Age-Old/Old Age Question: What’s Going ON?

rooneyI guess it happens to everyone as they get older, but the longer I read comics the more I feel my body and mind slowly giving into Roonesia–the nagging sense that you are becoming like the late Andy Rooney from 60 Minutes, the wise-cracking and irritatingly judgmental legendary reporter who would appear the end of the show with wry complaints about pretty much everything around him that he didn’t like. Which was pretty much every piece of technology, art, media, and social meme created after 1955. “What’s the story with people wearing headphones all the time?” “How could you possibly call this art?” “Why do young people have to smile so damn often?”

“WHAT’S GOING ON?”

The signs have been around for awhile, of course—Ryan Haupt has been referring to me as the “comic book columnist who hate comics” for years now — and my frustrations with comics in 2012 made me think, more than a few times, it was time for me to go trades-only and turn in my weekly comic book reader badge. But I kept going and my life is richer for it. Have my fortunes changed all that much? In a way, I guess: I still find it impossible—literally impossible—to pay $3.99 for Marvel’s most popular books, which has saved me a lot of money over the months.

Spring is in the air, and, as this is a time for cleaning and releasing and growth, I think it’s time for me to admit a few things to you that I am still trying to figure out. This that just make me ask, “What’s going on with ____?”

Now, one of the best things about comics is that they can transport you to realities and times and spaces that are would be prohibitively expensive to create, even with today’s digital technologies, but sometimes, sometimes — I am finding that I just literally have no idea what is going at all. Take, for instance, The Incal, which is one of those “must-read” books written by Alejandro Jodorowsky and drawn by Moebius (best read with a soundtrack by Vangelis, no doubt).  I have been meaning to bone up on must read books these days — a sure sign of Rooneisa is to make sure you can always say, “Oh ___ from way back is so much better than ___, the current hotness.”  The Incal is one of those books that I had heard about for years, and given my frustration with current comics, it seemed like a good idea hunker down with some old school (80s) awesome.

The Incal, as Brian Michael Bendis so forcefully explains in his introduction, is one of those stories that everyone seems to have borrowed from, the most famous being the makers of The Fifth Element (and I guess the creators tried to to sue director Luc Besson for borrowing so much from it but they lost their case). It is a crazy book, and truly shows you what is possible with comics but, man oh man, it’s so freaking French!

Nothing against France or anything like that, but there were times when I read this book and my brain just stopped trying to figure things out. At one point the highly unlikable protagonist, John Difool, exclaims, “When will this end??” and I just laughed — I felt the same way. Now, I fully admit, maybe my Roonesia has taken me a point where I just want more stability and consistency in my graphic storytelling, but I found the leaps in narrative to be bewildering and, at times, frustrating.  However, I think this book — and for those of you who have finished it, perhaps you will agree —is designed to be truly taken as a whole. Indeed, even though I just finished it last night, the plot is already fading away, with just it’s core aspects sticking in my mind, propped up by Moebius’ amazing art.

moebius-incal001

The Incal was one of those books I bought when it came out and just waited forever to read precisely because so many people revere it so. Waiting is usually a mistake, I have found; best to just dive in. While I agree with some of the complaints that the hardcover is too small — Moebius’ art really needs to be larger — you still get the sense that you are being transported to another plane of thinking and existence. While Moebius’ rendering of a lived-in universe are truly jaw-dropping, it is when he starts expressing concepts of time, space and planes of reality where the book really sings. At times, the plot of the book seems more like an old school video game; you seem to leap from crazy action sequence to epic fight scene to spectacular chase scene to another fight to existential energy battles…the pacing can be relentless.

But what I found most challenging was the cuts across different story lines and myriad of characters. You’ve got a guy with a wolf’s head named “Kill”, some guy called the Metabaron, a concrete seagull named Deepo, the technopope, a kid who is supposed to be the son the Metabaron who becomes a large starship captaining crystal — but the starship, an expression of the Incal, can also exist in our hero’s bloodstream and come leaping out at the right time…the story is all over the place.

Now all this is fine and good, but right before carving my way through DiFool’s issues, I was trying to wade through Grant Morrison’s final issues of Action Comics, which, again, just…like, what is going on in these books?  I love that Morrison appears to be transmitting his stories from a different dimension, but even though I have read each issue in his run, I literally could not tell you what is going on. Superman is dying again? I think? But not really? Or it’s a future version of himself fighting…what, exactly?

