Friday, July 29, 2005

Dude, I Suck

I was looking through the archives here recently, and came to the unpleasant realization that, um, I suck. See, back in the day, I wrote quite a lot for this blog. I spent a lot of time typing away and saying all kinds of interesting things.

Now? Eh, not so much.

Now I'm lucky if I can remember to do my weekly Mark Trail panel... maybe a review or two every now and again (not that anyone pays attention to those). There used to be substantive discussion and debate, now there's just... faux-funny Photoshop comic book covers. Not the same, I know.

The sad thing is, it's not as if I'm writing any less. I'm actually writing more, just not for this blog. I always want to be able to devote the time to writing long and interesting posts, but I have high standards. I don't just want to write about superheroes all the time just because it's easy - because it is easy. I could do it in my sleep. But it doesn't really reflect where most of my interests are anymore. Writing about things that are of legitimate interest for me are also, unfortunately, very difficult to approach. I learned the hard way when I tackled Louis Riel: it is infinitely easy to slag bad comics, but not quite so easy to talk about what makes good comics. The best critics in the field have trouble approaching good comics, so why should little old me have an easy time of it? Plus, add in the fact that this is not a paying gig, and you can see how my mental energies might get subtly shifted.

I sat down last night with the intention of writing a kick-ass blog post of some sort. And instead I ended up watching seven hours of Alf on DVD.

Oh well. I have no intentions of giving up the blog anytime soon but I am legitimately disappointed in just how... uninspired my contributions to the blogosphere have been of late. Maybe someone should try and piss me off or something? I dunno.

But sort-of tangentially related to this topic, here's an interesting article about people who don't seem to understand just what a book critic is supposed to do.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Oni Love Can Break Your Heart

The Collected Alison Dare: Little Miss Adventure

The only thing bad about this book is the fact that it really shouldn't be so exceptional. By which I mean: why is something like a fun all-ages comic so elusive in today's marketplace? Or rather, more to the point, why is the American comics industry unable to produce them?

As recently as twenty or thirty years ago, something like Alison Dare wouldn't have stood out at all. There were dozens of comics specifically aimed at kids, and they didn't have any trouble selling them (well, most of the time). Now, of course, Alison Dare is one of only a few domestic titles specifically aimed at a general audience, and it stands out like the proverbial sore thumb. Most sore thumbs aren't usually this adorable, but that's a different story.

J. Torres and J. Bone have chanced upon an interesting vantage point from which to explore some familiar adventure scenarios. Alison Dare is the daughter of both a super-hero and a globe-trotting archeologist, and as such her stories are free to wander over some fairly diverse territory without ever becoming too deeply entrenched in any specific genre. The freedom inherent in the premise is an example of clever world-building many modern creators might do well to emulate: Tintin and Donald Duck were incredibly versatile characters because their premises essentially enabled them to go anywhere under fairly straight-forward circumstances. Both Herge and Barks were free to set adventures at sea, in dozens of foreign countries both real and imagined, as well as any number of more mundane but still interesting domestic settings. Alison Dare seems to have the same kind of flexibility, albeit more generally informed by conventional heroic fiction.

But, gratefully, a multitude of sins can be forgiven by the fact that the characters in Alison Dare seem to be, for all intents and purposes, convincing pre-teen girls. Dare and her friends Wendy and Dot are neither young boys in drag or junior league sexpots, they are girls, with the girlish demeanors and preoccupations to match. This kind of veracity goes a long way with potential audiences. Kids can sniff out condescension or cluelessness a mile away. J. Bone's art does a good job of conveying appealing facial expressions and awkward body language -- if you've spent any time at all around the kind of gangly, slightly shy but supremely confident pre-teen girls depicted in this book, you'll see that they have a perfect grasp on the demographic.

My only worry is that a book like this won't be able to reach the audience it deserves. It’s a modest book with modest goals, not the least of which is entertaining a young audience. If they can get the books into the hands of said younger audience, they should be able to do good business. If it only ends up in the hands of middle-aged nostalgists, that will be a minor tragedy.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Get on to the bus /
That’s gonna take you back to beelzebub

I've really been enjoying doing reviews for Buzzscope. Writing with a more general comics audience in mind makes me exercise my brain in a way that reviews for this site (which can meander into wonkish territory fairly easily) do not. Also, trying to keep them to a fairly concise four paragraph format forces me to be more precise in explaining exactly why certain elements are or are not effective. Writing for a blog is great fun, but it can reinforce lazy habits that tend to get scrubbed out in a more rigorous format.

So, anyway, here's my recent reviews for Owly - Just A Little Blue (which I must say was inspired, in part, by Tom Spurgeon's review of the book for his Comics Reporter site), Superf*ckers #1 (see, I liked it too) and True Story, Swear To God: This One Goes To Eleven.

So, um, this is apparently the cover for the first issue of Marvel's Fantastic Four/Iron Man: Big in Japan series:

(Click here for a slightly bigger version.)

In other news, Jim Woodring keeled over dead of a stroke.

Zombie Tales #1

I've been systematically impressed with Atomeka's output since they popped on the radar around a year ago. They haven't put out a lot - a few out-of-print works by the likes of Alan Moore and Glenn Fabry, a new Mr. Monster story by Gary Gianni, a Dave Johnson sketchbook - but what they have put out has been pretty neat. I was slightly wary of Zombie Tales, insomuch as it was the first Atomeka book I'd seen that was selling itself on a concept and not a creator pedigree. But after reading I can say with some relief that if you're a fan of zombies, this is a high-class book.

And hey, it just so happens that I am a fan of zombies, which is quite convenient. If you don't like Night of the Living Dead and all of George Romero's subsequent Dead adventures, then Zombie Tales will probably not entertain you in the slightest. Although it's not a tie-in, the stories in this book owe an obvious debt to Romero's zombie plague mythology. (Hey, isn't it a nice coincidence that Land of the Dead just happens to be in theaters right about now?)

I also happen to be a fan of Keith Giffin, which is quite convenient as he happens to appear twice herein. He pencils the first story, "I, Zombie", written by Andrew Cosby. Ted is a zombie with a modicum of intelligence - about at the level of a Bizarro (he speaks just like one). The story details his adventures while shuffling around the city looking for fresh brains. Of course, he doesn't find any brains, but he does find a creepy looking zombie cat who apparently holds the cure to the plague in a satchel on its collar. Many of these stories seem to have been written with the goal of establishing a shared framework for future stories, but because they also work as stand-alone thrillers of the classic twist ending variety. I am interested in perhaps seeing how these stories will be continued in future volumes of Zombie Tales, but it hardly detracts from the book to approach them as predominantly stand-alone narratives.

