Friday, 11 January 2013

The Pyrrhic Victory Of The New 52 Pod People: On Animal Man #16, 2013

It’s not the sight of yet another predictably devastated future-Earth that disturbs. After all, we've seen pretty much everything that Animal Man #16 is telling us about the end of the world before, and not just a few dozen times either. No, what’s most disturbing is the presence of the corporate pod people who’ve replaced Animal Man and John Constantine in the already enervated and Not-New-At-All 52. Can it be that all concerned at DC Comics never even began to grasp what it was that made each character so distinct and vital? Or are the powers-that-be convinced that all that individuality was merely obscuring the marketable virtues of two utterly generic, fundamentally indistinguishable, ready-to-be-optioned media properties? For strip away pod-Baker's power to imitate termites and pod-Constantine's embarrassingly tame flirtation with the occasional Year Seven swear word, and what we're given here are nothing but a couple of characterless leads. Just to have seen Buddy Baker operating as a doubtful and yet doughty everyman, or Constantine as a distastefully scheming conspirator, would have added something of a spark to this mind-crashingly monotonous fare. But no, what Animal Man #16 presents us with is their grindingly dull pod-selves, perfectly homogenised to fit in with the issue's grindingly dull narrative.

The more vocal of the apparently ever-declining hardcore of New 52 devotees often label the folly's critics as reactionaries. The nay-sayers are, it's claimed, mossbacks who just can't bear to have been separated from the familiar and well-loved continuity of the past. And that may indeed be true where some critics are concerned. Yet there's a significant number of disappointed readers who shiver not at the imposition of the new so much as that of the tawdry, the exploitative and the patently uninspired. To see Buddy Baker transformed into an utterly decisive strategist and unquestionable leader of super-folks is to wonder how long it will be until the loss of the old DC is compensated for by the arrival of something less obviously facile than this. Because when John Constantine has been re-cast as Animal Man's second-in-command and up-and-at-'em cheering section, the brave new world seems less brave and more obviously thick-headed. Fans of Vertigo's Hellblazer who can watch without cringing while the fagless and rather buff Constantine shouts "All right. You heard him. Keep the bearded bastard busy!" in support of Animal Man's exploits undoubtedly possess an admirable tolerance for the process of corporation-pleasing dumbing down. 

But then, none of the characters here shows anything more than the slightest trace of personality. The heroes are yawnsomely stoic or tearfully brave, the villains are self-glorifying and entirely wicked, and the plot progresses with a degree of predictability that's the only surprising aspect of it. If there's an impressive knowledge of the cliches of the end-of-everything superhero tale at work here, there's also a disturbing lack of interest in doing anything of substance that's not been seen a hundred times before. The ancestry of the content of The Red Kingdom Part 4 stretches transparently back through Grant Morrison's various DCU apocalypses to Claremont and Byrne's Days Of Future Past, and a great many of the long-established conventions of such dystopic-tomorrow tales are present and uninspiringly correct. A small team of world-saving costumed freedom fighters who seem both under-powered and relatively ill-suited to each other? A future peopled largely by a few surviving superheroes and their appalling, undefeatable enemies? A ruined cityscape with shattered landmarks long familiar from comics past? A tragic scene presenting the last stand of a small encircled cadre of costumed defenders? An army of once-virtuous crime-fighters now turned to a fiendish enemy's cause? As if Animal Man #16 were a fannish tribute to a particular class of previously profitable stories, or a homework exercise set at the conclusion of a term's course entitled Recycling The Perpetually Recycled, nothing on these pages steps beyond the expected for long.

And so, we're presented with the fascinating idea of a malignant druid who's created a great wooden supercity of a body to hide within, and yet that conceit's introduced and done away with in half-a-dozen pages full of nothing but posing, brawling and exposition. It's as if writer Jeff Lemire was somehow concerned that he might be straying away from the absolutely familiar and undemanding, and so hauled himself in to avoid anything which might carry a trace of emotional or intellectual resonance.

What is different about this supposedly epic tale when compared to its many genre predecessors is - as you might expect - the degree of body-horror that's been strewn around for the sake of it in Steve Pugh and Timothy Green's pages. In addition to the usual, wearisome presence of eviscerated bodies, Animal Man #16 also delights in showing big toothsome creatures biting down on their relatively powerless prey. Accordingly, we even have Animal Man himself grabbing Blackbriar Thorn in his be-fanged super-jaws for a reason that's never explained, while his daughter later has her arm perforated by a gruesome though unthreateningly personality-free monster. (As can be seen in the scan above, Green Arrow is also shown being fang-slashed to death, proving that someone believes that there's no such thing as too many lacerations.) As for looped-off and smashed-out body parts, fans of the like will find some of the most precisely-framed examples of such to be found in the New 52 era. Brave and honourable Constantine eventually has his heart punched out by a demonically-corrupted Flash, and Pugh makes sure that we get to enjoy the various pinkish body parts which accompany its flight as well as the contents of his body's suddenly less-clautrophobic interior.

It's a fan-blokeish indulgence which does nothing at all for the plot or for our understanding of Constantine and his allies, but then, it's not there to do anything other than lovingly entice those with an interest in fearsomely-evacuated human offal. Similarly, Frankenstein's fellow soldiers are sliced in half in what's an explicit and yet oddly bloodless way. Bodies can be ripped, stabbed and sliced quite in half with the consequences represented in enthusiastically prurient detail, it seems, but the presentation of blood is for some mysterious reason a no-no. Even Maxine's talking cat manages to be racked with what seems to be exceptionally fast-growing and malignant tumours without any of that ghastly blood business getting in the way of the reader's pleasure beyond a few scarlet flicks of spittle. (*1)

(*1) Something else entirely may be occurring there, but since Lemire doesn't outline what's happening, the innocent neophyte is compelled to speculate about what's going on. The writer's dialogue is clunky and functional at best, typically stiff and charmless and saturated with Shooterisms, and yet somehow a great deal of what's going is still left sadly unexplained. Fundamental plot-points such as who the comic's antagonists actually are, being being thoroughly bad, and what they want, beyond doing very bad things, are left quite unmentioned.
    The extra value which the New 52 has brought to the DCU has so often had nothing much to do with character or plot, social comment or narrative ambition. Instead, it's repeatedly been about the lurid sensationalism of physical harm presented in a way that's both supposedly outrageous and yet rather pathetically unchallenging too. Of course, the psychological and physical consequences of all this carnage are rarely if ever touched upon beyond the pages of a few outriding titles such as Batgirl, as we recently discussed. But then, the New 52's taste for fetishistically-depicted traumatic damage is all about those allegedly entertaining aspects of mutilation and death, and nothing that's thoughtful, heart-wrenching or genuinely disturbing is typically allowed to get in the way of the empathetically-disconnected fun of it all.

By the end of the tale, though sadly not of this apparently unending crossover, we're faced with the utterly unsurprising arrival of an evil Justice League. Well, of course we are. That's what tends to happen in this particular tradition. In the absence of anything much of depth or invention, what passes for stupefying has to be constantly pumped into the proceedings in the hope that the reader might mistake the gratuitous for substance. Bogged down in what appears to be a quite sincere belief that story is synonymous with a succession of cliches and little else, even the terrible dilemma faced by Baker's daughter Maxine Baker when faced with an off-the-conveyor-belt nasty yields exactly the result that it always promised to. For with no little irony, this isn't a comic about surprises, let alone shocks, at all. For all that legs are hacked off and much-loved innocents corrupted, such moments are grounded in a narrative that's exceptionally over-familiar and entirely predictable. The rubes are to be shaken up, but just to the degree that the pop of a Christmas cracker might inspire. Only the most timid of readers can possibly find themselves experiencing sweat and palpitations at the look-at-me beats of Lemire's tale, which leaves the comic lacking snares to hook anyone looking for more substantial, or even just more convincingly gruesome, material.

The best that can be said for Animal Man #16 is that it seems to be the product of creators who are entirely without cynicism. It might be thought that this issue would reek of a deliberate pandering to the least appealing traditions of the sub-genre. But there's no sense of anyone skimping here, and no suggestion of any contempt for the audience that's bleeding through the page. All concerned appear to have bought in entirely to the broad model of storytelling that the DiDio regime has imposed, or to have at least professionally accommodated themselves to it. And so, each of the comic's three major set-pieces appears to have been created almost solely with an eye to setting up an attention-catching panel in which something mildly trangressive occurs. It's as if Blackbriar Thorn, for example, has been introduced solely so that Animal Man can end up - gosh! - appearing to bite him. Rather than having carelessly sprinkled The Red Kingdom Part 4 with a selection of eyecatchingly pseudo-violent moneyshots, Lemire and his collaborators seem to have deliberately structured things so as to deliver the same in a particularly precise manner. Aiming low and aiming well, they've succeeded in producing exactly the sort of Vertigo-denuded comic that an editorial regime with little gift for storytelling matched to an obsession with quarterly returns will always consider well worth the publishing.



  1. The body horror imagery you've noted in several recent reviews is something that's bothered me for a long time as well, but this story seems to combine it with a closely related recent comics trope that's actually in some ways more disturbing: the image of the debased and corrupted superhero. I was sickened by it going all the way back to the inexplicably popular "Marvel Zombies" and its endless offshoots, but DC is if anything even more tenacious in its determination to destroy the iconic nature of its characters. They're determined to condition their readers to feel no character can be liked or trusted or considered safe. Always fear your favorite superhero, because his flesh might decompose, or she might put on a Justifier helmet, or they might be servants of a cancerous Lovecraftian entity...ugh, my stomach just gave a lurch. Hey, Zenith was a fine thing in its day, but surely they don't ALL have to be bad copies of it?

    1. Hello Richard:- I have no problem at all with body-horror if there's a point to it beyond dazzling the easily dazzled. Indeed, if the point is simply to gross-out the audience, to push boundaries for pushing boundaries sake, then I can understand the drive even as I'm probably not going to want to sit and watch. But as you say, the "debased and corrupted" superhero has become part and parcel of this tradition, and again, it's so often done just because that's the tradition. It doesn't seem to have anything to say to us at all. It's all hollow piffle, and I'm weary of it too, to say the least.

      I actually thought the first few years of the Marvel Zombies was sharp and funny, and that went for Miller as well as Kirkman's world. It allowed the idea of what would happen if the superheroes didn't win to be played with, to a more or less serious degree, as well as mocking a set of cliches in the super-book. But as the franchise lurched on, the quality plummeted, until we get Howard The Duck as a dimension-hopping howling commando - more or less - and again the distance between cliche and substance became all the more tiresome.

      There is a great deal to be said about the fact that power tends to corrupt. I have every faith that we'd agree 100% there :) But just lobbing in a battalion of corrupted super-folks for the thrill of seeing Mary Marvel in black leather .... That convention's been so well played out, as you say, and needs either a considerable remodeling or dropping entirely.

