I 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.
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.
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.
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.