Category Archives: Comic Books

Political Superheroes

I saw this on a forum, someone was trying to argue that the difference between Superman and Batman was the same as the difference between conservatism and liberalism, with Superman being conservative and Batman being liberal.  Now while I can kind of see what he’s trying to get at, I really don’t think you can make those distinctions, especially since I disagree with a lot of what he’s said so I’m going to go through his list and see what makes sense and what doesn’t.

We’ll do this one at a time and by all means, if you have other opinions, let me know below in the comments.


Was orphaned as a child but rich
Believes in helping the poor and underprivileged of Gotham
Is unlike many of the rich people in the city not a snob
Will not kill people sometimes since its against his ethics(Against death penalty)
Sends all criminals to the insane Asylum instead of jail
(Even though its been proven some of them are not criminally insane)
Is a bit of a player

Okay, being orphaned has nothing to do with your political ideology, it isn’t exactly something that you have any control over and there are plenty of people on both the left and the right who have been orphaned.  Likewise, while being rich is more often thought of as a conservative trait, it’s important to realize that Bruce Wayne is not a self-made millionaire, he was left Wayne Enterprises and all of his millions. so I can see that as a possible liberal trait.  However, where he says that Batman believes in helping the poor and underprivileged, that depends on the writer.  It certainly hasn’t been true in all cases, in fact, I’d argue that most of the time, catering to the poor is just part of his business strategy, he never loses money on any of these ventures and he’s shown living a life of excess pretty consistently.  Big cars, huge mansions, flashy suits, Bruce Wayne is the Tony Stark of the DC universe.  That doesn’t strike me as someone really giving his money to the poor.  He’s also a snob plenty of times, the Nolan Batman movies portray him as a reclusive rich guy that doesn’t want to bother with the little people (or any people).  And being a “player” doesn’t make him liberal, he’s only done those things when he’s been single, when Bruce Wayne has been in a relationship, he’s been very monogamous.  Not seeing the case to be made here, sorry.

Further, his code against killing comes from the death of his parents, but it really makes no sense whatsoever. See, there is a fundamental difference between Batman and Superman that I want to explore here. Superman is essentially indestructible and so are his family.  Supergirl, Krypto the Superdog and all the rest of the menagerie, they are impervious to harm. None of his human friends, Lois, Lana, Jimmy Olson, Perry White, they have been kidnapped plenty of times, but they have never been seriously injured by villains.  Superman’s parents, again depending on what writer you’re reading, are still alive.  So Superman really has no reason whatsoever to kill anyone, yet he has killed.   Batman on the other hand, his parents were killed by a criminal. Batgirl was shot and crippled by the Joker, who also murdered one version of Robin.  Yet Batman continues to fight and arrest the same group of villains, put them in Arkham Asylum, where he knows they will repeatedly escape and murder members of the public as well as going after his own family and friends, yet he still never kills.  He has a reason.  He just refuses.  That makes Batman crazy, which I guess is the same as liberal in a lot of situations.


Country boy born in Kansas
Very reserved and actually kind of shy
Has very traditional upbringing
Believes in sometimes killing people who are a danger to the world(Believes in the death penalty)
Gets a job in an office and probably doesn’t make very great pay
Is this very wholesome image
Trys to be the good guy, and not confident enough to ask out a girl without his superman persona(Similar to Peter Parker in that)

On the other side, there’s Superman.  While he was raised in Kansas, he certainly wasn’t born there, I can’t really take anyone who doesn’t know that seriously.  He is reserved and shy, at least in his Clark Kent persona, but not so much as Superman because he really doesn’t have to be.  His upbringing certainly was traditional, but so to are most people’s, so that really doesn’t say anything about his political ideology.  He has killed to protect others, although let’s be honest, this is a comic book and nobody ever stays dead so I’m not sure how much that means.  He is wholesome and does work for a living, as opposed to Batman, who just lives off his inheritance.  The one thing I disagree with is that he’s not confident enough to ask out a girl, I’m assuming he means Lois Lane here.  The problem is, Lois only had eyes for Superman, but couldn’t see Clark if he was standing right in front of her.  The real point wasn’t that he couldn’t ask her out, it was how to separate the two halves of himself, one of which she loved and the other that she didn’t.  What is important to remember here is that when Lois and Clark eventually did get married, she knew both sides of him and loved both sides of him, unlike with Batman, where he keeps the bat-side of himself a completely separate entity, rarely coming clean with whoever he is with and being honest about who he really is.  The same is really true of Peter Parker, when he and Mary Jane got married, it wasn’t Spider-Man she was interested in, it was Peter, although she knew about both and accepted both.  So if the point is that Superman is more honest than Batman, I’ll agree with that.  Is dishonesty something that marks liberals?  You tell me.

What any of this means, I don’t know.  You can make a case for things like personal responsibility for both characters, both of them give up their own comfort and happiness because they are convinced the world needs them.  They are both selfless individuals.  They are both hard-working.  Neither of them are on the public dole.  All of those seem to be conservative characteristics to me.  Take it as you will, I guess, but let me know what you think below.  Can you make a case that these, or any other comic book superheroes, display the conservative or liberal political ideology?  I’d like to know.

Business with Racist Overtones

mighty2I get really tired of having to explain reality to liberals.  I’ve talked about this a couple of times before, but the liberal stupidity keeps rolling along and I’m putting this here to keep from overly politicizing my other blog. For those in the dark, there’s been a “movement” of sorts, I suppose, to pressure Marvel Comics to put out more predominantly black comics and if they don’t do so, they’re clearly racist.  This whole  debacle started when it was revealed that the new Mighty Avengers comic, which has a largely non-white cast of characters, was being “underordered” by comic retailers, thus, comic retailers must be racist!  These people are clueless in the highest degree and have no clue, or interest, in how business actually works.

Comic book retailers operate on a shoestring profit as it is, they have to be very careful what books they order for their shops and which ones they don’t.  They have to gauge, based on their experience, which ones will likely sell immediately and which ones will just sit around for months and have to be sold at a loss to clear space.  By and large, and I certainly can’t say this is true of everyone, but for the vast majority, the owners don’t give a damn who the team is or what color they are, they just want to make money.  The lowest-selling comic in July, 2013 was Aspen’s Legend of the Shadowclan.  The fact that most retailers didn’t order many, if any, of that title doesn’t mean that they’re biased against ninjas.  It’s absurd.

The fact is, comic shop owners have no control over who comes into their stores and buys what.  Neither does Marvel for that matter.  It is a fact, whether anyone likes it or not, that the top-rated comic superheroes, both for Marvel and DC, happen to be white characters.  That isn’t necessarily a racist thing, these are almost all characters that were created between the 1930s and the 1970s and have demonstrated their popularity and longevity.  It is an undeniable fact that, in the comic book world, the overwhelming majority of characters created in the past 20 years have failed to garner much popularity or  traction with comic book fans.   Therefore, it’s only common sense that a company would cater to their demonstrable audience and sell things that people have proven they’re willing to buy.

See, that’s how business works.  I know liberals seem incapable of understanding this so I’ll go slow.  Business exists to make money.  It does not exist to make social statements, it does not exist to engage in social engineering, it does not exist to push a social agenda.  It’s there to make a buck.  Full stop.  Sure, some companies can work some social justice into their business plan, lots of companies donate money to different causes, both for the tax write-off and for the customer good will and additional purchases that it invariably creates.  Charitable donations are not losing any of these companies business, trust me.  Liberals seem to think that business exists to make them feel good and if the business has to lose money to give them an ego boost, so be it.  They don’t seem to care that they’re wrong about pretty much everything across the board.  These are the same folks who are out trying to get minority actors in movies and on TV, just because of the color of their skin.  Movies and TV producers aren’t racists either, they’re trying to make a financially successful product.  They want to keep their show on TV so they keep getting paid.  They want to be high in the ratings so advertisers are willing to spend more putting their ads on during the show.  This is how it works.

