I was fortunate enough to appear on the Pick of the Week Podcast this past weekend (episode #399, which is, like…amazing) and I took it as a fantastic opportunity to dive right into contemporary comics (by which I mean, “bought on Wednesday, read by Friday night” world of comics) and see how things were shaping up.
I promise to do my best and not repeat my comments about the books we discussed. It was a good week, where epic arcs ended (Thor) and others began (Infinity #1) and others went forward (seeming everything else). Yet again, I was reminded just how much of a conversation comics truly is, how it truly is a relationship that changes as one sticks with it.
We had a fine time discussing the very good work that Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic did on Thor: The God of Thunder — easy enough to have, right? Like, I have always heard about the Walt Simonson run on Thor and have the omnibus waiting to be read, but, please, how many of us actually read these massive tomes? (I love having them around, I love knowing they are there, but those things should include a digital version as well so I can take the book around with me, as opposed to having to rent a pack mule to keep it nearby as I run errands.) Having always heard about the Simonson run but never having read it, I always felt like I never really “got” Thor. Oh, I get it the warring and the drinking and the hammer and the winged helmet, but the only series that I really enjoyed the book when we all were reading Thor: The Mighty Avenger by Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee — until Aaron came waltzing in with 11 issues of pretty much spot-on awesome.
Of all the summer movies, the one I have just straight up enjoyed the most has been Pacific Rim. I grew up watching Ultraman, Spectaman, Robotech, Godzilla…all that kind of stuff. Pacific Rim captured this…exuberance, this simple kind of earnestness in story telling that was just doing its best to tell the kind of story that it had to be—big, brash, bold, silly, and fun. Thor: God of Thunder struck the same chord with me, and I realized just how difficult it must be to write a book that can strike a balance between high stakes, rich characterization, humor and drama the way Aaron was able to do.
As hard a time as I have been giving Marvel Comics the past year, I must admit the thing they do well is inject a note of fun in many of their books. I basically read the entire Thor: God of Thunder 11-issuearc over two nights and I came to the other to-be-discussed books feeling very good about comics and everything but then realized, “Oh yeah, not all comics are like that…that’s right…!”
If you have been reading my articles for any amount of time (thanks for that, by the way), you know I am pretty avid Batman fan. He is one of my favorite characters, a character I have stuck with through thick and thin, and the reason I returned to weekly comics so many years ago. As I transitioned from the beautifully wrapped-up issue of Thor, I settled back into Batman‘s “Zero Year” storyline and I couldn’t help it…I just…slumped a bit.
The book is gorgeous. The book is well written and the pacing is top notch. However…do I need another retelling of the Batman’s origin story? I love that comics can do this, retell iconic stories, injecting them with different points of view and shuffling different elements to bring a more modern context to a story that’s been with us for so long, but…I find myself looking at the pages and wondering, “Why?” Especially after the epic Joker story—do we need to go back to…Zero, I guess?
Perhaps this is the way things work. A book chugs along, then an incredible team comes in, like Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, who just completely kills it and makes everyone stand up straight and freak out, month after month…perhaps when you have a team like that you have to do an origin story, to really cement their contributions to the mythos.
It’s probably not a fair transition, to go from Thor to Batman, but after trudging through the muck with Batman for these many months, the whole notion of watching Bruce have to break down and become a Bat again…it just made me wish I could have a bit more fun in the DC books that I read. As much as I was giving Marvel a hard time with all of the self-important subtitles in Infinity, they are being used to set a tone of EPIC SPACE STUFF, whereas almost every DC book that I am reading now…it’s just heavy.
Of course, this difference in tone is clearly evident in the movies, with Superman, who used to wear some of the brightest colors in printed comics, is now shrouded in dark, gloomy, sullenness, in stark (Stark?) contrast to many colors in the more recent Marvel movies (though I will say that I think Cap’s outfit might be just a tad too blue…). Not to mention this story from a few weeks ago, where Paul Pope was supposedly told that DC Comics is basically publishing comics for 45-year olds, which, if true, just..yeesch. There’s obviously more than a grain of truth in that–and not just for DC Comics. Remember the days of the Hostess ads in comics? They’ve been replaced by really crappy Audi advertisements featuring Tony Stark (check Infinity #1).
A few years ago at Comic-Con, I remember hearing Darwyn Cooke say something to the effect that if a writer couldn’t write and all-ages Superman book, he or she had no business being in comics. That really struck with me, and seems to resonate more loudly as I continue this relationship with comics. Yes, it’s cool when The Joker gets all crazy and takes people’s faces off and all that, but would it kill Bruce to smile once in awhile? Gimme some exuberance, people! Tell me the kinds of stories that inspired you to make comics in the first place! I want stories that stick with me not because they made my stomach churn, but because they inspired me to imagine far off worlds, to put me in situations so full of wonder that they could only be told in the pages of my favorite comics. Old age needs more wonder, not less. We come to comics because, at the end of the day, they bring us joy in a world that is becoming more and more like a disaster movie trailer every day.
Stop being so damn serious. Batman / Superman is a great book, yes, but part of me would just love to see Clark and Bruce hanging out after work talking about girls over a beer. Jae Lee can still draw it!
So that’s it, really. I hope that the whole quote about comics being made for 45 year-old is off, somehow, but even if it is true, I hope books like Thor: God of Thunder keep doing well. I hope that the editors over at DC can share some stories that make us smile a bit more (like The Spirit series not so long ago). Comics keep me young, they add a spark in my life that much of the rest of the day seems determined to extinguish, and I am going to make it my mission to find more books that inspire and entertain.