Giffin writes "Dead Meat" for his Thanos collaborator Ron Lim. Like "I, Zombie", it asks more questions than it answers, but it implies possible clues as to the origin of the plague that may be followed up in future issues. It also has some pretty odd zombie sex (I think, it's kinda hard to tell, which was a weak spot). Mark Waid drops by for a story that manages to drop some geeky zombie trivia without being too ostentatious, all the while telling a story of the horrifying limits the surviving humans are willing to go to in order to survive the plague. There's another story concerning corporate malfeasance in the zombie world, and a pair of character studies involving families torn asunder by the undead.

Anthologies are traditionally tricky, but by sticking fairly closely to a well-conceived framework the creators have crafted an interesting universe that promises to yield satisfying results. If it had been anything but zombies -- vampires, werewolves, mummies, whatever -- chances are I'd have been bored to tears. But I like zombies, and the idea of more good zombie comics makes me happy. If you like zombies too, this volume should make you similarly happy.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Oh, Lordy

And in other news the sky officially fell to the earth the other day as a result of the fact that Marvel comics aren't selling so much like hotcakes anymore. Everyone's getting heart palpitations because Batman is cooler than Wolverine and books like OMAC: Not The Jack Kirby One So Who Fucking Cares and Not Really Secret Society of Super-Villains But Who Are We Trying To Kid are selling better than House of Millie. The world is going to run screaming off its axis because, oh Lord, we cannot trust the Marvel hype machine to give us our day our daily bread.

What amazes me is not so much that DC is suddenly gaining on Marvel in both solid market share and anecdotal "buzz", but that it took this long. From a business standpoint, Marvel hasn't really had a lot up their sleeve for a while. More importantly, they seem to have forgotten how to make the comics people want to read. By which I mean: DC is having incredible success with their run-up to Infinity Crisis, with all the assorted tie-ins as well as the general sense of cohesion that seems to be affecting the entire line. Which of course makes dirty liars out of every fanboy who ever screamed about horrible line-wide crossovers ... and yet the moment they actually brought the beasts back these same fanboys ran out and bought every variant-cover reprint of Day of Fudge-Mint on the stands. Unless, of course, there's another large and silent group of fanboys out there somewhere who are steadfastly boycotting DC until they make every title totally self-contained again.

For years and years you couldn't give most DC books away, and the reason was fairly simple: even the best DC books were written in such a manner as to be safe for Old People. Yes, you could give any random mid-90s issue of Superman or Batman to your sainted grandmother and you could rest safe under the assumption that there would be nary a palpitation anywhere between those two glossy covers. Certainly, it began to look as if the Big Guns at DC might be getting ready for their permanent vacation, a gold watch and a trip to the glue factory. But it's important to remember that the perception of change is more important than actual change. They can't change the Big Guns, the most they can do is shuffle the pieces on the periphery around a bit. And somehow, by moving the pieces around at a slightly quicker pace, they've actually created the perception that DC is the happening place to be.

As much as Joe Quesada and Co. did to turn Marvel around in the late 90s and early 00s, it must be admitted that they don't have a clue what to do now that they've lost their momentum. Looking at something like House of M or Secret War (from a distance, mind you) should be enough to convince anyone that they lost something very vital in the intervening years: they lost the intuitive insight as to what their core customers want. Over the years, regardless of whether Marvel was up or Marvel was down, when the books sucked and when they were just mediocre, they still knew how to manufacture the core of their line to fit the desires of the steadfast. When Joey Q. and Co. came in, they recognized, quite correctly, that most Marvel books sucked and that the only way to shake things up was to change things up. They threw a lot of crap at the walls, but for every Truth or Trouble, there was an Ultimate Spider-Man or New X-Men to keep them going. Even less successful critical darlings like Milligan & Allred's X-Force and Runaways proves that they were at least willing to roll the dice. To a degree, it paid off. I mean, if I got in a time machine, traveled back a decade and told you that Marvel would ever actually have "critical darlings", and that their flagship X-Men book would get a series of sterling reviews in the Journal, you would have told me I needed to take my medication.

But, of course, change for the sake of change only gets you so far. The problem is that Quesada, along with creators like Bendis, Millar, Ellis who do a great deal of the heavy-lifting around the Marvel offices these days, have a very set idea of what makes a good comic. Which, you know, is admittedly a refreshing change from the days when Marvel editorial paid more attention to quality control for the staples than the stories. But the problem is that for the most part their notion of good comics came up pretty hard against what most fans really like. DC moves slowly because it is a top-heavy bureaucracy, so it took some blows when Marvel was getting into top gear. But the advantages of a large corporate superstructure are rather obvious in light of recent developments across the DC line: when they decide to move onto a new course, they can move single-mindedly and with methodical efficiency towards a singular goal. It took a while, but now, for the most part, almost every single mainstream DC book seems to be interlocked into a massive macro-continuity. This kind of silliness drives dilettantes and jaded commentators nuts, but there is no arguing with results: this shit is popular. It sells. It is what the kids want.

Marvel are losing market share to DC at a dazzling speed, and it is not going to get any better until they remember how to make the kind of comics that the bread-and-butter fans want to buy. At their most basic, superhero comic books are comfort food. While I don't doubt that most people can appreciate a good comic, what keeps the majority of readers coming into the stores week in and week out is not the good comics but the crappy comics, and for proof of this I direct you to a sales chart -- any sales chart will do. When Marvel brings out a new Secret War, people want to see two things only: action and melodrama. A bunch of goons in garish costumes wailing the tar out of each other, over-emoting at extraordinary volume, preferably with copious reference to past stories and subplots. They don't want to see a low-key study in pseudo-noir espionage, filled with naturalistic dialogue and quiet character bits. Putting out a story like that under a title like Secret War is borderline criminal, in terms of false advertising: every single person in comics, from Gary Groth on down to Herb Trimpe, could tell you what to expect from a comic called Secret War. The only people who don't seem to understand why the fans were justifiably disappointed are the people who actually make the comics at Marvel. (The fact that the last issue never shipped couldn't have helped matters either - but if it had been a story the fans wanted, it wouldn't have mattered how long it took.)

