Look On My 3D, High-Definition Works, Ye Mighty, And Smile

July 6th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

from Dave Gibbons & Alan Moore’s Watchmen, chapter 11

“The [seven screens idea] is related to a post–Steve Jobs, post-Windows era of where we’re always on a BlackBerry or a phone at a ballgame, at the movies, and you’re looking at seven windows when you’re online. And I’ve found myself even falling asleep at the theater unless I’m talking to somebody or I’m on the phone, and it’s because of the amount of information that we have at once. … I was very particular about having the screens be separate and having it where your mind puts the screens back together the way you can put memories together, the way that happens throughout the day and it all links back up.”

-Kanye West, 2012

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Before Watchmen Is Comic Book Poison

June 5th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

One more time, since we’re about to suddenly become a post-Before Watchmen society. Buying Before Watchmen is a vote for:

-A comics industry that prizes properties over creators
-A comics industry that will effortlessly use its legal muscle to screw over creators
-A comics industry that strip-mines the past at the expense of the future

I don’t know how to put it any plainer than that. Before Watchmen is an attempt to recapture past glories with a crop of A-list talent, instead of creating new glories with that exact same talent. Azzarello? Cooke? Conner? These folks create classics, and instead of hiring them to do that, DC’s hired them to fulfill some top down publishing edict to wring all the money they can out of Moore & Gibbons Watchmen, no matter what. It’s stupid and short-sighted.

Here’s how DC thinks about comic books, from a recent USA Today piece:

“The strength of what comics are is building on other people’s legacies and enhancing them and making them even stronger properties in their own right,” says Dan DiDio, DC co-publisher.

The first half of this sentence is so wrong as to be laughable. The second half is so corporate it’s depressing. Properties: code word, meaning “something we can exploit in other media or in the future.” They aren’t characters. They definitely aren’t art. They’re properties. I wish there was a whiny baby font so I could really get across my disgust with Didio’s position.

The stuff about building on other people’s legacies… no. That’s not the strength of comics at all. The strength of comics is the creators, the men and women armed with pens and pencils who go in and make the stories go, who craft classics that are so good that it’s like they’re daring us not to like them. I don’t like Frank Miller’s Daredevil because of what Stan Lee and Bill Everett brought to the character. I like Frank Miller’s Daredevil because Frank Miller showed me things I’d never seen before. That’s the same reason I like Gene Colan’s version, or John Romita Jr’s version, or Alex Maleev’s version.

Dan Didio is objectively wrong about the strength of comics. He’s towing the company line, which is that the dissent against Before Watchmen is about Alan Moore being pissy over people using “his” characters. That, in turn, enables all the asinine remarks about how Lost Girls or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is the same thing.

The thing is, it’s not about characters. It’s about ethics. It’s always been about ethics, no matter how often scumbags like Joseph Michael Stracynzski suggest otherwise. It’s about not taking advantage of the letter of the law to push forward with unethical projects. It’s about respecting the talent and the things they bring to the table.

But to DC, it’s about toys. “Why doesn’t Alan let us play with his toys, huh? Why’s he so stingy?” And I know that the comics press is going to enable these guys to get their way. Betting on whether or not a bunch of reviews open with some variant of “Despite the controversy, Before Watchmen is pretty good” or “While a vocal minority expressed a rabid dislike for these books, sight unseen, blah blah blah” is a sucker bet. Of course it’ll happen. Gotta protect those relationships to maintain access!

I dunno, man. Before Watchmen is loathsome. It’s going to come out and people are going to buy it, but my advice to you, my request, is that you think about the series and what it represents, and then decide if that’s the comics industry you want to build for yourself. If you just want to read Batman comics month in, month out, no matter who’s doing them, fine. That’s your thing. But if you want one where creators are respected, maybe give some thought to not buying the series, and telling DC what you think on Twitter, via email, during San Diego Comic-Con… get up in their face. Force them to talk about it in public.

A lot of creators, from indie megastars like Bryan Lee O’Malley to Big Two mainstays like Chris Roberson have expressed dissent, to put it nicely, about Before Watchmen. People care about this, and it’s not just because Watchmen was a really good comic however many years ago. It’s because creators’ rights matter, respect matters, and ethics matter. Alan Moore is one of the most respected and important people in comics. If they’ll put him to the wall, what do you think they’ll do to you? Pay attention to what these companies are saying behind the con announcements and press releases. Before Watchmen has a very clear message, and don’t be surprised when Before Watchmen II is announced next year.

I don’t want the industry that DC is trying to shore up. Not even remotely. There’s too many good comics out there to let Before Watchmen be what defines our industry and our habits as consumers.

Don’t buy Before Watchmen.

Here’s some further reading if you need convincing.
-Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons in conversation with Neil Gaiman (!) in The Comics Journal 116, July 1987, TCJ recently uploaded a transcript
-Tom Spurgeon’s “Sometimes They Make It Hard To Ignore Creators Issues” and “Twenty-One Not Exactly Original Notes On More Watchmen, Written At A Slight Remove”
-Ryan Dunlavey & Fred Van Lente’s Comic Book Comics #5 [preview]
-Image Comics publisher Eric Stephenson’s “NO FUN”
-Chris Mautner’s “We’ve come so far: On Before Watchmen and creators rights”
-Michael Dean’s “Kirby and Goliath: The Fight for Jack Kirby’s Marvel Artwork”
-Kurt Amacker interviews Alan Moore.
-Frank Miller’s “Keynote Speech By Frank Miller To Diamond Comic Distributors Retailers Seminar, June 12th, 1994” (from the pages of Sin City: The Big Fat Kill #5)
-The Comics Journal’s “The Four Page Agreement”
-Milo George & The Comics Journal’s The Comics Journal Library: Jack Kirby
-Michael Dean’s “Marvel/Disney’s Win Against Jack Kirby Heirs Not About Fairness” and Kirby and Goliath: The Fight for Jack Kirby’s Marvel Artwork”
-Gary Groth’s “Jack Kirby Interview”
-Steven R Bissette’s “Marvel/Disney v Kirby: Part 2” and “Marvel/Disney v Kirby: Do Avengers Avenge… Or Not?”
-This incredibly relevant Youtube clip from The Wire, if you need a pithy explanation on how depressing creators’ rights can be

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Before Watchmen: “there’s a war going on outside no man is safe from”

April 25th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

This was going to be a simple round-up of a few recent posts on DC’s Before Watchmen, but ha ha, I realized I still have stuff to say. Sorry.

The other day, out in the hardest part of the tweets on the wrong side of the twacks, a comics pro tweeted that the conventional wisdom that sequels or prequels don’t affect the source material isn’t true, because now that he was aware of Before Watchmen, it was impossible to read Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen without that kicking around in the back of your head.