      Similarly, the whole idea of how the superhero relates to power needs more than a handful of creators focusing on. Generation Youngblood still seems to be with us, and I'm not sure what's being discussed on the whole beyond co-ol and awe-some.

      Still, Zenith was a splendid book, wasn't it, and as I've argued before, he wasn't actually half as bad a lad as is sometimes argued. Bless him and his synth-pop knock-offs ...

    2. Zenith was a remarkably deep character, and an emotionally resonant series; what we need less of is the Llogior.

    3. Hello Richard:- Agreed. As well as less of the pod people, on either side of the reality/fiction line.

    4. I agree a good bit with Richard on the way DC, and probably Marvel as well, seem to casually erase just about everything we love about their roster of iconic superheros. Homogenization is usually never a good thing when it comes to the realm of creativity, and it's being done now in an disturbingly increasingly amount.

      I've longed hated on and talked much shit about the reboot, and I continue to stand by my blanket of negative sentiment towards the very idea. It was grossly unnecessary, and character-wise, has done nothing and not added all that much to the characters themselves. Now sure there are a few exceptions, and god bless them, but on the whole in my opinion, it's a failure. I think a large part of the blame comes from these execs and top-management bosses that dictate the current business model plan. Not to mention the lawsuits from Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster's heirs with Superman. With the issue of creator rights and ownership out there, I wonder if it's not a conscience effort on the part of top management to render their cash-cows into something so bland, unrecognizable and interchangeable that maybe the creators that bring up these lawsuits or are thinking of suing, don't out of disgust. Really it's just serving to drive longtime fans such as myself away, and to the back issue bins and other Indy comic companies that seem to treat their fans and readers with more respect and dignity.

    5. Hello Dale:- I do think that the Big Two have more often than not ignored their best interests when it comes to producing fine comic books. Since 1960, I can only think of four periods of time when one or other of them was run by a regime which, for all its fault, produced daring and satisfying books in any number. What rankles about today is that a great many of the lessons of the past, and particularly the wretched 90s, are being willfully ignored. To see history being ignored in this way is a frustrating and mysterious business.

      There do still remain a few good books at DC Comics for those of us who don't buy into the New 52 status quo. And I do believe that Marvel has more than just a few fine comics on the shelves at the moment too. Indeed, as DC falls further and further from grace, Marvel seems to be producing more and more good books. Thor, Daredevil and Hawkeye, for example, are splendid titles. Young Avengers looks like it'll join them.

      But I can only agree with you about the fact that there clearly exist corporate regimes which have very little idea how to enable rather than constrict their creators. In this, DC at the moment is particularly embarrassing in its frequent bouts of incompetence matched to hype. Having sat through the 90s and watched the industry pretty much destroy itself, it's puzzling to watch so much of the same disasters repeating themselves, and doing so with some of the original players still in positions of influence. Ah well, the medium doesn't need the superbook to prosper, and these prolonged bouts of hubris do tend to briefly end in moments of freedom before someone else gathers up power and makes the same mistakes again.

  2. Well said, sir. I've come to find myself go from interest, to boredom, to now something resembling a grudge-read of this storyline. It's gone far, yet seemed to take a slow pace getting there. Much seems to be happening, yet I don't really get what's going on. The faults are those illuminated by you. At this point, although there's much talk of the Red and the Green, this is no more an Animal Man comic than it is a mid-nineties Image comic, or a mid-seventies Marvel comic. Any hero would seem to be interchangable with any other, for all I can tell. I think the story in Swamp Thing is being told with more characterization, with the draw of Alec attempting to reconnect with Abby, but it almost feels like the parent treading water, waiting for the adolescent to catch up. I want to like these books so much, but just can't. I'll be dropping them after I hate-read the finale to the storyline, I imagine. For similar reasons, after I complete my 300 issue run of Hellblazer, I won't be back the following month for Constantine. I'm a reader of comics, and I've been duped yet again...

    1. Hello Brian:- Thank you. I've only reviewed Animal Man because it's been pointed out to me as an example of the New 52 at its best. Having written some stinking reviews recently of the House That DiDio Built, I thought I really ought to start sticking some thumbs up too. Hence, Animal Man! Yet what's there appears to nothing other than what's so often everywhere else in the New 52, with the exception as always of a handful of more impressive titles.

      I'm certainly relieved that we seem to be singing from the same songbook here, because I fully expected to find that I'd missed the point entirely. Yet I've read and re-read this comic and I just can't see what I'm supposed to be cheering for. As you say, this is a comic where anybody could fulfill the Animal Man role with the tiniest degree of plot-twisting. It's all types and narrative cliches, and believe me, I did start reading with every hope of saying something far more positive than that.

      I will take a look at how Swamp Thing's holding up its end of this crossover. Perhaps I'll find my faith in the whole process renewed. But I've learned to trust your judgement, and I suspect that the real rot has nothing to do with those characterless bad guys.

  3. That's why I still think investing on good quality and innovation can be more economically rewarding than rebooting and relaunching indiscriminately (in other words, pretending to bring something new by some kind of cheap prestidigitation). As much as it may have worked initially, the 'reboot-effect' fades away fast as everybody notices that nothing new has been brought. On the other hand a comic like All star Super Man could bring some interest to a character I've never been so fond of.
    Sure, there are simpler and cheaper strategies that work in the short run. But as long as comic companies keep thinking only in the short run, the comic industry will be forever locked repeating the mid-80's/early 90's loop: some innovation is done, everybody mimics it till exhaustion, sales grow, publishers print lots of extra comics, then everybody notices that they don't wanna buy more of the same, and the market goes into a crisis until someone with power remembers that telling a story does matter to a comic company.

    1. Hello Thomaz:- Absolutely. The New 52 was from the very beginning built on false assumptions about how superhero universes work. Indeed, those assumptions have proven so disastrous that the original recipe which was announced has been pretty much thrown overboard. Innovative storytelling? A lack of cliche? The absence of endless Events and crossovers? And of course the Events and the nastiness which keep increasing in frequency and force because the New 52 is a great shambling, souless creature. As with most folks who don't really grasp what they're doing, failure is followed by more and more of the acts which caused the problem in the first place. As I know I've said before, anybody with the money and power that was behind the New 52 could have boosted sales to the fan-blokes. But to bring something to life that will last and prosper ... that takes more than hacking off limbs and spinning inane crossovers.

      But since this is a regime which thinks that the stories it's currently producing are good enough, how can we expect any significant change? When a "story" is defined as "that Event in which limbs are slashed off", then there's limited space for positive developments.

      Though who knows? Gail Simone was after all rehired following the stupidity of her sacking. The unexpected - and the very welcome - can happen.

    2. Hello Colin,
      Sure, the unexpected good news can happen indeed. And I am not here to say that the comic industry is rotten (and I am even reluctant to say that it is a particular bad time for a comic reader). The old optimistic me always is ready to point out that hawkeye didn't kill the terrorist on #5 and how thor seeks for help on #3 and think that there are good comics out there brought by the more recent initiative of relaunches.
      But it is sad to see writers, artists, editors and publishers repeating the same mistakes you've brilliantly enlisted on this post again and again.

    3. Hello Thomaz:- I suppose we're both looking to a situation where good, solid, well-crafted superhero books are the rule rather than the exception. I'm always looking forward to a time when we're not looking at a relatively short list of saving graces.

      After all, there are fifty-two comics being produced monthly by DC in the main universe alone. 52! And how many of those are splendid. Even being generous in how such a word is defined, it's a depressingly low figure.

  4. "a degree of predictability that's the only surprising aspect of it."

    Colin, I've been too busy to comment much recently, but you've still got it.

    1. Hello Historyman:- Bless you sir. I hope that business is paying out for you in one way or another.

  5. Hello Colin,

    I must say that I started out with Swamp Thing, and fell into Animal Man when this whole 52 thing started, full of hope and interest, and with each successive issue, have seen that hope just drain away.

    Not even the appearance of a Green Lantern can get me interested in this.

    1. Hello Sally:- There's a terrible inevitability about the New 52 at the moment, isn't there? The structural flaws at the project's beginning are really becoming more and more obvious. For a GL to be playing such a prominent role and yet your interest to have been squandered is a very real example of that.

      Of course, the vegetable GL in this issue of Animal Man is characterless and unremarkable. Even his reason to exist in the plot is baffling. After all, if the Guardians can't fight the rot with their power, then how can he while he's entirely dependent upon his master's weapons? If its somehow his vegetable nature which turns the Guardian's energy into an effective weapon, then why haven't they simply pressed into action other vegetable GLs, or, if they're occupied, created more? It's all sloppy and silly stuff, I fear.

    2. Colin, I've enjoyed reading your reviews and opinions for about a year now, even when I don't entirely agree with you. You've inspired me to scrutinize the comics I buy a little more thoroughly and for that I thank you. Please forgive the rambling that follows.

      I share your feelings on the new 52 in general. I've been a comics reader all my life and while I try to read a broad range of stuff from different companies, genres and creators, I've always been especially drawn towards DC superheroes. From a young age I've been fascinated with the mythology of their world, the interconnections and legacies and history. I even subscribed to Morrison's idea that the DCU was a living, evolving organism and thus, I approached the new 52 with a good deal of trepidation and cynicism. I'm actually surprised to find out the new 52 is far worse than I feared. They tossed out so much for so little return. You rightly point out many of the flaws. The heroes and heroines no longer seem to have distinct personalities beyond being 'badass' teeth-gritting jerks, the corporate types seem to have more control than the creators, and almost all the books across the line seem to have the exact same tone. I came across the cover of Justice League International #24 today and nearly shed a tear. Partly out of nostalgia I'm sure, but also because that image represents much of what's been lost. Yes, there was a time at DC when even third tier properties we're fully formed, distinct, multi-dimensional characters, lovably flawed and properly heroic in equal measure. I'm not sure anyone at DC is capable of putting out a book like that right now. I doubt they'd even be allowed to try.

      On the topic of violence, I'm not against gore and horror in entertainment across the board. Even dumb slasher movies and splatter comedies have their place. Laughing in the face of death and dismemberment can be a useful, cathartic experience. Putting the overall mediocrity of the story aside, I didn't bat an eye at the violence and disgusting monsters in Animal Man #16 because this title has always melded superheroics and horror, going back to the days of Morrison, Delano and company. Certain franchises within the larger DCU should be able to deal with horrifying themes and imagery. The problem I have now is that this seems to have spread across the entire line. The recently debuted cover images for April's books reveal a universe filled with tawdry tragedy, mutilation and, to borrow Richard's phrasing, debasement and corruption, that is utterly depressing to me as both a longtime DC fan as well a seeker of varied, entertaining comics. And they are trying so hard and are so convinced this is what we want. I'm embarrassed for them.

      It's early days yet but Marvel seem to have handled their relaunch with much more skill and taste. They seem more committed to writer-driven storytelling and the books I've tried so far showcase an array of tones and visual flavors, from the fantasy horror of Thor to the family comedy of FF.