The turnaround in Action has been bewildering for me, and, as much as I admire Morrison and his body of work, I honestly don’t think his work on Action has been all that good, especially when I compare it to the fantastic stories that Geoff Johns and Gary Frank created before the whole New 52 thing started. (Again, you can almost smell the Roonesia, no?)  When we first saw the images of a scrappier Superman, with his jeans and, uhm, blanket cape, there was a real sense of this is the Superman that we need. This was the Superman that would finally address all the issues people had with the character and show how an alien became a hero.

But none of that happened. Right? There seems to be a callback to the old Doomsday storyline, which I guess is Morrison tapping back into the Old 52 Universe and having it creep up into the present day…but I just don’t know.

I think that’s the hardest part with my comic book-based Rooneisa. I can’t figure out if I am just not clued in enough to understand what is going on in these books, or if they just literally aren’t making sense. I like challenging comics, sure, but I have to want to turn these pages. Like, I love Superman, but it’s been a very long time since I have read a Superman story that has been personally compelling and/or made any kind of logical sense whatsoever.

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I thought my Rooneisa had reached some kind of apex when Marvel killed/not really killed Peter Parker a second time. That was when I thought that I was truly relegated to irrelevance, that my particular expectations from comic books and the modern reality were so far apart that I would never be able to catch up. (This happened to me in music around the same time–I had been able to handle all kinds of electronic music, but dubstep utterly confounded me and sent me reeling into old playlists and records, literally unable to face the music again.)

I was wrong. Hot on the heels of “Death of the Family,” a series that sort of implied a big important death but never actually delivered one (though it delivered a lot and I liked it a lot), we have the events that seem to have taken place in last week’s Pick of the Week, Batman, Incorporated #8.

(Spoiler alert from here on out, if you haven’t read it and care about this stuff, do not read further.)

There is something spectacularly maddening — and, sadly, fitting — about the decision to off Damian Wayne, but when I think about how uninspired I was with Morrison’s work in Action Comics and compare it to the epic change of heart the fans have had about Damien, his amazing creation, in the years since his introduction, I am left…well, just confused and confounded.

I see no reason to see why Damian is not only dead, but that he will stay dead, and that saddens me. There’s a scene in the issue where Damian tells Nightwing that, “So far I’d you’ve been my favorite partner. We were the best, Richard. No matter what anyone thinks.”

Seven pages later, Robin is dead, this…little kid is dead. And all the arguments of whether not he was a good character, whether or not he fit within the canon of Bat-characters…all gone.

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Now, for me, Damian as Robin has to rank as one of the most pleasant surprises in
recent comic book history. Indeed, his partnership with Dick Grayson as the replacement Batman for, what, almost a year, turned out be wonderfully successful to the point that when Bruce Wayne did come back, it seemed like it was too soon. It seemed that there were still so many great stories, several years’ worth of stories, to be had with this new and very dynamic duo. I loved watching both of these characters come into their own, understanding their responsibility to the memory of Bruce Wayne and Batman while carving out their own relationship with each other.

With Damian’s passing, that partnership tugs at my heart like an old relationship that was really good, but just poorly timed. One that could have been something great, if only the circumstances were a little different.  Perhaps that’s why my Rooneisa kicked in after reading that issue of Batman, Incorporated — it pulled at my very pleasant and very dead memories of days long past. At least in this case, when I asked myself, “What’s going on?!?” it wasn’t my complaining about my inability to understand the mechanics of the comic book, it was more my unwillingness to accept the fact that there will most likely never be a chance to see Dick and Damien work together again.

Ah, that feels better. Thanks for reading. Maybe now when I ask “what’s going on” with something, I will actually mean it as a question, not a complaint!

Yeah, right. We’ll see.

Have a great week!

 


Mike Romo is an actor who spends a lot of time yelling at kids to get off his damn lawn.

 

Comments

  1. USPUNX USPUNX says:

    Mike–GREAT article. I sometimes feel the same way and you’ve summed up the feelings of, I think, a lot of comic readers.

    Can’t wait to pick up The Incal and start reading it, it sounds very interesting!

    Totally agree about Morrison’s run on Action Comics. I’m a big Morrison fan but some of his latest efforts (Action Comics, Happy) have been pretty big misses in my opinion.

    Anyway, thanks for a great article.

    P.S.–I’m with you on dubstep. Terrible music. I like a lot of diversity in my music but I just can’t get into dubstep.

    • IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

      I think Morrison should have been put on “Superman” if he wanted to tell him as the hero he know or should have left him in the jeans and t-shirt in “Action”. Ive only read volume 1, but like others I was disappointed when he got the suit and left the new(/newer?) look behind. To be honest, I was also disappointed when Brainic showed up too, it felt too soon. Then “Superman” suffered because Morrison didn’t want to reveal his plots early and the writers were flying blind. I read “Happy”, didn’t care for it. 3-5 characters blended together so that I couldn’t tell the difference and I just gave up when I finished issue 1.

