Author Topic: Comics, the 9th Art, and What Makes Me Want to Puke Blood  (Read 1659 times)

The Good Reverend Roger

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Comics, the 9th Art, and What Makes Me Want to Puke Blood
« on: October 23, 2015, 07:36:15 pm »
I am a fan of Warren Ellis, despite his seeming inability to finish sixty percent of what he starts (anyone waiting for Doctor Sleepless #14, don't hold your breath).  The reason I like him is that, despite his often melodramatic dialogue, his characters are three dimensional, flawed, and believable.

I had decided, after exposure to Ellis, alongside Hickman, Morrison, and Ennis, to give some other writers a try.  Some were good, others not so good.  I've had to fly blind on this, because going to a comic shop is of no help.  You tell them "I don't want to read about men in tights wrestling in the streets", but that's what they try to sell you, because they are hopelessly mired in the direct marketing schemes as dumped on them by Diamond and Marvel.

Anyway, I had read and enjoyed Ellis's Stormwatch and later Authority, despite the superhero content, because it wasn't endless continuity.  It had a beginning, a middle, and an end, and the superheroes don't always save the day.  The second Authority left some room for a sequel, but that was okay, because the story was finished.

Before I get to the awful bit, let me tell you why I liked these so much.  Two of the characters, Apollo (think of a slightly more pragmatic Superman) and Midnighter (Bat Man without the gizmos and angst, a man who truly loves his work and has a bit of fun with it) are Gay.  This is, as handled by Ellis, a thing that slowly dawns on you, until Apollo almost gets killed (late in the story) and Midnighter kisses him.  The other characters Holler at them good-naturedly, and that's the end of the bit.  They then go back to kicking bad guys around.  The Engineer is a physicist who wound up with 9 pints of nano-machinery instead of blood, who doesn't understand her abilities yet.  John Hawksmoor is a UFO victim who has been designed to survive in cities, and in fact gets sick outside of them, which was an interesting character idea.  Jennie Sparks is a 100 year old woman who is the spirit of the 20th century and controls electricity.  And drinks way, way too much.  Oh, and they live on an abandoned alien ship locked in orbit around Earth.  All the Earths.   

Now, the problem.  Ellis no longer has control of the franchise.  And the people who do thought it was sequel time.  This is how I found myself reading Stormwatch volume 3, expecting Ellis because I saw the title and not the artist...And Nook doesn't give you dates unless you poke at it.

SO.  Someone went through and took an iron to the characters, flattening them right out.  Apollo and Midnighter spend an entire issue talking about how Gay they are, and Apollo stops believing his boyfriend is Gay because he talks to a woman at one point.  No shit.  This includes the immortal prose "It's okay if you're straight", spoken by Apollo.  Instead of the comic containing two characters that just happen to be Gay, the two characters are now Gays who happen to be superheroes.  It's blatant pandering, and it's offensive as hell.  They don't get to be ass-kicking scary guys anymore, they instead must talk in angsty voices about their partner's "true feeeeeeelings" and orientation.  And they made Midnighter a psychotic and nobody ever shuts up about it.

Oh, and Midnighter's sensible leather armor and stomping boots turned to spandex, and they turned Apollo into a stripper.  I can't stand it.

And to top it off, they retro'd the story line from "group of enhanced humans formed by the UN to deal with threats to the world as a hole, or threats from superhuman bad guys whom local police can't handle" to some gibberish about a thousand year old secret society of superhumans (despite the fact that the original story has the event that created 99% of superhumans happen around 1990), and made a clear Big Bad Guy who doesn't even have the sense to laugh maniacally.  And they put Merlin in it.  And the Engineer betrays everyone just because.  And I'm not even going to talk about Jennie Sparks.  It's that bad.