      At DC right now, I would reserve the word 'splendid' solely for Batman Inc., which I think is just masterful - it's challenging, intellectually rewarding, viscerally exciting, everything pop comics should be. I also really like Batwoman and Dial H. I've dropped or am about to drop everything else.

    3. It IS sloppy, and frankly, I find that a little insulting. There are some good and decent writers out there, but I don't appreciate being strung along and condescended to, which seems to be the way that things are going.

      Man, I've been cranky lately!

    4. Hello Justin:- Ah, that lovely cover to JLI #24 really does tell a tale, doesn’t it? An excellent example to turn to, good sir. It really does suggest some of the major differences between the old and the supposedly new DCU. Just because the New 52 is only 18 months old doesn’t excuse it from producing so few distinct and beguiling characters. I think that are a number of creators who could produce a book such as that now still at DC. Gail Simone comes to mind, if she was paired with an artist who wasn’t a fourth-generation Jim Lee clone. James Robinson has shown with ‘Shade’ – not a new 52 title of course – that he’s still capable of an impressive quality of work, and I’d trust him with such a project. Grant Morrison is soon to be out of the door, so I’ll ignore him. Peter Tomasi’s work shows flashes of compassion and smart-minded thinking in and amongst the Bat-bleakness. I’m sure there’s other folks too – China Miéville’s developing admirably over at Dial H – but the problem is that I can’t think of too many. Much of that might be that the New 52 imposes such a narrow range of options upon most creators – by whatever mechanisms – that it’s hard to tell what many creators might achieve if they were give their head. Forgive me for everyone who’s names and achievements have passed me by. I hope the general point stands despite my foggy memory.

      But then, it’s not so long ago that Geoff Johns was producing work which, if not of the quality of JLI #24, was warm-hearted and smart-minded. So I tend to suspect that the problem lies with the management/editorial aspects of the company, although GJ is of course very much part of that.

      I too have no problem with horror of any kind. What I object to is its use as a bloke-tempting ploy quite independent of any artistic purpose at all. It’s not only poorly done, but cowardly, being nothing but the soft-porn of bloodless lacerations. My object in Animal Man isn’t to the presence of the various lacerations, as I regret I didn’t make clearer. It’s to the fact that it’s done with so little imagination and to so little effect. Indeed, as I said in the above;

      “It's a fan-blokeish indulgence which does nothing at all for the plot or for our understanding of Constantine and his allies, but then, it's not there to do anything other than lovingly entice those with an interest in fearsomely-evacuated human offal. “

      If the violence etc is going to be there, then let it reflect a purpose, as well as imagination and daring. At the moment, the violence – the body-horror – rarely helps further our understanding of the likes of character and theme. Instead, it’s there instead of them. And that’s shockingly cynical and lazy.

      But, as with you, I suspect that most books rarely benefit from such sights. Where they do, all’s well and good. I wouldn’t ever suggest that any book in the line was prevented from having the likes of legs torn off. But I would suggest that such things need a reason. Even on the basic level of self-interest, the audience will soon get used to this level of deliberate unpleasantness, and if the company remains unwilling to develop other aspects of their book’s contents,, then the only way of going forward will be to include more and more gore. Or at least, bloodless gore. Perhaps that’s when the blood will come in.


    5. cont:

      “It's early days yet but Marvel seem to have handled their relaunch with much more skill and taste.”

      Agreed. I can immediately name 7 or 8 books by Marvel which are worthy of recommendation with little qualification. I can’t do that for DC. Batman Int is indeed splendid, as at times is Action, Batwoman, Batgirl and Dial H are worthwhile titles with – to my mind - significant problems with one aspect or other of the storytelling that’s on show there. They’re worth reading, but there are problems.

      “I've dropped or am about to drop everything else.”
      Anecdotal evidence as well as sales figures would suggest that more than a few folks feel the same. A shame. What might the New 52 have been if craft, imagination and ethicacy had been thought of as being more vital qualities?

    6. Hello Sally:- I'm sorry my reply will appear so far away from your original comment.

      I too find that much of the New 52 is condescending. But then, I would. So much of the output is clearly aimed an audience which doesn't include me. It's a narrow niche of a target audience, and in targetting it so desperately, DC is effectively declaring that it just doesn't want my money. The harder it pushes for the bloke-fan niche, the more anxiously it strips anything too demanding from its pages, the more it's effectively saying that the New 52 can only really prosper with reference to folks whose number doesn't include me.

      In short, DC doesn't want my money. Taking my money would apparently mean losing a great deal money elsewhere. Idiocy, I suggest, but never mind. There's a great many fine comics from a whole range of genres to be found elsewhere. If DC wants to reduce itself to a ghetto with a few - a few - more appealling enclaves in its products, then so be it. It leaves more money for other company's products.

  6. Sergeant Hartman12 January 2013 at 14:37

    "Indeed, as DC falls further and further from grace, Marvel seems to be producing more and more good books."

    I think this can be attributed to the fact that Marvel had over a year to observe the New 52 and they saw what worked and what didn't work. Now granted, I have my issues with Marvel as well, but as you mentioned, they are putting out some very good books at the moment and doing so without engaging in some of the imprudent practices that have left the New 52 a lifeless husk.

    If you don't mind, Colin, I'd like you to take a look at this article and share your thoughts on it:

    DC's sales executives are insisting that their sales are increasing, even though the direct market suggests otherwise. I know that the direct market isn't reflective of all comic sales and I know I don't have access to all the information that they do, but something just seems rather...suspicious about their claims. Especially considering that they couldn't give a straight answer as to how their sales are increasing when all evidence is to the contrary.

    1. Sergeant Hartman:- I suspect that the growth in the digital market matched to the New 52's initial success in increasing sales and a more thorough attention to graphic novels would mean that DC's sales are up. Of course, all involved would say that anyway, but it's a believable statement as far as the line as a whole is concerned. But the issue here isn't whether DC has succeeded in increasing sales with all that corporate investment in the New 52. The issue is whether another approach matched to that same investment might have at the very least equalled the increase in sales while delivering up better comics.

      To be honest, I find the corporate-speak which comes out of DC's editorial offices to be unreadable. I just can't stand being asked to swallow that degree of self-congratulation matched to shameless hucksterism. I found it offensive even before Dan Didio announced that Before Watchmen was a tribute to Alan Moore, but that was the point at which I abandoned the slightest interest in what the corporate-folks have to say. There's a difference between supporting your company and presenting yourself in the way that DC's higher-ups now tend to.

  7. Oh, Colin: I could have told you that Animal Man was nothing special, and I only read the first trade. Even those issues, while (it seems) better than this one, were kind of dull - the horror wasn't as egregious as it seems it is here, but Lemire was hitting all the beats we expected from Animal Man, and I assume he was hoping that the readers wouldn't have read Delano's run (probably a pretty good assumption). This is why you should always check with me before picking a comic to read!!! :)

    If I may, I'd suggest you check out Detective Comics ... well, at least when the whole "Death of the Family" crapfest is over. I'm biased because I often hang out with John Layman, but he's writing a pretty cool comic, one that he has specifically said is "all-ages." That means it's dark, sure (it's a Bat-book) and people die, but there's no gore - I can think of one death in four issues, but it was off-panel and when we saw the body, it was in shadows so we didn't see any blood. The most recent issue had a bit more yucky stuff, but that's partly because it's mired in the Joker crossover, and God forbid we have a Joker story without some gore. It's probably not as "all-ages" as Layman thinks it is, but it's a very solid Batman book that could turn out to be something special. Plus, it's $4 but the back-up stories are also written by Layman and they inform the main stories nicely, so it doesn't feel like you're getting ripped off.

    In case you're still willing to give a DCnU story a try, that is!

    1. Hello Greg:- "In case you're still willing to give a DCnU story a try, that is!"

      Ah, well, that was why I picked up Animal Man. It's been mentioned several times as an example of the best of New 52, and though I've no doubt that it is to those who suggested it, it's not for me. As for DC's product, I have to keep a close eye on it for the Q column, so no matter how disillusioned I may be, I'll be back each week to check new things out. There are a billion worse jobs!

      I read most of the first trade as it was issued of JM's Animal Man issues, and returned twice more between then and now. I remain at a loss about what it is that JM has to say about anything beyond the traditions of the super-book, and even then he tends to function - as far as I've read - as a mimic rather than an innovator. Still, this book was shifting 35 000 copies in October of last year. I must be missing something, or several somethings. It has happened before.

      I did read a recent issue of Detective on Comixology for the Batgirl pieces I've been doing, and which I'm finishing up for Monday. It didn't seem to me to be very different from what I've seen in the line as a whole, although, now I think of it, I doubt it was one of the most recent. If you speak well of Mr Layman's work, then I'll go and check out one of the more recent issues.

      I've certainly got no problem with dark comics, bloody comics, gore-saturated comics, or any other kind per see. Indeed, if Mr Layman's Detective issues featured more limb-removal than any other comic ever published, I'd still be ready to cheer if the process all served something other than bloke-fan titillation.

      "I can think of one death in four issues, but it was off-panel and when we saw the body, it was in shadows so we didn't see any blood."

      The best deaths tend to be off-panel. The most horrific sights I can think of in DC Comics are those left to the imagination. The huge swordsfish which impales the insurance salesman in the Swamp Thing/Demon tale at the beginning of Moore's run. The Joker's beating of a tied up Gordan in the first Batman Adventures. I shiver remembering those moments, because I was made to work as a collaborator in imagining them.

      Odd, now I think about. An issue of Batman Adventures contains a scene that I recall as being horrific. "All-ages" and "horrific" aren't exclusive in any way, are they?


    2. Layman's first issue was #13. That and #14 were quite good, while #15 and 16 were slightly worse, mainly because they tied into the "Death of the Family" thing. It's not a great comic yet, but there's a lot of potential.

      I know you don't mind the gore, but it's interesting what he's doing - writing a "dark" book that doesn't feature so much overt bloodshed. Batman has been "dark" for most of his history, but the ridiculous gore hasn't been standard for too long, and I appreciate Layman writing a Batman comic that deals in some of the same dark themes of the others without being gross. That's what's nice about the comic so far.

    3. Hello Greg:- Thanks for the nudge. Issue #13 it is then.

      "Dark without gross"? I'd have that as a slogan on the front of the book :)

  8. Sergeant Hartman12 January 2013 at 16:57

    "I suspect that the growth in the digital market matched to the New 52's initial success in increasing sales and a more thorough attention to graphic novels would mean that DC's sales are up."

    Perhaps. Maybe I'm being overly cynical, but I'm just having a hard time believing that their increase in digital sales have made up for the sales that they've lost on the periodical side from this time last year. I find it kind of humorous that they don't seem to put a lot of emphasis on the numbers that we see in the direct market unless they're the top selling publisher for that month. :)

    "To be honest, I find the corporate-speak which comes out of DC's editorial offices to be unreadable. I just can't stand being asked to swallow that degree of self-congratulation matched to shameless hucksterism. I found it offensive even before Dan Didio announced that Before Watchmen was a tribute to Alan Moore, but that was the point at which I abandoned the slightest interest in what the corporate-folks have to say. There's a difference between supporting your company and presenting yourself in the way that DC's higher-ups now tend to."

