Loud Sounds and Bright Lights:

Comic Books and the Addict

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.

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Kevin Thurman is a writer based in Chicago. He blogs about comics, life, and music at errantghost.tumblr.com.

See more, including free online content, on .

Also by Kevin Thurman:

Warren Ellis: The Captured Ghosts Interviews


Voyage in Noise: Warren Ellis and the Demise of Western Civilization


Shot in the Face: A Savage Journey to the Heart of Transmetropolitan


The Devil is in the Details: Examining Matt Murdock and Daredevil


a feature-length documentary film on celebrated comics writer Warren Ellis

creative consultant

Keeping the World Strange: A Planetary Guide



  1. Cody Walker says:

    “When in the holy ten hells did we start caring about demographics?” – When 90,000 copies was considered the top selling comic of the month.

    “Further, I would say it is an issue we shouldn’t worry about either.” – Sales at Wildstorm dropped so low that they cut the entire line which means that more than just writers and artists lost their jobs. Letterers, inkers, editors, and so many other people were out of a job because these comics were considered no longer commercially viable. Then again, with the oversaturation of comics in the market, maybe we need a little economic Darwinism to thin the herd a little.

    “It is just full of cheap thrills all simulating depth.” But we shouldn’t ignore that this has been a staple of comics since their creation. Comics are a purely commercial medium. Yes, they have moments of brilliance and moments where they are literary, but the exist to continue existing. Major events to sell more books and latching onto trends in an attempt to connect to another audience isn’t indicative of just this era of comics – it’s indicative of comics as a whole. Their very existence is to have “loud sounds and bright lights” to attract readers and get more readers.

    Sometimes, I like to think about what comics fans would have been like back then if they were like we are now. I can just see fans who are reading the first Justice League story saying, “This is so cheap. They’re just taking their most popular characters in mashing them all together for some lame story about a star fish. And who is this a-hole? Snapper Carr? Who is he? Why the hell does he talk like an idiot? No one talks like that! ‘I’m really swinging casting orbs on you like this, Flash!’ Who the hell says that?! He’s just some cheap marketing ploy to try and get kids to relate to a character in Justice League.”

  2. David Balan says:

    “But we shouldn’t ignore that this has been a staple of comics since their creation. Comics are a purely commercial medium. Yes, they have moments of brilliance and moments where they are literary, but the exist to continue existing. Major events to sell more books and latching onto trends in an attempt to connect to another audience isn’t indicative of just this era of comics – it’s indicative of comics as a whole. Their very existence is to have “loud sounds and bright lights” to attract readers and get more readers.”

    But consider what Kevin mentioned above – film and literature have a burgeoning group of excellent work (and a large group of awful work – but that’s inevitable) while comics has relatively little, even taking into account the fact that there aren’t as many comics as literature.

    But film began around the same time, yet it has more people watching them, a greater diversity of work, a greater overall quality of work, and generally more respect from the populace. Why? Because of their environments of origin – like you said comics have always been a commercial product – a throwaway to sell at the stands to kids. Many artists and writers have done great work -despite- this attitude, but that doesn’t make this attitude okay.

    It’s sort of like saying “Well, we should keep our poor quality stories because that’s just the way it’s always been done!” That’s not a reason. Just because comics began where most stories were marketing-filled vapidity doesn’t mean it should stay that way.

    • Cody Walker says:

      “But consider what Kevin mentioned above – film and literature have a burgeoning group of excellent work (and a large group of awful work – but that’s inevitable) while comics has relatively little” That’s more of a problem with the past rather than the present. There were very few comics before 1985 that we could consider to be literary or canon because back then, people didn’t consider comics to be the correct medium for any of that. So, really, Kevin should be upset with everything before 1985.

  3. Cody,

    Sales do not equal art. My point is that comics culture centered around the stories and characters for much of its history. Now that care goes into market shares and heirachical sales charts. That to me is a sickness infecting the comics cultures that we need a fucking vaccine for and stat.

    While I as much as anyone was sad to see Wildstorm go, this too was not my point. My point with that line is that comics in general are still being pumped out on a weekly basis. I am not calling out individual publishers. IF comics are being published on a weekly basis that means things are still going. Comics are NOT dead then. Certain publishing houses will fall, sure, but just because Paramount Pictures crumbles doesn’t mean movies will too.

    Their very existence is to have “loud sounds and bright lights” to attract readers and get more readers. – Cody, if this were true, comics would have become so post-modern and random that any vestige of story would have been stripped during the 80′s. Instead, the story was butressed by the new wave of writers. See, this is the issue to me, we are mistaking BIGGER, BRIGHTER with new and innovative. Bright lights are sometimes just that, bright. Nothing more.

    They might have said all that stuff. And some of it may have even been true. This is not a defense of the old is better than the new. A lot of the old is as shitty as Justice League 1. I want more people to make comics so we dont have to rely on the corporate teat for a majority of our comics. I want fresh and new, not half assed cartoonery.

    • “A lot of the old is as shitty as Justice League #1.”

      True, but we mostly didn’t know better then. Today, it’s two decades after revisionism taught us (if we didn’t not already) that comics could be smart and that smart stories will sell and will stand the test of time. So today, we’re intentionally being stupid.

