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Taking A Few Things On Faith

June 4th, 2009 by | Tags: , , ,

Since we get right into spoilers for Batman and Robin #1 and for Secret Six #10, I’ll put the cut up front.

Both of those comics, this week, have a ‘shoot-yer-henchman’ scene.  You know it.  It’s when a guy comes in, and you can tell, from the music, or the shadowing, or just the placement in the story, that this is a bad guy.  But you don’t know how bad.  You need to see how bad.  And so, the bad guy, shoots one of his henchmen, so you can see that he’s eeevil.

Actually, in Batman and Robin, he doesn’t shoot his henchman so much as fix a mask onto the henchman’s face with boiling-hot glue and then proceed to torture him.  In front of his daughter.  While talking about how soon he will do the same thing with the daughter.

And in Secret Six, he doesn’t shoot his henchman so much as shoot slaves.  Slaves that one particular, rebellious slave likes.  So that her spirit will be broken and she’ll keep on being a slave.

I can’t argue that the scenes weren’t brutal and emotionally gripping.  I can’t say that they weren’t well-placed in the story.  And yes, they sure as hell convinced me that this bad guy was a bad, bad guy.

The thing is – I was already convinced that they were bad guys.  I’m not a really discriminating reader.  If some guy walks in with a pig mask and a dead body, I’ll believe.  If some guy runs an underground slave ring, I will believe.  Hell, if some guy just happens to be in a scene with shading that brings to mind the part of a movie when the soundtrack pumps up the string-section, I shall believe.  Seriously, people!  I am ready to take your word for it!  Don’t show me that stuff!

I realize that this is entirely a matter of taste.  In fact, Secret Six is all about the gruesome and the morally reprehensible, so I can’t even say that I didn’t know what I was in for.  But can’t we work a little more on ‘tell, don’t show’?  If only for the sake of my stomach?

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10 comments to “Taking A Few Things On Faith”

  1. Seems like the usual to me. It’s the same old OVER THE EDGE thinking that still haunts the industry not like a ghost but like the stench of a dead skunk.

    I think I can sum up the attitude creators seem to have toward this thing with Black Adam vs. Psycho Pirate in Infinite Crisis: When Power Girl asks if pushing his mask through his face was necessary, B.A. simply replies “Absolutely”. Whether or not Johns intended it I found it to be a pretty telling meta-commentary.

    Now, I’m gonna go atone for using the words “meta-commentary” when talking about funny picture books.


  2. Who thought it was a good idea to let Damian read the Jason Todd handbook?


  3. I appreciate your comments about the growing violence in comics, and it’s true that Secret Six is not exactly Captain Marvel, but I would like to say in our defense that almost all the violence in the scene mentioned here is off panel. There is one body with a blade in its chest, and everything else is pretty much off-panel. I think one of the reasons why it’s so horrific is because the imagination is usually far more gruesome than whatever explicit gore might be taking place. And of course, because artist Nicola Scott excels at drawing human emotion.

    But it’s true that it’s not an all-ages book, by any standard. I’m not big on gore for gore’s sake, as a rule. But villains being villains, it does get pushed a little farther than over in Wonder Woman.


  4. Personally i really like when they built up for scenes like that but then don’t kill the henchmen off. I enjoy it when authors build up a villain as somebody who’s calculating enough to think about the repercussions of their actions and realizing that killing minions isn’t conductive to loyalty and morale.

    It’s on the big reasons I’m liking what Marvel is (schizophrenically) trying to do with The Hood. When they’re writing him well i can really believe that this guy is united the criminal underworld, because he’s just a damn fine people manager, it’s great seeing a super-villain keeping a group together by soothing ego’s and actually giving a crap about the people who work for him.


  5. @Gail: Hi, Gail. Thanks so much for the comment. I’m a huge fan of yours. However, I think you mistook the overall purpose of my entry.

    You don’t need to defend Secret Six. While the growing ‘dark’ tone in comics is something that I’m not a fan of, the gore never really troubled me. I’ve seen plenty of spines ripped out, skulls imploded, and eyeballs smushed, and in general it neither attracts me nor repels me.

    It is the emotional component of the gore, the fact that a woman was made to submit to slavery, and gladly, in order to stop those around her being slaughtered, or in Batman and Robin, the fact that a daughter watched her father tortured knowing she would be next, that twists my stomach into knots.

    And, of course, that’s exactly what it’s meant to do. I don’t have any moral objection to it because it’s presented as being just as horrific as it is.

    My post is about how I, personally, can’t take that stuff. For me, that kind of horror often over-shadows the rest of the comic. I love Secret Six, but when I see pages like that, I have to set the comic aside and do something else for a while, then come back and skip over those pages so I can read the rest of the book.

    I would be much happier if the villain scenes in all comics consisted of the bad guy stroking a white cat and saying ‘Soon Gotham will be miiiiiiiiine!’ Maybe that wouldn’t work. Maybe you need the gut-wrenching stuff to really get engaged with the other parts of the story. But since I read for the fun and not the horror, often those scenes often kill the rest of the twenty-two pages for me.

    Thanks again for commenting. It’s real thrill knowing that you read this.


  6. @jthomasmoore: I thought he was reading from it from Day One. He even did that thing where you cut off people’s heads and cart them around with you.

    @hooligantuesday: Honestly, that does sound really damn cool. As a DC person, I don’t know much about The Hood. Is he featured in any one particular comic?


  7. @Esther Inglis-Arkell: I own the first Hood trade, by Brian K Vaughan and Kyle Hotz. I’ll let you borrow it. It’s before his rise to power, more or less. I’m kind of skeptical of how he’s been portrayed lately, since there’s a huge stretch between who he was then and now, and I vastly preferred the Then.

    Violence in comics is a weird point for me. If I name my favorite writers off the top of my head (in no order– Morrison, Ennis, Miller, Azzarello, Nocenti), all of them are guilty of some pretty heinous bits of violence. Morrison’s Doom Patrol gets downright unsettling at points, Garth Ennis occasionally indulges himself by writing a book like Crossed, Frank Miller is a big believer in the Wounded Warrior (I just re-read Hard Boiled and dang), etc etc.

    I agree that the killing the assistant is corny, nine times out of ten. It’s one of those things that we’ve seen so often that it’s lost its power. There’s no more punch to it, it’s just Something Villains Do. At the same time, a villain who walks up and puts a bullet directly into the head of a hero is a villain that instantly demands your attention, if not your respect. There’s a fine line to walk there.


  8. @Esther Inglis-Arkell: But Esther, the villain with a white cat? That’s Blofeld. The villain killing his no.2 is occasionally called a “Blofeld kill”. It’s the same thing.


  9. @david brothers: It really depends on who’s writing him it seems, i really liked what Jeff Parker is doing with him in the new Dark Reign: The Hood mini. He’s done a good job of showing the conflict between Parker Robins, enterprising criminal who just wants to run a successful gang and get rich from crime and Dormammu trying influence him through his cloak and turn him into a raving psychotic villain.


  10. [...] Need a Union or Something June 26th, 2009 by Esther Inglis-Arkell A few weeks ago I made a post about how most comics had a ’shoot-yer-henchmen’ scene, a depraved act of violence to [...]