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January 26, 2007


Mainstream Comic Books Are Weird

image

DC Comics' publicity department sent the above out yesterday as a teaser image for some unknown, forthcoming event comic. They must have sent it to a lot of people, as I got one, and my passion for DC superhero event comics is world renowned. It does provide some intriguing things to mull over, if you're an industry watcher, or just an interested pop culture fan.

* It looks odd. It looks like a panorama with sticker/magnets of the various comic book characters slapped on it. It seems to me a lot of comics have this kind of slick look to it, a line-wide extension of the rubbery fetish look that you started to see heavily 10 years ago.

* It indicates that we're going to continue seeing event comics from DC, after I believe sort-of being promised that the company's focus would be more on its regular titles.

* The bodies in the foreground indicate that the events will be driven by or at least reflective of various character deaths. Death is certainly a factor in a lot of art, but mainstream American comic book deaths are strange in that they're portrayed as uniquely tragic occasions in a way that has almost nothing to do with what happens when people you and I know die and are remembered. They're kind of like celebrity deaths, just without the tether that when you look at a celebrity death you know it's a real person and someone out there will genuinely miss them on a more human level. They're a bit like TV character deaths, but with a lot more wallowing and dramatic posing and no closure.

* The dead people represent something strange in historical comic book terms as well. Somehow the treatment of death in these books seems less sophisticated than works from 30 years ago. Sad Nightcrawler pausing in Canada to remember his just-deceased pal in one of the late Claremont/Byrne X-Men is beginning to look like Cordelia in King Lear compared to some of the torn shirt histrionics super-duper comics trade in these days.

* The strange costumes on display indicate that the event comic suggested by this image will draw on obscure corners of the DC Universe, perhaps including an alternate universe where Batman was a goofy looking pirate. These things are rewarding to longtime fans, and sort of baffling to the rest of us. If I'm locked out, with my job of reading comics, that's one goddamn insular club.

* I know without looking that more than one person has posted to the popular superhero comics-related message board wondering first and foremost what the hell that flashlight looking thing in the foreground is.

* Crying Superman in his various forms has to be the goofy comic book image of the decade, and is battling Jimmy Olsen in a Dress and that beautiful square planet establishing shot in the Bizarro comics for goofiest superhero-related image ever. Crying Superman should have his own comic. Clark Verklempt.

* Given the unpleasant feelings generated by Crying Superman and Supes' general dickweedishness in last summer's movie, is there some sort of strange directive from DC to make us hate Superman now?

* I guess you could say that by getting me to talk about it, the PR move was a success, but I'm sort of less inclined to pick up any of the comics, which makes me think it's not so great a success.

*****

Alex Cox e-mailed to say I'm not alone in my confusion.

Brad Mackay wrote in to point out this visual comparison, which hadn't occurred to me.

Two people e-mailed to ask me why I didn't think death works in superhero comics the way it's usually intended. Beyond the usual reasons of inept storytelling and the fact that characters are so frequently brought back to life that it's not a convincing plot development, I think it's also because the special shock and added dismay that these stories whip up for emotional effect relies on these characters' being fantasy icons as opposed to players in a grand theater of violence. People that run around beating the shit out of each other and shooting arrows and raybeams at each other should die all the time; it's comic book characters that don't. This exacerbates the friction created by marching these largely benign characters for children through elements of serious drama, and limits its appeal to people that are so invested they don't mind holding two seemingly competitive ideas in their head at the same time.

Douglas Wolk Weighs In:
A couple of notes on that weird DC teaser image:

* "Reflective of various character deaths" is probably right: note that the four dead bodies in the foreground are characters who have already died in the past couple of years.

* I think that the cause of the crying is not just the deaths of those four, but the immense destruction suggested by the smashed Statue of Liberty.

* As far as the "event comics" thing: I don't know whether this is a World War III-related image--Newsarama seems to think it is--but if it is, this isn't a big event we didn't already know about, it's a teaser for the conclusion of 52.

* People at various message boards (inc. the comments at 52 Pickup) have unpacked all sorts of implications in the characters' costumes, body language, etc. Lots of significant details for those who are looking for them. The Statue of Liberty thing also suggests the beginning of Jack Kirby's Kamandi...

* I agree that it's incredibly weirdly posed--what exactly is Green Arrow standing on?

Michael J. Grabowski on Crying Superman:
It's not just that he's crying there, but that it looks like he's looking down Wonder Woman's bustier while he's doing it, showing not an ounce of dignity while most of the other heroes are looking away out of embarrassment. "Geez, we're supposed to respect this guy. Can't he keep it together just once?" Mr. Miracle looks like he's paying close attention, but Green Arrow (whose left foot is placed flat against no apparent horizontal surface) seems as turned off by the whole maternal-erotic nature of the WW-Supes pose.



 
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