Yet these crazy liberals are convinced, for some reason beyond my comprehension, that there are secret back rooms right now where rich white men are twisting their mustaches and working out devious means to put even more white actors on TV.  It’s utterly insane.  I just don’t understand where they get the absurd idea of racist bugaboos hiding under the bed, waiting to pounce on the unwary.  This is the stuff of the conspiracy theorist, not of any rational, intelligent person.

Now you can argue until you’re blue in the face why some characters are popular and some are not, it doesn’t change the fact that, at least at this moment in time, characters that happen to be white happen to have the most popularity.  But it isn’t the fact that they’re write that makes them popular, it’s the fact that they’ve had a long history, have been well written and have struck a chord with comic book readers.  Whether those readers are reading them because they’re white or not, I can’t say, all I can say is that I pay absolutely no attention whatsoever to the skin color of the characters I like.  Heck, in comics, half the time the characters are green or blue!  It doesn’t matter, to anyone, except these people!  They’re the real racists!  They’re the only people who are making a big deal about skin color!  And they’re the ones who scream the loudest when you point that fact out to them.

I guess that’s yet one more thing liberals are clueless about.

More Liberal Shenanigans on Racism

The dial spins when liberalism is involved.

There are reasons I really hate getting into discussions with liberals on controversial topics, because I know, pretty much without a doubt, that most of them are going to engage in blatantly dishonest tactics instead of just dealing with the actual argument being made.

Case in point, I was having a discussion about racism in comic books, I actually have a post scheduled on that actual debate over on my other blog, but it’s the response that I got there that I wanted to talk about here, since it’s largely off-topic on Cephus’ Corner.  The other article is scheduled to post 8/20 /13 and I’ll put a link to it here when it does.

Very briefly, the discussion started over an assertion that comic writer Christopher Priest was drummed out of Marvel Comics because he objected to being asked to write primarily black and hispanic characters.  The assertion is, he was black and therefore, being given black characters to write was inherently racist.  That Priest decided, of his own accord, to walk away from writing comics for Marvel was the very height of racism, evidence that the entire industry hates black people.  Never mind that there are plenty of black writers and artists working in comics today, it’s got to be racism!

So I pointed out that there are many other explanations, such as the very real, and I think probable, possibility that Priest’s writing talents run to writing ethnic characters.  He’s good at it!  There’s nothing wrong with that, a person’s past experiences often strongly influence their writing and creative style.  I happen to very much enjoy how Christopher Priest writes and he single-handedly revitalized the  character of Black Panther with his run. Let’s not forget that Priest also wrote an excellent run of Deadpool, a white character, but liberals don’t talk about that.  However, just  because Priest claims it was racism doesn’t mean that it was, all he’s shown is that Marvel didn’t let him do whatever he wanted to do.  So what?  They don’t let anyone do whatever they want to do, they are in business to make money and they put people on books where their talents are most likely to garner them more money.  Priest’s considerable talents lent themselves to a particular style of comic book.  If he didn’t like writing those comics, he should quit, which he did.  Such is life.

But of course, the loony left liberals don’t like to have their racism screed questioned so I was immediately attacked, not for what I said, but for my assumed racism.  Yes, I was being declared a racist because I didn’t buy into the “institutional racism against blacks” nonsense that serves as a political platform point for the Democrat Party.  I got instantly attacked, piled on with personal insults, someone even went back and found posts that I wrote back as far as 2005, pulled entirely out of context, to suggest that I was a racist. Nope, doesn’t fly, I own everything I’ve said, in the context in which I said it, but this is really beyond the pale.

Unfortunately, it’s also standard liberal operating procedure.  If you can’t address what someone actually says, pretend they say something else and attack that straw man.  When leftist extremists are involved, it’s not a debate, it’s a witch hunt.  We see the same thing recently in the atheist “community” with PZ Myers and the Shermer claims.  If you say something I don’t like, I’ll do everything in my power to destroy you.  It’s the liberal mantra.

I’ve spent years railing on the failures of liberalism, a rather pointless gesture in the midst of a liberal-heavy atheist “community”, but the more I do it, the more I see former dyed-in-the-wool liberals, the ones who are capable of actually thinking about their positions rather than emotionally reacting to them, admitting that maybe they’re not as liberal as they once thought they were.  Liberalism, like it or not, is a failed political and social philosophy.  It doesn’t do anything to strengthen a society, it doesn’t do anything to improve a culture, it doesn’t produce demonstrably better results.  It makes people weak.  It makes them more dependent on the government. It makes them poorer and less prepared to climb out of that poverty.  It is totally unsustainable, as we see from the world around us today.  Cities fall into bankruptcies due to liberal politics, countries like Greece fall apart because they’ve gone too far into liberal loony land, things are only going to get worse until people realize that having their hand out for a government check isn’t the solution to the world’s problems, it’s the cause.

Liberal dishonesty, like neo-con dishonesty, ought to be expected because both are positions which cannot be rationally justified.  They rely on emotion, not intelligence, which is why, when backed into a corner, they lash out emotionally, not rationally.  It’s no wonder that this planet is terminally screwed up if these are two of the major choices people have to contend with in social and political ideologies.

Considering DC Superheroes

BatmanComic5I was talking today with a friend who went to see the midnight showing of Man of Steel.  Now I am not a Superman fan, in fact, I’m not a big fan of any of the major DC superheroes, I have a fundamental problem with the way that DC handles their characters.  DC, at least traditionally, is more concerned with having costumes than characters.  They always want a Superman.  They always want a Batman.  They always want a Wonder Woman.  If anything happens to their characters, say… Doomsday comes along and “kills” Superman (we know nobody ever dies in a comic book), they find someone else to get into the costume, or at the very least, someone with very similar powers to put on a very similar costume so that the fung shui of the DC universe is not damaged.

Now it’s been decades since I first made that observation and I will admit that Marvel has tended to do the same thing for it’s big properties, although at the time they didn’t.  There is only one Wolverine.  If Logan goes down, they don’t find someone else to don his duds.  I can only think of a handful of times where someone jumped into another man’s outfit in the Marvel Universe, Captain America and Winter Soldier comes to mind, it’s just not the way they do business.

Anyhow, this isn’t about costumes and it isn’t about Superman.  I told him I’m not a big DC guy and he asked if there were any recent DC superhero movies that I liked and… nope, not really.  Didn’t care for the previous Superman outing, Superman Returns.    Didn’t like Green Lantern.  Didn’t care for Watchmen, which isn’t really a DC universe movie, but still.  In fact, to get back to some DC movies I liked, you’d have to go back to the Burton Batman in 1989 or the first two Christopher Reeve Superman movies.  But what about the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy?  Nope, not my thing, and in fact, my least favorite of them was The Dark Knight.  I hated Heath Ledger’s version of Joker, but then again, I hate Joker.  Worse than Joker, I hate the whole Batman menagerie of villains and how they are handled in the DC universe.

Now I understand that everything I’m about to talk about is a marketing and merchandising decision, but I don’t buy into the idea that marketing and merchandising ought to fundamentally affect the way you tell stories, even if, in the real world, they often do.  See, I think Batman should have killed Joker a long time ago.  Yes, I understand Batman’s “code against killing”, but the fact is that Batman doesn’t kill Joker because Joker is a valued licensed character (see the aforementioned marketing and merchandising).  However, in the context of the Batman storyline, it makes no sense that he, or someone else, shouldn’t have offed the majority of the Batman rogues gallery long ago.  Now depending on what version of Joker you’re going with, he may have been the guy who killed Bruce Wayne’s parents.  He’s certainly the madman who has killed thousands of innocent civilians, who crippled Batgirl (in the pre-New 52 continuity), who killed (with the help of fans) Jason Todd, and of course the whole “Death of the Family” thing, when does there come a point in time where enough is enough?  It’s not just Batman’s family that has suffered greatly from this madman, but all of Gotham (and the entire universe if you read the Emperor Joker stuff).  When does it end?

