So my original plan for this post was to, like my anime post from forever ago, highlight some comic books I’ve been reading recently, do my best to dissect what’s good and bad, and then call it a day with some stray observation about the state of the industry or something. Easy peasy. Emphasize how this site could have been a comics blog from day one, and then knock off for the weekend. So, step one, look over the comics I’ve been reading, separate the heroes from the villains, and then… I didn’t get any further. I skimmed some of the comics I’ve read over the last six months, and I realized something horrifying…
I don’t think I like reading comics.
Which is odd, because I love comics.
Comics are (is?) such a delightful medium. Unlike books (or blogs, ugh), you don’t have to run the startup process on your imagination to see dragons, killer robots, or killer robot dragons battling in front of your eyes. And, unlike video games, movies, or even some animation, it doesn’t cost millions of dollars to create an army of unusual characters. Want to open your story with a seven armed god of war wielding a different assault weapon in each hand? Sure, you can draw up that creature on page one! The imagination of the writer is only confined by the 2nd Dimension, and you’d be surprised what you can fit in there.
And, over the last century or so, writers have done practically everything with comics. From the earnest-but-vaguely-insane Silver Age of “Superman has a lion head this week” to more modern writers like Grant Morrison writing about comics that feature people writing about comics, it seems like the medium can produce most any story possible.
But if I’m being honest? I read the same stupid stories over and over again.
Superhero comics dominate the field, yes, and I am well aware there are alternatives. I have a bookshelf full of comics created by “indie” writers… but, by and large, those comics don’t come out every week. Those aren’t the comics that remind me, prod me into going back to my dealer every week and seeing what’s new. Heck, part of the reasoning behind this post is that there are fifty (fifty!) comics coming out of DC Comics every month, and I’m reading… two of those.
For the record, I’m talking about Gotham Academy, the story of precocious Gotham City boarding school students and their various adventures in a city that has a disproportionate number of Killer Crocs, and Batgirl, which shouldn’t need any explanation, but its current status quo might require a closer look.
Batgirl is, as anyone familiar with the character might suspect, the story of Barbara Gordon, daughter of Commissioner Gordon (star of a hit TV show!), a plucky young heroine who dons the mantle of The Bat to fight crime and maybe, one day, acquire her own nemesis that’s half as interesting as someone out of the Batman menagerie. Firefly isn’t cutting it. The wrinkle in the ointment of the most current Batgirl series, though, is that Batgirl has been “subtly” de-aged from the former senator/Oracle/Birds of Prey leader to a more teenage, student “hipster” that is now forced to reference some form of social media every three pages. Ha ha, selfie, back to crime fighting. But when you put aside the “look, youth culture!” trappings of the book, it’s a fun read, not because it’s young and hip and crunk or whatever, but because it’s a familiar character in an unfamiliar (for the Bat characters) setting, and it allows said character some interesting room to grow.
And the weird thing about the whole experience? I feel guilty every time I read the book, because, in order to read about this Barbara Gordon, they had to dump the “old” Barbara Gordon, the older, disabled version, the one that would likely treat The Batgirl of Burnside as some misfit protégé. I feel guilty because I liked the old Barbara Gordon, I liked reading her story, and it seems wrong that she had to be lost.
The Killing Joke, the birth of “that” Barbara Gordon was in 1988. Oracle appeared in 1989. That means that, basically, there were 25 years of that Barbara Gordon.
That’s a pretty good run.
I’m not the first to point this out, but “continuity” is simultaneously the pride and shame of comics fans. Everyone balks when DC “reboots” its stories for the fifteenth time… but Marvel is getting to the point where it’s going to be a requirement. Hell, I suppose they already tried it with The Ultimate Universe, and that collapsed under the weight of its own continuity within ten years (and had a comical, what, six apocalypses?). But we’re still looking at a Peter Parker that is lamenting the death of Gwen Stacy… and that happened in 1973. Captain America feels guilty about Bucky’s “death”, but he’s been back and alive for eleven years. And never mind the parade of villains in Marvel’s stable that were pushing up daisies until the very moment they weren’t oh wait yes he’s dead again. It gets… a tweak absurd.
But then again, I suppose the reboot route is even worse. Batgirl works because it’s actually doing something new with its character, but the typical reboot? Never. For about six issues, there’s something new, or at least something that hasn’t been done within the last fifteen years (which is what qualifies as “new” in comics). Then the parade of “firsts” starts. First time mysterious villain is encountered. First time “gimmick” villain is defeated by finding gimmick’s weakness. First time sidekick appears. First time mentor objects because hero is “going too far”. It’s all the same beats, all over again, and five years later, those ‘firsts” have all been exhausted… so how about a reboot?
So why do I still read comics at all? Simple answer: it’s the same reason I compulsively check my Facebook feed.
Oh? Batman? I wonder what he’s up to? He’s dead? He’s traveling through time? He’s Robin? He’s got old gloves? He’s a bunny robot now? That’s neat. I don’t have to enjoy the story, I don’t even have to understand it, all that matters is that that aggravating part of my brain that tracks my video game backlog and how many exs aren’t talking to me right now also has to know exactly what Spider-Man is doing right now, and God help us all if I don’t have a succinct reason for why Peter Parker is suddenly Tony Stark. And Tony Stark is seeing Mary Jane? Oh, that’s gonna need some ‘splainin’.
So you know what? I don’t like comic books. I don’t like feeling like I need to read something. Comics are dumb, and the format has only gotten worse in the age where I can have three billion hours of entertainment beamed into my brain at any moment. The average comic book equates to about the same span of time you’d see between commercial breaks in a television show (and this became really obvious in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics series). Wow, can you just imagine a network today, when you can stream the entirety of Breaking Bad with a few clicks, launching a serialized, ten minute series that delivers a new episode every month (assuming the producer isn’t “running behind”)? It would be the biggest failure since Cop Rock. But that’s exactly how Big Comics delivers its content, and they wonder every quarter why Deadpool the comic doesn’t pull an eighth of the revenue of cinematic Deadpool the Green Lantern.
But I will keep buying trade paperbacks. I will keep buying complete stories that entertain me, and don’t require months of mentally sorting plotlines. I will keep buying entire bookshelves to house a growing collection of carefully cultivated tales. I worship at the altar of Morrison and Gaiman and Snyder… but maybe I can leave the Johns behind.
I think… I hope I can be okay with not knowing what Superman is doing right now.
Wait, is he having problems with red kryptonite?
Well, maybe I’ll check out this issue, you know, just to see what’s up.