Whomever was responsible for this abomination took an interesting set of characters in weird situations, and hammered it flat, making it fit into the standard Marvel/DC WWE model of people in tights punching each other while bellowing their inner feelings...AND you can see the straight-jacket of canon already guiding the whole thing.  You can already tell that the slain engineer will be back.  You can already tell that Jenni's new incarnation will be the deus ex machina for any further stories.

I've always hated superhero stories, because they aren't stories, they're never-ending canon or reboots or retcons or whatever.  There is no actual story.  In the cases of Planetary and Stormwatch and Authority, I could suspend my disbelief because there WAS a story and it was excellent.  Then some assholes turned it into something about as interesting as 200 pages of Aquaman vs Wonderwoman.  Planetary has escaped this fate because, as I understand it, Ellis himself owns the content.

In a fit of morbid curiosity, I then downloaded one of the Arkham stories and an issue of JLA.  They were as awful as I admit I expected, but there's something else:  For the main lines of superheroes, you can't possibly catch up on the plot line unless you've been reading them for sixty years and have file cabinets full of this shit filling your basement.  To get the same effect, download Farscape but start watching at season four.

In any case, my hatred of superhero shit has been vindicated.  If a genre can only be supported by three mental writers, it isn't viable.

Now I'm going to go back to hoping that Ellis will actually finish Trees.

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Re: Comics, the 9th Art, and What Makes Me Want to Puke Blood
« Reply #1 on: October 23, 2015, 09:25:37 pm »
If you ever want to see heroes in spandex having good stories, Astro City may restore your faith in humanity a little.

I remember reading the good run of Authority, and now you've made me very grateful I didn't make the mistake of picking up #3
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The Good Reverend Roger

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Re: Comics, the 9th Art, and What Makes Me Want to Puke Blood
« Reply #2 on: October 23, 2015, 09:29:27 pm »
If you ever want to see heroes in spandex having good stories, Astro City may restore your faith in humanity a little.

I remember reading the good run of Authority, and now you've made me very grateful I didn't make the mistake of picking up #3

It went
Stormwatch 1
Stormwatch 2
Authority 1
Authority 2
Crossing Worlds

Warren Ellis leaves at this point.

Stormwatch 3
Stormwatch 4 (which I am not going to waste money on, after that last abortion).
" It's just that Depeche Mode were a bunch of optimistic loveburgers."
- TGRR, shaming himself forever, 7/8/2017

 "Billy, when I say that ethics is our number one priority and safety is also our number one priority, you should take that to mean exactly what I said. Also quality. That's our number one priority as well. Don't look at me that way, you're in the corporate world now and this is how it works."
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The Wizard Joseph

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Re: Comics, the 9th Art, and What Makes Me Want to Puke Blood
« Reply #3 on: October 24, 2015, 04:34:58 am »
Seems to me very often that there's an active war against meaningful storytelling. I figure a story is only meaningful if it displays the messy and inevitably tragic nature of life that gets swept under the rug and outright denied in "popular" storytelling. A lot of times this happens during a format change, like book to movie, and almost always after the originating author has sold the rights or otherwise stepped out of the picture.

One of my most hated examples is Carl Sagan's Contact. I saw the movie first and some several times as a kid and growing up. I wasn't displeased with the movie, but it wasn't my favorite story ever. Never could put a finger on why exactly, but it seemed... plastic like or synthetic. I just figured that must have been the vibe they were going for.

When I actually read Contact I kept needing to take breaks and digest not just the better story, which was truly marvelous and movingly personal, but also HOW the changes made altered the basic message. It was like eating a fine chocolate but finding big fat chunks of road salt here and there that wouldn't have been there had I only read the book first. Had Sagan lived and continued writing such fictions the popular lies would surely have less hold and a hopefulness about the universe be more prevalent. It would have changed everything. I suspect that the changes made were intended to make the story distasteful to theistic subcultures and also to cater to, as you put it Roger, "the cannon" of acceptable perspectives.

I don't wish to go on at length or unduly jack the thread away from comics, so I'll just do a short list of differences off the top of my head.

