Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Book Selection of the Month: Comic Books!


I stopped collecting comics about a year ago, but that medium did a great deal to shape my brain over the years — from the moral example set by characters like the late Captain America to the rhetorical example set by the narration in Flaming Carrot Comics (which described the eponymous hero as “a dreadnaught of chicanery!”) — so it deserves at least a retrospective blog entry, indeed a big one.

To make this as useful as possible for the reader, I have organized this list not merely as a Top Ten list of my favorite comics — though it bears some resemblance to that — but as a roughly chronological list of comics anthologies that should help newcomers wrap their minds around this strange medium (each of these items being a single trade paperback or hardcover anthology, purchased, given, or dug out over the past year in lieu of my getting the more-addictive, magazine-sized monthlies that make up the bulk of the industry’s output). Buy them all to understand fully, or skip to the end of the list and buy the one I think is best — or the one mentioned after that, which lies on the horizon and may synthesize the best of all of these.

We have a lot of ground to cover and little time for nuance or technical precision — so behold:

multiple-earths.jpg1. Crisis on Multiple Earths: The Team-Ups, Volume 2. DC Comics is in some sense the historical backbone of the American comics industry, born in 1935, when comics barely existed independently of newspaper comics supplements, and giving rise within three years to Superman, who remains one of the medium’s most popular characters and begot thousands upon thousands of superhuman-adventurer imitators, beginning in the 1940s/50s period referred to as the Golden Age of comics. At the end of the 1950s, DC retooled their characters, replacing the more old-fashioned mystery men of the Justice Society of America with the more hep (and today more familiar) Justice League of America (stars of the 1960s or “Silver Age” period and imprinted on young Gen Xers minds’ in the 1970s as TV’s “Super-Friends”).

DC eventually explained the differences between the heroes of the two eras through the mind-blowing rationale that the two teams existed on two different Earths, part of a multiverse of parallel realities, which DC has revised, destroyed, winnowed, and resurrected in numerous “Crises” over the decades, trying to get things just right (a perpetual nerd struggle I’ve described elsewhere). But through it all, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman don’t really change much. This volume of 1960s stories brings together characters from both of the first two DC Earths in various combinations — and contains a memorable scene in which Starman and Black Canary spend a night in the woods, waiting to see if the discarded flying skis of the villain known as the Sportsmaster reactivate and fly back to their master’s lair. This is good only for people who are already fans and see this sort of thing as being of historical interest.

jsa.jpg2. Justice Society, Volume 2. While DC was wasting time depicting things like flying skis in the 1960s, Marvel Comics had begun introducing more realistic, down to earth characters like Peter Parker and the often-bickering Fantastic Four — but by the 1970s, sometimes referred to as the Bronze Age of comics (when kids like me wanted their comics to be as cool and “serious” as sci-fi and thus tended to prefer Marvel’s mutants, cyborgs, and disgruntled secret agents to DC’s Boy Scout-like icons), DC was starting to realize they too could inject a little social relevance and almost-human psychology into their old characters. The old Justice Society was taken out of mothballs in a new monthly series written by Paul Levitz, today the president of DC Comics. In the stories collected in this volume, he depicted Superman’s feminist cousin Power Girl, Batman’s crime-fighting daughter Huntress, and an aging Robin who has become an anti-Apartheid ambassador to South Africa in his secret identity of Dick Grayson — all this and the death of the original Batman at the hands of the little-remembered villain the Soul Thief. The times were changing — but far greater changes lay ahead.

batman-year-one.jpg3. Batman: Year One. If the 40s and 50s were the Golden Age, the 60s the Silver Age, and the 70s the Bronze Age, it may be fair to refer to the 80s and 90s as the Dark Age, since “grim and gritty” became the standard of seriousness and quality, a wonderful example being this storyline written by Frank Miller (of Sin City, 300, and RoboCop II and III fame), retelling Batman’s origin in a downbeat, noir fashion that would be a model for the movie Batman Begins two decades later. I have not recently re-read the more-frequently-cited Miller miniseries Batman: The Dark Knight Returns or the miniseries Watchmen (written by left-anarchist and self-proclaimed Glycon-worshipper Alan Moore of V for Vendetta, From Hell, and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen fame, much as he hates the film versions — to which a Watchmen film, from the same director who adapted Miller’s 300, will soon be added), but I suspect that as an adult I would now consider Batman: Year One superior to its better-known Dark Age cousins. It is subtler and far more human, cleverly focusing more on troubled cop Jim Gordon’s reaction to the arrival of Batman than on Batman’s heroics themselves.

