Posted by: Abhay Khosla on July 31, 2007
Three comic books. What do they mean? Why do you want to hear stories about any of this stuff? What does which one we like say about what they mean to us, or what our time means to us, or what Chinese words mean, or what we mean to each other?
Why are they useful? Like: what is the fundamental utility of this crap from a hunter-gatherer perspective? No matter how much society tries to counter-program our survival impulse, we’re biologically programmed to strive to compete and succeed. So, from an evolutionary perspective: how do they help you survive better than competitive organisms? Or if they don’t, do we lack fitness because we’re spending Competing Time so frivolously? You can say “I just want something that entertains me” but does being entertained in this particular way make you smarter, faster, cooler, more popular, more successful? Bottom-line: if you had to kill a deer, right now, with your hands– could you snap a deer’s neck with your bare hands? Or if you were walking down the street, and a fucking elk came charging at you, could you drop that elk with a kung-fu chop to the elk’s forehead, and then pass your genetic information into the elk’s womb, and give birth to a new species of man-elk hybrid? Do you think the Melk would be able to conquer all before them in an orgy of blood and horns? I’m all out of bubblegum.
“I just want something that entertains me”– sure, but lots of things would entertain you. You could watch that AMC show Mad Men. You could watch pornography. You could make a Works bomb using household chemicals and scare your neighbors. You could take phencyclidine aka PCP, Angel Dust, Supergrass, Gorilla Pills, Killer Weed, DOA, Embalming Fluid, Purple Rain, and break into your neighbor’s house and tie them to their beds before they can do anything and scream the plot of NEW AVENGERS issue #32 into their faces while they struggle to get free. You and I, Internet, and the fun we’ll have, high on Rocket Fuel, scaring neighbors, doing home invasions, eating out of garbage cans, reading NEW AVENGERS to each other on freight trains, violently sexing one another outside of an abandoned Toy Factory in Gary, Indiana, while genital-less action figures watch from the windows and judge us, while the rain falls down and washes away all of our transgressions, just like out of a Billy Joel song, a gutteral ancient Billy Joel song sung only in Hell.
Three comics; three approaches:
(1) SUPERGIRL AND THE LEGION OF SUPERHEROES#31: I ran out of anything to say four weeks ago, and I only read this comic three weeks ago. The visual presentation is cleanly presented, though characters often pose in obscure, weightless ways (the Legion of Superheroes is fond of jazz-hands). It’s not heavy on detail and I can’t say it conveys much power or energy– there’s little flourish; it’s very straightforward. But DC was never comfortable with Kirby, if you know what I mean.
There’s nothing that keeps DC from imitating NEW AVENGERS‘s success characterwise– there’s nothing that keeps the LSH from being a team of future versions of DC’s most popular characters. Future Batman, Future Superman, Future Flash, etc. Nothing but a Persian army of angry fans sure to set fire to comic stores everywhere, but it’s interesting how with all these garish events by DC– all the rapings and killings and munging– how you pick up a DC book at random: it could be 1962, 1978, 1983, 1991. Nothing indicates you’re in our time but computer colors, different paper, ads for the “video games” the kids like.
SLOSH #31 doesn’t satisfy the current DC mission statement, no: nobody dies, nobody cries, someone’s getting fired. That big boring DC DNA, one helix of yawn stranded to one helix of timid– it survives no matter what stunts they pull. Is that comforting or discomforting? Both?
(2) NEW AVENGERS #32: would-be summer movie blockbuster modern; to-the-extreme panel layouts; decent Dave McCaig colors; unnecessary sound effects– three different fonts on one page! So you get your money’s worth! Little tiny lines! Cliffhangers! Paranoia about women! War on terror metaphors! I am so, so old! Too old! I just want! A cup of tea! A nap! My! Life! Went! By! So! Fast! Meant! So! Little!!!
Marvel’s always been more comfortable with more youthful art, more energetic art than what SLOSH puts forward. Do I consistently understand what I’m looking at in NA #32? Not really, but I think the kids like guessing which panel to read next– you get more for your money that way. I liked crazier stuff than this when I was a kid…
The Skrulls thing … I’m not in the mood to complain about that this week– I’m still in recovery from having attended the Masque of the Red Death San Diego Edition 2007. Maybe next week but I don’t want to do that whole “No, no, not that, wrong, Not that! ” fan-mantra. That way fans can have a ‘perfect high” moment that they want to be impossibly recreated—I just spent the weekend surrounded by it … Do you ever think it’s not an accident a cartoonist wrote the final scene of Carnal Knowledge?
(3) And COLD HEAT #1– drawn in dark purple ink, then drenched in blue and pink colored pencil. Panels wash into one another; the drawings respond to the emotions of the characters rather than create them; dialogue is expository and opaque seemingly at the same time; unnecessary lettering floats about.
There’s a theory in film criticism– I think I’ve heard it attributed to Jean-Luc Godard– that if a film looks like a status quo movie, then the audience will treat it as reinforcing the status quo however much the film might try to didactically argue against the status quo. You ever heard that one? I’m not sure if that applies here or not– I just wanted to name-drop Godard. You like Wittgenstein? Yeah: I went to college. Check me out.
The first issue of COLD HEAT— in making these artistic choices, does it jolt the audience out of their normal experience and force them to re-experience material in a fresh way? Or is that just a big bunch of rhetorical nonsense to hide an absence of craft? Maybe I’m snowed because I think the colors are super-neat, but I personally tend to the former. But it’s art-gallery-interesting to me, interesting in how it was conceived, how it invites me to think about its creation. Which—is that its own sort of pornography, you know?
So: what’s the fundamental purpose of a comic book? Which of these three books satisfy that purpose?
Is it to deliver beloved comic book characters? By that standard, SLOSH wins—you get the most characters. Or is the purpose to deliver you into an artist’s vision? COLD HEAT wins at that. Is it just to excite the humors? NA succeeds well enough at that. Is it that there is no purpose, and the universe is cold and empty, without significance but for whatever trivial meaning we impose upon it, p.s. God is dead, so let’s snort crank and scare the neighbors? By that standard, ACCORDING TO JIM wins. Specifically the episode “Jim’s Birthday”: “Jim tries everything in his power (including Andy) to sabotage the birthday party Cheryl threw for him.” See, the birthday party symbolizes birth, but the sabotage symbolizes death, and Cheryl, Jim’s “wife,” symbolizes the urge to procreate; thus, Jim by trying to sabotage his wife, is expressing a desire to undo his own birth, to undo his own creation. According to Jim, God is dead. p.s. Andy symbolizes hilarity.
So, yeah: basically, I want art that can “win” and beat other art, while I sit on the sidelines and rate who wins. Good. Ass. Excellent. Eh. I want a FANTASTIC FOUR comic book that can hold your CHECKMATE comic book down and prison rape it. Is that normal? In prison, it is. And aren’t we all in prison? Like, because society’s a prison, dude? Let’s just be all deep and shit.
NEXT WEEK: Some other comic, finally, finally, finally!