Friday, November 11, 2005

The Boiled Frog Speaks

In the most recent issue of Infinite Crisis (#2), the Original Superman has made some strong condemnations of the post-Crisis universe. His hypocrisy on this matter is something we will deal with later....

For now, I'm interested in the opinions of our regular readers. I must confess, I myself was a bit taken aback by a certain half page in the issue, in which Phil Jimenez issues a stunning indictment of the post-Crisis world with two simple, kaleidoscopic panels recapping some of the most unpleasant events of the last 20 years. I hadn't forgotten any of those events; they didn't shock me. However, the fact that I was no longer shocked by such events DID shock me. And, for a minute, I saw the "modern DCU" just as the Original Superman does ... with displeasure and disapproval.

Without realizing it over the last 20 years, have I become slowly jaded and accustomed to the "Dark Age" of comics, I, who look for joy and amusement in every panel? If you drop a frog in a pan of boiling water, it will jump out; if you put it in a pan of cool water, and slowly heat it up, the frog will boil to death. Am I a boiled frog?

I'm not ready to embrace the Original Superman's "final solution"; no way! But I applaud DC for giving this character the guts to represent the feelings of some fans; kudos to you, DC, for embracing such self-cricitism!

Let me, at least, take this stance on what's happening -- a viewpoint that DC can NOT have one of their characters take, specifically:

DC is finally rejecting the post-Crisis Marvelization of the DC Universe.
Monthly deaths.
Heroes overwhelmed by personal issues.
Moral uncertainty.
"Bad-ass" good guys.
Conflict among heroes as a main course instead of a spice.
These are the things considered "wrong" with the current DCU and they happened because DC tried to copy what made Marvel popular. Those things have their place in the Marvel Universe and can make for interesting and powerful literature. But in the DCU, it's like watching the King of England take a crap. Yes, it's a legitimate and realistic take on the character, but it's not really what people tune in for, ya know?

Fans who missed the point of "The Dark Knight Returns" and "The Watchmen", fans who'd grown up with a steady diet of Marvel melodrama, fans who wanted comics to merely reflect our world instead of illuminating it: in the post-Crisis world, DC gave them what they asked for. And, lo and behold, almost everyone, it turns out, is dissatisfied with the result.

Perhaps Captain Atom's little trip through the Wildstorm Universe is DC's way of reminding us that they are offering us a world like that if we want it, but that the DCU proper is going to be something else. Not the silliness of the Bronze and Silver Ages (which, despite what you may think, is not something I want to see return) -- but at least something that will inspire and not depress us.

What do YOU think?


Anonymous said...

As much as those unpleasant moments are upsetting to me as well, this just seemed like a dog-and-pony show. It's one thing to condemn the past twenty years as needlessly dark and unfun. But it's another thing to do the same while while continuing to publish "The Outsiders".

David C said...

Within the story itself, it's worth remembering that we have a classic "biased narrator" - not only Kal-L, but Superman himself is viewing an edited narrative compiled by Alexander Luthor. So it's not necessarily the blanket corporate self-condemnation it appears.

That said, it *is* a pretty stunning little depiction, of what might well be considered DC's "highlight reel" of recent years, at least in sales terms.

I do think DC is making a conscious decision to change its tone - each of those stories was perhaps justifiable in and of itself, but in aggregate, it's a rather ugly-looking picture.

Shon Richards said...

I found it telling that in the splash page of Earth-2's moments they left out such things like oh, Mr. Terrific getting killed by a possessed Flash or any scene that involves the Ultra-Humanite replacing brains. Crap, Vandal Savage is an Earth-2 villain as well as Psycho-Pirate. There was a reason why some of the nastier villains came from that place.

I's kill for a smiling happy Huntress though.

Madeley said...

When I was a teenager, I almost stopped reading comics because they stopped interesting me. Knightfall, Emerald Twilight, it was all just actually unpleasant to read. As it turns out, I started getting Mark Waid's Flash and realised that was exactly the kind of thing I was missing, and I've spent the past 15 years or so picking up the books that fit that kind of mold- sometimes dark, sometimes light, not too much of one or the other. Personally, I don't particularly want just ONE overall tone for anything. Surely there's room for "Outsiders" kind of titles for those that want one, and "Flash" kind of titles for those that don't? Or is the heart of the problem that some people would prefer "Green Lantern" (for example) to be about grim space police while others want superpowered Silver Age chipmunks?

joncormier said...

Man I'm terrified of superpowered chipmunks. Imagine the mess they'd make of your garbage??? oh the humanity!

I keep trying to reserve judgment on the Crisis thing until it's done but I seem to keep commenting on it. I think that while Kal-L is being set up as a righteous villian of a sort and the DCU needs to confront itself there will be a moment when Kal-L realises he's part of the cause for this whole mess he witnesses. It's not because he went away or whatnot but he did help create the world of the DCU as it now stands.

