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The Greatest Sins/Virtues of Contemporary Comics

Bobby DerieBobby Derie Registered User regular
Originally this was going to be a "Get Off My Lawn" thread where people could just vent your spleen on the state of comics in general, starting with me. Then I stopped to think about it, and that would be a disservice. I love comics. Have for years. I think today is, by and large, producing better comics than when I was a kid. This isn't a great feat, because I was there when Image was putting out the first issues of Youngblood, but I wanted to throw it out there. In general, the art is better, the writing is better, the plotting is better, the average quality of a contemporary comic is head and heels above the prestige formats of yesteryear. And yet...I cannot bring myself to give a fuck about what the Big Two are doing these days. It's been a long divorce, but I think the latest shenanigans with Marvel and DC have finally brought me to the breaking point where I can't bring myself to care about these characters any more. Yet I do care, or else I wouldn't be making a thread about it in the first place. So let's look at some of the greatest sins and saving graces of contemporary comics.

Sin: Big Event Fatigue
This isn't a new thing, but the constant compounding events, particularly at Marvel, are a source of considerable butthurt for me and for many. Part of the problem is that no matter how great or stupid the central premise is, the execution is almost always lackluster, hamhanded, and prescripted to a dissapointing finale. I honestly can't think of a single mass event in recent memory that left the shared universe off better than when it started, and most of them manage to derail individual comics at the same time. Just looking at Marvel, you had the hamfisted Civil War lead into the vaguely silly Secret Invasion into the really nuts Dark Reign to the incredibly crappy Fear Itself...and so on, and so forth. Characterization is all over the place, individual character arcs are derailed, the big reveals are silly and, more often than not, rehashed (did we really need yet another "evil Asgardians" arc?)

Virtue: Best Events in Years
To young me, Marvel's The Infinity Guantlet as the best cross-company crossover of all time. Art, writing, plotting, characterization, all terrific. The stakes were never higher, everybody got their chance to shine. But it reverted to pretty much status quo ante at the end, the tie-in books disrupted original titles, and it spawned a couple of increasingly silly sequels in Infinity War and Infinity Crusade. Yet, I think that Marvel and DC's current events are giving us some of the best comics we've had in years, and to their credit they build on each other rather than immediately resetting the clock. Even if the comics events books themselves are lukewarm pap, they always provide some material for a fresh and awesome side series or sequel. Young!Loki in Journey into Mystery was worth "Fear Itself"; Avengers Academy beats the shit out of the last three incarnations of New Warriors and New Mutants. DC I think hasn't had quite so much luck, but you look at developments like the Court of Owls and Batman, Inc., and especially the Green Lantern subsidiary titles.

Sin: Backwards Momentum
The trend for comics these days seems to be going backwards. Taking characters back closer to their origins or iconic elements, or at least to when the editors and writers remember them best from their teenage years. Marriages are anulled, histories are wound back, newer characters put into conceptual limbo to make room for older versions, old characters resurrected to replace their younger replacements. It's troubling, because it makes characters and comics static, unchanging, unable to grow - and despite what most people will tell you, they don't want to read Archie for the next 60 years. Backwards momentum is symptomatic of a conservative trend in comics as a business, trying to continually tap into the nostalgic market of existing readers rather than take a chance and draw in new readers.

Virtue: Better Characterization
The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen weren't successful because they were hypersexualized and violent (well, I'm sure that helped), but because they had an indepth-look at the characters in the story, and dared to take them to places we had rarely if ever seen mainstream comics characters taken before. Modern comics have taken up that gauntlet and delivered some of the best characterization we've ever seen - yeah, there have been weird derailments like the Superior Spider-Man and forearm-blade Daredevil and Superman-dating-Wonder Woman, but that's par for the course - characters that don't change also cannot grow, and I personally like the idea that characters can get an opportunity to do new things every now and again. That doesn't mean I won't gnash my teeth over One New Day and shake my fist bitterly when Hawkeye dates Spiderwoman, but if that's the price I have to pay for the Hawkeye miniseries...bring it.

Sin: Collector Catering
I remember the collective madness that accompanied the Death of Superman. I don't want to see that happen again. So the whole multiple-covers, shiny/gimmicky covers, retailer incentives, etc. leaves me more than a bit cold, and the CGC-graders can die in a fire. All things in moderation, because I don't want my FLCS to go under because they over-ordered some big event that fizzled.

