Thursday, March 10, 2005

more on the list

I always wanted to be the kind of critic who makes slash-n-burn pronouncements, smiting the unworthy and hailing our cultural pillars. Problem is that’s not really in me. Sure I have the opinions and sometimes they go against the mainstream (Bergman? A simpleton. Saul Bellow? Tediously na├»ve.) but I’m just not that confrontational.

So I hesitated including a few of the items in my Don’t Like About Comics list. Do I really not like George Perez? (Meaning of course his work; I don’t know the first thing about him as a person.) Nah, his art is perfectly passable but it’s just not what fans think. His layers of detail and consistency of line are what grab the fans because they can see the effort on the page. For me it just makes everything static.

And what about Warren Ellis? He’s certainly one of the Good Guys, pushing the commercial limitations of comics, rethinking its possibilities, spreading gadfly information, etc. But his fiction never comes off as intended. I know the Fu Manchu character in The Authority was meant in an ironic way; I know that. But he still seems the usual racist caricature and try as I might I can’t find any ironic distancing or non-ironic commentary or anything there on the page. And The Authority vs. God? Great idea; after all the Fantastic Four did it too. Only Ellis is too much the SF writer to really pull that concept off. He just gives us a really big animal and calls it God. Not quite the same thing. The first two volumes of Transmetropolitan were a fictional fulfillment of Harlan Ellison’s dream to be a great social conscience. Only in real life Ellison actually tries to be a bully and the comics’ Spider is just annoying and self-congratulatory. I optimistically keep trying more Ellis work. Ruins meant to desecrate Marvel characters and I wish it had but it feels more like a village atheist mumbling. Tokyo Storm Warning had a nice idea that didn’t go anywhere and was burdened with confusingly opaque art (even worse because the guy was trying to be clear not artsy). DV8 consistently backed away from its edge. I do continue to read and often enjoy Planetary but again so much of the book is just presentation of ideas, not stories made from them. Global Frequency is stacked in my dining room and I wanna read it but….

I was also hesitant about using cliched critic terms but went ahead any way. So Leave It to Chance is “truly inept”? That really doesn’t tell you much but the book had three moments where the story comes to a complete halt while some character unloads him/herself of exposition. The heroine even finds out what the bad guys are intending through the hackneyed device of overhearing two crooks discuss it, which of course is what they all do (“By the way Bob, I know we already discussed the bank robbery for a week but let’s go over it again while playing pool.”).

Also on my list: I really didn’t want to use “diversity” with its overly PC feel but it was appropriate. I don’t think comics should be more diverse for political reasons (though that’s there) or even because it more closely reflects our own reality. Mainly, I just want diversity because it makes better stories. Judd Winick has his heart in the right place but couldn’t possibly be more heavy-handed about what he’s doing. But just look at some of the current best-selling novels and think how much this could enrich even a limited genre like superheroes: Afghan boys (The Kite Runner), an autistic teenager (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time), Greek-Americans (Middlesex), an elderly rural preacher (Gilead), black beekeeping sisters (The Secret Life of Bees), Indian immigrants (The Namesake), Japanese runaways (My Life with Kafka). And these are best sellers, stuff that appeals to large chunks of American bookbuyers. That doesn’t mean I think we need comics about Afghan superheroes, not because there shouldn’t be but because there may not be any writers capable of handling that right now. But a story about three black sisters in South Carolina who are suddenly doused with, uh, cosmic rays and gain superpowers? Now that’s something I’d pay to read.