Sunday, January 01, 2006

It's 2006 Already?

So, another year has come and gone, and it's time to take a long look back and see what 2005 hath wrought.

And if you're interested in that, my Official Good Buddy Brian Cronin has offered a handy set of links to various comics blog luminaries doing just that. As for me, bugger it. You all know damn well what happened in comics in 2005, and if you follow my blatherings here and at Comic Book Resources, then you know what I think of it. Besides, even the most down-to-earth of bloggers inevitably sounds like a pretentious twit doing this sort of thing. Especially this year, where there was enough going around to bring out the worst in everyone. Well, except for Kurt Busiek.

Instead, what I really want to talk about is 2006.

Well, no, that's not exactly right either…

We comicos are big on anniversaries, if you haven't noticed. Superman's 50th, Bone's 10th, Cherry Poptart's 69th; we like creating false hype surrounding numbers. Marvel even did a 10th Anniversary celebration of Age of Apocalypse last year, and one for Onslaught is due this year. (I don't quite get those, as my idea of the best way to celebrate AOA is to reread that original storyline, and my idea of the best way to celebrate Onslaught is to reread anything other than that original storyline.) And this year, we're coming up on what's probably the most important anniversary, or anniversaries, in my comic-reading lifetime. 2006 is the 20th anniversary of 1986, a year which saw the publication of not one, not two, but three major events in comics history: Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's Watchmen, Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, and Art Spiegelman's Maus.

And I can think of no better way to celebrate these sacred cows than by driving a compressed-air piston right into their skulls and commencing with the slaughter.

Now, don't get me wrong: this isn’t one of those "Everyone loves it, so I must hate it" things. You know damn well I'm not like that. As it happens, I own all three of these comics, I've read them multiple times each, and I'll read them again, because they kick ass. But twenty years have passed, and it's time to let them go. Because for all they had to teach us, we learned from them the wrong lessons, and we haven't learned much since.

So it's time to let them sail off into the west, catch the last train for the coast, and not let them hit the screen door on the way out. But goodbyes are hard, especially when the relationship has been as long, co-dependent, and destructive as this one. So, let's do the honorable thing, and say goodbye the old-fashioned way: with a "Dear John" letter.

Dear Watchmen,

How have we loved thee? We could count the ways, but we'd break the Internet. You ushered us into a bright new world of taut technique and careful craft. We rip off one of your devices with every script we write, not because we want to, but because we have to; that's how prevalent they are. Every rereading is a new lesson in storytelling.

But Christ, your plot sucks.

Okay, that may be overdoing it a bit, but the fact is, you're nothing special in that department. Your throughline is a Bond movie where Blofeld wins in the end, thereby proving that a "high concept" is anything but. You have fun skewing character archetypes, but it's really a step above Tijuana Bibles (although at least you acknowledge that). Your best-loved character, Rorschach, is less interesting each time I see him; for my money, the real shiner is Silk Spectre, who, even as the realization that the Comedian is her father rips her world to its core, manages to muster the courage to accept it and add it to her sense of self, while still proving to Dr. Manhattan that she, and by extension all of humanity, is a living miracle, worth preserving. Anyone with a grapple gun and a swagger can face a "Republic Serial Villain," but it takes real heroism to stare yourself in the eye and not blink. But I go on.

My point is, we in fandom have made a horrible mistake. We loved you for your worst qualities, instead of your best. And while we can eventually get over this, and learn to love you the right way, it's best if we do so from afar. You're too much of the past, and too much of that past is full of things we'd rather forget (like that weekend in Tijuana where we woke up afterward and found we'd made Rob Liefeld a multimillionaire).

But we'll always have the Antarctic fortress.

Dear Dark Knight Returns,

What was it Jean Grey said to Wolverine? Something about girls marrying the good guy.

You're fun. Hell, you're the wildest time we've ever had. That scene where the Batman cultists are running wild through Gotham, and Batman shows up on the horse like John Fucking Wayne in True Grit? Good times.

But look at you. We can't take you home to meet mother.

Look, the Charles Bronson/Death Wish thing was cute the first couple of times, it really was. "You've got rights. So many it drives me crazy." Who in Reagan's America wouldn't fall head-over-cape for that? But the fact is, you're too grim, too gritty. Sure, you've got the Carrie Kelly thing going on, and the Superman wink was a nice little nudge (even if Alan Moore already did it two years earlier), but at the end of the day, you scare us. And it's just not healthy for us to stick with someone like that. I mean, look at you now. "I'm the goddamned Batman." Enough's enough. Get help. We can give you the number of a good counselor who's been very helpful to us ever since Sue Dibny died. And again after Hawkeye. And again after Ted Kord. Well, you get the idea.

But please, stop calling us. We've changed the number. And the locks on the apartment.

Dear Maus,

You know, after those other two, you don't look so bad. You're pretty good for us. Great rhetorical device, simultaneously uplifting and heartbreaking plot, and enough wisdom not to take yourself too seriously. You were just the indie we needed. In fact, the trouble isn't with you at all; it's with everybody since you. Because when it was all over, we handed you the Pulitzer and wrapped you up in a nice dual hardcover set, and went right out and looked for the exact same guy again.

And that's exactly who we got: an unending succession of perfect carbon copies. Neurotic antisocialite? Check. Issues with women, especially his mother? Check. Wallowing in self-pity? Check. The back half of our not-so-little black diamond book is clogged with guys so cloned, Richard Attenborough gives a tour about them to Sam Niell and Jeff Goldblum. You were supposed to open our eyes to a whole new world of possibilities, but instead, we clung just as hard to our new archetype, and instead of an infinity of ideas, we got two. Escapist fantasy and navel-gazine semiautobiography: is that all we can do? No, because like mom always said, there's other fish in the sea, and we're changing bait.

But we'll still be good friends.

Dear Personals,

Please include the following ad in your next edition:

Vibrant, still-learning art form with lots of potential ready to move on to the next great thing. Could it be you? Loves powerful examinations of the human condition, long walks on the frontier of the 21st century imagination, and covers with gorillas on them. Send your best stuff, and dazzle us with something we've never seen before. Deconstructionists, nihilists, and mopers need not apply. If interested, call your corpus calossum and ask for Comics.

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