Friday, August 10, 2012

Confessions of a Comic-Book Refugee

I've had a shocking realization creep up on me over the last year or so. It really began to hit me during CONvergence, the sci-fi con I attended in July, but it's been slowly building ever since about 2007. I've been trying to deny it for a long time, but I think it's about time I admitted it.

I don't think I'm a comic book fan anymore.

It's weird to say that, given that I'm currently reading 'The Essential Hulk, Volume 6', having just polished off 'The Essential Captain America, Volume 5', and looking forward to the next Marvel movie...but I mean it in the sense of "following the events of the Marvel and DC Universe on a regular or even semi-regular basis." I'm sure I'll still read individual comic books--the medium isn't dead to me--but I can't imagine going back to Marvel or DC anymore. Even if I had the kind of unlimited finances that you'd need to buy the endless cat's cradle of crossovers and tie-ins and "summer events", I don't care anymore. I don't even want to know anymore, because hearing about DC's new zero issues or Earth-Two or AvX just makes me kind of sad and achy, like hearing about a friend you used to know who's in jail for dealing heroin and is HIV-positive. When I talk to comics fans about comics, I find that I just don't have a common interest with them anymore. And I'll admit, I never thought that would happen.

I think it started, as I said, back in 2007. I'd been in and out of the hobby for a while, starting back in 2002; I'd made the jump from floppies to trades, and it's only when you're not hitting the store every week to get the new fix that you step back and realize how much you're buying out of habit. When you evaluate each series in terms of, "Do I want a whole other book of this?", you find that the answer is "no" a whole lot more often than it was when you were just buying 32 more pages. I bought less and less until I was buying pretty much nothing for a year or two. And once you're not visiting the store every week, it's like comics become invisible to you. When I did go into a comics store, I didn't even know what was popular. The sad truth of comics marketing is that it's far easier to leave the hobby right now than it is to rejoin it.

...and then, in 2005, I found myself drawn back into the weekly grind. It started with morbid curiosity--I went for a visit to my local comics store, just to see what was happening, and wound up buying an issue of 'Infinite Crisis' just to convince myself that they were really doing it. That turned into the seeds of an idea for a book on the crossover phenomenon, from 'Crisis' to 'Crisis' in DC and 'Secret War' to 'Civil War' at Marvel...and while I was researching the book, I got back into the habit of buying. And following. I picked up all the 'Civil War' tie-ins, followed the follow-ups, read '52', and started in on 'Countdown' and 'World War Hulk'...

And then one day it hit me. This was all really terrible, and I was spending all my money on it. Marvel had gone from a crossover where the Scarlet Witch was the villain to one where the Scarlet Witch was the villain again to one where Iron Man was the villain (or Captain America, as Mark Millar unconvincingly insisted) to one where the Hulk was the villain. The heroes were all acting like villains and the villains were all acting like villains, to the point where I didn't actually like anyone I was reading about. Meanwhile, 'Countdown' was infamously terrible, and 'Amazons Attack' was notoriously inept as well. I could not imagine enjoying any of this stuff anymore.

And so I stopped buying it. But I still followed it all. Wikipedia, Newsarama, CBR...I still paid attention, even as I wrote endlessly about classic comics on this blog and realized I derived more enjoyment from comics written decades before my birth than I could ever get from the current crop of stories. Every time I read about a new crossover, a new event, a new reboot or preboot or softboot or retcon or prestconbootventover, it just made me irritated.

And then, at CONvergence, at a panel on the DC reboot, it finally hit me. I didn't care anymore. I didn't even care about it enough for it to anger me, unless it was right there in front of me. I was in the room, but all I could think about was how I had nothing to say to these people. We weren't speaking a common language, because I wasn't buying or reading or interested in any of the stuff they were talking about. Even the good books by creators I liked (like Paul Cornell) didn't interest me. The friend had died in prison, I'd sent a condolence card to the family, and I had moved on. 'Avengers vs. X-Men'? 'Marvel Now'? Just the corpse twitching in a lifelike manner.

And on the flip side...there were the movies. I have found myself eagerly devouring casting news, announcements of new projects, trailers and set photos and rumors. The apathy and vague depression that I feel when I hear about Marvel's comics stands in even starker contrast compared to my excitement and sheer joy over the films. I'm still a super-hero fan, just as much as ever. Maybe even more so. But there are other places for me to get that fix, ones that don't involve pointless misogyny and flailing desperation and endless, pathetic attempts to seem "mature" by rehashing themes that felt warmed over 25 years ago. (And in some cases not just themes, DC, I'm looking right at you and your 'Before Watchmen'...)