    • Cody Walker says:

      “Cody, if this were true, comics would have become so post-modern and random that any vestige of story would have been stripped during the 80?s.” – But it is absolutely true because every decision made in the construction of comics is a decision to increase sales. While comics have had elements of brilliance and can be considered capital A Art, since their creation, they have existed only to further exist.

      In short, the exist to sell and continue selling. More than anything, they are a commodity that sometimes has streaks of brilliance to the point of being considered Art, but mostly, they exist in order to exist.

      This isn’t a criticism of the form. It’s merely an acknowledgment of what it is. Comics are no different than movies or books in that some will be brilliant, some will be innovative, but most will be crap and that is the way of the world. There will be innovation (Morrison on Action) and there will be boring, predictable comics that go through the motions (Tony Daniel on Hawkman, Liefeld on Hawk and Dove, Static, all of the Legion books). By the law of averages, that’s just life.

      • David Balan says:

        Corporate comics exist to sell and continue selling – I would compare Justice League #1 with the recent Avatar movie – all bang, no buck. Sights, flashes, and wonderful spectacle, with no driving force, principle, or thought put into it.

        Does it make alot of money? Certainly. Is it visually astounding? Certainly. Is it quality work that will stand the test of time, affect people’s lives and thoughts, and has something important to say? No.

        Why do we laud the “literary classics”? Because they had something to say – yes, most of them sold very, very well. But they did not exist to sell – Alan Moore didn’t write Watchmen to cash checks. He probably enjoyed cashing checks, because they allowed him to live and continue exploring his passion, but the first and primary motive of his creation was for him to say something important – to share with the world, through a story, something he thought was worth sharing. This was proven when he declined any profit from the Watchmen movie because he felt it did not accurately portray his creative vision. (Which it didn’t.)

        The greatest work is not created out of a desire for money or profit. It is created out of a desire to communicate, to articulate, and to tell someone else something that affected you so profoundly, that you just can’t get it out of your head.

        The audience’s money isn’t what a great creator wants – they need that money in order to support themselves and continue creating. But what they want is your attention – not your wallet.

        That’s what makes great comics that stand the test of time. And to say “Well, Justice League #1 is fine because it’s like all the other corporate comics that only exist to make money!” is lowering one’s expectations. It’s acceptance of mediocrity.

        When I shell out money to see a film, buy a comic book, or pick up a new tome, I’m not doing it because I love the corporation, or because I want to be mildly entertained for a few moments by a poorly crafted narrative. I want to reimburse someone for the time it took them to communicate something important – I want to help them so they can continue to pursue what they have to say to the world and to me, because I’m taking the chance that it might be important and enlightening.

        Justice League #1 doesn’t deliver on that. I have no reason to purchase it.

      • Cody, your use of a false dichotomy between high art and commerce is truly frightening.

        In reality, as surely you must know from literary and art history, there’s a wide spectrum between the two. You do know Shakespeare wrote for money, right?

        Yet you seem to use this false dichotomy to insulate anything you like from critique, because you can always say, “hey, dude, it’s not Citizen Kane.”

        Which is incredibly patronizing and anti-intellectual. In fact, it’s mocking anyone even trying to be intelligent.

        And of course, this same tactic could be used on you. Don’t like the Smurfs movie? Yeah, it’s dumb and doesn’t make sense! It doesn’t have to! It’s commercial. I had no problem with it, and people laughed in the audience, and that means it’s accessible! Welcome to the slippery slope of anti-intellectualism.

        I get what you’re trying to say, which is that not all art has an obligation to be intelligent or thoughtful or have high art aspirations. But please rethink the way you’re putting it, which is honestly very dangerous. It would eliminate any ability to judge any art that is “commercial.” And it perpetuates the idea that insisting on quality is somehow impossibly elite.

        And nothing could be more offensive to comics than that.

      • Not to gang bang you on them comments Cody, but I notice you are already calling Morrison’s run on Action Comics as innovative and it isn’t even out yet. This, to me, is where us two fanboys diverge.

        If I had to fathom a guess I would say Action Comics will be alright. Morrison is something of a spent rock star at this point. I doubt he will ever be innovative again, BUT I surely hope he surprises me with Action Comics.

        But it is absolutely true because every decision made in the construction of comics is a decision to increase sales. – Cody I find this statement to be of your most alarming. This is the goal of the marketer, not the story teller. If, as an artist, your ABSOLUTE AND EVERY decision is made to further bring in cash, then what you created is a never ending math equation that always equals dollar signs.

        If you truly believe this, then I ask that you write an article explaining your concept of art and how to create it genuinely.

  4. Cody Walker says:

    “Does it make alot of money? Certainly. Is it visually astounding? Certainly. Is it quality work that will stand the test of time, affect people’s lives and thoughts, and has something important to say? No.” – But did anyone expect Justice League to ‘affect people’s lives and thoughts’? No!!! That’s not its function! It’s function is to be a visually astounding book that makes money off of action. That’s it. Who cares if it doesn’t have ‘something important to say’ because it looks pretty and there is nothing wrong with that.