The art, by David Mazzucchelli, is some of the best comics have ever seen — and the new anthologized version allows his work to be more subtly colored than it was in the original newsprint pages of the late 80s. A further joy for me is the fact that seeing Mazzucchelli’s art again twenty years later makes me think he was heavily influenced by one of the most tragically overlooked comic books in DC’s history, Thriller, which was drawn like a postmodern yet realistic-seeming mass of high-velocity speed lines by Trevor von Eeden (and written with ahead-of-the-curve brilliance by Robert Loren Fleming, who — in 1982, well before “cyberpunk” had entered the lexicon and mere months after Blade Runner — depicted a millennial near-future world saturated by cable news channels, obsessed with computers, threatened by Islamic terrorists, warped by genetic engineering, and fought over by such oddball characters as the nine-foot-tall cloned priest named Beaker Parish [get it?], the s&m-garbed villain Scabbard with a sword housed in the flesh of his back, and Tony “Salvo” Salvatorri, the life-respecting hitman whose flesh can be remolded to give him eyeballs in the palms of his hands when he’s possessed by his incorporeal sister, Angeline Thriller). Von Eeden left after about nine issues, sadly, and the series was soon over, after only one year. But I have not forgotten. For once, I was even moved to write to the author and get him to write a personal letter back to me clearing up a couple dangling plotlines — does that count as canonical, “in-continuity” story material?

freedom-fighters.jpg4. Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters. This DC series from 2006-2007 is representative of whatever the current period, still too young to be defined or named, is. After a circa-2000 period when it appeared that glowy, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow-style nostalgia and reminiscences about the Silver Age in particular would permanently displace “grim and gritty,” superhero comics seem to have taken a 24-influenced turn toward very cinematic-sounding clipped dialogue, realistic violence and death, minimal narration (eschewing the old cornball bombast perfected by Marvel’s Stan Lee), and almost painfully high dramatic stakes in which no victories come easily, there is real reason to fear, and some genuine tension is generated for perhaps the first time in the history of the medium.

I point to this series as an example in part because it’s the one I wanted to resurrect back around 2000, when I made a brief foray into comics-writing myself (penning three published Justice League stories). The contrast between what the Freedom Fighters originally were, what they became in the 1970s when I first saw them, what I wanted to turn them into circa 2000, and what they have now become is not a bad summary of the different eras in question. They began in the 1940s as authentic World War II-era patriotic heroes published by Quality Comics and, like a few comics companies (including Fawcett, which published the “Shazam!” stories, and Charlton, which gave us the Blue Beetle), were absorbed into DC Comics — and (fictionally) declared to be inhabitants of yet another newly-discovered Earth. Around the time of the Bicentennial in 1976, DC brought them back in a tough, weird, quintessentially Bronze-Age series that I saw at about age seven, in which these explicitly out-of-date characters tangled with a villainous version of Santa’s elves, suffering some real pain and angst in the process. I wanted to take that sort of mixed-eras weirdness up a notch by depicting them in the modern world but in a style reminiscent of the 1940s, with Thomas Nast-like symbolic covers, giant Nazi robots, and brutally-relevant politically-metaphorical plots that would, of course, subtly hint that Uncle Sam, a living embodiment of Freedom (a.k.a. Spontaneous Order, as against Authoritarianism and Chaos/Entropy), is basically a libertarian.

DC told me at the time that second- and third-tier old characters were of no interest, but the wheel has turned, the nostalgic geeks reign supreme in the comics industry these days as they seem to in Hollywood, and others have resurrected the characters, not surprisingly making them a bit more violent and left-wing than I would have but doing a fine job nonetheless and making them anti-authoritarians above all — and even surprising me by introducing, in the final pages, the same rather abstract idea that I had intended to: that Sam is a natural opponent of Chaos, now linked to two other terrible, dark forces in the DC Universe, anti-matter and anti-life — but that’s more than non-fans need to know, so on to the next item.

agents-of-atlas.JPG5. Agents of Atlas. A similar game of resurrection and updating is played by Marvel with their exquisitely-realized and very fun recent series that brings back forgotten heroes from before Marvel Comics was even called Marvel (it having previously been the less-popular Atlas Comics and Timely Comics). Now, such 1950s improbabilities as Gorilla Man, the Human Robot, Marvel Boy from Uranus, and agent Jimmy Woo — unflagging foe of the evil Yellow Claw — live again, with better writing, art, and fanboy-pleasing supplemental materials (including reprints of their ridiculous and mercifully brief original appearances). What a joy this collected miniseries is, and how cool the movie would be if Hollywood merely picked it up and declared it a script.