He’s right. Before Watchmen colors what came before it. Nothing exists in a vacuum. Mel Gibson outed himself as being cartoonishly racist and bigoted (and somehow so ultra-Catholic that he thinks the Pope isn’t Catholic enough, or something, which is definitely some supervillain-type thinking) has definitely changed Lethal Weapon, hasn’t it? If I buy that new box set, I’m putting money in the pocket of somebody who told his old lady that he hopes she gets raped by a pack of niggers. WHOA! Am I down with that?

And so it goes with Before Watchmen. A connection has been made, and even if you consciously put it out of your head, the fact that Before Watchmen exists is still there. The creators’ rights skullduggery, Moore & Gibbons being cheated out of profits, the creators involved who’ve been throwing ill-advised bombs… it absolutely affects the work. More than that, it affects other work. I was digging Spaceman by Azzarello and Risso. I like Amanda Conner’s work. Darwyn Cooke’s adaptations of Richard Stark’s Parker novels are more or less my favorite comics each year. I got that Martini Edition — have you seen that thing? It’s wonderful, easily the best packaged comic I’ve bought in ages. The next book, Parker: The Score, is probably one of my top 5 Parker novels. I’d like to read it.

But Before Watchmen makes me stop and start thinking about ideologies and differences of opinion, instead of the work. It doesn’t make me think that their work sucks. That’s stupid. They’re as talented as ever. But, like my newly complicated relationship with Frank Miller’s public persona and his work, I’ve got to think this through instead of just hitting pre-order on Amazon. Which sucks. “Ignorance is bliss,” right? Ugh.

Anyway, three must-read posts today. I have a round-up of stuff I’m reading & watching, but that’ll keep til tomorrow.

Chris Roberson was interviewed by Tim Hodler over his… his whole situation, I guess. It’s a great interview. I’m super, super touched that I played even the smallest of small roles in him publicly parting ways with DC.

I can’t really summarize it, except to say that Chris has clearly thought all this stuff through and has a good head on his shoulders. I agree with him, obviously, and you may not, but I don’t think he says anything controversial or false. Please read it. It’s good, and a nice look at what it’s like making corporate comics. He spotlights Kurt Busiek’s fantastic idea about retroactive equity for creators, which I am 100% behind. I’m tired of hearing that the people who created characters I love are destitute and left begging for money every time they get sick. That’s pathetic, and a true failure of the comics industry and basic kindness. You made millions of dollars off a movie? Cool, then you can afford to chip in on the hospital bill of someone who helped turn a kernel of an idea into a comic that then became a movie.

Oh, and Roberson’s bit about there being no Creators section on DC’s website really says it all, don’t it? Welcome to Corporate Comics, 2012.

Heidi Mac chimes in on Before Watchmen from an angle I hadn’t considered. I’ve had email conversations about this recently, actually, and they were eye-opening. I was born in 1983. I didn’t read Watchmen until… I dunno, 2004? I knew it was a Great Work, like I knew that Camus’ The Stranger or Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov are Great Works when I first read them. I didn’t know the actual history of the Great Work, just that I Needed To Read This.

Finding out that DC was pitching Watchmen as a triumph for creators’ rights while the entire community was rallying behind Jack Kirby feels like a sick joke in the light of Before Watchmen. At the time, it was, but then they saw dollar signs and whoops, sorry mates. Before Watchmen is a project that basically flies in the face of any type of advance in creators’ rights. It’s about prizing characters & concepts over creators, strip-mining history in an attempt to shore up today. In that light, Before Watchmen is the ultimate betrayal of what DC once claimed to stand for. It’s taking an icon for the creators’ rights movement and turning it into more grist for the mill.

It’s amazing how each new wrinkle from people who were around when Watchmen was making history and each new interview from DC Comics staff makes me like this project less and less. There’s so much… not lying, exactly, but dissembling and empty hype going on.

The Spacemen example is brutal, too. The only preview DC put out for that series was for the second issue? Even though that exact same team was hot off the best-received Flashpoint tie-in? Who is running things over there?

Tom Spurgeon weighs in on the Roberson interview. Here’s a quick quote that I think is pretty good and relates well to Heidi’s point:

As much as you and I might shake our heads and do the Little Rascals surprise face when we hear someone say some of the things that have been said in support of and defense of Before Watchmen or the Superman lawsuit, imagine how distressing it would be if these were your creative partners, the people on which you hoped to build a foundation for a fulfilling life. The humor in the title is that Watchmen was seen as a creator-rights forward title with ambition; this new thing is certainly reflective of a time before that.

This is also must-reading.

True facts: I would have never written about Before Watchmen if not for Spurgeon. I don’t remember talking about it with him at Emerald City Comicon, but we probably did. But really, what prompted my posts was reading his “Sometimes They Make It Hard To Ignore Creators Issues”. Specifically, this: “I’m not sure I have much of a point here, except maybe please look at this. Look at this.”

That sparked something in me. “Look at this.” I took a look around to see what other people were saying and I realized that the sum total of Before Watchmen opposition online was Spurgeon, Eric Stephenson, and Abhay’s wonderful tumblr. I mean, we all had drive-by jokes on Twitter or in passing in posts… but organized dissent? The sort of thinkpieces that make comics internet interesting and valuable to me as a reader? Zilch.

So I looked at it. I sat down and thought about how I felt and dug up as much as I could on the history and I sat down and wrote The Ethical Rot Behind Before Watchmen & Avengers in maybe an hour and a half, if not an hour, on that Friday. I sent it to a few friends to read over and point out my mistakes and I edited it over the weekend. In between, though, JMS said something stupid about Alan Moore and I threw a jab. One jab turned into two. Two, eventually, turned into five posts about creators’ rights and Alan Moore.

It’s important that we talk about this, whether we is comics press or fans or creators, because no one else is going to. There’s something to be said for an objective press, sure, but part of the role of the press is looking at what the news actually means. Looking at trends, at history, at contradictions, at controversies. The comics press isn’t journalism, but we’re part of that same family tree.

So pointing out that there’s chicanery going on with Before Watchmen or how a company treats creators isn’t negativity. It’s doing our job. It’s shedding a light over wrongdoings that some people would rather were left in the past and unsaid. I mean, yo, if someone is lying in public, you nail them to the wall. You point that out. You don’t hem and haw about whether ethics matter. (They do, and you’re a moron if you think otherwise.) You look at the situation, you consider your own personal values, and you choose your position. You pick whatever feels right for you. There are no easy answers, no. But there are answers. Basic ones.

You like Before Watchmen? Fine! Cool. I get it. You don’t? Also cool! But it is vital that we talk out our positions on this issue. It is very much a creators’ rights issue, something that will have an effect on how the Big Two do business. If we can show them that we prefer that creative types be treated like people, we have a better chance of having a better, healthier comics industry.

So I want to publicly thank Tom Spurgeon for forcing me to put pen to paper, and Shannon O’Leary, writer of the PW piece and the person who asked the tough questions at the LA Times Festival of Books, for showing me that speaking out can actually have an effect in the real world.