People always complain that nothing happens in some comics anymore - specifically Marvel comics. Well, that's not strictly true. A lot of things happen, even in the most decompressed Bendis book. Sometimes even stylish, interesting things. But people don't want that from their mainstream comic books. They just plain don't want what the folks at Marvel are selling, because the comics Marvel makes now are substantively different from the comics Marvel has made through every other era of their history. The comics that DC makes are essentially identical to the most slavishly garish and unimaginative crap that has ever been popular in the genre, albeit spiced up with a bit of "mature themes" melodrama like rape and murder. Fans want to believe that every second of every single comic is filled to the brim with an almost unbearable tension that will never quite be fully released. It's an almost sexual relationship between anticipation and climax. This is what Stan Lee figured out all those years ago. Even when Stan and Jack and Steve left and the quality of the average Marvel book fell drastically, they still had a sense of urgency that carried them through. This is what DC has figured out. They put that urgency back into the books. It's exploitive, it's melodramatic, it's puerile and sometimes it's downright insulting, but I'll be damned if the books aren't selling -- and the high print-runs for second and third reprints proves that, for the most part, people are actually reading the stupid things. Which is, on the balance, a good thing for comics retailers still stuck in the Direct Market system (that is, most all of them).

Look at House of M. It's not a bad comic book, not by a long shot. It's done a pretty good job of building mood and setting so far, putting the characters through their paces in a fairly familiar What If? style story. Even if some of the characters are occasionally out of character (a common malady at Marvel these days), the story still carries a fairly solid internal logic. The problem is that all of these things are essentially besides the point when we're talking about a major summer crossover event. People picking up a big super-duper slugfest don't want mood, or setting, or internal logic. They want to see high-stakes action in the Mighty Marvel Manner, twenty-two pages of pulse-pounding excitement and the never ending battle against evil. When they say nothing ever happens in modern Marvel books, they mean that nothing happens the way that it used to: two or three extended fights every issues, lots of exposition utilized to cover lots of narrative ground, characters behaving in ways that are consistent with how they have always behaved. There is a reason why books like the original Secret Wars and Infinity Gauntlet and even the fucking Contest of Champions are still in print. I guarantee you that if Marvel put out a book like that right now, it would leave whatever DC was doing in the dust. Not without reason did that Spider-Girl Last Hero Standing thing do surprisingly well. Most people hate Spider-Girl, and yet they wanted to read something big and dumb and action-packed.

If Joe Q. wants to keep his job, he had better figure out why things like House of M and Secret War are not clicking with his audience. The attrition from readers is only going to get worse as time goes by and it becomes obvious to more and more of the hard core that Marvel is flying blind in reference to what they really want. It is frustrating for me to see a business model so willfully ignorant of its customer base. It is also interesting to imagine the consequences if DC were to permanently break Marvel's stranglehold on the direct market - what would happen if the duopoly were ruptured into something more lopsided and less inherently stable? The best thing you can say about Marvel and DC being relatively equal is that their perpetual death match provided a kind of stability. With both of them straining against the other with relatively equal force, they bolstered each other. But if one were to seriously stumble, even temporarily, what would happen to a desiccated and inherently unstable retailer base? Part of me wants to say that there would be no essential difference if mainstream readers bought Marvel and DC comics at a 45/55 ratio or even a 40/60 ratio - the same money essentially rechanneled.

But Marvel has a history of doing strange things when they get desperate. There's not a lot of room in the Direct Market left for fancy maneuverings.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Question of the Week

Question for 07/11/05: What's your favorite David Bowie album?

Former President Gerald Ford

"Hunky Dory"

Thirteenth Century Poet Dante Alighieri

"Black Tie White Noise"

Famous Funnyman W.C. Fields


Reed Richards, Super Smartypants

"Diamond Dogs"

Merle Haggard, Outlaw Country Legend

"Station to Station"

Momaw Nadon, Star Wars Alien & Amway Representative

"The Laughing Gnome" 7", with B-side "The Gospel According to Tony Day"

Mr. Natural, Itinerant Wise Guy

"Tin Machine II"

Friday, July 08, 2005

Why I Hate Batman, Part Two

In the first part of this expose, I outlined my case against the Batman. To begin with, I have a natural antipathy to the more grounded crime milieu in which most Batman stories take place - especially considering the mundane nature of most of the criminals he fights. Those criminals who are more spectacular in nature - Batman's "famous" rogues gallery - aren't actually very cool at all, consisting primarily of mental cases in colorful costumes. In many cases these villains, hailing from over half a decade in the past, have been the recipients of regrettable attempts at "modernization", which result in radical reinterpretations that bear little resemblance to the original character, and are quickly forgotten.

There is something inherently tacky about the way Batman's mythos seems to have been constructed, with an ad hoc willingness to stick any ill-fitting concept onto the Batman gravy-train in the name of variety. While it is true that Ace the Bat-Hound and Bat-Mite rarely show up anymore, I present to you Exhibit Number One, Robin the Boy Wonder. Why did this concept last? It's one of the worst anachronisms in a genre filled to the brim with inherited anachronisms. I can understand why they created Robin, back in the day. I can maybe even see why successive generations of creators felt the need to continue the character, even after the point when every other sidekick had either been abandoned or - in the case of 60s Marvel - deleted from the superhero mythology altogether. I mean, after a certain point its a self-perpetuating thing because they've got copyrights and trademarks and Underoos and all that. But hey - John Byrne got rid of Superboy after Crisis and no one at DC (who wasn't a Legion fan) really seemed to care one way or the other. Was there really that much money coming in from Robin Pez Dispensers that they just couldn't have swept the character under the rug at some point?

Whenever I see Batman, who is supposed to the consummate bad-ass, with a fresh-cheeked moppet in tow, I can't help but laugh. This is especially galling in recent years as multiple creators have devoted a lot of energy to making Robin not a joke. I don't care what kind of fancy martial arts you teach him, there is no way a fourteen-year-old boy can stand up to grown men twice his size - or more - and not get his ass beat like a bongo. You can't tell me Blockbuster or Killer Croc or any of these roughnecks wouldn't just grab the kid and rend him limb from limb like they were tearing into a Thanksgiving turkey. It's just stupid in a very profound way.

There's a story in the Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told volume entitled "Operation 'Escape'", from 1952, the stupidity of which I never tire. First, it begins with Robin addressing a class at the Police Academy. Steve Guttenberg is nowhere to be seen (although that would probably make a better story). This is an actual, honest-to-God "Police College", and the best they could do in terms of a guest lecturer was a pre-teen boy in green fish-scale shortpants? No fucking wonder the Gotham Police couldn't find their asses with a map. Anyway, Robin proceeds to deliver a lecture on the proper method of preventing yourself from being burnt alive when chasing crooks atop a thirty-foot tall, fully-functioning cigarette lighter, as well as how to escape from a deep pit with only a broken tennis racket, a golf ball and a pair of cleats. This is something that only a six-year-old could ever love. I think that as soon as the prospective reader was, say, eight, he would begin to wonder.