    Didio's exact words were that Before Watchmen was a "love letter" to Alan Moore. I came close to punching a hole through my f*cking monitor when I read that. But that was by far not the first time he's made an ass of himself in public and it sure as hell won't be the last.

    1. Hello Sergeant Hartman:- "I find it kind of humorous that they don't seem to put a lot of emphasis on the numbers that we see in the direct market unless they're the top selling publisher for that month. :)"

      Fair point, though I don't think I've too many atoms of good humour to laugh along. I'll nod in agreement, if that's OK, instead. I certainly wouldn't expect DC to be straight about such issues, though perhaps they're always being so and I've just been put off by the sight of what seems like lines of corporation folk marching to the company's defense.

      As for that particular love letter; there's a great many people who've sent quite appalling messages thinking they were sincere regards of love and respect. But appalling it was.

  9. If you want to give some thumbs up to a New 52 title, then write about Dial H - you won't be disappointed. At least I'm not. . .

    1. Hello Mr Oyola:- Though I can't say for where just yet, I have written about Dial H and I did give it a thumbs up. So we're speaking from the same song-sheet here. It's a comic which started to really improve for me around the zero issue, and it's kept the upward curve since.

      I enjoyed your piece, and would suggest that anyone reading this should check it out. Didn't you have a sense that CM was taking a stand against Alan Moore's use of the Gollywog in League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen? Only a suspicion on my part, but a few of the lines did seem particularly relevant there. But then, they may just be relevant to the issue as a whole. So, though I'm not trying to put words into CM's mouth, that particular tale certainly had me thinking about LOEG.

  10. Just the other day I was conversation with a friend that I was sorry to not be caught up with LOEG. . . so I was unaware of the possible connection.

    Now more than ever I need to get my hands on it to check it out since racial representation in comics is up my alley work-wise.

    Thanks for the lead. :) And please let us know when/where your words on Dial H are available when you can.

    1. Hello Mr Oyola:- I believe it was the Black Dossier which featured the Gollywog. And certainly there's a great deal of interesting material on representations of sex and gender as well as race in the books. Not all of it material I'm in any way comfortable with, I fear. Rape rears its ugly head again, for example. But for all of that, the series is, as I'm sure you know, well worth the reading, with some moments of undeniable genius.

  11. Thanks for the review. I bailed on Animal Man at the beginning of the Rot World cross-over because I looked at the 12 issues or so it took to get there and realised the story they told should have been done in a couple of issues. The use of The Rot as the villain as opposed to (for example) extremist ecologists/animal welfare supporters or big-business exploiters of the environment is telling too - easier to cast death as the baddie rather than present a potentially prickly political viewpoint. This may well be a symptom of the tension between a childrens genre and it's readership been almost exclusively 20-30-40plus adults - the need to create meaningful conflict & jeopardy as story elements whilst not appearing to 'politicize' what is still perceived as stories for children.

    Looking at the whole New 52 project the books I'm still getting Wonder Woman, Batman Inc, Dial H & (until next week) Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. All of these do something interesting and more importantly fun, be it a punk-aesthetic tinged attempt to do BPRD with DC Bronze age characters, a female-lead story that default mode is not to hyper-sexualise the protagonist, a densely packed story about their most popular character that gleefully ignores the whole poorly conceived and explained arbitrary re-boot or a tale about an every-day over-weight guy who can also get any random power that seems to basically be a Vertigo story with the numbers shaved off right down to the Brian Bolland covers & Karen Berger editing. The success and failures of each may vary, but at least they try to do something different.

    Of the others I tried Action Comics just seemed to be all over the place - #9's commentary on corporate ownership followed by the mediocre next issue, along with the decidedly average back-ups means I'll probably pick them up in trades to satisfy my inner Morrison completist. I miss OMAC and it is a far better love letter by Didio than Before Watchmen. As my first exposure to Didio as a (co)writer it was good enough to allow me to forgive Didio for getting me to buy the god-awful Phantom Stranger #0 on the strength of it...

    I think there's something to be said for getting older than the apparent age of the age-less characters you read about and having the kind of epiphany that you can only get with age - That it doesn't need to be Very Serious all the time, especially if you exist in a world with Ambush Bug, Arm Fall Off Boy, the Wild Area and Mister Tawky Tawny.

    I'm reminded of Tom Kater's comment about Final Crisis on an episode of Around Comics - to the effect that if the image of a tiger with a tuxedo and a jet-pack single handedly fighting to save the world against a group of evil tigers does nothing for you may be you take comics a bit too seriously.

    Watchmen is great because how it tells it's story and it's characters, not because of it's inventive use of cooking oil, In Gratitude statues and kerosene.

    Anyway, that's enough of my unfocused 'things aren't like they used to be' rant at least there's Rian Hughes's namtaB, Milligan's Animal Man trade and the Solo collection to look forward to.

    1. Hello timber-munki:- You make an excellent point about the way in which so many of today's super-books avoid real-world politics. Whether deliberately or not, it simply ends up with them representing to a greater or lesser degree conservative and even reactionary points of view. Which would of course be fine if that was what was intended. But all too often it clearly isn't. Some creators seem to think that they're avoiding conflict, or even standing up for a liberal cause, and end up saying things which they clearly never intended to. A prime example of that is the misadventures of Simon Baz in Green Lantern, of course.

      With Animal Man, who's best years have tended to see him representing some radical political views, the absence of principled debate seems ... regrettable. That I'm not, for example, a vegetarian or against animal experimentation per se - though I am for the strictest controls and monitoring - never meant that I didn't want to read the Morrison and Delano issues, for example. I don't read fiction to discover that I'm right about everything, since I'm obviously not :) (Of course, there are books where the politics are so antagonistic to my own beliefs that I can't stomach them, but they are few and far between.)

      I've long since had my say here about the New 52's Wonder Woman, and I struggled with the storytelling of Frankenstein in various ways, but I would despite that agree that they are books with their own character and value. And certainly Dial H is - to my knowledge - the only New 52 book which seems to represent Vertigo at its best.

      Action is inconsistent, there's no doubt. It's hard to believe that Morrison is fully committed to the project. Omac I again had my say about. Phantom Stranger has, I'm assured, just had a rather good issue out, which I find somewhat hard to believe. Still, can't let prejudice get in the way, so I'll be checking it out later today if there's time.

      "to the effect that if the image of a tiger with a tuxedo and a jet-pack single handedly fighting to save the world against a group of evil tigers does nothing for you may be you take comics a bit too seriously."

      To which I can only agree and add that - if you're not already doing so - Jason Aaron's Wolverine & The X-Men is a brilliant example of such a book. The most recent issue, which was knee-deep in demonic clowns, was nothing but a pleasure.

      I don't think you're saying things aren't as good as they once were! You've recommended some fine titles we've agreed on, and some we haven't which you yourself value. That doesn't seem backward looking at all. I can think of perhaps a dozen books from the Big Two at the moment that are worth buying, and half of them seem destined for classic status. Though DC is hardly competing with its rival there, I think that makes the times somewhat promising. It's just that there's such a lot of mediocre and quite frankly terrible comics being pumped out too. But then, Sturgeon's Law tends to apply. It's those brief moments in which it doesn't that we can regard as golden ages. So far, 2013 isn't that, but, fingers crossed ...

  12. I am one of those who got burned on Animal Man (and MotU and Sword of Sorcery), so apologies for the lengthy ramble, Colin, but it's worth remembering DC don't make their money from comic books, they make it from licencing comic book characters in other media (though admittedly they seem to be licencing to/paying themselves, as Smallville and Arrow are made by the CW, a part of the Warner family that owns DC Comics, while Arkham City and Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe are again owned by Time Warner), and as such the only purpose of their comic books, if not to make a profit or to improve the critical cache of their brand, must surely be to simply garner attention one way or the other and remind you the brand exists? Despite Marvel's bankruptcy and never making a single good film in their entire 50 years of doing business, the company has shot ahead of its competition in record time not just from nothing but from less than nothing to an entertainment powerhouse worth 4 billion dollars in the space of ten years, that's simply amazing not just as an isolated achievement but it was also done with DC Comics as their main rival, a company that -as a Time Warner subsidiary - made the Superman and the Batman movies and who possessed characters whose images and lexicons were ingrained in popular culture beyond the narrow confines of the superhero fanboys and were integrated to an international media conglomerate with their own television and movie studios and with all this in their favor, if there is any kind of competition going on, DC has still not just lost to Marvel by all objective means of evaluation despite already having the battle won, it has done so spectacularly to the point that if you sit down and think about it, it probably defies any attempt to explain it.

    They are not by any means finished or dead in the water because Time Warner is not going to just stop printing the pamphlets that promote their IP farm, but DC as a competitive industrial entity in the cottage industry of print comics are ridiculed and mocked by even their fans as a dated and juvenile shambles run by alpha-males who take power lunches in strip clubs and force interns to phone creators and reduce them to tears just for fun, and it's not even the latter - or anything else - which makes them a joke, it's just somehow become accepted as fact among comics fans even if we ignore the falling sales, the shrinking market share and the exodus of talent.

    Thus DCs goal is no longer to make money, produce good comics or foster lasting relations with creators or their own fans but to engage in attention-seeking for its own sake - to remind us that though they've lost and are only second best because they can print more or less anything with the word "Batman" on it and it will sell, they're at least still here. There's no such thing as "bad" PR for DC because really, what kind of snake oil salesman worth his salt can't turn a heckler into a part of the sales gimmick? There's only the next soundbite, often contradicting the last soundbite or making no objective sense whatsoever, but memorable nonetheless in that cheery wink-wink way that DiDio has about him and you still might not want to buy his comics each and every month, but that ignores the logic of the reptile-unguent or used-car salesman who knows he only has to make you buy once, who only has to intrigue you momentarily until you decide to take a gamble.

    1. Hello Brigonos: “I am one of those who got burned on Animal Man (and MotU and Sword of Sorcery), so apologies for the lengthy ramble, Colin”

      No apologies necessary, and of course, there’s lots of folks been burned on the New 52, or at least. About 95% of its output.

      The fact that the comics themselves aren’t the main source of income for the Big Two – or anything CLOSE to it – is of course beyond debate. Ironic, then, that both Marvel and DC are apparently run by regimes which, to a greater or lesser degree, insist on profitability, when their comics could be run at cost and dedicated to stockpiling new product, new ideas, new copyrights etc etc. Not all creators are as canny as Jonathan Hickman, who recently argued – if memory served – that he was keeping everything new from his own mind in his own hands unless a fantastic deal was on offer.

