the ONLY way out.

THE WHOLE POINT of being a superhero is to find alternatives where non-appear to exist.

Hell, I bet Max would've stopped controlling Superman if Wonder Woman had offered to sleep with him!

I'm sorry, was that too raunchy?

Okay then, how about knocking him unconcious?

Or having J'onn block his power?

Or having Aquaman block his power?

How about grabbing Batman's sleeping spray from his utility belt? That would've worked too, right?

Whatever. That whole issue didn't make sense. Wonder Woman can whithstand a point blank precision laser shot of Heat Vision in the face but she still needs to bounce bullets off her wrists?

Are writers even living in this Century?

Can you say contrived?

Whatever. I'm done.

I was going to point out the absurdity of a villain "passing" on the opportunity to be part of a Society that involves an Ex-President, a current world Leader and is soooooo big that you might never get called into action.

Did I mentioned the free "get out of jail" card?

Whatever. I hope I'm not spoiling it, but the guy decides to go hang out with a group of freaks!!!

Under the treat of getting killed at any time, no less!!!

Wow. That's like a spy being told he can work for Cuba or the USA; and he goes with CUBA!

Like I said, I'm going to stop now. Cause, you know, every "realistic teen movie" ever made revolves around the cool kid dissing the incrowd in order to join the loser table;

...and I don't want that type of character depth thrown back in my face.

9/16/2005 07:38:00 PM  
Blogger Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

Damn that was funny! red_ricky wins.

9/16/2005 09:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I totally agree that most writers hate superheroes. It used to be that say, Peter Parker had a shit life. He went about his day and everything went wrong from the moment he woke up. He is responsible for his Uncle's death and lives with his widow, sponging off her. He works a low level job where he is despised. He is constantly insulted by his peers. His sex life is a misery when he has one.

But as he's Spider-Man he is awesome. Funny, popular, confident; there is no situation he can't handle, easily. It might require a bit of effort, but Spider-Man's problems are easy compared to Peter Parker's.

What made Spider-Man, any hero really, heroic was that he could rise above.

As the comic went on Spider-Man became not Peter's way escape from problems, but the reason for Peter's problems.

This has happened with almost every single hero. There is no reason for them to be heroic anymore. When was the last time you saw Superman or Batman or Wonder Woman or Spider-Man or Captain America solve a problem easily and cleanly?

When was the last time you read a comic where there was any reason why the hero shouldn't take off his mask and walk away? Where he was a hero? Where he could be confident that he had done absolutely the right thing? When was the last time you read a story where the hero was a hero?

It's been a long fuckin' time for me.

My favourite comic book story is a Green Arrow story called "What Can One Man Do?". It's Elliot S. Maggin's first published story. I wasn't even born when it appeared. It's not a sense of nostalgia that makes me like it, it's craft. The story is short, ten pages. Oliver Queen is heroic. There is a moral. It instructs. It is powerful and affecting. No one who reads it will walk away confused about its value or purpose. I can't say that about any issue I see on the stands nowadays.

I love superheroes. I love the idea of them. There is something optimistic and beautiful about a medium that asserts that there are such things as heroes, that it is possible to act honourably even when confronted by evil and that problems can be solved.

Comics have lost this. There is not a single title out there that asserts this simple optimism. I've read 'em. I don't give a flying fuck for Jack Staff. Or Street Angel. Or hipster manga fighter Scott Pilgrim.

If comics don't have room for heroes then they don't have room for me as a reader either.

9/16/2005 10:22:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Reed said...

See, I was with you until you said Street Angel was no good, because you're clearly insane and blind to the loveliness of it.

As for Ricky: I'm pretty sure Batman just built the Giant Spy Satellite and not the OMACs.

9/16/2005 10:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I never said Street Angel was no good. I said I couldn't give a flying fuck for it. It's not what I read comics for and it's nothing I couldn't get better from somewhere else, like say, shooting the shit and skateboarding with my friends.

9/16/2005 10:56:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Reed said...

You're dead to me, can opener.

9/16/2005 11:53:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Reed said...

Oh, and I would love to meet your skateboarding ninja friends, or the Irish-Australian astronaut you pal around with. Or Jesus.

9/16/2005 11:54:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Yeah, or how many times did you team up with a former 70s blaxploitation superhero?

Or fight a demon with help from Jesus?

Street Angel rules!

9/17/2005 02:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Right, like you've never run into anyone at a bar who's made the "Afrodisiac" joke before.

I'm not saying Street Angel isn't clever and funny in it's own way, just that most of the jokes and cross matching genre weirdness are things almost any nineteen or twenty year old comes up with.

If you like it, fine. But it isn't anything out of the ordinary.

It's a little better than DC and Marvel and a lot of other comics, sure. But it's nothing great and unforeseen either.

9/17/2005 10:03:00 AM  
Blogger Bill Reed said...

I'd say Street Angel is easily one of the greatest comics of the 21st century. There's a lot you've seemed to have missed, which includes the lovely experiment with art and form, which not many comics from the Big Two bother with (except We3, and maybe Desolation Jones, but we all know Quitely and Williams are exceptions to the norm).

Plus, y'know, it's rollickin' awesome pop comics.

9/17/2005 04:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think I've missed anything, it's just that I don't hold Quitely and Williams as "exceptions to the norm", but as the "minimum acceptable standard".

9/17/2005 05:01:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Reed said...

Wow, then you have extremely high standards. Higher than my own. And (bringing this all around) I am a beret-wearing elitist bastard, remember.

9/17/2005 11:24:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

So your beret finally arrived in the mail, Bill?


9/18/2005 02:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wear the beret if you want. I just work for a living and hate wasting money.

9/18/2005 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

It is true.

Bill Reed is the Paris Hilton of the internet blogger set.

He is a total fop.

9/18/2005 11:43:00 AM  
Blogger Bill Reed said...

Yes, I am extremely cheap, too. This adds to my high elitist standards. Street Angel was totally worth the ten bucks I spent on Amazon. So was Scurvy Dogs, which isn't high literature, but which is still "awesome."

Also, this is probably our longest reply thread ever and I am just shamelessly lengthening it. Hahahah.

(And the beret makes me look like a hairless, anorexic Monsieur Mallah.)

9/18/2005 12:34:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Don't lie, Bill, we all know you use dollar bills to light your cigars that you share with your bourgeois brethren while you sit around and laugh and laugh at the proletariat.

9/18/2005 12:44:00 PM  

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