The success of this series may have helped inspire a little wave now occurring of Golden Age-revival series, including The Twelve (featuring twelve long-forgotten heroes from the days when Marvel was Atlas) written by J. Michael Straczynski, who created the epic sci-fi TV series Babylon 5 (which my girlfriend Koli recently rented without any urging from me, further evidence of her good taste — and perhaps evidence she has too much time on her hands while writing a novel, so someone e-mail me if you want to hire a nice lawyer/writer); a revival of the WWII Marvel team called the Invaders by Alex Ross (in the spirit of Roy Thomas, the nostalgic comics writer who also inspired Agents of Atlas); and Superpowers (also by Ross), which intriguingly picks up several discontinued Golden Age comics, from various companies, non-ironically continuing them each with the next-numbered issue, almost as if there’d just been a half-century delay in shipping (and I wonder: is there actually an eighty-year-old fan out there somewhere, still paying attention and thrilled that this day has finally come?).

devil-dinosaur.JPG6. Devil Dinosaur. One of the big reasons that all the cool kids in the 60s and 70s recognized the clear superiority of Marvel to DC was Jack Kirby, the co-creator of the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, the X-Men — and the mid-70s comic that, heretically, I now think may have been his best work (he also co-created the world-eating giant known as Galactus whose failure to appear in his full, three-hundred-foot-tall, purple-armored glory was the reason, alluded to earlier on this blog, that I boycotted the second Fantastic Four movie — it’s like a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the face of God, squandered by Hollywood cretins).

Without Stan Lee to inject human-level plot ideas and dialogue (Lee was the subtle one! Stan Lee! Subtle!!) into the almost psychedelic kaleidoscope of Kirby’s cosmic ideascape, Kirby had a tendency to get a little weird, and the resulting material isn’t for everyone (a surprising number of my close comics-fan friends don’t care for it). Solo, Kirby created characters like Darkseid and the New Gods, the Eternals and the Celestials, and, in this series’ case, a red-skinned tyrannosaurus named Devil and his tiny, furry companion proto-human, Moon-boy, who in strikingly pre-modern and animalistic fashion urges Devil to fight to the death against various prehistoric foes — including ancient alien astronauts who, in their conflict with Devil, may be the source of all our Eden myths (and Kirby’s priceless text pieces imply — for what were likely ten-year-old readers — that this comic book may indeed be more important than myth, historical research, or even science).

Kirby’s typically grandiose and operatic dialogue finally finds, in the nine issues of Devil Dinosaur, a stage barbarous and uncivilized enough to make it all seem natural and disturbingly invigorating. Or, as a beautifully succinct recent review, brought to my attention by Jacob Levy (about the only person I know well who’s still reading comics regularly), put it: “Seriously? It’s an entire series about a giant, angry dinosaur kicking other dinosaurs and aliens in the face until they die and is, therefore, the perfect comic book.” Frightening perhaps but true. And the introduction to this volume reveals that Kirby created Devil Dinosaur as something of a pre-civilization analogue of his post-apocalyptic character Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth, who Reason editor Nick Gillespie once told me he feared would be referred to in every issue of that magazine if he did not take a hard line against letting notoriously nerdy libertarians write about whatever stupid pop culture artifacts they want to (the way they do on their blogs).

godland.jpg7. Godland: The Celestial Edition. This one’s not by Kirby, but it’s a very faithful recent homage (both in script and eye-popping art) that takes Kirby’s brand of unsubtle, naive, outsider-art-like absurdity to the next level, with an astronaut named Commander Archer, transformed into an atomic-powered superhuman by a Cosmic Fetus Collective while on Mars, battling alongside his giant, talking, extraterrestrial dog against such bizarre foes as the floating-skull-headed junkie named Basil Cronus, the metal-plated aesthete named Nickelhead, and the sadistic sexpot Discordia.

The series does a great job of squeezing comedy out of carefully-deployed moments of greater self-consciousness than the unapologetic Kirby ever showed, in lines such as those of Discordia’s father, the masked Tormenter, as he contemplates crushing a foe in what are almost — but not quite — words worthy of Doctor Doom: “I fear I am once again forced to administer the cruelest of all tortures…legal action. Once more unto the breach of pain for — Friedrich…is this Glenfiddich or Glenlivet? Dishwater — ! I refuse to allow my lips to touch Glenfiddich when I am struggling with the extremities of my circumstances. Wait in your quarters until I call you to make breakfast! Biscuits and gravy!”

