TIC-A-TIC-A-TIC-A-TIC-A-TICDateline: May 25, 2012– the latest trend sweeping the country has swept right into the comicss. Homosexuality has arrived– why, even Captain America’s dropped his shield, grabbed himself some poppers and joined the party. Marvel Comics’s The X-Men? Gay. DC Comics’s The Metal Men? Probably gay. Specialty Publications’ Freshmen? Quite thoroughly gay, as it turns out. Freshmen’s technically not even a comic, though arguably the pictures tell a story, a vivid story about young men ages 18-25, exploring the world and themselves and the limits of eroticism and stuff.
Marvel has announced a gay marriage between Northstar and some other X-bro; DC has announced that an unidentified yet “major” and iconic male character will somehow nebulously be re-introduced as gay, or discover that he’s gay over the course of a humid summer spent at drama camp. Yes, one of the most controversial themes of our times—”maybe people who fuck differently are still human beings”—will take its rightful place besides superhero comics’ other great themes, like ““your desire to martyr yourself for an elderly woman rather than pursue your own happiness will be less pathetic if you couch it as ‘responsibility’” or “you can never escape from your family, no matter how much physical trauma their dysfunctions might cause you.” So, congratulations, LGBT community: you’ve arrived. Finally, (if you haven’t already), you get to experience the queasy horror of mainstream comics artists trying to pander to what they think you’ll find hot, a grotesque parade of over-inflated sexual secondary characteristics, nightmare anatomy, and sexualized violence that us straight folks have long taken for granted being disturbed by and nauseated by and half-remember being insulted by back when we still cared about that. Gay versions of superheros posed like blow-up sex-dolls, queer versions of superhero rape sprees, comic creators bemoaning LGBT marriages endlessly– if there’s one thing superhero comics have historically handled super-great-awesome-good-work, it’s human sexuality, so … This could really be the start of something special!
Of course, there have been queer characters and stories featuring homosexuality in mainstream comics for years upon years, as evidenced by all the GLAAD awards inexplicably given to terrible comics. Why now? Why the sudden promotional muscle by Marvel & DC relating to gay culture?
Some might say society’s attitudes are evolving. Because of Neal Patrick Harris. People love NPH.
Others, more cynically, might say that besides actually being further evidence of mainstream comics’ lack of ideas (see, e.g., the various cries of “Archie Comics did it first” suggesting that mainstream comics are no longer expected to be as daring in their creativity as even a fucking Betty & Veronica Digest), that as comics grow ever more suffocatingly meaningless, thanks to a creative community that seemingly stands for nothing and from whom attempts at any great meaning would likely seem increasingly ridiculous, edited into tatters thanks to Event Comic culture, that sops to comic creators’ liberal sensitivities combined with the cheap publicity that things like black Spider-Men and gay Plastic Men inherently invite form an ideal nexus point between the crass commercial urges and delusions of grandeur that are the twin suns of modern comics writers: “This comic isn’t pointless, meaningless garbage that ends with a page listing the five other comics you have to read to understand the story I’m telling … because my main character is 7/13th’s Hispanic! I’m helping children feel better about themselves! Automatic meaningfulness!”
And yet others might say that it’s too hard to create comics or read comics year after year about Hawkman and Atom being friends, and continue to believe that Atom doesn’t want to hit that shit. Hawkman’s got those cut lines, Ken-doll-like lines, from working out or hawking it up, I don’t even know how, and between the chest hair and the wings, with those feathers, he’s probably got a musk to him, and that’s really not even a queer-or-straight thing because at least in the really good fan fiction, Atom still thinks he’s straight, at first, which is what makes it so hot, and DC probably wants in on that, and who can blame them.
So who can say who’s right, but it’s probably that third group of people because they just sound like they know which way is up. Regardless of motivations, though, with all the adversity the LGBT community still faces, it’s difficult not to just hope for the best with all this, that a superhero comic featuring a gay superhero or a superhero who’s married to a Canadian might somehow be able to help at least one queer youth cope with the horrendous, overwhelming hatred aimed towards them by people who believe vehemently in a God who loves all of humanity. All we can do for now is hope that someday, through some grace, that young boys or girls, regardless of their sexual orientation, regardless of what bullies say or what their churches might try to tell them, will someday come together and hold hands and learn there is way better shit they can read than Marvel or DC comics. I read Fear Itself AND Flashpoint last year, so believe me, it gets better, just by reading anything else at all. Just anything– the backs of cereal boxes, YouTube comment sections, the screenplay to B.A.P.S., just anything. At all. For real, for really real, anything.
