Don’t insult our intelligence, we’ll grow to despise you after we finish hating ourselves.
Welcome to the second installment of The Blueprint and keep the preceding sentence in mind as we continue on our journey through the components of the New Millennium Comic. We’ve already touched on first impressions, marked by beautiful and daring covers and forced accessibility through the handy little tool known as the issue summary, but now things become interesting…for I have seen the enemy of man.
The crossover could very well destroy us. It embodies everything that caused the industry to nearly burst like an over-inflated balloon in the 90s. Extravagance and over-indulgence tapping into what can serve as both one of the most frustrating and yet valuable aspects of the human condition…the desire for completion. People don’t particularly enjoy sprawling company-wide crossovers, there’s just something within our genetic make-up so petrified at missing something that forms a complete narrative that we will mindlessly support them with misplaced dedication. This is why crossovers continue to be financially successful despite their outspoken critics.
They’re Jedi mind tricks of the highest order, and not even good ones. They subvert the natural order of progression, which should blindly drive consumers to buy things offering genuine quality and instead turn things into a hollow “follow the puzzle pieces” gimmick occurring every six months. Crossovers should be the exception and not the rule, prevalent in only horribly insulated titles that demand them like the Superman group. Instead, we’re forced to bend over twice a year for yet another painful exercise that goes on for far too long.
The worst part is that something within us can’t seem to ignore them. We sigh as the vicious cycle prepares to repeat itself, hopeful this will be the last time and that the company would trust their competent creative teams long enough to tell some uninterrupted stories. To deliver some content worthy of this new age…
When attacking content, we must never forget that the modern audience demands to be bombarded with as many distinct voices and approaches as possible whether or not this trend is accurately reflected in sales. Pundits will comment that the truly original work gets squeezed out of circulation by the mainstream and in many cases, this may hold some validity, and is indicative not of some shadow conspiracy to drive all creators to write superhero comics, but the natural order of things.
Every facet of entertainment media enjoys the same endless debate that the nature of the beast exists to deliver the familiar, while threatening to devour the original. Happens in movies. Happens in television. Happens in music. And it happens in comics. Why we think the traditional rules of pop culture entertainment don’t apply to us is beyond me. The majority of people don’t want to think much about their escapist entertainment, not in the slightest. It’s why hollow bullshit like Vin Diesel’s xXx and Nelly’s latest CD are topping the charts. Here’s the secret, applicable to several mediums of expression…
People don’t want to actively fuck anymore…they just want to sit and be fucked because the end result is the same.
Complaining about this unfortunate fact does nothing. Strange, subversive and ultimately fascinating material will never come to dominate any entertainment industry because things just don’t work that way. Say what you want about superhero comics, but there are a large segment of them that are wildly enjoyable to a disproportionate amount of people. There’s nothing wrong with this. Doesn’t stop Grant Morrison from launching something like The Filth. It doesn’t matter that The Filth isn’t selling as many copies as New X-Men, it’s never going to. It matters that The Filth exists, and that there is an audience out there for it.
This leaves us with only one option…bring the best damn material that the industry has ever seen, whether superheroes, creator-owned, or licensed product. Every medium has internal and external boundaries and it’s how often we push the envelope within our individual constraints that matters. We spend so much time longing for someone else to appreciate our efforts, without bothering to consider that we shouldn’t give a fuck what Howard Stern thinks about comics…what do we think about comics? I get a charge out of mainstream press too, but it means nothing when we’re all pacing in different directions, and the only one that means anything is the quality of the books on the stands.
There is nothing I hate more than a company that refuses to take chances with the books it publishes. What genres and themes they’re printing I could care less about, as long as it’s about something, as long as it has something to say, and it tries to say it well, taking as many liberties with its frame as possible. As long as it isn’t hopelessly fuckin’ obvious.
