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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.

NARG: The Fuzzy Pickle Diaries #2

September 7, 2012 Leave a comment

Last time I posted, I discussed the idea of the journey sensed by the player in Earthbound. This time I wanted to be a little direct with my experience with the game. Again, here’s some Earthbound music while you read:

On the surface, the gameplay of Earthbound is nothing out of this world. The battle system feels standard for an RPG of the mid-90s, but at the same time it stands apart. While playing I had to reconstruct my methods of playing games so that I could be success within the game. This extends far beyond the ‘retro factor’ of Earthbound, but largely into the game itself and the ways it deliberately makes itself different from other RPGs.

It’s hard to stay mad at this guy.

In many ways, its easy to be frustrated with the gameplay of Earthbound if you’re not familiar with the style of games from 20 years ago. There is no quick guide to explaining how everything works, where to go, what to do, etc (well, there is if you bought it new). It’s very open-ended and challenged me to reconstruct how I needed to play the game. I very well understand that this is a turn-off for modern gamers playing retro games, but it’s a skill useful in accessing many games, retro or not.

It took me a while to reconstruct myself while playing the game. I continued on, streamlining my progression, missing the second ‘Sanctuary’ boss of the game-only discovering I had done so when I was well on my way to defeating the third ‘Sanctuary boss. What was my grand punishment for this mistake? Nothing. I repeat, nothing. In an era where games are driven by accomplishing goals before moving onto the next obstacle (or sometimes defying to have any or little goals whatsoever), all of which I am used to now, I had to change. This little mistake, of no major consequence, was a realization I had to play differently. With this experience it soon became easy to jump in.

THE BANE OF MY EXISTENCE

Of course, this isn’t the first RPG I’ve played of the SNES era. Chrono Trigger is one of my favorite games, and I’ve put my time in Final Fantasy IV and VI. The games that served as the epitome for the console’s line of RPGs. Still, I was initially frustrated by Earthbound‘s gameplay. Battle system-wise was all familiar to other turn based RPGs of the era. The item inventory and menu system, while not identical, was still fairly reminiscent of other similar games. But what really got to me was the way that status ailments and item usage worked. Both of these are staples of the genre, but they played out so differently. When Ness got paralyzed or possessed for the first time I thought, “Hey, I’ll just heal him or use this item and–” Much to my dismay this did not work. Unlike other RPGs, in Earthbound it is far more difficult to treat status ailments in the game’s beginning. It requires a trip to hospital, as much as it would in reality, or very specific items (that aren’t given as freely as other RPGs). While this eases later on, it’s something you need to prepare for and rethink your strategy.

In this regard, Earthbound was a wake-up at how I play games. Well, it may simplistic by today’s ‘complex and superior’ gameplay, the style is something that must be accepted. It works splendidly in the own rules it sets for itself. It simply is what it is.

Am I missing a topic on Earthbound that you want to hear about? Let me know in the comment section or shoot me an e-mail at ‘nalvicreviews@gmail.com’

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.]

A Comic Opinion: The Marvel vs. DC Debate

September 23, 2011 1 comment

Any comic fan has more than likely at one point in their comic fandom been involved in the debate on which is the better company, Marvel or DC. I’ve participated in this argument on several different occasions myself. But in the most recent instance of this debate that I personally experienced I noticed many of the paradoxes and weak points at the debate’s core. What do I mean by this? Well…

…One must look at what characterizes the debate itself. Typically the primary argument in the debate tends to be the preferences in the superheroes belonging to one particular franchise. It’s interesting to see that the more hard-lined debaters argue which company is better, with an admiration of one company’s heroes and ignoring the other. By this logic, one can be only a Justice League fan, but not an Avengers fan. The same applies with the X-Men and the Teen Titans (as explained by their parallel success in the 1980s). People who take a softer line in this debate can find characters they like in both companies, but tend to give their allegiances to one company over another. The latter of which being closer to a dissolution of the debate. ‘The final stage’ being one who can consciously find enjoyment with material from both companies.

As a comic reader I’ve seen myself go through all three ‘stages’ (in the order I mentioned them), and when I self-reflect about my experience in these varying ideologies I find that the debate isn’t filled that much by a simple preference in characters. Rather, there are two primary factors I believe contribute to the overall debate. The first being how someone is introduced into comic books. For the average comic fan their introduction is typically limited to an exposure to one particular comic company, be it from picking up an issue in the store or watching an animated series (comic adapted movies are adding more to this, especially for older readers just starting to read comics). After that initial exposure most readers tend to stick with that one company that they started with. That company serves as a sort of’ comic nostalgia,’ being responsible in some fashion for piquing the interest in comics. When I reflect upon myself I find this to be true, as I had my first exposure to a particular comic company and their characters, and remained invested in them solely until only the past few years. This primary introduction to comics is important for establishing the bias of most readers. As for those who had a double exposure and read both Marvel and DC, well, good for you.

While the previous point is somewhat of a gimme, my second reason (a hypothesis of mine) is not so much. I consider that most criticisms in the Marvel/DC argument are aimed at the competing company practices and how stories tend to pan out. Most individuals making these criticisms are the hard-liners primarily sticking to their respective company only, or, have that comic nostalgia for a particular company. The biggest irony of this is that both companies essentially struggle with the same issues. They both have convoluted storylines, an overbearing love of a ‘status quo,’ editorial conflicts, and mixed production values. You can find all of these issues in both companies. For those who like to adhere to a single company I feel they’re often too blinded by this dedication to a company to see the same flaws that they accuse the other company for. As someone who is slowly distancing themselves to the single company dedication I can see this more clearly, and while I do love material from both companies, I feel there are overall infrastructure issues that plague all the larger comic companies. This is the point more than anything else that makes me feel like the whole Marvel vs. DC debate is redundant. Both companies produce quality works and have good characters, but they suffer from nearly the same issues (I’ll probably touch on these issues in a later article).