We should probably end there, sundered into thoughtful rest by Abhay’s dream of a better future. And yet, why not return to the muck and the mire, why not look upon the comics that have been published, so that we may speak ill of some of them, for it is in the practice of ill speech that we may discover catharsis.
Batman Incorporated #1
By Grant Morrison, Chris Burnham, Nathan Fairbairn
Published by DC Comics
This is a proper thing here, a simple story about a rich man and his son hurting bad people. In a nice little acknowledgement of his superiors, Morrison includes a sequence set in that nightclub from the first few minutes of the Blade movie (disguised here as a slaughterhouse) as well as a moment where Robin executes the takedown style that turned out to be the only cool thing Ben Affleck got to do in that horrible Daredevil movie. What is a super-hero comic, if not a cheap super-hero movie? The answer: published here. Oh sure, there’s more to it than that, and yes, it is a good super-hero comic that rewards one’s attention with a whole mess of pleasures, but let’s not kid around: Grant Morrison fans are super touchy, and Nadel needs those uniques.
The Towers of Bois Maury 1
By Hermann Huppen
Published by Titan, 1984
From a purely Consumers Reports viewpoint, this was a great deal when it was first published : a four-dollar comic containing a lengthy color story, well printed, in an edition that roughly approximates that sexy European album size that raises eyebrows and soaks one’s drawers. From a comic book art geek viewpoint, it’s an absolutely gorgeous book to look at. If Santoro is correct about Frazetta getting starry eyed over Hermann, there’s plenty of gawk-heavy reasons to admire available here. Does it fall apart on the literary end? Sort of. The story is harmless, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t also dumb shit–some lady is getting raped, murder occurs, torture occurs, religious people occur, filicide occurs, banishment occurs, there’s a horse, then some stealing–but at the end of the day, this dude can draw the bananas off horses. That was what brought it home for Rod Rodi in the ’80s Journal, and it’ll do for now as well.
By Dave Sim
Published by Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1981
Titled “Mind Game I”, this issue of Cerebus is a remarkable pieces of work, mostly because it’s still somewhat of a bewildering fuck you, these thirty years later. Having read so little of this series, one has to wonder if this issue (and its upcoming sequel, in #28) don’t serve as an excellent acid test for the rumored confusions to come. After all, the mind vomit of this issue isn’t coupled with it being irredeemable as drawing exercise–”Mind Game I” has an exciting, serpentine structure to a few of its double page spreads, and while few can usually make those tricks work, Sim’s layout leads you up and down with ease–and yet there’s absolutely no way to look beyond those structural mechanics, as they are all the pages contain. It fails as story, and unlike countless comics that also wear that criticism, it fails as entertainment as well. It’s just pictures and some words–the comics part never drops into place.
The Brave and the Bold #150
By Jim Aparo, Bob Haney, Jerry Serpe
Published by DC Comics, 1979
In this issue, Bob Haney plays with the reader’s expectations, saving the introduction of Batman’s co-star for the conclusion of this comic’s final act. There doesn’t seem to be enough evidence early in the comic for even the most attentive readers to determine who the secret co-star is, but as I opened the comic to the actual page where Batman goes, “Oh GREAT, it’s you, Superman,” I cannot guarantee that a wiser reader wouldn’t have figured it out before that page. (And now, neither can you.) As with most of Bob Haney’s Brave and the Bold comics, some pretty dark stuff is jovially delivered, like multiple dead civilians and Batman going, “Well, shit, I definitely tried my best,” and like all Jim Aparo comics, it all looks fantastic. There’s also a brief appearance of Aparo-n rarity #14, which is when the artist would choose to depict Batman’s eyes instead of the customary all-white slits, in this case so that it was that much more clear how much Batman hated it whenever it seemed like Commissioner Gordon was about to make a joke.
