Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Climbing To New Lows

As far as comics were concerned, 2010 was a year of highs and lows, just like any other. I don't know if I'm just getting old, but it seems like in recent years the lows have been getting lower, and every time I think a bottom has been reached, somebody manages to plumb the depths a little bit further. 2010 continued this trend, most noticeably at the Big Two companies.

There were several comics in 2010 alone which I've read and thought "Who the HELL could possibly find this to be entertaining?"

Here were the lowlights of the 2010 comics:

Cry For Justice -  The bulk of this mini came out in 2009, and featured the following "highlights": the maiming of Roy Harper, Hal Jordan and Ray Palmer torturing bad guys, implication of a threesome between Hal and two Birds of Prey, and Tasmanian Devil getting killed merely to serve as a sight gag. How to follow that up? How about by killing off cute half-Asian 8-year-old Lian Harper merely to jack up the angst levels of two white male heroes? Unfortunately, after James Robinson set that ball rolling, DC chose to have JT Krul make things even worse with....

Justice League: The "Rise" Of Arsenal -  When Roy Harper took the identity of "Red Arrow" upon joining the Justice League, a lot of readers, including yours truly, wished Roy would someday return to the Arsenal mantle. God, what a "Monkey's Paw" scenario that wish turned out to be.  Apparently, Denny O'Neil's "Snowbirds Don't Fly" story back in 1971's Green Lantern/Green Arrow was sooo appealing that DC Editorial was salivating to revisit the "Roy Harper as junkie" storyline even some 39 years later. Never mind that, prior to 2010, Roy was a unique inspiration who juggled being a superhero and being a responsible, albeit not perfect, single dad. The only thing the "Arsenal" mini inspired people to do was stop reading DC. The sole highlight of this miniseries was the panel of Batman roundhouse-kicking Roy in the face while exclaiming "I'm your friend." Other than that, it was complete crap. Plus, it was one of the stops on....

The 2010 "Fuck You, Kendra Saunders Fans" World Tour - After serving prominently as Hawkgirl in both the JSA and the JLA, and even briefly having her own title, in the first part of this century, Kendra was killed along with partner Carter Hall in Blackest Night#1. However, when it came time to resurrect the Hawks in Blackest Night#7, Carter came back but Kendra got the bum's rush in favor of Shiera Hall and was never mentioned again. Except for the aforementioned "Rise Of Arsenal" mini, where we found out.....

... that she was Roy Harper's greatest lay. How do you like them apples, female readers?

Wonder Woman: Lantern of Love. - Blackest Night:Wonder Woman#2 provided the rarest of rarities: a Greg Rucka clunker. True, Greg was saddled with the ill-conceived Star Sapphire WW plotline by Geoff Johns. (Anyone even vaguely familiar with Wonder Woman could see that Diana is tailor-made for the Compassion slot, but, see, she's a girl, so let's stick her with the Love role instead, and we'll give the Compassion ring to "The Incredible Shrinking Jack Bauer".) But Rucka actually made things worse. Apparently, the thought of killing Cassie, Donna, or even HER OWN MOTHER wasn't enough to snap Diana out of Black Lanterndom, but the thought of tongue-kissing Batman was. Huh? Even Nicola Scott couldn't save this one.

Titans: Villains For Hire Special aka "Minority In A Matchbox" - Let's see if I have this right: There are 3 Flashes, 2 Wildcats, God knows how many Green Lanterns, and now a growing army of Batmen, but you're telling me that the DC Universe isn't big enough for 2 Atoms? Give me a fucking break. The only lasting impact this story had was to alienate readers and inspire the term "Minorities In Matchboxes". Also, here's a tip for all you artists out there: When you're drawing a comic detailing the killing of a popular Asian character, at least take the time to get his nationality right.

Tora's an ice goddess. Oh, wait, no she's not! - Imagine if some current DC writer and editor decided that Bruce Wayne wasn't actually a millionaire's son whose parents were killed by a mugger in Crime Alley, but rather a New Jersey postal worker's son who accidentally killed his parents while playing with his father's gun. Or that Superman was really an Earthling who actually got his powers by accidentally eating radioactive paste. Then you can see how fans of Tora "Ice" Olafsdottir felt when Judd Winick revealed in Justice League: Generation Lost#12 that her ice goddess origin was just a lie to hide her real background: that she was a mutant in a family of thieves. In an incredibly bad case of false advertising, editor Brian Cunningham claimed that Winick provided Ice with "a credible and tragic origin that does not negate what we already know". Only one word of that was true: Tragic.

And speaking of JL: Generation Lost.. - Winick had already alienated me back in Generation Lost#10 when Max Lord tried to convey that Batman was a magnet for trouble by comparing Bats to "a naked broad walking into a room full of rapists". Stay classy, Judd.