      By which I mean, both Marvel and DC in particular seem to have forgotten that a great many of their most profitable books were originally peripheral or even unsuccessful properties, who’s lasting if not immediate appeal was down to creators producing work which spoke to tomorrow if not today. In not being more receptive to individual creativity, and in not offering better returns for creators, both companies are seeing the great reservoir of STUFF drying up. Of course, it might be argued that both companies have more than enough in the locker. Yet – and here I’m really thinking of the New 52 – why produce pap which isn’t EVER going to sell in comics or elsewhere when a little profit could be generated on the pamphlets and the result banked for future use/exploitation?

      Well, it’d be more hard work, I guess, and it would mean that company-men couldn’t have the glory of feeling that they KNOW not only what sells, but what’s quality and ethical too.


    2. Cont;

      “Thus DCs goal is no longer to make money, produce good comics or foster lasting relations with creators or their own fans but to engage in attention-seeking for its own sake - to remind us that though they've lost and are only second best because they can print more or less anything with the word "Batman" on it and it will sell, they're at least still here. There's no such thing as "bad" PR for DC because really, what kind of snake oil salesman worth his salt can't turn a heckler into a part of the sales gimmick?”

      I wonder. I can certainly see your point, and it seems compelling to me. And yet, I think you might be ignoring the function of ego here. The editorial line must feel that they know best as well as recognising that their rewards are dependent on that turning out to be true. I suspect that many in power at DC aren’t nearly so hucksterish as they might appear. (Of course, I’m talking about the hyping powers higher up the corporate chain here and not the folks in the trenches actually making the books, though there is some overlap between the two.) I suspect that all that hype about Before Watchmen was often quite genuine, for example, as is the BS about the New 52’s quality. By which I mean, there’ll be no turn-around of quality on a mass scale, because the crap is precision-tooled by the powers-that-be who are dependent on it being seen as splendid and commercial in order to justify their position.

      I suspect that many up at the head of DC are pretty convinced that they ARE producing great comics. It’s my experience that power rarely knows it’s producing crap. Or as Gore Vidal’s wise old owl would say, Shit Has Its Own Integrity. Remember, DiDio is the bloke who took the death of Elongated Man issue in 52 away – I believe - from the likes of Waid and Morrison because only HE could do it right. (Fantastic BS, ah!)And we often hear editors and senior corporate pod-people praising work that is obviously at best mediocre and often rubbish. I suspect there's at least as much ignorance as deception going on.

      Though I could be wrong. The books could actually be great! (Not just the few usual suspects like Batgirl, Dial H, Batman Int et al;, but all of them!) The editorial chain might be fiendish corporate players pumping out rubbish and doing so knowingly, cackling and rubbing their hands with glee as they ruin another month's product. But I suspect they believe that they know best and that their ideas would prove massively successful if only them creative folks would listen more and work harder.

      But as for the idea that hype sells and hype is the engine of the New 52, I totally agree. Each wave of solicitations contains the promise that NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME AGAIN!! Idiots ….

    3. Could we both be right, Colin? I recall DiDio's last significant creative placement was with Mainframe Entertainment, and he believed he was making ReBoot better by adding more sex and violence, and fair enough I didn't give much of a hoot about that show until the third season's Evil Dead references and sexually-deviant Will E Coyote analogue reared their heads - and yet here is the thing: as much as the young male audience loved seeing the scrappy kid protagonist get his eye burned out onscreen, the cute child mermaid get a breast enhancement and wrist knives (for neck-stabbing, no less) and state onscreen that she "belonged" to the male protagonist, and the series change from the episodic adventures of a pair of kids to a multiple-season revenge tale featuring a grizzled, mutilated and psychologically damaged (one episode is simply an entire vengeance-fuelled delusion inspired by The Prisoner) killer traversing dying worlds in search of the man he wants to murder - as much as young males enjoy this, it is a child's cartoon and in the end it was taken off the air by multiple networks around the world (our own CITV cancelled it with only a few episodes to go until the series finale, and apparently it aired more episodes of the season than anywhere else) and the show's demise sank Mainframe Entertainment into bankruptcy. Sure, kids were talking about the gore and boobies in the show and giving it great word of mouth, but that wasn't any help to ME if no-one would buy and air their show anymore, because even networks showing anime blocks and cartoons aimed at older viewers still viewed ReBoot as a kids' show.

      One could postulate from this past adventure that Dan does - as you believe - want to make better or more attractive product and has a good idea how to go about doing so, but it is from a limited bag of attention-grabbing tricks that isn't really solid as a long-term plan.

    4. Hello Brigonos:- I didn't know that about ReBoot. All I was aware of - being disconnected from pretty much all of pop-fantasy culture in the 90s- was that a programme I used to catch and enjoy had changed from being a smart story-based experience to a series of obvious, if not actually cynical, snares. I've heard DiDio's name mentioned in connection with the series decline before. Now it all seems strangely familiar.

      I hope I never suggested that DiDio has the faintest how to produce fine books which also connect with an audience. I'm sure that he's sincere in wanting to produce both. I'm pretty much convinced that he believes he's actually doing that. But between good intentions and the facts is the likes of .... well, much of the N52, actually. About 95% of it. Which is shocking, because even randomly throwing mud against a wall should get more gloop to stick than that.

      You've probably seen that, but if you've not, there's a fantastic interview with Bob Harras and Bobbie Chase up at CBR;

      I'm sure they're lovely people, but they come across as N52 cultists who don't seem to know very much at all about the difference between hype and storytelling, constantly assumming that the first quality is synonomous with the second. In fact, it's one of the most revealing interviews with management at one of the Big Two I've ever seen. If they believe what they're saying, then it's a deeply worrying business. If they don't, well, ditto. Either way, I see no reason to feel in the slightest bit optimistic about the company's product in the foreseeable future beyond a tiny number of titles.

    5. I confess I could not make it very far into that interview. Around the time they starting finishing each other's sentences I couldn't for the life of me believe I wasn't reading parody.

    6. Hello Mr B:- I can well understand why even a bloke with a tough stomach for genre excess might look away.

      Parody? I only wish it were so ...

  13. Oh Colin, I'm exhausted and more than a little sad - posts and discussion this good, this insightful, make it difficult to ignore the fact that I've shelled out for 16 issues of Animal Man.vs the Rot, and gotten more and more disappointed as time's gone on. I fear I am that comics fan, the DC Lifer so full of stupidity and optimism that he keeps thinking things will get better. And yet, all we get with Animal Man is more of the same - more Rot Monsters, more corrupted heroes, a neverending quest.

    I expect you're right, and that the lead creators do think this is splendid stuff, if Animal Man really is a New 52 hit, it's not surprising if Editorial is just handing out the instruction 'more, more!' It's just a shame that the characters have gotten lost along the way. I wish there was an online appreciation index by which we could tell DC how much we liked a particular issue - not to allow readers to dictate story beats, but to shout out a more general 'bored now'.

    1. Hello Martin:- Thank you for such generous words.

      I can understand why you would have stuck with Animal Man. The usual process with a book with promise is that subsequent issues build on it, and I think we tend to assume that that will happen. It's actually quite hard to come to terms with the fact that each subsequent issue of a particular comic offers nothing of any greater depth, isn't it? I've only dropped in for 5 issues of the book, and yet each time my disappointment has been matched by a feel that there's potential there. Well, I thought that before this issue anyway ...

      There are few examples in the New 52 which can match Dial H For Hero's capacity to improve month upon month. A shame that.

      I think the problem with hoping that DC will pay attention is the conviction on their editorial part that the market can be manipulated with SHOCK CHANGES and BODY-HORROR and MORE SHOCK CHANGES. Somewhere in those ladder-climbing minds may exist an awareness that a story is more than the sum of SHOCK and HORROR, with a touch of SOAP, but I doubt it's regarded as a particularly important part of a corporate education.

  14. Wow. That's some rage, anger and sadness in the comments section. Fascinating to read, even if I'm not ready to agree.

    While I will admit that I have found the build up to Rotworld stronger than the 4 issue long final battle we are witnessing now, I still hold Animal Man in very high regard and I still think of Jeff Lemire as a phantastic writer. Surely some of your reading experience is tainted by the fact that you've not been along for the whole ride with these characters. Sure, reviewing #16 as a stand-alone-issue (and I know that you think it should function as such while I don't really mind the long arcs; doesn't mean either of us is necessarily wrong) there is no character development to be found. However, Lemire has rightfully received praise for the portrayal of an average family life in his early issues. In fact, I think what makes the book work most of all is specifically his concern for his wife and children & his beautifully written daughter Maxine who at times was more of the centerpiece of the book than Buddy was. You may lament the absence of a political stance but I think that an exploration of the theme of family and interpersonational relationships is a more than sufficient replacement for that. Please do not forget the way Buddy's wife objected to him even engaging in superhero activities until the threat of the Rot was so big that there was no other choice. And please, when looking at this run, think about the (somewhat meta) excellence of #6 - where Buddy, who in his private life is an actor now, stars in a movie about a failed superhero who lost his marriage and kids because of the toll his superheroing took on them. The contrast between the tender, caring moments and the unbelievably creepy horror is what makes the story - that and Buddy Baker desperately trying, even literally walking through hell and coming back from the dead to not only save the world but also his prevent this fate that has been foreshadowed.

    That's all stuff that happened in the first 8 or 9 issues and it lays the foundation for you to be engaged in these characters' fates now being decided. It's also way more interesting than a Zombie Justice League, I'll grant you that. Then again, these final battles tend to always disappoint me, that's not something unique to this particular event. As soon as all the charming and mysterious stuff is revealed and cast aside for the 45 minute special effects battle at Helm's Deep, it is usually time for me to visit the toilet and grab some new snacks.

    Also, of course you're missing something with the speaking cat. It is a totem spirit thingie from the weakened Parliament of the Red that has left its realm to guide and assist Buddy and Maxine. And it's absolutely not happy about being in the form of a cute kitty cat called "Socks". An idea that, while not entirely new, Lemire has some fun with.

    May I also suggest that you and your kind visitors are actually in the minority when it comes to evaluating Animal Man?

    And I post that link not so much to persuade you to another viewpoint or to suggest that I'm absolutely and objectively right. It's more that I don't want to feel so alone as that one crazy guy from the "limited pool of bloke-fans" who only enjoy their "silly-serious grim-porn comics", if I just may quote you. Well, obviously I still am, but then again you get that I say this with my tongue in my cheek. Still, you COULD one of these days stop insulting me personally in every second blog post. ;)

    Have a good day, sir!

    - Björn

    1. Hello Bjorn:- “May I also suggest that you and your kind visitors are actually in the minority when it comes to evaluating Animal Man?”