By Frank Robbins, Irv Novick, Joe Giella
Published by DC Comics, 1969
While this issue of Batman came out after the television show had ended, it’s clear they were still mining that pit for all of their tone, jokes, and style. While not having Adam West and Burt Ward (specifically, not having their unusual speech cadences) turns Batman and Robin into tone-deaf straight men, delivering pun-laden humor in a weirdly robotic style more reminiscent of a serial killer story than it does a super-hero one, it also makes for a reading experience whose kitsch factor hasn’t dulled. This comic is weird on accident, probably because the people who made it were trying to imitate something they don’t appear to have liked, with the wrong tools. Compared to the earliest Batman comics–or the horseshit that was to come–these post television Batmans have a dirty, stupid style that’s impossible to imitate, and is second only to the space traveling robo-holocaust Batman stories of the late ’50s in nailing that sweet spot between “weird” and “shit.” These aren’t good comics, but maybe that’s the point: good comics don’t live very long. Weird gets to be immortal.
Secret Service #2
By Mark Millar, Dave Gibbons, Matthew Vaughn, Andy Lanning, Angus McKie
Published by Icon
Having pleasant feelings towards Mark Millar comics always seems to require a defense, unless you’re talking about his precious time on Superman Adventures, a fabled run so surrounded by acclaim that one can’t help but think dear Nancy might still be with us if they’d had a couple issues laying open around the Benoit weight room that heady June weekend, so let’s dispense with our best case upfront: it seems unlikely that this particular comic will give its creators any reason to depict forced incest. It does continue to be a gem in terms of proper cheesery, with jokes and everything, and the action parts are well drawn. It’s not art, and it never will be, but if the American comics market had another thirty genre titles as competent as this one, it might not be thought of as the gigantic embarrassing joke that it, basically, is.
By Robert Kirkman, Marc Silvestri, Brian Stelfreeze, Sunny Gho of IFS
Published by Top Cow and Image Comics
This rip-off of a million other things that Robert Kirkman saw came out of something called “Pilot Season”, which used to be some kind of contest type thing for people who weren’t already successful, and the prize was that you got to make comics for Top Cow, which is a prize the same way herpes sores are a prize you get for having blackout sex with somebody you met in Penn Station. The contest comics didn’t sell that well due to the fact that people who want to work for Top Cow but don’t already are, generally speaking, about as good at making comics as Casey Anthony is at being a babysitter, so Robert Kirkman decided he’d just write all of them. That’s around the time they should have stopped using contest language, because you can’t have a competition when the same guy writes all of the contestants. However, they kept this one in the vault for two years, maybe because that’s how long it took Marc Silvestri to draw the cover, which features a little boy preparing to shoot his mother in the back of the head. (Short story time: this comic’s plot is about a guy who can “pilot” people around for a while because they’ve been shot with a “hardcore.” That’s why Robert Kirkman gets paid the big bucks, pal. Man’s a goddamned dreamweaver.) This issue ends on a cliffhanger–like most Image comics and all Robert Kirkman comics, the last line features a baldly declared elevator pitch, this one being “I have seventy-two hours to save my life”–but considering how long it took to arrive, it seems like it should maybe have a bit more. But then again: fuck it, why not put it out there? After all, “everything Robert Kirkman touches turns to gold, Image keeps rolling great book after great book out, some of the panels in the beginning are brilliantly done,” and hey, “a rising tide makes ships more fun,” or whatever that phrase is that people use when they want to pretend that supporting Top Cow Comics somehow makes things better for the art form as a whole.
