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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Kicking Shit While It's Down -- I'd guess Tom Spurgeon got his copy of the final issue of the most recent, failed attempt at a Flash series the same way I did -- a review copy mailed by DC Comics. Spurgeon has posted a lengthy review of The Flash #13, and while I agree with pretty much everything he says, even I am shocked at the extent of his negativity.

"It was sort of like being dragged behind a boat for ten seconds after falling off your waterskis. There's no permanent damage, but it's unpleasant as all hell while it's happening."

Tom Spurgeon is more or less the best writer about comics who is currently blogging on a regular basis, and in this review he seems to me to be a bit more blunt than usual in his assessment of The Flash #13, which to my way of thinking pretty much defines the current state of corporate superhero comics: Utterly bereft of quality or entertainment value, marketable only to those who cherish trademarks over storytelling, and in fact may be incapable of even recognizing a story well told ("I don't know if it sucks or not, but I recognize that lightnng bolt on his chest!").

I know I aggravate blinkered superhero junkies who see my desire for better superhero comics as anti-superhero rhetoric. But the fact of the matter is that I don't hate superhero comics as a genre, at all. If you check out my pull list in the sidebar, you'll find a lot of superhero titles. I would love to have more good superhero comics to read, just as I would love to have more good crime comics to read, and more good autobiographical comics to read. I'll freely admit to hating bad superhero comics, though, and Flash #13 certainly falls squarely in that category.

DC sends me an occasional book for review -- not a lot, but they publish a lot of comics, and I appreciate whatever efforts they make to keep me and other critics current on what they think their best efforts are. Unlike Tom, I didn't see much reason to review Flash #13, because, well, what's the point? Not to disparage Tom's choice to review it -- he has a lot of things to say about the book and what it represents, and I'm glad he wrote about it -- but to me Marvel and DC's mainline of superhero comics taking place within their established "universes" are so universally poor that it's personally exhausting for me to spend much time reviewing them. Or even reading them, honestly.

Now, a few days ago I did review a new DC/Wildstorm comic, and my review was almost uniformly negative. But in this case, it was a first issue, and it was set outside the DC universe, so going into it I had hoped it would be entertaining. But it proved such a ham-handed pastiche of previous, better Wildstorm efforts that I found nothing much in it to recommend. Interesting that folks who mostly review superhero comics seemed to like Highwaymen #1, which says something about their critical faculties, or at the very least about the comparative value to be found in the average, say, X-Men comic vs. Highwaymen #1. The latter might be crap, but at least it's not X-Crap.

By the way, I was delighted that the writer of Highwaymen #1 didn't take my review personally, because it wasn't meant personally.

I wonder, though, how the Flash creative team will take Spurgeon's review? Did they honestly believe they were doing their best? I suppose anyone who has only read corporate superhero comics for the past 15 years or so could honestly believe something like Flash #13 represents quality storytelling. People who refuse to look outside superhero comics to all the vast riches the artform offers may think the current boatloads of shit offered up by Marvel and DC are actually the best "comics" has to offer. They could not be more wrong.

Maybe it's the editors at the corporate superhero companies, unable or unwilling to scout actual talent anymore. Maybe truly gifted creators just eschew the "Big Two" because they know they won't own their work or ever see even a fraction of what it earns for the companies, should it become popular and enduring. Maybe it's just that Marvel and DC are mostly staffed by a generation raised to think Image circa 1993 was radically good superhero comics. Whatever the reason, Flash #13 was shit. And while it's somewhat atypical for Tom Spurgeon to kick shit while it's down, I'm glad to see someone else speaking the truth about the sorry state of corporate superhero comics circa 2007.

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Blogger Stephen said...

pretty much defines the current state of corporate superhero comics: Utterly bereft of quality or entertainment value, marketable only to those who cherish trademarks over storytelling, and in fact may be incapable of even recognizing a story well told

I wonder if this is simply because you read too many corporate superhero comics? (That's not a moral judgment but a practical one). I mean, for me, I'd say that most corporate superhero comics that I read are pretty good (for what they are: most of them are meant as light entertainment, and most of them succeed at it) -- but that's because I don't read very many of them, and read only ones that I have gotten fairly widespread good reviews. I haven't read any of the civil war-infinite-crisis-whatever series of recent times -- even the ones that my public library has and that I could therefore read for free -- because everyone seems to think they're crap, so why bother? (I did read the first issue of House of M because a store was giving it away as a promotion. Ugh.) But I've read a bunch of superhero comics -- y'know, All Star Superman, DC's New Frontiers, a bunch of Grant Morrison stuff, a few of Dan Slott's humor comics, Runaways, Whedon's X-Men run -- and they're all fun. And, let's face it, that's a lot of superhero comics, even accounting for the fact that they really don't take very long to read (the average corporate superhero tpb can be read in about the time it takes to watch an hour of tv) -- I just listed more than a dozen books! There's a lot of other good reading out there, after all.

So maybe my perspective's skewed on this, because I don't try to read that many corporate superhero comics. But if you pay a little bit of attention to blogs and reviews and such, it's pretty easy to pick out the good ones. So when I go to my bookshelf, I can look and say, wow, there are a lot of good corporate superhero comics these days. It's all a matter of perspective.

27 June, 2007 14:56  
Blogger ADD said...

Unfortunately, the superhero junkies artificially propping up the direct market rarely exercise such perspective, if indeed they are even capable of it.

My reading habits vis a vis corporate superhero comics are much like yours -- I only buy what I like or have good reason to believe I will like. But DC sent me the book for review, and presumably at this late date they know that I'm not gonna lie about the quality of anything I am sent for review.

27 June, 2007 15:09  

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