      You may, but it isn’t relevant. The value of an opinion has nothing to do with how many people do or don’t agree. In my far-too-many years, I’ve known periods in various pop art forms where utter nonsense was held by the majority to be true, and held with a fantastical devotion. I’ve sat through long years when The Beatles were regarded as quite unimportant, for example, and where Philip K Dick was seen as a hack fit only to earn enough to eat horse-meat. And during that time I’ve believed things which I’ve later thought were ridiculous, and then gone back upon myself again! No, it’s not about being right or having lots of folks agree. It’s simply about expressing an opinion. I couldn’t care less how popular Animal Man is, or any other comic book. Whether work is loved or not has nothing to do with its quality. Work that’s loved by a minority can be as terrible as can be work that’s loved by millions and millions of folks. For example, I think Star Wars – and by that, I mean all 6 movies with the exception of some of part 5 – is appalling piffle. And the fact that it’s so well loved and admired just isn’t relevant. By the same token, I adore the first 40 minutes of the 1978 Battlestar Galactica, which most folks would regard as camp and unwatchable.

      “Wow. That's some rage, anger and sadness in the comments section. Fascinating to read, even if I'm not ready to agree.”

      Mmmm. Is there rage there? Rage is an extreme word. I’m not even sure there’s anger. Irritation, Regret. Weariness. Certainly sadness and frustration. Even contempt in places. But it doesn’t come across to me as rage or anger.

      “In fact, I think what makes the book work most of all is specifically his concern for his wife and children & his beautifully written daughter Maxine who at times was more of the centerpiece of the book than Buddy was. You may lament the absence of a political stance but I think that an exploration of the theme of family and interpersonational relationships is a more than sufficient replacement for that. Please do not forget the way Buddy's wife objected to him even engaging in superhero activities until the threat of the Rot was so big that there was no other choice.”

      Yes, the wife who doesn’t want her husband going into danger trope. It never appealed to me. And again, I think – as you and I tend to – that we’re just hitting differences in taste. I have read more than a third of the AM issues. I do think that any book which needs to be read month-to-month for a year and a half - as you're suggesting - in order for the reader to have a valid opinion isn’t being particularly welcoming. Certainly, the New 52 was promised to us as being a line in which each issue would stand on its own. As for the family relations in Animal Man, they seem quite stereotypical and pleasant as far as it goes. But that doesn’t go far. Yes, it's good to see a father who loves his kids, but that in itself isn't enough to float month after month of story. Perhaps you’ve read the Grant Morrison run on the character? As an investigation of family in the light of comic’s obsession with grim vigilantes, it had me feeling absolutely heartbroken and – finally – joyous. By comparison, this is stiff, obvious stuff.


    2. Cont:

      “Also, of course you're missing something with the speaking cat. It is a totem spirit thingie from the weakened Parliament of the Red that has left its realm to guide and assist Buddy and Maxine. And it's absolutely not happy about being in the form of a cute kitty cat called "Socks". An idea that, while not entirely new, Lemire has some fun with.”

      I like the cat. I thought the cat was fun. Mind you, the scene he was in was entirely predictable. It was a sequence composed of types and not people, written according to convention rather than brought to life with a personal touch.

      “It's more that I don't want to feel so alone as that one crazy guy from the "limited pool of bloke-fans" who only enjoy their "silly-serious grim-porn comics", if I just may quote you. Well, obviously I still am, but then again you get that I say this with my tongue in my cheek. Still, you COULD one of these days stop insulting me personally in every second blog post. ;)”

      It’s a good point. Am I insulting you? Well, if you think you’re a bloke-fan in the sense I mean it, then I guess I am. But then, only if you think that someone expressing a different opinion to yours is attacking YOU. Surely it doesn't matter what I say and believe? Why would you want to be in the slightest bit affected by what I write here? Why would anyone? It's lovely you turn up, it's invigorating that you engage me and do so in such a civil way, but surely my opinion couldn't be any less important? Why would it ever matter on even a passing level?

      I certainly don't think you or anyone else who buys into the New 52 is "crazy". But I do think that it’s perfectly valid to regard much of the New 52 as "silly-serious grim-porn comics". If you think differently, what does my opinion matter? If I’m THAT wrong, then you know that my opinion shouldn’t be listened to.

      I was accused of being condescending over the introduction to the latest piece on Batgirl. It seems that I expressed the opinion that many of the New 52 books were poor comics. I must admit, I’m baffled about the idea that a “critic” should produce work which agrees with anyone else's, or which doesn’t express his own beliefs with some force. I’m sure I could increase the readership of TooBusy by a significant degree if I just blanded its contents out. But that’s not the point. Here’s where I express my opinion. I am genuinely sorry that you feel it attacks you on any level. But what kind of criticism would it be if I wasn’t offending people? To express an opinion is to offend. The blogosphere is full of folks producing bland work which would rarely offend anyone. I’d rather not write than write that.

      Yet, as always, and with absolute sincerity, I wish you the best of days :)

    3. I feel "Rage, anger and sadness" suggests a rather dismissive attitude even before the double standard of negating one online opinion with another.

      Colin is also too polite to brandish it, but if we want to use criticism as any kind of barometer of quality, he reviews comics for Q Magazine and last time I checked print journalism trumps online, if only because even I have served time as a reviewer for a comic book website - although I may be undermining my point about opinions ultimately being subjective to individual taste and experience because I recall always being correct about absolutely everything.

    4. Hello Brigonos:- Thank you. You're an egg. Of course, I can understand Bjorn's frsutration that the opinion of the New 52 he holds to isn't shared amongst most of the commentors as well as the blogger himself. Yet, as he says, many folks do love Animal Man, and the fact that a few folks here might not feel enthusiastic about the book at the moment is neither here nor there. In the end, what counts is, er, whatever Dan DiDio says.

      Strangely enough, my experience of reviewing, here, at Sequart and at Q, has been exactly the opposite of yours. I always feel that there's nothing objective about anything I write, and sadly, typos ahoy, that includes the basic info about who, what and where.

      Speaking of basic info, I received a copy - a personally purchased copy - of a book called Babble this afternoon. Its cover purports that it's the product of your own enterprise. How bloody wonderful, eh? Congrats!

  15. I have this horrible feeling I am one of the folks who recommended Animal Man to you.

    I do remember a certain rush at the opening issues. Lemire appeared to be citing Morrison's family drama and Delano's love of the macabre. I can't recall what issue I stopped at though, but the storyline had already outstayed its welcome. I am beginning to wonder if the epic tone it seemed to aiming for was overambitious - from what you describe above, the penultimate issues have become deflated.

    1. Hello Emmet:- Yes, it's all YOUR fault!

      Well, yours and quite a few others ...

      I've been reading a fair deal of JL's work in the past month. He seems to me to be what ought to be recognised as an honest creotor, but beyond a certain degree of warmth and a knowledge of certain genre conventions, there doesn't seem to be much that's insightful, original or particularly controlled about his work.

      Even the much-lauded Underwater Wielder seemed to me to be placing conventions associated with meaning onto the page rather than bringing them to life. In this, I know, I remain in the minority ...

  16. Could you define "Shooterism"? Jim Shooter isn't a writer I am very familiar with.

    1. Hello Yamandu:- Thank you for getting me to make myself clearer! Jim Shooter's reign as Marvel's Editor-In-Chief included the imposition of a series of principles designed to make each issue as clear as possible to new readers. Shooter was very aware that each comic was somebody's first, and that the weight of backstory combined with indulgent and/or sloppy storytelling could scare away new readers. As such, he insisted on a characteristically literal-minded approach to storytelling which involved every character being named at the beginning of tales, every super-power being quickly defined, each key aspect of the story being re-established, and so on. Where artwork was concerned, he was very keen indeed on the traditional virtues of absolute clarity, and valued the transparent over the imaginative, it seems, every time. Of course, his preference was for artists who could deliver both qualities at the same time.

      Much of what Shooter argued for made perfect sense. It's hard not to look at a great many of today's books and - where some of today's art in particular is concerned - think that the advice he gave out in the early years of his control of Marvel is desperately needed. Yet his influence became more and more doctrinaire and stifling as his years as EIC continued, and his tenure is far more remembered more for that than the value of some of his beliefs. During his time in power, there were notably few outstanding series, though there was usually a basic level of competency to be found across Marvel's range of titles. For my money, "Marvel" was, for all its faults, a stronger line of books than were to be found until the Quesada/Jenas years. Miller's Daredevil, Simonson's Thor and the Byrne/Claremont X-Men in particular prospered under his range, although the latter was well underway before he became EIC, and there were a fair number of good titles too. But overall, his was, I think, common-sense taken to a homogenising extreme.

    2. Ok, thanks. I do sympathize with the cause of making every single issue accessible to a neophyte, although I do think that has less to do with spelling out all of the internal rules of the franchise for all of those who haven't been brought up with the secret codes and handshakes and more to do with making everything that happens in the given work have a meaning that is accessible regardless of if you've been following the series for years or if this is your first time.

    3. Hello Yamandu~:- No problems :) And I think you hit the nail on the head. There are a whole range of ways which can help make a comic welcoming to new readers without bogging it down in exposition and over-literalness. That in itself is a skill which marks out the great creators from the also-rans.

  17. Sergeant Hartman23 January 2013 at 07:29

    Just to touch on what Brigonos was saying earlier, I've been doing a lot of research on Dan DiDio, and I cannot find any meaningful accomplishments in his background that would justify his current position. And during his tenure at DC Comics, just look at the assortment of creators that he's alienated:

    Chuck Dixon, Dwayne McDuffie, Ed Brubaker, Mark Waid, Greg Rucka, Peter David and others.

    Its truly baffling and quite disturbing that such an individual could be made the caretaker of some of the world's greatest fictional characters.

    But anyway, yesterday I informed the owner of my local comic shop that after this month I'll be dropping the few DC titles that I have remaining on my pull list and will no longer be purchasing any books from DC for the foreseeable future. Its not just that the N52 is a gigantic clusterf*ck -- its that its progressively getting worse and there seems to be no end in sight to this nightmare. It doesn't really seem like a big deal to just stop reading their books and say "to hell with it" right? I guess in the overall scheme of things it really isn't. However, this is a particularly tough ordeal for me because being the quintessential geek, I've invested so much time, emotion and money into these characters and their mythos that to divorce myself from them completely is just agonizing. Not to mention that the owner of my local comic shop is a dear friend of mine, so I'm also hurting his business and he's really struggling right now. At the same time, I feel a sense of relief knowing that there are some great books being produced by other publishers that are well-worth my time and money.

    1. Hello Sergeant Hartman;- You can add a host of other creators to that list, can't you, who've objected to the editorial regime and upped sticks. It's been a shocking waste of talent, and for what?

      But I don't think it's baffling that DiDio should find himself in the position he's in. He's enthusiastic, ambitious, evidently able in working within corporate structures, capable of making daring moves which consolidate his power, successful in short-term gambits which raise sales; he seems to me to have a host of very attractive, productive qualities to offer employers. Unfortunately, what he doesn't seem to have such a strong grasp of is the key matter of how to either write a good comic - his record is very, very poor - or enable its creation as a publisher. Still, the ability to accumulate power and stimulate profitibility are different skills to storytelling.

