Friday, September 26, 2008

Comics? COMICS?

-Once again, the standard apologies about another stretch of not blogging. This time it's not that I've been busy, but more that I've been distracted. And not (entirely) by things as goofy as video games and MMA--more like politics. Instead of posting here, I find myself checking polls, spin, and whatnot. It's not like I actually have anything interesting or intelligent to say about any of this: you're either relishing Sarah Palin's public collapse or you're sweating it out, hoping that John McCain thinks of some new cockeyed plan to distract the press. Or, if you're like the people sitting behind us at the restaurant today, you're impressed by the paper Israeli flag stuck in the window somewhere in the Alaska Governor's Mansion.

-It's not that there haven't been things to talk about in comics, though, as the blogosphere has been dominated by two conversations: the very different endings of All Star Superman and the Minx line.

As to the former: I still don't quite get all the fanfare. ASS was certainly a good, entertaining book, but it was signficantly less interesting than what I expected from the Grant Morrison who wrote Seven Soldiers, the Grant Morrison whose involvement led me to read All-Star Superman in the first place. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, something that would dramatically ramp up my enthusiasm for the book. In the end I was entertained, but not amazed.

WHICH IS FINE, but some of the reaction to this book...whew. The Lex Luthor in prison issue was very, very good, deserving of some of the praise I've seen for the work as a whole. The rest, I felt, was more like something you file away, maybe re-read a few years later for a chuckle, maybe forget forever. Still, given the circumstances, I'm half-planning to re-read all 12 issues to make sure I'm actually right, and not just cranky that All-Star Superman will quite possibly be the #1 book on the 2008 Meta-List. There's just no way in hell that will be justified if it happens; those who are already pencilling it in at #1 on your end-of-year lists, I beg you to reconsider, to deny it the nostalgia/superhero curve which made it the third best reviewed comic of 2007. I'm already prepared to see it place higher than most of the books on my own, highly idiosyncratic list, but there are probably at least two or three dozen books substantially more deserving of the top spot. And that's way, way, way more than enough politicking from the person who compiles these polls.

(For those interested, if I had to handicap the most likely books to place in the top five this year, I'd probably go with (in no particular order): What It Is, Bottomless Bellybutton, All-Star Superman...and that's pretty much as far as I can go. Breakdowns, maybe, assuming it doesn't come out too late in the year, so as to miss those who draw up their lists ridiculously early, like in October. Black Jack has a strong chance to consolidate the literary manga vote, barring a big showing for the (totally worthy of top 10 status) Disappearance Diary, which might be a bit too obscure to make much of a showing. Other possibilities: The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard, Kramers Ergot vol. 7 (I'm really dying to see how it does on these lists), Criminal (popular enough last year to come in at #6, and it's way better this year), Three Shadows (just a hunch, but I think it shows up on a lot of mainstream-type lists--wasn't it mentioned by name in that recent Washington Post piece?). And it's possible that Achewood: The Great Outdoor Fight will reprise the success of the first Perry Bible Fellowship collection. Any other possibilities I'm missing?)

-As for the Minx line: uh, too bad, I guess? My main interest in Minx was based on pure hypothosis/blind hope, in that maybe exposing young readers to western comics in addition to manga would convince them that they liked comics in general, and would thus gravitate towards the comics I liked, thereby making them more popular and easier for me to obtain in the the only bookstore in town which carries a decent selection of new comics which don't involve Superman crying. This was not, mind you, a reasonable expectation, but it was the only way for me to get interested in a line which (a) was obviously not intended for me, (b) featured a bunch of creators who I might call modest talents (with the exception of Jim Rugg, who's pretty good, and of course Derek Kirk Kim, who is very good), and (c) didn't have a publishing strategy which struck me as especially noteworthy.

So I guess I don't have too many strong opinions on Minx' passing, all things considered. I do regret that it's passing takes a paycheck away for some folks whose work I don't normally follow. I feel worse, however, about the possible impact on Hope Larson's excellent Chiggers, which by all accounts did what Minx set out to do exponentially better. As noted above, I'm not the audience for a book like Chiggers, but any idiot can appreciate Larson's impressive cartooning and writing, even if he's a 31 year old dude. It really is the sort of book you want to share with young people, and I'd hate to see it affected by the demise of Minx.