And even if it isn’t Batman that takes him out, I have a hard time believing nobody else would.  Why, in all this time, hasn’t a guard at Arkham Asylum pulled his sidearm (or any weapon for the matter), stuck it in Joker’s mouth and pulled the trigger?  But let’s talk about Arkham for a moment, it’s just a  giant revolving door for psychos.  Why is it still open with as many escapes as crazies have made from there over the years?  Batman drops someone off at the front door and it’s about 30 seconds later that they’re running out the back door.  What gives?  The whole criminal justice system of the DC universe is absurdly flawed.  It’s not just Joker that should have been offed years ago, it’s the majority of Batman baddies.  Penguin?  >BLAM!<  Clayface (any version)?  >SQUISH!<  Killer Croc?  Poison Ivy?  Mr. Freeze?  >KA-BOOM!<  Give me one rational, legitimate, comic-world reason any of them should be kept around.  It’s clear that none of them can ever be rehabilitated, it’s clear they’re going to escape from Arkham over and over again.  Why hasn’t there been a public uprising demanding the heads of these villains?  Makes no sense to me.

comic_06Now outside of the mainline DC universe, people like Frank Miller have turned Batman into the semi-badass that he should be, in fact it was Frank Miller who came up with the Dark Knight concept, but he’s still not open to really protecting society and getting things done regardless of the circumstances.  I always thought that Batman should be DC’s version of Punisher, without the insanity and without the utter bloodlust, someone who was willing to do the job that needed doing.  If Batman was introduced today, without the 70 years of history and backstory, maybe that would be possible.  Now, though, rebranding Batman as anything other than a non-killing hero is virtually impossible.

Now I know I’m railing against the Warner Brothers marketing department, nothing really bad will ever happen to any of these villains, or to any of these heroes.  As I said before, nobody ever dies in comics because they’re too busy milking their properties for money, both in comics, and now in the movies.  That’s why the Arrow TV series is such an anomaly, it doesn’t follow the “code against killing” schtick from the comics, the Hood kills a dozen bad guys an episode.  Yes, they are faceless minions, by and large, but big-name baddies always get away, but it’s a show where people die and I suspect, nobody besides Oliver Queen is really truly safe from the writer’s hatchet.  That’s the way I’d like to feel about comics and about comic movies.  The story is the thing and anyone who gets in the way of the story is expendable.

I know that’s too much to ask from Hollywood, or from the comic producers.  I guess that’s why I pay so little attention to what they produce these days.  Oh sure, I’ll buy Man of Steel when it comes out in DVD, just like I did with the Batman trilogy and Green Lantern, but I suspect it’ll get the same kind of negative reviews from me that the others did.  I don’t expect absolute realism from a comic book movie, after all, we’re talking about people flying around in spandex fighting crime, but I do expect some human reactions and some human behavior, something that we largely don’t get from these movies.  That’s why so many of them are so utterly forgettable and that’s a shame.

Positive Outcomes in Media

I’d really like to think this was true in entertainment media.

Believe it or not, I’m a die-hard optimist.  I know it might not seem that way to read some of the things I write, but I want people to generally succeed, I want the situation to generally improve and I want people to overcome obstacles and become better people for it.  In fact, that’s one major reason I want to do away with religion because I don’t think the human species can really improve while it’s so weighted down with irrational beliefs.  I want a better world.

Perhaps nowhere is this more clear than in the entertainment media that I consume.  I want to watch generally hopeful stories about a future world that I’d actually want to live in, where the people can and do overcome their problems and generally end up in a better situation than they started in.  Yes, I understand this isn’t necessarily always realistic, but it’s my enjoyment, I can make whatever requirements I wish.

That’s why I generally dislike dystopian futures, where mankind generally fares badly.  I want a story where the “heroes” have issues, and they can be truly horrific issues to overcome, but they succeed in the end and the future looks, if not bright, than at least brighter than it had previously.

This applies to all forms of entertainment: television, movies and books.  It also applies to all genres of entertainment, including, and this might surprise people, horror movies.  I love good horror movies, I’ve talked about it before, but a lot of things that go on in the modern horror genre really are a turn-off for me.  I want humans to win in the end.  I want the monster to be defeated.  That is  very, very important to me. There’s been an unfortunate trend in recent years where the people are doomed, the zombies are going to win and the only point to the movie or the TV show or the book is to put off the inevitable extinction of the human species for a few more days.  Why would I want to read that?

It doesn’t necessarily mean that the heroes in the story have to survive at the end though.  I watched John Carpenter’s 1982 remake of The Thing the other night and I think that’s one of the top 10 best horror films I’ve ever seen.  It hits all of the bases.  It’s got a moderately realistic monster, it sets up the situation well and in the end, while we’re supposed to be left wondering if the monster really died, both MacReady and Childs sit in the snow waiting to freeze to death, with the understanding that they’ve saved the world from alien takeover.  It’s very dark, it’s very depressing, nobody survives and you’re not even positive that the alien isn’t going to go dormant in the snow and still take over the world when the rescue crew shows up in the spring, but there’s a certain hope that these twelve men have, through their sacrifice, saved the world, even if you never know for certain that it’s so.  Take that and compare it to a movie like Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, where the characters spend the whole movie fighting the zombies, finally getting to an island where they’re supposedly safe, only to find that the island is overrun with zombies and they all die.  The end.  Um… what?  Why did I just waste two hours of my life on that depressing crap?

Every book I read, every movie I watch, I want to feel like the people are going to win in the end, that they are going to improve their situation, that they are going to be better off than they were when they started.  It might not be a huge improvement and I certainly don’t want any utopias, but moving forward, even incrementally, is what I’m looking for.  It’s such a shame that so many movies today, especially in the horror genre, but in most genres to a certain degree, only want to show the most dark, dank, awful future possible, one where people are destined to fail, where everyone is going to die and where the bad guys, be it a criminal or a monster, is going to win in the end.

Someone please explain where the positive outcome is in that!

Is Every Discussion a Debate?

Don’t you dare question my opinions!

I get challenged on this from time to time, but it’s something that I’m really interested in.  I like to debate.  That much is a given fact.  But I also like to discuss less heated topics, where one side or the other may not be “right”, but I’m still interested, just as I am in a religious debate, what someone believes and why.  However, I get a lot of flack for daring to question the validity of an opinion, no matter how calmly or dispassionately I do so, because apparently, people’s opinions, like their beliefs, should not be open to question.

I don’t get it.

Let me give you an example.  I was having a discussion with someone a couple of weeks ago regarding comic books, specifically why we prefer one “brand” of comics over another.  I took the position that I liked Marvel comics better than DC.  He took the opposite position.  I could present a lot of reasons why I thought Marvel was better in my eyes, I might even do a post about it sometime, but then I asked him why he held his position?  What brought him to that conclusion?  The guy pretty much had a fit and accused me of trying to turn a friendly discussion into a debate.

Um… what?

I never said he was wrong for his opinion, or that he should feel stupid for holding that position, I just wanted to know why he picked it so I could compare it to why I picked my own.  I even went into considerable detail, explaining my reasoning and the facts along my path that led me to adopt my position.  I have my reasons for thinking the way I do and I have no problem enunciating those reasons.