The protagonist is nothing like Jodi Foster. It's been a while since I read it, or saw the movie for that matter, but she does Sagan's portrayal no justice IMO.

The machine is not destroyed by a religious fanatic, but by malfunction.

The machine and the backup machine are not built in an international vacuum and I recall that the second was not really a secret. Not too sure.

The protagonist doesn't go alone, but with a team and they ALL get backlash as the world disbelieves their basic message that this contact is an ancient and well managed process that will take quite some time. Trillions of dollars and whole lives went into the project. Folks want results and they want them now thanks!

I recall the Government being MUCH bigger dicks in the book, but also ultimately the most helpful in the decoding work through material assistance.

Sagan's denouement was far better in tone and hinted at a possibility of order inherent to the universe and buried deep in the patterns of the mathematical "irrational" numbers. I recall the example of pi, upon being churned through some ultra drek-hot NSA super-chips provided to decode the signal, coming to a non-repeated instance of describing a circle in binary, way before it should IIRC, and then going back to statistical normalcy like nothing happened. I'm not saying Sagan was a deist, but I sensed a certain hopefulness in the tone. I think that he was both actually hopeful and intentionally attempting to build bridges that could connect with the theistic in a constructive manner.

Instead we get this.

We can't have the folks considering that general human fallibility and possible organizational corruption could have been responsible. Why that could be boring! It wouldn't connect with the audience's fucking expectations.

This without getting into the actual contact scenes with the team of field experts that is ENTIRELY dispensed with in favor of a bunch of Jodi Foster portraying a single person mission with no real soul searching and pretty movie effects.

I find it doubtful that Sagan would have ever allowed that movie had he been alive to say something.


On a side note what is the "9th art" you mentioned? Is there a numbering system or numbered list of arts?
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Re: Comics, the 9th Art, and What Makes Me Want to Puke Blood
« Reply #4 on: October 24, 2015, 01:10:57 pm »
The comics I've enjoyed the most have always been the stuff that falls outside the Spandex Pro-Wrestling With Lazers category. Even the stuff I like within that category is either a self-contained alternate universe story (see DC's "Kingdom Come" for my favorite example by far), or, like, Deadpool.

As a little kid, I never wanted my favorite things to end. TV shows, books, series of any kind; I wanted them to go on filling my imagination forever. But as an adult, I think a well-executed story arc with a proper ending is priceless. Even if I don't make it all the way to the end, or it never gets finished, the sense that something has been written with an ending in mind greatly affects the feel of the story.

An endless superhero story is exactly the same as a cheap soap opera that goes on forever, but with slightly more exciting visuals.

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Re: Comics, the 9th Art, and What Makes Me Want to Puke Blood
« Reply #5 on: October 24, 2015, 01:35:48 pm »
Seems to me very often that there's an active war against meaningful storytelling.

This isn't a case of creator-owned content gone state.  What happens here is that writers are hired to write for existing canon.  The first rule is, "you don't violate canon".  The second rule is, "the story arc is already determined.  You just get us there."  The third rule is, "Do the previous shit, and do it quick, or we'll hire one of the other 10,000 idiots with stars in their eyes who, on account of brain damage, wish to be comic writers."

Quote
On a side note what is the "9th art" you mentioned? Is there a numbering system or numbered list of arts?

It's what the French call it.  Video games are the 7th, gastronomy is the 8th.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_arts
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The Wizard Joseph

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Re: Comics, the 9th Art, and What Makes Me Want to Puke Blood
« Reply #6 on: October 24, 2015, 05:17:16 pm »
Thanks!
You can't get out backward.  You have to go forward to go back.. better press on! - Willie Wonka, PBUH

Life can be seen as a game with no reset button, no extra lives, and if the power goes out there is no restarting.  If that's all you see life as you are not long for this world, and never will get it.

