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Why I Quit Reading Mainstream Comics

February 10, 2013 Leave a comment

When I originally started to do work on the predecessor to this current blog, I started with comics. Reviewing them and talking about them. The medium is one I love for what it can do. While I got more and more involved with comics themselves, I realized I was developing a strained relationship with a major component of the medium. Specifically, I have multiple issues with the major two companies (as well as, to a lesser extent, smaller companies), Marvel and DC. In the world of comics readers, there is a visible tension of preference between the two, and while certain points of the arguments are valid, most are moot as the companies are virtually the same. I’ve touched on this before, so if you want to see what I’ve to say about that, you can check it out here.

Since then, my apathy and general lack of care for these companies has grown. So much so, that I didn’t just quit reading titles from these companies, but I just didn’t think about them. Recently, I’ve tried to be reflexive on why I made this decision, and so I decided to share it. These are the reasons I ‘quit’ reading mainstream comics:

1) The Staleness of the IPs:

Out of all the reasons for me to stop reading comics, this one comes most from being a fan of the medium. In recent years, both Marvel and DC have tried to ‘reinvent’ themselves in new images. The biggest reason is that they needed to create new audiences. The recent successes of comic book film adaptations have also put pressure on the print publications of the titles. In this pseudo-progression of the images, both companies have attempted to try new things. However, what mostly comes out is a regurgitation of existing narratives and tropes. The existing IPs are running out of stories to tell and they need to totally overhauled in a way the industry may not be ready for.

2) Drowning in Cross-Over Events

I’ll be honest, I hate cross-over events. They’re pointless and only attempt to give a temporary change to the status quo, to only revert back to it in a later event. Marvel is especially guilty of this. The point being, regardless of the company, these events deter from the main narratives of existing characters and primarily exist to sell more comics. I believe, comic titles used to be stronger when they were at an individual level and other characters would have cameo appearances. While I appreciate the world-building components of the film franchises, where I think this type of story type has been working, in print it’s just awful, and at best, boring.

Another cross-over event? Don’t expect to see any quality writing for another year.

3) Creator’s Rights

Seriously, authors should own what they make. I’m not sure how to expand on this one really, because I think it’s clear. Characters and stories belong to individuals, not companies.

4) Depictions of Marginalized Groups

If I had to give one reason for giving up mainstream comics, this would be it. I’m completely aware that this is my own opinion, but, I feel like the mainstream comics of today are just as racist, sexist, homophobic, and discriminatory as they’ve been in the past. I’ve written before on the trend of capitalizing on LBGT movements in comics. That post contained a specific case study on my reasoning, but the general tone of it can be applied to most marginalized groups depicted in comics. For every Women in Refrigerators critique being made, there’s a case of it being done. Printed oppression in mainstream comics is cyclical. At the very best, we see progression, not because the publishers are seeking to be agents of change, but because they can capitalize upon social change movements being visible in the larger society.

 

Those are my core reasons for quitting mainstream comics. I understand there are deviations from these companies based on what I listed. For example, I think the death of Ultimate universe Peter Parker was for the better, as we can see a well-written biracial character in Miles Morales in Ultimate Comics Spider-Man. While I say I gave up on these publishers, I do still think there’s a place for their older works (as long as there’s acknowledgement of their own issues). There’s also some interesting work in the imprints (such as Vertigo), where creator rights have some presence.

But really, all of these issues are less present (but not absent) in the ‘more independent’ publishers. The characters and stories there are just as good, if not better, than what’s going on with Marvel and DC. I’m glad I moved on.

‘Kingdom Come’: a comic review

September 19, 2012 Leave a comment


Kingdom Come is an anomaly of sorts. It’s the one ‘Elseworlds’ DC title that gains significant attention. Most of this comes from the art from Alex Ross, but also from the writing of Mark Waid, who was at a turning point of sorts in his comic writing career. Kingdom Come essentially tells the story of a brewing superhero war between veteran heroes, such as Superman, and the younger vigilante heroes, and others, like Batman, trying to contain the whole conflict. After several repeated suggestions to read it, I got around to reading it and now (finally) reviewing it.

