Welcome To My Nightmare

My friends, I am bitterly disappointed. As I write this I am back at work for the first time in eleven days. It occurred to me only a couple days into my vacation that America — indeed the world — is completely off base with the whole work/vacation thing. I believe everyone should only work about 6 months per year (even the French). Think about it. Where does the bulk or stress come from? The pursuit of filthy lucre. We the People should work to live, not live to work. The end result of that is ulcers, broken marriages, rampant obesity, pollution and crime. The have nots work their asses off to put together what they can and hand it right over to the upper class, who don’t work anyway. And that’s just wrong. On vacation I slept better, I was more active physically, and I felt considerably less stressed, even with my ongoing physical therapy and the continued poor play of my local St. Louis Cardinals. That last bit is tempered by the success of the Cleveland Indians. GO TRIBE! Oh yeah, sometime during the stretch since we last convened, I read some comics.

But I couldn’t tell ya much about ’em.

And that’s something that I find disappointing as well. I love the medium, I really do. I enjoy lots of genres, even those DC and Marvel largely ignore. But I find it harder and harder, week in and week out, to justify pay $3 for completely forgettable material. I’m not that naive. I know it’s not possible for EVERY issue to be The Watchmen, Batman Year One, or Kraven’s Last Hunt. But do they all have to be so bland? I’ve cut the entire X-Universe out, with the exception of Peter David’s X-Factor. I have been trumpeting the greatness of the Brubaker since I started this column — he’s sort of the yin to Fabian Nicieza’s yang — and I enjoyed much of Mike Carey’s Vertigo material. But I can’t find a reason to care about the X-Men anymore. Scott Summer’s romance with Emma Frost bothers me to no end. And no, I’m not a die-hard old school Claremont supporter. I’m fine with change. Scott and Emma just doesn’t make any sense to me. Beyond that, Scott seems to have lost his leadership qualities. I think the fact that Bru’s space saga featured more of the other (more interesting) Summers brothers than Scott says something about the character. The writers don’t have anything to really say through him. He’s a pencil pusher at Xavier’s who only gets remotely interesting when he’s interacting with Charles, and even then he comes off as more of a brat than anything. Wolverine’s been dumbed down by his ridiculous Origin, and it’s so bad that even non-readers recognize it. Take Caroline for example, the beautiful girlfriend of my beastly editor, Daron. The pair recently went to check out a Marvel Superheroes science exhibit running at our local planetarium. Again, Caroline doesn’t read comics, generally. I think Daron was trying to get her hooked on “Y the Last Man”, but she certainly does not read the spandex superhero stuff. The exhibit gives some biographical information about the character whose powers the exhibit explains scientifically. She read the card that said, “Wolverine: aka Logan, aka James Howlett, aka Weapon X…” and her response was, “That is SOOO lame! Howlett? Do wolverines even howl?” Daron knows how often I’ve said the exact same thing.

For all of you budding writers out there, let me off a caveat, a cliché, and a motto all rolled up in one: “Less is more.” It is NOT necessary to explain EVERYTHING to me. Obviously you shouldn’t skip important details, but it’s insulting to the intelligence of your readers to spoon feed them everything. I’ll give you two examples: the new Star Wars trilogy and Firefly. George Lucas used Jimmy Smits as Bail Organa, Princess Leia’s adoptive father, but they don’t ever actually refer to him by name. You can figure it out, but wouldn’t it have been more effective to have Smits enter the room and somebody greet him as, “Ah, Senator Organa, these Jedi are here to see the Chancellor,” than to have me sitting in my overpriced seat going, “Hey, Jimmy Smits! Is he supposed to be…um…aw hell, could this Jar-Jar be more annoying?” Firefly, however, dangles the carrot but never quite lets you have it. We never really know what’s up with Sheppard Book’s background, or Wash before joined the crew, or a great deal about Inara during her days in training for her career as a Companion. We know that Captain Reynolds was a soldier with the Browncoats, but we only get a few quick insights into other moments of his past. And sure, the show consists of 14 episodes and a spin-off movie, but I really think that given 5 years of full production we wouldn’t know much more about the crew, and more importantly we wouldn’t care. Less is more. I never cared about Wolverine’s early history. I could picture him fighting with Washington for American independence, I could picture him sailing with Columbus for the New World, because I always viewed him as the eternal warrior. Now I look at him and I see the child of a well off Canadian family that treated Sabertooth’s family poorly until his mutation caused him to flee with the redhead that would become such a fixation for him Sigmund Freud would probably have him committed. The best he is at what he does only does one thing well anymore, and that is to make me not care about anything he’s a big part of. In Jimmy Howlett’s case, more is less. More Wolverine back story is less interest by me and less money, if only $3, for Marvel.