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"World domination is such an ugly phrase. I prefer to call it world optimisation."
 - Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality :lulz:

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Re: Comics, the 9th Art, and What Makes Me Want to Puke Blood
« Reply #7 on: October 25, 2015, 08:44:17 am »
The guy who took over the authority for vol 3 on was Mark Millar. Most of his comics I find to be style over substance and sometimes have offensive tropes like what you are describing he did with Appolo and Midnighter.

He wrote Kickass and Wanted and seems keen on getting anything he has written turned into a film, the comics were style over substance... The films were worse.

In his defence he has written good stuff too though.

Do not read continuity superhero comics, they as you said need 60 years of back story, but they also tend to be really bad.

If you want examples of good superhero stories, they nearly always tend to be stand alone which is nice.

Millar early in his career wrote one of the only good superman stories. Its called Red Sun, and is a single volume story What If superman landed in Russia instead of America.

Batman has loads of good stand alone stories (and loads of rubbish). If the Arkham comic you read was a pretty looking one by Grant Morrison, its a terrible example. The art is beautiful, the story is garbage. Alan Moore was quite mean about it and called it a Gilded turd.

There was another Arkham which was good though. Arkham living hell, about an investment conman who stole millions and then gets off by being declared insane and not fit for trial. The Judge in the case, who lost his home, sends him for medical treatment at Arkham.
Its funny, it brilliantly portrays the villains though his interactions with them.
 
If you want a good batman story that places more importance on the detective side of things then the spandex side of things, then one of my favourite batman stories is The long Halloween.

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Re: Comics, the 9th Art, and What Makes Me Want to Puke Blood
« Reply #8 on: October 25, 2015, 04:37:33 pm »
I've found solutions to many of these problems in the structure of a long-running shonen manga, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. Western superhero comics have their problems(continuity, the shackles of canon, constant writer changes, death never sticking, popularity power, inconsistency, fantasy kitchen sink settings, etc.) and Japanese shonen manga tend to have problems of their own(power creep, gimmick pileup, cyclical in-story powerups, serial escalation, interminable training sequences, tournament arcs, boring invincible heroes, popularity power, inconsistency, fantasy kitchen sink settings, etc.)
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure has a format that solves both sets of problems simultaneously. Mind you, it is still a big dumb adventure series, but I really admire its structure, and it seems to have come together accidentally, oddly enough.

JJBA is broken up into discrete Parts, each with its own major story arc and self-contained plot. Between each Part, there's a timeskip, and they're all set in differing locations, with a different protagonist. All JJBA protagonists have only three things in common: a star-shaped birthmark, a bloodline, and a name that can somehow be abbreviated as "JoJo." Everything's name is a music reference, but that's neither here nor there. Anyway, each Part has its own tone and takes a foray into a different setting and genre from the rest. All of them have some aspect of shonen fighting manga, in the vein of older works like Fist of the North Star, but they spice it up with a combination of mystery, horror, and copious helpings of ham and high camp. The fights can also get really clever, and they run on the author's own insane brand of logic. Villains rarely come back. Death is final, and targets protagonists and antagonists indiscriminately(though protagonists do tend to be better at surviving). The result of this structure is that it's really, really, really hard for things to get stale.

The series starts out with vampires and a special breathing technique called the Ripple as its main gimmicks, but it exhausts their potential by the end of Part 2 and moves on to another kind of power: Something called a Stand. Now, I'm not gonna bore you with the specifics of how Stands work, but they define the rest of the series and they all adhere to a few basic assumptions and exist within a set of parameters on which they're graded from E to A, similarly to RPG stats: Power, Speed, Range, Durability, Precision and Learning. I think this system was originally in place to emphasize how strong the third JoJo's Stand was, since Stands generally had some kind of ability and his Stand, Star Platinum, had none beyond crazy good stats, but it ended up being a really good system for keeping power creep in check, since every parameter was finite and had already been shown at its limit in the third part. Also, due to the nature of Stands, nobody in JoJo is actually invincible, keeping a tactical element in fights.