As a reader, I just want variety. Dictating tone one way or the other severly limits the stories anyone can tell (or read). I love dark stories as much as fluffy stories but there needs to be a healthy mix of the two, at least for me, and I would say most readers. Familiarity breeds contempt.

Anonymous said...

Calling it Marvel-ization isn't accurate, IMO. There's a pretty distinct difference between Marvel style as done by Kirby/Lee, Ditko/Lee, etc and the kind of garbage that infested the Marvel Universe in the nineties and infected DC then as well.

The essence of Marvel is heroes struggling with personal problems while still being heroes. This isn't necessarily dark--The 'New Teen Titans' brought Marvel style stuff into DC without plunging into darkness.

Rather, this is the fetid heritage of the Dark Knight Returns, Spawn, Watchmen, etc, in which grim and gritty-ism overruns and pollutes everything. In which darkness and gloom swallow everything with no chance for real heroism.

Anonymous said...

I think bringing up the New Teen Titans is illuminating, because in my mind that was an excellent (and, at the time, lucrative) example of DC co-opting "Marvel-esque" storytelling, in that the inter-team relationships and personal problems often took a front seat next to solving whatever diabolical plans the villain du jour had cooked up. I don't think Earth-2 Superman is condemning "Marvel-esque" storytelling, I think he's criticizing the later strain of event-based storytelling, which I associate more with the 90's Image boom and bust phase than anything else. While the origins of that trend might lie with the big 80's crossovers like Secret Wars and Crisis on Infinite Earths, the examples, the big examples that spring to my mind are, unsurprisingly, killing Superman and crippling/replacing Batman. Superman's heroism is diminished massively once he dies AND COMES BACK TO LIFE, as is Batman's once he miraculously heals from a spinal cord injury after choosing a psychopath to replace him. That's what has always struck me as the most vulgar thing: killing or maiming icons, even lesser known ones, just to supply that ever-weakening jolt of shock value. Infinite Crisis, if viewed as broad satire rather than earth-shattering event necessitating 4 separate spin-off mini series, makes this point perfectly: just how ugly a mess can we drag things through in the name of creating buzz?

There's no chance in the world that Earth-2 Superman is going to get the good parts of his message put in place. Heck, my money is on him becoming the new Anti-Monitor by the next-to-last issue. Still, though, I wouldn't mind a move away from the kind of stories shown to Power Girl. In my mind, they aren't the "dark" episodes of DC continuity, they're the bad ones.

Walaka said...

Okay, I think y'all have finally done it for me.

I started wandering away from superhero comics shortly after COIE, and have been almost exclusively reading about comics rather than reading comics for a few years now. (The last comic I bought was the TPB Trinity and I can't even remember the one before that.)

I was put off by the grim-n-gritty-ness that seemed to take over superheroes (and I agree that this is trend different from, but related to, "marvelization"). I would go into my comics store and see bad art of bad people doing bad things. Not my cuppa. When I would leaf through an issue, it always seemed to be in the middle of a story that was too complicated to begin to understand without going through several earlier issues or issues of other magazines. So I just stopped buying and reading, and started just watching.

Well, even though I have managed to avoid a lot of this messiness, this discussion has persuaded me I need to get Infinite Crisis, just to see what's up.

So, if it all sucks, I blame you, Scipio, and the Mist-like powers of the Absorbascon blog.

Mark "Puff" Anderson said...

Kal-L has a bad case of "good old days" syndrome.

I'm a boiled frog too.

Hmm, I need to put that on the list of Things I Thought I'd Never Say...

The Dark Age has inured us to a lot. I'm right there with you about the psychological impact of the scenes on that one page.

If the rug gets pulled and the world reset to E-2-ishness, I wonder how that would play with the modern comics fan.

Nah, I don't see that happening.

But, I never saw the rape and murder of Sue Dibney coming either.

At the end of the day, tell me a good story, one that I'll care about, and want to come back and re-read a couple of times over the course of my comics reading life and I'll be happy.

Mark "Puff" Anderson

Dorian said...

I think when all is said and done, the kinds of fans who were complaining that the DC universe was "too dark" will be complaining that the DC universe "isn't dark enough."

Chris Griswold said...

My generation grew up with this sort of storytelling. My fiancee loves DCU for the same reasons I fell in love with Marvel: the personal conflict, the connected universe. But if these things go away, it's going to be disappointing. I love DC now, and yes, while loving the icons, I do have a tendency to like the Marvel-style characters: Firestorm, Nightwing, Kyle Rayner.

I don't want events.

I want consequences. I want gravity. And I want characters I can relate to, in addition to the ones that I can't.

If DC sacrifices these things, I really may not be able to read them anymore.

Anonymous said...