Big events are fine if they’re actually an event. 52 was an interesting concept. The Civil War was a decent idea, even if the 7-Legged Iron Spider was a horrible idea. But the Amazon Attacks story is tedious and seemingly immaterial — I don’t see the events having the same wide impact that DC usually does so well, and Countdown is nothing more than an anthology series that paradoxically needs a more singular focus. The Planet Hulk event was fine for the Hulk comic franchise but is overkill as a series of miniseries. The Initiative masthead on so many books just makes me groan. Iron Man is a colossal tool. Got it. And now we get him in his own haphazardly released series, two (or three) Avengers titles, Ms. Marvel, and there’s the government influence on the Thunderbolts. The new “The Order” book, after one issue, completely uninteresting and terribly derivative. I usually give a book 3-6 issues before making a decision to keep it or kill it on my pull-and-hold list, but that one left me completely flat. I find all of this extremely disheartening and more than a little worrisome. I love Paul Dini and The Bru and even Mike Carey, by and large. I don’t mind Brian Reed from Ms. Marvel, Warren Ellis is a favorite of mine, and despite what editorial lets Bendis get away with, the man has had some good moments now and then. So why do I feel so bored with current offerings? I stuck with Thunderbolts from Busiek through Nicieza but Ellis has turned them in to the Suicide Squad. Matt Fraction has done a fine job by me with Iron Fist and I’ve even given his Punisher War Journal more money than I expected to, but that issue of the Order, man, it just didn’t grab me at all. Especially the irreverent Mulholland Black character, as the Manchester Black character from Superman/JLA did the whole rough-edged M. Black gimmick a couple of years before.

I don’t know if my expectations are unreasonably high. But if J.K. Rowling can engage billions of people with thick children’s books, why can’t a whole stable of competent writers engage me in just 22 pages? Could it be as I grow older and my dissatisfaction with my job and my government that I need stronger stimulation for my release? Again, I don’t know. The Sentinels saga, as featured in my interview with creator Rich Bernatovech, is a superhero story and I enjoyed it a great deal. Was it because Rich was a fresh voice? I didn’t follow Matt Fraction’s career before his work at Marvel, so his voice is fresh to me too, as is Brian Reed. Maybe it’s because the House of Ideas doesn’t seem to have any (good ones) anymore. From the Identity Disc to the current Thunderbolts, they seem content to mimic DC. And yet DC is determined to keep as many balls in the air as they can at all times. There isn’t time to digest the big change of the event du jour, much less explore it. I think if you do something like 52 you need to give your readers at least a year, preferably more, to settle in to the new universe, and to give your creators time to flesh it out a bit before blowing things up again. I just came to grips with Renee Montoya taking on the roll of the Question, and now I have to immediately concern myself with the sudden powers of Jimmy Olsen (whom I’d rather see as a “never-got-the-girl” type of villain, if I have to put up with him at all)? Batman has a kid? The events of the Identity Crisis and Infinite Crisis have yet to be fully explored, but I feel like I’m being pulled past that, like a child desperately searching for that one toy being dragged away by the mother in a rush to look for another pair of shoes she really doesn’t need.

I don’t need more events. I want to sit on the hill and take it all in. I want short-arc stories within ongoing titles that actually take a little time to explore the characters instead of rushing from the next tie-in to the next crossover to the next big event. I want less titles for the same characters, less crossovers and big events, less gimmicks and less “What’s the competition doing that we can copy?” I want more honest to God storytelling, I want more character growth, I want more than anything to enjoy these books again. Less is more. Personally, I think current comic readers tend to run away screaming from the big events, knowing that the changes will be minor and temporary and the crossovers cost prohibitive. And events alienate the coveted new readers who don’t feel like they can jump into the story without knowing all that preceded it (which, if creators and readers alike would put a little effort into it really wouldn’t be that big of a problem). But the companies think events (supposedly) draw interest and interest means dollars to the companies. At the end of the day, comics aren’t about making me happy. It’s a business, it’s about making their shareholders happy.

Welcome to my nightmare.