The writing comes from a collaboration between Waid and Ross. As someone who doesn’t read the titles associated with most of the heroes depicted, I found myself enjoying their stories. Most of this comes from that fact that Kingdom Come is an ‘Elseworlds’ title and doesn’t fit in the main DC canon. While some understanding of the characters is useful, it’s not necessary. It’s easy to jump into for the casual reader. It’s an engrossing story and one of the best of the ‘crossover’ variety. Kingdom Come is one of the best reads I’ve had with a DC book.

The main hook for Kingdom Come is Alex Ross’ painting. Ross uses strong details for all the characters. It definitely gives the feel that Ross is creating a realistic vision of superheroes. I personally can only take so much Ross-painting (as I don’t necessarily pursue ‘realism’ in comics), but it works really well in Kingdom Come. It works better than his earlier artwork in Marvels. Ross’ colors are at their necessary levels throughout the book. Everything is conveyed with a sense of real-ness to it. Ross poured a ton of energy into the book and it really shows.

Kingdom Come is a book I’d recommend to every fan of, or someone interested in, superhero comics (regardless if they’re a DC fan). It’s definitely something that deserves to be to read for the demographic. The narrative is compelling and interesting. The art is strong, with a heavy emphasis on realism. Without a doubt, Kingdom Come is the best of what ‘Elseworlds’ has to offer.

Kingdom Come is owned by DC Comics. Both Mark Waid and Alex Ross contributed to writing, Ross serves as artist.

Birds of Prey: Of Like Minds-A Review

June 1, 2012 1 comment

I’ve had the first volume of Gail Simone’s Birds of Prey sitting on my shelf for months now needing to be read. I had enjoyed the beginnings of her Secret Six run and I’ve heard good things about Birds of Prey, so I was excited to finally getting around to read it. In the end though, my expectations didn’t become fulfilled. Why?

In terms of its narrative, there isn’t anything too wrong with Birds of Prey: Of Like Minds. While there are some weak moments here and there it was good enough to follow along. While I don’t think it matched the caliber of storytelling that the early trades of Secret Six had, it felt unique enough to get attention and I can see why some people like it. The first volume wasn’t enough to lure me in a hunt for more, but I am expect more as I’ve only heard good things about the run. However, this isn’t where my expectations fell flat.

In this first work of Birds of Prey writer Gail Simone worked with artist Ed Benes. And somewhere in between them (or one of them specifically, I’m really not sure) something went wrong with the panel and art direction for the series. Birds of Prey: Of Like Minds was the first time I got mad at a comic book for being overtly sexist. What comes to mind here is the plethora of booty-shot panels and showing Black Canary in an non-anatomically correct position to show off the more sexual parts of her body. When I was reading it I felt like the comic was first intending to showcase the women of the comic in a sexual manner and secondly tell a story.

No booty panel here. But this still shows the sexual objectification here.

While I’ll laugh at the absurd and criticize choices made regarding female depictions in comics, I understood that those comics were typically made for men by men. Here, at least for a substantial part of the creative effort, the work is made by both genders for what can be assumed to be women because of it’s ‘all-female cast.’ But that’s superficial. This comic is intended for men. I’ve heard excuses that Gail Simone likes to ‘make her heroines sexy,’ but the limit is pushed too far here. Birds of Prey: Of Like Minds isn’t ‘sexy,’ it’s sexist.

Birds of Prey: Of Like Minds is owned by DC Comics. It’s written by Gail Simone with penciling by Ed Benes.

LBGT Issues in Mainstream Comics [Links]

May 24, 2012 Leave a comment

After posting my most recent post on LBGT issues in mainstream comics I decided to create a space for collecting link related to the issue. I’ll post links I find over time as well as any that people send me (so please do!). I’ll post some brief description about it and the link itself.

