Mature Comics – An Oxymoron?

A few notes on some comics books and comics creators. For those more interested in the political stuff, George Bush is a liar and a fraud.

So let’s talk about comics. One of the books I’m still getting is ‘Powers,’ which is written by Brian Bendis. It takes place in a world where superheroes (“Powers”) are the norm, but it deals with two cops who are regularly assigned to cases involving such Powers. The book is interesting and fun, but for a mature audience.

That being said, why is the audience apparently so immature? With each issue of cracking good story you also get a free transcript of a bunch of moronic pre-teens listening to a morning DJ and making fart and “homo” jokes. I refer to the letters page, where a seemingly endless supply of idiots show off their chops at being “crude” and “offensive” to amuse Bendis, who prints the result and responds in kind. I always tell myself not to read it, but it’s like a forty-car pileup, and afterwards I once again feel annoyed with myself for giving money to support this show. Do I find it “offensive”? No, just insulting to my intelligence. It’s like Bendis is saying, “Hi, thanks for reading my book, here’s what I think you’re like.” I suppose I could just buy the trade paperbacks as they come out and avoid the letters page altogether, but there’s already so many books I only buy in trades (Hellboy, Bone, Akiko) and it was nice actually getting a superhero book monthly.

Such attempts at calculated crudity are nothing new. Anyone remember ‘Preacher’? The comic that people loved because it was so violent and offensive? The one that, if you said you didn’t like it, it was because you were a prude who couldn’t “handle it”? It was written by Garth Ennis, who also took his brand of pointless excessive violence to ‘Hellblazer’ and totally tanked that comic. Or ‘Transmetropolitan’? That one actually had some interesting stuff in it, but it tired me out. Warren Ellis, the writer, who I generally like, has an unfortunate habit of not knowing when to step down a notch. If you keep the amp cranked up to 11 constantly, it becomes no different than keeping it at 2. It becomes boring, just manically boring.

Which brings us to Grant Morrison. Now, I have a soft spot for Grant. I first got into him when he was doing ‘Doom Patrol’ for DC. I went back and read his ‘Animal Man’ run and other stuff by him I could find (I’d kill to get the issues of ‘Doctor Who Magazine’ with his comics story in them!) His magnum opus was ‘The Invisibles’ which I thoroughly enjoyed, even if I didn’t always understand it. It was a rollicking good tale of conspiracy, sex, drugs, rock-n-roll, magic, and Armageddon. The cast was well-done. It was a riot and I was sorry to see it go.

When Grant returned with a mini-series called ‘The Filth’ that seemed to be more of the same, I was excited, but that quickly ended when I actually started reading it. ‘The Filth’ is kind of like the Invisibles, except with no likable characters and with everything filtered through one of those contributors to the ‘Powers’ lettercolumn. It’s hypersexed, nearly plotless, and just not at all fun for anyone who isn’t Grant Morrison. He once said he wanted ‘The Filth’ to come out with no writing credits so that no one would know he was doing it and be prejudiced because his name was on it. If it had, I would not have assumed that it was Grant Morrison, I would have assumed it was someone who wanted desperately to be Garth Ennis. I had no idea what happened until I read this interview with him. He’s a complete nutjob now, having totally bought into this rock-and-roll mysticism he writes about. Read the interview if you like, but it becomes nigh-incoherent along the way.

Which brings us to someone who does know how to do “mature comics”, and that’s Alan Moore, who is one of the greatest comics writers ever. (He wrote ‘Watchmen’, which helped revolutionize modern comics.) He’s currently writing a whole imprint called “America’s Best Comics” with titles like ‘Top Ten,’ ‘Tom Strong,’ ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,’ and ‘Promethea,’ which are all excellent reads garnering critical praise. Well, that time is over. According to this interview, he’s retiring from mainstream comics. Unfortunately, the interview is vague about what that word, “mainstream,” means. If it means we’ll still get the same type of great stories, unique takes, and original ideas at a smaller company, no problem. I’ll follow him wherever he goes. If it means he’s abandoning comics of the mainstream type and going for his more non-mainstream stuff, then the comics world has lost a great deal. I’ve read a lot of this less-marketable stuff of his, and it’s also less-readable. Like Morrison, he’s into all this magick stuff that often means incoherent ‘mystical’ ramblings and ‘poetry’. Call me a philistine, but I’m just not interested. Either way, no more ‘Top Ten,’ no more ‘Tom Strong,’ or the others, except maybe for ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,’ which it appears is owned by him instead of DC.

(And a side note to support Mr. Moore. DC, you have figured out what a gem you have on your hands with Alan Moore, as evidenced by your recent trade paperback collecting some of his finest DC work. Why can’t you just leave him alone and let him do what he does best?)

As long as I’m grousing about comics, let me steer people away from these two, even though they don’t deserve to be mentioned in the same html file as the above creators. ‘Shadows’ and ‘Mythstalkers’ are the books, both from Image. I got the first few issues of both, thinking that their central ‘team of people exploring the unknown’ might give me a good fix in-between Hellboy trade paperbacks, but dear god do these books suck. Awful writing, awful art, and utterly tired ideas.

So let’s end up on a positive note. Neil Gaiman, writer of ‘Sandman,’ has a new miniseries out called ‘1602’ which explores the idea of the Marvel Universe existing in that year. It’s fun, but hard for me to invest much into, since I really don’t care about the Marvel universe at all in any year. But Gaiman is a good one to stick with, and I’ve no doubt this ride will be interesting when it’s all done. He also has a great entry about the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund where he explains to some loon how wrong all these stupid conspiracy theories about the CBLDF (and the Jesus Castillo case I mentioned in a previous entry) actually are. It’s a good read, and he has a good blog.

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