Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The cure for the common comic

I just re-read Batman #608-619. Why, oh why did I do this, you might ask? Wasn't once enough?

Well, I hadn't read it since it came out, and I never read the issues all at once, so I figured - what the hell? It can't be that bad, can it?

In case you're mystified by what I'm talking about, these are the famed "Hush" issues by notable hack Jeph Loeb and notable comics porn artist Jim Lee. I don't hate Loeb as much as some people, and I actually enjoy Jim Lee's art, so I scooped these up like the slobbering fanboy I am. So what's the verdict?

Well, they don't completely suck. The art is quite lovely, although I wish Lee would experiment more, because the flashback scenes are the best parts of the book (pick up Flinch #1 for more interesting J. Lee experimentation). His women are well endowed and leggy, his men have pecs o' steel, and it's pretty much what you would expect from a Jim Lee book. Loeb's story, while incomprehensible on most levels, is far too shallow to really pick on. He's there to pack as many of Batman's villains into the twelve issues so that Lee can draw them and slobbering fanboys like me can buy a second copy just to drool over after we slab the first one. I mentioned in my column about Milligan's Batman that I like his Riddler because everyone is shocked that he's acting like, well, a psychopath. In "Hush," Nigma inexplicably turns into a criminal mastermind. He's always been the smartest of Batman's foes, but this is completely out of character and completely out of the blue. It's annoying. Don't even get me started on Tommy Elliot. And don't even get me started on Catwoman. And don't ... see what I mean?

However, "Hush," at least for me, served a wonderful purpose. It began in late 2002. At the time it came out, I was still, after years of buying comics that sucked, somewhat of a completist. Not of the Batman titles - #608-619 were the first consecutive issues I bought since the end of No Man's Land - but I still was stuck in a mindset of having a total run on a title. I had begun slowly moving toward more diverse stuff, but I was still largely a DC and Marvel guy. Even though I lived in Portland, where both Dark Horse and Oni are based and bunches o' comics creators live, I was still a Big Two loyalist (for the most part, of course - I wasn't a complete tool). I was still buying Wizard and thinking I should be picking up every comic they promoted because they said they were all "cool," and I was still buying a lot of comics based on the characters, not the quality of the books. "Hush" changed all that.

Like I said, it's not that it's so awful. It's just so ... empty. A few days ago, T. (who has a nice blog going on, even though he's so very, very wrong-headed about so many, many things) had a nice post about writers coming on a book and ignoring the work of previous writers. Loeb does this as well as mines previous writers for ideas, but neither tack really works all that well. This isn't a good detective story, because we are not given clues and cannot figure it out for ourselves. When Loeb brings Harold in from out in left field, even a hardcore Batman reader like me couldn't remember the last time we saw him. I mean, I liked Harold when Alan Grant (I think) created him back in the early 1990s, but for Loeb to use him was just showing off his vast knowledge of Bat-lore - it made no sense in the context of the story. This story is, like I said, a big excuse to show off Jim Lee's art. I spent 27 dollars (minus my subscriber discount) for it, and that helped lead me to my epiphany:

I didn't need to buy these kinds of comics. They didn't offer me anything. Sure, I had a brief "kewl" moment when Batman kicked the shit out of Superman, but it was a fleeting moment, not one that lasted. Even now, when I read it, the scene doesn't resonate in the same way that Miller's version of the fight in Dark Knight Returns. There's just nothing in these twelve issues that shouts "These are great comics!" And that's fine. After my year of slogging through Loeb's labyrinthine plot and finding out the villains were a guy who didn't exist the previous year and Edward Nigma, I was cured. I saw Azzarello/Lee on Superman and said, "I don't need that." I saw Bendis destroy the Avengers and said, "I don't need that." I honestly don't care if all these Infinite Crisis tie-ins are good. I have no idea if they're good or not. They could be, couldn't they? I hear Villains United is not bad. But you know what? I DON'T NEED THEM. Why should I buy them? DC and Marvel promise changes to the status quo. Does anyone really believe that? Why on Earth would they change the status quo? Everyone is abuzz about Bruce Wayne ending up in Arkham and Dick Grayson becoming Batman. In two years if that's still the status quo, maybe then I'll be interested. Heck, in one year if that's the status quo I'll be astonished. What happened when Wolverine lost his adamantium? I thought that was brilliant, by the way. So it turns out (shocking!) he had claws all the time! So they can rip all the metal out of his body but he's the same guy! Sigh.