    “But they did not exist to sell – Alan Moore didn’t write Watchmen to cash checks.” You’re insane if you honestly believe this. Of course Alan Moore wrote Watchmen to cash checks. The very reason he left DC was because he wasn’t getting paid enough for Watchmen. Sure, he didn’t write a sequel to it, but nearly every problem he has ever had with a publisher is because of money. And you can cite his displeasure with the film versions of his comics all you like, but he was still paid for them. He has his cake and he eats it too.

    “The greatest work is not created out of a desire for money or profit. It is created out of a desire to communicate, to articulate, and to tell someone else something that affected you so profoundly, that you just can’t get it out of your head.The audience’s money isn’t what a great creator wants – they need that money in order to support themselves and continue creating. But what they want is your attention – not your wallet.” – What about Superman? While he might not be everyone’s favorite hero, he is certainly recognizable all over the world. He was created by two guys who just wanted to make money. They wanted to create a hero that they could tell serialized versions of so they could get a steady paycheck for their work. Please don’t lie to yourself that writers and artists are noble people who just want to share stories. If they weren’t getting paid, they wouldn’t do it – this isn’t meant to be a criticism, but it is merely the way of the world. To create is their job and without getting paid, they wouldn’t do it.

    If you really feel this way, then write your most important story and give it away for free. Post it on the internet and don’t charge a dime or put up any advertising. Do it because you’re telling a story and you really want to. Doesn’t sound very logical does it? Putting all of that time and effort into something and getting nothing out of it just isn’t logical. “Creative fulfillment” may seem noble, but it doesn’t keep the lights on at the end of the day.

    “When I shell out money to see a film, buy a comic book, or pick up a new tome, I’m not doing it because I love the corporation, or because I want to be mildly entertained for a few moments by a poorly crafted narrative.” – That’s fine. My wife buys all of the Anita Blake books. Are they amazing? No. She knows they aren’t. She reads them because she is entertained and that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with being a commercial writer or just reading something for entertainment purposes. I buy comics written by Jai Nitz because I’ve known him since I was in 7th grade. Are his books masterpieces of the form? No. They’re competently written, but they aren’t Art by any means. I do it because he needs to support his family.

    • David Balan says:

      Of course I wouldn’t put a bunch of work into a comic and then put it up for free – I need that money in order to support myself so I have the time to create! It is not a question of whether or not I want it (and money’s nice and all, but it’s foolish to think it equates to happiness. The richest people in the world still have money anxiety. It doesn’t go away.) because I require it to live. It’s a necessity.

      But what I want is creative fulfillment. Yes, Alan Moore certainly had his cake and ate it too – that’s how it ought to be. He felt he was being underpaid for the contribution he was making, but he didn’t want to compromise his material in order to milk funds out of it, so he left. He NEEDED money, but he didn’t WANT to mess up his work to get it. Of course artists draw for money – otherwise they couldn’t live. But all great artwork comes out of a desire also to share a message.

    • Cody,

      I think it was rather absurd to say that artists and writers are, basically, never willing to work for free.

      Actually Julian and I are working our asses off creating The Ontologist which we will be posting for free on the Martian Lit site.

      • Yeah, there is the fact that we are all pretty much doing writing for free. And working really hard to make that writing top-notch. Of course, that can be a good tool for getting your name out there, as well as getting readers, since it’s hard to ask a reader to pay for something when they don’t know the author. This isn’t anything new.

        On the other hand, I take Cody’s point that most comics creation is not done for free, and commercial considerations apply. Even looking at free stuff, commercial considerations could be said to apply, if someone tries to make their work accessible, as Sequart certainly does.

        Perhaps we can agree that all art is some kind of blend of the commercial and the “pure art.” In other words, creators always are concerned for the audience and for getting eyes, if not dollars. But that doesn’t mean, if we’re reviewing the newest Wolverine spin-off, say, we can’t say it’s hack work cynically trying to cash in on Wolverine’s popularity. Does that satisfy as a reasonable, happy medium here?

  5. Cody Walker says:

    Points my wife wants me to add -

    If comics weren’t about money, then there wouldn’t be lawsuits for the rights to the characters. If they weren’t about money, then the HERO Initiative wouldn’t exist because writers and artists would just give away their work for free. Comics need to sell so that people can get paid. In order to get more money, they must be sensational to get people interested in them.

    Here’s the real issue though:

    What is the alternative to the problems all of you are suggesting? What are previous examples of works that are in line with what you think the future should be like?

    • I don’t think comics are all about money, though. Do they involve money? Sure. But it’s not either / or, money / art. No one’s saying creators should give their work away for free. But no one’s should say that them making money equals them necessarily creating comics purely for money, or making creative decisions solely based on what will sell. A lot of the stuff that has sold best over a long span of time is stuff that clearly wan’t all that commercial a prospect.

