Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Seven Deadly Enemies of Comic Books

The Seven Deadly Enemies of Comics Books
are reaching out to attack your brain, destroy your pleasure, and lay waste to your medium of serialized entertainment.


Surrealism

which is counted as one with its sneering semiotic sidekick,
Dadaism

Okay, as much as I joke about it, I realize that surrealism & dadaism themselves are not intrinsic threats, or even prevalent in comics. But (in case you haven't guessed) when I talk about them, I'm really just speaking in code. I use "surrealism" and "dadaism" as surrogate terms to denote the tendencies in some comic book creators to ignore the need for perspective, context, and meaning. The emphasis on "cool moments", visually or dramatically, rather than on the entire product or effect of plot and art. Read anything by Loeb and Lee.


Self-Referentialism
Continuity is one thing: there are certain things one might reasonably be expected to know about Batman or Superman before reading one of their stories, without requiring exposition on them in every story. But when knowledge of specific previous stories becomes a necessary key to making sense of a current story, then self-referentialism has taken hold. It's the comic book version of an auto-immune disease, in which a system designed to keep comics sensible and healthy turns against it and starts killing it from within.

Moral Relativism
Defined here as confusing moral ambivalence with sophistication. Yes, it's a grey world rather than a black & white one; but that's makes it that much more important to take stands on right and wrong. Symptoms include heroes fighting heroes rather than villains,
and characters switching sides willy-nilly from hero to villain as the situation dictates.

Anti-Heroism

Using anti-societal characters as protagonists or characters of primary reader identification pretty much limits your audience to adolescents, or those with their mindset.


Nostalgic Paralysis
Nostalgia is fine, you know. In fact, since it's often steeped in offal that's been stewing for years, it can be fertile ground for germinating new stories, characters, and directions (as it is in the work of Geoff Johns or James Robinson, whether you like the particular directions they choose or not). Nostalgia can help a well-rooted literary future blossom, or it can become fetid and choke all storytelling like kudzu in a keyboard. When nostalgia keeps writers from adding to a myth or telling new stories it's become Nostalgic Paralysis.

Decompression

We often associate decompression with silent panels and dialog spread out to a "slow pace".
So a panel full of all that dialog and captioning hardly seems like decompression, I know.
However, four issues of it does.
When the "storyline" replaces "the story"
is it any wonder that "the trade" replaces "the monthly"?


Post-Modern Deconstructionist Metafiction
An any additional commentary on this would be...
meaningless and pointless.

30 comments:

Tony said...

I don't think Morrison's trying to be metafictional in the sense that he's deconstructing comics.

I think he's trying to say something about the nature of fiction, but he's using comic book tropes to do it. I think he's genuinely enjoying the comic book tropes, though, rather than trying to subvert them.

As I read Final Crisis, I think it's meant to be constructive, rather than deconstructive. I think he's honestly having a good time telling a story about Superman's super-singing.

In terms of intent, I'd put him closer to Chris Sims than Alan Moore.

steve mitchell said...

I'm imagining an abandoned subway tunnel, with seven sinister icons of ill intent looming against one wall. . . .

TotalToyz said...

. . . and Mark Waid in a trenchcoat and slouch hat, leading a young Geoff Johns past the statues to where an aged Roy Thomas sits on a throne, 10,000 bagged and boarded copies of Final Crisis #1 suspended by a thread above his head!!

SallyP said...

"...choke all storytelling like kudzu in a keyboard."

Have I mentioned lately that you have a marvelous knack for turning a phrase?

I confess to liking nostalgia and continuity, but your argument is just said so pretty.

Scipio said...

Thank you, Sally.

Beta Ray Steve said...

I don't think Morrison deserves to be a Deadly Sin. He's a deconstructionist, but at least he supports the medium he's deconstructing. I don't think he's slumming in comics until his novel gets published or the tv deal goes through. I have to give him credit for trying to incorporate all the madness of Bat-continuity into a coherent character.
I would list decompression twice, because that's what it is, a force that turns a two-issue story into a six-issue one.

Brushwood said...

