Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Book Selections: Politically Incorrect Literature – and Comics Finale/New Genesis

ToddSeavey.com Book Selections of the Month (December 2011):

It seems like only last week I unveiled my November Book Selections of the Month, and here it is time for December’s – and likely my last, at least in this format, since I’m changing the blog a bit, in keeping with the unveiling of the new Brooklyn Forum events (live onstage in Williamsburg) – details soon.  After a lot of time online this year, I’m leaning toward thinking we’ve all had enough Net and need more facetime events.

In keeping with this time of transition, I will post an entry in each full week of December touching on one of the four pillars of pre-2012 Seavey thinking: (1) skepticism this week, (2) music next, (3) sci-fi/genre stuff after that, and finally (4) politics.  By contrast, none of us knows exactly what next year will bring.  (Brace yourselves – and kick it off by voting for Ron Paul on Jan. 3 if you’re in Iowa, since he is the only Big Dog.)

The skepticism part will come mainly at the end in this Book Selections entry, in discussing English literature. 

•But first: many of you may have been skeptical over the years about whether I would actually stop reading comics.  Dawn Eden even suggested I write an addiction memoir about it (more about her in next week’s music-themed entry).  I first started cutting back on my comics consumption around the end of college twenty years ago, and then, well, one thing led to another and it’s 2011.  It happens.

Luckily for me, DC Comics finally cut off my supply.  I mean, they’d revised their fictional universe several times over the years, but in September they finally pretty much wiped out the seven decades of fictional comics history over which I’d been obsessing and relaunched all fifty-two of their ongoing superhero series from issue #1, depicting most of the characters as slightly younger and devoid of much clearly-specified baggage.  And it was a hit.  But enough about me – here’s the part that helps you.

Lost souls will often ask me where to start reading if they want to “get into” comics (for reasons as baffling as Foucault’s successful effort to contract AIDS or a teenager taking up smoking).  The responsible answer, as any experienced comics fan knows, is: You don’t want to get into comics, kid – rise above.  The second-most-responsible answer starts out something like: Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, and The Invisibles are all very good – and you might find Maus moving. 

But these are answers for people seeking a one-time experience, really.  If you want to become a comics junkie, you may as well immerse yourself in
the ongoing, periodical, never-quite-ending real thing, even if some of it’s crap.  And so: I now recommend you forget about my tired generation and the seventy years of accumulated nonsense that preceded this moment.  You want to know comics, kid?  Really?  I now suggest you spend $150 for this lovely hardcover volume, DC Comics: The New 52, out next week and collecting all fifty-two of those aforementioned issue #1’s from September. 

Decadent?  Yes, but then you’ll know which of the resulting ongoing series, if any, you want to keep getting – and you’ll have a massive, new-reader-friendly intro to the rest of what comics’ biggest fictional universe, the one with Batman and Superman in it, has to offer.  I don’t even pretend I read more than a few of the #1’s myself, since my time is now past.  But perhaps you are the one to carry the baton forward.  If you do, you can perhaps at some point answer these lingering questions with which I am left by my failure, so to speak, to pick up any #2’s:

–What the hell is Hawkman’s origin now anyway?
–What is Darkseid like (and what universe do the New Gods live in now)?
–When do all the Justice Society stories occur (and what universe does Shade live in)?
–What’s the deal on Shazam now?

In any case, I’m not exactly telling you to read everything.  I’m saying this is as efficient a sampler as you’re ever likely to get.  I understand the importance of efficiency in these matters.  If someone tells me they’ve never seen a Star Wars movie, I tell them they can safely just watch the one from 1977.  If they say they’ve never seen any iteration of Star Trek, I tell them to watch a few 1960s ones plus the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and maybe the final two seasons of Deep Space Nine.  That’s all you need.  I understand that. 

(And I will likely stand by this answer even if my ethno-casting suspicions prove correct and it turns out in two years that the reason they’ve hired Benicio Del Toro for a villain role is that he’ll be playing the new Khan.)

Amusingly, one online reviewer declared one of the fifty-two new series,  the overwrought Red Lanterns, as bad as Shakespeare – and seemed genuinely to mean it as an insult.  They should use that as a cover blurb.  But more on Shakespeare below.

•For those who need more comics: I was greatly pleased by the recent one-issue steampunk reprint DC Comics Presents: JLA: The Age of Wonder, which places Superman et al among Victorians and eventually the trenches of World War I, as the heroic League of Science.  It works!  Quite smoothly, in fact.  Check it out.  (Now they should hire me to do a dieselpunk version of the Doom Patrol.)

•In a bit of retro that hits closer to home (since I really started collecting DC Comics in earnest in 1980 with New Teen Titans), Marv Wolfman and George Perez have reunited to complete a long-gestating graphic novel called The New Teen Titans: Games, about the old Titans lineup facing a series of terrorist attacks against New York City.  It will reaffirm your childhood love of the Wolfman/Perez team – and, since it’s not in continuity (so little of the past is now anyway), they may kill one or two characters you weren’t expecting.

Given that I pitched a comics series starring the Freedom Fighters to DC years ago, I’m also pleased to see that Mike Koomian has written a Quality Companion guide to those characters and others, out around now. 

•But there is loftier literature out there, I know – and the efforts of left-wing professors to ruin it for everyone are skewered in the 2006 volume The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature.  Elizabeth Kantor, though possessed of her own obvious pro-war and pro-religion biases, does the necessary work of going back through the greats of English lit and explaining many of the profound messages and psychological insights that you didn’t know were there because your professors, like mine at Brown, were too busy discussing whether Lady Macbeth was a deconstructionist critique of the patriarchy and so forth. 

(I have indirect friendly/professional ties to the author – as I do to DC Comics – but I think I would have found this book valuable anyway, especially if I’d read it back in the 1990s.  Think of it as a companion to the film Anonymous if it helps.)

By the way, one text I am not recommending this month is the revived superhero comic Extreme, though it does remind me that that word got used as an epithet back in the 90s a lot (often juxtaposed with dirtbikes and screaming people), and although it’s time for 90s nostalgia, I see no point in trying to rehabilitate that word, since everything is extreme nowadays.


Dave said...

We had one such conversation about comic books at the FEE last month. I actually ended up going with "Ego and Hubris." I'm not sure if that's a gateway comic book or not....

Todd Seavey said...

Ah, I did not realize when I wrote the above that Del Toro was indeed slated to play Khan -- it was all too easy to imagine Hollywood types thinking, "Who's another Hispanic guy?" -- but just dropped out days ago over money.

They have ONE MONTH to find the new Khan, apparently. Not comforting.

Todd Seavey said...

I should also have noted that _this_ happened the day after the entry above was posted (though I wasn't down there this time):

Scott Nybakken on comics at the Dionysium