Virtue: Digital Comics
I haven't had to illegally download a comic I've wanted in years. The comic companies are really embracing digital comics, and while the pricing on digital issues remains whacky and Comixology still hasn't quite grasped bundle pricing, this is honestly the most convenient it's ever been to catch up on comics that I like and get started with series I might have missed.

Mixed Blessing: The Death of Continuity Porn
I think we've pretty much hit critical mass on continuity porn for the Big Two. While it was nice to imagine there was some beleagured team of interns that was continually updating the Big Book of Marvel and the Big DC Wiki, we all know that a lot of writers and artists were continually churning out material with limited (if any) reference to continuity that came before, so that really big callbacks in comics became exceptional rather than the norm. This is a good thing in so far as it makes comics more open to new readers and less ham-stringy for writers, but it's a serious blow to the shared universe in some respects and to the faded, fog-edged memories of older fans. This also ties in with the ambiguous "discontinuity point" between DC's archives and the New 52, and the Marvel archives and Marvel Now. And, to a lesser and more confusing extant, various time-travel and parallel reality hopping plots in both comics have seriously reached the point where comics writers are jumping the shark and they know it.

That doesn't have to be a bad thing. It might be a very good thing, in the long run, if Marvel and DC can control themselves and try to set a "clean" continuity from some set point forwards. But that requires a level of planning and determination I think is lacking; after all, comics are still predominantly moving forwards in comic-time instead of real-time, and the "rolling present" is going to require continual shoring-up and ignoring going forward.

Anyway, that's what I've got. Anybody else got anything to add? Or just tell me I'm wrong?

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Posts

  • Undead ScottsmanUndead Scottsman Registered User regular
    Well, Marvel Now isn't a discontinuity point; the current Marvel books are still tied to the same continuity they always had; they just got a shake-up in creative teams and were written to be approachable by new users.
    readers.

    Anywho, I'm new to comics, so I've been reading a mix marvel stuff ranging from modern, stuff from the past 20 years, and even stuff from the beginning. To me, I think the biggest modern sin is how decompressed storytelling is. They used to be able to get out a story quick in a single issue, and do that month after month; but now they ALL do big multi-part stories that can take several months to reach conclusions. For a medium like comics, that shit is EXCRUCIATING sometimes. Imagine if, instead of one hour every week, TV shows aired a half-hour every month. You'd tear your hair out.

    Right now, the Infinity event about an issue a week on average (well, sometime it gets none and sometimes it gets two) and it STILL feels like some issues could have been done in far fewer pages.

    Linespider5
  • UltimateInfernoUltimateInferno Registered User regular
    Virtue: Digital Comics
    I haven't had to illegally download a comic I've wanted in years. The comic companies are really embracing digital comics, and while the pricing on digital issues remains whacky and Comixology still hasn't quite grasped bundle pricing, this is honestly the most convenient it's ever been to catch up on comics that I like and get started with series I might have missed.

    Pricing has nothing to do with Comixology and everything to do with publisher fyi.

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  • orthancstoneorthancstone TexasRegistered User regular
    Sin: Collector Catering
    I remember the collective madness that accompanied the Death of Superman. I don't want to see that happen again. So the whole multiple-covers, shiny/gimmicky covers, retailer incentives, etc. leaves me more than a bit cold, and the CGC-graders can die in a fire. All things in moderation, because I don't want my FLCS to go under because they over-ordered some big event that fizzled.

    So torn here. On one hand, I hate the order requirements for getting certain variants. On the other hand, my O'Malley Young Avengers #1 sits on my shelf because I just like staring at it.

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  • Bobby DerieBobby Derie Registered User regular
    Well, the way that the companies do variant covers is completely misleading and designed just to force retailers to order more issues. What they should do is either randomize it in each order (if they want to keep the covers "limited") or just let the bloody retailers order the covers they want directly. I'm not immune to the occasional bout of cover madness myself, but you have to draw a line, because at a certain point you're just gouging your customers. I mean, at least Avatar is upfront and honest in that they'll sell you the cover you want, but by Kirby's ghost you'll pay for it.

