Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Three Comics Notes


In a great post on dogs in comics, Jim Henley characterizes the original Crisis as DC's first "laborious attempts to 'clean up' and modernize their continuity, which they believe should always be done in full view of readers, over months (lately, years) of time, across all their books at once, which may seem like it offers all the excitement of watching stage hands set up props between acts but which goes on for a lot longer."

I think what he's saying is partially true, but I'm coming around to the belief that it's actually a good thing. Or at least a good/bad thing. To get the bad out of the way: it is nakedly consumerist. There's something a little bit off-putting about DC's huge, Mythos-spanning stories costing more per month than a high-end Netflix membership - especially when the quality of the books is uneven at best.

And I think that a lot of smart people who grew up with and out of DC's super hero comics tend to look at things Jim's way: that it is perverse and even fetishistic to expend so much time and energy on stage-managing "continuity".

But for me, the perversity of the endeavor - its uniqueness - is what makes it so interesting. There is simply nothing else like it.

Uniqueness doesn't necessarily equal aesthetic value, but, in this case, I think uniqueness does give the auteurs of these comics something they couldn't get anywhere else.

The exact nature of that something is still a subject for further research here.


Tom Spurgeon's post on the Siegel case is a necessary reminder that there are real world consequences and implications to all of this:

Comics is an industry built on exploitation. No amount of giving each other awards, or doing work of a noble sort off the books and behind the scenes, or reforming a system so that it becomes in some cases slightly less horrible -- none of it changes that basic fact. The level of discourse between DC Comics and Jerry Siegel should surprise only in that nearly every single creative professional sees in its talk of necessary abortions and unfit artists an exchange they've endured, a relationship they've suffered, a dismissal of idea or an ambition they've experienced. We are the only industry that so loves its Colonel Parkers and so distrusts its Elvis Presleys. That managers and makers have spent equal time this summer preening in the spotlight of appreciation brought by a world starved for idiosyncratic creation shows just how damaged we've become.

As an aside: I started thinking about the comparison between the way DC and the comics industry in general treated Siegel and the way RKO and Hollywood in general treated Orson Welles. In both cases, the treatment was despicable. But, building on one of Tom's points, Siegel was exploited by the comics industry, but (following the argument put forth in Jonathan Rosenbaum's Discovering Orson Welles) it was Welles who "exploited" Hollywood in order to get Kane made.

The cases become a little more comparable when we look at how Kane is held up today as an example of "Hollywood" at its best, even though, at the time, Hollywood did it's best to make sure no one saw the movie and would go on to ensure that Welles never worked with that kind of freedom in Hollywood again.

But, still, Kane didn't create Hollywood in the way that Siegel (and Shuster) created super-hero comics.

So, almost any way you look at it, the comics industry ends up coming out behind Hollywood when it comes to how it treated its artists.

How the exploitation of Siegel effects the way we respond to something like Morrison's All-Star Superman is also a subject of further research. (But for a start: (1) give Siegel the prasie he deserves, (2) avoid "blaming the victim", (3) remember that DC's concern for the bottom line has laways trumped their any corncern they had for ethical and aesthetic values).


Finally, in his review of Watchmen Sean writes:

Instead, what strikes me hardest here, what I don't think I ever thought about all that much before, is how much power the story draws from its uniformly engaging sad-sack main characters. I think it's here that Dave Gibbons's contribution is at its most valuable, with his all but countless shots of heroes and do-gooders worrying, frowning, furrowing their brows, being uncertain. It must be noted that this is worlds away from the Identity Crisis-style vogue for angst and selfish over-emoting. All the characters in those "you'll believe a man can cry"-type supercomics are just as 100% sure of their emotional experience as their relentlessly upbeat Silver Age counterparts used to be. Not so in Watchmen, where the primary mode of emotional interaction with the world is confused dismay. The mileage Moore can get out of this is almost inexhaustible. These aren't emo Batmen, they're Tony Sopranos and Seth Bullocks, idiosyncratic and troubling portraits of great physical strength and moral violence juxtaposed against tremendous emotional and psychological weakness. Their failures--and they spend pretty much the whole book failing--are hard to stomach, especially giving the truly impressive air of impending doom Moore creates out of snippets of current-events and vox-pop cutaways; we hope for their success even though the art and the script both do everything they can to show us without coming out and saying it that their failure is inevitable. I'll tell you, reading the book this time around, when Rorschach takes off his mask at the end and yells "Do it!" at Dr. Manhattan, tears streaming down his face, I nearly started to cry. To me now, it's almost as devastating as that line "I did it thirty-five minutes ago" and the subsequent reaction shot were 11 years ago.

This gives me yet another opportunity to get on my particular Dave Gibbons/Watchmen hobby horse. The failure, IMO, as represented through the figure drawing, is primarily a failure to defy gravity.

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