I would like it very much if DC and Marvel had to answer as many questions about creators’ rights this year as they do about dumb plot twists and fan-favorite characters. If they dodge the question, they dodge it. But asking the question, and pulling apart their dodge, is honest work. It’s inside baseball, sure, but it’s also necessary. These questions need to be asked.

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if newsarama knew better, it would do better

April 16th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I wrote a thing this weekend about some frankly laughable and odious comments Joseph Michael Straczynski made about Alan Moore and Dan Didio made about Before Watchmen on a DC panel at C2E2. I wrote about it because like… it’s obvious, right? They’re actually saying stupid and demonstrably false things in public and expecting us to nod our heads. That’s worth pointing out.

I took a trip around comicsinternet to see who else noticed and remarked on what JMS had to say. Here’s my answer, from an interview between Vaneta Rogers and Brian Azzarello, two people whose work I’ve greatly enjoyed in the past:

Newsarama: Brian, I know this is a little weird. But I’m going to do a Before Watchmen interview without talking about the so-called “controversy,” because I think we’ve covered that pretty well, don’t you?

Brain Azzarello: Yeah, and you know, everyone talked about this controversy, but there really hasn’t been much of one. I mean, I don’t read everything that people are saying.

Nrama: Obviously, the project’s moving forward no matter where the discussion goes. So let’s talk about the project instead. And to start, let me admit that I’m one of those people who read Watchmen years after it was published. A newcomer, I suppose.

This is the opening exchange in the interview. And… cool. I guess this is how it’s going to be. Any dissent to Before Watchmen classified as a “so-called scare quotes controversy scare quotes,” doubly negating it (because it isn’t a controversy, you see, and also, it isn’t a controversy), and as a controversy, something that has been hard to notice.

Actually, you know what? I’ll actually give Azzarello that point, that thing about there not really having been much of a controversy. I mean, I read a lot of comics news sites, people shoot me links to ones I don’t read when juicy stuff goes up… and here’s, as near as I can tell, the sum total of the organized dissent (meaning extended posts that are explicitly about the subject, rather than passing jokes/hate/whatever) against Before Watchmen in the comics media:

-Tom Spurgeon’s “Sometimes They Make It Hard To Ignore Creators Issues” and “Twenty-One Not Exactly Original Notes On More Watchmen, Written At A Slight Remove”
-Image Comics publisher Eric Stephenson’s “NO FUN”
-Chris Mautner’s “We’ve come so far: On Before Watchmen and creators rights”
-Rich Johnston’s “The Ethics Of Before Watchmen”
-Mindless Ones’ “‘The Second Coming of Night Owl’, and other stories…”
-Tom Bondurant’s “Grumpy Old Fan | Set your clocks back”

Newsarama’s top dawg editor Lucas Siegel is on record as preferring to use Alan Moore’s great big British wizard tears instead of alcohol when he needs to get tore up, so the lack of dissent there is understandable. But unless I missed something major, even CBR proper (Robot6 being a subordinate but separate blog), The Beat, and my beloved sometime employer ComicsAlliance are thus far mum on the issue as far as dissent goes, but have still posted all the promo images, making for de facto approval.

There’s been a real failure of the comics press to address Before Watchmen from any angle but that of a hype man. Sure, some of us have tweeted about it, but where are the essays? We all know it’s going to sell gangbusters, but that’s no reason to avoid facing the issue head on.

So, in the interest of turning phrases like the “so-called ‘controversy'” into something that’s actually worth discussing like adults, here. Here’s (an abbreviated version of) my argument against Before Watchmen, which is shared in some form or another by many other comics readers and creators I know. The specifics may differ, but that’s on them. Here’s where I’m coming from. Your mileage may vary, but after this, you don’t get to deny a single solitary thing.

The Facts

1. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen is an enormously successful comic book, on creative, critical, and commercial levels
2. Moore and Gibbons both signed a contract that gave DC the rights to Watchmen until the book went out of print for a year (I believe), at which point they’d receive the rights back
3. Watchmen was an unheralded success, and the book has yet to go out of print. As a result, Moore and Gibbons never got their rights back.
4. DC promised to share revenue from Watchmen-related merchandise, and then went ahead and produced merchandise and classified it as promotional and didn’t give M&G anything
5. These shenanigans, along with a coming ratings system that Moore disagreed with, led Moore to cut ties with DC entirely
6. DC brought Wildstorm, which came along with America’s Best Comics. Moore felt that leaving DC again would screw his artists over, so he stuck around
7. DC continued screwing with Moore over the years, from pulping his comics to either sabotaging (or botching to such an extent that it might as well be sabotage) the release of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier
8. Moore cut ties again, and has consistently refused DC’s money, overtures, and renegotiations.
9. Before Watchmen is a series of prequels to Watchmen, some thirty-five issues that will shed light on characters from the book
10. Alan Moore gives grumpy, hyperbolic interviews, but his basic point is that he’d prefer it not happen (and not because he wants money [he doesn’t, by his own word] but because it’s shameless and ugly).
11. For all his faults, Paul Levitz refused to let Before Watchmen happen on his watch. As soon as he left, it was on.
12. Before Watchmen has an economic motivation, not an artistic one. No one said “Boy, I have this great Nite Owl story.” Dan Didio said, “Hey, we need to make more money, and Watchmen is just sitting there. Who do we have who wants to sign on for fat cash?”

I think we can all agree on all of this? If you don’t agree, sorry bro. Open whatever history book they hide comics history in. I’m no scholar and even I know all of this is on the record as being true and consistent, barring the quotes, which I’m sure are true in spirit.

There are a few things that people, mainly DC staff and Joseph Michael Straczynski, like to bring up with scabrous intensity and frequency.

Not The Issue

1. The comics aren’t going to be good as the original! (Who cares? It’s not about quality, and maybe they’ll be enjoyable on their own.)
2. The creators involved suck! (Yeah, Darwyn Cooke, Brian Azzarello, Amanda Conner, and Jae Lee are b-list now? Get real. They do great work. I can give you a list. I’ll grant you JMS and Len Wein, though.)
3. Alan Moore copies peoples characters, too! (It’s not about working on someone else’s properties, and this is a false equivalency, anyway. Moore isn’t writing Dracula 2 or Before Moby Dick. He’s using public domain characters — meaning characters whose creators enjoyed the fruits of their labor before dying and the characters passing into public domain, not characters who were effectively stolen by way of shady contracts and lawyering — in new ways. When he does use non-PD characters, it’s never by name. If you don’t know who they are, you won’t know who they are. That’s demonstrably different than some dude writing Nite Owl: What Happened Before.)
4. Alan Moore is just greedy! (If he was greedy, he’d have taken a quarter million dollar [or however much] payout when DC offered it.)
5. Alan Moore is arrogant and sitting on the moral high ground. (“Please stop screwing me” is the opposite of arrogance and the moral high ground.)