    • USPUNX USPUNX says:

      Yup, agreed with all of what you said.

    • IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

      YYYYAAAAYYY!

    • USPUNX USPUNX says:

      Haha we have reached a consensus!!!

    • Xtianhardy Xtianhardy (@Xtianhardy) says:

      I love The Incal, although it is not my favorite of Jodorowsky’s comics (that would be The Metabarons). The Incal never takes the time to slow down and explain what is going on, who the characters are, and why they are doing what they are doing (or it does so, but just barely). All that greater information can be found in the other books set within the Jodoverse. The Metabarons explains the long history of the caste of the Metabarons, The Technopriests explains who they are and why they are the central figure of evil in the Jodoverse, and Before the Incal gives a much more in-depth look at John DiFool’s backstory and really makes him into a much more sympathetic and compelling character.

      Side note: Megalex takes place in the Jodoverse as well, but just barely. It doesn’t connect to any of the plot threads in The Incal like the other works I mentioned do.

      As a huge, huge lover of the Jodoverse, I appreciate that you admitted part of what you don’t get about The Incal is the cultural context of it being originally published in French, but if you liked The Incal I would highly recommend reading The Metabarons and then if you enjoy that, look for the other Jodoverse comics.

    • USPUNX USPUNX says:

      @xtianhardy: I’ve never read ANY of Jodorowsky’s comics. As someone who clearly has, what do you recommend as a good starting point? I admit I am intrigued but also a little intimidated based on the article and some of the comments here!

    • Xtianhardy Xtianhardy (@Xtianhardy) says:

      Man USPUNX that is a really, really tough question. The Incal connects to The Metabarons and The Technopriests, so some would consider it the “most important” book in the Jodoverse, but is it the best? Personally, I don’t think it is.

      The Incal is a great book with so many crazy ideas that American mainstream comics still haven’t ripped off yet (but you’ll be surprised by how many ideas they have stolen from Jodorowsky). That said, the pace of the story never lets up and the characters have very little depth beyond what they symbolize.

      Personally, my favorite Jodorowsky series, and one of my favorite series of all time, is The Metabarons, which tells the multi-generational story of a family of ultimate warriors. It combines most of Jodorowsky’s common themes and outlandish, unpredictable ideas, but the characters of the story are what make the story unforgettable. It’s like a Greek Tragedy combined with space opera. Also, Juan Gimenez’s art is absolutely stunning and its worth paying the extra money to get the limited edition Ultimate Collection version of the book just to see all the effort and detail that Gimenez put into it.

      I guess to make things simpler to help you choose, here’s a question:

      Which movie do you prefer?

      A) The Fifth Element

      B) Dune

      If you picked Dune, read The Metabarons. If you picked The Fifth Element, read The Incal.

    • USPUNX USPUNX says:

      Thanks for the advice. When it comes to movies I’d probably pick Dune over Fifth Element. (I know a lot of people really like that film but I’ve always thought it was overrated) Guess I’ll pick up the Incal first!

    • Grandturk says:

      I definitely recommend Metabarons and Technopriests… read these years and years ago when they were first published in US in Heavy Metal.

      I haven’t read much of Heavy Metal in the past few years – but anyone (in the US) that wants to broaden their access to European, South American and other graphic storytelling would do well to check out Heavy Metal.

    • Xtianhardy Xtianhardy (@Xtianhardy) says:

      Heavy Metal has really gone downhill over the years. They’re no longer “The World’s Greatest ADULT Illustrated Fantasy Magazine” and have watered down their output considerably to try and appeal to teenagers.

      That said, if you’re interested in the kind of comics that would appear in Heavy Metal, I’d really suggested checking out what Humanoids have been publishing since they restarted their North American publishing. They’ve been reprinting all of Jodorowsky’s stuff, which was heavily censored when it was originally published during the DC/Humanoids agreement in the early 2000s. If you haven’t read Metabarons or Technopriests in any other form than the DC reprints, I highly suggest checking out the lavishly produced Humanoids reprints because you were missing out on a lot.

  2. TheRealVenom TheRealVenom says:

    I’m with you on this one as well.

    While I loved the first few issues of manhattan projects and Marvel Now Avengers I had to drop them because honestly I feel like apparently im not smart enough to read a Jonathan Hickman Book.

    As for Grant Morrison, I loved the shit out of all star superman however these past few years it honestly seems like he just passes his stuff off to an intern and says here right this crap for me.