The Batman mythos is filled with an accumulation of ideas just like Robin - silly little ideas aimed at six-year-olds which successive generations of creators would spend a lot of time trying to rationalize in increasingly "mature" settings. The master villain of "Hush" turned out to be the all new, grim and deadly Riddler!!! I'm glad I didn't buy that story - when I heard that the most popular Batman story in years had been, essentially, a front for an "Ultimate" Riddler revamp, I almost split a side laughing.

But I said I'd devote some time talking about a Batman story I did like. Well, there's another story reprinted in that aforementioned Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told called "The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne", reprinted from 1983's The Brave & The Bold #197 (written by Alan Brennert and drawn by Joe Staton). It is, fittingly, the last story in the book. Although it was printed a good couple years before the Crisis, it essentially serves the same purpose as Alan Moore's Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? - putting a nice coda on almost fifty years of adventures in advance of an inevitable ship-to-stern revamp. Now, while it is true that the post-Crisis Batman wasn't anywhere near as exhaustive a reinterpretation as the post-Crisis Superman, the Batman who entered the 80s would become, with the unwitting help of Frank Miller, almost unrecognizable as the same Batman who entered the 90s.

"The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne" is a story of the final adventure - or one of the final adventures of - the Batman of Earth 2. Of course, the Batman of Earth 2 was the Batman featured in the comics from 1938 on through some point in the 50s or early 60s - I'm sure someone out there knows the exact point. The idea, though, is that the Earth 2 adventures actually occurred as they were published in "real time" - in the late 30s and throughout the 40s and early 50s. So, the story begins in 1955, with an aging Batman facing the prospect of eventual retirement.

This is quite obviously not the modern asshat Batman. The story concerns Batman's concerns over eventually being abandoned - left alone. Despite his pretense of being the consummate loner, what has Batman, in any era, always done? Constructed surrogate families. His family was killed, so what does he do? He adopts a child (Robin). He has a father figure (Alfred). He's got siblings and lovers and nieces and even pets (Superman, the various Batgirls, Batwomen, Huntresses and Batdogs). Even today, what does Batman do? Pretty much the same thing, only he's a remote, controlling prick to everyone who tries to get close to him. Well, the Batman of Earth 2 is a nice guy: he actually likes his friends and surrogate family. After a dose of the Scarecrow's fear gas, he realizes that his one, true fear is the loss of his "family". They disappear in front of him but he's too wrapped up in his own worries to realize that their disappearance is just a symptom of the gas. He sets out to track down the Scarecrow and "rescue" his friends, who he believes to be captured.

He enlists Catwoman's aid. Now, of course, the Catwoman and Batman of Earth 2 were eventually married, and this is the story of their courtship - Batman realizes he's all alone and even if he hasn't yet figured out why, he turns to Catwoman as the one person outside of his close family who he can trust. She agrees to help him but notices how upset he is:
"Batman's acting so strange, so obsessed . . . is there something wrong with him?"

In a few years that would become his default mode. Later on, when Batman is in the grips of horrible, fear-gas inspired hallucinations, Catwoman addresses him and delivers what could be the best summation of Batman's character . . . ever:
"All your life you've been terrified of losing anyone else the way you lost your parents! So you created a world for yourself -- a world of conflict and confrontation -- a world where no one could ever get that close to you again!

Batman only breaks the hold of the Scarecrow's fear gas by revealing his identity to Catwoman - and his love as well. It sounds corny as fuck, but it makes perfect sense: all these years, all Batman ever really needed was a hug. His primal trauma defined him so absolutely that, while he may have been the World's Greatest Detective, he was also absolutely unable to see the shape of his own problems.

Which is, of course, why Batman is ultimately such a dead-end character. Any Batman, of any era, is Batman for the same reason. Whether or not he's happy-go-lucky or grim & gritty, he's still Batman because he's mentally trapped at the age of ten. Has pathology is so transparent that it was obvious to me from pretty much the very first moment I could understand the character - instead of just recognizing the costume - that he was not so much a Grim Avenger of Justice as a very, very sad and traumatized man. If you try to take it seriously, it's just horribly depressing.

"The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne" wasn't actually a big blow-out like Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, for the simple reason that it also laid the groundwork for the last couple years of Earth 2 stories before Crisis effectively mooted the entire notion. But still, reading it in the context of the Greatest Batman Stories book, it presents as nice a concluding chapter to Batman's story as you could ever hope for - really, it's the only way it could end. The Batman who emerged from Crisis, unlike Superman, was ostensibly the same Batman who had entered the story, but he was soon to undergo a pretty radical metamorphoses. By the early 90s the transformation into modern asshat Batman was complete. By then, a character who I had always thought to be silly had become truly repugnant.

In light of this, it has become apparent to me that The Dark Knight Strikes Again was something of an attempt by Miller to undo the "damage" he had done with his earlier stories. Now, it's not Miller's fault that the people who followed in his footsteps weren't interested in exploring any but the most obvious opportunities opened up by his stories, but perhaps he feels some guilt all the same, or at least wanted to see if maybe he couldn't tip the scales away from something that had become stale and repetitive. To its credit The Dark Knight Strikes Again doesn't read like any other Batman story of the past twenty years. I remember disliking TDKSA to an extreme degree, but it might be worth my time to return to the book with this interpretation in mind.

For some reason I've always been fascinated with superhero eschatology. Origins are fairly boring. The actual month-to-month adventures of most heroes are, essentially, static. But in a format like the old "Imaginary" stories or Marvel's What If?, creators could sometimes let loose and, freed from the constraints of having to perpetuate a trademark in the "real" books, bring the characters to logical conclusions, play around with the potent thematic material that could never really be addressed definitively in any other context. There is something enduringly powerful about a story like "Superman Red / Superman Blue", even if it is kinda silly - it sums up the optimism and utopian naiveté of the era quite brilliantly. Sometimes an "imaginary" story is the only real way to extract something of lasting value out of otherwise exhausted concepts - which is why the best, most compelling Batman tale is the one they can never tell, the one where Batman actually grows up, comes to grips with his problems and decides to snap out of his perpetual adolescent fugue and assume the burdens of adulthood, with all the responsibilities that entails.