These are false arguments. People might have said them in passing, or as part of a larger argument, but they aren’t the meat of why so many people have problems with Before Watchmen. These are strawmen that DC has propped up to be shot down, so as to murder any dissent in its crib. Last weekend, DC brought out a “mildly skeptical fan” (read: paid plant, shill, scrub, faker, liar, fool) who expressed concern. They showed him some art on the panel and WHOA! They beat the skeptic! Everybody, they beat the skeptic! They win! Before Watchmen is a good idea now!

That’s how strawmen work. You beat them up for a cheap victory in front of the rubes. The rubes, in this case, being whoever it is you think isn’t quite convinced by your press rollout just yet. Alongside these strawmen, DC staff, Dan Didio especially, has been crowing about how opposition has been minimal. How everyone who had concerns was soon convinced otherwise. He never names names. Who was concerned? Who was convinced? Where are these paragons of virtue, that they might deliver unto us wisdom?

The Controversy

Here’s the controversy, put as plainly as I can muster right now. You might have pedantic issues with specifics of this due to my phrasing, but suck it up. We’re all adults here. You know what i’m saying.

“The problem with Before Watchmen is that DC Comics cheated Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons out of the rights to Watchmen. Gibbons is fine with this, as is his right to be, and Moore is upset, as is also his right. Before Watchmen, therefore, is exploiting characters gained through the same shady means that have punctuated the comics industry over the years. The comics industry has screwed over dozens of creators, and Before Watchmen is just another screwjob. The broadsides against Alan Moore from JMS are disgusting, and Dan Didio’s dog and pony show to ameliorate doubts are laughably see-thru.”

Get it? We all feel strongly about creators’ rights. At least, I hope so. This is, at its most basic level, a creators’ rights issue. It’s about respecting creators, their work, and the product of that work.

I had a conversation with a pro creator at Emerald City Comicon. He explained the Before Watchmen situation like this: Alan Moore is one of the most respected writers in comics. He has co-created, revamped, or introduced tons of things that have enriched both the medium and the artform. His books are routinely some of the best-crafted works around, even if they’re not to your or my tastes, and he’s one of the few writers in the running for GOAT. But when he says, “Hey, listen. Please don’t do more Watchmen. I’ve been mistreated by DC, and I think the book stands very well on its own besides,” the response from DC and the creative teams involved is essentially, “No, fuck you, Alan.”

I don’t know how to feel about a lot of creators I respect and like working on these books. On the one hand, do what you gotta do to feed your family. But on the other… isn’t there some better way to go about doing that? I’m conflicted. But this is an ugly situation.

I don’t know how to put it any plainer. DC Comics is screwing Alan Moore right here in front of us, and the best Newsarama has to offer is that it’s a “so-called ‘controversy'”? One, it is a controversy, and two, you don’t just not talk about the controversy because the books are going to come out anyway. What kind of fatalist, ridiculous garbage is that? I mean, gosh, you don’t tell somebody with cancer, “Look, we both know you got some cancers up in there, so why don’t we talk about the weather, instead?”

And no. You don’t do that. You talk about the cancer, you treat the cancer, you tear it out and stamp on it until it’s gone. Until it’s a memory of a time when Marvel could tell Jack Kirby to give up any rights he was owed, when Marvel could promise Frank Miller that Elektra was going to stay dead and then bring her back anyway, when Ditko disappeared from mainstream comics, when Moore & Gibbons were cheated out of what they’re owed, and when editors used creators like chess pieces because they were eager to get the books out on time, instead of like people who they thought could do a great job.

It’s 2012. A lot of things have changed since Siegel & Shuster got their raw deal. But not enough has changed, clearly, if we’re still having this same old stupid conversation.

“Should comics companies get to screw over creators? Sure, as long as I get my tights and fights on time.” Okay then. If that’s your position, fine. I don’t think you have to agree with me. But to pretend like there isn’t any real opposition to this, from both fans and peers, makes you a liar, so you should maybe keep that in mind when talking about this. And if they don’t want to answer your questions, you ask them why they don’t want to answer your questions. Why why why. Make them go on the record.

“DC Comics screwed, and is screwing, Alan Moore.”

That’s the controversy. Now let’s talk it out instead of pretending like it doesn’t exist.

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“Don’t worry if I write rhymes. I write checks.”

April 15th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

Y’all have probably seen this clip from The Wire before. I think Matt Maxwell tossed it on Twitter a few weeks back, and I know I put it on tumblr shortly after. It’s about chicken nuggets and being rewarded for innovation. I’d embed it, but HBO hates the internet, so here’s a transcript:

Wallace: Yo, D, you want some nuggets?
D’Angelo: Nah, g’head, man.
Wallace: Man, whoever invented these, yo, he off the hook.
Poot: What?
Wallace: Mm! Motherfucker got the bone all the way out the damn chicken. ’til he came along, niggas been chewin’ on drumsticks and shit, gettin’ they fingers all greasy. He said later for the bone, let’s nugget that meat up and make some real money.
Poot: You think the man got paid?
Wallace: Who?
Poot: The man who invented these.
Wallace: Shit, he richer than a motherfucker.
D’Angelo: Why? You think he get a percentage?
Wallace: Why not?
D’Angelo: Nigga please. The man who invented them things just some sad-ass down at the basement of McDonald’s, thinkin’ up some shit to make some money for the real players.
Poot: Naw, man, that ain’t right.
D’Angelo: Fuck “right.” It ain’t about right, it’s about money. Now you think Ronald McDonald gonna go down in that basement and say, “Hey, Mr. Nugget, you the bomb. We sellin’ chicken faster than you can tear the bone out. So I’m gonna write my clowny-ass name on this fat-ass check for you”?
Wallace: Shit.
D’Angelo: Man, the nigga who invented them things still workin’ in the basement for regular wage, thinkin’ up some shit to make the fries taste better or some shit like that. Believe.
Wallace: He still had the idea though.

edit: Whoops, found an embeddable:

What sucks about this is how it shows both how the comics industry isn’t special — down here we all float, baby — and how… poisonous and mercenary and amoral this sort of thinking is. You can argue justice til you’re blue in the face, but that’s not what matters. When you’re a business, right isn’t even part of the equation. You’re only responsible for making sure that the money you make this year is more than what you made last year within the letter of the law. If the law doesn’t explicitly say you should treat your people well, then hey. Guess what: you don’t have to do it. You can strip mine a man’s ideas and give him the boot when you’re bored.

Did y’all know Frank Miller used to get a “created by” credit for Elektra? You can see it in that borderline unreadable Elektra: Root of Evil book that DG Chichester and Scott McDaniel produced in ’95. Part of his deal with Marvel was a promise, I dunno if it was written or verbal, that they wouldn’t bring Elektra back to life after she died. He left, and they brought her back to life. At first, they gave him a creator credit. Then they stopped. And just like that, the guy who made Elektra matter was stitched out of the narrative. She’s intellectual property now.

