Sunday, January 29, 2006

Who Do They Think They're Kidding?

At the negative reccomendation of The Sleestack over at Lady, That's My Skull, I checked out a copy of Adventures of Superman #648. (Notice I did not say I actually bought a copy. There's a reason for that.)

Yeah, this was a bad comic. This is pretty much all the reasons why big event stories like Infinite Crisis make superhero stories look even stupider than they usually are. And, furthermore, they make the people who write them look like they're either not too bright or just don't care anymore. Considering everything in a DC comic in the next couple months is going to be mooted by the editorially-mandated "One Year after" business, it makes perfect sense that the folks working on Adventures of Superman #648 might feel less than inclined to give their best work. They got their pink slips a long time ago, and they're basically just keeping the bench warm for the next team. As such, this is pretty much the definition of a "bench-warmer" book.

First, it features one of those horrible faux-newspaper articles that show up in comics now and again, but which really resemble no newspaper articles that have ever or will ever (God forbid) see print in anything remotely resembling a respectable newspaper. I am going to show you the first three captions we see in the story -- the first sentences from a story supposedly printed in the Daily Planet. I am not going to show you the actual page they are from because I want you to see these as something an actual newspaper might print:

Doesn't quite work, does it? I'm sorry if I seem like I'm belaboring a point, but this is something of a pet-peeve of mine. Comics just can't get newspaper journalism right. This is something a news magazine like Time or Newsweek would print - and even then, the whole "They were the lucky ones" bit would probably be spiked by any editor on the planet. But not, apparently, any of the actual editors at The Planet.

A newspaper story, especially a story being written on the chain of events immediately following on a major disaster, would be written in the most neutral and purely informative tone possible. It would put its most important data in the lead paragraphs, implementing an upside-down pyramid structure to impart successively less important information as the story progressed. Furthermore, in an event like this, with a death toll in the six figures (an event -- in America, at least -- absolutely unimaginable in our modern media era), there'd be multiple reports on the event. So the particular tone the reporter (who we later learn is, of course, Lois Lane) adopts is just superfluous. Anyone who ever took Journalism 101 would see that this is an unacceptable piece of reporting. Anyone who's ever even read a newspaper would see the same thing.

I remember the first time I ever saw this particularly odious device used. It was - strangely enough - on another Superman title. It was one of the books written in the immediate aftermath of the death and "return" of Superman, during the period when the four ersatz Superman were running around. Anyway, there was an issue featuring the cyborg Superman meeting Bill Clinton, written in the same absolutely horrendous faux-newspaper style. It grated then and it grates now. Of all the devices a lazy comic book writer could think of to try and communicate a specific type of story, that is the worst, because it makes it look as if the writer has only heard of actual newspapers as some sort of distant rumor.

But that's not all. Later on, the reporter inserts an informative sidebar comparing the death toll in Bludhaven to similar "tragedies" in the DCU:

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Notice something missing? Heh. I am thinking that someone up there had some common sense. As it is, it just looks patently ridiculous, instead of just plain offensive. The problem with superhero comics raising the stakes to such absurd heights is that as soon as reality comes anywhere close to this kind of disaster, the fictional superheroes just seem patently ridiculous. There's not a person reading this comic book who didn't - probably without even thinking - insert 9/11 into that line-up. Now think about that for a minute - 3,000 or so people died on 9/11 and it brought American life to a near-standstill and changed the course of our lives for decades to come. We're expected to believe that roughly 7,120,000 people died in the DCU United States in the last decade or so (not to mention the nuclear weapon that got dropped on Qurac at some point, which I recall being similarly silly) as a direct result of superhero shenanigans and the lives of the average Joe and Jane on the street are basically unnaffected? Suspension of disbelief in superhero comics is a canard, I know, but this is just silly. These massive massacres should never have been written in the first place, because even a child can see that life - even in superhero comics - just doesn't work that way. If they had to write fictional genocide into the superhero universe, they should have the courage of their convictions and follow the story to it's logical conclusions. As it is, I sincerely doubt any of the villains who sicced Chemo onto the city will see trial for Crimes Against Humanity...

The constant idolization of Superman and his fellow heroes is just insult on top of injury. Considering that it was their villains that started this in the first place, I would be a bit pissed if the best these guys could do was the equivalent of a band-aid over a gaping chest wound. I'd throw an egg if I lived in Bludhaven.

Others have already showcased that fabulous panel of Green Lantern sitting on his ass and looking semi-retarded while the heroic firefighters bravely tried to save lives, so I won't beat a dead horse. But the look on Hal's face in these later panels is simply classic -

Man, Hal just looks like a moron whatever he does. It's not his fault. He's just got "that look".

But the best part of the book comes near the end, and serves as something of a signifier - at least to me - that those involved realize just how crappy this book actually is:

Tell me that any person could have written the line "tugging at that foul sack with all his might" with a straight face. How the hell did that make it past an editor? It boggles, it does. But it is a fairly accurate indicator of exactly what they were thinking when they were writing this book: jacking off onto the reader.

How many other industries can you think of where the people producing content can legitimately say "We're going to totally revamp our product and really bring our 'A-Game' in three months, but in the meantime, here's a pile of crap to tide you over!" You gotta give it to the mainstream publishers, though - they do what they do so well that even when they shovel crap, they've still got willing consumers. You have to admire those balls, because they're big and brassy.

Yay! Me love crap! It am tasting so good!

(Then again, it's not like I paid money for it - but really, anyone who reads this blog knows full well that I just like to hear myself bitch.)

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