Nowadays, even with Hypertime, a story like "The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne" is about as imaginary as you can get - the friendly, honest and amiable Batman in that story couldn't be further removed from the amoral psychopath of today. But in my book, it's one of the only Batman stories I've ever read that actually dealt with the character's problems in a rational, deliberate fashion, instead of simply enabling them.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Why I Hate Batman, Part One

Ready to strike fear into the hearts of evildoers everywhere, no doubt.

This may come as a shocking confession from someone who not only reads a lot of comic books, but who, specifically, grew up reading superhero comic books. Isn't an affection for the Dark Knight supposed to be one of those universal traits shared by all comics fans? Don't we all know, deep down, that there is no comics character as cool as Batman, and that every cartoonist secretly desires to draw Batman, and that he is indeed the Bee's Knees? Why, I'll bet even ol' Gary Groth hisself gets a woody whilst surreptitiously contemplating the coolness of the Caped Crusader...

Er, not quite.

Batman has never interested me in the slightest. Don't get me wrong: I've bought my fair share of Batman comics over the years. I can appreciate stories like The Dark Knight Returns and Year One as important touchstones in the history of the mainstream, and as enduring works in their own right. I can even admit that I have a soft spot for Kelly Jones' stylish interpretation of the character over Jim Lee's, and that Jim Aparo's understated utility appeals to me more than Neal Adams' showmanship. But all of these things are essentially beside the point. I may like a few Batman stories, but I don't like the character who stars in them. There have been a fair number of interesting and talented artists who have drawn the character over the years, but that doesn't make the character himself any less unattractive to me.

Most superheroes, at this point in my life, I'm neutral on. I have a few sentimental favorites, but most I can give or take because - we all should know - a superhero is only as good as whomever is writing and drawing him. Ergo, most superheroes aren't very good. But Batman . . . there's just something about the character that turns me cold. If he weren't so damn popular it would be easy to just ignore him, but the fact is that Warner Brothers is obligated to produce so much Batman product that they occasionally - and, I am certain, purely by accident - manage to corral folks of surpassing talent to create his adventures. Would I have paid seven dollars for a Batman comic by anyone but Eddie Campbell? Well, perhaps a few people, but not many.

Why do I hate Batman? Let me count the ways.

At some point (and this point can be fairly accurately pinpointed at or around the late 1980s) the decision was made that Batman's character should be changed to more resemble the driven, near-psychotic brutal loner who was featured in the two aforementioned Frank Miller books (of course, he was more brutal in Dark Knight and more psychotic in Year One, but both interpretations were strong). Of course, it should go without saying that building your franchise around such a rigorously unyielding and unsympathetic character should be a recipe for disaster, but the fans ate it up. Giffen & DeMatteis reportedly had to fight tooth-and-nail to keep Batman in the light-hearted post-Crisis Justice League.

I see posters of the new Batman movie - advertisements featuring the character in full regalia. But the movie Batman, since 1989, has been dressed in full metallic body armor and an increasingly inflexible carapace. Where, on the movie screen, is the dynamic athleticism that made the best Batman stories unique? In the first few Batman movies Batman was a fairly static figure - ironically, the most athletic Batman was the Batman of Batman & Robin. I actually liked the movie, because it was fun. Trying to take Batman so damn seriously is what got us into this problem in the first place.

Really looks designed for ease of movement, doesn't it?

Because, inevitably, if you begin to take parts of Batman, or any superhero "seriously", the whole kit & caboodle falls down around your feet. Superhero stories do not, as a rule, stand up well to insertions of so-called objective reality. You either accept the suspension of disbelief or you don't - this is the trick - and by wanting to have their cake and eat it to the Batman creators have crafted a fairly untenable house of cards. Superheroes work, when they do, because suspension of disbelief should be beside the point.

Of course, there are people who are going to be shaking their heads and tsk-ing the moment I mention "suspension of disbelief". Granted, in a perfect world, suspension of disbelief should have no place in superhero comics, because at their best they present a world that, because of it's sheer outrageousness, manages to be uniquely compelling - look at Lee and Kirby's Fantastic Four, Jack Cole's Plastic Man, anything you could mention by Morrison and the best of Moore's later superhero work. But by focusing so scrupulously on the nuts and bolts of superheroics, most modern superheroes have emerged strangely vitiated. Like the best fantasy, you shouldn't need to have it explained: if you have to ask about the exact mechanism by which Sauron's ring functions in The Lord of the Rings, maybe you should stick to Theodore Dreiser (because Dreiser will certainly be very happy to spell out for you every last detail of a very literal world).

So let's return to that poster for Batman Begins. You have Batman in full body armor. There are passages in the movie describing in detail how the armor and costume work and what its rough capabilities are. Well, I guess that makes sense - if Batman operated under conditions even remotely resembling those of real life, he would probably wear pretty sturdy body armor. But then, if Batman was real he would also be a candidate for the rubber room down at Bellevue. If you're going to do a Batman story, you shouldn't make creative choices that inadvertently undermine the character. Because I'm perfectly content to watch the old 60s Batman TV show without asking myself "hey, why doesn't Batman ever get shot or badly bruised because he's only wearing a thin cotton leotard?" When you introduce one real world concern, others follow with a gruesome inevitability, until you end up with every bit of fun and whimsy sucked out of what were, in the beginning, extremely whimsical characters. Even Bob Kane's early, pre-Robin dark Batman was still essentially a fantastic invention in an over-the-top world of carnivalesque villains and monsters.

What Batman is now is only the worst example of a trend that has seeped through almost the entirety of modern comics. The fact that Batman has been almost unbearably stupid for the last twenty years has made it blessedly easy to pay little attention to a character that really never held any appeal to me to begin with. He's never really had any personality to speak of - the whole idea of Batman is that he, whichever era he hails from, has turned his back on the pleasures and pain of "normal" life in order to embrace his "dark destiny". What personality transplants have been attempted over the years - since the very beginning - have invariably failed, for the simple reason that Batman cannot really evolve without changing. The logic of his origin demands that he be essentially stuck at eight-years-old forever. Superman can grow and change, to a degree, in the context of a story without losing his motivation to help people and make the world a better place. Spider-Man can - and has - changed significantly without losing the essential spark of determined, guilty altruism that motivated him in the beginning (even if said motivation has been quite muddied by a succession of second-rate creators', the whole "great power / great responsibility" paradigm remains intact, as any five year old can tell you). But if Batman so much as acknowledges the need to change and grow - nope, sorry. Can't do it.

