It Ain’t No More To It: “When a fresh faced guy in a Chevy offered him a lift, Parker told him to go to hell.”

April 28th, 2011 by | Tags: , ,

started at the top of Saul Williams’s “Banged and Blown Through.” 2334 on 04.25.11. images from brian azzarello and eduardo risso’s 100 Bullets Vol. 8: The Hard Way. you can start with issue 1 for ninety-nine cents, though.

Cape comics are nice and all, but my favorite types of comics feature real people doing real things. Crime comics and war comics are what really float my boat, for whatever reason. Sci-fi and fantasy are okay, but never really manage to hold my interest for long. I like seeing people in these books that could live next door, but have this insane other life.

Crime comics are a sorely underserved genre. There’s a lot of crime in cape comics, sure, but that’s not really the same thing. My ideal crime comic would probably read like Elmore Leonard, James Ellroy, Richard Stark, or Dashiell Hammett doing comics. Where cape comics are flashy and make a splash, crime comics are the ones that are a little dirtier, and a lot more down to Earth. People get shot and die, punches hurt, and the dialogue is punchy or mean.

In terms of crime comics, I like them spare, more often than not. The ones that descend into two-fisted gunfights, intense acrobatics, suicide charges that the hero lives through… all of that is sorta bland. It turns it into an action movie, rather than something measured and realistic. I like it when a punch in the face ruins someone’s whole day, or when the violence is inexpert and awkward. You can be trained to shoot guns with deadly accuracy, sure. At the same time, that can be a little boring, can’t it? I like people who mess up.

My favorite crime character is Richard Stark’s Parker, though I don’t know that Stark is my favorite writer, crime or otherwise. I like the spare, stripped down nature of him. He likes money and women, in that order, and he pulls jobs so that he has money to get women. Everything else is just part of the job. Not to say that he hasn’t pulled off some impossible stuff before–Slayground is essentially Home Alone in an amusement park and there’s one book where him and some friends rob an entire town–but when you get down to it, Parker is just a guy who’s talented at what he does. And that happens to be hurting or robbing people.

I liked Sherlock Holmes a lot as a kid. I loved the whole idea of solving mysteries being like unlocking a puzzle. Once you had all the pieces, it was simply a matter of looking at them from the right perspective. All it took was smarts and you could do anything. I don’t remember many specifics about Holmes any more, and it’s been years since I revisited Arthur Conan Doyle’s work, but I still love the idea of him. The Robert Downey Jr movie was pretty okay, but more action-oriented than I’d have liked.

I liked Holmes, but I loved Encyclopedia Brown. That kid was amazing to me. Sherlock Holmes Plus.

A lot of comics tend to screw up the violence. It’s action movie violence, which is great for a two hour picture, but not necessarily good for comics. I like when it gets visceral and personal. One guy fighting thirty ninjas is boring. One guy fighting his brother is great. Give me stakes I can believe in, stakes that go higher than just “If he loses, he dies.” Give me blood and give me tears.

Not say that there’s no place for stylized violence. The other day on Twitter, I said that “I mostly just want stuff where men and women (or ninjas) of visibly legal age wear suits, smoke cigarettes, and kill people.” It’s glib, but it’s also kinda sorta true. I love that whole Rat Pack/mobster/Mad Men aesthetic, and the thought of gentleman thieves is one that I can never let go of. Stylish people doing stylish things is a fetish.

Cigarette smoke is bad for you or whatever, but it’s also one of the best visuals I can think of. You can do a lot with that, from a melancholy moll to a weary hitter. If you know what you’re doing, it can be immensely powerful, you know?

I’m a big fan of Lupin the 3rd. He’s a take on the gentleman thief that I can really get down with. He steals because he’s good at it and because he likes money. His heists are increasingly ridiculous, and he’s chased by a bumbling oaf of a cop. Lupin the 3rd is pretty comedic, but the actual heist portions are always fun. He’s sort of how I wish they’d portray the Riddler in the Batman comics. He does it because he’s good at it, not because he’s a villain. If you’ve got a talent, flex it. Why not?