    • pmallory says:

      No intern is writing Action, its all Morrison. Unless you mean that he hands off the plot to someone and says “do this”, then maybe I can see that.

  3. pmallory says:

    Funny, I was feeling the same way about Morrison’s Action run, and how much I’m looking forward to Diggle taking over. I will have to read the run all the way through, I’m sure I missed something. Regardless, I have no idea what is happening in Action. I thought I did, until that “second daeth” of Superman.

    Its also funny you talked about Incal. I was online the other day thinking that I needed to get into that author’s stuff, and almost bought a few omnibi of his work.

  4. IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

    I think you need to be careful about older books that are “Must-reads”, some of the books Ive read that fall into that category just disappointed me. I hate to jump on Grant Morrison doesn’t make sense, but I didn’t care for his “Animal Man” run. Some issues I liked, but it was over I didn’t feel i was enriched by finishing the whole run. Maybe when someone tells you that you have to watch/read/listen to something it needs to be taken with a Grain of salt, different strokes and all that.

    • Xtianhardy Xtianhardy (@Xtianhardy) says:

      Historical and cultural context counts as well. Some people simply don’t like things that aren’t congruent with current art and writing styles, or who don’t appreciate comics written outside their cultural frame of reference. It’s not so much that things get old and out of date, as much as you sometimes need to understand the context in which they were drawn/written to appreciate them, and some people can’t or won’t bother to appreciate that. I’m not saying at all that was your experience reading Animal Man, but I definitely felt somewhat out of the loop in the initial part of the run because I have no experience with Crisis on Infinite Earths, so all of the post-Crisis stuff in Animal Man was over my head.

    • IthoSapien IthoSapien says:

      That’s not really the same thing, is it? You had trouble with the run because of it’s ties to “COIE” (which I read before Animal Man), and I was just underwhelmed by the story because I didn’t appreciate the time and context that it was written in if I understand you right. Some stuff absolutely falls out of date, you can keep in mind the time it was made but in the end the best stuff is judged for how it holds up to today, right now. If it’s really good, it won’t matter if it was written 20 days or 20 years ago. Some stuff I’ve had to read again when I was older to like, but I don’t think Morrison’s run of AM is one of them.

  5. JokersNuts JokersNuts says:

    So you can like and understand Morrison’s body of work including his run on Batman, All-Star Superman, The Invisibles, etc. but you don’t like or understand his Action Comics run. Boggles my mind.

    • Rhymer Rhymer says:

      I didn’t understand the Invisibles, but was still fascinated by it. Action Comics I don’t understand as well, but it leaves me cold. To explain that I’m not smart enough. Maybe it’s because imps from fifth dimensions have no ability to be particularly inspiring.

    • USPUNX USPUNX says:

      I’m pretty much in the same boat as Mike here. I loved All Star Superman, I liked Morrison’s Batman run, (never read the Invisibles but it’s on my list) but I just couldn’t get into his Action Comics run. It just felt too disjointed. I like stories that begin in media res but this story seemed to lack some much needed context, at least early on. I should say I haven’t read the entire run. I dropped off after only 5 or 6 issues so I am speaking from a position of ignorance regarding how it all turned out.

    • JesseCuster says:

      I think Morrisson’s Action arc might make more sense if they just called it “Tales of the Superman”. Then it might click with everyone.

      In a way… its an extension of All-Star Superman. Or like, myths aren’t particularly told in some long-form story arc. We remember myths mostly in short forms… shared verbally and changed to the storyteller’s whim.

      Now, was Morrisson’s weird narrative a right choice for a flagship mainstream comic where people are expecting a straight-forward story arc? Probably not.

  6. The Incal is a story that’s basically a long chase scene. Moreover, it seems that Jodorowsky and Moebius decided to tell the story as a kind of jam, just have keywords or phrases influence the art and vice versa. When reading it, you’re along for the ride or you stop to ask too many questions and become frustrated. I have to say its not for everyone.

  7. stevetwo stevetwo says:

    I have no problem with “Batman and Robin” changing permanently to “Batman and Nightwing.”

  8. JesseCuster says:

    I feel the opposite about Morrisson… while confusing at times and overtly ‘meta’, Action Comics doesn’t BORE me because its just so out there and different.

    EVERYTHING else from DC has been boring the crap out of me, except for Wonder Woman which is beautifully written.

  9. Come on man, Incal is a true masterpiece, maybe my favorite comics. You have to be entirely focused. I sat for hours and completed it. The next day I read the first 3 albums again and the day after the last 3 albums. A great experience indeed.