To be honest, the whole situation confuses me.  It’s not like any of these people have seen my bulldog attacks on religion, they have no clue I’m capable of such things.  They’ve never seen me be anything but kind and polite and nice.  I never denigrated the other person’s preference, I never suggested that DC comics suck or that they were stupid to read them.  It really seems that there are people who just hold opinions and have never given a moment’s thought to why they hold them and they get upset if anyone even points out that fact.  It’s like having an exchange like:

I like chocolate ice cream.

Oh?  And what it is about chocolate ice cream that you like?


How do you have a meaningful discussion with someone like that?  It really feels very much like a religious discussion where the theist just assumes their beliefs are true and they shouldn’t have to say anything beyond “I’m right, screw you.”

Sometimes, just trying to communicate calmly drives me crazy.

Reading Challenge: Avengers vs. X-Men

I’ve been an open critic of the modern endless “event” mentality that has been going on in Marvel comics for a number of years.  In the past, they’d have a major “event” once every couple of years.  By major, I’m referring to events which affect most of the Marvel Universe and have far-reaching effects on almost every series they produce.  They did Secret Wars from 1984-1985, followed by Secret Wars II from 1985-1986, but thereafter they didn’t have a massive “event” on that scale, maybe until 1993’s Mys-Tech War.  Frankly, I’m glad I took most of the 90s off from reading comics, it was just an awful decade.

However, these days, they’ve figured out that having constant events is a money-maker so they have an almost endless series of “events” going on.  Just the big ones include 2005’s House of M, 2006’s Civil War, 2007’s The Initiative, etc.  In fact, there are so many “events” these days that if you just compare the raw numbers, even including minor events and crossovers, the total number of “official events” from the 1970s-1990s totals 39, including just long runs in closely-related books.  However, just 2000-2012, the number is absurd.  In 12 years, the number of “events” has been 67.  There were twice as many events in the last 12 years as there were in the previous 30 combined.

As a comic reader at the time, I had recognized this attempt by Marvel to milk more and more money out of the readers by having these absurd mega-crossovers that often branched out to a dozen or more individual titles as well as it’s own core story, so beginning with Civil War, I simply bowed out and jumped off the “event” train.  I carefully avoided reading any of those stories or any comics that were directly affected by those stories.  It saved me a lot of money, I’ll tell you, especially since the majority of those stories just weren’t that good.  Civil War, for instance, was the era where Iron Man took over running S.H.I.E.L.D. and Spider-Man took off his mask in public.  It was the time of mutant registration and I detested every bit of that, hence I didn’t miss not reading it.  Oh sure, I ended up dropping some of my favorite books, like Spider-Man and Iron Man but at least I retained my sanity.  I want good stories, not blatantly obvious cash grabs.  In fact, it was the prevalence of the Marvel “event” that eventually led me to give up reading comics at all.

But you know, it’s hard, after having read them for many decades, to give up cold turkey.  Even though I probably “officially” stopped reading comics around 2007, I’d still pick one up occasionally, just to see if it grabbed me.  None really did but I kept checking in with my fingers crossed.

In 2012, Marvel started releasing it’s most recent “event”, Avengers vs. X-Men, an event which they promised would completely change the way we looked at the Marvel Universe.  With a great deal of trepidation, I decided I’d break my years-long boycott of  the Marvel crossover and give AvX a shot.  It would be just a read through the 12 issues of the maxi-series, I wouldn’t touch any of the crossovers, any of the tangential material, just the main story.  Now that AvX has finally finished, let me give you a rundown of what I thought, from the perspective of a former Marvel reader with virtually no knowledge of the current state of the Marvel Universe.

To be totally up front about it all, it wasn’t bad but it certainly wasn’t great.  There are elements that I enjoyed and frankly, things I thought were ridiculous.  I’m going to give a very cursory explanation of the series, there will certainly be spoilers but nothing too in-depth.  I’m sure anyone who really wanted to read it has done so already anyhow.  The story begins as the Phoenix Force, the same cosmic energy that turned Jean Grey into the Phoenix/Dark Phoenix, is headed for Earth.  Hope Summers, the time-travelling future relative of Jean Grey, is assumed to be the natural host for the Phoenix.  The X-Men, still devastated over the events of House of M, where the Scarlet Witch’s powers erased every mutant from the planet except 198, are seeking a way to revive their race and see the return of the Phoenix as their ticket to renewed mutant-dom.  However, the Avengers see it differently. They think the Phoenix is coming to destroy the planet and they can’t allow that.  Both sides begin a long, drawn out fight over the future of Hope, dragging her one way and then the other until she gets upset and tells both sides what to go do with themselves.  It becomes a free-for-all, the X-Men trying to keep Hope safe so she can rebuild mutant-kind, the Avengers trying to take her into custody so they can prevent her from merging with the Phoenix.  Captain America splits the Avengers into different task forces and sends the most powerful to slow down the approach of the Phoenix, which they fail miserably.  I think it’s important to see that even against the most powerful of the Avengers, the Phoenix kicks their ass with no problem whatsoever.  After all, it has always been a god-like power, an elemental force of nature, even someone as powerful as Thor shouldn’t have a chance to stop it.  As the Phoenix approaches, Hope starts to draw power from it and become exponentially more powerful, easily defending herself from the wishes of both sides.  Everyone worries what will happen, but once the Phoenix arrives, she refuses to bond with it, rejecting it’s energy, afraid she may not be able to handle it’s immense power.  Tony Stark, however, uses experimental super-science in an attempt to break up the Phoenix Force into smaller, more manageable parts, but instead causes it to bond with the five X-Men, thus creating godlike beings out of Cyclops, Colossus, Namor, Emma Frost and Magik.  These five mini-Phoenixes, led by Scott Summers, set out to change the world for the better.  Scott, after all, has been trained by Professor X, the morality is strong with this one, he doesn’t have a self-centered bone in his body.  They make crops grow in deserts, they clean up the environment, they purify the water, it seems like they’re actually doing a lot of the things they had hoped that Hope would accomplish as the Phoenix.  However, there is a dark side to the Phoenix and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  When you can do virtually anything, no matter how moral you are, chances are that eventually you’ll give in to your baser impulses.  Instead of saving the world, the X-Men decide they ought to rule it.  Instead of fixing the planet’s problems, they start thinking it may be better to wipe everything out and start with a clean slate.  The remaining X-Men and Avengers, hunted by the mini-Phoenixes, join forces begin covertly attacking individual Phoenixes from their hidden base in a pocket dimension.  Namor is the first to fall and when he does, his portion of the Phoenix Force is split among the rest, increasing their power.  Next, realizing that they are being hopelessly corrupted by their power, Colossus and Magik take each other out, greatly increasing the power of the remaining two.  Cyclops and Emma Frost give in to the dark side, which isn’t that much of a surprise, and while engaged in a battle against the Avengers, Cyclops shoots Emma in the back, thus taking all of the power.  He transforms into Dark Cyclops, the Phoenix-powered agent of evil.  Professor X shows up, demanding that Cyclops stop before it’s too late, but he is summarily killed by the now evil Cyclops.  No human or mutant can now stand against him, it’s up to Hope, who they’ve been secretly training on K’un-L’un.  With the help of the Scarlet Witch, Hope wrests control of the Phoenix Force from Cyclops and together, they destroy the Phoenix, but only after Super-Hope repairs all the damage to the world caused by Cyclops and, surprise surprise, brings back all the mutants!  Cyclops and his depowered cohorts are placed in chains for their crimes and Captain America announces a new team of Avengers, this time made up of X-Men.