What’s so bothersome about McDonald’s vs Mr Nugget is that it doesn’t have to be that way. Common sense tells you that if you reward invention, you’re much more likely to get more of it. When a toddler poops in the toilet for the first time, you laugh and cheer and smile to show him he did good. (This analogy is terrible.) That encourages his behavior and makes him more likely to keep it up. We put kids on the honor roll to show them that there’s a reward for getting good grades, a certain level of prestige. You buy your old lady a wedding ring because she’s better than all the others out there, and it is important to you to maintain that relationship forever. (That’s what we call love, kiddo. You’ll understand when you’re older.) It’s gratitude and support, yeah?

Work-for-hire is fine. That’s not the problem. You can work on other people’s property and do a great job and create something with artistic merit or just really great drawings of bathtubs or whatever. It’s the culture around work-for-hire that’s the problem, where innovators are just cogs in the machine to be spun until they wear out. It’s where Batman is bigger than the people who make him.

Look at it like this. Alan Moore put his name on the map with Swamp Thing, Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and Miracleman, right? There were others, but I feel like those are the biggest milestones. DC published three out of those four, along with other books like Batman: The Killing Joke and that one Green Lantern story about sound. He gave DC a lot, especially since you can basically draw a line from Swamp Thing to the birth of Vertigo, but contract disputes and a foolhardy ratings system chased him out in the late ’80s.

Outside of DC, but still in a similar vein, he worked on books like 1963, Supreme, WildCATs, Youngblood, and more. He eventually launched his own cape-y line with America’s Best Comics, at which point DC promptly bought ABC’s parent company Wildstorm and began publishing Moore comics again. When Moore left again, the ABC comics were tainted and faded away.

Now imagine if DC had bent just a little and done some work to keep Moore under their wings. It takes a minimal amount of work to see how any of his cape-oriented ’90s work could easily be transplanted to the DC Universe. I mean, Supreme was “He’s Superman, But A Dick” and Moore switched him up to be more Silver Age. Imagine if Moore had been around when Vertigo kicked off, and DC would’ve been more open to works like From Hell. They probably wouldn’t have published Lost Girls, but if they’d thought “right” before “profit” just once, they could’ve reaped the rewards of having one of comics’ best writers in their stable for the next twenty years.

But, nah, that’s all hypothetical. It’s very easy to sit around and make things up about what could have/should have/would have happened. If we’re dealing with the real, then we’re dealing with Before Watchmen, a prequel to a twenty-six year old comic. We’re dealing with Swamp Thing being stuck in a cycle that keeps coming back around to shed further light on “The Anatomy Lesson” because the shadow Moore cast on that book is so large.

I’m not saying that the Big Two have gotta give up all rights to the characters and content. But throw some incentives at the creators, give them greater input into how these characters and stories are gonna shake out, push the creators as hard as you push the characters, give them a bonus if something blows up huge… do something to keep them happy. You’d gain so much goodwill from your creative staff, you’d have a lot more property to exploit, you’d have people getting even more invested in the work they do for you even if they don’t own it because they know you’ll take care of them.

It’s such a no-brainer. It’s so obvious that it can’t possibly be true. Marvel having Icon lets them keep Matt Fraction and Brian Bendis on lock even while they write Marvel’s marquee IP. Why not expand that?

My favorite part of that scene is when Wallace goes “He still had the idea though.” ’cause in the end, behind all the business and exploitation and sadness… these people had some amazing ideas. The Black Racer, John Constantine, Elektra, Howard the Duck… Marvel and DC can’t claim creativity, no matter how many crappy contracts they’ve churned out and creators they’ve burned. That belongs to Jack Kirby, Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Steve Gerber, and dozens more.

I don’t have a new or profound point here, I guess. I just wanted to talk this out, while I’m figuring out where I stand and where I should be standing.

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“Trying to guard the fortress of a king they’ve never seen or met”

April 14th, 2012 Posted by david brothers


“I’m happy to say that every single person sitting on this stage right now was at the top of the wish list,” he continued, saying he had “complete faith” in executing the series. DiDio also said he expected “more of a negative reaction” to the initial announcement. “What happened was incredible. Everyone I talked to was excited about it,” saying “all the concerns went away” when people heard about the creative talent.

After calling up a “mildly skeptical” fan to meet with Senior Vice President of Sales Bob Wayne, Wayne began showing the fan some material shown at the Diamond Retailer Summit.

After calling up a “mildly skeptical” fan to meet with Senior Vice President of Sales Bob Wayne, Wayne began showing the fan some material shown at the Diamond Retailer Summit.

“It tells it from his early childhood and becoming the Owl, his partnership with Rorschach and how that went badly,” said Straczynski, who specifically referenced the moment in “Watchmen” where the Silk Spectre found a signed picture of the Twilight Lady.

For “Minutemen,” DiDio said he felt Darwyn Cooke was the best choice for the book before Joe Kubert made a surprise appearance as a late addition to the panel.

Straczynski, characterized working with the Kuberts as “extraordinary.” “The work has just been phenomenal,” he said. “It’s so tight, you see such emotion in the characters, it’s just an awful lot of fun. What tickles me enormously is I get to see everyone else’s stuff and you guys have no idea what’s coming at you.”

The mildly skeptical fan was brought onto the stage after Wayne’s mini-presentation and said, “My skepticism has been put to rest and the artwork is beautiful.”

Good news, y’all. All of your concerns about the dubious business practices of DC Comics and how they basically robbed Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons of the rights to Watchmen have been resolved! DC found a paid shill to sit in the audience and pretend to be skeptical, all so that they could put on a song and dance to show us that the art looks nice!

Let me be the first to say WHEW! I’m glad that they managed to get the people at the top of their list, too, since Kevin Smith, Grant Morrison, and Frank Quitely all turned them down. That’s how you know they’re being truthful: there’s no hype, just hard-hitting facts. Funnybook Babylonian Chris Eckert has more on DC’s effective and inspiring marketing scheme here, and a hint for what JMS’s book might be like!

Our worries have been all for naught, so please rest assured that the art looks nice, and therefore the work is legally and morally correct! I don’t know about you, but I’m sure glad that this was resolved with a minimum of bloodshed and mealy-mouthed, spineless justificatiowhoops, hang on, I’m getting another transmission…

Straczynski addressed the online criticism of Alan Moore and said he got it on an emotional level. “Alan Moore is a genius. No question,” said Straczynski. “On the other hand, he’s been using characters like the Invisible Man, Peter Pan, Jekyl and Hyde in what one fan basically called fan fiction — in ways their original creators probably wouldn’t have approved of. … You stand on a slippery slope when you use the moral high ground.” “Did Alan Moore get a crummy contract? Yes. So has everyone at this table. Worse was Segal and Shuster, worse was a lot of people.” The writer went on to credit Dan DiDio for pushing the project through, despite the fact that most would not touch it.

