Near Mint Memories: Summer Crisis

Welcome to Near Mint Memories! For the uninitiated, we’re a weekly column co-authored by Chris Delloiacono and myself that looks back at comics’ yesteryear, with an eye towards tomorrow, but firmly grounded in today. Cool? One week me, one week Chris, and so on and so forth. You get the picture.

As we enter our second year of publication, literally, we also find ourselves at a new home here at The Nexus with the same 411Comics house-mates that we’ve worked and played with for close to two years. We hope that our regular readers and new friends join us on our weekly retrospectives.

In addition to the informative nature of the column, we’ll be kicking things up a notch in Year Two. We’re adding a few new regular column features, which I’ll speak further on later in this column, and amping up the analysis and commentary that The Nexus does best.

So, welcome to a new, yet familiar home for our little column, lovingly referred to as NMM.


Escapism or Realism?

When I posed the above question, spurred to tackle it because of the more controversial aspects of DC’s summer blockbuster Identity Crisis (IC), in a previous column at our old 411 digs, I was inundated with e-mails. In that piece, I advanced the position that IC’s uber-scribe Brad Meltzer, and many of the top industry creators, particularly on the writers side, do not fully embrace the escapist fantasy elements of the super-hero genre of comics.

It is, for all intents and purposes, a genre that should embrace the ridiculousness of the flashy, long-underwear sporting, super-(role ?-) models with absurd extra-human abilities like the ability to fly, crawl walls, and cheat death…. who tangle with equally gaudy, long-john wearing, criminals and warlords with complimentary metahuman powers like the ability to eat planets, shape-change, and (the patently implausible) ability to cheat death (too).

I went further to call some of these self-loathing super-hero comics creators to task for their desire to infuse a mislabeled realism into these type of comics by shoehorning grit, grime, and tragedy into books that feature recognizable, supposedly all-ages accessible, comics industry-transcending icons like Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, what have you.

What spurred this whole debate, which further rages on many internet forums, even the one on our site, was the retroactive and literal rape of Silver Age stalwart Sue Dibny, one-half of the husband-and-wife duo with super-sleuth Ralph Dibny, the Elongated Man, in the pages of DC’s 2004 summer “event” series, Identity Crisis.


The Line is Here.

I didn’t realize that so many of you would disagree with me because I stood up and said: “You know what? Anything shouldn’t go! The line is here.”

Of course, then you get the typical response: “Who are you to draw the line?” Well, I didn’t create the line. It already existed, but more on that in a moment.

I ‘m not calling for a censoring or even for a boycotting of IC. What I am posing, though, is where is the best place to tell a story where a rape is a major plot point? It is true that you get these type of stories on TV and movies with greater frequency every year. And, today’s kids are probably more savvy and street-smart then when I was a boy. In all cases though, these type of stories, these misnamed “mirrors on reality”, are emotional tales because rape is such a reprehensible act. To be fair, there is a satisfaction when the hero finally catches the vial rapist and deals their brand of justice. However, those tales on TV are seen in the evening and those type of movies are labeled as not being all-ages accessible. There is a line.

And, you know what? A line exists in comics too. More than one actually.

DC, for example, has a mature theme line called Vertigo. In addition, Marvel has their own comic book labeling system to let readers and retailers know which books are all-ages accessible and which aren’t. Ever heard of the Comics Code Authority? DC selectively uses it for books that have approved-content that is all-ages accessible (although its label has gotten a lot smaller over the years).

What also plays into this IC issue is the tradition behind DC’s annual comics event.


Tradition

Of course, by using the word “tradition” I’m going to get e-mails that I’m some kind of moralist. Far from it. I’m just stating fact. Historically, DC’s annual event, encompassing their big and not-so-big icons, whether a summer cross-over or a “5th Week Event”, have always been all-ages accessible.

Since 1986, and DC’s first big company-spanning event, the Crisis on Infinite Earths, the vast majority of its “big” annual events have been ones that anyone of any age could read >>>

Legends (1986-87)

Millennium (1988)

Invasion! (1988-89)

Armageddon 2001 (1991)

Justice Society Returns (1991)

War of the Gods (1991)

Eclipso: The Darkness Within (1992)

Trinity (1993)

Elseworlds (1994)

Zero Hour (1994)

Year One (1995)

Underworld Unleashed (1995-96)

DC vs. Marvel (1996)

Final Night (1996)

Legends of a Dead Earth (1996)

Genesis (1997)

New Years Evil (1997)

Pulp Heroes (1997)

Tangent (1997)

DC One Million (1998)

Ghosts (1998)

Girlfrenzy (1998)

The Kingdom (1998)

Millennium Giants (1998)

Day of Judgement (1999)

JLApe (1999)

Green Lantern: Circle of Fire (2000)

Planet DC (2000)

Sins of Youth (2000)

Joker: Last Laugh (2001)

Justice Leagues (2001)

Our Worlds at War (2001)

Silver Age (2002)


A Hierarchy to Indignation?

