Often is the question asked of me: “what comic book web logs do you read and recommend?” I pretty much get asked that question on a near-constant basis, really, that’s all anyone ever wants to talk about with me is comic book web logs. Since the foundation of this blog lies in the fact that I kill a lot of time at work by seeking out and reading fancy intellectual comic book blogs, the kind that take comics SERIOUSLY, I may as well share/give props to the ones I like the best, the ones that convinced me people on the Internet might like to read my very important Batman ideas.
A long time WAY back in the day (apparently 2008 is The Day) I stumbled upon a link to this essay about the sheer weirdness inherent in Batman vehicles. It really resonated in my head, and I spent about three years occasionally trying to find it again, punching in various combinations of “batman essay joker helicopter” into Google to no avail. Then I found this website through some unrelated process, found it to be an excellent source for all things weird, intellectual, and Morrisonian in comics, read through the archives, and discovered that essay. Circle completed, mind reblown. If you, like me, prefer your pop culture smart and weird, you have great friends in the Mindless.
Probably the first comic blog I read on a regular basis, Mr. Sims, the world’s pre-eminent Batman scholar, introduced me to the pleasures of weird old superhero comics. Most of his stuff is up at Comics Alliance these days, which is also a nexus of good comic book news and writing.
Encompassing not just comic books, but also hip-hop and pro wrestling sometimes. David Brothers, Gavok, and Esther Inglis-Arkell are some of the nicest and most thoughtful comic bloggers in a fandom that lacks both those qualities. Sadly I am a being of pure hate and cannot aspire to such niceness.
Also super smart, well-written, intellectual, etc., to be honest, we’re past the point where I have individuated things to say about these blogs, so let me just put up the rest without much comment.
The Stupid Comics here are PURE GOLD. Oh wait that was something to say wasn’t it? Anyway, if you read these all already, congratulations to you, you are my equal. If not, I hope this humble offering of links shipped from the far reaches of the Netglobe pleases you, milord.
The superhero genre is an inherently utopian one. At its most primal basic level the tale of the superhero is a tale of an avatar of good who fights for justice, always beats the bad guys, and even if they die, they always come back. Even Batman, most inherently pessimistic of the archetypal supers, will at least temporarily be able to lock the Joker away in Arkham, and he’ll do it over and over again forever. The superhero world is a world of eternal hope, where gods watch over the mortals and keep them from harm.
This anti-reality is unbounded from the rules of our world. Superheroes transcend biology, physics, logic itself in their escape from the gravity of the real. The best of the old comics have a boundless freedom. Infinite possibilities spill forth from the mighty id to be barely contained in pen and ink. The standard punctuation of this world is the exclamation mark! Suddenly! The bolt of shazam! The gamma bomb!
When comics grew older and more respectable they pitted the real against the utopian. Peter Parker had amazing powers that defied the laws of physics but the laws of physics still killed his girl. Superman can fight giant robots all day long but he can’t fight the evils of society.
But even the most degraded and dystopian superhero reality is based off of a utopian core. The superhero dystopia isn’t just the opposite of utopia, it’s a utopia turned in against itself and all that boundless energy and light harnessed for the basest purposes. They could have cities in the sky and instead they kill each other with dead psychic squids. Seeing these avatars of infinite good chained down to mortal flesh creates a perverse tension. The real and the impossible pushing against each other.
Doesn’t good always win? That depends on which world comes out on top.
Without J.H. Williams on art I find the book to be a lot less interesting. No offense to Amy Reeder et al who can draw a very competent superhero book (and I really like this cover, quiet and ambiguous yet iconic), but Williams’ art layered a whole other supertext over the book. Supertext, get it? GET IT? His art made it about identities and masquerades and not just fighting things and improbable family difficulties. There’s still a subtext about creating and participating in stories working its way through there and that is enough to boost this above the average super-book and keep me engaged. Basically I demand that my super-books are either insanely energetic and over-the-top, or entirely about people talking with as little fighting as possible, or layered with hidden meaning.
