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Abhay Briefly Mentions Doctor 13, then Babbles Melodramatically

Abhay Khosla

“Don’t Tase Me, Bro.”

You know that video, right? John Kerry gets asked three pretty reasonable questions by some obnoxious shithead kid, yaddah yaddah yaddah, and the kid’s getting an assful of taser despite saying quite clearly “Don’t tase me, Bro.” Which– this is Dissent in America right now. We’re in the middle of losing two completely shitty wars; the country’s being run by these psychopathic incompetents; almost every single person I know for the last 7 years has been saying, “Where’s the dissent? Why aren’t there riots? Where are the student activists?”

And we got our answer: we got some shitty hippie yelling “Don’t Tase Me, Bro.”

Last week, DC released a book called DOCTOR 13: ARCHITECTURE AND MORTALITY by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang, which was an adventure story featuring out-of-fashion DCU characters. And um… yeah: It was a very nice comic book, well executed by its creators. Cliff Chiang’s art is consistently pleasurable; Azzarello’s script is light-on-its-feet and assured; etc., etc. I don’t know– what do you want to know? I liked it. Thumbs up. Blue Ribbon. Three and a half stars.

Anyways, it’s the latest comic in the genre of “Comics Have Abandoned Their Charming Past, and the Present is Therefore Fucked” stories. Which… let’s give that genre a name. Something with “core” in it somewhere– I just think we need a “core” around here. Music has joycore and hardcore. Movies have mumblecore. Artists didn’t create those horrible names; critics did. No artist wanted those terms applied to their art; Will Ferrell didn’t want to be in the fucking Frat Pack; Andrew McCarthy didn’t want to be in the Brat Pack; being shoegazer wasn’t going to help you get groupies. I want a fucking “core”, man.

The Godfather of the genre is doubtlessly Alan Moore and Don Simpson’s Pictopia, the premise of which was that the charming past of comics was being destroyed by the grim & gritty present of mainstream comics. Also: the finale of Grant Morrison and Chas Truog’s Animal Man, one premise of which was that the charming past of comics was being destroyed by the grim & gritty present of mainstream comics. Mark Waid & Alex Ross’s Kingdom Come— the premise was that the charming past of comics was being destroyed by the grim & gritty present of mainstream comics. And so forth. Now we can include the pleasantly-titled Doctor 13: Architecture & Mortality to the list.

It’s sort of a silly genre in a way. People who care about how charmless and talentless DCU comics in the present are? Stopped reading them, or at least I’d hope they have as that’s clearly the most rational response. I’d like to think I’ve outgrown them, because I’m so mature and shit, but my affection for World War Hulk probably indicates otherwise. But I don’t personally have a horse in the race. Doctor 13 was a get for me based on Azzarello and Chiang’s work (separately) at Vertigo, but I couldn’t guess if that’s true of the book’s entire audience or not.

On the surface, the genre might seem like it’s trying to talk about how charming and nice the mainstream comics your Grampa was reading were, but that’s not really it, is it? It’s more about impotently grumbling about the present, than celebrating the past. It’s the impotence that’s starting to stand out as the defining characteristic to me. These works all fail. However good Pictopia is (fuck, dude, it’s awfully good), the mainstream audience didn’t really care about what Alan Moore was saying. Mainstream comics just get more and more coarse. Think back to Pictopia— grim & gritty back then was that Hal Jordan knocked back one color-tini too many, every now and then. My god, if that’s as bad as it got nowadays at DC, who would even notice?

And if it got that much worse from Pictopia (circa 1986) to now, how much worse is it going to get? In the future, every comic book will be about Hentai-Batman’s Neverending War on Horniness. Tony Stark is going to be a well-hung dick-girl in 5.8 years; prove me wrong, internet. In the future, Shiwasu No Okina is your new Jim Lee, fanboys. That’s my guess anyway. If I were a betting man, I’d bet it all on dick-girls.

It’s hard to know when to complain or if complaints are even valid. Many complaints I might have should in theory apply with equal force to work I do enjoy, if taken out of context (see, e.g., Batman Year One). I’m sure everyone’s trying their hardest; I would guess at least some of these ideas sounded good on paper. I think grim & gritty’s pretty great in the right time and place; I think it’s dramatically helped Marvel, at the moment. And I’m not someone who wrings their hands for “the children”– I remember that something a little too old for me would be precisely the kind of material I’d be drawn to as a kid. I’d like to think I’m sympathetic. Still: I won’t get near a DCU comic right now unless Grant Morrison or Brian Azzarello’s name is on it. I’d be afraid of getting a rash. I’d be afraid it’s spreading. So I don’t know– what does that tell you?

I once wrote a review complaining about a crappy, sloppy DC book; it wasn’t a very well-written review– it was actually pretty shitty– but then all these people just linked to it anyways, which I thought was really strange. And what I realized from the experience is at most, I’d only helped the book just by talking about it, even if all I had to say was “look how incompetently this was made”. I was adding to the “buzz.” I was helping to make it a “talked-about” book.

But if you do complain about a book, the best case scenario: you become part of the marketing; you become complicit. Lingerie-Girl kills Green Arrow; Red Tornado fucks a chicken; the Teen Titans have a Christmas scat party– whatever Judd Winick thinks up next? You just end up helping it. And that’s the best case scenario; because the run of the mill is however eloquently you complain, you get drowned out by the great big background noise of angry lunatics, yelling about Hawkeye or bingo cards or the Manstream or whatever slice of crazy du jour. So, Marvel can publish women getting raped by octopuses on their covers, and instead of asking Joe Quesada anything meaningful (e.g. “Holy shit, why are there women getting raped by octopuses on your covers?”), the story coutesy of spineless Newsarama becomes “Look how the crazy fans are overreacting again; awww, Gumpus” instead.

You’re just some guy screaming “Don’t Tase Me, Bro.”

I enjoyed Doctor 13: Architecture & Mortality— it’s a well made book. But seeing talented people spit in the wind– it’s talented spit, but my point is the wind’s a motherfucker. Basically. That’s my point. I’m going to go embroider that onto a pillow.

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