Everything is Always the Same Forever

This is serious literature here; one chuckle could sent the entire industry spiraling back down into the miasma of illigitimacy.”

- First Comics editor Rick Oliver, tongue firmly planted in cheek, making a humorous point of the grim and dark state of mainstream comics in "Amerikan Flagg" #5. In 1988. Could have been written yesterday.

*I have to spend some time examining one of my favorite new purchases: the much-sought issue #200 of “The Comics Journal” from 1997, the feature interviews being with Chris Ware and Charles Schulz, both of whom contribute covers. I was a regular reader of the Journal for their gala #250 spectacular, but having now read this earlier special edition (still a huge 280 pages), I can see why it’s so in demand: it’s incredibly focused, razor sharp in its gaze.

Both interviewees offer covers, and Ware’s is probably the most compelling, depicting a half-dozen classic comics characters that have influenced the creation of Jimmy Corrigan (Charlie Brown, The Yellow Kid, etc.) standing in a comics library with Mr. Corrigan himself, all attempting to peer up the skirt of Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy. “Marvel at the Survival of a Children’s Literature Stuck in the Twilight of Puberty for Over One Hundred Years,” coos a block of text at the bottom. Sounds like kind of an old argument, yet oddly contemporary.

But so do many of the arguments found therein, arguments made over and over again, seemingly addressing the same concerns throughout recent comics history. One section of the book is devoted to allowing seasoned Journal writers to sound off on virtually anything they want. The Beat herself, Heidi MacDonald offers a nice essay titled “You Guys Need to Get Laid”. It overstates some of its case, specifically that the superhero consumer body is comprised largely of lonely man-children (honestly, most of the superhero faithful I see in my local stores seem to have girlfriends or kids). On the other hand, some of her assertions have been validated by time (like her spirited smacking of the now mercifully discredited ‘girls don’t like comics’ line of reasoning). And yet, so much of it still applies today: the folly of an industry shackled economically to the health of market dominated via volume by a single genre, operated by devotees of said genre on creative and distributive levels. The necessity of a new mainstream, as opposed to the knowing inaccessibility of ‘art’ comics (a line of reasoning later furnished by none other than Fantagraphics’ Kim Thompson). The madness of chasing marketing gimmicks.

All of these latter arguments are more than applicable today, though reading them as written in the past offers one a unique experience. MacDonald’s piece is laced with that later mid-90's feeling that the industry was very possibly going to die, that Marvel would fall crashing and thrashing into the abyss, thus taking the viability of the market with it. I’ve gotten the same feeling from collections of Warren Ellis’ earlier essays. It offers a uniquely direct, nothing-left-to-lose twinge to these still-relevant concerns.

Elsewhere, the Journal offers each of their writers a chance to list one comic (stand-alone volume, single issue, collection, strip, run) that they think should be recommended to readers. It’s a great list, offering old reliable like “Watchmen” and “Maus” alongside such lovely works as Schuiten and Peeters’ “Fever in Urbicand” and issue #5 of Joe Sacco’s “Yahoo” (the one dealing with his reactions to Gulf War I, now collected in “Notes From a Defeatist”). There’s even some maddeningly obscure picks, like the great lost Alan Moore work, “Outbreaks of Violets”, a trading-card/art-portfolio collaboration with various European artists that was only released as a promotional giveaway at the MTV Europe Music Awards in 1995, and is now so rare that the Journal itself was only able to obtain photocopies to base their review on. You WILL want this item. Provided that you read this issue, which you WILL want to track down. There’s even an amazing line-up of pros solicited to offer words of tribute to the (then still-alive, obviously) Schulz.

They got Jim Davis.

And Ivan Brunetti takes time out for a little editorial:

The guy who draws Dilbert should die from cancer of the dick. Also Frank Miller.”

And Johnny Hart of “B.C.” says that Schulz was sent by God to inspire comics. You want this issue.

*Turning to more recent concerns:

In this era of deteriorating sales, just what have publishers done to shore up the walls? Cross-overs and mega-epics, neither of which has any interest for non-obsessed readers... in the TV biz it’s called ‘stunting’ and you can’t do it forever.”