He’s right! You know he’s right. Just admit he’s right. JMS has said this before, but since Alan Moore sometimes uses characters created by people who got to enjoy the money, fame, and recognition of the full lifespan of those characters before they died and the characters lapsed into public domain and therefore belong to the culture at large, enriching all of us, Moore is a hypocrite! Worse than that, he’s the most odious type of hypocrite! A fanfic hypocrite! I mean, what kind of writer works on things he didn’t invent himself? Slip and fall down your slippery slope, Alan, and take your moral high ground (how do I type with a whiny baby voice? is there an html tag for that?) with you.

I mean, who does he think he is? Have you seen this amazing moral high ground that he apparently has claimed? “Hey fellas, I got screwed over, and have been regularly screwed over the past dozen or so years by DC pulping my comics, interfering with my work, and hassling my friends. Please don’t help them screw me even more. I would like it very much if they would stop screwing me so that I can go back to smoking weed and writing books and hanging out with my wife instead of answering interminable interview questions about things that I’d like to put behind me.”

The nerve of this guy. All of us sign bad contracts, Alan. Siegel and Shuster and Kirby and Gerber and JMS, the creator of much-beloved space ships and lasers show Babylon 5 and dude famous for walking off comics because he gets bored or writes bad comics or something, got screwed, Alan. Do you think you’re better than us, Alan? Do you think you don’t deserve to be screwed like the rest of us, Alan? Huh? Do you? Are you saying that you deserve to be treated better than Jack “King” Kirby? Is that it?

Whatta prick.

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Brothers x Witzke: On How We Talk About Watchmen

March 19th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I had some thoughts about how we talk about Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen after that last interview made the rounds. I think it’s about as good as everyone says it is, but I don’t agree that everything else is as awful in comparison. It’s a nebulous, annoying conversation to have, because there are so many variables to take into account–who’s saying it’s the best, what publishers allow creators to do, and on and on. Anyway, I wrote something up and emailed it to a few friends. Sean Witzke, supervillain, hit me with a response that I thought was really valuable. So, here: point/counterpoint, with David and Sean.

David: Alan Moore gave another interview, and that means that we’ve got another chance to think about how DC screwed him and how all modern comics suck and are just suckling at his literary teat even to this day. He’s upped the ante this time to saying that Watchmen, his masterwork with Dave Gibbons, is not only the best superhero comic ever and constantly ripped off, but single-handedly saved the comics industry, too, because the industry was in shambles in the early ’80s and then turned around after Watchmen came out. Which is demonstrably untrue, but whatever. More interesting is his idea that Watchmen is still the best cape comic ever.

You can’t really blame him for holding that position. Watchmen is a crystal of a comic book, self-reflective and reflective of our culture (at a certain point anyway) simultaneously. The writing is on point, the art is on point, and it’s a really good comic in general, no matter how I feel about the plot or whatever. It’s the real deal, and everyone’s said it over and over. So it’s no wonder that Moore looks at that book, and at what people have said about it, and at the current comics industry, and says what he says. Watchmen is the one comic, above all others, that gets the praise it does.

Watchmen is generally treated as Best Comic by the comics industry and its fans. It’s credited with moving cape comics past their genre roots, being a high watermark for cape comics, and the source of the brutality, ennui, and trauma that we think of whenever someone says the phrase “’90s comics.”

I don’t think any of these are strawmen that I’m setting up just to knock them down, either. Watchmen is consistently the one book that everyone (the generic, anecdotal everyone, so maybe this is a strawman, but I sure hope not) recommends to new readers or readers who want a bit of maturity. Watchmen was the only comic on Time’s Top 100 Novels list a few years back. When we look at the ’90s, you often hear that people “learned the wrong lessons from” or “missed the point of” Watchmen. Watchmen is a big deal, deservedly so, but I can’t help but feel like it is a bigger deal than it should be, if only due to received wisdom and a lack of a strong resource for comics history.

The Best Comic thing sticks in my craw the most, I think, because it’s such a fake idea. I can’t think of a Best Movie or Best Song, or even Best Western or Best Rap Song. It’s such a broad brush to paint a work, and therefore a genre, with that it doesn’t even make sense. No one out there is saying that anyone who watches movies absolutely has to watch Carol Reed’s The Third Man or Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. They might recommend those to you, but always as a part of a spectrum of must-watch films. “Oh yeah, watch this, that, this Kurosawa over here, and this De Palma once you finish that.” I like this wikipedia list of films considered the best, because it’s so diverse. The IMDB list is varied, too. I disagree with a lot of them (The Dark Knight is in the top ten?), but it’s still interesting to look at. I think it’s notable that no one film on this list has the same status amongst a broad subsection of movie fans (movie watchers? “people?”) as Watchmen does amongst comics fans. Ask ten people the best movie and you’ll get a variety of answers. Ask ten comics fans and probably at least half of them will say Watchmen. Why does Watchmen get the Best Comic treatment, other than being good?

Part of it is that Watchmen is the result of a conscious effort to make a literary comic. It’s not just about entertainment or ongoing adventures. It’s about competing with Moby Dick, or making a work intended to operate on that same level. Which is admirable, to be sure. The vast majority of cape comics are bent toward direct entertainment, which I think is also pretty admirable. But it has the effect of making Watchmen a stranger in a strange land. It’s got capes, but it’s exotic, too, because of that literary influence.

Conventional wisdom holds that Watchmen represents a watershed moment in comics, is partially at fault for the excesses of the ’90s, and is the peak of cape comics. You won’t find none better. I used to agree with that, more or less, but I don’t think I do any more. Watchmen wasn’t a quantum leap forward into a new context so much as it was another step in a road comics had already begun. It was step six, rather than an all-new step one. The idea of cape comics for adults, or cape comics that deal with heavy themes, had already been broached, most especially by Steve Gerber and several other cats working at Marvel in the ’70s. I feel like there’s this idea that Watchmen is the point when cape comics went from goo-goo ga-ga baby stuff to actual books adults could read — comic books blossomed into *~Graphic Novels~*, essentially. And that isn’t true, either.

You can track what led to Watchmen in cape comics, in pretty concrete terms, too, I’d argue. I’m far from an expert (an understatement), but you can find prior examples of the flawed in Lee & Ditko’s Peter Parker and Lee & Kirby’s Ben Grimm. You could look at several characters in Watchmen as examples of what happens when that flawed hero stops trying to be a hero. Rorshach is the opposite, even–he’s a hero who has no business being a hero, but keeps at it out of sheer hard-headedness.

The bleak miasma that gives Watchmen its tone, the sense of unrest and doom infests the book, feels very ’70s to me. That’s when Marvel was going hard with the idea of uncertainty and unrest, whether it was Luke Cage appropriating superhero iconography in order to escape a return to prison and make a buck or Spider-Man losing when it counts and not being able to do a single solitary thing about it. The Heroes for Hire area of ’70s Marvel, the Luke Cages and Shang Chis and Misty Knights, feels particularly relevant here, as their stories often dealt in moral ambiguity or a distrust of the establishment. Many of Marvel’s heroes were outlaws first, too, at least in the eyes of the public.