One thing's for sure - Morrison never underestimates his audience. I value that, and I enjoy all the crazy meta-themes, but I sometimes wish all his stuff had the same clear narrative as All Star Superman.

Well, I can't deny I'd love to see him write one of the animated kid-titles, like Brave and the Bold or Superfriends.

Alexandria said...

"I would list decompression twice, because that's what it is, a force that turns a two-issue story into a six-issue one."

LOL!

"I'd love to see him write one of the animated kid-titles, like Brave and the Bold or Superfriends."

Not likely. The torture of children is grounds for deportation.

TotalToyz said...

The torture of children is grounds for deportation.

So much the better.

Matt said...

Tony and company took the words out of my mouth. So I'll just second (or third) that line of thought.

Scipio, I think that you and Grant Morrison actually have very similar taste- it's just that you would both go about exercising your similar enjoyment of comics differently.

Accursed Interloper said...

"Nostalgia can help a well-rooted literary future blossom, or it can become fetid and choke all storytelling like kudzu in a keyboard."

When a super-team's roll call literally occupies four pages, that's a symptom, right?

B.R.Steve: " He's a deconstructionist, but at least he supports the medium he's deconstructing."

Amen. It ain't like his love of the characters and the medium doesn't shine through like a ... like a really bright shiny thing. I feel a lot less sneered-at at the end of a Morrison comic than, say, anything EVER written by J.M.DeMatteis.

Anonymous said...

Everyone here should take a look at this interview. Seems like Morrison is really trying to defend against a lot of these things, but gets misinterpreted.

http://comics.ign.com/articles/950/950703p1.html

TJ

Roel Torres said...

Personally, I feel like we live in a wonderful time when there are more talented writers creating a greater diversity of good superhero stories than at any other time in the industry. There are uplifting stories, and darker stories, goofy stories, and heartbreaking ones. I can pick up, say, Tiny Titans and giggle at the ridiculous antics of kiddy superheroes, or I can pick up Crossed and shake my head at the overt level of gore.

We have so many writers injecting their personality and charisma into the stories these days -- Matt Fraction, Fred Van Lente, Jeff Parker, Paul Tobin, Colleen Coover, Gail Simone, Jamie McKelvie, Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Alan Moore, Mark Waid, Kurt Busiek, Robert Kirkman, Christos Gage, Dwayne McDuffie, Brian Michael Bendis, Mike Mignola, Mike Allred, Brian K Vaughan, Ed Brubaker, Andy Diggle, Jeff Smith, Mike Kunkel... you know, I think I'll stop right here. I could keep naming guys, but it wouldn't make my point any more true, or less so.

(I believe the increased level of quality is also true for superheroes in other mediums. With the development of movies like The Dark Knight and Iron Man, cartoons like JLU and The Brave and the Bold -- I have to say that as a comic book fan, I am more consistently entertained today than I ever have been in the decades I've been collecting comics.)

We are in a recession, an economic crisis, a fiscally difficult time for everyone -- and I am spending more money on comic books than I ever have in my life. I wish I could cut down my pull list. But I can't. I am enjoying them too much.

Scipio, I don't think the story characteristics you mentioned are ruining comics. More accurately, I think that they are elements that you personally don't enjoy in your narratives, but that appeal to other segments of the readership. Which is fine. If you feel so compelled, I think that Grant Morrison's influence can be easily contained or avoided. Just pick up some of the other great stuff on the shelves. There's plenty there for everybody's tastes.

Sea_of_Green said...

Don't forget industry cutbacks! When the talent suffers, the product suffers!

Anonymous said...

I have my own seven deadlies. They are not committed across the board, but when they do occur, they rob potential-

I. Repeating the "high points" of previous writer's classic work in a misguided attempt at nostalgia instead of creating "new classics".
II. Cramming in too many characters.
III. Overdone death, violence, and ressurections.
IV. Irredeemable villains who get no comeuppance, just a few month's jail time until they escape and wreak death and destruction again.
V. Charging THAT much for a single comic and having so LITTLE happen in it.
VI. No sense of wonder.
VII. Heroes acting like jerks instead of, you know, heroes.

Tony said...

