Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Why Mainstream Super-Hero Comics Suck Now

...or "Why Wonder Woman Was Totally Justified in Killing Max Lord and How That Story Ruined Both Characters"

This whole post is in response to a thread at CBR.com Maybe it's still there, maybe it's not. Feel free to ask questions. I do still find out about comments on this moldering blog.

This post makes excessive use of the second-person "you." It's not meant as a personal thing against any individual. I just get sick of writing like I'm writing a term paper sometimes.

1. RE: Superman Killing The Phantom Zone Trio Twenty Years Ago: There's always a cure for Gold Kryptonite. Three absolutely confirmed perpetrators of genocide (is there a word bigger than "genocide"? Seriously.) swore they would do whatever it took to get their powers back, making each and every one of them exponentially more powerful than Superman was at that time. Superman believes himself to be one of four living beings in the solar system and sentences them to death. He might regret the decision later, but that's not something I've ever held against him even for a second.

2. Wonder Woman Isn't Bound By Christian Morality. "Heroes" can kill. They just can. Captain America undoubtedly mowed down rows and rows of Nazis, but no one challenges his right to be a "hero." Diana was not raised with a "thou shalt not kill" ethic. She's Themyskrian (or is that with a "c" in the DCU?), for goodness' sake. What, so we can show on-panel decapitations by someone in a Superman costume but we can't have any diversity in our "heroes"' belief systems or ethical systems? I call BS.

3. Max Lord Needed Killin'. He wasn't "defeated." When a guy can command Superman to do ANYTHING at a whim the INSTANT he gets loose, he's only ever "deterred" or "delayed." Max Lord (in that story, and that's all that matters at DC as "continuity" there means "whatever was on the page before") was a master manipulator who had fooled everyone (including Bats, Supes, and WW) for YEARS. Magic Lasso of Truth + Safety trumps almost everything.

4. I don't think WW looks bad at all next to Superman or Batman. Honestly? Knowing that she doesn't have some weird moral code against killing someone like Max Lord or the Joker makes me want her on my side ten times more than either of the other guys. The Joker is one of the greatest mass-murderers in history. He's a public menace on the same danger level as smallpox. He doesn't need to be murdered, or even killed. He needs to be eradicated. And it's completely ridiculous to believe that a psychopath who has been granted god-like powers at least once in current continuity (well, see "continuity" in #3 above) hasn't been taken out by a wet-works team in the fifteen-odd years that Batman's been active. Come on.

5. And #4 illustrates the key problem of explicit or excessive violence in super-hero comics: You can't have Silver Age, G-Rated Morality in your heroes and R-Rated (or NC-17, at this rate) violence from your villains and have anyone believe it for even two seconds. Nor can you have threats appropriate for a non-R-Rated storyline carry any weight, dramatically. The DCU needs The Authority right now, and it needs it badly, Action 775 be darned!

6. You also can't have God-Batman and God-Joker running around like they do right now. Seriously, who can't Bruce Wayne beat in a one-on-one at this point? Darkseid? Well, it's a tie. They both die. Whoops. Except for Bruce. He's just shunted off into a parallel dimension where he's a caveman. Oookay. Not to say that everything has to be RPG-able, because there is something to be said for dramatic license, but ask yourself this question: Could you GM the current DCU as it stands? Really? I mean, even close? Where Batman has learned enough in his 45 years on the planet that he can defeat the foes he's defeated in the manner he's defeated them? Ugh.

I know this all comes down to personal preference, and I know some folks are just eating up the plates that DiDio is slinging. Eat hearty, then. As for me, I maintain the following basic ideas as my own preferences, and this is why I can barely read DC (or Marvel, for that matter) any more:

A. Every kind of story has its time and place.

B. Sometimes I like "unrated" movies. Variety is good.

C. I don't like evisceration in a mainstream Mickey Mouse cartoon.

D. Mainstream, in-continuity superhero comics should be held to about a PG-13 standard, with some mainline titles sticking to PG so that I can read a story that's "in continuity" and still "family friendly."

E. Violence does not equal good story. Death is not the only way to generate drama. The "real world" extreme doesn't always have to be the "in-story" extreme.

I certainly don't expect everyone to agree with me on this, but here's what I'm not saying: I'm not saying "censor comics!" I'm not saying "censor all superheroes!" I have loved Preacher, Fables, Dark Knight Returns, The Killing Joke, Watchmen, Marvelman, Sandman, etc. But I've also loved JLI, Young Justice, and Waid's Flash, and not for a second do I believe that any of the "dark, mature, gritty" stories are inherently superior to the "bright, family-friendly" stories because of their darkness or grittiness. I want the Joker to be sent to Arkham so he can escape again because I love the character. But I don't believe for a second that not a single person in the world would kill the modern Joker for the things he's done.

I'd like to tell my daughter what I'm reading, occasionally, instead of having to hide the bloody severed limbs from her sight. (She's 6.) I'd like to have a couple of issues of current comics in my classroom at school instead of being afraid I'll get in trouble for bringing such violent material into my classroom when it's not approved by the school board. Yes, that's a possibility in the public school where I work. And finally, I'd like to occasionally read stories that aren't all about decapitations, rape, mind-rape, or genocide. Because I'd like to think there's a place for adults to read that stuff, too.

Kurt Busiek can write that. Mark Waid can write that. Peter David can write that. Tom DeFalco can write that. And when I've read these gentlemen's mainstream work, I've never felt pandered to, or belittled, or infantilized by the lack of gratuitous violence or sex in their work. I've enjoyed getting to know characters, getting involved in plots, wondering about secrets, and enjoying super-hero drama and action. For at least three out of the four, I've also enjoyed their darker, more "mature" work very much, and some of it is at the bottom (best) of my pile when it comes out: Irredeemable, Fallen Angel, etc. But there's a time and a place for ALL types, and the type of super-hero story I want to read isn't being published by either of the Big Two right now (especially now that they've canceled the real Spider-Girl). So I read less than I used to. A lot less. Oh, well.

But some of the debates we're having here in this thread are because of the mismatch of G-rated morality (because having Wonder Woman being a confirmed and avowed killer in certain circumstances "lowers" her somehow) with R-rated crimes doesn't work.

Wow. /Rant, I guess.