      I can understand why you might want to disengage from the New 52. In so many ways, these AREN'T the characters you've invested so much time and money in, and the quality isn't strong enough on a linewide basis to justify keeping buying in into DC's product. With much of what's left of DC's top-notch talent disappearing - Morrison, Cornell etc - the standard of what's left just keeps declining. I'll be posting a review of a collected edition of a comic tomorrow which has gone in two years from very fine indeed to, quite frankly, appalling. The problem with having folks in charge who don't understand storytelling is that their only strategies to cope with failure involve DOING ALOT MORE OF THE SAME. (If nothing else, adopting a broad range of strategies which they've previously rejected would involve tacitly admitting that they've been wrong.) And more of the same leads to more failure, with the exception of a few franchises and few creators.

      But the presence of a few good books in the N52 as well as the fact that I have to keep in touch for the Q column means that I'll keep on buying a couple of diffferent books a week. There are comics I wouldn't want to miss - Batgirl, Dial H For Hero - and a few that are interesting despite my having problems with them - Batman, Wonder Woman - and some car-crashes that it's just hard not to rubber-neck.

    2. In fairness to DiDio, he gets it in the neck a lot because he's made himself the "face" of DC in the same way Marvel have Stan Lee, but I get the impression from comments made by Warren Ellis and Alan Grant that a great deal of the creative problems plaguing DC come from a staff of fanboys in the production office who resent upper management and creative talent in equal measure, and take every opportunity to undermine the efforts of both to change "their" books to the extent that the preference is to see books burn rather than prosper in other hands. Grant's tales of his final days on the Batman titles are quite remarkable, especially the palpable sadness behind his anger when he relates the story of how Dennis O'Neil was rendered powerless by people working under him not because they'd ousted him, but because they'd simply stopped listening to him.

    3. Hello Brigonos:- I don't know if you watched the excellent Gerry Conway interview that was posted on Bleeding Cool a few weeks ago on the subject of his short time as Marvel's Editor-In-Chief. If not, Google it up, because it's terrific. In particular, he discusses the blackmailing he received from the coven - no, I'm not making it up - in Marvel's production department, as well as the fact that he couldn't get his secretary to work, and couldn't sack her, because she was Claremont's girlfriend. By which I mean, the truth of what goes on in any company - comics involved - is indeed so much more complex than most folks seem to be willing to credit.

      I think much of what passes for analysis of the big companies on the net assumes that industries work like machines, and that the main conflict within them relate to artistic visions. Yet that quite ignores the broader and entirely human obsessions with wealth, status and power. To suggest that folks might not be concerned with their careers, for example, would be to presume that they're not human. To imagine that there's not a huge range of influences - from principles to sheer malice - at work anywhere would be ... misguided. And whether it's witches or a cadre of fanboys or a grand overarching artistic vision, the way the comics industry functions is of course about far more than a matter of one man's choices.

      Having said that, DiDio has made so many misjudgements, or at least been associated with them by dint of his position, that it's hard not to feel that he's been a disaster for DC in everything but the quarterly spreadsheets. An important issue, obviously, but there were other ways to make a profit, and let's be honest, the broad mass of DC books beyond the core a-fool-could-sell-these franchises are even tanking commercially, let alone in terms of quality. As someone who read the latest Teen Titans, Ravagers and Red Hood in the past 24 hours, it seems safe to say that his artistic vision doesn't have much to do with, er, art. Or selling comics.

      btw: I have such fond memories of Alan Grant's run on Batman. But producing fine work which also sells was never any guarantee of success in the industry, was it?

  18. Hi Colin,

    Couple days ago I finished reading Animal Man #17. I've noticed every time new AM arrives and I start to read it I feel ashamed.
    It's like when you watch a really bad movie and you cringe thinking this is so lame!
    Same happens here; I think it's actually almost disgusting what DC does with this title. I'm not sure if they keep Mr Lemire hostage and force him to keep writing AM the way he does or do they spoil him with unhealthy amounts of money...

    So I've typed in Google 'New Animal Man is shit' hoping I will NOT find anything, you know, maybe I don't know a good book when I see one... But then your blog popped up and I have to say I'm relieved, because you've nailed exactly what's wrong with this title.

    I've decided I can't go on like this and I'm flogging my current run of AM on eBay as I think it can only be worse.
    It looks to me that the title is money-driven to the max, like an excuse to throw in as many cross-overs as possible, but you've covered all that.

    I loved Travel Foreman's illustrations in the first issues, but it's not enough to let those 17 issues occupy the precious space on my bookshelf.

    Sad times.

    All the best!

    1. Hello Bart:- Thank you :) I've never heard of TooBusyThinking turning up on a search engine like that, and yet, given how critical some of the posts here are, it makes perfect sense!

      I'm hearing more and more about folks getting shot of their New 52 runs. Not all of them, and not all at once, but several others have mentioned the same in just the last day or so. Hardly a scientific sample, of course, but I do suspect that there's a limit to how far the reader's good will can be stretched. Fans want the books they've bought into to be worthwhile. They'll hang around to see their investment returned. But in the end, enough will be enough.

      It is a shame. I suspect the creators could do much better, I really am. Perhaps there'll be a freer hand granted in the months to come.

      But until then, lots of blood, gore, Justice League cameos and a never ending cycle of events is what we'll be given. As you say, sad times.

      Here's to them passing them quickly! There's been great runs on Animal Man before. I hope there's more to come.

    2. Colin,

      As far as the blood and guts and gore in comics go, I don't mind it at all, but there's a difference here.
      It just all seems to be some pointless exercise.

      If you take a look at Miracleman/Marvelman for example you'll notice that each violent action presented there had such an impact! It felt horrific and at the same time you sympathise with the victim (scene with a nurse and Kid Marvelman).

      Animal Man is filled with flying guts, creatures slicing each other etc. but it looks like it doesn't matter to anyone.

      I'm giving up on this title; will give it couple months and see what the reviews are (here maybe? :)

      All the best,

    3. Hello Bart:- I really should emphasise that I entirely agree with you about "blood and guts and gore in comics". I couldn't care less one way or the other. If it's used well, I'm all for it. If it's not, I'm not. I think Miracleman is, as you say, a prime example of a story which both couldn't work without violence, and which serves an ethical purpose too. In that, the SHOCK of it all doesn't matter. It's a chimera. What counts is the story, The problem of what happens when you put the SHOCK before the STORY is what is damaging DC so at the moment.

      I will probably be taking another look at AM in a few months time. If I been a right grump about about a book, I tend to return in the hope of being able to write a better post. Fingers crossed!

  19. Hello, Colin, sorry that I never really got back to you on some questions posed in the comments above that we made weeks and weeks ago. I did actually start a response twice, only to find it get completely out of control and to see myself going on about "plot" storytelling versus "theme" storytelling in very boring detail, making footnotes about everything from Foucault to the aesthetics of disgust and the tradition of the Gothic Novel, eventually actually accusing you of being the one who is very much cynical and desensitized because you always see "torture porn" whenever any violence is depicted in any way, whereas I am still sensitive (or simple-minded) enough to still actually, yes, be shocked and moved and to feel goosebumps when horrific things happen to characters that I care about in (comic book) fiction...

    ...and as you can see, it involves all kinds of ridiculous run-on sentences, no doubt further damaged by the command that I may sometimes lack over the English language. I am usually quite confident that I can make myself understood but if once again I use “rage” where “anger” would be more suitable – please, please be patient with me. It’s enough of a challenge to us Germans to get the “th” right and not to sound like Uwe Boll when speaking English. So most of the nuances I want to include might sadly get lost in translation, as they say. I hope I’m being clear enough and I hope I never sound rude in my choice of words. I of course fully intend to disagree with you always and completely, but hopefully in a very friendly manner. :)

    So, for the leftovers of my rambling: I still very much appreciate the discussion, although I'm still not very fond of you regularly brushing lovers of what you identify as that horrific "torture porn" with the broadest of strokes as "rumpish fanboy blokes" or similar choice of words. Then again, I found that you were in a much better mood in the comments on "Batman #17" and the discussion you had with other very bright commenters there cleared a lot of stuff for me, giving me a more precise sense of where we disagree. I would be curios to know how many awful interactions you personally must have had with the "fanboy bloke" type, though. I'm still not very immersed in the comics culture outside of the internet, having not that many friends to share the love (that I only really live out since the start of the New 52, which compared to a lifelong reader like yourself of course still makes me terribly inexperienced; as such, I have not yet read Grant Morrison’s famous Animal Man; I fear I won’t win this discussion based on comics reading experience) but as a fan of horror and very much an Alternative/Goth guy I find that people who are willing to subject themselves to art that is uncomfortable or disturbing are the ones you can actually have the best talks about serious topics with - a conversation about a zombie film can quickly evolve in quite the enthusiastic talk about the conditio humana in general etc.

    I have also yet to meet that mythic fanboy bloke person that appears to be your mortal enemy that goes "Batman is so kewl for brutally beating up the Joker/Michael Myers is my hero for slicing bitches up alright".

    In my experience, the talk over a beer or three is always more like: "And that's why Michael Myers is a better horror villain than Freddy Krueger: he's just pure, unexplainable evil. Evil is out there. Evil is random. He's very much a force of nature, he's not to be reasoned with and he is the antithesis to free will. Speaking of, have you read the book by Prof. XYZ on determinism?"


  20. [continued]

    Or: "And that moment gave me the chills, you know, Batman sees himself mirrored in the Joker, like we all see a glimpse of him in us. I couldn’t cheer him on as a hero at that point, I actually hesitated to even turn the page, for the Joker was truly winning in this moment, turning Batman into a monster himself. Like, honestly, we all could be turned, like maybe we all could actually murder someone when the ones we lose the most are hurt. Scott Snyder got through to me and made me afraid of the thought of what I might be able to do in extreme circumstances. It really shook me. I was still thinking about that three nights later. So, I tell you, friends, we really need that cathartic experience via works of art so as to keep the war inside ourselves in check. You buying the next round?"

    And (now here’s MY broad stroke, ha!)…I tend not to be able to have that kind of talk with kind-hearted people who spend their time enjoying kind-hearted works of art. Those people tend to be simply…nice people. And those nice people tend to look at me and say “But there is enough bad stuff already out there in the world. I just went to be happy and enjoy myself when watching a movie, reading a book or listening to music.” I then tend to look at them and feel that there’s not much of any worth in those fluffy and kind-hearted and nice things they enjoy. Myself, I don’t even really want to necessarily “enjoy” my works of art. Yes, I I’m certainly getting a handful of comics monthly that are more of the popcorn-blockbuster-variety. But generally speaking, I’d watch a Lars Von Trier movie over a Michael Bay one any day. I want to be shaken - to the core, if possible.

    One of my favourite musicians who I interviewed more than once for a German music magazine once said to me: “But that is not how it works. There is no “time out” in which I’m listening to a “nice record”. That is not how it works. What do those “positive people” even have to offer? Art is no vacation from yourself.” I like that so much that I’ll still repeat that five years later and also used it as the title of said article: “Kunst ist kein Urlaub vom Ich.” Good art is no vacation, good art is (drumroll for pathos...) when you let the abyss gaze back at you. Or, as Scott Snyder said about Batman and his family recently: “You suddenly realize how scary the world can be because, you know, you always have a piece of your heart out there that can be attacked […] I knew I could really scare myself - and that’s the best feeling, when you’re getting stuff that deeply frames you about your own deepest sort of nightmares and the questions that really keep you up at night.”

