Comics of the Weak Comics of the Weak

If You Want To See The Girl Next Door, Go Next Door

While Nathan Bulmer is here, Abhay Khosla took a break from this week's news, for a standing engagement as comics reviewer over at the Savage Critics--this week alone, he wrote about Scarlet, Snapshot, Non-Humans, Where Is Jake Ellis and Guardians of the Galaxy. Take a look at 'em. Come back if you've got the time.
I have been spending a lot of time watching television recently. I'm not sure the of titles of the shows I've been watching, because my Spanish is rusty to the point where it feels dishonest to use the phrase "my Spanish." I've been at the laundromat, and while I bring magazines and books and check my phone and wear headphones, I find it difficult not to stare at the television that's hoisted up in the corner of the room, babbling images of terrifying looking old women ladled in garish jewelry who fight incessantly with young women and fat men and in one particularly memorable instance, their own memory. (She had a heart attack, which means memory won, I think.) There are obnoxiously shouty commercials where attractive men turn in slow motion while Monday Night Football style visual effects explode behind wry smiles. There's a game or talk show populated by the happiest people I've ever seen on television, people who beam and laugh and cry on a level that's at first laughable and then, as the wash cycles roll by, deeply enviable. I wouldn't say I look forward to these shows, because I keep bringing things to read, assuming this is the week I'll fight the temptation to stare, but it didn't take very many trips before I started to respect these shows, a whole lot more than I would have expected to. They're well-made entertainments, built around very base, very broad concerns: sex, money, violence, family. The people in the fictional stories are trying to get ahead, with some relying on hard work, and others relying on trickery. Love seems important, although loyalty is what they talk about most. The game and talk show hybrid relies more heavily on schtick, with the humor usually coming via very feminine fat men; the women give it to you straight, while dressed just on the classy side of risque.
I don't respect these shows as art, but they don't want me to. They just want me to pay attention, and while my own ignorance keeps me a bit removed, they're incredibly successful at doing that.
While I haven't read every issue of Jason Aaron's Thor: God of Thunder title, my general feeling about the issues I have read is that it's working the same angle as those laundromat masterpieces. It's an engaging piece of entertainment that is clever enough to coast through the necessary cliches that come with being one of 900 appearances of a character who will always solve his problems by eventually hitting them with a hammer, and it has enough moments of visual appeal to offset the occasional wrong note that Marvel's sped-up production process can't help but create. It's a good superhero comic, but not a great one, whether you're defining great by innovative newness or seamless refinement. I imagine it's like Game of Thrones, although I've never seen that: something that's fun to keep up with and be startled by, even if none of what it ends on is really that fun or even particularly startling. How it goes about what it does is what keeps one at attention, because in the same way that you know that a Thor comic will eventually see Thor squaring circles with his hammer, you pretty much know what's going to happen when a television show hits those final episodes.
The apotheosis of this sort of entertainment is always going to be something like television--video games and comics require more participation, and TV's highest goal will always be to take over where your light bulb leaves off, with passive entertainment becoming full utility. But if there was a runner-up to the television shows that are numbly pumped in, it would be the comics work of Mark Millar, a man who has pursued the refinement of shlock so far that he no longer needs to hide behind corporate characters. Instead, he can count on an audience that will always know exactly who he's making fun of or referencing or calling out, building entire moneyed franchises out of characters he no longer even needs to get the rights to. (Millar's Nemesis, a character that nearly ended up in the hands of the now deceased filmmaker Tony Scott, was once described by the writer with the phrase, "What if Batman was a total cunt?") Secret Service--Millar's hybrid of spy fiction and Joss Whedon-style nerd-culture reference porn--limped to its conclusion this past week, its back page chortling to itself about the movie adaptation, "already in the works."
Some of it was actually funny, which shouldn't come as a surprise. Millar, more so than any of his contemporaries, is better at aping the sound and rhythm of contemporary pop culture, and while familiarity breeds contempt, the things he's familiar with aren't the boring, continuity driven superhero comics we're tired of but are instead the popular movies that haven't been picked clean yet. (What's Old Man Logan but Wolverine's Unforgiven?) Watching Millar kill Mark Hamill with a Wile E. Coyote gag may not be tasteful, but considering the audience, it's at least an imitation of audacious. And that's the flip side to Millar's trick, one he plays to in every issue of Kick-Ass--we're all in on the joke, and the joke is on people who care about comics, because look-what-just-happened-to-Luke, and boy-isn't-Batman-a-pussy. The only way this shit works is if you believe there's somebody down the street, shaking their fists in red-faced rage at what's been done to their precious ... well, whatever Millar's making fun of at the time.
It's a neat trick: everybody involved is smugly sneering at some imaginary whiner, while a silent part of you wonders why the whole thing feels so fucking empty and unfunny--aren't jokes supposed to make you laugh? And why are so may black people getting killed? Or, as the Journal's own Joe McCulloch put it: "Who in the fuck makes 'rejection of demeaning hip-hop gear' a major concluding applause line for a hero's journey in 2013? Wait, I know the answer - every adult I grew up around in the 1990s. Mark Millar: truly the Cool Uncle of comics."
Something like Secret Service is easy to dismiss when it fails; by its nature, it wears its goal on every panel. It wants to be a movie, and these are the rough drafts for its jokes. They're making a movie? It must have worked then.
The other kind of comics then, the ones that don't even try to live up to the standards of my precious mustached Mexican cowboy commercial: the self-published, nothing-to-prove-but-proving kind. Here's one.
Here's another.
The first image is from The Raw Edge, published by its creator, Devin Clark. Clark's the guy responsible for Comedy Central's Ugly Americans, as well as one of the artists most responsible for the art and comics magazine Mammal. Another Mammal artist is Benjamin Marra, and while Raw Edge doesn't read as something Marra would have created, it reads like the product of someone who shares Marra's interest for better or for ... well, just better, really. It's a science fiction setting similar to what you'd find in Blade Runner, Akira, or whatever author those particular things was inspired by or stole from, populated by a bunch of hot-tempered characters going through the selfish, noir-staple motions required. The only hint that Clark might not be taking it seriously isn't found in the story or dialog--there's no real irony or winking to be found--but in the cover, where the cover logo combines a BMX Bandits font with the steel italics you'd see on a cereal box, if the cereal had some sort of industrial characters hanging out on a scaffolding. Likability goes a long way, and this one has way more than it even needs. On second thought, this is as good as my wry cowboy. Hell, it's almost better.
Such Is Life then: the odd one out. Entertainment is a tertiary concern if it's a concern at all, although I'm a sucker for whatever you call it where the title of a comic turns into the comic's final line when you close the book and it works perfectly. This has that. Spoiler?
I was led to this one as being one of only two things of interest in a room full of competition, and while I think that's judging the rest of the horses harshly, me being soft doesn't mean that Kayla Jones hasn't earned some praise. Lynd Ward-like, woodcut-y comics that would lend themselves extremely well to horror (if she wanted to go that route), this wordless one-off will certainly impress anyone who happens upon it. Hopefully there's more to come.
In summation: are comics better than laundromat telenovelas, watched randomly?