Sentry did WHAT, now? - I'll confess: It's true that DC had a particularly egregious year, but part of the reason the bulk of the lowlights were DC's is that I follow their line more closely than Marvel's nowadays. Lest you think I'm unfairly singling out DC and indulging in behavior I once condemned, I will demonstrate how Marvel had several low points this year, too.  The Sentry: Fallen Sun funeral issue was a giant retroactive Mary Sue fest, but the worst retcon was revealed here:

Yep, that's right, Sentry did it with Rogue. The one X-character for whom involuntary altruistic celibacy has been almost her entire deal. Except, according to writer Paul Jenkins, for his pet character. The only way this could have been redeemed was if Jenkins had used the "An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge" scenario suggested by Your Obedient Serpent as a twist ending. No such luck. The only differences between this story and bad fanfiction is that at least with bad fanfic a) the writer is not getting paid and b) we're not stuck with it as canon.

Also, the Scott Summers I know and love would have answered the Torch's questions with "That's none of your damn business, mister!"

Spider-Man: One (Excruciatingly Long) Moment In Time - "One More Day" alienated many Spidey fans with one of the worst demonstrations of editorial ego I'd ever seen, and the post-"OMD" Spidey books have been full of peaks and valleys. One of the deepest valleys came in 2010 when Joe Quesada decided to reopen the "OMD" wound with "One Moment In Time", which detailed why Peter and MJ didn't get married in the new continuity. "OMIT" made the real reason abundantly clear: Because Marvel's Editor-In-Chief is an idiot, that's why.

Oh, that whole "Yellowjacket" thing? Just a PR stunt. - Marvel and retcons simply do not mix. Especially if Brian "Chaos Magic is bullshit" Bendis is involved. From New Avengers#7:

I'll let Mr. Brian Snell explain all the problems with that here. Suffice to say, it was bad enough to rate a mention.

War of the Supermen aka Worst Reset EVER aka 2 years of Superman Comics buying down the drain. - When then-Action Comics scribe Geoff Johns wrote "The Brainiac Saga" back in 2008, it was the springboard of the "New Krypton" storyline which reintroduced such silver-age elements as a newly-enlarged Kandor, Supergirl's parents Zor-El and Alura, and the crimefighting team of Nightwing and Flamebird. There were also new elements such as the Kryptonian military force Red Shard and Kal-El bete noire Commander Gor. On top of that, there was an interesting characterization of General Zod and his relationship with Kal-El, as well as fascinating mother-daughter bonding between Kara and Alura.

Now how much of that is still standing today? Zip. Nada. Nothing. That's in large part due to 2010's "War of the Supermen" miniseries, which should have been called "Death, Death, Death", because that was the sole method used to resolve nearly all the plotlines. New Krypton? Dead. Red Shard? Dead. Flamebird? Dead. Supergirl's parents? Now both dead. Chris Kent? De-aged and shunted off to the Phantom Zone. Ditto Mon-El. And Zod? Turns out all the past year's complex characterization was just a lie, because he's really just eeeevil. And also shunted off into the Zone.

What a waste! What a complete failure of imagination! The worst part? The storyline that followed, the one that all the resetting was done in service to, was the launching of....

Grounded aka "Douchy Superman Walking"  J. Michael Straczynski took over the Superman and Wonder Woman books mid-year. His current WW arc, if taken strictly as a temporary "House Of M" type story, doesn't make it onto my list because, Don Kramer art aside, it doesn't really qualify as either bad or good. It's just....there. Meh.

No such luck on the "Grounded" arc. This was another bad rehash of a 39-year-old Denny O'Neil GL/GA idea, this time "Hard Traveling Heroes" (shoehorning Supes into both the Hal and Ollie slots), mixed liberally with Elliot S! Maggin's "Must There Be A Superman?" from the same year. 

The trouble with shoehorning, though, is that sometimes it just doesn't fit. Reconnecting with the needs of humanity is fine if it's Hal Jordan, but Supes is a guy with super-senses. He can hear dust settle on the moon. He can hover over Metropolis and scan everything in East St. Louis or Belfast. Remember those Dan Jurgens stories where Supes was listening in to what people thought of him? Plus, as Clark he has access to media stories from all around the world. Reconnect with humanity? You can't GET more connected than this guy.

Here's another problem: Imagine you're Superman. You're feeling the guilt of not being to save New Krypton, and also not being able or available enough to save everyone on Earth, particularly the husband of the woman in Superman#700. So you'd be looking for ways to save more people, right? How does this "Walk Across America" accomplish that? If anything, it seems horribly inefficient. In issue#703, JMS addresses the idea that, by making his presence so public, Supes runs the risk of the bad guys striking where they know he is. That may be true, but JMS fails to grasp the much greater opposite problem: that the bad guys will be striking in places where they know he isn't. The fear Superman strikes in the heart of criminals stems from the fact that he could potentially show up anywhere and anytime and take them out. If you see him on TV walking at regular pace through Philadelphia, and you're hundreds or thousands of miles away, you might not feel the same sense of dread.