She’s crying alligator tears, everyone knows he’ll be back…

It’s not the greatest story ever but it could have been worse.  Maybe the biggest problem though, as anyone who has read a Marvel comic, or any comic for that matter, knows that Professor X isn’t dead and the Phoenix Force sure isn’t destroyed.  Nobody ever dies in comics, not really.  They just sit it out for a while until someone comes up with a reason to bring them back.  Especially in this currently movie-dominated genre, copyright laws require the characters to keep appearing in the comics every now and then to keep them as viable candidates for big-budget box-office blockbusters.  This has been going on for so long now that nobody with even a passing familiarity with comics cares if anyone dies.  It has no emotional impact.  They’ll be back.  It’s only the clueless noobs who don’t understand that death is for… a while, make a big deal about it.  Remember 1992’s Death of Superman and the media hype?  Tons of mainstream, non-comics people crying that Superman, the cultural icon, was dead?  Sorry, just a cash-grab.

So why do comic companies keep playing these games?  Why do they keep hyping the death of major characters when they know nobody believes them?  Certainly, it can’t be for emotional impact, we just look at Spider-Man splattered all over the concrete or Batman blown to kingdom come and shrug.  It’s no more real now than it was the last 47 times they did it.  Professor X is dead?  How is this any different than Uncanny X-Men #167?  Or during Legion Quest? Or Messiah Complex?  Or Ultimatum?  Or heck, if you want entertaining, the new X-Treme X-Men where alternate universe Professor X’s are killed repeatedly and he ends up as little more than a head in a jar?  He’s dead?  So what?  I guess it could have been worse, the cover to issue 11 could have been emblazoned “In this issue, an X-Man will die!”  It wasn’t that hyped, even though Marvel blew the surprise in interviews done the same day the issue was released.

I guess the biggest problem is that it was a stupid fight to begin with.  Where Captain America started out wanting to protect Hope from the Phoenix Force, he ended up doing exactly what Cyclops wanted to do the whole time.  There was never a reason for both sides to start swinging, had Cap and Cyclops not been acting like immature asshats.  You’d think that after all these years, both of the, would have learned to talk things out before unleashing superhuman abilities?  But no, if any of these characters were actually reasonable, they’d actually have to work to come up with decent storylines.  Another absurdity comes with the fact that Cyclops really only killed one person throughout AvX, yet he’s being treated as one of the greatest monsters in history, yet he stands beside Wolverine who has killed hundreds or thousands of people in his day and the Phoenix caused Jean Grey to detonate a star and kill millions.  Sorry, Cyclops just doesn’t seem that bad, especially since he was being controlled by an extraterrestrial elemental force.

So now that it’s all over, we move into the ridiculously named era of Marvel NOW!  Sorry, frankly not impressed, any more than I was with DC’s New 52.  I guess we’ll see if decent writers can save anything from this mess in their Avengers vs. X-Men: Consequences.  I’m not really holding my breath, but we’ll see.

Comic Regrets: Teen Titans

I was a huge fan of the “original” Teen Titans, well, maybe not the originals, but the New Teen Titans which started in the comic to the left.  It started in 1980 and I was really about the same age as a lot of the Titans, which probably explains why the team appealed to me.

However, after being dead and gone for a while, DC resurrected the Titans with lots of new characters.  That was the problem.  The Teen Titans became little more than JLA Jr. once again.  It was for the “next generation” characters, all miniature versions of the big existing heroes.  You had Superboy, Robin, Wonder Girl and Kid Flash, along with a few select members of the old Titans grown up.

The problem is, I don’t want to read about JLA Jr.  If I wanted that, I’d be reading JLA.  I don’t like Justice League.  I can’t stand Superman, I really  don’t like Batman much and Wonder Woman, Flash and the rest bore me to tears.  I’ve already written about how much I hate the DC method of filling suits.  Those are all suits that have been filled time and time again.  I don’t care about suits, I care about characters.

That’s unfortunately all that Teen Titans turned into.  It’s just suit-fillers.  It’s Superman Jr. and Flash Jr. and Wonder Woman Jr. and Batman Jr.  Okay, yes, the “original” did have three of those characters, but the stories were rarely about their older versions, nor did their older versions show up much.  In the new one, it seemed like every episode was about getting the Junior members ready to take over their older version’s cape.  After all, they’re going to have to go up to the Big (Justice) Leagues, right?

In the same general timeframe as New Teen Titans was Batman and the Outsiders.  It was, again, a series about young heroes being guided into adult roles, but, like NTT, the Outsiders were never being groomed to fill a suit, they were almost all original characters and none of them, outside of Batman who left the comic entirely in issue 32, had any connection to the JLA, and even Batman wasn’t a current member at the time.  You had Geo-Force, Katana, Halo and Looker, all new creations, along with Black Lightning and Metamorpho, existing characters who were entirely independent in the DC universe.  All of these characters grew and changed in Outsiders, Geo-Force becomes seriously involved and then leaves his girlfriend, Looker leaves her husband, etc.

Likewise, the New Teen Titans grew in their series.  Robin became Nightwing.  Donna Troy got married.  Wally West stopped being Kid Flash.  They fought new enemies including Trigon, Brother Blood and Deathstroke the Terminator.

I always hate it when companies take something done right and ruin it.  Marv Wolfman and George Perez had it right with New Teen Titans.  Jim Aparo and Mike Barr had it right with Batman and the Outsiders.  There was a good formula, good writing, good art, the characters gelled and the quality was more or less consistent.  Then, DC tried to “improve” on the formula and ended up ruining it, which seems to be very common.  Instead of going back to what worked, they keep retrying different things and none of the titles lasts long as people reject it.

And so, while I’m keeping the whole 130 issue run of New Teen Titans, issues 1-33 of Teen Titans are going away.  Likewise, my collection of Outsiders that ran 2003-2007 is going away but I’m keeping the original.  Both should have been better, but they lost the magic.

The Look of the Future

I’ve been kicking this around in my head for a while now.  Originally, it started as a comparison of the DC and Marvel superhero universes and why I preferred one over the other.  Then I realized that it applied not just to comic books, but to TV and movies and books and, honestly, to my very outlook on the future.  It colors why I enjoy some genres and why I hate others.  I think that’s worth exploring.

See, I want a future that’s hopeful.  I want to see a future that’s bright.  It doesn’t have to be rosy and perfect, certainly I’m more realistic than that, but I want to think that tomorrow is going to be better than today, or at the very least, no worse than today.  That’s why I reject some futuristic genres out of hand.  I detest cyberpunk, for example because  I hate the concepts that make up the genre.  I don’t want a dystopian future where people are just tools, where society has broken down and where throwing away one’s humanity is not only expected, but glorified.

This is true across pretty much every type of media.  In film, I conceptually dislike movies like Blade Runner and Gattaca (although artistically, that may be another matter).  In books, I hate the writings of William Gibson and Neal Stephenson.  In fact, now that I think about it, this is one of the major reason I hate most zombie movies, and in fact, most modern horror films.  There’s usually no indication that the humans are going to survive or triumph over the bad guys, at best, they buy themselves another few days before their utter destruction.  I really hate films which depict humanity as a rapidly devolving, failing or doomed lifeform, buried beneath an ineffective government, corrupt corporations and abusive technology.  I don’t necessarily mind if those things appear as elements of a storyline, so long as we see, through the plot, that humanity is improving in relation to those things.

Take, for example, the movie Aliens.  It’s certainly the best of the Alien franchise, but it does give us a lot of the elements I would normally hate.  You have the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, which we see through the story uses humans as pawns and has no problem sacrificing them for profit.  You have monsters which are portrayed as superior to humans in just about every way, which, very much like zombies now that I think about it, will continue to replicate and grow stronger so long as humans exist, and will go on long after the humans are extinct.  Yet, humans in the movie do survive and defeat the enemies.  Burke, the representative of W-Y, gets captured after trying to sacrifice Ripley and Newt for the profit of the corporation and ends up getting killed, very satisfyingly, by the very aliens he sought to smuggle back to Earth.  The humans struggle and are nearly defeated, but in the end, the alien nest is destroyed by human technology and the survivors get away.