What I’m trying to say is that Watchmen is definitely a watershed moment, due mainly to the level of craft and approach that it brought to cape-based material, but it isn’t an unprecedented one, and I think that’s an important factor that we often leave out when we discuss Watchmen and its influence. If Watchmen never happened, I’d bet cash money that the ’90s, the ideal of the ’90s that most of us hold, would’ve still happened more or less as they did. The hallmarks of the ’90s, whether you’re talking pouches or grittiness or realism or whatever, were set in motion long before Watchmen happened.

The moral ambiguity, the physical and emotional trauma, the poison that hammered comics in the ’90s, all of that has its roots in the very beginning of the Marvel universe, when Stan and Jack and Steve and them were revolutionizing comics and making them cool again. They set comics down a road that inevitably leads to clones and crossovers and whatever else. There’s a logical progression from “Spider-Man screwed up, but now he tries harder” to “Spider-Man fails the love of his life and gets her killed” to “Spider-Man is a clone/crazy” to “Spider-Man is hardcore now.” It’s upping the ante on the flawed hero, bit by bit. The fallen hero and anti-hero are just another take on that same basic idea, which is itself another take on an even older idea.

Watchmen is very good, sure. It’s a high watermark for comics, but I don’t buy that it’s Best Comic. It deserves its place in the canon, it earned its place, but the highly elevated status we’ve given it is at least partially in error. It’s warped the conversation about the content of comics, the skill level, and comics history. It’s actually really frustrating to me, because I’m making an effort to go back and learn this stuff so I don’t put my foot in my mouth constantly, and Watchmen has twice the gravity of anything else. It’s hard to get around, and more than that, it’s hard to unlearn. Watchmen‘s GOAT status is a self-fulfilling prophecy, it feels like at this point.

Now that I’m done with this, I sorta feel like I’m saying “Watchmen is overrated.” That’s both not my point (in the sense of snarky dismissals) and my actual point at the same time (in the sense of taking a realistic look at comics history). Strange place to be.

Sean: Well, here’s the thing, though –there is a movie — Citizen Kane. And Watchmen totally is Citizen Kane, it’s the one work of art you have to reckon with, reconcile. Either disregard and burn down despite it’s legendary status (because its so boring, and so processed and its old and everyone who took from it took the wrong thing just like Watchmen) or realize that, yes, it is a masterpiece despite all those things.

I don’t know, you could also say that Pulp Fiction has a lot more similarities to Watchmen, because it spawned a million horrible tics and a million 70s references. So many bad tone deaf movies, but it also helped change the way movies were made and released. I mean, I just saw an interview with Paul Thomas Anderson where he said that Tarantino wasn’t an influence on Boogie Nights, but the reason he got to make it at all is because he was coming after Pulp Fiction.

I always think all the bad 90s grim and gritty hallmarks are so much like that. Because the ninjas and assassins and pouches and teeth, all of those things come from guys honestly making things they were interested in. They all became received wisdom, the way that Neal Adams and Gil Kane did for the previous generation. The 00s are a lot like the 80s, especially in comics, because there was such a rejection of the previous set of what is cool that it’s just knee-jerk “oh god 90s”. Which is kind of right, because there’s so much to be rightfully rejected, but in comics, everything was thrown out. Now the weirdest, worst things are all slipping back in from the 90s because we’ve got a good gap of time. There’s a reason that Dave Gibbons was playing with flat/exaggerated facial expressions, there’s a reason that Frank Miller was writing ninjas, because he wanted to write about honor, there’s a reason Moore wanted to discuss fascism with Steve Ditko’s iconography, there’s a reason Art Adams exaggerated gesture. I don’t think you can blame those guys for anything. All the people that came after them, yeah they fucked up. That’s not their fault. Anymore than it’s Moebius’ fault for Tron Legacy.

And beyond just Watchmen, there’s big works in all sorts of genre and media. There’s Moby Dick, there’s 7 Samurai, there’s Akira, and Pinnocchio, and Metropolis and the Twilight Zone, and The Godfather II, and Die Hard, and David Copperfield, and Illmatic, and Goodfellas, and the Searchers, and Star Wars, and I Robot – there’s all sorts of THE GRAND WORK in all sorts of media/genre, that you have to at least give your time, where if you’re going to take the genre seriously you have to give it your time because even if it isn’t the greatest thing you’ve ever been exposed to. Hopefully it isn’t, because if you have a certain level of tastes you’re going to have more personal preferences/ tastes — but you’ve got to reckon with that shit. If you like comics, you have to have really given Watchmen your time because of where it is in the medium, even if you fucking hate it. I hated Citizen Kane the first 3 times I watched it but I knew that I should keep giving it a chance. I’m not a Metallica guy, but I know that Master of Puppets is the “best” metal album.

Here’s the real thing that Watchmen did though, and I didn’t realize it until Abhay pointed it out for me. Watchmen said that you could take this material (superheroes, alternate reality stories) and tell a finite, complete story with it. There could be intertextuality and generational narratives and have legitimate minor characters, and actual consequences and politics. Stories, stories that matter, they have ends. And Watchmen is the first story that was taken to the real world (whether or not it was the first really doesn’t matter, the revolution starts when people notice fires in the street not when the plans are drafted) and said “oh yeah this stuff can actually work as a novel, it’s not just endless soap opera/pulp/sitcom that you can walk in and out of at any time because its an endless middle”. Making more Watchmen comics, as Abhay said, actually say that people were always right its just a garbage dump of endless dudes punching dudes, there’s no finite quality to anything. (I actually think the way trilogies are now par for the course in mainstream hollywood, and 6 season tv shows are doing the same thing to how people watch film and television). You’re right about Gerber and Stan And Jack – and shit, Miller and Moore both said that American Flagg was the reason they manned up and did Watchmen/Ronin, because it introduced real sophistication in a way that Marvel comics never ever ever did. Of course they’d both done Marvelman and Daredevil at that point, and it becomes all a gray morass of what happened first.

It doesn’t matter, no one outside of comics saw it. Watchmen they saw, and it was undeniable.

We’ve got to keep tearing it down so it can be replaced, because its still too big an icon, which actually paradoxically says a ton about how good the comic is. Comics as a whole needs to be able to say “fuck Watchmen” in a way beyond Grant Morrison’s shitty sniping in JLA: Earth 2, and I don’t know if we’re really at that point yet as a medium. I think the way that people are talking about/reacting to Moore isn’t the same thing, and Watchmen 2 really isn’t the same thing either, it’s wallowing in it rather than surpassing it.

Of course we know that Winter Men is the same story but better. But no one but us weirdos read it, it didn’t penetrate the culture. That’s important. Like, really important even though I could give a shit about ever getting anyone to read comics and actively try to avoid ever getting anyone “into” comics because i find evangelism disgusting. Great works, that shit matters, and no one with a brain is ever going to go “oh you liked Watchmen here read (whatever shitty comic people then recommend to people normally. Scalped, yeah Scalped is absolute shit that people like to read)”. No one goes “hey you liked Citizen Kane, you should see Dune“. Because no one starts with Citizen Kane, they have to watch it because it’s a monolith. If they like it or not is irrelevant. You shouldn’t start the film course with Eisenstein, you should have to work up to it. But you still have to cover it in the course, right?