I'm now a refugee from the world of comics, taking up a new home in the world of movies and TV shows and reprints about the characters I love. It's kind of a relief to get that off my chest. I hope that those of you who are still comics fans won't think less of me for not being able to get excited about your hobby anymore. And I hope those of you who share this feeling will join me over here, where we're all eagerly awaiting 'Cap 2' and 'Iron Man 3' and 'Ant-Man' and 'Guardians of the Galaxy'...and where we're all hoping that someday, DC will get its act together and give us something to love the same way.

I used to be a comics fan. And while I still love a lot of individual comics...I don't think I am anymore.

14 comments:

Wally said...

Have you ever thought of reading independent comics? Although I still read some DC and Marvel comics, most of the comics I read every month are indies and I've never been happier.

Unknown said...

For me, the movies aren't enough. Most of them just remind me of how far the comics have fallen.

I know all too well what you're feeling. I had to stop writing a column because I was finding less and less to enjoy and didn't wanna just spend each week going off on a rant.

Jon Gad said...

Paul O'Brien of the X-Axis (now House to Astonish) wrote a piece for the old Ninth Art that really stuck with me. Alas, the article itself vanished when 9th Art went bust and the new 9th Art doesn't have the old archives.

The gist of it, though, was that for decades if you were a fan of superheroes, you were also a fan of comic books because that was pretty much the only place to get superheroes.

Since X-Men in 2000, though, you've had both the technology to do good superhero movies and TV, and the popular mandate to use that technology.

Now, O'Brien's point was that expecting a superhero fan to automatically read all kinds of comic books was like expecting a mystery fan to read all kinds novels because that's how mysteries were originally presented. In other words, comics is a medium while superheroes is a genre. Just because you like superhero comics doesn't mean you should feel compelled to read everything that comes out in monthly 22 page pamphlets.

But that cuts both ways. It follows that if the best superhero stories are coming out in two and a half hour movies or 45 minutes a week for 22 weeks on TV, that's where you should focus your limited resources of both time and money, rather than on the increasingly over-priced and frankly irrelevant pamphlets.

I've not been reading comics for a couple of years now, and I don't really miss them. Maybe there will come a time when the current superhero craze in movies and TV will go the way of westerns and I'll have to go back to traditional comics to get my superhero fix. But until then, as long as the Marvel movies keep maintaining the current level of quality, and I can expect another awesome Avengers movie in a few years, then I'm willing to let the comics do their own thing and I'll enjoy my superheroes in live action or with the usually quite good DC animated shows that are out there.

(With Nolan out of the picture I don't have high hopes for the DC live action movies any more, but who knows? Maybe they'll surprise me.)

So that's where I'm at. I'm a superhero fan who has abandoned the comic books. Fortunately, there's enough material out there in other mediums that I can.

Eric Teall said...

I'm right with you, John. I have students who are all excited about AvX, and it's all I can do not to rant on and on about how terrible it all is, how uninteresting it all is. But then I think about all the energy I'd have to generate to rant about it, and it turns out I just don't care that much anymore.

And I definitely am sad about it. I feel like I've lost something. But I've "broken up" with friends before over their behavior, and I've long since decided that I'm not going to enable or put up with stuff that I dislike. If the friend has changed that much since we met, then the friendship--the relationship between two compatible people--no longer exists, and no amount of wishing will bring it back.

Sean B said...

And this is why the majority of the books I read are licensed titles from Dynamite and IDW. There's a safety net of licensor approval that prevents them from screwing it up (why DC and Marvel aren't finicky in the same way is beyond me).

Plus "G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero" is the book that got me into comics, and it's back and being written by the original writer. Nostalgia + artistic integrity = win.

Isaac said...

For me, it was the New 52. The shared universe that I had been following the ups and downs had had the door slammed shut upon. There was no more waiting for the pendulum to swing away from Dan DiDio and Geoff Johns. They had seen to it that all the stories from my youth no longer "counted". Now DC just puts out a bunch of shitty books I don't have to care about. It isn't the "real" Superman or the "real" Amanda Waller or the "real" whoever. It is amazing how much damage they did to my relationship with their brand.

Marvel is working hard to do the same thing with Brand New Day and terrible retcons on Black Panther, and SHIELD was really Hydra all along, and a bunch of the good guys have secretly been the Illuminati. It isn't the same Marvel but they haven't completely severed the cord for me, merely frayed it.