    Re: Decompression - I totally agree, and it's a very solid point. I don't think everybody is guilty of it, but it's much more noticeable in event books. Love him or hate him, I think one of the strengths of Warren Ellis as a writer (just to take an example) is that he will tell a complete story in one or two books and it'll be part of the ongoing plot. He experiments a lot more with story pacing than most writers, though, and I think a large part of it is his working relationship with his illustrator. We're largely gone from the Marvel Method days, but you still get some panels where the writing seems to serve the art or vice versa instead of having things go hand-in-glove.

    Re: Comixology - Somebody somewhere needs to tell people that the price for a bundle should not be more than the sum cost of the individual issues in that bundle. If that happens, then you have gone badly wrong somewhere, especially if there isn't a sale on.

    The Unpublishable - Original fiction blog, updates Fridays
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  • Linespider5Linespider5 ALL HAIL KING KILLMONGER Registered User regular
    It might pale in comparison to the cavalcade of gaffes that have rolled out as of late, but between the truncation of Batman Inc thanks to the Nu 52, the way Final Crisis was basically utterly ignored, the marginalization of Vertigo, and, really, the entire Nu 52 initiative, which ended up being a giant wave of convoluted arbitration, DC has basically broken my enthusiasm for their books. It's like a vase that's been broken and glued back together too many times, or a garden where they keep yanking out anything that's occurring naturally because Nobody Likes Yellow Flowers or something.

    I know that there ARE a number of titles that are succeeding, but I can't not see DC as a cautionary tale for the entire rest of the industry right now.

    SorceRingo
  • WiseManTobesWiseManTobes Registered User regular
    A great sin that we still feel the downsides of even today, was Marvel ending up in such a bad position in the 90's that they had to give up a bunch of movie rights to some characters that we REALLY need back in the stable now.

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  • Oniros25Oniros25 Registered User regular
    We're getting a lot of sins in here and not enough virtues. I've got a Virtue for us: Creator Owned Comics. That's been meteoric in the current era and it's resulted in higher quality, tighter written, infinately more passionate comics than anything that has to be set back to square one again when the writer leaves, so the next guy in can have a crack at the "iconic" version of the character. That is awesome and should definately be celebrated.

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  • PhillisherePhillishere Registered User regular
    It might pale in comparison to the cavalcade of gaffes that have rolled out as of late, but between the truncation of Batman Inc thanks to the Nu 52, the way Final Crisis was basically utterly ignored, the marginalization of Vertigo, and, really, the entire Nu 52 initiative, which ended up being a giant wave of convoluted arbitration, DC has basically broken my enthusiasm for their books. It's like a vase that's been broken and glued back together too many times, or a garden where they keep yanking out anything that's occurring naturally because Nobody Likes Yellow Flowers or something.

    I know that there ARE a number of titles that are succeeding, but I can't not see DC as a cautionary tale for the entire rest of the industry right now.

    The upside of the marginalization of Vertigo has been the Vertigo-ization of Image. Thanks to Warner Bros. being an asshat about publishing creator-owned works, the real reason for the diminished state of Vertigo, Image is now the go-to place for writers wanting to create original series.

    As for DC, I recently discovered Rucka's Batwoman run on Detective Comics, which led me to the Batwoman series. Even putting aside the controversy that caused the writers to quit and the fact that Greg Rucka's run is a masterwork, it highlights to me what is wrong with the modern DC style. Even when the books are good, as Batwoman is, there's a shallowness to modern DC comics that seems intentional. It's all plot and forward momentum in every title, with few of the little character beats and plot digressions that add so much to Marvel and old DC titles.

  • RalgRalg Registered User regular
    A great sin that we still feel the downsides of even today, was Marvel ending up in such a bad position in the 90's that they had to give up a bunch of movie rights to some characters that we REALLY need back in the stable now.

    @Wisemantobes

    Such as???

  • Linespider5Linespider5 ALL HAIL KING KILLMONGER Registered User regular
    Ralg wrote: »
    A great sin that we still feel the downsides of even today, was Marvel ending up in such a bad position in the 90's that they had to give up a bunch of movie rights to some characters that we REALLY need back in the stable now.

    @Wisemantobes

    Such as???