      But that’s an excellent question at the end. If we’re talking super-heroes, I’d say All Star Superman. All Star Batman is at least visionary. Identity Crisis and Civil War were unfortunately tied strongly to continuity, but they’re both excellent examples of well-told super-hero comics. Ellis and Millar on The Authority. Planetary. Almost all of America’s Best Comics. Superman: Red Son And yes, going back further, Marvels, Astro City, Supreme. Still further, Brat Pack, Miracleman, “Year One,” Watchmen. Some lesser-known stuff: SuperGods wasn’t perfect, but I’d pick it over almost anything at Marvel and DC. Wanted was loads of fun and well-done. Lots to choose from, including lots I’m forgetting. And I don’t think all of those are snooty, artsy-fartsy books by any means. They’re good, yes, but plenty are great fun too.

      Of course, I also think we’ve got to diversify away from super-heroes. Because that’s a nightmare in terms of the medium’s survival and ability to attract new readers. And there’s plenty of excellent ones. But I realize that’s not going to be the big two’s bread and butter anytime soon.

      • I would now put in here Alan Moore’s WildCATS which is about as awesome as you get for super-hero stories.

        But, Cody, I think you are arguing more of the dream of success in comics than you are actually discussing comics.

        I don’t think creators like Jason from Sweden or even Paul Chadwick who created Concrete were all that caught on the big dollar signs.

        Fuck, look at Cerebus, Dave Sim didn’t make any scratch from that till way later in life. And that was a mammoth labor of love. I DARE anyone to say a book like Cerebus was just for money.

        If anything, money has been the sickness that has diseased the genre.

      • Moore’s WildC.A.T.s is actually a pretty good example of cashing in. Or to be charitable, flailing repetitively as you try to find a new direction.

        Chadwick and Sim are wonderful, though.

  6. Cody Walker says:

    Being judgmental that Justice League wasn’t “literary” or “academic” is like complaining that “the A-Team” wasn’t Academy Award material. No one should expect it to be.

    • Are you sure this isn’t a straw man argument? Who was judgmental along those lines? Unless you think basic storytelling or having a coherent story or anything beyond some empty flash is an artsy-fartsy, ivory-tower, academic concern.

      Incidentally, anyone asking fiction to be “academic” is misusing the word. Fiction cannot be “academic,” unless one means that it takes place or is about universities. Non-fiction can be “academic,” which is a genre of non-fiction that is researched and cites, except as primary sources, only other academic writing from peer-reviewed academic presses and seems generally written to obscure itself from a general audience.

      And the trashiest work has “literary” values. That’s why a lot of real crap uses alternating sentence structure, mythic heroes, etc. It’s written, therefore it’s literary. So to wish it were more “literary” is only to wish it were written or otherwise crafted better. A quite reasonable demand, I’m sure you would agree, because action and every bit of writing, from the most visceral to the most sublime, might be written better.

      Finally, you do know that you’re saying that Justice League is trash with this comparison, saying it’s like The A-Team? That it’s mindless pablum and not trying to be anything more. And you’re defending it? This is your argument? “It’s trash, stop taking it seriously.”

      Sorry if I’m coming on too strong, but I’m sensing a real anti-intellectual vibe here, and I don’t react well to that. Let me know where I’m misunderstanding.

      • Cody Walker says:

        Personally, I thought “A-Team” was a great movie. It’s a very well put together action film and doesn’t aspire to be anything more. Likewise, Justice League is in the same vein as this. You’ve already made the argument that it some of the panels don’t make sense and that’s fine. I thought they made sense, but if you want to argue that they don’t, then go for it.

        I’m not anti-intellectual – I’m anti-intellectual when it comes to holding something up to a standard that it isn’t meant to be held to. Justice League wasn’t going to be Watchmen or Dark Knight Returns, but that wasn’t its function. It was meant to be fun. Of course, we disagree on whether or not it accomplished this and that’s fine, but holding it up to a highest of standards is unfair to it because that’s not why it was made.

        The best example I can think of is from the documentary “Heckler.” Sure, the movie is made by Jamie Kennedy and he is just awful, but it brings up a lot of great points about being overly critical. In it, they bring up a movie review that someone had written where they said that the new Winnie the Pooh movie was “childish” – well, yeah, of course it’s childish. It’s a kid’s movie.

        So, to stamp Justice League as being purely commercial and then decrying it for being so doesn’t make sense, because OF COURSE it is purely commercial. That was why it was made.

      • Cody Walker says:

        And you know what? If I come off as anti-intellectual, then it’s only because I’m trying to counter-balance the rampant elitism that I’ve been seeing. All of this talk about “lowest common denominators” and talking about how comics shouldn’t be concerned with increasing their demographics is insulting and wrong-headed. We need comics that appeal to a wider market. We need a place for people to start and while you and I may disagree about the quality of the first issue of Justice League, we absolutely shouldn’t be disagreeing that comics need more sales. The numbers don’t lie.

        So, while the news that Justice League is now entering its third printing may horrify you, I’m delighted because it means that people are reading comics. And while it may not be the greatest comic ever written, if it is a gateway into the medium and gets them into reading more comics, then how can that be anything but a win?

      • I agree with almost everything you’ve said here, Cody.

        First, let me say I was wrong to imply you’re anti-intellectual. I know you, I know your work, and I know your commitment to comics. I will gladly say that to the world. That’s why you’re on the Sequart staff, and I feel like I need to state that for the record.

