In which the blogger continues his review of 2011, which was begun here, and continued here and here. There's a brief recap of how the "best" and "worst" were chosen at the bottom of this page;
5. Problem The Fifth:- The Absolute Dominance Of The Event
If the definition of madness is the repeated use of methods which have long since proven themselves ineffectual, then the comics industry is in at least significant part insane. When Marvel Comics declared in the autumn of 2011 that their three major crossovers of the year were all leading into the publisher's major Event for 2012, irony, if not the profoundest of irritation, became redundant. There is no satire on the concept of the Event which could trump that irony-free statement of company policy. The solution to the declining appeal of a company whose product has once again become dependent on Event books is, it seems, to tie all its separate Events together into a very big Event indeed. The faithful ingenuity of the whole process inspires not admiration and
anticipation, but rather despair. For comics have become an insanely expensive and never concluding
scavenger hunt, with consumers trudging from book to book in order to find the
clues and mysteries which will, rather than delivering satisfaction,
drive them on to even more product and even more hunting and even more exceptionally delayed gratification.
The very earliest signs of what we'd now call an Event in the Marvel Revolution books of the early Sixties were at least as much motivated by profit as they were by playfulness and ambition. There never was a golden age when art perpetually trumped profit. The very first Amazing Spider-Man Annual from 1964, for example, saw the reader presented with a sequence of cameos by each of Marvel's line-leading properties, though none of them were in any way central to the plot. As each character disappeared back in the direction of their own quite separate adventures, a blurb was placed on the page advertising the fact that, for instance, "Mighty Thor appears each month in his own magazine, as well as in The Avengers". But then, The Sinister Six was also a 41-page self-contained story too, complete with dense and transparent and innovative storytelling, and the crossover material, such as it was, served as added value to the narrative's obvious virtues rather than as an alternative to them.
There was certainly a considerable irony in the fact that the New 52 was intended to be as reader-inclusive as it could be, and yet it still functioned just as any Event of scale traditionally has. Rather than feeling like a consumer-friendly, hit-the-beach-running collection of deliberately individual and separate books, the New 52 carried a sense of being no less monolithic and inorganic and centre-driven than anything pumped out in 2011 by Marvel. Indeed, the whole year felt like one marketing campaign stomping on another. That the comics of the New 52 were intended to be light on backstory and gentle in their cross-title complexity was
undeniable. Yet the new titles have inevitably begun to generate their own intricate and even contradictory backstories, and it already looks very much as if the new boss is going to look - as they tend to - very much like the old one, sans the deep history of the established DCU which was so - quite literally - unceremoniously discarded. The grandest exercise in meta, therefore, DC's New 52 took the concept of the
immersive universe and, having thrown its readers out of one quarter
century of continuity, invited them to buy into another fantastical world based on
the concept that everything you've learned is, yes, significantly wrong, but also, in large part, right as well. This was not a fresh start so much as as the most overwhelming Event of all, combining the opportunity cost of all that had been dumped with the physical expense of all that was on offer.
Whatever the intentions, the sense of same-as-it-ever-was soon returned, and that's especially so given that the New 52 was launched off the back of a shamefully lacklustre and protracted Flashpoint crossover. No matter how DC might allow each individual book to carve out its own
distinct territory quite separate from any grand marketing marketing plans in
2012, this year's reboot looked and walked and talked like the most bloated of all Events. Everything
in the mainstream of 2012 felt like an Event, or rather, it did with the exception of
those moments when the babble from Marvel and DC briefly died down and the reader knew - just
knew - that yet another Event was about to be announced. It all too often felt, quite frankly, as if the reader was being regarded as nothing more than a highly susceptible consumer. Combine DC's all-or-nothing reboot with Marvel's apparent determination to micro-manage the
continuity of its books, and 2011 was just yet another year in which both of the
Big Two seemed far more like advertising agencies working hand-in-hand
with accountants than they ever did pop publishing houses.
Only, more so.
New readers, no doubt, saw the 52 as a dream of a jumping-on point, and yet, how many of those mythical starting-from-zero readers actually were there? By DC's own account, the project was aimed not at the new consumer, but at the lapsed one, meaning that such a massive project had remarkably limited aims. Sadly, that fresh-ish start was marked by the perpetuation of much of the same old hack-friendly storytelling orthodoxies, meaning that what the reader received was often simply a great more of what had come before. A new coat of paint, then, but too often the same read-it-in-minute product underneath. A jumping on point, yes, but what was it that neophytes and the returnees were leaping onto? Without a radical reinvention of how the superhero story itself was told, the old
scavenger hunt beckoned once again, with the hope that all of this mostly-thin plenty would eventually pay off somewhere down the line.
