Over on his blog, John Rogers wrote about last years run of American Comics. It wasn't a glowing write up, and can be best summed up as a year of depressing stories, and stupid plot devices hinging on dumb heroes and insane female villains.
I've read about sixty percent of what Rogers lists, and the only thing I'll disagree with him on is the Ultimates, which I thought was a big, Sunday afternoon buzz. Big explosions, laughs, and Freddie Prince Jnr being chased by the Hulk. But, you know, in fairness, even I know it's not that much of a stretch for Millar. When you pick up something Millar has written, you know the kind of thing you're going to get, and it's going to be a variation of ridiculous shocks and sodomy jokes. That's why I don't read much Millar. One title a year is enough.
Still, it left me thinking about comics, especially the American market. I've been reading books from that market for a fuck of a long time now. I go in and pick up new comics every couple of weeks. I've usually digested them in an afternoon. None of that will be a surprise to anyone who has read this blog for a while. I like my comics, but in the last couple of years, the number of titles I read on a monthly basis have dropped dramatically. Some of this is because of the strong trade market that is out there. For the first time in years, I've actually found that I can follow a series in collections and not worry about them never being finished, like Garth Ennis and John McCrea's Hitman. (Finish collecting the damn series!) These days, when a well reviewed series like Y: the Last Man begins to be collected, there's a strong chance it'll finish in trades. Plus, a lot of books like Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso's 100 Bullets reading better in trades than in single issues.
Still, I'm even buying collections less. Indeed, when I did my write up of comics worth reading last year, I only had two. But I'm not going to focus on collections, and instead focus on the monthly market. Is the problem like Rogers claims, and comics have become depressing and boring and kind of stupid?
Here are my thoughts on a couple of monthly series I read.
Originally, I was really into Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming's Powers. A police procedure series in a city of superpowered people, it wasn't an original concept, but Bendis writes fantastic dialogue, and made his name with crime comics like Jinx and AKA Goldfish, so while not original in concept, it had the trademark stylings of Bendis to overcome this. From the art point of view, Oeming's art is a bit flat for my tastes, but it worked in the series, and it was one of the titles I really liked reading on a monthly basis. I was there for the storyline that is referred to as Monkey Fucking, and I liked that... but then the series moved away from Image and into Marvel and, I don't know, it went stupid. Now everyone has superpowers, and Bendis has spent what feels like a couple of years putting Deena Pilgrim, his main female character, through a series of pointless mind rapes. Now, a couple of years later, and Deena is stuff being fucked over, and now has powers, and the characterisation has dropped off with the strong plotting. Indeed, the issues no longer flow together to the point that I keep thinking I've missed one whenever I pick up a new issue. If I had to explain it, it would be that the life feels like it has drained right on out of the book. Things have only a given life span, and Powers should have ended after Monkey Fucking.
Likewise, Hellblazer feels like the life has drained out of it. John Constantine has no wit, no spark, and it makes me feel as if the Keanu movie has infected it already, is already subverting it to look and feel like the movie that will soon be unleashed on us. It's not looking like a book I'm going to be hanging onto. I mean, at issue 200, do you know what they did?
Gave him three different mid-life crisises.
Who thinks that makes interesting reading? And this is coming from Mike Carey, who writes the really solid Lucifer.
Without Alan Moore scripting and Chris Sprouse illustrating, Tom Strong has lost some of its spark as well. There have been moments of life, however, as I did enjoy the last two issues with Ed Brukaer and Duncan Fegredo's version of Strong as a bored working class slob trying to escape his life through a fantasy of being a crime fighter. But it's really a situation of why is the book still publishing when Moore has left it, just as he has left the rest of that line?
When Moore wrote it, Tom Strong had three eyed cowboys, Russian superwomen, and Strong's wife, Dhalua Strong, saying, "Tell me where my husband is, or I will tear out your womb."
It no longer has these things.
Joss Whedon and John Cassidy's Astonishing X-Men was a throw back to old style X-Men, ditching Grant Morrison's black leather cool for retro. That meant the characters lost their complexity and became old retro versions of themselves: Wolverine the brawler, Emma Frost the beautiful bitch who is just waiting for a plot line to tell her to double cross, Cyclops the leader, and Beast the scientist wanting to be a man. Oh, and Kitty Pryde was now Buffy Lite. Still, it wasn't bad, but it wasn't very good. The plots had a standard talk and fight flow to each issue, and when a villain couldn't be found, Wolverine would suddenly have a fight with one of his team mates. In four issues, he'd fought two of them, and there were only five members including him on the team. But, like I said, there are worse comics out there. You just expect more than by the numbers storytelling from Whedon.
Over in Ultimate X-Men, Brian K. Vaughan, who writes the afformentioned Y: The Last Man was breathing life into the title in the last half of the year with Andy Kubert, and showing up Whedon's run for being dull and by the numbers. The characters became more complex, the dialogue was sharper, and he was willing to push the characters a bit further. Indeed, the Cry Wolf storyline was probably one of monthly comics highlights, but that's probably a backhanded compliment.
The Transformer comics came to a crashing end last year with the publisher going under. I was reading a few of the titles, and while the Simon Furman scripted Dark Ages limited series had there moments, they suffered from having to tie into the Generation One continuity, which, in the Gen 1 comic--called Transformers--meant that there was an idea, but no one knew what it was. The comic was so badly written that dyslexic ten year olds must have been in charge of it. Every issue started with a full page spread, characters didn't make sense, pacing was off, and there were ridiculous pauses for giant robots to fight for five pages that had nothing to do with the plot. Still, the art was beautiful, and I was still able to get a bit of joy out of giant robots kicking each other around with artist Don Figueroa.
B.P.R.D. and the Intimates
Perhaps the only two highlights of the year were B.P.R.D. and the Intimates.
B.P.R.D. was Mike Mignola and Guy Davis spinning the secondary characters off from Mignola's Hellboy. It began originally as series of mixed one shots with different artists and writers, but Mignola returned and gave the art chores to Guy Davis for the regular series, and it was nothing but good, possibly due to Davis, who brings a lush, moody horror style to the book that is perfectly suited to it. The other joy is in seeing characters like Abe Sapien and Liz have room to grow and develope, which Mignola is telling with obvious relish. Who knew Abe's story would involve old submarines with search lights running along the ocean floor and evil frog monsters?
The other title that shows promise is Joe Casey and Giuseppe Camuncoli's the Intimates, which is a series about teenage superheroes at a teenage superhero school. It doesn't sound like much, but Casey has taken an interesting footnote narrative technique that requires you to read each issue twice, once for the sequential pages, once for the footnotes, and the characters are nicely unique. They have alien puppet gloves and glowing pink bubbles over their heads and they're forced to eat food that keeps them docile, so it has its fun moments. If it had a subtitle, it would be, 'School's Shit, Fuck It Up'.
It has yet to reach the point where it's fantastic, and I don't think it will until Casey gets a handle on the footnote narrative and makes it flow smoothly with the rest of the comic, but it shows a lot of promise. Indeed, what makes it even more interesting, is that it is a comic that feels like it has been made for monthly viewing, and not to be collected into trades at a later date.
So it does look like monthly comics from America have gotten boring. There are more, of course, but I'm not going to cover everything I've read, just those that I was disappointed in (and impressed with) the most. Hopefully, some life will be returning in a big, glorious fucked up way.
Comics can be big, fucked up, glorious fun. Shit, if you're character is wearing skintight clothing, it really has to be those things.