With the exception of Identity Crisis (2004) all of the above-mentioned major events for DC have been all ages-accessible or were adorned by the Comics Code Authority or both. Maybe DC should have put a label or disclaimer on IC?

Now, many have also rightfully pointed out that death and mayhem occurs all the time in comic books and why should Sue Dibny’s rape rile me so in comparison?

Well, this is a big DC event and, to be fair, Sue’s murder in IC #1 was a bit too graphic and her flashback rape in issue #2 was definitely over the top. We’ve all read many comic books where the villain has killed. Hell, at Marvel, their (anti-)heroes Punisher and Wolverine kill monthly.

DC killed Sue. Fine. Hell, DC killed whole universes in ye olde Crisis. Its the “how” that’s the issue in all this and the “where”.

Have we become desensitized to murder? Well, that’s a topic for a whole other column, but I think we have. So, the issue then is drawing the line on how its portrayed. Off-panel in a summer event book? Ok. On panel in all its horror? No.

In his recent DC News & Views column, my colleague Tim Stevens took me to task (gingerly) for calling Sue Dibny’s rape “on-panel”. Well, he’s technically right. They didn’t show the whole thing, but they showed enough. As I said on our comics forum, in response to a poster who said that the scene “was handled as tastefully as possible”: “Tastefully? Sorry, I disagree. I mean it could have been worse, if that’s what you mean. I still think it was too graphic…… kids nowadays mature faster and know more (street-wise) than I did at their age (due to the internet, school violence [there were no metal detectors in my high school], etc.) Today’s kids are savvy and “get” what happened in IC. If they didn’t, they soon learned about after visiting the DC boards or their other internet hangouts”.

Now before anyone chimes in says that kids don’t read comic books, give your head a shake and realize they do. Maybe not in the same numbers as a decade or two ago, but they do. Actually, all the numbers are down over that timeframe.

Its too bad this whole issue is THE issue about IC on the internet. The rest of IC was pretty well done and Brad Meltzer is a capable writer and artist Rags Morales is doing his best work to date. In any event, DC is the TALK of the summer with IC. I imagine that any press is good press.


Miscellaneous Memories

We’re debuting a new section in NMM called Miscellaneous Memories. This is a potpourri section where anything goes. We could add a spotlight review of a book that came out this week or a book from the past. We can address rumors and news on the comics industry. We can jam about how great my chicken salad sandwich was for lunch. Anything goes (kinda).

So, what I am going to talk about? Well, I’m heading to my first Wizard World (WW) comics convention this weekend. That’s right. WW Chicago. The stars are actually aligned. It turns out that Geoff Johns, uber-scribe of JSA, Teen Titans, Flash, Green Lantern: Rebirth and so many others will be there!

The other selling points? Well, my NMM co-collaborator, Chris Delloiacono will be there as will Daron Kappauff, the co-EIC of The Nexus.

Comics will be bought. Creators will be met. Drinking will be done. Deep dish pizza will be consumed. Fun will be had.


This is Your Column-within-a-Column

The other feature we’re adding is a Question and Answer piece. We pose the question. You answer. Simple? Cool.

However, we need your help to name this column-within-a-column. So, send your suggestions over the next 4 weeks to me at jebabos@yahoo.ca . Chris and I will pick from your suggestions at the end of that time and debut the “name” of your column-within-a-column.

What’s the incentive for you dear reader? Besides the honour of seeing your idea in lights? Well, how about a free graphic novel? Which one? Well that’s a surprise. We’ll reveal your choices in a few weeks. Yes, you’ll have a choice!

So, let’s kick this section off with a bang! This week’s question is:

What is the first comic book you remember reading and how did it effect what you like or dislike about comic books?

For me? I think that many who have followed this column know that I am big fan of the early 1980’s Curt Swan pencilled issues of Superman. It had a lasting impression on how I see comics today and why I think more creators should embrace the fantastic elements of the super-hero comics genre.

Ok, in terms of actual issues, here goes (and they’re not Curt Swan books). DC Comics Presents #8 from the late 1970’s is probably one of my earliest memories, and Superman #405 from the early 1980’s, particularly its “Mystery of the Super-Batman” story, is still one of my fave early reads. They are what super-hero stories today should aspire to be.

So, what’s your answer? Send your responses to me at jebabos@yahoo.ca .

Till next week, consider this week’s NMM a fond memory!