Thursday, September 02, 2010

Mutate Or Die!

I've got mixed feelings about Darwyn Cooke's comments that I read at
The 4th Letter website. I couldn't help taking issue with some of his points.

First of all, while I don't find Cooke's opinions homophobic at all, as there is some credence to his idea that some writers in fiction make characters gay out of nowhere for the wrong reasons, I think he got the facts wrong if he was referring to Batwoman with that "lesbian" comment.

For one thing, while the original Kathy Kane Batwoman existed (and was established as straight) 54 years prior to the 52 series, she was dead or out of continuity for the last 27 of them. Kate is essentially a new character. I will grant that DC's PR regarding Kate's introduction was forced and atrocious. Rather than simply introducing her in 52 and revealing her sexuality more organically in the course of the story, DC telegraphed it so loudly with their advance press releases, they might as well have shouted "DA DA DA DA DA DA DA DA! SHE'S A LESBIAN!!! SHE'S A LESBIAN!!! DA DA DAAAAHH!!!" And using the term "lipstick lesbian" didn't help.

But Greg Rucka (aided considerably by J.H. Williams) made Kate work. What may have initially appeared as a hollow shock device has developed into a fascinating character. Kate is now a unique (not simply for her sexuality) and worthy addition to the Bat-Family.

Also, as someone turning 45 in a few weeks, I can't help but take some slight offense at his "perverted fantasies of 45-year-old-men" comment. I won't deny that there are many of those "hardcore" fans who fit Cooke's description. But there's been a tendency in recent years to paint male comic fans in my age group with a broad brush and make us the Universal Scapegoat for everything wrong with modern superhero comics, almost as if we should feel guilty for even being associated with this hobby anymore.

But I don't remember myself or any other fans my age being consulted before DC Editorial decided "We need a rape". Or when someone decided to let Wonder Dog maul Marvin. Or when Bendis decided to brutalize Tigra to give The Hood more "street cred". Or before DC killed Roy Harper's 8-year-old daughter and turned him into a one-armed junkie. Or when Marvel went ahead with the infamous "tastes like chicken" splash.

In fact, I hate those examples above and many of those examples Cooke brought up. And several other male readers in my demographic hate them, too.

And while I enjoyed some "grim and gritty" books like the Watchmen, I wasn't the one who felt the compulsion to make the whole superhero line ape that dark and violent tone.

While we're at it, I didn't agree to let comics phase out independent distributors like newsstands and grocery stores by putting all the eggs in the direct market basket either.

Put the blame squarely where it belongs: on the Big Two's stupid, short-sighted, narrow-minded, and greedy decisions. There are the writers, artists, and editors who want to handle "adult" topics like rape, but execute them with all the maturity of a 13-year old who just got access to his dad's liqour cabinet. The ones who want to push the envelope in terms violence and gross-outs, but who want to stay within the comfort zone of "all-ages" comics, and force the standards to change to suit them.

If they're making these moves to cater only to men of my age group (and Cooke's, by the way) , they're aiming for too low and too narrow of a common denominator in even that niche group, to the exclusion of the rest. And therein lies the problem. Catering exclusively to a narrow niche may work in some cases, but if the current anemic sales are any indication, comics isn't one of them.

Cooke is absolutely right about superhero comics needing to actually reach out and be more appropriate for all ages. I hate how many of the current so-called "all ages" comics are a crap shoot as to whether they're appropriate reading for younger fans, even if they're about non-adult heroes. When a book has "Teen Titans" as its title, it should be a given that it's age-appropriate.

Sure, there is the Johnny DC line (for now, anyway), but as good as Art Balthasar is, there's more to comics than the cartoony stuff. Marvel Adventures fares better in this regard (it did provide a springboard for Jeff Parker and Fred Van Lente) , but the range of comics in the kids' lines are still much more limiting than when I was a kid. When I started reading superhero comics when I was about seven, I cut my teeth on artists like Neal Adams, Jim Aparo, John Buscema, Dick Dillin, and the Curt Swan-Murphy Anderson team, all of which were appropriate for my age at the time. Where are the Adamses or "Swandersons" or the Buscemas that parents can safely give young kids today? It's like kids now are being cheated out of that richer palette.

That's the reason I absolutely hated "All-Star Batman and Robin" (which is what Darwyn was referring to with his Batman complaints). The All-Star line was intended, just as Marvel's Ultimates line was, to be accessible to newer (read: younger?) readers by virtue of lesser continuity. ASBAR, in addition, boasted art by Jim Lee, no less. But Frank Miller pissed that away with his cynical self-indulgence and DC let him. While Grant Morrison also went wild on "All-Star Superman", at least he did it in a way that respected the awe and wonder of the character and was safe for all ages.

Cooke was absolutely right about making the medium more appropriate for kids, but he needn't have stopped there. Women and minorities (such as the aforementioned lesbians) need to feel more welcome as well. The "new characters" Darwyn advocated would be a welcome step. Being more sensitive to their wants and not killing or raping or poorly writing characters they identify with would be another.

At this point, the best way comics can survive as a medium is to follow the advice once given by music critic Dave Marsh:

Mutate or die.


At 4:46 PM , Blogger MOCK! said...

I gladly put the first few Ultimate Spider-man trades in my 6th grade classroom....and that was about it. The most recent Ultimate Avengers (with the Red Skull tossing a baby out the window....) had me SERIOUSLY reconsidering this "hobby" of mine.

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