Comics Alliance: “Betting Odds on DC’s New Gay Character”

This article is a good example of satire/parody of the typical musings in reaction to comic news announcements. These sort of articles, especially on topics like LBGT issues draw away from the importance of the issue, in that aspect, this particular article is terrific because it understands the importance and pokes fun more at those who muse on such things.

Comic Book Resource: “One Million Moms Target DC, Marvel”

This is more of a look at the reactionary voices towards the issue. While I personally believe it’s important to understand the feeling of oppression and means of resistance, it’s also important to understand reactionary voices (even if you don’t agree), because it’s simple ignorance if you don’t. It’s also a launch pad for larger critical thinking and study on the subject.

The Gutters: #297

Ryan Sohmer’s Gutters webcomic has always amused me in some of its playful criticisms of the comics industry. It has a consistency of tongue-in-cheek humor on most issues. However, when I read the descriptions below I find myself disagreeing more than agreeing. In this case I feel there is some misdirection. It feels more like the musing that the Comics Alliance poked fun at. Also, there’s a significant other comics on LBGT comics before. I’ll let it up to you to construe Sohmer’s criticisms.

 

MORE LINKS TO COME IN THE FUTURE. PLEASE SEND THEM TO ME.

 

Categories: comics, links collection Tags: , , , ,

A Comic Opinion: Depictions of the LBGT in Mainstream Comics

May 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Of late I’ve been really interested in representations, writings, and visual depictions of marginalized groups in art mediums, comics specifically. It’s a topic I feel like isn’t really properly addressed by the comics community on the scale that criticisms are made of other art mediums. It seems ironic that the news items most heavily picked up by mainstream news media regarding the mainstream comics community involves treatments of marginalized voices, but the comics community itself doesn’t spend nearly as much on the matter. Last years’ announcement of introducing Miles Morales, a black latino mix, as the new Ultimate Spider-Man received a good amount of attention. And yesterday, the announcement of the ‘gay marriage’ of Marvel’s Northstar character and his boyfriend, as well as DC’s announcement of one of the New 52 characters as ‘turning gay’ in the upcoming months also provided much discussion. With these recent announcements made by both Marvel and DC yesterday I felt that it was about time for me to start talking about it. In this case, giving a sense of where gay characters began, about depictions of homosexuality in mainstream comics (specifically Marvel and DC), why now, and what does this all mean.

The image accompanying Marvel’s announcement

Well, the easy part to answer is the emergence of LBGT characters within the main universes of DC and Marvel. If any individual is to be given credit for adding a homosexual character into mainstream comics it was writers Steve Englehart and Joe Staton with the introduction of Extraño in 1987 with the series’ Millennium and New Guardians. The character was not only foreign, but made very effeminate in what is a perceived stereotype of homosexuals in mass media. Those same series also contained a fellow character, Jet, who contracted HIV/AIDS. The point to make about these characters is less their inclusion, but the depictions of homosexuality. Both Extraño and Jet were stereotypes of homosexuals in the late 1980s. The stereotyping of the former is one that persists in mass media today with such shows as Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Whereas, the characterization of Jet is important to understand as its a byproduct of conceptions and fears of HIV/AIDS and the homosexual community (in this case spreading rapidly via cuts). As such the depictions of Extraño and Jet can be largely be seen in the same line as the depictions in other media formats. Since then, DC has largely put homosexual characters into supporting roles. This has changed only slightly, with characters such as Renee Montoya taking a central role in Gotham Central and 52. It’s only with the recent announcement of a main character of the DC 52 becoming gay has the company given significant attention to the issue.