Avengers Versus X-Men #4
By Jonathan Hickman, John Romita Jr., Scott Hanna, Laura Martin, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction
Published by Marvel Comics
This column hasn’t covered an issue of Avengers Versus X-Men in a while, so here’s a recap: Wolverine got in a fight with Captain America because they disagreed over whether one of the story’s main characters should die now or in a later issue, and then Captain America dropped him out of a plane into Antarctica, probably because Steve Rogers read a couple of issues of The Economist and found out that today’s American solves his problems by throwing them somewhere where they won’t have to look at them for awhile, and if Mexico doesn’t like it, maybe they should just arrest the drug dealers. Basically, it’s an aggressive form of procrastination. The current issue of AVX–say what you will about this comic, but you have to give it credit for having a catchy abbreviation–follows suit, relying on panels of recognizable characters punching other, less recognizable characters to pass the time. The funny thing about all this brutish simplicity is that it’s not wholly without merit–most of these characters have been under the thumb of Brian Michael Bendis for so long that it is a breath of fresh air to see them hitting one another, and while the current critical meme of “are they really heroes?” can find plenty of evidence to make a case for the negative in these pages, you’d be a fucking fool to pretend that guys like Hickman, Aaron, or Fraction should be playing things any differently. This type of shit–goofy quips sandwiching exposition and lumbering plots–is what those guys do well. It’s when they try to do the other thing–the “trying” thing–that they turn into the skinny kid on the dance floor, trying to pick up girls by putting his leg behind his head.
By Dan Jurgens, Keith Giffen, Jesus Merino
Published by DC Comics
You think if Groth and Co. had known back in the day where Keith Giffen’s career was going to take him, maybe they would have gone easier on him for all those José Muñoz swipes? Because this is just a brutal way to head towards that sunset. Even Dan Jurgens deserves better than this, this generic, phoned-in, 1990s fetish-for-Superman comic. (Hell, Jurgens wrote most of the shitty ’90s Superman comics this thing is ripping off, making for an experience akin to going to the beach with your mom on her 70th birthday and turning around to see her in a bathing suit she wore when she was 40, and it had already started making you uncomfortable then.) Story wise, it goes something like this: Superman flies and rescues an old timey Russian submarine while some nondescript new female villain (her name is Anguish, which is the only nod Jurgens gives to contemporary comics—if it wasn’t a joke, it would be hilarious) robs a bank in the slowest, most attention getting fashion possible, Superman comes back to Metropolis but is only able to be Clark Kent for a page or so (in which time Jurgens/Giffen do the most tone-deaf approximation of Aaron Sorkin-style dialog you’ll find these days, it’s like reading a Good Wife script written by one of those comics people who hasn’t read a book since The World According To Garp was published), and then he gets beat up by Anguish while the local television runs with some story about Superman’s secret identity, which is based off the reports of a Popular Blogger. The cliffhanger of the comic is … well, there isn’t one. The Popular Blogger is wrong, and Superman isn’t going to die at the hands of a bank robbing lady named Anguish. Oh, and if we didn’t mention that her costume has a boob window, that’s only because we were waiting until right now to say that yes, of course it does.
Batman: The Dark Knight #9
By Judd Winick, David Finch, Richard Friend, Sonia Oback
Published by DC Comics
At the end of the previous issue of Batman (this is Batman: The Dark Knight, which is a different thing), Batman came into a guy’s office just in time to catch the last few minutes of the guy-in-the-office’s life, because he was dying from getting stabbed by some other guy who was also in the office when Batman came in. That dude (the dude who was dying from being stabbed) shot the other dude (the dude who stabbed him) with a gun, in the face. Then Batman said something dramatic, and that part of the comic ended. It took about four pages. This comic’s plot–which no one likes, including DC Comics editorial, which is why they keep throwing new writers at it even though the title was specifically created so that artist David Finch could sow his ’90s Image auteur pipe dreams by writing his own shit–deals with the life of that faceless soldier who gets shot in the face, making it the one-billionth time a team of comic book people tried to pull off the “henchman back story” thing, despite the fact that the only time that even kind of worked was when it was done as a gag in that first Austin Powers movie, and even there it seems like it was a deleted scene, and for chrissakes, even if it wasn’t a deleted scene: this comic’s basic plot worked best as a joke in a fucking Austin Powers movie. There should be an alarm that goes off when that happens. That should be the note that the editor sends out, just a quick Reply All that says, “This was a joke in a ’90s Mike Myers movie, try harder.” Fuck man, really, do they even have editors at DC Comics? Do they eat with their feet? Is the building on fire right now? You’re on the internet, Google that right now: Is the building where they edit DC Comics on fire, right now, and has it been on fire since 1997? Because then things make sense again.