Archive for category comics
A few weeks ago, Chris Garcia from The Drink Tank asked me for some brief thoughts on DC’s Before Watchmen. With the enormous new Alan Moore interview on the subject appearing yesterday, I thought I’d share my in-no-way-comprehensive reaction.
Over the years, Watchmen has become something I admire more than love. When I first read it, however, it absolutely amazed me. If I try, I can still remember the sick, breathless sensation I felt reading its grim climax.
Anyway, Watchmen survived Snyder’s film and it’ll survive these Before Watchmen prequels too. It is a little sad that someone will have to wade through all the prequels on the shelf to purchase the original. If DC was serious about this, they’d do a single 12-issue story – something to sit proudly next to the Moore and Gibbon’s collected Watchmen – instead of these scattershot miniseries.
Corporate comics will always focus on characters rather than stories because it lets them produce more material and make more money. (The idea that Rorschach has been sitting, unused, for decades must’ve been making DC executives wake up in cold sweats.) As Josh Flanagan wrote for iFanboy, DC have the legal right to make more Watchmen against the wishes of Alan Moore, and “morality and what’s right doesn’t come into it.” But why shouldn’t morality come into it? Isn’t the whole point of morals that they come into everything?
The most depressing thing about Before Watchmen for me isn’t the cult of nostalgia or corporate greed or wondering why Darwyn Cooke said yes. It’s seeing how – yet again – so many comic book fans automatically take the side of the company over the creator. Do they think Marvel and DC are the ones protecting these characters? And unhappy creators could cost them the new stories they desperately want? I don’t know – but if superheroes teach us anything, I’m pretty sure it’s not “morality doesn’t come into it”.
Over at Bookslut this month, I forego my usual column for an epic interview with writer Matt Fraction about the return of his comic Casanova. It’s amazing what a difference it makes when someone happily gives you over an hour to chat instead of the twenty minutes common to film and TV interviews. I hope you agree.
As always, there was plenty we talked about that didn’t make the final cut, mostly because I try to keep my Bookslut stuff from becoming too seeped in superheroes. (I fail at this with embarrassing regularity.)
Here’s a little more of our conversation about comics as cinema, accelerated storytelling, his superhero writing on Iron Man and Fear Itself, and his appreciation of Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis.
One thing I admire about Casanova is its crazy economy of storytelling. And that’s one reason why I can’t imagine Casanova: The Movie – unless it was something like Total Recall was to Philip K. Dick. Casanova feels more comic-specific than, maybe, your superhero stuff. Would you agree?
I hope not. I think that’d mean the superhero stuff fails on some level.
Perhaps it’s just that your Iron Man seems born out of the Robert Downey Jr. take on the character.
That’s an illusion of publication schedule. I had four or five issues in the can when the first film came out. I had no special access; I saw the trailer when everybody else saw the trailer.
So why does Iron Man feel more ‘cinematic’ to me than Casanova?
I think that’s the grammar of superhero comics right now – or, rather, it was when I came in. Over this last year, from issue #500, Iron Man’s started to change. You can see the pages changing, the density change. As Fear Itself came along it kind of had to grow backwards a little bit, but you’ll see change coming out the other side. That’s my own proclivities as much as anything else. That was the grammar – or the accent, maybe – of the language that superhero comics were speaking. Three, four panel pages.
I got a really fascinating note from Joe Quesada on the first issue of Fear Itself: that I write so close to the bone, I carve away so much, we had a 48-page event that read like a 22-page comic. And that was a problem. I’d cut away so much in the interest of keeping things super-accelerated that I’d crossed the threshold and he found it too brisk. Fear Itself #1 is huge. It’s a big comic where a lot of things happen. It’s not slight – it’s lean. So I did a draft where I went back and added, which I hardly ever do, you know? And he was absolutely right. It was an incredibly trenchant observation. My natural instinct is to cut away, cut and cut and cut, until acceleration is almost a character.
It’s funny that in blockbuster crossover comics like Fear Itself – or Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis – you get to have an economy that you mightn’t in regular titles. They deal with so many characters, so much appearing on every page…
Final Crisis is a great example. Look at what Morrison cut out, and look at the backlash that particular book received. Now, I’ve studied Final Crisis like the Torah. I love it for what’s not there as much as for what is there. I suspect that’s why people wail and bitch and moan that they don’t get it, they don’t understand it. Never mind the inherent absurdity they can keep track of, say, thirty years of Legion continuity or four series of Star Trek or thirteen different Doctors Who – but a single Grant Morrison comic that doesn’t take the time to point out that those are Eclipso Gems? It somehow causes paroxysms of confusion and rage.