It all comes, in this massive volume, with an introduction by my favorite comics writer of all, Grant Morrison, who is smart enough to do avant-garde, metafictional series such as The Invisibles (about warring, time-traveling anarchists and authoritarians) but also smart enough to appreciate and be influenced by Kirby’s vivid lesson in the unfettering of the creative id. Morrison concludes his praise of this homage with the line “Godland is the new real.”

x-presidents.gif8. X Presidents. On a more overtly-comedic note, this Robert Smigel-penned, lunatic tale of America’s living ex-presidents gaining superpowers and using them more or less heroically, was recommended to me by Weekly Standard writer Mark Hemingway (who wrote this funny review of Al Gore’s low-rated Live Earth concerts and recently, with his wife Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, both of them among my fellow Phillips Foundation fellows, begot a daughter named Evangeline Plum Hemingway, who I am of course hoping was named not merely in recognition of her parents’ shared interest in religion but with a nod to the space-nun comic book character who inspired a song by Matthew Sweet — it’s entirely possible the latter is the case, though I haven’t yet asked [UPDATE! Mark writes that both his love of the Matthew Sweet song "Evangeline" and Mollie's fondness for the Emmylou Harris song by that title contributed to the name choice, though he was unfamiliar with the song-inspiring comic book, which also contributed to the look of Sweet's video]).

dr-sketchy.jpg9. Dr. Sketchy’s Rainy Day Colouring Book. In my grotesquely abbreviated mini-history of comics, I’m afraid this project is going to have to stand in for everything underground, offbeat, dangerous, and non-superheroic that I don’t have time to get into. As this book describes, with text, cartoons, and risque photos, cartoonist Molly Crabapple realized at some point that art classes usually involve the pretense that there’s nothing weird or sexual about drawing a naked person — but why not make the whole thing overtly sexual, in a burlesque way, and encourage people in the classes to depict it all cartoonishly to boot? And so her Dr. Sketchy sessions, now imitated in locations around the world, were born.

(CULTURALLY PIVOTAL INTERLUDE: The fact that this book combines indie comics, burlesque, and some background-music suggestions that seem straight out of my own punk/New Wave-influenced tape and CD collection is one big reminder that there’s a sort of default mode for indie culture in the past decade and a half or so, whether the medium is rock, comics, stripping, or acrobatic sideshow stunts: a sort of Weimar-like, not-quite-punk darkness very different from the old hippie vibe and, unlike punk, more sexual than truly aggressive. This burlesque vibe, I’ve come to realize, has led to a predictable [but for me still fun, since I guess I fit the demo] marketing niche that now defines one type of bar in New York City, which we might call “dive” [in contrast to sports/yuppie, martini/Wall Streeter, or lounge/dance]. Like a lot of people, I thought “dive” just happened by accident until I noticed that certain elements recurred too reliably to have happened without a very conscious marketing plan: shabby darkness, flirty bartenders who look like Bettie Page, and juke boxes that absolutely must contain Iggy Pop, Blondie, the Pixies, and various mid-century classics that were considered rough and dangerous in their day, such as Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash. Again, I’m not complaining — don’t forbid me to re-enter Vasmay Lounge or anything — but it’s interesting that something so seemingly dangerous and organic [so natural-seeming when found on the willfully-shabby Lower East Side or in Williamsburg here] turns out to be as replicable and deliberate a plan as Disney World. But unlike a lot of authenticity-seeking hipsters, I like Disney World, so I’m certainly not going to complain about “dive” bars. Incidentally, if the Disney-owned Muppet Kermit the Frog were in fact to perform in a “dive” bar, it would probably look and sound a lot like this video, pointed out to me by Chris Nugent and noted a few months back by Jenny Foreit.)