I dunno. Watching Teen Titans and JLU with my daughter is a much more important part of the superhero experience for me these days.

John Seavey said...

@Wally: Have, do, and probably will. But as I said in the third paragraph, this is in the sense of following DC and Marvel, not in the sense of acknowledging the artistic validity of the medium.

@Eric: I'm actually past being sad about it now, I think. I've realized that there are decades of great comics to catch up on, that I can go back and re-read my favorite stories, and that movies and TV will be creating some awesome works out there. I can go the rest of my life without reading the latest mistakes from DC and Marvel and I won't miss anything. :)

Tales of the Boojum said...

I jumped off the train nearly 16 years ago. The X-men had just finished with the Onslaught storyline and now we were being subjected to "Heroes Reborn." The final straw was the end of Maximum Clonage. Norman Osbourne was alive and Mary Jane was sitting alone in a hospital room having been told her baby was dead. (This was also the same week my daughter was born.)

And it hit me: "This just isn't fun anymore."

I quit a 20+ year habit cold turkey that week (Except for Thunderbolts, which I kept reading until Jolt got shot in the head).

Jim S said...

For me it was Stephanie Brown and Captain America. Chuck Dixon, whose politics I hate, can really write characters I like. Steph was fun and charming and part of a supporting cast. Remember those? But DC kept killing her character. After bringing her back as Batgirl in a book that was really good, but to be fair, not selling great, she's gone. Babs is back as Batgirl. I defy anyone, off the top of their head to name a goog Babs Batgirl story that isn't The Killing Joke. Green Arrow and Aquaman keep getting chances despite sales well below what Steph Batgirl was doing. But Steph is gone for branding reasons and we get a dour, sour Batgirl written by Gail (Seems a like a nice person but hasn't actually written a good selling book) Simone. No thanks.

Then Brubaker's Cap.se Bru, whose politics are probably much closer to my own, decides to bring Bucky back in a retcon of both the 1940s stories (not a problem 12 year olds fighting Nazis just is too much) and the 1970s-1980s Roy Thomas stories. Now Bucky is the superior soldier who does the nasty things of actually killing enemy soldiers. Cap is the USO speech maker. Bucky has the tragic past and the way Bru brought Bucky back is convoluted and makes no sense if you think about it for 10 seconds. But now Cap is "edgy" and "gritty" and "relevent". Cap was always cool and relevent, but not always well written. Now, thanks to Bru, Steve Rogers is an ineffectual loser and Bucky is the competent hero.

If Bru didn't actually want to write Captain America i.e. Steve Rogers, he shouldn't have takent he assignment. Now they want to make the Cap movie sequel The Winter Soldier and they use the word gritty a lot. Just about every professional review I read of the Cap movie mentioned how refreshing it was to have a movie about a man who just wants to do the right thing and is a non-ironic hero. Now they want to make Cap, who was also mentioned as refreshingly non-ironic in The Avengers in the reviews is going to go "modern".

The moral of the story - charming books with fun characters wanting to do the right thing aren't "hip" and thus not being written. So goodbye me. Second, don't pay attention to the politics of the writer if that writer writes characters that are as diverse as the world we live in. I am not going to agree with all the politics of anybody in this world and I need to respect those differences. It would be a scary world indeed if I set political climate.

Eric Teall said...

Jim,

While I wholeheartedly agree with you on Stephanie Brown, I don't agree with you on Bucky. I'm speaking as a comics fan who hasn't missed an issue of Amazing Spider-Man in thirty years - I say that not in some weird attempt to brag, but to establish that I'm not some kid who thinks Final Crisis and Civil War are ancient history.

I've been a Captain America fan ever since I can remember. I started buying the book around #332 (when Steve quit and Super Patriot became Captain America), and I've been on-again/off-again for most of that time. The only time I've stuck with the book for more than a year or two has been Brubaker's run.

Now, I freely admit my ignorance as to what Roy Thomas stories might have been retconned by Bru's take on Bucky, but is it really necessary to keep everything consistent with stories and interpretations that are thirty or forty years old? I've read most of Bru's run (I'm a little behind as I buy in trades), and I've yet to see Steve Rogers as being ineffectual. In fact, I've felt for a while that Captain America is being turned into a demi-god a la Batman in that it seems like he can never fail. Captain America ALWAYS wins a fight, ALWAYS knows what to do, etc.