By the same token, I don’t care for post-apocalyptic stories either, for much the same reason.  I view the future through the lens of advancement.  We get better.  We get smarter.  We get more advanced.  Anything that interferes with that metric doesn’t get much admiration from me.  Sure, there may be things that happen that cause a misstep, we can have disasters, we can have problems and wars and the like, but those should be pebbles in the road that trip us up, not massive boulders that smash us down again.

Even if we look at a movie like Mad Max: The Road Warrior, which happens long after the apocalypse, it has a brighter future as the survivors escape the horrors of the desolate future and head for a safe place to rebuild.  Sure, along the way you’ve got the crazies in the wasteland, in a future where, strangely, they fight over gas but spend most of their time just driving around, yet nobody knows how to make bullets.  It’s not a bad movie, certainly it’s the best of the Mad Max films, but it’s not those elements that make it good.

And hey, since I mentioned zombies, which are my most detested horror movie monsters, let’s touch on them for a moment.  I hate zombies.  Sure, they can produce some fantastic comedy, such as Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland, but if you think about it at all realistically, just about every zombie movie or TV series is a long-term death sentence for humanity.  Once the plague starts, you just can’t realistically stop it.  To kill a zombie, the human typically has to score a clean head shot and destroy the brain.  Shooting it anywhere else just delays the beast.  Zombies, on the other hand, just have to land one of their infected teeth into any convenient piece of flesh and the infection takes it from there.  You can go human-to-zombie but you can never go zombie-to-human.  Zombies “reproduce” much faster than humans can, they have every advantage and eventually will win, unless you catch the plague in it’s infancy.  In fact, most modern “serious” zombie movies never show the zombies losing, the “victory” for humans is getting somewhere not currently infected and eking out a primitive life until you die of natural causes.  Not exactly an uplifting moment.

In comics, which started this whole thing I’d like to thank Grundy who commented on my article for reminding me of this, but about the same time as Ex Machina, another Brian K. Vaughn vehicle, Y, The Last Man was going on.  It was the story of a world where almost all of the men were killed by an unexplained plague, leaving one man and his male monkey pet in a world of women.  Sure, that might be the dream of lots of men… immature men, but in reality, that’s a death sentence for the species.  Genetic diversity has gone down the drain, no matter how many of him they can clone, or what few other men they manage to make copies of.  You need many thousands of different men, at minimum, to guarantee species survival.  From issue 1, it was the end of the human race, no matter how they tried to get around it, and it was just delaying the inevitable.  Bad future?  Absolutely.  Why should I want to read about it?

Seriously, let me ask people who like this kind of fiction, what it is that they enjoy about it?  The more I look at it, the more I think about it, the more I encounter it in games or TV or movies or books, the less I want anything to do with it.  Isn’t the future supposed to give us hope?  Isn’t it supposed to show us the way to improve?  If I want to know about the problems the world faces, I can just look outside.  Entertainment is supposed to make us feel happy, it’s supposed to show us that the future is a place we can look forward to, where they’ve solved the problems of today and, even though it has it’s own problems, it’s not the end of the world around every corner.

So what is it that appeals to people about these dystopian, apocalyptic futures?  I honestly don’t get it.

Comic Regrets: DC Focus

This time, my regrets aren’t focused toward a single comic, but toward an entire imprint, put out by DC, called “DC Focus”.  It was a very short-lived imprint, consisting of 4 titles, where the superpowered individuals didn’t necessarily become heroes.

Now as I’ve said before, at the time I was really looking for stories of superpowered individuals that didn’t fit into the typical four-color superhero mold and on the surface, DC Focus offered just that.  It was around for less than a year and really didn’t fare well in sales, the majority of books were cancelled in 8 issues or less.  Here’s what they offered:

Fraction was the story of a top-secret military powered armor suit that was stolen by a group of four criminals, each one of which took part of the suit.  As you might expect, their major activities included in-fighting over who should control the whole suit and committing crimes.

Hard Time told the story of a 15-year old kid who was involved in a fatal school shooting and put into prison for 50 years, only to discover that he was starting to develop psychic powers.

Kinetic was the story of a disabled youth who lives vicariously through the comic book adventures of Kinetic, but doesn’t realize that he’s actually got powers of his own.

Touch was the story of a Las Vegas promoter who finds people with superhuman abilities and tries to market them into a financial success.  Little does anyone know that he, himself, gives people these abilities, but only to one person at a time and with no ability to control which powers each individual actually gets.

The real problem that I had with all of them is that they went too far the wrong way.  I did want non-traditional superhuman books, but all four of these ended up making the “heroes” complete douchebags.  They just weren’t people you’d want to have special abilities, even though, I’ll admit, some of the things that happened were probably more realistic than putting on a costume and fighting crime.  Still, I really wanted people who weren’t heroic to begin with, who weren’t necessarily good people who did nice things, but who came to that realization once they had special abilities that working to help people was a good thing to do.

While I’ll be the first one to say that an integral, objective moral code doesn’t exist, we all do share in the inherent social contract and we are all evolutionarily programmed with an understanding of enlightened self interest.  We know that if we want others to treat us well, we need to treat others well.  We reciprocate good treatment with good treatment, we reciprocate bad treatment with bad, but we understand what kind of behavior we ought to engage in, unless we’re mentally unstable, that brings about the best result for ourselves and for society at large.  I don’t think I’d even mind if you had someone who had been a criminal, who found themselves with a super suit or amazing powers, continuing that life that they had known for a while.  However, as time goes on, as they realize that they don’t have to hurt people, they don’t have to break the law to be successful, that they can go from being an underground criminal to an above-ground citizen, the overwhelming majority of people would do so if given the chance.

That reminds me of another, entirely unrelated comic done by DC called The Power Company.  It was a great concept, someone who decided that instead of fighting crime, they’d charge companies and individuals to protect their assets and serve as bodyguards.  It’s hard to understand how they hadn’t come up with that idea before.  Very early on, they decided that they’d also do some pro bono work for those who couldn’t afford to pay and that was a good thing, but unfortunately, the comic decided to go largely down that road, with the freebie cases being much more common than the pay cases.  That’s not how capitalism works, sorry.  I want that reality.  I want the recognition that these superheroes need to eat too.  They need to make money.  They need to put a roof over their family’s heads.  That doesn’t mean they can’t also be decent human beings, it doesn’t mean they’re going to ignore the cries of the victim if they’re not getting paid, it’s just a bit closer to reality and, at least to start, Power Company did it well.

It’s unfortunate that so many of these comics that, I suppose, have a shot at being more “realistic” also fail so badly.  Power Company never gained a strong readership and died at issue 18.  All of the DC Focus books died within their first year.  There are others that I’ll go into in later posts which did the same thing.  Either they were too dark and gritty and failed to attract a readership from comics fans who wanted a more upbeat tempo or they started out light and eventually slid right into the same old tired superhero stereotype.

Why can’t we find stories that have a well understood goal and can walk that tightrope, balancing realistic stories against dark realities?  I know if they could, I’d be reading it.