I recently watched the first Batman, the Michael Keaton one, and I was pleasantly surprised by how well Keaton's performance as Bruce Wayne - a cipher’s role if ever there was one - actually held up, but I was also simultaneously distressed by the fact that virtually no one picked up on any of the more meaty bits of Keaton's performance. If you have to take Batman seriously, then you have to imagine that Bruce Wayne is actually a pretty happy guy - he's rich, he's famous, and he has the world's best hobby. If your Batman isn't enjoying himself, he's got to be a crushing, puerile bore. Keaton - at least in the first Batman - played Bruce Wayne as someone who seemed to be having the time of his life both in and out of the spandex. There was also, as implied by his aborted relationship with Vicky Vale, the possibility of eventually growing and changing to allow for possible happiness down the road. All this stuff in the current comics about Bruce Wayne being the mask is just, to put it bluntly, horse-shit for over-literal adolescents. If Bruce Wayne believes that, he's got a more serious case of disassociative disorder than I though, verging on multiple personalities, and he needs to be institutionalized. Which is why I can't take the modern Batman, and a great deal of his four-color kin who suffer from the same illnesses, seriously: in seeking to explain away all the leaps of logic that necessarily compose the fabric of a super hero's reality, they have succeeded in sapping the characters of their entire reason for being. This is the end result of scenes fetishizing the military specifications of Batman's armor - the further you pull these characters from the realm of full fantasy, the more you rob them of what little dignity they may have left and turn them into petty little punks in leather masks. What's the point? Better just to accept that he puts on gray tights and a leather mask and go with it.

I didn't like the Batman who hung with the Super Friends. I didn't like the Batman who hung with the Justice League or the Outsiders. I didn't like the Batman who palled around with Superman in World's Finest. All throughout my youth I associated that wretched bat insignia with dead-boring, because there was never really anything enjoyable about Batman's adventures. Most comic books can plausibly feature just about anything you could imagine, from giant space gods to zombie pirates to mind-blowing excursions into psychedelic philosophy, but Batman stories most likely feature dudes in suits shooting pistols in dark alleys, or weird nut-jobs in circus costumes and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Where's the giant leaps of imagination that made Superman or the Fantastic Four - or even the more grounded adventures of Spider-Man and Daredevil - so thrilling?

Later on when I grew up a bit and read more comics I became attracted to stories which featured Batman getting the shit kicked out of him. I particularly liked Knightfall in the early 90s because it illustrated quite nicely the pitfalls of Batman-as-a-psychotic-loner: he put himself in a position where he could be ganged up on by a bunch of circus freaks and assassins who wanted nothing more than to break him like a rag doll and put him in a wheelchair. Yay! said I, maybe now that insufferable punk will learn some humility. But, of course, that's not how it works in comics - when Batman returned he returned not as a wiser and more circumspect Batman but as even more of a "bad ass". Because everyone knows the way to bounce back from adversity is to grit your teeth, refuse to admit any error and simply do exactly what you did before, only TO THE EXTREME!

Everyone always talks about how cool Batman's rogues gallery is, but it's not. You've got a few interesting foes that were created in more recent times and a holy shitpile of goons in funny suits with sub-par Dick Tracy gimmicks. I mean, the Joker's a clown who kills people. That's it. Gee, sounds like lots of fun for the kiddies. Does New Jersey not have the death penalty? Usually mass murderers - even insane mass murderers - get killed in one way or another. You're telling me that not one cop ever shot the Joker while he was resisting arrest, not one fellow inmate every shived him while he was taking a piss, not one concerned citizen ever just put a bullet in his head instead of waiting for him to squeeze that stupid flower and spray him with deadly laughing gas? Come on. Once you introduce psychotic mass-murderers into your superhero stories, you stretch credibility by introducing moral questions which are structurally anathematic to the very notion of conventional superheroes. And if you do address those questions, well, you're taking most characters pretty far afield. In superhero comics, the closest we'll probably ever come to The Executioner's Song is probably the X-Men crossover of the same name.

Batman wasn't that interesting to begin with, and a succession of habitually unimaginative and overly-literal and narrow-minded creators have turned the character into something truly repugnant. But come back for the next part of this series when I discuss my favorite Batman story, and why it might just also be the best Batman story ever told - same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Doctor Doom’s Mailbag

Doom takes pride in answering all of his personal correspondence.

Dear Dr. Doom,

I heard someone say the other day that fake blog posts written by fictional characters are hella lame. What's your opinion on this?

R. Reed, DCU

Doom has noticed that many lazy bloggers, for lack of anything important or cogent to say, often adopt the guise of favored fictional characters in order to give their pitiful blogs "character" or to attract "attention". While Doom finds the very concept of blogging - with all its attendant ideological anarchy - deeply repulsive, he nevertheless manages to locate deep, heretofore untapped reserves of scorn for those who use their soapboxes to adopt a useless masquerade. Of course, it must be noted that those countries which allow their citizens the foolish luxury of absolute freedom of speech rarely succeed in producing the heightened level of public discourse such a "freedom" would imply. It is better for government, whether concentrated in the hands of a select few or embodied as a single magnificent personage, to absolve their citizenry of the burden of expression.

But, to return to your query, Doom does not see anything even slightly humorous or interesting in adopting the pretense of a fictional disguise. Why would I wish to adopt any identity other than that of Doom? Is there another character in all of literature or history comparable to Doom in the magnitude of his greatness, be it in the realms of intellect, charity, mercy or might? To pretend to be anyone other than Doom would be an insult to the very Fates who have conspired to render Doom truly an individual without peer.

Dear Doom,

I read somewhere that you really like golf. How do you find time to play with your busy schedule?

Just Curious,
A. S., Sweden

Although Doom is not in the habit of advertising his weaknesses, it must be admitted that he has a terrible fondness for the links. As there were no golf courses in Latveria until soon after the beginning of the glorious reign of Doom, he did not encounter the game until his college years, when he was often sighted at any one of the more respectable public courses available in the New York area near the cursed Empire State University. Indeed, while most of his time in the United States was devoted to braving the realms of deeper arcana, there is no better way to clear one's head than a leisurely afternoon stroll across eighteen holes.