        What I think is anti-intellectual is the argument — not you, but one of your arguments by way of its implication — that pointing out flaws in a work that’s not trying to be Watchmen is holding that work up to the Watchmen standard. Not so.

        I’m quite confident that I’m able to discriminate between fun, genre work that’s well-made and isn’t aiming at more, which is perfectly fine (and only a problem if it’s all that’s out there), and work that’s simply shoddy.

        And I think I demonstrated that Justice League #1 is shoddy work. It’s shocking to me that you’re suggesting my argument comes down to a subjective disagreement over whether some panels make sense. There’s also a plot hole big enough to drive a truck through. There’s some pretty awful dialogue. There’s the fact that GL is introduced by attacking two strangers in a way that almost kills one and only fails to kill the other out of luck, as far as we can tell — all for the sake of a cool visual that’s really not that cool.

        I don’t personally care that it’s commercial. I don’t care that it’s not Watchmen. I don’t care that it’s decompressed. I don’t care that it’s a new #1. I might have opinions about all of that, but that’s not my argument. My argument is that it’s shoddy in several, pretty unarguable ways and that saying it’s bad commercial work isn’t comparing it to Watchmen.

        My sole point about the issue is really that saying it’s tantamount to “a very well put together” super-hero comic is absurd, and I think demonstrably so. It’s far, far from that mark. It might be a fun comic to some (which is fine), but it’s certainly not “very well put together.”

        And it’s especially stupid and sad to be able to say for something that’s gotten all this attention. Because of course it was going to be commercial. But I would have settled for “well put together,” without the “very.”

        Kevin’s argument is a little different, a little more ambitious, and it has its own merits and failings, in my mind. But I feel confident he can defend himself, just as I’m only speaking for myself here.

      • I actually wrote my reply before your second one above, but it got deleted and I had to rewrite it. Please take that as my way of saying that what I said about you not being an anti-intellectual was heartfelt and not at all a response to the second comment here.

        You’re right. Period. Comics do need more sales. If we can sell a million copies of Archie, that’s awesome. Now, I may secretly hope that some of these readers move on to more advanced stuff, but that does nothing to invalidate anything you’ve said here.

        Do you think it’s possible (I’m asking this quite seriously) to celebrate the fact that comics are being read more and at the same time be saddened or even disgusted with some of what’s being read? (And no, I’m not disgusted by Justice League. But I do see it as symptomatic of a lot of problems in the industry. And I truly, truly wish that what all these new readers were reading wasn’t so rife with problems that are unfortunately too common in comics today.)

      • We both want comics to be better. But I am worried that, with such shoddy comics selling so well, there will be no incentive for the current comics culture to change its ways. And in the long run, I believe that’s more important for the longevity of the medium than sales today. If that makes sense.

        The Sandman isn’t the best work ever, but it probably brought more people into comics than anything since. Know what I mean? There’s a difference between short-term and long-term. And I think in the long term, quality tends to win out. In the short term, gimmicks do.

        It’s not totally an either / or, of course. But we’re certainly in a very low quality period. And have been for years. Isn’t it time to admit that honestly and openly?

        I don’t know. I feel like it is, but you make great points about sales. I just worry that the underlying logic would celebrate any gimmick as long as it got sales. But short term / long term isn’t so simple as that.

        I do feel like I would never give a stranger Justice League #1. I’d be embarrassed to, honestly. I’m proud that you did and happy it went over well. I just honestly cannot imagine what a new reader would make of it. And wouldn’t blame them for never trying comics again. That’s my honest opinion, not an attempt at elitism or anything.

        Probably the best thing is DC doing digital. That’s a structural improvement. Now, if we can only get the quality up.

    • This is such a straw person argument cause no one would argue the A-Team should get an Oscar. I would argue the fact that they could have brought in Christopher McQuerrie who wrote the Usual Suspects and he could have crafted something unique and rad.

      I don’t want ever damn book to be written as if by William Faulkner. I DO want every damn book to not be written on the level of a 4 year old.


      Come on, arn’t we past the underoo clutching, sycophantic stuff?

    • One last thing:It’s a very well put together action film and doesn’t aspire to be anything more.

      This makes me want to punch an old lady. Are you fucking kidding me. It doesn’t aspire to be anything more? That is the crux of your entire argument here. That it doesn’t, and thus doesn’t have to, aspire to more.

      OF-FUCKING-COURSE IT SHOULD ASPIRE TO BE MORE. Why? Because we are one of the few societies with a literature and should respect and acknowledge it, not bury it under a mound of shitty comics, tv shows, and movies. That means that the writers pretty much shrugged their shoulders at the question of: is it good? Then they wagged their heads like stupid, hungry dogs at the question of: will it make money. This means they did not care at all what you, the viewer, may or may not have just seen. It is like garbage, something done with and thrown away because it has no lasting existential weight in the world.

      You are advocating the creation of a throw away aesthetic which to me is the most frightening consequence of your causal flippancy towards a higher aesthetic.

      Once again, sorry if I am picking on you or anything. Totally not my intention.