Comic Regrets: Firestorm

Actually, this is the story of two regrets.  See, I loved the original Firestorm.  It’s one of the few comics from DC that I ever really got into, the tale of Ronnie Raymond and Professor Stein, two men who were stuck together through accident and had to find a way to coexist.  It was a great story, it originally ran, in 2 series, from 1978-1986.  It also had wonderful writing, something that I think was missing from DC comics.  Series creator Gerry Conway introduced a great sense of humor into the pages, expertly walking a narrow line between being too serious and too silly.  The original run lasted 5 issues and the second, 100 issues until Conway left the title and it took a turn, tragically, to the absurdly serious and topical.  Firestorm became a crusader against nuclear proliferation and as Professor Stein was dying of terminal cancer, Firestorm was transformed into a combination of Ronnie Raymond, Russian superhero Pozhar and the disembodied Stein running the show.  It just wasn’t the same and I left it then, really missing the original series and hating what it had become.  It wasn’t too long until, in DC’s 2004 Identity Crisis saw the death of Ronnie Raymond.

That didn’t stop DC though, shortly thereafter, DC revived Firestorm with a new character taking over the reins.  This is one of the things I absolutely hate about DC, they are very costume-driven.  It doesn’t matter who wears the suit, the only thing anyone reads the comic for is the suit, not for the character inside of it.  This time, they put Jason Rusch, who had received the “Firestorm matrix” from the dying Ronnie Raymond, into the suit.  I never cared for Rusch.  I gave it a shot, but Rusch came off as a “token black kid in a superhero costume”.  He was purely stereotype.  Smart kid, living in the ghetto, with a single parent who wanted to do good by him but never could.  I don’t remember the details anymore, but at the time it occurred to me that his father kept pushing him to be “blacker”.  I couldn’t stand it.  It lasted a couple of issues before I dropped it.

More recently though, they gave it another shot with their “New 52” reboot in 2011, this time teaming Jason Rusch and Ronnie Raymond together as Nuclear Men.  They hated each other, they fought and frankly, the chemistry was awful.  It was a complete reboot, nothing from their past ever happened and that could have been either good or bad.  Both Jason and Ronnie were high school students from “different sides of the track”.  They were involved with an accident, caused by Professor Stein’s “god particle” that gave them both the ability to transform into different versions of Firestorm.  While the concept, I suppose, was interesting in theory, in practice it was horrible.  They spend more time squabbling and beating each other up than they did actually learning how to work together.  They could combine their powers into an incredibly powerful nuclear monster, but even when combined, they still yelled at each other.  It was just a mess, I think I made it through 6 issues before throwing in the towel.

It’s really a shame because the original 2 series were really excellent, but I have to chalk that up to the writing of Gerry Conway.  After he left, the series was never the same and it devolved into the same kind of suit-swapping nonsense that makes up the majority of the DC universe.

I still miss it, but I think I’ll give up trying new Firestorm offerings in the future.  It just doesn’t look like they’re capable of recapturing the original magic or fun.

Comic Regrets: Ex Machina

This is probably going to turn into a short series, focusing on comics that I once collected, but I realized, over time, that I just had no interest in where they were going.  Since my wife and I have been going through boxes of comics, trying to figure out what to get rid of and what to hang onto, there’s a massive amount of stuff that we bought, we thought we’d like, but ended up not being able to stand.

One of those comics was the Brian K. Vaughn vehicle, Ex Machina.

Now at the time, I was really looking for more “realistic” superhero comics.  I was hoping to find something that presented superheroes as they might be in the real world.  Marvel and DC were really pimping fantastic tales with guys in flashy costumes who were largely loved and/or tolerated by the non-powered public and allowed to run wild by the government and frankly, I had enough of that.  So I was hoping to find something that showed how someone with extraordinary powers might fare in the modern day real world.  Certainly I expected it to be relatively dark, as I didn’t think your regular Joe would embrace the idea of someone who could do superheroic stuff with open arms, more likely it would be met with fear, but it had to be better than everyone waving at the guy flying by in his underoos.

Ex Machina is the story of Mitchell Hundred, a guy who found he had the ability to talk to electronics and influence their actions.  He donned a costume, took on the mantle of The Great Machine, and ended up changing history on 9/11 when he intervened in the terrorist attack.  As such, it launched a political career as mayor of New York City and set him on the path toward the White House.

So far, so good I guess.  It was certainly realistic, it certainly had a lot of the elements I wanted.  People admired the Great Machine for what he’d done, but people also hated and feared him because he was different.  It could have been exactly what I wanted, except Vaughn turned it into a liberal political comic and the superhero elements became entirely secondary.  You saw lots of flashbacks with the early days of the Great Machine, but once Hundred was in office, he rarely actually used his powers for anything significant and getting into costume?  Forget it.  The comic became about liberal politics in New York City.  It was about gay marriage.  It was about racism.  It was about political backstabbing.  It was really about everything but being a superhero in the real world.  Maybe that made it even more realistic, but that wasn’t what I wanted to read.  Even though I knew it was ending with issue #50, I dropped it somewhere in the early 40s.  While the writing and art was always good, it just wasn’t the story that I was looking for.  It isn’t that I didn’t enjoy it for what it was, at least in the broad strokes, but when you had issue after issue after issue of “is Hundred gay?  Is he going to support gay rights?  What does his staff think?”, it got tiring.  What did any of that have to do with the genre?  Nothing.  Therefore, I, as a genre-enjoying reader, just couldn’t stick with it.  I moved on.  Ex Machina might have been a critically acclaimed comic that busted genre stereotypes, but that’s not what I wanted.  I wanted superheroes in the real world.  I got liberal politics on a barely-superhero backdrop.

Thanks but no thanks.

The Good Old Days of Comics

About a week ago, my wife and I had nothing to watch on TV so we pulled out Iron Man to watch.  It’s probably my favorite of the current crop of superhero films so I never pass up a chance to watch it.  Immediately following, I threw in Iron Man 2.  It’s not as good a film, but certainly I enjoy it so might as well make it a two-fer.

That got me thinking, especially since my wife and I had just gone through about a dozen long-boxes of comics deciding what to get rid of.  So much of what we’ve bought in recent years is just taking up space and we’re never going to read it again so we decided we might as well dump it on eBay.  We don’t care about making money, just in freeing up space.  These boxes are only comics that have come out in the last decade or so, we have lots of other boxes of classic comics that we’re keeping in storage.

So I started reading through the digital copies of Iron Man that I had stored away.  I downloaded them years and years ago, I got them because if I ever wanted to read some of the comics I have in storage, I didn’t want to dig through boxes, I might as well read the scanned versions because it’s more convenient.  I have full or near full runs of Iron Man, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Avengers, Daredevil, Spider-Man and many, many more.  Before you ask, no, I don’t feel at all bad pirating all of them, I actually own most of them anyhow.

The first thing I must say is that the stories back in the old days were much better than the stories in modern comics.  I occasionally look in on some of the modern comics, in fact going back to 1963 also made me grab some of the current issues and there just isn’t any comparison.

That’s not to say there’s nothing wrong with the old comics, especially to modern eyes.  Comics from the 60s and 70s read like a thesaurus exploded.  My memory might not be that great, but I don’t recall anyone talking like that back in the day.  You have street thugs talking like Rhodes scholars.  Nobody ever talked that way.  There are also stories that come across rather silly to modern eyes, they dealt with social issues of the day that simply have no application today.

So far, I’ve only read up to about issue 45 and when I started reading comics, the first Iron Man I ever bought was #68, issued in April 1974.  The first run of Iron Man comics had 332 issues and I plan on reading through them all.  This includes some of the most classic, essential storylines that Iron Man ever had, including the Demon in a Bottle storyline that ran in issues #120-128 and Armor Wars which appeared in #225-231.  I honestly don’t think that Marvel has come close to some of these classic stories past the Volume 1 series.

See, I love Iron Man, just as a concept.  My three favorite Marvel superheroes are Iron Man, Spider-Man and Daredevil and I like them all for the same reason.  They can take off their costumes and be normal people, living normal lives.  They are superheroes by choice, not by chance.  Unlike so many other Marvel heroes, they’re not green, they don’t have wings or tails, they are not forced into the role by the physical freaks that they are.  That was sort of the X-Men schtick and while there’s certainly a place for that, it’s not what really drew me to it.