But while the fundamental concept of "Grounded" was flawed, the execution was much, much worse. Here's a scene from Superman#701:

Here's an idea: Instead of just flying off, how about flying the old guy to a hospital, you jackass?

Here's one from the same issue that's even worse. Superman has just confronted some local drug dealers and set all their stashes on fire. Here, he wishes to communicate to the gang that he'll keep setting their stashes on fire every few weeks until they leave. What does he do? Does he stick around and deliver his ultimatum to to the head thug? Does he pull aside a random gangbanger and give him the message?


He relays the message through a 10-year-old boy. Yes, you read that right. He actually asks a 10-year-old boy to deliver an ultimatum to drug dealers. Because he can't take the time to stick around and deliver the message himself.

Here's exactly what I mean by "horribly inefficient". Supes doesn't take the time to properly follow through with the old man or the drug dealers, but he'll sit and talk with a suicidal woman on a ledge.....

.... for hours on end.

And what kind of insight are we supposed to derive from this whole walkabout? JMS never seems to make up his mind and settle on one. On one hand, Superman seems to be trying to communicate that he'll always be there, but on the other, he's conveying messages like these...

....essentially, that people should step up and not rely on him so much. In this respect, the message is similar to Maggin's story.

However, Maggin only took a single 17-page story to get his point across. This was originally intended as a 13-issue arc. That's a whole lot of decompression. Consequently, we get treated to a lot of panels like these.

Even with his own wife.

JMS is having Supes be purposefully evasive, even to his own wife, so that he can drag out revealing the purpose of the walkabout for several more issues. You know what that is, ladies and gentlemen? That's padding. Meaning we'll have to wade thru more issues before JMS finally makes his point.

That is, before Chris Roberson makes JMS' point. Appears even JMS got bored with this story.

Putting the "Odd" in "Odyssey" - "Batman: Odyssey" proves that Neal Adams has still got it as an artist. As a writer? Uhhhh....not so much. So far this is coming off like some kind of mass science experiment, where the apparent object is to see exactly how much incoherent writing and inconsistent characterization the reader is willing to stand in order to get his or her Adams art fix. The scary thing? There are 7 issues to go!

Let's hope 2010 wasn't another false bottom for comics.

(Special thanks to Snell, Sally PRagnell, and MGMT for the inspiration.)


At 1:44 PM , Blogger SallyP said...

Oh God, you have hit the proverbial nail on the proverbial head. These were some abysmal stories. And don't get me started on Winick and Ice, because I'll probably burst a blood vessel.

Cry for Justice had a certain campy charm to it at the very beginning, but it soon lapsed into complete chaos. Rise of Arsenal was just horrible. And I'd always rather liked poor Roy up until that point, but now...yechh.

And Superman wandering around being an asshat doesn't help.

It's nice to know that Marvel was right in there, contributing to our general malaise as well.

At 4:03 AM , Blogger Ragnell said...

I love you, notintheface. You're on the ball throughout and I totally agree... except for one little thing:


Odd that I am becoming a Bendis defender here, but that Oral History backup is the Avengers talking to a non-Avenger It's not necessarily a retcon. It might just be them lying their asses off. I don't really approve of superheroes being giant liars, but I think I forgive it better that they might be glossing things over for the panicky, reactionary, fickle Marvel public than if they were lying to the rest of the Avengers (like Quicksilver is doing). At least the other Avengers are in on the unspoken agreement that a history of mental illness is not a job disqualifier, but closer to a prerequisite. The public might just call for their heads, and they'd have to choose between becoming the X-men or setting a precedent that leads to no one being eligible for the team anymore.

Also possibly that Hank is under the delusion that what he's saying is true and Jan and Clint are just very carefully supporting that before they're still worried for his mental health.

Hell, given what is going on in Avengers Academy with Hank covering for Pietro's major lie, it might even be a plot point.

At 10:13 PM , Blogger notintheface said...


Confession: Most of the comics in this post were ones I read at the comic shop and didn't buy (exceptions: Odyssey, War of the Supermen, the Blackest Night issues, and some of "Grounded"). The Yellowjacket one was the only comic that I hadn't actually read directly, instead relying on Brian S's blog for details. You may be right on it.

At 5:36 AM , Blogger bulletproofsponge said...

Damn man. Love your writing style. Straight to the point. I couldn't have said it better.

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