As for why Minx failed, I liked Katherine Farmar's and Christopher Butcher's explanations the best. I'd like to find out some day exactly why the books couldn't get stocked in the YA section of Borders/Barnes and Noble; it seems like it's either an indictment of byzantine book trade politics or a tremendous failure on some specific person's part. Not that stocking it in the right section would have helped if DC wasn't committed to the line beyond a year and a half, for whatever reason. Yes, Brian Wood, I guess I'm not really surprised that Minx didn't take off, though I hoped it would. For the totally selfish reasons outlined above, but still.

And now it's back to reading about politics. Will McCain stick to a more conventional strategy by talking primarily about Wookies during tonight's debate? Or will he really shake things up by having Kimbo Slice punch him repeatedly in the stomach? Only one way to find out for sure, true believers!


Greg said...

Yeah, I have a feeling the love for All Star Superman will overwhelm everything else, too. As I wrote when issue #12 came out, it's a Silver Age superhero comic. Some people thought I was being insulting, but I wasn't. I was just pointing out that there isn't much else that makes this somehow transcendant. It's a good Superman story, but it's not much else. I guess people really want well done superhero stories, because when they get one, they can't stop praising it. But I can't imagine it having a ton of staying power. I could be wrong.

Marc said...

I don't know if enough people will get behind it, but I'd put Tim Lane's Abandoned Cars near the top of my Best of 2008 list. Lane is a major new talent, and a much stronger writer than most of his alternative contemporaries (he's also a hell of an illustrator). I also love that he's a devoted stylist, which I think is something lacking in a lot of other indie comics these days.

Sean T. Collins said...

What Dick Hyancinth just doesn't understand is that there are two Es in "Wookiee."

Dick Hyacinth said...

I must admit, I would fail miserably in a nerd spelling bee. I kept referring to the "Asorbascon" (or something like that) in the earlier, angrier days of this blog.

Tucker Stone said...

I like All Star Superman quite a lot, and I think it's a lot better then the stuff it gets filed with, both the DC and Marvel stuff. It succeeds despite what I think were some pretty severe limitations inherent in the character and format. But my appreciation for it stems not from what I think turns most people on about the book--i just find the whole experience of the comic to be an emotional, visceral response, and i don't get anything enjoyable about reading it as a dissect-a-thon. For me, that emotional quality goes a long way, both because I find it to be the one thing about comics (or film, or just good old art) something that's un-fakeable, and because it's something I almost never find in super-hero stories.

That doesn't mean I don't find some of the other stuff I like this year--things like What it is, or yes, the Bottomless Belly Button--to be cold, deadened works. I like them, and in the case of What it is, think they're "better" comics then All Star Superman. But in the face of so much, when there's one that actually brings about unforced, unfaked joy, then it's something that I find remarkable. (and it's a personal value judgment--obviously, using an emotional response to work means that I'm placing the personal feelings idea ahead of the rational, let's figure this out kind of thing. Since the "personal joy" thing only comes up once every two months, roughly around the time Nana comes out, i'll jump all over it when it does. the rest of the time it's just who-gives-a-shit, this was better then that.)

While I got that same sort of feeling from the Frankenstein portion of Seven Soldiers, as well as the bookend pieces, the majority of that series was, for me, more of an exercise in intelligent entertainment--I loved it the same way I love Stalker, which is to say that I didn't get excited most of the time. That doesn't mean that a comic has to be whip-bang sexplosions and candy for me to think it's "the best," if hard-pressed, i don't even think that I'd rate All Star Superman as my favorite single-issue of the year, not when Criminal and the Bullets are working out so well, not when Angry youth Comix is, in some fucked out weird acid jazz way, actually growing into a smarter version of gross-out shit and rape jokes.

