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Monday, June 11, 2007

 
The Monday Briefing -- Hello, good day and welcome to the Monday Briefing for June 11th. June 11th?!? So the year is virtually half-over? That doesn't seem possible, and yet, I know the kids are almost done with school and summer is about to begin.

I kind of felt like my summer vacation already happened with Friday's trip to Northampton. Sure it was just one day, but my daughter and I had a great time. I'm still making my way through the comics and graphic novels I picked up at Modern Myths. Which is funny, because I browsed the shelves for something like three hours and still felt like I might have missed something. MM has a lot of books. Oh, one thing I failed to mention on Friday was manager Jim Crocker's hardcover policy, which I noticed right away and was blown away by. Any hardcover graphic novel that has a dustcover is reinforced with a library-style clear plastic sleeve. Every single one. It makes the books look classier and adds protection to the book that will extend its shelf-life and even enhance its re-sale potential, if that's your thing. And how much does Modern Myths charge for this feature?

Nothing.

Since the first time I walked in the door, I thought Modern Myths represented the best possible future for comic book stores, and that feeling has only grown over the years. If you're anywhere near Northampton, Massachusetts, stop in and see if you don't agree.

The Sopranos wrapped up last night, but I haven't seen it yet, so, don't spoil it for me. Hopefully I will get to it this evening after work. Last night my wife and I re-watched the pilot episode from the first season, and it was interesting to see what's changed and what hasn't. Paulie hasn't changed a bit, but guys like him never do, do they? James Gandolfini seemed to be talking in a higher pitch, maybe invoking Joe Pesci. He was also much less dark, both because Tony Soprano was trying Prozac for his depression and because the worst years of his life were to come in the next decade. Gandolfini's acting has been a consistent joy to watch over the course of the series, and if you somehow have never seen the series, add it to your Netflix pile or keep an eye out for an eventual complete series DVD collection. The individual seasons have been criminally (ho, ho) expensive, but if they make an affordable full-series set, it would be a great addition to the video library of anyone who enjoys quality storytelling.

Except the Columbus Day episode, yes, but that's the exception that proves the rule.

Over at The Comics Reporter, Tom Spurgeon interviews Joe Casey again. I think this is the third time? At least? Spurgeon 'fesses up to a desire to interview Casey every few years, and that would be fine by me. Their original Comics Journal interview found Casey discussing the occasional disconnect between his ideas and getting them intact into his comics. Given how many interesting titles Casey has worked on that ultimately did not quite work out, he's a great case-study for what can go wrong and right when working in comics, especially corporate superhero comics.

I think Casey's greatest creative success was probably Wildcats Vol. 2 and Vol. 3.0 before the "Coup d'Etat" event destroyed not only that title but the Wildstorm universe as a viable storytelling milieu. Casey mentions his Iron Man: The Inevitable mini-series in the new interview, and, well, I'm sure there was a good idea in there somewhere.

Speaking of Iron Man, do you think Marvel will eventually reset or redeem the character, or will he just remain the outright evil supervillain he's been since Civil War began? You know what would have been a great ending for that? Garth Ennis writing the last issue, as Frank Castle blows away Tony Stark and everyone cheers, The End. (Andrew Wheeler nicely sums up the series' flaws in this post at The V).

I've been thinking about this since borrowing the first three issues of The Avengers: The Initiative from The Favoured Store. Is there a character left in the Marvel Universe that is actually a good guy?

I talked to Jim Crocker on Friday a bit about my conviction that the current era of corporate superhero comics will one day be recognized as The Fan Fiction Age, due to the poor quality of the storytelling, which often reminds me of an eight-year-old playing in the tub with action figures: "Then Superboy PUNCHES THROUGH TIME!" "Geoff? Make sure you wash behind your ears, now!" "Aw, mom!!!"

I can't remember the last time I read a Marvel or DC story that seemed canonical with the comics the companies produced in the 20th century. I fully expect a writer to emerge in the next five years or so who will successfully kick off a new paradigm that makes Marvel and DC's characters not only viable, but appealing again.

And sure, there are creators working today who could do that: Darwyn Cooke, Grant Morrison, and Warren Ellis all come to mind. But the companies either marginalize their best efforts, things like New Frontier, Nextwave or Seven Soldiers are off to the side and don't really have an impact on the universes proper. Or, like Morrison with 52 or Ellis with Thunderbolts, these creators choose to play in the fan-fiction sandbox the companies have endorsed, with the resulting comics not quite meeting the best standard the creators have proven themselves capable of.

Back in the early 1980s, Alan Moore, Frank Miller and some other folks came along and re-energized the Marvel and DC universes with storytelling that looked at the characters and their settings in a way far different from what had been the status quo. I doubt Moore would want the job these days, and God knows Miller isn't fit for the task, but what is needed is someone with that same sort of energy, intelligence and passion for comics storytelling to come along and inject superhero comics with those very qualities. Until then, folks like Johns, Straczynski and others will continue to create comics that damage the longterm viability of the characters even as they sell like hotcakes to borderline psychotic nerds who actually think these comics are any better than the crap Marvel and DC pumped out by the metric fuckload in the 1990s.

I'm pretty far from the John Byrne "Superhero Comics Are For Kids" bandwagon -- I think there should be all types of genres and storytelling modes available for readers of all ages, genders and interests. But what I see coming out of Marvel and DC these days, their core books -- they are about as far from what they could and should be as is even imaginable. Max Lord taking a bullet through the melon on-panel, and The Elongated Man's wife getting raped doggie-style both seemed to me like superhero porn at the time, and things have only gotten worse from there.

My kids are 11 and 13, and there's not a single Marvel or DC universe book that appeals to them. Check my pull list in the sidebar to the right -- anything with an asterisk (*) is a title I have reserved for them. I guess as a parent it makes me a little sad that they can't enjoy the superhero universes that entertained me so much when I was their age, because of the poor stewardship of the characters on the part of the current management at the two major corporate superhero publishers. And if you're thinking that the publishers have all-ages titles like Avengers Adventures for kids, my response is, why should they have to? When I was 10, 11, 12 years old, Avengers was a title any superhero fan could enjoy, of any age. I've tried the Adventures titles on my kids, but somehow I think they sense the pandering and condescension that is inherent in the need for all-ages versions of characters that are, by definition, meant to be enjoyed by readers of all ages anyway. I can't think of any other reason why most of those titles fail to generate any interest in my kids. Or in me, come to think of it.

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