Extrano, DC’s first and most flamboyant gay character

Marvel, on the other hand, has a far more complex history to it. In the 1980s, Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter forbid any homosexual characters in the Marvel universe. In the ’90s this was slightly lessened allowing for LBGT characters, but comics had to have an ‘Adults Only’ label printed on them that heavily featured these characters. Even in these series there wasn’t much intimacy between homosexual characters and the rating label largely stemmed from the fact that these characters had a separate sexual orientation than the content of the comics. While DC’s depictions were originally based off stereotyping of homosexuals, Marvel’s publishing (or lack thereof) was largely reactionary. While Shooter’s legacy was controversial in Marvel itself, his attitudes to homosexuals didn’t define the general Marvel policies, especially given the adult ratings in the ’90s. It was around this period that Marvel began to introduce openly gay characters into their universe, often taking supportive, yet prominent roles in team serials. In George Haggerty’s Encyclopedia of Gay Histories and Cultures he states that Marvel’s inclusion of homosexuals, when compared to DC, was “less prolific but more deliberate.” This can be evidenced in the recent announcement of Northstar’s ‘gay marriage.’

But why is this happening now?

Well, the most obvious answer to that is that the issue of gay marriage has entered public conscious at a massive level in the past few years. Regardless, of your standing in a political spectrum and your level of access to current dissemination of news media, you’ve probably heard of trends in gay marriage politics, as well as likely carrying your own opinion on the matter. The reason Marvel is doing this now is because the issue is at its height of consciousness and with President Obama’s approval of it, has an easier time of accessing the comic purchasing demographic (as well as a few extra readers interested in the subject). The other part of this announcement is the relative obscurity of the character. Northstar is a character small enough that he isn’t known by mainstream society and could be missed by comic readers who don’t happen to read the series’ he is in. His marriage to his boyfriend carries little weight in the whole of the Marvel universe. But, it carries symbolism.

Dan DiDio and DC: Not sure where to go on the issue

While the Marvel announcement is definitely provoking and interesting in regards to the heavy amount of news attention it has received, DC’s announcement of a new ‘gay’ character that was previously ‘straight’ is the real case that needs to be examined. DC has yet to reveal which particular character is ‘turning gay,’ though, that matters little in the overall meaning of it all. Last year, Dan DiDio stated in an interview with the LBGT magazine The Advocate:

“One of the things we’re very focused on doing for these types of stories is rather than [change an existing] character, we want to make sure that this is the basis of who that character is right from the start. So if we’re going to introduce a gay character in Teen Titans, we want to make it a new character and make sure that is an iatrical [integral was probably the word intended here] part of who he is, or who she is, right from the start so we can really lean and grow with her or him.”

Of course, the recent decision by DiDio and DC is probably a mixture of influences from the Marvel announcement, changes of LBGT issues in the political atmosphere, and the growing concern of diversity (of race, gender, and now sexual orientations) in mainstream comics today. But, is it alright to have a character ‘turn gay?’ By this I mean, follow DiDio’s rhetoric and try to avoid and develop a LBGT character from their creation rather than ‘making them homosexual.’ Yes, it’s possible for there to be an explanation of changes in orientation (a vast majority of the LBGT supporting characters are bisexual, a result of possible orientation retconning), but it doesn’t give much attention to the community itself.

Renee Montoya is probably my favorite depiction of LBGTs in mainstream comics

What mainstream comics need is a character who is intended to be homosexual or transgender, and potentially openly so. It’s quite possible to also make this a part of the development of the character amongst their relationships (mostly non-romantic) and their fellow heroes. Renee Montoya remains my favorite depiction of an LBGT character in mainstream comics as her orientation is involved in thoughtful ways in the main narrative and is explored via the relationship with her family. There is a reason why most of Marvel’s homosexual characters are mutants, because it gives them more than one level of discrimination to deal with.

Complexity of sexuality and the importance of orientation differences is important to convey to readers to create a healthy comic readership. While these new announcements have the potential to grow into something else, they are most likely receiving mass attention because of other debates regarding LBGT issues in contemporary society. Comics have the potential to become a vehicle in aiding the transition from an era of stereotyping and reactionism (as seen in the ’80s and ’90s) to a dynamic system of orientations.

 

[Note: This is my first time discussing issues in the LBGT community and marginalized images in comics. Please give me feedback on approach for possible future discussions. I would to hear/read it.]