It's not as though Earth-2 didn't have its share of darkness as well - you've got the deaths of Batman and Mr. Terrific, the time when Kal-L and the rest of the Society went evil due to exposure to waters of a mystic river, all the Ultra-Humanite's machinations, Vandal Savage, and Infinity, Inc. pre-Crisis was as Marvelized in many ways as DC ever got.

Some of the negative events shown for Earth-merged don't necessarily reflect badly on the Earth-1 folks - it's not exactly like Superman wanted to be killed, Batman to lose a ward or have his back broken, or Wonder Woman to be robbed of her title for a time. You can see Bruce Wayne picking Azrael as a successor and Hal Jordan becoming Parallax as the beginning of a bad road, but all the more heinous things seem much more recent, starting with Identity Crisis and Omac.

Also, it's not like Earth-2 heroes never killed or altered villains' minds - both Superman and Batman at least allowed criminals to fall to their deaths routinely in their early careers, the Spectre was an Earth-2 original that killed evildoers in quite gruesome ways, and the Earth-2 Green Lantern mind controlled the bad guys into a forced confession in his very first adventure.

No, Kal-L's protestations ring a little false. They seem more than a little motivated by Lois' plight, but one should consider that even if Earth-2 had stayed completely intact, she'd probably be about due to die of old age anyway.

Also - what does Superboy-Prime think of all this?

Jeff R. said...

Consequence is exactly the problem. You know what the one thing that all of the 'problem stories' Kal-L referenced have in common?

The pictured heroes all got better. (From death, death again, snapped spine, losing the Wonder Woman mantle, going insane. Not one of them took...)

Scipio said...

"the Mist-like powers of the Absorbascon blog."

Okay, that's the coolest thing anyone has ever said about me or anything I've ever done.


Bat-Mac said...

Good honesty on DC's part. But the last 20 years did happen, and I enjoyed a lot/the majority of those storylines. Now that may be becuase I didn't have the Silver Age to compare it to, when everything was (allegedly) brilliant - but, you know what, I'm glad I didn't. It may also make me an unsophisticated jackass, but if the tales were that bad people shouldn't have been buying them.

If DC want to take a stance that the last 20 years of story-telling has been flawed in parts then that's fine- becuase it has. Just like the previous 20 years. I won't be like those people who (with hindsight, ironically) were annoyed that the original Crisis cheapened the previous 45 years of storytelling. Whatever DC do, I'll be there supporting them, until they publish a succession of stories that I don't want to read. Once they do that, I'll stop my comic reading, save my money, and more importantly not come onto comics blogs and neg everyone out about my dissatisfaction.

Anonymous said...

While the self-examination is interesting, it's origin is in the desire for another 'event'. That fact is reason enough to not take any of this seriously. There'll be another event next summer.

The main problem I saw with those stories, as an above poster said, is that they were BAD. It is not bad to kill Superman and have him come back to life. It was bad because some non-entity killed him.

We've had torture and rape stories for years. Neil Gaiman did it in The Sandman. Sue Dibny's death was done as tasteless sensationalism, not a natural outgrowth of the story.

Of course, if that's the truth and E-2 Superman is going to save us from bad characterisation, then I'm all for it. :)

Let's not forget that some of those bad stories had good fruit. I was a Marvel Zombie and thought of DC as 'the Superfriends' before reading Parallax in the GL/Silver Surfer crossover. He was inspiring, even as a bad guy. It seemed reasonable and believable there--and horribly frustrating when DC killed him to 'make him a hero again'.

I don't mind the darkness so much; I just wish they'd do the 'events' better.


thekelvingreen said...

I find the choice of image for this post interesting. It's from JLAvengers #4, isn't it?

As I read that montage of "broken moments" in IC #2, I thought back to the third issue of Busiek's crossover because the very same thing happened there. The assembled heroes were shown their worlds and lives gone to heck, and many of the same images turned up; Batman being broken by Bane, Superman lying dead in Lois' arms, etc.

But the heroes accepted those outcomes in the end. They decided to set things right, even if it would result in the deaths of themselves or their loved ones.

They saw the darkness and took it on, as heroes (DC or Marvel) should.

That struck me as a very appropriate way of handling it (but then Busiek Always Wins, so no surprise there); acknowledge the darkness, but don't let it taint the characters and their stories. Heroes overcome villains and heroes overcome darkness.

What Marvel got right in the 60's was to have flawed heroes that overcome those flaws. What everyone got wrong in the 90's (and today) was having flawed heroes that got dragged down by those flaws.

So all in all, I don't care whether the post-Crisis2 DCU is more or less dark, as long as the heroes are allowed to be heroes and overcome the darkness.

Anonymous said...

You can dark and you can do light and you can do inbetween as long as you do it well. Watchmen was good, Dark Knight was good, I'll even defend a chunk of Knightfall. It's the writing that makes the stories work, not the plots themselves.

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