Personally, I haven't seen anything in Captain America that has seemed gratuitously gritty or dark (unlike, say, everything Geoff Johns has touched over the last six years or so). It's a different interpretation of the character than Gruenwald's or Waid's, but this long-time fan has appreciated looking forward to Captain America month-in and month-out.

JimS said...

Good grief just look at the last six issue. Cap does nothing but make stupid decision after stupid decision . The result is he tries to investigate three potential traitors in the same room. An interrogation no no. He doesn't search them so one guy pulls a gun and flies away in a jet pack. Way to neutralize suspects Cap. He goes to rescue a witsecperson alone because it is too dangerous. Result, Sharon has to save Cap from getting killed. No stupidity in not having back up there. Wait I mean total stupidity.

Some ideal aloud bad mouth Cap and they know he is fake. What do they do with this info? He sits on it. Result the demagogue who is fake is able to incite a riot. Probably using subliminal mind control, but man was Steve stupid. He just sits back a d dances to others' tunes. He is failing at all things. I only read these issues because Bru brought back Diamondback. But she could have been anyone.

Bru really hates Steve Rogers. He has been shown to be supporting character in his own book. It is Sharon who leads the way with Machinesmith. Steve can't even stop Bucky from going to Soviet prison.

I could go on but it is late. If you like the book, but it. It is not for me. And yes modern depiction of character counts. Bucky was not some extreme throat cutter. Why would Steve need one? Would Americans object to Cap killing Axis soldiers? No, they wouldn't. Why would they? It is not cricket? Not buying that.

But like I csaid I am not the ultimate tastemaker. Which is a good thing.

Eric Teall said...

Well, again, I'm several months behind because of my "buy the trade" habits, so I can't look at the last six issues. However, if it's as bad as you say, then it's a good thing that Bru is leaving. I've seen it happen before: Bendis was my absolute favorite on Ultimate Spider-Man for almost three years, and then Carnage and Gwen Stacy spoiled the book for me forever.

Sigh. If only I were writing all of them... :-)

Jonathan Roth said...

Jonathan Roth

If one is feeling burned out on Marvel/DC, I reccomend checking out other kind of comics, especially at the library and through library link and link plus programs; they help those of us with limited budgets. Joe Sacco's comics journalism, Joe Kubert's Fax From Sarajevo, Jim Ottaviani's various science biographies, David B's Epileptic, and David Small's Stiches are works I could care about when I couldn't care about "the usual stuff." Maybe because those stories were real, they hit with a punch few others do. I'll always love superheroes, but that doesn't mean I'll always want to read them. I personally reccomend Dylan Horrock's "Hicksville" (which is fiction) to people who feel that their love of comics is changing from what it used to be, or is going away forever. When I started to find that I wasn't getting the enjoyment from Marvel and DC that I used to, my comic shop suggested Sin City and Concrete, and I'm glad. Usually there is someone out there experimenting with a new type of story or subject, and some even try a new twist with super-heroes. Astro City, Empire, Sleeper, Irredeemable, Invincible, Powers, they may not all work for one, but no one would argue that those writers are just going through the motions and not trying anything new.

Westerns, Horror, Crime, Auobiography, etc. there are so many genres that I used not to like before experimenting with a few works I never would have known about if not for the library shelf. I hope that the writer of this blog find a bunch of good, previously undiscovered comics there and rekindles their interest.

Anonymous said...

The DC New52 was what ended my comic book fandom for me.

DC Comics had thrown out everything heroic about most of their heroes and turned them into cheap, insincerely angsty, falsely "anti-heroic", smugly judgmental Marvel-wanna-bes.

I have always admired the character of Superman as a character, but The Man of Steel is a self-pitying yet arrogant bully. His new costume is drenched in market research rather than creativity or history.

I have held similar admiration for Wonder Woman as a character, but the New52 version is just a faux action girl with growls replacing wit and adolescent grimness replacing any sort of believable mature perspective.

Etc.

Before that, Marvel pretty much lost me with its Civil War. Siege almost brought me back until the Marvel powers outright and definitively declared that Iron Man and his Pro-Reg were officially in the right AND definitively declared that any comic book fan or writer who disagreed with them was officially wrong! That they felt the need to make a statement of disrespect for the fans who disagreed with them was all I needed to know.

Now, I purchase only independent titles, such as the Godzilla comic books, Usagi Yojimbo, Hopeless Savages (when it comes out), Invincible, Courtney Crumrin, Amanda, etc.