Batman Dark Victory: A Review

February 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Over half a year ago I reviewed Batman: The Long Halloween (you can find that review here), a few months later I got around to reading its sequel Batman: Dark Victory. It shares the same creative team for both works. First off, for those interested in the work, The Long Halloween is a must read to understand what’s going on in this comic since it’s a direct sequel. Because of that this review is going to be focused on the comparisons to its predecessor.

In terms of the art, Tim Sale’s work in Dark Victory is comparable to his work in The Long Halloween.  The artwork plays strong on exaggeration. It gives the piece a sort of expressionistic feel to it. In some ways this gives the comic a film noir feel to it. There are a lot of panels that use expressionist tendencies on playing between light and darkness. Like The Long Halloween, the character designs are exaggerated to a large extent that can be distracting at times. For example, Batman has a muscle mass that isn’t that realistic, the same applies to the Joker’s jaw which exceeds a non-reasonable anatomical limit. But these are all choices done for the purposes of adding atmosphere to the piece and for the most part they work. They add the elements to the narrative that they need to do.

While the art is arguably a carry-over from The Long Halloween, it’s the narrative that has the strongest connection. Again, the narrative is a direct sequel to the predecessor. Without spoiling the plot of the other piece, it can be said that Dark Victory does a good job of continuing on the story. I appreciated that it minimalized elements from The Long Halloween that I found to be redundant and didn’t really add to the story. For the most part the narrative that continues the story is really strong. In many ways the narrative form is more organized and effective than it was in The Long Halloween. That’s not saying that this story has its flaws. My biggest complaint in the story is the addition of the Robin origin to the Batman mythos. I found that it didn’t really fit in well with the rest of the story. It often derailed what else was going on. On the whole though, the narrative is solid is on par with The Long Halloween.

With all that said I would recommend Dark Victory for those who liked what they read in The Long Halloween and haven’t read Dark Victory yet. It’s a worthy addition into the Batman canon and both comics should be read by any fans of the character, or those who looking for some good superhero comics.

Batman is owned by DC Comics. Batman: Dark Victory is written by Jeph Loeb with art by Tim Sale.

Categories: comics, review Tags: , , , ,

Comic Catch-Up #2

October 3, 2011 Leave a comment

I decided to this segment of Comic Catch-Up on two single issues that have been released in the past month; Blue Beetle #1 and Dollhouse: Epitahs #3. Both comics touch a different demographic, so if you’re more interested in reading about one more than the other, feel free to do so.

This issue of the Blue Beetle is part of the larger new 52 issues marking the beginning of the new DC universe after the reboot in late August/early September. So far, it’s the only issue I’ve read from the new issues. My attraction to this particular issue was because Blue Beetle was a character I became a big fan of during his previous 36 issue run. When reading this issue I felt that more than anything else, this issue was trying to invoke the previous series. For a fan of the prior series you can see the same thread lines. It’s a not a carbon copy of the previous series’ introduction, but a good summation of how the other run began in general. This appears mostly in the characters, because the plot is a quick introduction, and also different from the previous series. For the most part this issue is very introductory, an homage to fans of the character already and a quick intro to those unfamiliar with the character.

For those that followed my previous blog (or read it on thatguywiththeglasses website) you would know that I’ve been following this mini-series from its beginning. While I had reservations about the original one-shot, I’ve been enjoying the mini-series after that a lot. It’s a comic that is definitely for fans of the TV show. It’s really hard to talk about the comic without spoiling prior issues. Talking about it generally though it does a good job of building off the prior issues. It feels like the stronger episodes of the television series. If you’ve watched the show I recommend giving this series a shot, it’s worth it.

Both issues were a good read. Blue Beetle for its renewal of a great character, and a TV show that is getting a proper continuation in comic form. If you are a fan of either I recommend giving them a shot.

 

Next Comic Catch-Up I’ll be looking at Craig Thompson’s Habibi and Guy Delisle’s Pyongyang: A Journey Into North Korea.