Three things you can say about Morrison:

1. There's no moral relativism or anti-heroism. The heroes fight villains in Final Crisis.

2. There's no decompression, even if it could use some.

3. There's nostalgia, but not paralysis. He's using old continuity to tell a new story.

TotalToyz said...

I feel a lot less sneered-at at the end of a Morrison comic than, say, anything EVER written by J.M.DeMatteis.

Does that include his Marvel work? Because I found most of that to be brilliant.

steve mitchell said...

So Newsarama posted an interview with Grant Morrison, in which we learn that Final Crisis was actually about the Final Crisis of the Monitors.

Because, you know, the Monitors, who have only been around since the end of the Brave New World special, are so essential to the DC Universe.

Because, you know, everyone's really been concerned about the final fate of the Monitors.

The funny thing is, back when Final Crisis launched, DC was saying it was about "The Day That Evil Won." And about Darkseid, and the triumph of Anti-Life, and the last, desperate battle of Earth's heroes to save the world from the endless night.

Little did we suspect that the struggle against ultimate evil was just a footnote to the far more significant Final Crisis of the Monitors.

The Thing That Walks Like A Man said...

Steven Grant has some thought-provoking comments about Final Crisis, superheroes, and mythology.

http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=19863

I'd love to hear your response/perspective, Mr. Scipio, as it seems right up your alley.

Citizen Scribbler said...

BIG MIKE & Roel- I'm surprised to hear you cast sour on what I felt was another highly entertaining post. Scipio certainly doesn't need ME to stick up for him, but I may be able to clear up a couple of points.

There's a difference being "having tastes" and "having good taste"- a distinction which may be relevant here.

The tone of the piece was humorous in the first place, putting all readers on notice that what they are reading are opinions, conjectures, and theories; presented to incite one to reflect upon the elements presented.

Scipio makes it clear in mostly all of his examples that what is to be avoided is an EXCESS of these elements. Just as a little Vanity can be healthy, so can a little decompression- but only when it's appropriate.

I thought the post was very clear on all that. Read it again- it isn't as harsh or dogmatic as you make it appear. It just seems strongly worded because of the pleasantly searing tone of the author.

-Citizen Scribbler

Word Verification: Latin- now, how do you like that? I've never gotten an actual word before!

Scipio said...

Indeed, CS; I'm always surprised by how seriously some of my readers take things!

TotalToyz said...

Because you are our god, Scipio, wise and benevolent art thou.

Rich said...

A terrific, well-reasoned post, but boy, when you want to transform into Captain Anti-Comic Man, it's awfully hard to make a pronounceable magic word out of those seven. Best I can do is "Psmands!" which really doesn't have the same ring as "Sabbac!" at all. OTOH, unlike "Sabbac" it won't confuse the Star Wars geeks, and it could lead to a nice literary reference of its own.

"P-smands?"

"The P is silent."

"Ah, like in the Wodehouse books."

Heck , my verification password "insome" is more pronounceable than "psmands" is.

steve mitchell said...

Just shout out the magic word "WANKER!" (When A Nonlinearist Kills Entertaining Reading.) The lightning will strike, and you'll be transformed into Grant Morrison!

TotalToyz said...

Steve, thanks for the best laugh I've had all week!!

steve mitchell said...

You are so welcome. I must admit that I do like much of Grant's writing, but FINAL CRISIS was pretty much a flub for me. Better luck next time, Grant!

plok said...

Good Lord, looking at that Meltzer JLA makes me want to smash things.

Dougie said...

Verification word "Supwa". When used as an interrogative, it's a Bendis-ism that supplanted "Avengers Assemble".
The one Grant Morrison trope that really distresses me is his graphic reference to torture and mutilation.

Roberts said...

Frankly, Final Crisis just pissed me off. Convoluted, obscure and ultimately pointless. And Batman R.I.P. was no better.

I loved Morrison back in the days of Animal Man and Doom Patrol, and he proved he can still get that reaction out of me will All-Star Superman, but FC and B:RIP just make me want to kick him in the nuts repeatedly, and then refund myself the money I spent on them from his wallet while he lies there mewling and drooling.

I'll play: verification word denta -- as far as I can get through a dental procedure.

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