17 Responses to If You Want To See The Girl Next Door, Go Next Door

  1. Pallas says:

    ” and the joke is on people who care about comics, because look-what-just-happened-to-Luke, and boy-isn’t-Batman-a-pussy.”

    Who is Luke? Is there a character in Kickass named Luke? Anyone want to translate this for me?

  2. Tony says:

    Luke Skywalker…. 3 lines above that:

    “Watching Millar kill Mark Hamill with a Wile E. Coyote gag may not be tasteful”

  3. Don Druid says:

    I sat down and read Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine one time, my mistake right? And it made me not trust Jason Aaron by way of Marvel to do what I keep hearing Thor: God of Thunder does. Maybe that’s not fair, but maybe life’s too short.

  4. Chris Jones says:

    Oh, those dreadful red-faced people do exist, and Mark Millar does piss them off. Tumblr and most message boards are evidence of that, although I’ve yet to meet someone in person who finds MIllar offensive on a personal level.

  5. Paul Slade says:

    “You should know I make love like I make war. Naked and in a berserker rage.”

    It’s dialogue like this that has won mainstream superhero comics the universal respect they enjoy today.

  6. Kate Halprin says:

    My only thought on the Millar thing is “The Black Knight always triumphs!”

  7. Juhawh says:

    Tumblr: the tutorial mode for trolling.

    At least that’s how a friend referred to it.

  8. Bpp says:

    Try Alan Grant. He fucking hates him. In person.

  9. Bpp says:

    Just bought that The Raw Edge. 6 bucks shipping to Ireland.

    If it sucks I’m feeding you digital poodle pie till the electronic ghost of Robert Morley chestbursts through your stomach and reads you IDW scripts till you lose the will to live.

    Journalism has a price.

  10. David Groenewegen says:

    Grant Morrison has expressed a high level of disgust for Millar as a person – check the last line in this interview

  11. Jeppe says:

    Are there any less interesting questions in the world of comic books than who thinks what about whom?

  12. Bpp says:

    10 less interesting questions in the world of comic books

    1) which Robin is Robin
    2) which Spider-Man just quit being Spider-Man
    3) who dies in XMen
    4) who is writing XMen
    5) who is deciding who is writing XMen
    6) number zero of anything written by the new writer of XMen
    7) comixology
    8) Neil Gaiman
    9) Grant Morrison
    10) ‘oh I don’t buy Heavy Metal because of the porn adverts’

    Don’t get me wrong, who hates who is pretty boring, but Alan Grant’s rage is, at least, we’ll formed and due. And Millar’s ceaseless self-promotion does grate in his domestic constituency.

  13. And an especially odd thing to say post coitus, as well. Did Thor not notice her violent fugue state while the act was happening? Does he remain Golgo-13 like in his passive disinterest in the woman’s bear-shirted rage? Does she need to remind him what just happened because he has a bad memory?

    These are the questions, these are the questions…

  14. Paul Slade says:

    I also love the fact that her next word is “Thor?” as he heads for the exit. Who can blame him?

  15. Carl says:

    Um, she actually says, “You should know I make war like I make love…”

    I’ve never seen this comic, but this page makes it absolutely clear that Thor knows how she makes love, having just witnessed it, that he does not know how she makes war, having never witnessed it, and that she intends to give him a demonstration of the latter, in response to the threat that has just interrupted them.

    But let’s not let facts get in the way of snark.

    Mainstream superhero comic: beyond our patience to fairly consider.

    (besides Tucker, who clearly spent some time considering this Thor comic)

  16. Paul Slade says:

    Carl is right. I accidentally garbled the quote and that made her remark look even sillier than it already was. The notion that making love “in a berserker rage” is a good thing still strikes me as eminently mockable, however. I mean, what’s she doing – ripping Thor’s windpipe out with her teeth while he’s pumping away?

  17. Andrew Taylor says:

    Of course, because it’s the Jason Aaron Thor book, it’s kind of…meant to…be silly? A little bit?

    Flabbergasting, I know.

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