Another thing I dig about crime stories is the way the conflict between good vs evil plays out. It’s rarely as simple as black and white, and sometimes, morality blurs under the weight of reality. Sometimes a guy just needs to feed his family, and sometimes a cop has to feed his smack habit.

Crime comics/stories can be ugly and mean, but I love them.

I love war comics, too, though my taste in that has gotten very specific very quickly. I like them pared down and lean. Big battle scenes are no good, and one superman vs a faceless horde isn’t my thing. I like my war comics personal, and from the point of view of the man on the ground or his girl back home. The sort of stories where officers are corrupt and ineffectual, and the only real men are the ones with blood on their bayonet.

I eat up Garth Ennis’s war comics with a spoon. He’s got a take that I love, one that’s reverent of the men who do the work but scornful of the fact that the work itself exists. There’s this strong strain of hate for the war industry in his comics, the people who profit off bullets and bombs and blood. He’s concerned about the people, rather than the politics, and that makes for good reading. The people in his comics are everyday people pushed to do extraordinary things for sickeningly ordinary reasons.

“Spare” is my watchword, apparently. It’s something I try to do in life. Keeping things as simple and free of flourish as possible is something I try to practice, both in my writing and real life. “I deal with the real, so if it’s artificial, let it be,” right? I like when crime and war tales strip away the fat and just show us the meat and bone. Why are these people doing this? How is it going to affect them? Why do we put them into this?

Cape comics tend to work in the opposite direction. Heroes fight as soon as they team-up because the genre demands it. The villain who just spent a year terrorizing everyone in the country gets punched out, sometimes on live TV, and that’s supposed to be some type of closure any reasonable person can live with. Nobody ever gets stomped out. They just “do battle.”

That’s good, up until a point, but sometimes I just want to see people react to violence like normal people. Seeing somebody get shot is traumatic. Getting punched in the face sticks with you. There’s not enough of that in cape comics, but war and crime tales tend to keep me satisfied.

finished at the end of David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream.” 0001 on 04.26.11

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8 comments to “It Ain’t No More To It: “When a fresh faced guy in a Chevy offered him a lift, Parker told him to go to hell.””

  1. “One guy fighting thirty ninjas is boring. ” Unless that dude is a bunny or a guy with a baby, right?

    Have you tried Andrew Vachss’ Burke novels? I really got into those after seeing them recommended several times in the Criminal back-material…

  2. Have you read Sanctuary David? Quite possibly the best example of Crime manga.

  3. Great post, but I gotta take exception to one thing. You said you like war comics, but only “The sort of stories where officers are corrupt and ineffectual, and the only real men are the ones with blood on their bayonet.”

    Why do you want a story where officers are corrupt and ineffectual? Do you think that’s the way it really is? I’m a Captain in the Infantry and I don’t find that to be the case at all. I’ve always been out there with my men (the “real men” I guess) in the thick of whatever’s going on. If my boys are going to dig up an IED, I’m going to be standing right there on top of the hole. If they’re packing shipping containers I’ll be helping build packing boxes and loading equipment in right beside them. The same goes for many of my peers in my unit. Yes, we have our shitbags in the officer corps, but no more than the enlisted men. I’ve known plenty of sergeants who I wouldn’t trust to lead the men to the shitter, but thankfully I’ve known many more who I would trust my life and the life of my family to in a heartbeat.

    I see the “corrupt and ineffectual” thing a lot in fiction, and it really bothers me because I wonder if any of the guys writing this shit have actually been in the military, or have they just watched a lot of Vietnam films?

  4. Superhero comics – good ones, that is – are vehicles for unselfconscious fantasy, for readers who simply wish the impossible was possible. Crime stories, at least at their more upmarket “literary” end, seem to be mixed up with a good deal of Pose.

  5. @Rosselli: Hey–the short answer, at least for me, is that I wrote this in 30 minutes and the last book I’d read was Punisher: Born. If I’d spent more time on it, I would have been a bit more thorough.