alice.JPG10 A. Alice in Sunderland. This tour de force by writer-artist Bryan Talbot — a free-associative collage, in more styles and modes than can easily be counted, about the historical influences on Lewis Carroll, Alice Liddell, the northern-England town of Sunderland, and by extension all of us, as products of history and happenstance — should be Exhibit A if someone tells you comics can’t tackle subject matter with complexity, maturity, and sophistication. Amazing. Its web of Alice-influenced cultural references includes mentions, incidentally, of the perverse and fascinating book One Pill Makes You Smaller by my friend Lisa Dierbeck and the play Red King Rising by the aforementioned Grant Morrison. And Talbot also gave us the next item on this list…

arkwright.JPG10 B. The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, which is simply my favorite comic book miniseries of all time (and few others even come close). This is it, the pinnacle of the medium, as far as I’m concerned — Michael Moorcock-influenced but better, and more coherent, than the work of that writer (including the introduction he contributes to my edition of this anthology, which rambles for two pages, as only a bitter British leftist can, about how conservatives are sucking the world’s blood dry, before he says a word about comics or Bryan Talbot), as I told Arkwright’s creator, Talbot, when I saw him in an appearance at the store Jim Hanley’s Universe here in Manhattan — where he found himself directly across the street from a rare Empire State Building suicide attempt that left a severed limb lying on the street, a moment not so unlike something out of the Arkwright epic, depicting as it does a multiverse where life’s little coincidences and history’s seeming-patterns are beginning to turn dark, chaotic, and violent, as evil Disruptors — acting through agents such as modern-day Puritans who rule a fascistic England — begin tearing apart the cosmos, forcing the one man who can travel between alternate versions of history, Luther Arkwright, to do battle with them, manipulating modern-day, alternate-reality versions of the Prussian Empire, the Russian Empire, and the Roundheads in the process.

Written and drawn over the course of a decade, from 1978 to 1989, this series updates Moorcock’s brand of hip, serious sci-fi and heavily Victorian-influenced and lavishly detailed illustration for the New Wave decade, the plot echoing Thatcher’s election in its early stages and the collapse of communism in its conclusion, with the off-camera assassination of David Bowie, a Prisoner reference, and plenty of Tantric sex along the way. It’s everything a comic book should be and is one of my favorite works of art in any medium. It also — and for now you’ll just have to take my word for it — bears a closer resemblance to what I imagined creating myself when I was a teenager than anything else I’ve ever encountered (and has a sequel, which is even better-drawn, Heart of Empire).

(The closest thing to the even-more-grandiose comics I imagined doing before I was a teen may be the obscure but epic work of Jack Katz, though I did not read his immense First Kingdom series until spring vacation from college in 1990, when I willfully lost myself in the story for a week to avoid thinking about the recent suicide of a friend at college. I almost literally could not have asked for something farther removed from everyday life than that series, which was just what I needed — though, for the record, my favorite comic book back then was Nexus, the recently-revived story by witty [libertarian] writer Mike Baron and top-tier artist Steve Rude about a refugee-sheltering historian in the twenty-sixth century who is plagued by dreams of mass murderers and compelled to seek them out and execute them, dressed a bit like Space Ghost while he’s doing so.)

Not surprisingly, Talbot told me he was a big fan of David Bowie and the sometimes blonde-messiah-centered comics of Jim Starlin back around the time he started working on Arkwright, as was I (though I was a decade and a half younger). Arkwright reads a bit like David Bowie playing the role of Doctor Who, set in a Michael Moorcock version of the DC Comics multiverse (best of all possible worlds, in more than one sense of the phrase). I wonder if I should be troubled that several of the characters or media figures I was awed by in youth seem to look a tiny bit like what I might, as a teen, have considered idealized versions of me: Tom Swift (described in an earlier entry), Johnny Quest, Bowie, Starlin’s Adam Warlock, Arkwright, Sting, maybe Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner. Except I’m not a world-transforming messiah-figure…or am I?

TO BE CONTINUED…No, but seriously, when all is said and done, though, the Japanese may have us beat on all this stuff. While American comics have been stuck for decades in a mostly-superheroes rut, Japanese comics (manga, like that sold by my friend Ali Kokmen and other folks at Random House) cover as many topics as other media such as television do — indeed, a DC Comics editor, Scott Nybakken, and I watched two movies based on manga just the other day: Sanctuary, a political/gangster thriller about a young Yakuza and a young governmental aide ousting their elders, and Ghost in the Shell II: Innocence, the Blade Runner-like story of a cyborg cop tracking deadly “gynoid” sex-robots gone haywire (and, no, there are no sex scenes or eroticized tentacles in it, for the sick few who are wondering). Scott, by the way, won a coveted Eisner Award at this year’s San Diego Comic Convention, for his editing of a hardcover anthology of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic, and was quick-witted enough to get an autograph from surprise trophy-presenter Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Go’s (a huge nerd) for our fellow comics-owning libertarian New Wave fan, Michael Malice.

