Monday, November 22, 2004

The Exigencies of Crap

Dave over at Motime has posted an interesting response to my recent review of the so-called “last” Thor storyline. As usual, he makes a very cogent and interesting point, even if I couldn’t disagree with him more. But in this case, I think I can easily understand where our opinions diverge.

I like Thor. Since I was a kid, its been one of my favorite titles. Keeping that in mind, I’ve read so many bad Thor stories over the years that it hurts – we’re talking, literal, physical pain whenever I think about that last Roy Thomas run in the mid-90s.


Dave has made a point of saying, on numerous occasions, that he doesn’t follow many modern comics. I do. I don’t buy a lot but I buy some. I like to keep my toe in the water, and I like to keep abreast of what’s going on with some of my favorite characters of yore. I realize that I am a gold-plated sucker. This means that I end up experiencing a lot of bad comics. These days, I have a much lower tolerance for crap than I used to have, but still: sometimes I get suckered.

I wouldn’t mind if they wrote a conclusive ending for Thor for the very basic reason that I think that the character has been subjected to steadily diminishing returns, story-wise, for the last two decades. I liked the Tom DeFalco run, but it was nowhere as good at the Simonson run. The Thomas run was horrible. The Ellis run made the best of a bad situation. The Jurgens run was great for as long as Romita Jr. stuck around. When he left it got really bad. The last part with Thor as the Allfather was surprisingly good. But, if you had to create a line graph for the quality of Thor comic books since the 1980s, that line would be a inexorable slide downwards, with occasional peaks and valleys throughout, but generally pointed down.

I will reiterate that I like Thor a lot. I love the Kirby Thor, the Simonson Thor, even the DeFalco & Frenz Thor ( even if that's hardly a popular run). This doesn’t have anything to do with any kind of existential or epistemological struggle: it has to do with the fact that the Thor comics they make now are not as good as they used to be, and have been getting progressively worse for a long time. If a TV show had the same kind of consistently bad performance as Thor the comic book, the show would have been cancelled years ago.

So, Dave, here’s my point: sometimes you think too much. That stuff about “narrative stasis” was something of a canard, I admit, because at root my point was that Thor as a character has been handled pretty roughly down through the years. Sometimes when something doesn’t work it needs to be put away. A bad comic book that no-one buys needs to be cancelled, and for the majority of the past decade, and many times previous, Thor was just that: a bad comic book that no-one bought. I liked this story because it didn’t suck and granted the characters a dignity in their inevitable passing that perhaps a lesser creator would not have had the wherewithal to imbue.

Sometimes comic books are cancelled. There is an unwavering and deserved finality to that.

Travels With Larry

1000 Steps To World Domination

I’m a sucker for books and movies on the subject of writer’s block. It’s a particularly juicy topic for anyone who makes a daily habit of sitting in front of the computer screen. I’m not going to try to tell you that its some romantic quest, however, any kind of great existential crisis. What it is, for me, is laziness. The struggle with inertia and sloth is real and never-ending. It’s not something that ever seems to get better: it’s a constant struggle. Every day is a new battle.

This is Rob Osbournes’ predicament in 1000 Steps To World Domination. Basically, he wants to become a successful cartoonist, so he sets himself an impossible goal: conquering the world through cartooning. He writes down the 1000 little steps he needs to do in order to accomplish this goal. The people around him perceive this to be an understandably odd preoccupation.

I liked this book a lot. It’s small, almost a trifle, but there is a sense throughout that not only does Osborne recognize his weaknesses, but he is actively working to overcome them. In a very real way, that is what this book is about: trying to surpass a lack of “divine inspiration” through discipline and ingenuity.

I can understand how other critics could have been distracted by the book’s deadpan tone. The tone could almost be phrased as a throwback to the 90s, when having no ambition and no direction was simply an accepted and expected attribute. Osborne reminds me of someone who might have spent his twenties listening to Pavement and wearing used flannel shirts. Of course, he’s older now, and maybe a tiny little bit wiser, in that he knows what he wants to do. Of course, knowing what to do and having the wherewithal to do it are two different things.

He makes the most of his format. He knows how to throw out side-tracks without losing his momentum or thematic cohesion. Things that are touched upon early in the book are paid off near the end. Despite the book’s aggressive smallness (both literal and figurative), there is a satisfying wholeness. It won’t take you very long to read but it will put a smile on your face.

No comments :