I hate the new Justice League. Let me be emphatic on this point: I loathe the new Justice League. I realize to a few this may seem a bit dramatic. After all, isn’t this book exactly what we have all been clamoring for: fun?
Isn’t that what we had for a bit in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and early aughts? Fun? The great big buzz word that seems to truly mean “hollow.”
Hasn’t anyone wondered why it is that our comics canon is so small? Where the literary, film and television cannons all grow each year leaps and bounds, ours in comics is a paltry sum. What, maybe 2 or 3 really a year that are just exceptional.
While the value of exceptional does vary person to person, I would love to believe we can all agree: comics’ exceptional value cannot be based solely on the creative team behind it. While I love Warren Ellis, even I have to admit his run on Astonishing X-Men was rather lackluster. It was obviously not a property he felt particularly compelled to write, but the lure of more pony money helped. (Just Kidding Mr. Ellis, please don’t send the word demons to rape me!) The stories were an attempt at returning to a more compressed storytelling style.
Part of this could be due to release dates increasing. Due to all types of conflicts this could have all forced Ellis to establish a more compressed style. The storylines often ending in 3-4 issues instead of the standard 6 issues right now.
But why has the standard jumped up so much? Are the stories becoming so elaborate that they require more space to tell them?
If only this were true.
Instead, writers are becoming increasingly reliant on cheap emotional tricks to lure the audience into a reaction. For instance, the splash page seems to be nothing more than emotional punctuation to a cheap punch line. We all know that Spider-Man looks cool jumping and gliding past buildings. We are used to this. Go ahead and show Green Lantern speaking in third person to mimic the concept of arrogance. Why show that through action? (I told myself I wouldn’t use Justice League# 1 as an example, too!)
This vapid attempt at story is largely because comic books are an addicts economy.
How can we “hook” them?
“Them” largely refers to the always important new reader demographic. But right there, right fucking there is the problem. When in the holy ten hells did we start caring about demographics? When did we need marketing help from big companies to come in and attempt to brand Superman?
You don’t brand Superman.
He is fucking Superman.
What brand does he need?
Somewhere in this mad rush for money and market shares a subtle trade was enacted. This is commerce, you don’t get something for nothing. The Devil was paid his pound of flesh, which the price seems to have been the last shred of literacy.
We gave it up like lustful sailors in a back alley full of prostitutes. Happily, we would have given it twice over again.
Look at any of the major comic book news sites and they all report about what comics are number one and who got what market share. There is a deep worry in the comics community that the comic book is dying. That soon it will be buried in the cultural graveyard next to Betamax players, but behind the Furbies.
OK, maybe it won’t be quite that bad, but this is still an issue we don’t have to worry about. Further, I would say it is an issue we shouldn’t worry about either. Unless comic books stop being released on a weekly schedule, I would suggest our attention should divest elsewhere.
Oh, whats that? Someone in the back shouted “story.”
Even that becomes a loaded reply. The problem is actually not lack of story, it is lack of depth. Lack of literacy.
If you pick up the new Justice League, you can become very excited by the visuals. Some are bright, loud, and generally all are bombastic. It is breakneck speed which means something was left out: story.
Let’s say we enter an alternate timeline, one where the main fashion of comics is story. Great, you think, finally a reality that I belong in. Not so fast, honcho, don’t unpack. This universe’s comics would conceivably share the same fate as ours. Why? One word: fashion.
No, not the fact that they wear funny or different clothes, but the concept of trends. What is hip is increasingly being incorporated into comic books. Trends are largely based on spectacle. What has captured the attention of the country now?
This spectacle, which can come in any form, soon degrades other forms because those mediums become infected with the spectacle. Why? Because it sells.
No one can convince me that vampires started showing up in the Marvel universe more after Twilight became a commercial powerhouse. This is a gimmick. It is not a natural evolution of a theme or character, this is cramming a square peg into a circular hole.
Worse is that it is insulting because it robs the readers of any need for critical thinking or enjoyment. It is just full of cheap thrills all simulating depth.
While I am frightened by the age we are entering with comic books, I do take solace that comics are even easier to make today than they ever were. Two friends with a computer can upload a graphic novel and sell it on Amazon with no great difficulty.
While the corporate comic companies battle for the prize, the rest of us will stay in the trenches and produce good comics.