Thursday, February 12, 2009

Won't somebody think?

Hey! Comics just aren't for kids anymore! But who cares about those little bastards anyway?

The splattergoreporn of modern superhero comics is everywhere, and the extreme levels it reaches can be quite jarring to the casual reader. Hardcore violence that wouldn't have been out of place in an early eighties piece of German necroporn filth with a name like Nexcroknobican unexpectedly appears in stories starring beloved childhood icons with bright capes and tight pants.

Seeing people ripped in half, torn to shreds and losing limbs in a comic also featuring Superman, it's easy to come to the conclusion that it's all utterly unredeemable. This stuff can get pretty grim and bloody, and poor little eight-year-old Johnny Surrogate is going to be irrevocably scarred the next time Black Adam takes a shortcut through somebody's chest and comes out the other side. Especially when he has his arms folded all serious-like, is grinning like a loon and wearing his target's intestines as a necktie.

On the other hand, little Johnny is going to eat that shit right up and ask for seconds.

After all, who else would really be interested in that sort of thing? A genuinely mature adult is always going to be less interested in these so-called mature themes as the years flow by. It might always be interesting to see entertainment that pushes intensity levels to their absolute limit, but the casual carnage in a supersaga like 52 or Countdown is just... well...  a bit boring really.

People with two last names delight in pointing out that superhero comics really are little more than an adolescent powertrip. The desire to see how cool it all is when superheroes with steel skin run into normal and fragile folk is a strong one. We've all got our own enemies, and we've all wished the worst upon them, but nobody ever really means it like an angry little child. Most people get over revenge fantasies once they've made the transition to adulthood, and it becomes a less interesting storytelling theme as we all get a bit older.

Desires to find other, less violent methods to solve problems become an imperative and it's just no longer necessary to get a cheap thrill from the old ultraviolence. An act of compassion in the right place is worth a thousand punches.

Oh, but little Johnny, he is going to love it. He is going to cream his pants over this sort of thing. It’s just what he wants.

After all, kids are, in general, thick as pigshit. They have no idea what quality is, so they love this all the more. Mark Millar has, in the past, pointed out with uncalled-for enthusiasm that young ‘uns he knows love the Liefeld. They are clearly wrong, but since they are children, they get a pass. They don’t like Ditko and Kirby because they’re ‘old’, but give them 10 years and they’ll realize what they were missing.

I know I did.

Especially if older readers are telling them there are Bad Comics That Should Not Be Read. Ironically, the kid with the comic interest stands a fairly good chance of turning into that fat and balding man-child who is sneering at the latest gore-drenched issue of Nightwing. But they're still going to ignore anything that Days of Future Past version is going to say. When you’re not even a teenager, who cares what anybody over the age of 20 thinks?

Every mega-event from DC and Marvel in the past decade has been ripped apart by critics for plot implausibility, mangled continuity and appalling dialogue, but the motherfuckers still sell like a hot meat pie in Antarctica. The general consensus is clear, that these are not good comic books. But who cares? Look at the art and the action and the crying! It must be important if they are crying!

The same adolescent mindset leads to a diabolical lack of humour. Treating everything as cosmically serious is a dead end. It’s the humour that gives work its maturity. Even Alan Moore’s darkest work has been tinged with a sense of the absurd, mixing horror with humour, as the original Mad comics still influence the Bearded One.  Grant Morrison’s comics are ALWAYS funny and Keith Giffen has a truly singular sense of humour. Mark Waid has an often overlooked light touch and Garth Ennis sees the lighter side of true despair. There are dozens of other creators who approach their comic work in the right frame of mind.

But the sheer seriousness of the regular mainstream superhero comics can get a bit much. Whining about how shit everything is can be good for a few kicks, but the grown ups want to talk about serious shit without having an existential dilemma over their conversation.

And let’s not forget the greatest phrase in the solicitation monkey’s arsenal: the jumping-on point. An issue that makes an effort to move the story off in a new direction, designed to be simple and obvious to bring in new readers.

The funny thing is, this concept relies on the inherent stupidity of the reader, but it isn’t entirely necessary. It fails to take into account that while kids are dumb, they are massively imaginative. Give them a comic with a complex backstory, explain a few key facts and they will fill the rest of that shit in for themselves.

They love it! And so did you! If you still like superhero comics, then, once upon a time, you read a comic that interested you enough to find out more. Maybe that 1977 issue of the Avengers clicked with you and you wanted to know what the deal was with Ultron, or who this Jarvis cracker was. And you’re off! Jumping on points are for wimps.

So while it’s easy to give Marvel and DC huge amounts of shit for the directions of their comics, they are clearly tapping into something that works for a certain segment of the population. This inanely convoluted and humourless shit with lame shock horror moments still sells.

I still think children are the future, in a goofy Whitney Houston kind of way, but that doesn’t mean they’re can’t be annoying little swine. Giving them what they want might keep them quiet. For a little while, at least.

After all, they still got money to spend. And if they want to see dismemberment and gore that will annoy their elders, then the kid is all right.


Chad Nevett said...

I most definitely agree. When I was a kid, the books I followed most closely were the death of Superman stuff, the Spider-Clone saga and the Age of Apocalypse--and I didn't even get HALF of any of those stories. But I didn't care, because they were glorious and fun and stupid! The more complex a story is, the more excuse I had to beg and whine for MORE comics! The more continuity, the more time I would spend obsessing over those comics, studying them, wanting to know everything. Anything I didn't know, I ignored and continued on. Kids don't think in the same manner as adults and it's only in reflection that you really see how kids view things. Convoluted, messy, thousands of tie-ins? Adults may baulk at a story like that, but kids crave that sort of thing. Or, at least, I did.

Bob Temuka said...

I just love it when adults try to tell kids what they should like. Kids don't care what you think is good, they just like what they like. Their motives are always going to be a lot more pure.

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