    Which is just about the best explanation I can give to show where I’m coming from. I fear I might still have forgotten something or that I appear to be sidestepping parts of the conversation. I really didn’t mean to, I just thought if I leave a dozen of anonymous posts on your blog and criticize you, I should at least try to make myself understood better, even if it is weeks later. And since, like I said, I won’t be winning any battles about specific Animal Man or comic book knowledge, I’ve done this in rather rambling style, hoping to address in general the underlying principles on which I judge works of art in general, since they directly inform why the “New 52 style” works for me and is much more to me than to you. And why I think you repeatedly draw an unfair line from “likes to stare at gory pictures” to “is a blithering idiot who won’t take sense or ethics or deeper meaning in consideration”.

    I hope there was something of interest in here somewhere. If not, I fear that’s all on me. Thanks for reading through this, anyway. Have a very good day, Colin, and be well!

    - Björn

    1. Hello Bjorn:- First off, your English is excellent, and in the context of it being your second language - or perhaps 3rd or 4th - what you say makes perfect sense.

      Can I perhaps suggest that you may have been associating me with arguments which I have never made. I can understand why you would, if such was so. It's common for people who take a stand against the kind of, for want of a better word, body-horror which has become a Nu52 convention to be folks who don't see the point to anything that's disturbing and visceral. But I've never made that argument. I have nothing to say against any form of art whatsoever. My opposition to the use of body-horror in the Nu52 isn't that it exists. Rather, it's that it is used so ineptly. It's thrown around in a diluted and careless form for the low-level SHOCK of it all, but it's rarely done in a way which USES the conventions of body horror in a way that disturbs or challenges. Constantly stabbing superheroes is not, for example, an example of art which is disturbing, thought-provoking or innovative. In fact, it's banal, predictable and wearisome.

      Now, if you were to suggest to me that body-horror - to focus on this one trope - could be used in a way that was genuinely disturbing in the Nu52, and that it could be made to shake the reader's prejudices and peace of mind in general, then I'd say GO FOR IT!!!! I can think of little better than a superhero book which challenges its readers. But the Nu52 doesn't. Even the recent death of Robin was as commonplace as it could be. We've seen all this before, and seen it done far better than this.

      Now, you're assuming,. for example, that I'm not aware of how a really good zombie movie can raise all sorts of pleasures and issues. But that's simply not so. I'm well aware of the way in which art can operate in such a way, and have often enjoyed material which set out to shake those who are experiencing it. For example, since you mention you're taste for Goth, I can recall a Birthday Party gig in Brixton in 1982 which was a full-on 90 minutes of deafening noise, screams, confrontation, and so on. It was one of the most extreme physical as well as artistic experiences I've ever had, and I can still recall walking through the early-morning streets of London afterwards feeling SO alive and thrilled by the whole process.

      Similarly, I'm not known amongst those who know me as someone who's content with the word and keen to turn away from challenging art. I do think that the Nu52 is producing ersatz body-horror. But that doesn't mean that I don't want the horrors existential or physical of the world to be discussed. Indeed, I'd suggest that this bloke often expresses my belief that the superhero book ought to be doing FAR more of that. Indeed, one of my favourite comics at the moment is Jennifer Blood. You'll see it in last week's posts about the best books of the year so far, and in several posts I've put up in the past. Now Jennifer Blood is an extremely violent comic book. In fact, it makes anything the Nu52 has published look tame and meaningless. But when writer Al Ewing has an eye torn out or a body blown into pieces, he does so in a way that's (1) imaginative and (2) purposeful. He's USING horror to discuss a host of things, and he's having fun with it too. In addition, he playfully and yet also seriously discusses the consequences of extreme acts of violence. I love his work, and would never dream of criticising the blood and gore which it contains.


    2. Cont;

      So my objection isn't to horror, or violence, or anything of the sort. Much of my favourite art is concerned with little else. My objection is to use of such conventions in a way that's nearly always about hooking an audience with SHOCK for no purpose, and with no longterm aim. I won't argue with Mr Synder's words. Horror can indeed do such things. But as I argued in my piece about Batman #17, I don't think that was a well-told tale. It has moments of genius, as I did say, but its construction was often careless and its morality was appalling. My objection to it, therefore, isn't to do with anything you've explained. I just don't think that it was technically and ethically strong enough.

      I can understand why you wouldn’t want to feel insulted by my reference to “Rumpers” and “Flackers”. You’ve given me a lot to think about there. Yet there clearly is a significant audience who associate unthinkingly with DC’s product and respond with force to anyone who criticises charges of sexism, homophobia, senseless storytelling, and so on. I never wake up without having a comment or two of at best snearing contempt to delete from the blog. Yet it was never my intention to label everyone who enjoys these books with the same term. My criticisms have always been of those who unthinkingly swallow what I fear I regard as thin and often objectionable fare. You’re clearly not doing so. You’re debating your points in an inclusive fashion and I’m grateful for it. As such, you’re by definition not a “flakker”, who’ll do anything to protect a thin argument, or a “Rumper”, who consumes without thinking whatever the company delivers. Yet you have given me grounds to think about my use of these terms. I promise you that I will give the matter some serious thought.

      In closing, I don’t think that we’re so far away from each other. We both believe that transgressive art can inspire, challenge and entertain. We both think those things are important. I don’t think that DC is using the mass of its books to tell stories which are well-wrought, let alone challenging. You, on the other hand, think it is. That should be our point of difference, because that’s all that we disagree upon. I’m with you on art which stares into the abyss.

      As for winning your points with reference to as many comics as I’ve read! I promise you, I know very little about the history of comics and its associated arts. I hardly know anyone who reads comics who isn’t an expert on a whole series of areas which I’m ignorant of. Indeed, with your knowledge of the Nu52, you’re undoubtedly far ahead of me there. As Bob Burden’s Flaming Carrot discovered, the race doesn’t go to the person who’s read the most comics :)

    3. Hello Colin, thanks for the long and thoughtful response again. I fear I’m derailing your blog by checking in so infrequently and then going on and on and on but thanks a lot for clearing up so much.

      I usually tend to think of my English as very good, yes, but then that’s an illusion that can easily be shattered as soon as I’m asked to point someone the way and forget basic words like “railway station”. Well, at least I really don’t sound like Uwe Boll (you should, however, totally buy every movie of Uwe Boll just to listen to the hilarious audio commentary; I realize that there is certain cult following out there for these now, but I very much pride myself on discovering the glory of Boll commentaries before they were officially cool).

      I may indeed have associated you with arguments you have not made in that form. I apologise for that. Certainly I have read in your comments section that you’re not against any kind of horror or gore in general – I have to admit, though, I took that more for you trying to be polite. What I read was basically: “Well, I would of course recognize a good dark ‘n grim story…if only such a thing existed.” Combined with comments you made in one blog post about “wasting my youth on the bleakness of post-punk” (not the exact wording, but I can’t find it right now) I came to the conclusion that maybe the reason why you can’t find quality in everything from Animal Man to Batwing to anything written by Brian Azzarello…is because you wouldn’t recognize quality in that particular type of story anyway. Which really wouldn’t even say anything bad about you. There’s a reason why I don’t review any Jazz in that part-time music journalist writing of mine; I wouldn’t know good from bad and I don’t particularly like the genre to start with. I think being critical is important - writing reviews on works you are prejudiced against from the beginning, however, is a pointless exercise. So, yes, that’s where I was coming from. Again, my apologies for making so many assumptions from so few blog posts. I very much thought I might be on to something and I had discovered why we often get to such different conclusions. I see now it’s not THAT easy to pin that all on you. :)

      One very important thing you said: you’ve seen all this before. That is of course something I have to take in account. I myself have NOT seen most of this anytime before anywhere. I watched cartoons as a kid, I read manga like Death Note and Elfen Lied when I came across those, I collected Preacher and looked into Sandman. That’s my ENTIRE comic book knowledge up until September of 2011 when I decided it would be kinda fun to get a #1 issue of Detective Comics…and, well, the whole thing did get a little out of control and more of a passion than I thought. Maybe I will get tired of this stuff a year or two down the road. I recognize that these never ending Superhero stories probably do get repetitive at some point.

      But, you know, up until 18 months ago I pretty much believed that mainstream comics still had heroes fighting space apes while jumping from giant typewriters. Yes, I knew about The Dark Knight Returns I believed those were out-of-continuity elseworld takes that basically came along once every five years when they had some “serious artist” take on these “silly funnybooks”. So in many ways, I’ll admit that, I am indeed an enthusiastic and excitable boy when it comes to these things, they still feel new to me. I had NO IDEA that monthly comics are the way they are. And most people have no idea of that. Which I think tells a devastating story of how bad DC and Marvel are in promoting their properties, even with all those successful movies. Comics are just so far off the radar, they are completely out of the public eye.


    4. [cont]

      I know that there’s this belief in the comics internet community that you need to drop the darkness and the violence and the sex in order to reach more readers. I disagree. People are already watching shows like True Blood or Game Of Thrones or The Walking Dead. Many play video games that are often very violent. It’s not like the Saw franchise didn’t have millions of viewers. I don’t believe there’s a shortage of people who would like what comics are offering. They just don’t know that this stuff even exists. Nobody that I showed my copy of Catwoman #1 to (men and women alike, mostly university students, no rumpy simpleton to be found) was turned off by that, everyone was like: “Wow, they’re actually FUCKING? This doesn’t seem like it’s for kids, is this like a serious thriller or something? Are comics always like that? I might just get interested in them…”

      Rumpers and Flakkers: I know what you’re getting at, but certainly a small group of ignorant fans isn’t exclusive to comics. Every community and every subculture will have them. And I do believe that the majority followers of weird tales and fantastical fiction tend to engage with their material, as silly as it may often be, in ways that the average consumer of soap operas, casting shows or other popular entertainment certainly doesn’t. Mind you, if I had my way, I’d make everyone read Dostojewski, Proust and Kafka first to get to the really great art. I’m not arguing that the average comic is anywhere near that sphere. But as far as popular culture goes, I think they’re doing quite alright, sometimes even crossing that said border to the realm of transgressive art.

      I envy the experience you describe with The Birthday Party. Seeing as I was born in 1984, I didn’t exactly get the chance to catch them live. I have seen The Birthday Massacre live numerous times, though there’s not really a relation there and I doubt they’d be to your taste. But certainly I do know about feeling just SO alive afterwards. The best concerts always do that. And now I’m off to let you continue with other things – and to find out about that Flaming Carrot you mentioned again. I have no idea who that is, but he sounds like fun. Take care and have a great weekend! :)

      - Björn