      • You know, this is actually a good point. DC clearly made a conscious choice to play Justice League #1 like an action movie instead of literature. Like I said before, they wanted to appeal to “the masses,” and the masses like explosions and one-liners, right? I liked it well enough, but I judged it on its own terms, what it wanted to be judged on (“is it a simple, fun action comic with some snappy character moments?”) not on what the ideal Justice League comic would be. I agree that it would be very cool for DC to have decided that they would kick off their relaunch with something more complex.

        But on the other hand – this is as mainstream as mainstream superhero comics gets, and they know that their audience is pretty much content with a few jokes and a big fight scene. And they are, perhaps justifiably, worried that if they alienate that audience by doing something with more “quality,” they’re going to be left with a market that is perhaps more intellectual, more discerning, but also a hell of a lot smaller. I get why they would be cautious.

        And you know, they’re trying to throw those people a few bones: Morrison on Action, Snyder on Batman, the whole Dark line really. They’re looking for a balance. And when I’m being optimistic, I like to think that they’re going to keep pushing that balance around until they get something that is overall better. But in the meantime, they’re letting some really good creators do some really good-looking books. So I’m pretty happy.

      • I judged it on its own terms too — and found it lacking, simply technically.

        But I do agree that the DC relaunch could still turn out for the better and that some of these creative teams (including, I would have thought, Johns and Lee) are good choices.

  7. Hi, uh, is it OK to post here? The site lets me do it, but I don’t think I’ve never seen someone post a comment here who isn’t an official contributor to the site. Tell me if I’m breaching some etiquette here, nervous laugh… Really like this site, though, just found out about it a few weeks ago, through Matt Seneca’s blog I think. A lot of really interesting articles about that most sequential of arts.


    I disagree with the main point of this article, that brighter, more spectacle-focused comics are somehow a threat to intellectual, literary comics, that the existence of Justice League #1 as a major “event” comic is starting a trend towards dumber, brighter comics. First of all, this is hardly the first comic to look like this – and I’m not talking about the 50s, I’m talking about EVERY big event of the last couple decades, with the exception of a few – Final Crisis, 52 to a lesser extent, and while I’m not a fan of Identity Crisis I wouldn’t say its main focus is spectacle. But usually, that’s just what those comics are, at both DC and Marvel. Like Cody said, they’re like the A-Team – they’re popcorn movie comics, they’re summer blockbusters. They even come out in the summer!

    And it’s not like trends will affect the real artists, the guys and gals who set their OWN trends and do their own thing no matter what. I think a rising trend of non-intellectual comics would actually spur a greater backlash against it in the creative community; after all, Watchmen wouldn’t exist if there weren’t silly superhero comics for Alan Moore to deconstruct.

    I liked Justice League #1. I thought it was funny. But I don’t think it’s the harbinger of the future – the Ghost of Comics Yet to Come! – nor should it be.

    So… hi, guys! I’m Dylan!

    • Cody Walker says:

      Welcome and by all means comment all you like!

    • Dylan, of course it’s okay to post! In fact, it’s encouraged! The fact that others don’t seem to shouldn’t discourage you. Thank you for posting.

      First, we’re enormously grateful that you’re reading and even more so that you like what you’re reading. That means a great deal to us. Thank you again.

      Good points. I would add that I don’t personally think Justice League #1 is starting some trend to stupidity. I think it’s hopping on a bandwagon that’s been going on a long time but has really picked up in the last five years. Justice League #1 is nothing new here, and that’s part of the problem.

    • David Balan says:

      Thanks for posting, Dylan! I think I can say that we all really appreciate any other input. As Julian said, we are enormously grateful.

      And I’d continue your discussion, but actually I just agree with Julian again. Damn.

    • Hey Dylan,
      Thanks for reading the article and taking the time to reply.

      “The Ghost of Comics Yet to Come!” – This made me laugh. I by no means would argue that Justice League is a harbinger. It isn’t.

      As you yourself pointed out above, there have been several years of spectacle over story. I get that these are comic books, thus visuals are supreme. What pisses me off is that we are treated like 12 yr old junkies just looking for our next fix of whatever the fuck event is going on now.

      At some point, we have to raise the bar for comics or else this same argument and trend hunting will continue until they actually do die.

      I am not one to think that money equals artistic death. As Julian pointed out about Shakespeare or Michaelangelo with the Sistine Chapel. Money is simply a means to the end of sustaining life while pursuing creative endevours. I, for one, welcome money.

      • I think one of the big problems is that a lot of the time, editorial at the Big Two equates the widest appeal with the lowest common denominator. They look at the big dumb blockbuster movies that make millions and think that that’s “what the people want.” The problem with that is that movies and TV and the like are popular media and superhero comics is a niche genre of a pretty niche-y medium, so no matter what they’ll never draw in the audience that went to see Transformers 3 even if they make a comic that follows that formula.

        It’s like you said – the Big Two do need to raise the bar, because while there are a bunch of writers and artists who turn out really great work there, editorial always seems to try to rein in any attempt to do something new, they want their comics to be comfort food with maybe a little bit of something daring sprinkled on top, for flavor. They want to play it safe and that seems to be a dumb idea when you’re leaking readers right and left.