It is commonly known that Doom holds three great goals in his life: to conquer our planet Earth and, perhaps, the greater universe; to free his mother from the clutches of the vile Mephisto; and to finally and utterly destroy the wretched Reed Richards and his accursed family. What is not as commonly known is that Doom holds a fourth goal of only slightly lesser priority than these other three: to make the weekend cut at the annual Pebble Beach Celebrity Pro-Am tournament. So far this goal has eluded Doom in all his appearances. The closest he has come, you may know if you follow the game, was two years ago when he missed the cut due only to the machinations of the tyro Tony Stark and his match partner, the dreaded Vijay Singh. Of course, the tournament organizers had the temerity to pair Doom with John Daly - it would probably be easier to make par in the company of the Incredible Hulk.

But yes, Doom enjoys both playing and watching golf. Although most sports past the level of amateur competition must be deemed a hideous waste of precious resources, the game of golf is truly the sport of kings and potentates. Doom is a selfless monarch and tireless innovator, but one of his few private luxuries is to watch professional golf on the satellite dish which he purchased explicitly for that purpose. This year's US Opens - both the male and the female tournaments - were of special interest. Rarely has Doom witnessed a course as diabolical as Pinehurst #2. Rarely has Doom seen so many of the best golfers in the world brought low by a combination of narrow fairways and convex greens - truly a ruthless stage. Colorado's Cherry Hills appeared at the onset of the Women's Open to be a less demanding course, but soon it proved to be every bit a match for the very best that the women could offer. No one pays attention to women's golf, but it is accepted among those who follow the sport that women golfers play to a slightly more exacting standard - in terms of ball control and short-game - than the men. But even they were brought low by the fiendish water hazards and ineradicable rough of Cherry Hills.

Of course, Doom's decision to devote his life to the greater good of all mankind was a loss to the world of golf. Doom cannot deny that the game demands a level of exacting skill which can only be cultivated through rigorous practice and study, that which is unfortunately denied to Doom in his never-ending quest for mastery of his inferiors. In this field only does Doom bow to superior capacity - but still, Doom shall never reveal his handicap. Leave it be said that it is smaller than Richards'.

Dear Doom,

I live in a small hole-in-the-wall where I am without doubt the most beautiful, most intelligent and by far the wealthiest girl to attend the local secondary school. My father is the major power in the town, controlling many prominent business and either directly or indirectly responsible for the livelihood of a large percentage of the townspeople. In many ways my life is idyllic, save for the machinations of one blonde hussy who stands in the way of my goals. I had chosen the optimal mate from the frankly unpromising peasant herds who compose the local citizenry. Before I could make my claim, however, the blonde virago entered the picture and set her "Tramp phaser" on "Kill". To make a long story short, my rightful concquest has been perpetually denied me, as this whore has consistently prevented me from staking a claim in what is, by right of my superior breeding and station, rightfully mine. To make matters worse, I am forced to pretend that I am this vixen's friend, else I reveal my emnity and possibly scare away the desired conquest. What should I do?

V. Lodge, Riverdale

It is the perpetual dilemma of the ruling class, especially in those countries who pretend to the illusion of social egalitarianism, to be stymied by the dim-witted machinations of those who are manifestly their inferiors. The solution to your problem is a simple one: throw off the cloak of amiability with which you have disguised your designs. Reveal your mastery to the peonage that surround you and make your wishes known to all. You mention that your father controls great economic resources. It is your decision as to when you will choose to depose him, but if your resources are as you say there is still undoubtedly quite a bit you can do in the way of economic measures to crush those who stand in your path.

To deal with this blonde harlot, you must simply declare your intentions as an ultimatum. It is usually best to enter into these discussions while brandishing a thermonuclear cannon or atomic pistol - however, if exotic weaponry is not currently at your disposal, a regular firearm will do (Doom himself still carries a loaded pistol for occasions where the subtlety of advanced technology will not suffice to convey the brutality of my domination). Approach her as you would a serf who had been poaching on your land. Assume the position of the benevolent ruler, and stress that she continues to live only as a function of your munificent largesse. Should she continue to defy you, you must not hesitate to destroy her absolutely, and mutilate her body as an example to her family.

Doctor Doom,

Are you going to be at San Diego this year? I think we could find a place for you on a couple panels if you wanted to participate.

Yer Pal,

Your courtesy is duly noted, but Doom fears he shall never set foot in San Diego for fear that he would never be able to get the stench of unwashed peonage out of my cape.

On that note, dear reader, this never ending carnival of inanity begins to wear on my infinite kindness.

Monday, July 04, 2005


I was going to put up a new post today, but then I realized that most people would probablt not be doing to much surfing on the holday. So, I will settle for disseminating the new remix, here.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Of Further Interest

Anyone who read and enjoyed (or tolerated) last week's essay on the utility of mythic modes in dealing with superheroes might just be interested in the July issue of Harper's magazine. Although it may seem on first glance to be only tangentially important, there's an article called "Mighty White of You", by Jack Hitt, which offers up some interesting corollaries to exactly what I was talking about.

The article deals with the issue of racial preferences and national myths in connections with the sparse fossil record relating to the earliest human inhabitants of the Americas. (The piece is itself quite interesting outside of any connection to comics or myth - I have an abiding disinterest in anthropology based on a badly-taught college course, and any sixteen-page long article on the topic that can hold my interest must be quite well-written by simple virtue of the fact that I usually start nodding off as soon as I see the phrase Australopithecus aferensis or what have you.) In any event, there was one particular passage which caught my eye in reference to recent features on this blog:
". . . [We] no longer have the capacity to appreciate the real power of myth. Most of us are reared to think of myth as an anthology of dead stories of some long-ago culture: Edith Hamilton making bedtime stories out of Greek myths; Richard Wagner making art out of Norse myth; fundamentalist Christians making trouble out of Scripture.

When we read ancient stories or founding epics, we forget that the original audience who heard these accounts did not differentiate between mythic and fact-based storytelling. Nor did these stories have authors, as we conceive of them. Stories arose from the collective culture, accrued a kind of truth over time.

Today we've split storytelling into two modes - fiction and non-fiction. And we've split our reading that way as well. The idea of the lone author writing ‘truth’ has completely vanquished the other side of storytelling - the collectively conjured account. I think we still have these accounts, but we just don't recognize them for what they are. Tiny anxieties show up as urban legends and the like." [Pg. 55]

Of course, the conflict between the literal and metaphorical methods of reading is as old as writing itself, or at least as old as the practice of passing down narratives to successive generations. As Kenneth McLeish put it in his introduction to Robert Graves' seminal Greek Myths:
" . . . [P]opular interest was hardly well-served by the scholars who maintained the actual classical texts and artifacts. Works of ancient literature were studied with an obsessive attention to the minutiae of grammar and syntax - a discipline learned from Bible studies, and intended to serve the same end, namely to ensure that the fundamental texts were interpreted as accurately and prescriptively as possible. In the same way, conservatories of the fine arts devoted themselves to the preservation of the minutest details of past practices, so that to study sculpture, architecture or painting became a discipline as - and hardly much different from - rabbinical exegesis of the Torah or its dismal Christian equivalent: scholastic, authority citing arguments about matters such as the size of the angels or the number of generations since Noah's flood.

