Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Lamestream Comics

"Let's face it; regular monthly superhero comic books have taken on the look and smell of old men's pants. It's hardly a surprise comics lost the teenage audience or that the adult audience is now bored and irritated by the endless recycling of images they've already seen and words they've already read." – Grant Morrison 


An ironic confluence of purchases happened a while back that serve to illustrate one of the issues many people have with traditional superhero comics: in particular, the infantile depictions of women. While trolling the local bookstore I scored a used copy of “Make Way!” - 200 American Women in Cartoons, by Monika Franzen and Nancy Ethiel (1988 Chicago Review Press). It is a historical compilation of reprinted editorial panels from publication like Life and Harper’s Weekly that document the mass media’s symbolic portrayals of the women’s movement and treatment of issues such as (from the table of contents): the early struggle for equal rights, fears about equality, a woman's place and suffrage.
More after the jump...



In contrast to that book, I had also picked up a copy of 2009’s highly-vaunted DC Comics hardcover crossover anthology “Final Crisis.” I was initially attracted by the promise of a script from one of my most admired writers, Grant Morrison (authoring notable favorites of mine WE3, The Filth, Animal Man etc.) who is often credited with supposedly “helping to reinvent” the industry genre. Unfortunately it was a lesson relearned in never, ever judging any comic book by its cover, as the jacket blurbs from the Washington Post called it “epic,” and Jay Babcock’s intro said it was “ … a major achievement of 21st century imagination and craft in mainstream media … ” and “ … progressive, imaginative ..."
 J.G. Jones and Doug Mahnke were listed as the principle artists, who to some degree are responsible for the sound and fury of conventional imagery coating virtually every page with visual clich├ęs that’ve been literally beaten to death for over the past fifty years. The only discernable aesthetic difference is in the usage of Photoshop special-effect filters and slick packaging: pure visual saccharine lacking any substance whatsoever.

More to the point of this post, and as contrasted against the previous title, Final Crisis boasts over half a dozen shots of women crying and sobbing, often being comforted by the trademark Strong and Impassive Male. Plus there were multiple bonus portrayals of women holding children, or being evocatively injured or dead. Most importantly (apparently), they never pass up any opportunity to indulge in the stereotypical fetishistic ass shot. And there's also page after page of near-identical superhero posturing, usually super-grimacing (baring heroically flawless gums) and brandishing the usual clenched fists. Yet another example was in the predictable and continual overusage of standard flying head-on angles, and repetitive tight shots of crinkly, burning eyeballs.
One can only look at so many of the same explosions, walls of flame and energy beams before getting visually tired– constant hyperbolic imagery that fatigues the eyes to paradoxical boredom. The textbook dynamic anatomy is abused to point of amusement – if this would have been a movie I would have had to leave the theatre because of inappropriately laughing out loud at virtually all the moments of supposedly Momentous Intensity.
The storyline was an incoherent mess to the uninitiated: convoluted and completely unintelligible to anyone who hasn’t slavishly followed every single character in the DC universe since adolescence. Now I understand why comic shops are stereotypically haunted by fanboys who idly flip through issues for hours – not only are you spared the indignity of actually purchasing one (in this instance an utter waste of $30), but for the most part they can easily absorb entire “plots” in less time than it takes for their girlfriends moms to finish shopping and come back to pick them up.


Compare and contrast this work with a recent Marvel anthology project titled "Girl Comics"  and the work of artist Colleen Coover, who renders female forms in a comparatively realistic and refreshing style that isn't a mindless caricature of gendered roleplaying.
Maybe I’m of the age now that I personally find reading pages of ingrown introspection and myopic portrayals of alternative characters a vastly more satisfying and enjoyable experience than the fodder being shoveled out for mass consumption. Woody Allen versus the Transformers if you will. Or an even better analogy would be the recent viewing of the simply amazing Swedish film “Let The Right One In” as compared to the “Twillight” phenomenon.
No accounting for taste…
"The comics medium is a very specialized area of the Arts, home to many rare and talented blooms and flowering imaginations and it breaks my heart to see so many of our best and brightest bowing down to the same market pressures which drive lowest-common-denominator blockbuster movies and television cop shows. Let's see if we can call time on this trend by demanding and creating big, wild comics which stretch our imaginations. Let's make living breathing, sprawling adventures filled with mind-blowing images of things unseen on Earth. Let's make artefacts that are not faux-games or movies but something other, something so rare and strange it might as well be a window into another universe because that's what it is." – Grant Morrison

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