        But I still think there are plenty of really good things being done at the Big Two, as well as beyond. Grant Morrison, Scott Snyder and Jeff Parker are doing some of my favorite comics right now. I think it just comes down to who the talent is and how much freedom they’re given.

        And I believe we all welcome money! :D

      • Yeah, I think the big Two do somethings well. Nick Spencer on any comic is great. Iron Man 2.0 is a great, smart ride – even if Julian disagrees with me. haha

        Yeah, I would never boycott either, but I would say we should vote with our dollars more carefully.

  8. Cody Walker says:

    “Do you think it’s possible (I’m asking this quite seriously) to celebrate the fact that comics are being read more and at the same time be saddened or even disgusted with some of what’s being read?” I think it’s possible. I think it every time someone tells me that they are really into Deadpool comics. But, they are spending money on the industry and keeping people in business. Does it suck that there were no less than four Deadpool titles going at one time? Yeah, but I don’t let that bother me. I shrug, and move on because I acknowledge that it’s not my cup of tea, but some people like it and that’s fine.

    “But I am worried that, with such shoddy comics selling so well, there will be no incentive for the current comics culture to change its ways.” But that’s like saying that because of Twilight, there is no incentive for someone to write the next Great Gatsby or the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.

    “But we’re certainly in a very low quality period.” In some areas, yes, but that is every era. People used to decry the 90′s as being shallow, but now that some time has passed people are going back and looking at some of the innovative things being done and noting that maybe they aren’t so bad. The robot Hourman, Kyle Rayner, Jack Knight, Connor Hawke, the Ray, and tons of other 90′s books are being reread and enjoyed again today. I think you might feel this way because we’re too close it.

    Furthermore, while there are certainly a lot of comics that aren’t good (JMS on Superman, for instance), there are plenty of comics in the last ten years that are great. Of course Morrison on Batman has been wonderful, and All-Star Superman is the greatest comic of all time, but beyond Morrison, Geoff Johns has had a fantastic run on Green Lantern until Blackest Night ended. But let’s not focus on the big two DC writers and instead look at other great comics from the recent past:

    Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III on Batwoman
    Paul Cornell writing Lex Luthor in Action Comics
    Jeff Lemire on Superboy
    Nick Spencer on Thunder Agents
    Sterling Gates on Supergirl
    Scott Snyder on Detective Comics
    Tomasi and Gleason on Green Lantern Corps and on Batman and Robin
    Bryan Q. Miller on Batgirl
    Hine and Moritat on the Spirit
    Darwyn Cooke on the Spirit
    Tomasi and Pasarin on Emerald Warriors (you’ll believe you can love Guy Gardner)

    Of course I’m just bringing up DC because that’s basically all I read, but I’d also like to mention Jason Aaron and Adam Kubert on Astonishing Spider-man/Wolverine.

    There are plenty of great comics that have been coming out is my point.

    • You make excellent points about how time tends to change these things. But it hasn’t for me, historically. And I think you’re too rosy about the last five years, which I see as a lot closer to a wasteland.

      I don’t want to get into all of these creators specifically, because I really respect and like a lot of them. Although I feel comfortable dissecting the gateway to the new DC Universe, which is a fair target, I don’t feel comfortable dissecting everyone here. But I’d say only a couple runs you list are truly great. Several are good.

      For example, I don’t feel bad talking about Grant Morrison, since he’s so successful and certainly doesn’t need my appreciation, of which I’ve given him plenty. I’d rate his Batman as pretty great. But his Batman and Robin was pretty damn middling. Oh, and Johns’s Green Lantern is at its best good: glitzy, glossy, often fun, but often incredibly midjudged in terms of character and narrative (I did like Infinite Crisis though). If you keep these ratings in mind, you can adjust your own other ratings down accordingly and get a view of what things look like from here.

      I don’t think things were uniformly glorious during any years. I’m not one of those guys. The 1980s were a period of great creative experimentation, and that’s why they’re justly remembered so fondly. Even if people love to bitch, their top comics ever are almost assuredly from the 1980s, and I think this is disproportionately so the more well-read they are. The 1990s did have amazing innovations, like Marvels. And early Vertigo is wonderful. There’s a period around 2000, with Warren Ellis and Alan Moore especially, that’s fantastic. In the early 2000s, you had Quesada (and Jemas) at Marvel, doing New X-Men, Spider-Man’s Tangled Web, Bendis’s Daredevil, Ultimate Marvel, and lots of really good to great stuff. Millar did a lot of excellent work during this time. Identity Crisis is quite good. Civil War might be the best crossover ever. And then there’s a sudden drop-off, at least in my view, around 2006, after the first big crossovers.

      Nothing in your list, outside of All Star Superman, is on par with The Ultimates. Or Ellis / Millar’s The Authority. Or Planetary. And that’s just the circa-2000 explosion, not the good stuff from the 1990s or, better yet, the 1980s.

      Do you honestly think I’m way off here? Maybe I am. But I’ve never felt this way in a lifetime of reading comics.