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DC Comics and the War on Alan Moore

June 7th, 2011 Posted by Gavok

Less than a year ago, Alan Moore went on one of his usual tirades. The kind where he goes on about how he doesn’t read a thing by Marvel or DC, but knows they suck just because. You know the kind.

Yeah, like that.

While ranting about the comic business is part of Moore’s Thursday routine, this instance was different. By this point, the comic industry had taken enough of his bitterness. For one, fellow scary bearded writer Jason Aaron wrote up a big essay on how he once idolized the man, but is now completely over him. DC Comics, meanwhile, seemed to take it just as personally. While they have no problem making money off of Moore’s old classics in trade form, he’s otherwise dead to them. In the past couple months, it seems DC’s making it their business to wipe Moore’s presence from DC continuity.

Sure, he gave us that comic with the naked blue guy and the creepy dude who’d always go, “Hurm.” He gave us that cool Superman story where he was all, “MONGUUUUUUL!” But those stand by themselves. When you look at it, in terms of DC continuity, there are three major impacts Moore has made. Four if you count the Blackest Night hoopla, but that was really just a minor aside that Geoff Johns mutated into something else entirely. Five if you count John Constantine, but let’s face it. There’s no damage DC can do to him that the movie didn’t already.

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Gamble a Stamp 03: Superhero Comics Are Dead

October 24th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

The story goes that Dark Knight Returns was born when Frank Miller realized that Bruce Wayne was younger than he was. This character that he’d looked up to, or at least enjoyed, since he was a kid in Vermont was suddenly younger than he was. Miller was getting old, and part of getting old is looking at the things you loved as a child stay young. The aspirational aspect of superheroes, the “Gamble a stamp!” element that makes the genre so fascinating, is a little tougher to swallow when you’re finding wrinkles in new places and Bruce Wayne is still 29 years old.

So, Miller added twenty years to the character and in doing so, plowed fresh ground. Batman became someone Miller could look up to again, with his universe and methods updated accordingly. Superstitious and cowardly criminals were replaced with a threat birthed from societal collapse and the apathy of good men. Batman turned pointedly political, and Miller took on Reagan and pop psychology over the course of DKR. He created Carrie Kelly and made her the new Robin, both updating and critiquing the Robin concept.

Getting older killed the superhero for Miller. He couldn’t relate as he once did, and he took steps to make superheroes cool one last time. Dark Knight Returns is a blaze of glory for the superhero, that last, brilliant blast of light before death. It says that these dusty old characters are still just as vibrant as they once were, but not in the same ways. People grow old and change, and their interests change with them. At the end of DKR, Batman isn’t a soldier in the war against crime like he once was, and like he is now. He was a general, as his severe turtleneck and demeanor suggests. He’s leading the war, not fighting it. He grew up.

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s Watchmen came from Moore wanting to write a superhero story with weight, something like Moby Dick in particular. He wanted to write a superhero for adults, and chose hard-edged pessimism to get the job done. Its rigid structure shows a world that has no use for acrobatics or melodrama. It has no place for many of the staples of cape comics, whether you prefer Jack Kirby-style action or classic stylings of Curt Swan.

Watchmen, then, is an autopsy. By the end of it, all of the secrets of the superhero are laid bare. You see the paunches and watch their muscles sag. You get a front row seat to Nite Owl’s impotence and the way superhero costumes function as fetish objects. Rorshach is revealed as being not that much better than the villains he fights. An old man gets his brains beaten out, the only true superhero is so alien as to be inhuman, and in the end, the villain wins and saves the world. The heroes? They compromised because to actually defeat the villain would have resulted in the destruction of world peace. Rorshach refuses to compromise and is killed for it.

All of your illusions and ideas of the superhero are deconstructed and proved false by Watchmen. They’re normal people, rather than superheroes, and act accordingly. There’s no magic, no aspirational aspects, and nary a wink from Superman. Just hard edges and gritty realism.

DKR is the blaze of glory. It’s a revitalization before death. Watchmen is the autopsy. At the end, there are no secrets. What’s Flex Mentallo? It’s a wake, that time when everyone gets together, gets drunk, and talks about the deceased.

Wally Sage is overdosing on painkillers in Flex, but that’s not all he’s taken. He’s had a bottle of vodka, a couple e pills, a quarter ounce of hash, and he’s tripping on acid, too. As he’s dying, he’s talking about all the amazing comics he read. He’s talking about the good, the bad, and the irrelevant. He’s painting a picture.

The picture he’s painting is of the full spectrum of comics, or at least the full spectrum of the comics he read as a child. He talks about how exciting they were, how sexy, and how scary. He talks about how superheroes couldn’t stop his parents from fighting or save us from the bomb. Flex is about how fiction is real, and the way that the two rub up against each other and interact at certain points.

Flex Mentallo is a hopeful book. At the end, the superheroes return to save us all. They are revealed as us, or at least a significant part of us. Flex saves the day. The magic of reading superheroes as a kid is adapted to the real world. The glow of the lamp that Wally read comics by as a child serves as a blatant metaphor for the brilliance of superheroes. At the end of the book, the light is restored to Wally’s sight.

Flex is a celebration of the superhero. All of it, from good to bad, from perfections to imperfections, is important. The sexualization of superheroes serves a purpose, either as masturbation material or as an outlet for the creator’s desires. The Silver Age zaniness provided a look into other worlds, whether unsettling or fantastic. The escapism provided a look into a better world. The Starlin acid trips, the fear of the superhero, the edginess, the pointlessness, all of it matters. All of it fits together. It’s all part of the same picture. All of it is wonderful, in one way or another. It’s a puzzle with a million parts that still manages to stay in sync.

And in one of the last scenes, the point of Flex is laid bare. “Look at you! A half-naked muscleman in trunks! What’s that supposed to signify? What are you? Do you know what you are?” asks a teenaged Wally Sage. Flex shrugs and says, “Sure. I’m a superhero. Being clever’s a fine thing, but sometimes a boy just needs to get out of the house and meet some girls.”

Implicit in Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, and Flex Mentallo is a critique of the superhero. DKR teaches that the superhero is broken and it must be made cool again. Watchmen teaches that the superhero is broken, and here is how it is broken. Flex teaches that superheroes are broken, but that brokenness is just as natural as the parts which aren’t broken. Blaze of glory, autopsy, wake.

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Hey, Wally Sage! [Neonomicon #2]

October 11th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Hey Wally Sage, star of Flex Mentallo and lifelong comics fan, how do you feel about Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’s Neonomicon 02, published by Avatar Press?

Yeah, me too, buddy. That book was vile and put me off Alan Moore entirely. Jog’s review explains exactly how foul it is, and has a few of the reasons why I hated it.

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