"The result of this was that classical scholars became archivists rather than innovators, museum curators rather than original thinkers. In literary terms, European universities became filled with magnificently reconstructed texts which everyone revered but no one bothered to relate to the living beings who had created and enjoyed them in the first place, and with experts who knew the size and shape of each brick in every ancient wall, but could neither see the walls themselves nor understand their purpose. . . . " [Pg. 14, Folio Society Edition]

There's been a lot of talk lately – partly triggered by Marvel's overdue decision to begin reprinting it's less-stellar 70s era material as part of the Essentials line - about series like Luke Cage, The Defenders and the 70s Avengers, books that were by most stretches of the imagination not very good but which retain a pulpy, spontaneous energy that places them at a distance from both the iconic works of the 1960s and the more calculated and competent high-octane soap-opera adventures stories ushered in by Chris Claremont and Co. with the invention of the "All-New, All-Different" X-Men. Books like the absurd but incredibly fun "Celestial Madonna" storyline were the kinds of stories Marvel had previously spent decades trying to escape. Certainly, there's a lot of fodder in any of these books for the type of criticism that bewails the unfortunate, literal-minded prominence of continuity-based storytelling - as well as the fact that the actual stories themselves are not very well put together - but these books also point towards the "missing link" between the generative brilliance of the 60s and the increasingly "sophisticated" but generally dull and perpetually adolescent books which arose in the collective wakes of Claremont's X-Men, Frank Miller's Daredevil, Wolfman & Perez' Teen Titans and the handful of other genuinely interesting (or at least well-remembered) books from the late-70s and early 80s.

If Howard Chaykin had come to prominence in the comics industry a decade earlier, he would probably have been working on a book like Luke Cage or The Defenders. But by the early 80s, when Chaykin did rise out of the mainstream ranks (penciling Star Wars, of all things), there were other options for conscientious mainstream creators besides merely plowing particularly weird ruts in corporate fields. There was a lot of piss and vinegar in 70s Marvel, because there were a lot of people who had grown up with Stan & Jack & Steve who wanted to express themselves in similar ways but did not as yet have a vocabulary that allowed for more than the occasional flashes of ingenuity.

At some point, as has been chronicled and debated ad infinitum, the people producing mainstream comics switched over from professional craftsmen who just happened to be working in comics to people who had grown up consciously yearning to work in comics, and the resulting change produced a steady but irrevocable sea-change in the way that the stories would forever be conceived. The best way I have found to typify this division is by pointing to the long-standing and somewhat baffling (to me and many) enmity held by John Byrne for "British Invasion" creators such as Alan Moore and Grant Morrison, creators who rose to (American) prominence as part of the first generation of creators to follow Byrne. (Of course, there are also serious Oedipal issues involved in Byrne's dismissal of almost all younger creators, from the Brits in the 80s to the Image boys in the 90s, but that's neither here nor there.) The difference is that at a certain point the relationship between creators and the texts which preceded them - the "ur" texts, the 60s runs of books like Fantastic Four and Spider-Man - became less one of innovator and more one of archivist. The kernel of genius behind 60s Marvel - the artistic presences who actually created the books and developed their distinctly communicative styles and concepts - was forgotten, or at least ignored, as fidelity to the characters and concepts became the prime denominator. Plus, it’s easier to devote yourserlf to rather facile reinterpretations of existing characters, as opposed to doing any conceptual heavy lifting yourself.

Of course, Alan Moore never got that memo, and neither did Grant Morrison. They understood (and understand, for the most part) why what Stan & Jack & Steve did was so important, and why it garnered the attention it did. It was new, it was different, it was just kinda weird - and the best way to pay tribute to things like that is to go forth yourself and create things which are, in their turn, new and different and weird. This does not mean, for the most part, putting new coats of paint on forty or sixty year old ideas. It means taking what was originally so good and inspirational about them and discarding the rest, the outdated, ill-fitting anachronistic baggage.

Trying to write a Fantastic Four comic that instills the same sense of wonder and imagination in a grown adult as the original Stan & Jack run did on 6-12 year olds during the 1960s is a fools errand. While this does not mean that fun Fantastic Four stories may not appear from time to time (they do), it does mean that the likelihood of anything honestly revolutionary or breath-taking appearing in those pages is very, very small. Of course, Frank Miller was able to knock all the literalist cobwebs from the Batman mythos in two fell strokes - with Dark Knight Returns and Year One - but Miller also recognized the importance of tilling your own fields. (Later work like Dark Knight Strikes Again and All-Star Batman & Robin strikes me as more Miller just having fun - which is certainly allowed, even if I may not have thought DKSA was very fun.) Also, perhaps coincidentally, Miller’s own revolutionary works were later used as the basis for the new status quo, in the form of the particularly churlish Batman we’ve had ever since. The point, again, is not that it isn't possible to do interesting or - even very occasionally - honestly important work when you're working with other people's ideas, but that imitation is not necessarily the sincerest form of flattery. The sincerest form of flattery, in terms of art, is inspiration, because imitation in the name of literal slavishness is not art, it's a form of indentured servitude.

So, why are the Fantastic Four important enough that the world is gearing up for the release of a big-budget motion picture starring their exploits? Why have they been remembered all these years? Of course, the cynic in me wants answers that it's because the corporation that owns them has trademarks to exploit. But the characters themselves wouldn't still be around some forty-five years later if something in their execution hadn't sparked the interest of someone or another down the line: media history is filled with useless trademarks that have been abandoned or fallen into disrepair simply because no-one cares anymore. How many people relate to Gasoline Alley or Flash Gordon anymore? Aside from low-level archival projects and the occasional resurgence, they are dead in every way that matters. If people still care about the Fantastic Four, though, the best thing that could come of it would be if some dazzled ten-year-old kid walked out of the Fantastic Four movie and decided he wanted to create something as cool as that himself. If, on the other hand, he is suitably impressed but says he just wants to write more Fantastic Four comics, that seems slightly sad to me.