      • Cody Walker says:

        I would honestly argue that everything on my list (except for maybe Emerald Warriors) is better than the Ultimates but after analyzing Ultimates for the past few weeks, I’ve come to realize that the Ultimates is a statement against the super-hero genre while the examples I’ve provided are proof of good, commercial super-hero stories that aren’t self-loathing (and make no mistake, the Ultimates deep down hate super-heroes as I think I’ve proven).

        And while I love Authority, how much more traditional can a super-hero story be? Sure, there’s a little more blood and guts, but it lacks heart when compared with the works I’ve mentioned.

        As for Planetary, yeah, we put together a book about it, but Pat’s essay does an excellent job of proving that while Planetary is a beautiful love letter to sci-fi/fantasy, the narrative itself has plenty of inconsistencies and flaws. I’m not saying that Lemire’s Superboy is better than Planetary, but it is certainly more narratively coherent.

        Maybe the works I’ve listed aren’t as genre changing as Planetary or Authority, but they are just as entertaining and certainly have more characterization and heart.

      • I do agree about what you’ve said on The Ultimates, The Authority and Planetary. But I don’t think it’s a fair to knock something down a peg for hating super-heroes (if that’s what you’re doing). As a matter of fact, I think that’s often a strength to a super-hero story, because it forces the story to be different and often (not always, for sure) be smarter. If you proved that Watchmen hated super-heroes (and one could, arguably), it wouldn’t lessen what’s on the page to me.

        I don’t disagree about The Authority or Planetary. (I thought my essay exposed problems with Planetary too, though Pat’s is a great example. And it’s a great book.) But I think that shows I’m not looking for stuff to be perfect or that it needs to be revolutionary. (Millar’s Authority was actually more revolutionary than Ellis’s, though Ellis’s was more coherent.)

        I agree that what you lists has characterization and heart. And is smart stuff that people should ready. It’s a quite excellent list, to be blunt about it. And kudos for sharing it — which is going to make me and others go back to reread some of what’s on it. I just think most of it is more on par with Moore’s AMC work (which I do so love, almost all of it!) than the classics I listed from the same couple years. No doubt these are examples of good work. But I don’t think the last five years can hold a candle to the first half of the decade, as a whole.

        It might also be worth mentioning that, beyond the good stuff, the average score seems to have dropped. Post-Quesada Marvel was filled with above average stuff, like Fantastic Four 1234 and Ennis’s Punisher and Straczynski’s Amazing Spider-Man (which for all its many flaws was still brilliant in places and quite different and interesting). Marvel’s average was like a 7 out of 10 for several years, even if it had very few 9s or 10s. DC was a bit above average, maybe a 6, around the middle of the decade, with Rucka on Wonder Woman and Adventures of Superman (brilliant stuff), Identity Crisis and its fallout, Gail Simone, Mark Verheiden, etc. (The first year of Justice League of America is riddled with problems, and “The Lightning Saga” is epic fail. But its first issue literally made my cry.) Now, I feel like the average at both companies is a 3 or maybe 4, even though there’s a lot of above-average recent work, as you point out, that’s clearly 7s or 8s.

        If that makes sense. And that’s what I think Justice League is: a 3. I get why the spectacle can be enjoyed, even if I can’t get there. It’s not the dumbest thing ever. But it’s riddled with major problems, which I think are as convincingly demonstrated as Pat’s piece on Planetary did. And it saddens me that this is what we’re showing to the world as what comics and DC can be.

  9. “Yeah, I would never boycott either, but I would say we should vote with our dollars more carefully.”

    Well, people are gonna buy what they want to buy. It’s not like we have the 90s speculators – people buy what they’re interested in reading. They might buy an event comic because it’s “important” instead of because it’s good, and there are some people who seem to have a higher tolerance for the very average-level comics, but what are you going to do about that? Giving a critical review of a comic is fine, people want reviews to tell them what is and isn’t worth their time and money. That’s important. But all you can do is give your two cents, and if people disagree or just don’t listen, you can’t really fault them on that – otherwise it just sounds like you’re saying, “STOP LIKING WHAT I DON’T LIKE!” You can’t assume that people are buying bad comics because they just don’t know that they shouldn’t.

    • Trust me I am the last person to say my taste in things trumps anyones.

      What I am saying is that comics fans, myself included, will continue to plop down money on books we don’t always value. My wife and I have even overheard conversations at some of the local shops between people buying books they know is awful and hollow, but they are like “well, I read 50 issues already, might as well keep going”

      NO…FUCK NO…That is an abusive relationship where the girl, in this case a comic book, is just using your for your money and giving you a small, shitty hand job in return.

      I say all this in pure jest with a bit of seriousness.

      No worries though, we shall not create Taste Enforcer robots that patrol America and bash people’s skulls found reading less than great books.

      Or are we?? MWAHAHAHHA

      • You’re really getting at something, Kevin, in terms of the habits of comics readership. That kind of “it sucks, but I keep reading hoping it’ll get better” is an awful way to run a creative enterprise.

        The industry’s business model seems to be twofold: sell people on big launches or events, which diminish quickly over time (e.g. #4 sells a lot worse than #1); and second, to rely on your readership mostly sticking with you, through thick and thin.

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