I'm not saying I'm not still a big comics geek who sometimes buys things just because of the characters. I'm not perfect. I still suck at the corporate teat and feed into the idea that Marvel can publish anything with Wolverine on the cover and we'll lap it up like kittens drinking warm milk. However, I'm a lot less forgiving than I used to be. Before "Hush," I was willing to wait years for something to turn around. Now, look out if you suck for a few months. I'm more willing to give an indie book some time, but even with them, it's a short leash. There's just too much good stuff out there to waste on propping up the superheroes.

Take a good look at Infinite Crisis, those who bought it. Is it really worth your money? Will it really change anything? If it's good, fine. But don't just buy it because "they brought back Superman from Earth-2 (or wherever the hell he's from)! Kewwwwwlllll!" No, it's not cool just for that fact. Bringing him back is the move of a fanboy who cried over the first Crisis. That's no reason to buy a comic book. Look at it closely and judge it on its merits as a written and drawn piece of work, not because it stars characters you miss. Just a suggestion.

See? "Hush" did some good!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

There was a little while, starting with when I first got into comics, that I was in a very similar boat as you once were. I only read Marvel books (because that's all I knew), and I was the worst kind of X-fan. But after a combination of things, including reading Maus, Grant Morrison's X-men run, Milligan's X-Force, and David Boring, I had the revelation.

I don't need any of this. So, I should only read what I like. What I really like.

And when I say it like that, I realize how ridiculous it is that the majority of the fanbase behaves in the opposite way.

11/02/2005 05:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reading Loebs catwoman in Hush was like reading about Jeph Loeb surgically removing Ed Brubakers balls taking out the best writers and stepping on them...like a doctor or whatever... twice!

I was waiting for the Riddler to be fucking cool...just not in Hush, at least there was Justice.

When Superheroes get boring i turn to indie, and vice versa.

11/02/2005 06:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are SO right about this book. Hush was mildly entertaining for about half of its run (before it got completely ridiculous and Leob bottled out on the resurrection of Jason Todd), and always had great art from Jim Lee, but was in the end utterly pointless. It does reinforce the lesson that a lot of subsequent "events" - Infinite Crisis, House Of M, The Other, etc - are proving again now; most such things are sub-par and we can live without them.

11/02/2005 07:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know it was an art-driven book, but Loeb made Hush into a virtual wax museum of Bat-villains, rotating in and out, only to show how cool Jim Lee draws them.
But expecting something like this to really change the Bat-books is delusionary.
I have gone through the seven stages of fandom too, and even thought I have long runs of books like Avengers or JLA, DC and Marvel have made me ruthless about dropping titles once they head south. It has forced me to consider what makes books worth buying with every change of artist and writer. I can't just coast on and expect a decent JLA or Avengers comic every month.

11/02/2005 09:48:00 AM  
Blogger Harvey Jerkwater said...

For fun, compare "Hush" to "The Long Halloween," another Loeb-Batman "masterpiece."

--A guided tour of Batman's main villains, one issue each.

--Lots of playing with the Batman/Catwoman tension, badly. In both stories, this element felt particularly incoherent and shoehorned in.

--The shocking! revelation that the prime villain is actually the last person you'd ever suspect!

--The even! more! shocking! revelation that the true prime villain is a totally normal person who we'd never, ever suspect! Well, sorta.

"The Long Halloween" was okay. "Hush" was a retread of the same goddamn story, minus the good parts.

Still and all, the Jim Lee art was snazzy.

11/02/2005 10:13:00 AM  
Blogger Hate Filled Poster said...

Well, technically you don't "Need" any comic, but I think I get the gist.

11/02/2005 12:47:00 PM  
Blogger Spencer Carnage said...

Hush was good because it was what you wanted: Jim Lee drawing the Bat-universe end of the DCU. And the story, well....it worked enough for me to want to finish it. But this is coming someone who doesn't really care too much about how in character everyone is, because I don't find myself particularly concerned with the Bat books. Definitely not Watchmen material, but I don't think this is a book that is to be looked at as such. Its a decent story with good art, which is all it'll ever be. My non-comic book reading friends loved it.

11/02/2005 12:56:00 PM  
Blogger JG said...