 In general, JJBA is basically about fabulous musclemen violently posing at each other for the fate of the world, as written by the Timecube guy. The parts are as follows:

Part 1: Phantom Blood(set in 1880s/1890s England, Gothic Horror)
Part 2: Battle Tendency(set in 1938, Pulp Adventure)
Part 3: Stardust Crusaders(set in 1987, Pulp Adventure, Travelogue)
Part 4: Diamond Is Unbreakable(set in 1999 small-town Japan, Murder Mystery)
Part 5: Vento Aureo(set in 2001 Italy, Mafia)
Part 6: Stone Ocean(set in 2011 Florida, because of course, Prison Break)
Part 7: Steel Ball Run(set in parallel-universe 1890s America, Western)
Part 8: Jojolion(set in 2011 parallel-universe small-town Japan, Ontological Mystery)

Of course, at the end of the day, it is still dumb entertainment. It is, as you said, "people in tights punching each other while bellowing their inner feelings."  But at least it's competently-executed dumb entertainment. It's refreshing to see it actually function as a mode of storytelling.
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The Good Reverend Roger

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Re: Comics, the 9th Art, and What Makes Me Want to Puke Blood
« Reply #9 on: October 25, 2015, 05:09:05 pm »
Interesting.  I will have to give it a try, once the trauma of SW3 wears off.
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Re: Comics, the 9th Art, and What Makes Me Want to Puke Blood
« Reply #10 on: October 25, 2015, 06:46:21 pm »
Interesting.  I will have to give it a try, once the trauma of SW3 wears off.

Mind you, it is goofy as fuck. Don't go in expecting high literature. I mean, if you want an idea of the general vibe, just watch the Part 2 intro from the anime adaptation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-HWQ4hQPo8

Basically, it's Big Gay Cowboys: the manga.
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The Good Reverend Roger

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Re: Comics, the 9th Art, and What Makes Me Want to Puke Blood
« Reply #11 on: October 25, 2015, 06:49:32 pm »

Basically, it's Big Gay Cowboys: the manga.

You should have said that right up front.  :banana:
" It's just that Depeche Mode were a bunch of optimistic loveburgers."
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Re: Comics, the 9th Art, and What Makes Me Want to Puke Blood
« Reply #12 on: October 25, 2015, 08:59:23 pm »
Wow that sounds Awesome. That will be the first Manga I've read since Gantz, looking forward to it.

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Re: Comics, the 9th Art, and What Makes Me Want to Puke Blood
« Reply #13 on: October 25, 2015, 10:37:09 pm »
Now, I will warn you: The art starts out kinda shit. Early JoJo art is honestly hard to look at at times. But then, part of the fun of JoJo is watching Hirohiko Araki grow as an artist and a writer. Like Western comics, JoJo eventually has an attempt at a mature, gritty reboot... But unlike in the West, this one succeeds, because Araki doesn't do it to prove to anyone that his work isn't for kids. He does it because he himself is tired of the continuity pileup that's started to occur, despite his best efforts to the contrary, and because he feels like tackling challenging subject matter. JoJo doesn't deny its immaturity, it grows up. One thing I'll always respect about Hirohiko Araki is that he doesn't reject his own initial silliness; instead, he retains the elements he likes and takes them in a different direction.

If the early art's too ugly, there is an anime adaptation of the first 3 parts, and it's actually pretty good-looking. It's very faithful to the source material, and while I know Roger doesn't like anime as a medium, this clip should be a pretty good indication of whether you'll like it or not: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0miyPXfTszo
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Re: Comics, the 9th Art, and What Makes Me Want to Puke Blood
« Reply #14 on: October 26, 2015, 01:36:59 pm »
The anime is fucking awesome. And part 3 is so much "big gay cowboys fighting" the anime.