You can read the rest of the interview at Bookslut.
One of the things you have to admire about superhero comics is their ability to turn almost anything into fresh meat for their never-ending adventures.
The fact that the Hulk went from grey to green in his earliest issues due to colouring difficulties? Decades later, it’s the rationale for two different Hulk personas warring inside Bruce Banner. Inconsistent Supermen and Batmen confusing your readers? Fix it with an apocalyptic storyline about the multiverse collapsing into a coherent whole! And then, later still, fix that first fix with another story bringing the multiverse back!
Lately, I’ve been writing about superheroes, their corporate owners, and the public domain. Comics work these issues into the fabric of their ongoing stories, too – mostly by framing them in the most ironic and heartbreaking ways. But in Batman Inc., writer Grant Morrison takes these issues and feeds them into Batman’s war on crime.
“Bruce is obviously a corporate CEO, billionaire and playboy superman,” says Morrison, “so what would Batman look like when that guy applied everything that he normally applies to Waynetech to Batman’s mission and way of life?”
Batman, Inc. features billionaire Bruce Wayne publicly admitting to funding Batman’s expensive gear and gadgets; all while, as Batman, travelling the globe and bestowing the rights to “wear the bat” to heroes of his choosing. Morrison’s inspiration was the hype around Tim Burton’s first Batman movie in 1989. In the academic anthology The Many Lives Of The Batman, William Uricchio and Roberta E. Pearson describe Bat-Mania like this:
During the summer of 1989, this bat-logo permeated American culture, appearing on candy, boxer shorts, leather medallions, earrings, baseball caps, night lights, sterling silver coins – in short, on any item capable of bearing the trade-marked image (or unlicensed likenesses thereof). The bat-logo’s omnipresence diffused its meaning, reducing the wearing of a black bat in a yellow oval to a mere gesture of participation in a particular cultural moment.
Batman’s symbol is everywhere in Gotham, too. Batman’s obsessed with it. He’s made it into his weapons, his vehicles, and everything else imaginable. In Gotham After Midnight, we see that he’s rigged Wayne Manor to spray the symbol across every single surface. Sometimes it feels like he’s terrified his memory is slipping away, a la Memento, and he’s designed his entire life to remind him that he’s Batman. Every thrown Batarang whispers as it returns to him: “You’re Batman. You’re Batman. You’re Batman.”
In our world, anyone can wear the Bat-symbol – so long as they’re willing to pay for the merchandise. But within his own universe, Batman is incredibly protective of his brand. Many times over the years he’s angrily told someone not to wear the symbol. In Batman Inc. #4, Morrison retells a moment from way back in 1956’s Detective Comics #233, as Batman calls out after Batwoman: “Wait! You can’t just… no one can wear a Batman costume in Gotham but me!” She says: “Ridiculous! No man, maybe!”
Batwoman quickly proves that she’s worthy of wearing his symbol, but others aren’t so lucky. Morrison’s current run is filled with ‘fake’ Batmen; his very first issue has a cop dressed as Batman shooting the Joker in the forehead. Other impostors attack him throughout, all driven mad by becoming Batman. And later, Batman’s memories are stolen and implanted into fresh bodies in an attempt to create an army of perfect bat-soldiers.
“They’re stealing your DNA. Your memories. To imprint unstoppable soldiers. Driven by your trauma.”
“Then tell them they can have it. You can have it, too. If you can bear it all at once.”
It turns out no one can handle the superhuman levels of pain and misery fuelling Batman. Impostors that borrow his story, mission, and iconography without permission will be destroyed by them. Only the ‘real thing’ can survive.
Morrison is no stranger to taking the external demands on his stories and narrativising them. My favourite example is the second volume of his epic The Invisibles; it took the need for action and accessibility required to boost sales and turned it into a growing anxiety about what this (seemingly glamorous) violence was doing to heroes’ psyches. And the idea of Bruce Wayne applying corporate logic to Batman’s mission makes perfect sense – but can the men and women who take on his heroic identity survive? Is the fact that they are ‘official’ Batmen enough to shield them from the horror built deep into the brand’s DNA?
I ended my last Bookslut column by wondering if we should apply the moral code of these fictional superheroes to their corporate status, too. I can happily imagine Superman wishing himself into the public domain. Batman, though, would be horrified at every bat-shirt, every bat-lunchbox, and every homemade bat-costume. They’d never be “mere gestures of participation” to him. They’d be signs of tragedy to come.