You want to know why everyone has been diggin’ Marvel over DC the last couple years? Because they take CHANCES. Because whether they’re doing the Ultimate line, the origin of Wolverine, or The Call, they are not afraid of trying new things with their characters and their universe. Even if they fail. You will never see them sweat because for every stunt that blows up in their faces, there’s three other projects that didn’t. And across town, we’re getting another crossover rammed up our ass.
You know what crossovers indicate? Desperation. That the creative teams can only exist on their own for six months at a time before you incinerate something or schedule an earthquake. Give your stable more credit than that. Take some more chances before it’s too late. And I’m not referring to sure-fire decisions like putting Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee on Batman. I’ll be first in line for it, but come on…that pairing involves virtually no risk.
Milligan and Allred on X-Force. Bruce Jones on Incredible Hulk. John Ney Reiber on Captain America. A gritty crime writer named Brian Michael Bendis on Ultimate Spider-Man. These were creative and financial gambles that paid off tremendously. Why? Because Marvel isn’t running around their offices with sweaty palms fearing the corporate monster will swoop down and peck their eyes out because Kevin Smith mentioned someone getting a blowjob in Green Arrow. Just because it’s a road less traveled doesn’t excuse you from setting foot on it.
Respect the audience enough to surprise them with radical approaches (or approaches that are so heavily disguised they appear radical) and they’ll love you for it. Because it’s evident you’re trying to garner their attention and didn’t insult them by blatantly giving them the same thing in succession. All we want is something different.
Because this is no time to be complacent…and no time to be afraid…
In seven, The Blueprint concludes on format and imprints, and just what constitutes a “mature” comic…
The New Hotness:
These are the books you should’ve read last week. Get to it.
Alias #13 (Brian Michael Bendis/Michael Gaydos)
Only Bendis could write a comic backed on nothing more than clever dialogue. Nothing explodes in Alias. No one gets kicked in Alias. So why in the hell does it still kick the ass of most of the books on the stands? Because no one, and I’m telling you, NO ONE does conversational dialogue like Bendis. His characters have a flow and rhythm to their interactions that lets you know instantly that this scribe is the real deal. Which makes his characters the real deal. Jessica Jones, the title character, lives in three dimensions because her speech is genuine and her decisions are human. She makes mistakes. She doubts, even hates herself. But at the end of the day, she gets the job done. And she’s slowly closing in on the truth of a missing girl that may be a mutant.
J. Michael Straczynski’s Rising Stars #19 (JMS/Brent Anderson)
Upon its completion, Rising Stars will go down as one of the most progressive visions of superheroes put to paper. When collected into a more permanent form, a haphazard release schedule, a couple of bad artists, and an acclaimed run on Spider-Man will fail to eclipse the work that Straczynski has done here. In this world, a fearful and spiteful government has chosen to kill their would-be heroes, frustrated at their relentless attacks on the status quo. These people want to make a better world and no puppet organization can stop them because they’re all better than us. The talented stylings of Brent Anderson mark yet another incredible chapter of this story that provides a highly realistic perspective on what ‘powers’ truly means. Don’t overlook.
Ultimate X-Men HC (Mark Millar/Adam & Andy Kubert)
I am in love with the new Marvel hardcovers. They are the most attractive things hitting the stands on a semi-regular basis and they finally got around to the first twelve issues of Ultimate X-Men in all their oversized glory. Mark Millar skillfully updates the mythos with Sentinels, Magneto, and Weapon X, effectively raising the stakes and strongly suggesting that being a mutant in the twenty-first century is highly dangerous. The beautiful art from Los Bros Kubert drives home the realization that Millar has scripted a pair of intelligent action movies to glossy paper with all of the large sets, pyrotechnics, and snappy dialogue one comes to expect from the genre. If you’re allergic to adrenaline and bold visuals then you can afford to ignore this one. Everybody else is saving to get a copy. The collection also includes Millar’s original plot for the first six issues (light years from the final version), a few script pages from Bendis’ lost version, and Giant Size X-Men #1 for all you behind-the-scenes types.
One more spin around The Blueprint and we’re done. In seven…we settle this…