    Oh, you know. A few fan favorites.

    Spider-Man.

    Galactus.

    Dr Doom.

    All of the X-Men.

    Mind you, it's not the worst thing in the world, or anything, that we have to deal with Fox and Sony separately making movies. Frankly, Marvel has a veritable embarrassment of riches when it comes to marketable IP, and let's be honest, there's only so many movies a year Marvel themselves can make. Although I'd love Dr. Doom being able to appear in Avengers, or what have you, things being what they are, and that deal from the nineties allowing Marvel to not freaking die, I'm viewing the whole thing as a blessing in disguise.

    One, we get More Movies. As above, Marvel's got a staggering dance card, and other other people can get some things done. You might not like everything that gets made, but this leads to point 2.

    Two, at some point Fox and Sony are going, if they haven't already, taken Marvel's own movie universe as an open challenge to make movies of a similar caliber. Marvel's successes should be taken as a new standard for what should be considered acceptable in terms of superhero action movies and offhand slam against DC movie adapations aside, there just aren't as many other characters left over with major audience appeal. What's left...uh, Hellboy? Spawn? Wanted?

    The fact that Fox, Sony, and probably someone else has access to at least some of the other toys for the time being invigorates the opportunities for other great movies to be made by other people. It also helps galvanize Marvel to keep their chin above that heap of laurel wreaths everyone's been throwing at them, just in case another movie house else might manage to beat them at their own game.

    It might be over as soon as I see the teaser, but I have high hopes for the next Fantastic Four project.

  • XaquinXaquin Right behind you!Registered User regular
    It might pale in comparison to the cavalcade of gaffes that have rolled out as of late, but between the truncation of Batman Inc thanks to the Nu 52, the way Final Crisis was basically utterly ignored, the marginalization of Vertigo, and, really, the entire Nu 52 initiative, which ended up being a giant wave of convoluted arbitration, DC has basically broken my enthusiasm for their books. It's like a vase that's been broken and glued back together too many times, or a garden where they keep yanking out anything that's occurring naturally because Nobody Likes Yellow Flowers or something.

    I know that there ARE a number of titles that are succeeding, but I can't not see DC as a cautionary tale for the entire rest of the industry right now.

    I essentially used the new 52 as a fantastic and logical place to STOP collecting DC comics. I have a million holes in various series back issues if I want to read new stories about my favorite character.

    and it has always bummed me out that we'll never see Action Comics or Detective Comics 1,000

    TexiKen
  • MunchMunch Registered User regular
    It might pale in comparison to the cavalcade of gaffes that have rolled out as of late, but between the truncation of Batman Inc thanks to the Nu 52, the way Final Crisis was basically utterly ignored, the marginalization of Vertigo, and, really, the entire Nu 52 initiative, which ended up being a giant wave of convoluted arbitration, DC has basically broken my enthusiasm for their books. It's like a vase that's been broken and glued back together too many times, or a garden where they keep yanking out anything that's occurring naturally because Nobody Likes Yellow Flowers or something.

    I know that there ARE a number of titles that are succeeding, but I can't not see DC as a cautionary tale for the entire rest of the industry right now.

    Yeah, the New 52 was what finally killed DC Comics, for me. I went from pulling two or three niche titles, to four or five, and then to zero, in a few months.

    And I really can't see what they could do, to get me back. I just have zero interest in these backwards, soulless, poorly-dressed versions of characters, which I've been reading about for years.

    WiseManTobesLinespider5Centipede Damascus
  • RalgRalg Registered User regular
    Honestly, what killed DC Comics for me was New 52's JLA #6. It's a small thing: Darkseid kills some people using his Omega Ray, and you can see their skeletons and such. The violence didn't bother me; what REALLY bothered me was how unnecessary it was. It was like "Look, the JLA's being assembled! By fighting against Darkseid! AND HERE ARE PEOPLE BEING KILLED SO YOU KNOW DARKSEID MEANS BUSINESS AND HE'LL GIVE YOU BODIES LIKE YOU NEVER IMAGINED"

  • DJ EebsDJ Eebs Moderator, Administrator admin
    To be honest guys, I'm not seeing a need for this thread that isn't already being served by other threads in this forum. So, I'm going to close this.

This discussion has been closed.