Saturday, 10 December 2011
The Best And Worst Of 2011:- Thor The Mighty Avenger, Nikolai Dante, Jor-El, & Dirty Frank; (Part 1)
I won't pretend to be able to offer up any kind of exhaustive review of the mainstream fantastical comicbook in 2011. There's a great deal that was published this year which I won't come across until it's been collected, and a great deal more than I simply couldn't, and still can't, afford. Perhaps if I hadn't invested so much of what little there is of my disposable income in the New 52, I'd've been able to make myself far more familiar with the products of publishers beyond Marvel, DC and, on the homefront, Rebellion. It's a lesson which I've taken to heart. In not wanting to damn autumn's grand relaunch of the DCU before the line had even been published, I pushed both foreboding and cynicism to one side. It was an expensive mistake grounded in the most ridiculous notion of fair play, but, strangely, it's not one that I especially regret. Several of those books from the House Of DiDio appear below in the list of the thirteen high points of the year which, despite everything else, helped keep alive my conviction than the fantastical comic book is still as potent a vehicle for storytelling as it ever was. Small mercies, perhaps, when compared to this year's tsunami of mediocrity which left Sturgeon's Law seeming like a wildly optimistic descriptor. But then, even the smallest quantities of mercy can make a difficult time worth the persevering with, and a year of inept, dull and too-often ethically challenged comics is hardly a significant trial in the first place.
But it has been, if I may say so, a damn shame. In any rational scheme of things, the super-person comicbook doesn't matter very much at all, unless your livelihood depends solely upon it prospering. But, despite the whiff of entitlement which any such statement evokes, it matters to me, as I assume, to a lesser or greater extent, it must surely matter for you, dear reader, as well.
I've tried to make what follows a relatively brief summary of a year's worth of blogging. There's 8 sections to come, each of which in turn deals with a series of problems which seem to be commonly afflicting most of today's comics. At the end of each section, I've mentioned one or more of my favourite comics from the past twelve months, each a notable and much-appreciated exception to whatever rule it is that I'm trying to establish. Most of the comics which I mention favourably could have been used to contradict any of the general criticisms I've made, and I've shared them around more with a desire to break up the moaning than to suggest that each of them is characterised by just a single and specific virtue.
What I haven't done, however, is single out any of the year's many stinkers for extra, and mostly unpleasant, attention, though you'd be more than welcome to discuss anything of the year in comics yourself, good or ill, in the comments below. But it seems that I'm just not comfortable labeling individual comics and their creators as being the worst of the year, although any occasional visitors to the blog over the past twelve months will surely have a suspicion of where the axe would've fallen had I felt more comfortable in doing so.
So, with a terrible sense that I've undoubtedly forgotten some very fine work indeed, here's the first two of my eight boos, and the first four of my thirteen huzzahs, for 2011.
1. Problem The First:- The Death Of Narrative Comics
A mass of full-page money shots. The predominance of the wide-angle horizontal panel. The absence of guttering. Pages consisting of little more than two or three frames. A spartan approach to narrative techniques, a wilfully self-lobotomised attitude towards the wonderful examples established by eighty and more years of comic book tradition. The sense of a page reduced to a post-modern collage, stories collapsed into successive slaps of shock and spectacle. Muscles, costumes, energy bolts, super-punches, and very little else. 2011 has, quite unbelievably, seen the further rise of adolescently Luddite storytelling. It's reached the point at which those creators who focus on the connective tissue of their work, as much as they do its most crowd-pleasing grand moments, stand out from the pack like a team of white-coated health professionals in a crack house.
Neither (1) Robbie Morrison and Simon Fraser's Nikolai Dante: Bad Blood nor (2) Roger Langride and Chris Samnee's Thor The Mighty Avenger could be accused of any such industry-killing ineptness and decadence. Both teams of creators focused with exceptional skill and discipline on producing work which was as beautifully paced and transparent as it was touching and exciting. Without a stroke of self-indulgence, ignorance or idleness apparent on any single page of either story, each serves quite literally as a masterclass in how to achieve merit without pretension. Sadly, Thor The Mighty Avenger was cancelled because of low sales in the spring of this year, and Dante will soon be concluded after the property's many years of publication. The industry can ill-afford, for whatever reason, to loose such excellence.
2. Problem The Second:- A Fundamental Lack Of Heart
Clenched fists, clenched jaws, clenched buttocks. The super-person comic remains almost entirely characterised by, if not always machismo, then the most narrow range of melodramatically adolescent emotions. It's a wearisome business, a vision of adult life as the equivalent of a secondary school playground as seen from the perspective of an emasculated,uncertain teenager, longing for the power to deter his persecutors, impress his acquaintances, and attract whatever significant other it is that he'd like to generate friction burns with. The reason why the mass of the mainstream's product is still considered to be largely for rather maladjusted children of all ages is because that's the level of emotional literacy that's needed to engage with the bulk of it. There's little of intimacy and subtlety that's present in the pages of most super-people books, while the range of body language often appears to extend little beyond the most wooden and generic of poses.
Given that it inspired me to choke up over the death of a dog who I'd never read about before, I'm tempted to cheat on the dates here and push the cause of Mignola, Dworkin and Thompson's delightful, and not a little snuffle-summoning, Hellboy/Beasts Of Burden from 2010. But rules are rules, regardless of the year in which I actually learned to love that comic, or I could have also included Terry & The Pirates and Johnny Red here too. Instead, I'm more than simply happy to argue the already well-established case for (3) Low Life: The Deal, by Rob Williams and D'Israeli, and (4) Life Support, from Action Comics # 900, by Damon Lindelof and Ryan Sook. Williams and D'israeli's work is a wonderful example of how exquisite characterisation in both script and art can transform an already brilliantly constructed adventure into something that's significantly more entertaining and moving than any widescreen popcorn shoot-em-up ever could be. Without ever stinting on a sequence of action-filled set-pieces, both creators succeeded in making Judge Frank as vulnerable as he was ultimately to prove formidable. As far as this blogger is concerned, Dirty Frank was the comicbook character of the year; perpetually baffled and yet often strangely sanguine, implacably loyal and inevitably put-upon, and as wise and amusing as he's clearly and disturbingly disordered.
By contrast, Lindeldorf and Sook's short story eschews the conventions of the actioner entirely, taking the last few days of Krypton's existence and presenting Jor-El's struggles to save his son from a previously-unconsidered perspective. What can good people do when the end of the world truly is scheduled for the day after tomorrow, Life Support asks, and, just as the very different Low Life: The Deal does, it conjures a spirit of hope if not exactly optimism out of the worst of circumstances. No team of writer and artist in 2011's mainstream created more from less pages than Lindeldof and Sook did, and they achieved that without ever needing to put their tiny cast through any cheap excesses of angst or window-smashing hissy fits. Just two fathers and their two children, and the absence of any prospect of escape except for that which might just be created for tiny little Kal-El.
TooBusyThinking Offers Its Sincere Thanks To The Following Creators For Their Having Made 2011 A Better Place To Live In;
in no order of preference, since all involved are entirely splendid;
(1) Robbie Morrison & Simon Fraser for Nikolai Dante: Bad Blood (2000ad # 1732-1736)
(2) Roger Langride & Chris Samnee for Thor The Mighty Avenger
(3) Rob Williams and D'Israeli for Low Life: The Deal (2000ad #1750-1761)
(4) Damon Lindelof and Ryan Sook for Life Support, (Action Comics # 900)
Numbers 5 to 13 are, of course, still to come ...
The next part - of three - of the TooBusyThinking "Best & Worst Of 2011" will appear soon;