Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Comics Shouldn't Necessarily Be Good

I did something I'm not proud of. I posted a snarky message on a blog about comics. Comics Should Be Good is usually a pretty good blog, though quite often it loses the plot or displays questionable judgment.

To tell the truth, I have no problem with good comics, or even comics that aspire to be good. It's just that the bad ones are usually more fun. Take for example one of my all-time favourite issues, Challengers of the Unknown #87 from 1978. With early, unremarkable art from future awesomizor Keith Giffen, the Challs team up with Deadman and a pre-Alan Moore Swamp Thing in the year 12,000,000 AD to pit battle against the fearsome-sounding Sunset Lords and their hordes of mutants. It was the last issue of the series (the Challs wouldn't be seen again until 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths--another exhilaratingly fun awful comic--and wouldn't get their own title again until future comics superstars Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale did their first work for DC on good-aspirant miniseries in 1991) and included the awesome cut-away map of Challengers' Mountain similar to the one seen here (which is from the 1980s Who's Who). The dialogue is winceworthy and most of the concepts are lifted (as was the trend between '78 and, oh, '86) from Star Wars. It is not, by any sane definition, a "good comic". But I highly recommend it.

Douglas Wolk in his recent Reading Comics, made a case for bad comics in his chapter on The Tomb of Dracula called "The Cheap, Strong Stuff", which jibes with what British comics fans have come to call thrillpower! Most of the stuff in the Showcase Presents line of reprints from DC fits under this umbrella. It was knocked out quickly and cheaply, full of gimmicks, and never aspired to transcend any ridiculous notion of what a comic book should or shouldn't be. They simply were. Comics weren't, and didn't want to be, good until Alan Moore's Watchmen. Oh sure, there were pretentious comics before that, most famously the O'Neil and Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow run from the late 60s. But even those were, at least, still gimmicky. After Watchmen, comics didn't just want to be good, they wanted to be Important. Yechhh. They wanted to be BIFF! POW! NOT JUST FOR KIDS ANYMORE! And, in that, they succeeded. Not only weren't comics for kids, but they weren't even for human beings anymore.
There's a lot of bad comics out there, but none so willfully awful as All Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder by Frank Miller and Jim Lee. Even the publishing schedule of the mag (a full year once passed between issues) makes you want to blow chunks. Blow. Chunks. With each new issue it becomes more repellant, exaggerating the most excruciating elements of the previous issue. It's pretty rad.
Its direct opposite, the Bizarro All Star Batman, if you will, is All Star Superman. Tenderly written by Grant Morrison and gorgeously rendered by Frank Quitely, ASS edifies and revels in the Silver Age gimmickry and goofiness that ASSBATS pretends to abhor and bulldoze over with unchecked MANLINESS.
Compare any issue of All Star Batman with the nearly-universally praised Criminal, a noirish caper mag by generally pretty good Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (who for some reason keeps turning up as an inker on shitty DC superhero books). Even though you may feel more, um, intellectually satisfied after reading Criminal, you'll feel even more intellectually satisfied after reading Crime & Punishment. But All Star Batman touches you in that sick, venal way that only comics can.

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