Especially in the case of Tony Stark, when that costume comes off, he’s just a normal guy.  He might be a billionaire playboy, but he has no underlying abilities.  Peter Parker and Matt Murdoch, even in civilian garb, have abilities to call on in an emergency, Stark has none of that.  Without the suit, he might be a genius but he’s a powerless genius.  I think that draws me to the character most of all.  In more recent incarnations, where they’ve tried to do Extremis and the Ultimate version, where the suit is a part of the man, I’ve been much less interested because he’s no longer human, he’s superhuman.

In fact, this has gotten me into re-reading tons of old comics.  We sat down to watch The Incredible Hulk and yes, I loaded up a bunch of old Hulk comics on the tablet and am reading them.  I also stuck on a pile of John Byrne Alpha Flights.  It’s been a lot of fun, “paging” through old comics that I know and have loved and recognizing how much better they are, even 30-40 years later, than the crap that’s coming out today.

It’s no wonder that the comics industry is in the dumper today.  There just isn’t much quality and the stories that appeal to a wide audience certainly aren’t there.  They’re just a vehicle for getting movies made today and when that goes away, as it inevitably will, where does that leave the comics?

Spiraling into oblivion.

Free Comic Book Day Sucks

Yesterday was Free Comic Book Day, an annual event that happens on the first Saturday in May.  Supposedly, it’s a means of introducing new readers to the comics scene by providing comics, free-of-charge, to anyone who wants to walk into a comic book shop.  I suppose in theory, it’s a good idea and some places have a lot of success with it.

I’m just not impressed.  Neither are any of the local comic shops.  In fact, I think the few comic shops that remain in my local area have given up on it entirely, they had no displays, no free comics and no hoopla during FCBD at all.  We just happened to have stopped by on FCBD and the shop wasn’t any busier than it usually is.  There were a few people looking around, one mother with two kids buying Spongebob comics, but otherwise, it was a complete non-event.

I think the majority of the problem here is that the entire cost of FCBD is borne by the shops themselves, which are operating on a tight enough margin as it is.  FCBD was originally come up with back in 2002 as a means for Diamond Distributors, the largest comic book distributor in the world, to sell more comics.  Most of the major, and some of the minor, producers do make a FCBD comic available, but these are not free to the stores, they have to be purchased and then distributed free of charge on that day.  That’s often a big investment with very little demonstrable return.  Like it or not, the comic market in the U.S. has failed, fewer and fewer people are reading comics than ever before.  Where the top titles sold close to a million copies a month 40 years ago, today they’re lucky to sell 80,000.  The prices have gone up, the page counts have gone down, and as far as I’m concerned, so has the quality.  As much as some people talk about how great the stories are, every time I’ve gone back to comics, hoping to find something… anything to read, I’ve been horribly disappointed.  I can read comics from the 80s and still enjoy them.  Today?  Hell no.

I will be honest, I just don’t read comics anymore.  My wife picks up a couple, my kids read 1-2 each, but I just can’t get into them.  Back when DC introduced their New 52 reboot, I gave them a shot again, I grabbed a big handful of comics from both DC and Marvel, hoping to find something to enjoy.  I came up entirely empty.

The specific problem with FCBD is that the comics are just short samplers and with the exception of the biggest companies, are usually attempts by publishers to garner a few more readers for their failing lines.  Look at what was offered this year.  Of the “big two”, DC offered a sampler and Marvel, predictably, an Avengers comic.  Okay, I suppose that’s not horrible, although, while Avengers clearly is meant to tie-in to the movie release, Avengers isn’t the biggest or most popular comic that Marvel produces.  The rest, though, really seem pretty pointless.  I don’t care about Simpsons, although they’re Bongo’s only claim to fame.  In fact, I really didn’t see a thing in the list that I’d read at all, or that got me excited to go to a comic shop to get it, free or not.

Now granted, I’m looking at it from the perspective of a 46-year old man, but one who grew up reading comics, who actively collected comics, on and off, from about 1972-2006.  I still have thousands of comics in long boxes, massive runs of X-Men and Avengers and Spider-Man, mainstream and independent comics, things that are probably worth a lot and lots that are worth less than the paper they’re printed on.  I’ve written in the past why I think the American comic market has failed and while I don’t want to go into tons of depth, I think there are massive problems that simply spell the slow, agonizing death of the American comic book industry unless the industry is willing to implement massive and immediate changes.

There are some things that are fundamentally problematic about the current American comic book system.  First off, you have characters that stick around forever.  They never change significantly, or if they are ever allowed to change, they get reset relatively quickly because you can never have a character that isn’t instantly identifiable to the non-comic audience, they might not run out to see the latest big budget blockbuster.  The characters stagnate and the stories get predictable.  Character A runs into a difficult situation, they dig deep, come up with the strength to overcome their obstacle and come out stronger and better than before.  Lather, rinse and repeat next month.  Continue until the character is just too strong and hit the big reset button to reduce them back to the beginning.  Do it all over again.  They’ve been doing this for decades because they cannot imagine not producing a comic book with these characters.  They might not be able to sell it to the movies!  So they crank out these million-times-told tales over and over and over again.

American comic book producers need to be introduced to the concept of a limited run.  Tell a story and be done with it.  Sure, you can have a limited stable of reappearing characters, but most comics ought to run a few issues, or a few dozen issues, and then go away.  Wasn’t that a great story about Ricky the Squirrel Boy?  Hey, what’s next?  If someone comes up with a new story for Ricky, put that out.  The need of the current industry to put out hundreds and hundreds of issues in any particular comic line is problematic.

The problem is, the comics industry gets easily distracted.  Instead of making fundamental changes, they take any lifeline as an excuse not to really do anything different.  Currently, that lifeline is movies.  Over the past decade or so, comic book movies have become all the rage and have been the single element keeping the industry afloat.  They don’t have to make a better product, all they have to do is keep licensing the characters to movie studios and reaping the fees.  With their companies not being on the verge of imminent bankruptcy for the moment, they keep on making the same mistakes.  There’s no impetus for rethinking their failed business strategies.  Some day though, probably some day soon, the movies will go out of vogue and they’re going to be back in the hot seat with no plan on how to stay solvent.

But that’s another issue.  While these movies do make tons of money, the comic producers are making almost no effort whatsoever to  capitalize on them.  These are big-screen billboards for their comics, yet they do absolutely nothing to get the mainstream audience watching the films into the comic shops to buy the comics.  Surely there are people who want to read the further adventures of the Avengers after seeing the film this weekend, right?  So how are they supposed to know that these adventures exist, much less where to find them?  Even if they could find them, would they know what the hell was going on in a comic that’s been running for decades?  What would make them want to keep buying month after month?  If Marvel could capture even 1% of the movie-going audience for this weekend and convert them into comic book readers, their financial troubles would be over.  My solution to this has always been simple, it just takes effort.  For those theaters showing Avengers, produce a trade-paperback sized special edition comic that goes into the background of the Avengers, gives an overview of important events in the comic and provides a bridge between what they just saw on screen and what’s currently going on in the comic stories.  Then put the Comic Locator website and phone number all over the thing so people know where to go get the comics!  Have these things available for sale in the theaters and in comic shops during the month of the movie’s release.

There’s actually so much more to this, I’m going to have to do a separate post on all of the changes that ought to be made to save the industry.  Otherwise, this is going to become a book in it’s own right.  Look for a followup soon.

The comic book market was once fun.  It once had lots of great art and amazing stories.  It just doesn’t anymore, at least as far as I’m concerned.