Friday, May 09, 2008

Fanboy Irritation In A Nutshell

So they're bringing back Barry Allen. That's the Silver Age Flash, who died some 23 years ago saving the universe from the sinister Anti-Monitor, for those of you who might be casual comics fans. Grant Morrison, writer of 'Final Crisis' (the crossover in which he returns), is on the record as saying, "That's the point of comics - they don't have to die, because they're fictional creations. We can do anything with them, and we can make them come back and make them defy death. And that's why people read comics, to get away from the way life works, which is quite cruel and unheroic and ends in death."

Now, Morrison has taken a lot of flack from fandom as a result of this quote, but I actually support it. I might good-naturedly point out that for all his reputation as an avant garde, boundary-pushing innovator, Morrison is really just as much of a traditionalist as Mark Waid or Geoff Johns (two people who are constantly raked over the coals for rehashing old stories and writing fanwank, but who didn't bring back the Shaggy Man or Klarion the Witch-Boy. Or Barry Allen, for that matter, although it wasn't for lack of trying.) But I agree with the quote. He's right. I do read comics to spend a little time in a brighter, happier world where the good guys win and the bad guys lose, a world that isn't cruel or unheroic. I applaud Morrison for having the guts to say something unashamedly sentimental in a fan environment that currently believes that they need to leave hope and joy behind in order to be considered "grown-up". (I've said it before and I'll say it again. Comics are not a grown-up medium, they are an adolescent medium. The obsession with not being seen as "kiddie" is a clear signifier.)

So no, I'm not bothered by them bringing back the Flash, and I'm not bothered that Grant Morrison shrugs off criticism for them bringing back the Flash. What I'm bothered by is that in practically the same breath, DC makes one of the major selling points for 'Final Crisis', "Hey! We're killing off a major figure of the DC Universe, one that will absolutely shock you! You must not miss this massive, huge, epic change in the very composition of the DC Universe!!!!!!"

That's the problem perfectly encapsulated. When they think change will sell comics, they insist that it's vitally important that you pay attention to these changes and buy the comics involved. When they're no longer interested in dealing with the problems these changes have made, they switch everything back and insist that nobody should put too much emphasis on 'change', that it's really just all about telling good stories and hey, you like these characters anyway, right? It is not the change or the impermanence of change that bothers us, it is the hypocrisy involved. It is the fact that I frequently bought lousy comics because I was told I would need to have them to follow the overall story of the DC Universe, only to have them back away from the changes but somehow manage to keep my money in their wallet. Lots of people can't articulate that irritation, but they all feel it.

You want to bring back the Flash? Knock yourself out. You want to openly admit that no matter how graphic, how inescapable, how brutal a character's death is, you're eventually going to bring them back anyway? Good for you, it's a great first step. But could you please do us all the service of not continuing to lie about how "important" death in comics is in order to take my money?


Jeff Hebert said...

Comics are not a grown-up medium

John, I don't know that I'd agree with that. I think comics the medium is quite mature. I could probably support something like "American super-hero comics are not a grown-up medium". I'd probably devolve that into a "what exactly does grown-up mean anyway" sort of discussion, but I think it's important to distinguish this (admittedly hugely successful and influential) genre of comics from the medium in general.

Unknown said...

Comics are not an "adolescent" medium, they are (ideally) a romantic medium, under this definition of "romantic": marked by the imaginative or emotional appeal of what is heroic, adventurous, remote, mysterious, or idealized.

Some think that to "grow up" means casting aside supposedly naive notions of the world, of good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, etc. - casting aside those same romantic notions that make superhero comic books so appealing.

I beg to differ. Adults can enjoy these notions in the same way that millions of adults unashamedly enjoy Indiana Jones, James Bond, or Back to the Future.

My two cents. Great blog, I read it all the time.

Suzene said...

I applaud Morrison for having the guts to say something unashamedly sentimental in a fan environment that currently believes that they need to leave hope and joy behind in order to be considered "grown-up".

And such sentiment is one reason (among many) why Marvel comics is getting no money from me. The events in just about every book are so dang grim that they don't feel much like escapism these days; I can get just as depressed for way cheaper by watching the news. DC's got me in the throes of event fatigue right now, but at least I can still have some fun if I stay away from their big sellers.

Anonymous said...

Comics are not a grown-up medium
John, I just can't agree with this. It sounds like you're terating "comics" and "super-heroes" as the same thing.
Sure, super-heroes are not a grown-up genre, either in comics, movies, books or whatever other medium. Neither is horror, for that matter.
Now, you just can't convince me that books such as Fables or Preacher or Enemy Ace: War in Heaven are "adolescent".
Comics are a medium just like any other. It's all in the story they're used to tell.