    The long answer is… I practically grew up on base. My family’s Air Force through and through. I know that officers are the same as anyone else, but while writing, the most recent war story on my mind was Born. If it’d been Fury: Peacemaker (which I’d read the night before) or… I forget, one of Ennis’s Battlefields books, I probably would’ve talked more about the military-industrial complex side of things–warmongering, pointless wars, etc etc.

    Ennis (my favorite war comic dude by far) is pretty even about it, nine times out of ten. I think in Born, it was intended to showcase the corruption that was shot through war. IIRC, Castle was the second in charge on the base, and even he was broken. His CO had just completely given up.

    No offense to officers intended, honest. Thanks for pointing it out. I’ll do better next time.

    (There is also a contradiction in how I describe my favorite type of crime story and the fact that my favorite crime comic is 100 Bullets, which is full of extraordinary people doing extraordinary things!)

    @LurkerWithout: I haven’t, but I think I got put onto Swierczynski by that back matter.

    @Rick Vance: I’ve heard of it, but not read it yet. I’d like to, though.

    @Joe S. Walker: “Good deal of pose”–I’m not sure what you mean. I’m not familiar with capital P Pose. Is it like style or something like that?

  6. @david brothers: Yeah, I pretty much knew where you were coming from and which comics you were reading because I read the same ones. I guess with me I can really like a comic like 303 but then also hate it at the same time. That’s not one that shows officers as incompetent (that’d be more like Platoon or something), but it definitely portrays American soldiers in a bad light. I had a lot of problems with the portrayal, including some tactical accuracy and shit like that – but that’s a story for a blog post or something. Either way, it’s hard for me to really enjoy a piece of fiction when I feel like the creator is bashing my brothers in way that isn’t accurate and probably doesn’t stem from any real experience, just consumption of other media. And that really bothers me.

    I really don’t have a problem with Born, though. Yeah, it doesn’t paint the best picture of Americans in Vietnam, but really fucked-up shit did happen back then, and the incompetent, worthless officer is the field-grade, which is unfortunately more often true. The fact that Frank is a Captain redeems the book for me. Usually he’d be a Sergeant or a Master Sergeant (the only ranks you usually see, and never bestowed with any logic or understanding of time served, etc), and ALL the officers would be worthless. But in this case it’s the guy who’s a step above the line and the action, the Battalion Commander, who’s the piece of shit. The Captain, the guy who’s actually down there making shit happen, he’s still sticking with his men and accomplishing the mission, even if it’s for the sake of it.

    I’m not naive enough not to realize that a lot of the stereotypes used in fiction about my work are true – but I still wish that there would be more war comics that are jut about the men and the action, and don’t have that obligatory dig against the evil military-industrial complex and the suit bosses back home. It gets preachy and tiresome after a while. Saving Private Ryan is a fantastic war film, and there really isn’t some big preachy underlying message, at least nothing overt. And I think it’s much better for it. Why does that only apply to WWII and earlier settings? Why can’t there be a modern warfare story that isn’t an author tract against the Bush Administration?

    All that being said, I really honestly love everything else about this post because I agree with you so much. Crime and war comics are also my two favorites, and I rarely read cape comics anymore unless it’s something along the lines of Immortal Iron Fist or the sublime Daughters of the Dragon, which I would never have discovered if you hadn’t recommended it in this very blog. 100 Bullets is also one of my absolute favorite books period, comic or otherwise. Some of my other favorites are Scalped, Criminal, Queen & Country, Northlanders and DMZ. Even if DMZ does get a little preachy sometimes. Speaking of Rucka, have you read any of his prose? It’s really, really fucking good. He wrote three Queen & Country novels and a bunch of other ones.

  7. That’s a lot of empty backgrounds in a lot of above panels and not much text. How much depth can you expect?

  8. @finister: Seriously? You’re nuts.

    @Rosselli: I’ve read Rucka’s No Man’s Land adaptation, which was very good, but I have a low bar for superhero novels. I’m gonna try his Q&C novels pretty soon, I think.