As time goes on I feel like there’s an increasing number of exceptions towards the debate. Mostly I see this as a byproduct of the many quality comic book movies being made from Marvel and DC characters. And while one company has a clear edge in the overall production of their films (not naming names) there is a general interest of fans from both parties on the films of characters for the company. It’s a sign of hope for a dissolution of the Marvel vs. DC debate. However, I feel the ‘What company is better?’ debate will be a matter of contention as long as both companies continue publishing material.

This has been a comic opinion. Until next.

Categories: comics Tags: , , , ,

A comic opinion: the announced DC Universe Reboot

June 1, 2011 1 comment

It was announced today that DC comics was going to relaunch its most popular characters at the end of August. This follows after the company’s current crossover event Flashpoint, as well as a number of other series ending at the same time. Until today it was only speculated what the company had planned, but most suggested the reboot. And that appears to be the case. I wanted to take the time and look at this decision, its reasoning, and the implications of the announcement.

Before I talk about these things I wanted to talk about the current continuity. While DC has been around for around 75 years, the current continuity is only 25 years old. In 1985, DC released Crisis on Infinite Earths which served to eliminate confusing continuity, as well the multiverses of DC’s publications. This served two purposes. First, to eliminate the aforementioned issues of their prior continuity from allowing for newer readers. Second, by rebooting their universe and making accessible, DC could more readily compete with Marvel with sales.  It was more of a marketing ploy, which took the front seat, than a storytelling one. With that, the upcoming DC reboot.

The reboot planned after DC’s current crossover event, Flashpoint, has some of same reasoning of that from the Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot. Since 2002 DC comics have been outsold by Marvel comics. The marketing aspect of this reboot decision is evident. To become #1. Along with this reboot DC plans to simultaneously release all their released issues available both in print and digitally (digital comics is totally different subject). Like in the ’80s, DC plans to use younger versions of its characters, without the continuity backlog, in order to attract more readers. In the age when film adaptations of comic books is becoming more successful in the box office, critically accepted, and to an extent, less of a niche to read comics. Of course pairing these new DC stories with the popularity of the film iterations of their characters is a wise marketing decision. But is it wise to undergo this transformation in their main universe?

In 2000, Marvel did something similar to the proposed DC reboot. Sort of. Instead of rebooting their main series Marvel created a separate imprint, the ‘Ultimate’ line, which had younger version of their characters, starting them out from scratch, but also continued the main continuity of their main titles (Marvel has yet to make a total reboot in 50 or so years). While there was some flaws in some of the storytelling (but what comic series is perfect?), there were some absolute gems. Ultimate Spider-Man (one of my favorite superhero comic series) was not only well written, but popular, often outselling the main Amazing Spider-Man series. Even though the main portion of the Ultimate Marvel universe ended with the travesty of Ultimatum the imprint has remained successful. It existed separately from the main Marvel series, but also attracted new readers to the company. In my opinion this is the correct way to go about this. While DC tried this, to an extent, with the All Star line-up (which flopped, despite the general appreciation of All Star Superman) it seems they’re not going to do this in September with the reboot.  But that will have some strong effects on the works produced in their current continuity.

Since Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC has produced what is most likely their strongest works in their time. As you can probably tell by the last section, I tend to favor Marvel, but that’s because that’s what I grew up with and read most. Even still I have great respect with the stronger DC works in their current continuity. I’ve already expressed my strong liking on this blog for the most recent run on the Blue Beetle character, Gotham Central, and Batman: The Long Halloween (there will be another such review later this week). Beyond this are the quintessential Batman: Year One (one of my favorite comics), The Dark Knight Returns, and most notable, Watchmen. All of these fall under the current continuity that DC will potentially make less important with the reboot. All of these works are great, but they won’t be given the same attention (except Watchmen) with a new continuity. While comic book sales are lower than they have been for the longest time, the writing is amazingly strong throughout. These are the works that inspire the popular superhero films. It shouldn’t be vice versa (though the new continuity writers should follow the films if they want more attention).

Not only does a reboot devalue these works, it disenfranchises the current readership. There is a great deal of dedicated readers who enjoy the DC Universe just the way it currently is. Changing up the continuity too much could potentially isolate those who are so dedicated towards the DC Universe. Without this demographic DC wouldn’t even #2 in comic sales. It’s important to respect the readers, who they like to see. Linkara (whose blog is linked at the bottom) recently said that one of the best parts about continuities is discovering the characters at random than simply reading a character from beginning to end. For Linkara that’s one of the great things about superhero comics. While I can see the allure of reading a character’s story in some kind of order I do like the lengthy, sometimes frustratingly confusing, continuity. It’s a part of the culture of superhero comics.

If the announced DC reboot is going to be successful it’ll limit the amount of continuity changes. It will treat both new readers and old readers with equal respect. It would be nice if the prior continuity could be continued in some fashion. If DC ignores these things the new reboot could be a total disaster. Crisis on Infinite Earths managed to reboot their franchise, but do so in the right fashion, but we’ll have to wait until September (or longer) to see if the new reboot does the same.

This has been a comic opinion. Until next.

 

Also, they shouldn’t mess with Batman’s origin story. Seriously.

Categories: comics, opinion Tags: , , , ,