Perhaps it’s juvenile even to think about all this stuff (though it’s not just me — take, for example, the comic book by Paul Auster or the case of critically-acclaimed writer Jonathan Lethem, now updating the very strange 1970s Marvel Comics series Omega the Unknown, which I encountered myself as a child, about a boy who may or may not have a psychic connection to an unreal android superhero named Omega) — and so, for good or ill, I won’t mention comics on this blog again for about a year, focusing instead on politics. About a year from now, though, as it happens, there will be a comic book miniseries coming out from DC that is likely to do about as good a job as one could ask for of synthesizing elements from all the items on the list above.

In May of 2008, my aforementioned favorite comics writer, the Talbot-influenced and Kirby-influenced Grant Morrison, will write a seven-issue miniseries for DC called Final Crisis, harkening back to the aforementioned multiple-Earth stories but with a more sweeping and catastrophic scope than ever before — and he promises, with Kirbyesque grandeur, that the series will open with an image of the character Anthro, the First Boy and will end with an image of the Kirby character Kamandi, the Last Boy. Morrison says it will be the Lord of the Rings of the DC Universe, the “final” multi-series crossover story, and — in all seriousness (he’s a mystic) — his attempt to use the self-referential complexity of the fictional DC Universe to make that universe become — in real life — a sentient being. Don’t say you weren’t warned — maybe you should just read that if you don’t have time for everything listed above (or at least read The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, please). In the meantime, I will do mundane, earthly things like analyze the presidential primaries, though it hardly seems as important.

P.S. Plots to conquer and/or destroy the civilized world are not just the stuff of fantasy, it’s worth remembering. My friend Chuck Blake sent me an article from a Posner-esque book on Global Catastrophic Risks (pointed out to him by Marie Huber), and the article’s Introduction section has one of my all-time favorite opening paragraphs for an academic-type article:


All else being equal, not many people would prefer to destroy the world. Even faceless corporations, meddling governments, reckless scientists, and other agents of doom require a world in which to achieve their goals of profit, order, tenure, or other villainies. If our extinction proceeds slowly enough to allow a moment of horrified realization, the doers of the deed will likely be quite taken aback on realizing that they have actually destroyed the world. Therefore I suggest that if the Earth is destroyed, it will probably be by mistake…

Tenure, or Other Villainies would also be a good title for a nineteenth-century academic murder mystery.

Appendix A: The Case, in the Form of a Timeline for Nerds Only, for Seeing the Period of the 80s and 90s as “the Dark Age”

1980 Dark Phoenix

1980 Trigon

1980 Darkseid-focused JLA/JSA team-up, also drawn by Perez

1982 Great Darkness Saga

1985 Crisis on Infinite Earths kills many, destroys the multiple Earths

1986 Dark Knight Returns

1986-87 Watchmen

1987 Batman: Year One

1991 X-Force (orgy of fangs and armor follows)

1992 Image Comics

1992 Death of Superman

1994 Zero Hour (an insane Green Lantern tries to destroy the universe)

1997-2003: lighter, postmodern period of diminished sales for Marvel/Image crowd and higher profile for Grant Morrison’s JLA and other Silver and Golden Age-respecting retro material — but ended by Donna Troy’s death, which along with Morrison’s New X-Men run roughly marks the start of the “Intense” (or somesuch adjective) current period of violent deaths and surprises with more realistic, cinematic dialogue

1999-2005 America’s Best Comics: more nostalgic than dark; times have changed

The Dark Age was an attempt to shake off, once and for all, the legacy of goofier, lighter, more juvenile comics that for many people will forever define the medium, the inspiration for things like this odd circa-1970 public service announcement about the evils of sexism, featuring Batman, Robin, and Batgirl, pointed out to me by Dimitri Cavalli.

1 comment:

Jacob T. Levy said...

his post-apocalyptic character Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth, who Reason editor Nick Gillespie once told me he feared would be referred to in every issue of that magazine if he did not take a hard line against letting notoriously nerdy libertarians write about whatever stupid pop culture artifacts they want to

That would be awesome.

The final two ages you mention– call them the Busiek-Morrison-Waid-Ross age and the Johns-Bendis-Meltzer-Millar age– have struggled against each other in the market for a while. I don’t think the former is dead yet, though the latter’s ascendant. They’ve each had their signature indie series (Astro City vs. Powers), flagship series (Morrison’s JLA and Busiek’s Avengers, Meltzer’s JLA and Bendis’ Avengers), and crossovers or events (Kingdom Come/ DC One Million, Civil War/ Identity Crisis). It’s a complicated moment; I wonder how it will be remembered.