It's surely certain that an investment of the budget which was allocated to the New 52, combined with a commitment to the highest standards of storytelling, would have significantly boosted the sales of the old DCU too. Of course, there were undoubtedly good books in the
relaunch. From Wonder Woman to Demon Knights, from Action to
Batwoman, there were comicbooks to enjoy and some even to celebrate, but there was nothing about any of them which absolutely required the Event of the New 52. In that, all the column-inches and market-share was bought at a considerable and arguably unnecessary cost. For
most books, the whole process was nothing more than the equivalent of placing a set of new, flashy, and tackily-made clothes
onto an already potentially attractive individual who unfortunately just wouldn't wash enough. It all looked
new and enticing from a distance, but too often, as the reader got closer and closer and closer ....
That the problem with most of 2011's Events lay far more in the storytelling of the creators involved than the business of the Big Tent crossover itself can be seen in (9) Kieron Gillen's work on the Journey Into Mystery issues associated with Fear Itself. Assisted by a series of artists who, to a lesser or greater degree, helped him bring his end of the playing field to life, Gillen succeeded in focusing on the nuts'n'bolts of his craft rather than upon the post-modern - or should that just be sloppy and self-indulgent - spectacularisms of the 21st century comic book. To praise a creator for attending to the basics is no backhanded compliment. Just as it is a revolutionary act in dishonest times to tell the truth, so it's undeniably a radical business in a decadent creative milieu to reject the easy shortcuts and the money-spinning wankerisms in order to attend to the logic of plot, the essence of character, and to the framing of events so that they reflect ethical as well as dramatic priorities. It was an achievement on Gillen's part which left his work seeming as untypical and enjoyable as an unexpectedly fine three-part harmony at a drunken karaoke marathon, and it can be best experienced in the story illustrated by Richard Elson in JIM # 630. There the easy opportunities for a maudlin post-Event recap were rejected in favour of recasting Volstagg the Voluminous as an existential hero, redefining himself over and over again as one of a series of quite distinct and often unexpected roles in order to better serve the needs of those around him. Touching, telling, and smart, it stands as something of a corrective to all of those who regard the Event as an excuse to string a couple of empty-headed and supposedly-shocking plot twists together via a string of talking heads and pin-up pages.
A similarly elegant, exciting and unsentimentally heart-tugging achievement can be found in (10) Al Ewing and Leigh Gallagher's Judge Dredd: The Family Man. I simply can't think of another story, in this or any other year, which so clearly and concisely weaves such a thoughtful and suspenseful tale out of so much ambition and continuity. Where most other writers attempting such a task would find themselves mired in a plot-slowing mass of exposition, or avoiding the whole business and producing the most confusing of tales, Ewing once more shows how he's one of the very finest writers working in comics today. Even the oddness of the combination of genre-forms that Ewing puts to work in The Family Man go unnoticed as the story progresses, for the unravelling of the plot is so effectively achieved that the events on the page never appear to be anything other than fully integrated and entirely involving.
The very idea of a two-part story featuring a dystopian SF western
crossed with an espionage thriller is surely challenging enough. Yet Ewing uses that hybrid of forms to carry a tragedy despairing of the right's unraveling of the state's responsibilities to the more helpless of its citizens. To do so while using so much of Dredd's backstory, from the Cursed Earth mutant settlements to an apparently long-unmentioned secret organisation in the Justice Department itself, merely shows how little ambition the typical Event book is marked by. For there's far, far more going on, and a great more being achieved, in this single tale than tends to be shown in any half-a-dozen crossover books. Without the slightest narrative drag caused by all the continuity, and without any trace of worthiness coming across from the political sub-text, The Family Man functions as if it were the most transparent of comicbook tales. But then, that's exactly what it is. Ewing's script, in combination with the impressive precision and admirable restraint of Gallagher's artwork, seamlessly fuses all of the story's components together into a deceptively straight-forward and engaging narrative. No other story this year transmitted the feeling of helplessness than might be felt by those trying to find a safe place of shelter on the periphery of events, and there was certainly no more quietly chilling portrayal of political evil than that carried in The Family Man's closing face-off between Dredd and the sublimely reprehensible Judge Bachman.
There's nothing wrong with the mainstream Event that a reduction of the hype and micro-management matched with an increased measure of craft, skill and ambition on the part of creators can't put right.
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 & D'Israeli for Low Life: The Deal (2000ad #1750-1761)
(4) Damon Lindelof & Ryan Sook for Life Support (Action Comics # 900)
(5) Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera & Marcos Martin for Daredevil
(6) Paul Cornell & Jimmy Broxton for Knight And Squire
(7) Gail Simone, Jim Calafiore & Marcos Marz for Secret Six
(8) Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie for Generation Hope # 9
(9) Kieron Gillen & Richard Elson's Journey Into Mystery # 630
(10) Al Ewing & Leigh Gallagher for Judge Dredd:The Family Man (Judge Dredd Megazine # 312/3)
Numbers 11 onwards are, of course, still to come, as well as the last 3 - boo-hiss - problems ...
A Brief Recap Of What's Going On Here
If you've not read either of the first two parts of this piece - and why should you? - then here's a quick recap of how this
best-and-worst-of-2011 has been put together;
"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. Nothing could be further from my mind."