I've been coming to this blog for about 2 months now and I'm liking it quite a bit. Your account of your comic book collecting past sounds very similar to my own. I'm 23 now and have been buying comics for over 10 years. I started like any kid would with the likes of Spider-man and Batman because obviously they were really cool. As the years went on, I'd like to think my tastes matured a bit to look for quality stories rather than "cool" characters. However I had the same approach to finding things that you did. Wizard was my haven and in issue #60 (I have a collection of Wizards from issue #9 and up if anyone wants them :D ) they ahd an article called "The 100 Comics That Every Modern Day Collector Should Own." I spent over two years trying to track down them all and I'm still missing a few, but to my surprise they were actually good stories so props to Wizard for that.

Anyways, I've been in limbo a little bit since reverting back to my old ways (I didn't get Hush as it first came out, but scored the full set on EBAY for cheap) but there's some good stuff (I think) in what I've been regularly getting:

Y:The Last Man
Ultimate Spider-man
Ultimate X-men
The Ultimates 2
Teen Titans (stopped now though)
New Avengers (only issues 1-13)
Ex Machina (dropped after issue 15)
Infinite Crisis (falling into the trap of buying so I'm not "out of the loop" once it's over)
Walking Dead Trades
Girls (bought because Ultra was so good)

I'm also thinking of getting Noble Causes based on the recommendation on this blog. I picked up the current issue and I liked it even though I didn't know completely what was going on, but has interested me enough to get the trades.

Well thats my spiel even though it doesn't have much to do with the post. Any comments on my titles or something else I'm not getting that I should?

11/02/2005 01:11:00 PM  
Blogger T. said...

You know, I don't really care too much about books changing the status quo. I used to, but now I'm more concerned with a book being good. I mean, I've read plenty of books that changed the status quo and sucked butt. I've read plenty of books that changed nothing about the status quo but were wonderful. I recently read a "Legends of the Dark Knight" trade that changed nothing about the status quo but were some of the best underrated Batman stories I read in almost a decade.

Changing the status quo doesn't work anyway because the very next person to write the book will do a 180 and you'll end up back where you started regardless.

11/02/2005 01:35:00 PM  
Blogger Markus said...

As for your epiphany, yes had that one as well.
Also, Hush is pretty weak and it's pretty much the Long Halloween all over again.

Look at it closely and judge it on its merits as a written and drawn piece of work, not because it stars characters you miss. Just a suggestion.
Well, IMHO it carries a value judgement and I'm not sure one can reasonably make it. (Not that I'm not guilty as hell of having made it in the past or as a shorthand, I'm a shameless hypocrite in that respect). For, if the point of a particular book for a particular reader is a certain character, to whom s/he relates on an emotional level (be that identification, role model or otherwise) the writing and art doesn't really matter that much.
I'd vehemently disagree if someone were to say that their connection to a character somehow makes the art and the writing (and hence the quality in a technical sense) less bad. In terms of reasons for buying/not buying a book however, quality is IMHO not inherently superior to character love.

11/02/2005 05:29:00 PM  
Blogger thekelvingreen said...

This isn't a good detective story, because we are not given clues and cannot figure it out for ourselves.
Oh god, thankyou. This is my problem with Loeb's other "mysteries" too. You should be able to work out a mystery from the clues presented, and if not, at least be able to see how it all worked on the second time around. But not with Loeb's entries in the genre. His method is to make the thing impenetrable at the end before revealing a nonsensical solution. Guh.

And my gosh, don't get me started on the "resolution" of Hush. How gratuitously inept.

11/07/2005 03:26:00 PM  
Blogger thekelvingreen said...

And I'm just in for the good comics now. The only book I'm still getting out of residual affection for the characters is Not Avengers, and Bendis is trying my patience even with that.
Everything else is subject to ruthless scrutiny, and will be dropped at the first sign of shittiness.

11/07/2005 03:28:00 PM  
Blogger Devon said...

I've had similar feelings. Not so much the "I don't need this", but I look at things like Infinite Crisis and the idea of something that big seems cool. But, whew, it's like skateboarding or something. I'm getting too old for it. I was reading that site about the Clone Saga, Life of Reilly, recently.

What struck me, more than anything, is that I actually READ all of that. I was fifteen then and I remember enjoying it. But, man, now...I got tired just reading ABOUT the Clone Saga...

Hush didn't do much for me, but some one pointed out that their non-comic reading friends liked it. And I think that's a good point. Hush is good sort of popcorn fare. Not to seem condescending toward people who don't read comics or anything, but it's the kind of story you can read without needing to know anything but who the characters are.

11/11/2005 12:48:00 PM  

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