I don't know. I threw out a rambling "hey, innovative as watchmen" comment when I had to deal with the final issue of the all star superman mostly because I figured that just because Grant and Frank wanted to make it classic, and they wanted to make it hopeful, and they wanted to make it silver age-y, that doesn't mean that it's not stand-alone better then, for my money, absolutely every single Superman comic that's been published in my lifetime of reading these things. And if Superman is going to be the go-to archetype, over and fucking over and fucking over again, and a couple of bright mutha's or going to drop what, for me, was 12 issues of every piece of Superman anybody could ever need, then yeah, that's sort of innovative. I looked around not too long ago at the longboxes and shelves, doing one of those culls where you find new ways to fill a trash bag--and now that All Star is done, I just can't see that I need to own any other Superman comics. At all. The only reason to hang on to a comic book is so I can re-read it down the line at some point-i don't give a shit about collecting them-and I can't think of a single Superman or Superman archetype, or Superman parody, or Superman rip-off comic book that I'd ever want to re-read except for All Star.

Dick Hyacinth said...

See, to me Seven Soldiers was far more entertaining, and I don't think I ever read any dissection of it. Same for Final Crisis, so far (that's surely a minority opinion--preferring Final Crisis to All Star Superman--and maybe not a justifiable one; I really ought to re-read ASS). To me, Seven Soldiers comes the closest to replicating the feel of Kirby's Fourth World.

I'd agree that I liked All Star Superman at least as much as any other comic I've read featuring Superman, and that includes the two "classic" Alan Moore stories. It seems like most of the best-regarded Superman stories are all ultra-meta-ish, but in a hagiographic sort of way; which is to say, they all totally depend upon the reader buying into the Superman character and mythos. I don't buy into Superman, so I don't really dig these stories. (I wrote a long post tearing into something stupid Greg Rucka wrote the other day--at one point he compares people who don't like Superman to people who don't vote--but didn't publish it because I didn't want to devote that much time to explaining what I don't like about Superman.)

All Star Superman was preferable to these stories in that it used Superman's actions to get at his legacy, rather than exploring his legacy by having characters talk about it. Interestingly, though, my favorite Superman story/stories come from Alan Moore's Supreme run--which is THE MOST meta Superman story of all time! But it seems like it's less about Superman the specific character and more about Superman as a literary concept. Which sounds like a recipe for bad (LOEG: Black Dossier meets Superman!), but I liked it quite a bit. It's been a while since I've read it, though.

Tucker Stone said...

I don't want to give the impression that I don't like Seven Soldiers--i can't stress enough that "because it makes me feels good" is a really stupid fucking point, and yet that's the one I made. I think Greg has a good point--it's impossible to determine staying power on something that I enjoy weeks after it came out. I can be pretty sure that Batman & The Outsiders # 10 will still be the ugliest piece of shit I've seen all year, and that I'll still think it's ugly if I remember it all in 20, but yeah--will an all star hard-on last? whoknows.

Part of my attraction to the series, as well as my meager estimation that it's "better" is due to that same thing that makes me like Kirby's 4th world, which is that I just dig unified art. I don't particularly think Seven Soldiers would've been better if it had only used one penciler, unless that penciler was Jack Kirby, but it does add to the segmentation for me--it lacks the flow that I crave. Alternatively, I think that Final Crisis is rock solid in that department, and I'm a fan of that series so far.

You know what though? I just really like talking about All Star Superman. Not what it "means" or what easter eggs it has in it--but just the comic. I know that it's gotten more then it's fair share of platitudes and pontifications, and yes, a fair share of them come from people who will express the same level of excitement the next time Spider-Man cries in a graveyard, but I'm fine being in the camp of overdoing it with histrionics on this one. It's not like I'll have the opportunity again anytime soon to care about a super-hero comic this much.

Christopher M. said...

I'll happily concede that All-Star Superman, though highly enjoyable, has been a bit overrated, but I've no idea why some people seem to think that Seven Soldiers, of all things, reveals some hidden spark of genius in Morrison. It's clear from those series that the overwhelming majority of the talent lies with Morrison's artistic collaborators, and Morrison himself is recycling the same tricks he's been using since Animal Man (a character breaks the Fourth Wall! POW! thinly-veiled authorial surrogates! ZING! This would be revolutionary stuff - in 1958.)