-Heidi MacDonald, in the aforementioned issue #200 of “The Comics Journal”.

Adam Strange #8 (of 8)

You know, I really do appreciate Pascal Ferry’s art. I wish him the absolute best on his upcoming “Seven Soldiers” work. I know “Seven Soldiers” is something of a mega-event itself, but at least its universe-in-a-bottle aesthetic will keep it from running entirely into other books or miniseries (unless DC has some really nasty tricks up its sleeve). “Adam Strange” was a little like “Seven Soldiers” in that is dusts off a whole lot of old characters for fun and games, but while that sort of thing provides (at worst) mildly distracting window-dressing in Grant Morrison’s hands, it gradually seized the wheel of this miniseries, and clogged up its space pulp arteries. And then there’s the matter of the “Infinite Crisis” tie-in. This final issue encapsulated the best and worst of “Adam Strange”. The first half or so gave us some rousing space warfare and big explosions and at least a modicum of sense; it sure looked nice (and let’s hope colorist Dave McCaig reunites with Ferry at a later date). But the rest of the issue, shackled to those two big problems, was basically:

[The grand war in space is going poorly]

The Forces of Good: Oh man, we are so screwed in this massive war against Not Galactus and his legions of...


The Darkstars: Hi! We’re The Darkstars! Remember us?

The Forces of Good: No... wait. Yes?

[A bunch of pages later]

The Darkstars: Wow! We’re right up in the thick of it, fighting directly against Not Galactus’ immense power! Aren’t you all glad we’re back in action?

Vril Dox: Er, sure. Hey, do you guys just happen to have the special abilities needed to defeat Not Galactus’ wicked scheme?

The Darkstars: Yes sir!

[Another bunch of pages later]

The Darkstars: Oh no! We died heroically or something, until someone brings us back! How poignant, we guess!

[Back on Rann, Valkyr is holding Adam’s beloved wife Alanna captive]

Valkyr: Ha ha ha! I’m so evil!

[Alanna head-butts her and scurries away as Valkyr turns to type some stuff out on a Very Important Keyboard]

Adam: Well Valkyr, you’re directly in my line of sight and obviously fiddling around with that Very Important Keyboard, but I guess I’ll just stand here and do absolutely nothing since, goddamn it, we’ve got a crossover event to tie into.

Valkyr: Wow, thanks Adam! We’d better rationalize this... hey! How about the fact that you won’t shoot a woman who’s got her back turned to you!

Adam: Despite the fact that, just ten or so pages ago, I annihilated an entire starship packed with less treacherous persons than yourself, including possibly women but almost certainly detached engineers and unarmed technical support? That sounds completely contradictory, but sure I’ll refuse to shoot you, so long as I can swim in a pool of sweet sweet crossover lucre!

Valkyr: Yeah, sweet.

Adam: Unless I’m just waiting to give my wife the pleasure of shooting you - which, when you think about it, is even stupider.

Valkyr: No, you just don’t have what it takes to...


Alanna: But I DO have what it takes to shoot a woman in the back because... um... girls shoot each other... and stuff.

Adam: Hon, how do your gigantic breasts keep from falling out of your bathrobe top? Cause those things look like they they’re extending from the center of your chest to under your armpits.

Alanna: Fuck if I know.

[Rann and its allies teleport away, leaving Not Galactus drifting alone]


[Sadly, Rann has been teleported back into danger]

Sardath: Well Adam, since you let Valkyr mess around with the Very Important Keyboard, now we’ve landed near Thanagar and they think we’re invading them (with our planet?) and now they want war. Good work.

Adam: Ah.

Sardath: Also, her corpse managed to detonate a grenade that somehow destroyed the Omega Device without hurting anyone in the room, even those of us wearing no armor. So we’re stuck here. Again, great work.

Adam: Drat.

Sardath: Oh, and our gravitational pull is somehow going knock Thanagar into its sun so millions and millions will die. Surely your heroism will resound through the corridors of galactic history.

Adam: Damn. Guess there’s nothing else to do but purchase “Rann/Thanagar War” by a completely different creative team, which itself is almost certainly another lead-in to yet a different series, not counting a myriad of tie-ins! Bye folks!

[Or should we say: BUY, folks!!!]