FRANKENSTEIN, AGENT OF S.H.A.D.E. #6
Coincidentally with the announcement/furor of Watchmen: You Want Watchmen? We’ll Give You All The Damn Watchmen You Could Ever Want Lemire shows up with a degraded Dr. Manhattan. I’m sure that wasn’t planned, though maybe this is like that part in Call of Cthulhu where the rising of R’lyeh sends out psychic terror waves that register in the minds of psychically sensitive artists.
I didn’t realize this four-parter was going to have basically a different writer every issue. That seems like a weird way to tell a story. No complaints so far though!
UNCANNY X-FORCE #21 and SECRET AVENGERS #22
Remender is really getting to carve himself off a nice little chunk of the Marvel universe and do weird stuff to it, and that kind of thing usually results in developing some really interesting ideas which subsequent writers will either totally ignore or completely screw up. I still wish X-Force had better art, because this whole comic seems to take place in a series of backgroundless voids. It’s fantasy, damn it, and I want to see some fantastic landscapes!
DEMON KNIGHTS #6, LOBSTER JOHNSON: THE BURNING HAND #2, THE PUNISHER #8
These are all good comics, I just don’t have anything interesting to say about them. Other than maybe imploring you to read Demon Knights so we can be damn sure it doesn’t get cancelled. It’s fun and unique and focuses on new and underused characters instead of just Batman or something, and that means it is inevitably marked for death. The world would be a poorer place if we couldn’t watch Medieval Wonder Woman smack down a Triceratops.
Here’s how you do horror: keep it nice and quiet, let the weirdness trickle in slowly, don’t let them see the teeth until it’s too late. One of the hallmarks of Lovecraft was, basically, powerlessness in the face of incomprehensible cosmic forces. Curiously enough that’s also a hallmark of noir – the bad guys are untouchable because they have the power, the entire system is corrupt, all of it arrayed against the protagonist. But Lovecraft says it’s not just here on Earth, it’s the whole universe, there are mysteries you’re better off not trying to solve because you’ll see the true uncaring structure of it all and get pulled into a world of darkness and madness. Too many Lovecraft homages only see the tentacles, they miss the real point. Not Fatale though.
ACTION COMICS #6
Classic Morrison superhero stuff, setting up a whole world in a single issue. Let’s talk about the art in that backup though: it’s very much unlike the usual uninspired superhero stuff. It’s bright, clean, confident, and above all different. Why can’t they put out a full book with art like this?
On the one hand: sure, maybe it is a little disingenuous for Alan Moore to complain about other people repurposing his work, when he’s made a career out of reworking other peoples’ characters.
But on the other hand. The only reason that this is happening is because this isn’t his work, he doesn’t own it, because he and Gibbons signed a contract in good faith with DC, with every expectation that the rights would be returned to him a year after they stopped printing Watchmen and DC decided maybe it’d be better to just never stop printing Watchmen so they could take all the profits forever. And then never even really make an attempt at making things right, because why repay some crazy beard man when you could just make endless hollow knockoffs of his work?
My question is, what do they think they’re going to add? Watchmen‘s already a perfectly structured complete world presented in 12 issues. All these characters histories and fates are laid out already. All the interesting parts. And now DC’s saying, hey, if you liked that, here’s 34 more issues of irrelevant backstory! That’s THREE TIMES AS LONG as the original. And if it sells well you bet your ass they’re going to make more.
Now some of these creative teams look OK (well, 50% ok and 50% awful), but I’d much rather see them actually try out something new instead of strip-mining the past forever. I realize that repurposing the past is what superhero comics are based on, but the good ones always iterate one step ahead. The bad ones just rehash the same stories over and over, because if you love something once you’ll love it again in a slightly different form right?
Maybe it’ll be alright, maybe it won’t, it’s kind of too early to pass judgment on whether something’s good until, you know, it’s actually out. But here’s a thought: you’d probably be morally justified in downloading all the issues illegally, and then not paying DC back until a year after they leave print.