Sunday, February 27, 2011

First, it’s time for this month’s obligatory plug for the new issue of Ian Churchill’s Marineman. As the cover indicates, this is an origin issue, while it explains how the boy named Steve Ocean came to live with the Ocean family, it doesn’t answer all the mysteries. We know how Steve came to our world, and how he can do what he does, but we still don’t know where he came from. We also learn more about his parents and what happened to his mother.

The background exposition doesn’t come at the expense of the ongoing story. This month, Churchill introduces us to some new characters who appear to have links of their own to Steve’s past, and also to the mysteries set up in the first issue. We also get some more character detail about Steve’s friends. Overall, this continues to be exactly the kind of superhero comic I enjoy: a fantastic mix of story and art, action and character.

(As an aside, I’m sorry to not be able to include any images this week. We switched Internet providers on Friday. We’re unhappy with the new company for a number of reasons, and will be switching back to Cox ASAP. In the meantime, however, I’m having trouble connecting my wireless scanner to the computer on the new network. Poop.)

While I’m continuing to find comics to enjoy, not all the comics I’ve been reading have continued to be enjoyable. Recently, I’ve been dropping a number of superhero comics from DC and Marvel, and have been more and more reluctant to pick new ones up. I don’t want to take the grumpy old man position that comics aren’t as good as they used to be. That’s not the case at all. But they aren’t the same as they used to be, and in some cases, that’s actually kind of what I want.

I started reading comics at an early age, but really got into superheroes in the 80s. When I think of the Batman comics I love, it’s the annuals and specials written by Mike W. Barr, followed by his work with the great Jim Aparo on Batman and the Outsiders, and with Alan Davis on Detective Comics. My Green Lantern is the one by Len Wein and Dave Gibbons and by Steve Englehart and Joe Staton. My Justice League is by Gerry Conway, my Teen Titans is by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, and my Legion of Super-Heroes is by Paul Levitz.

There’s all kinds of great work being done by Marvel and DC in their superhero comics today, and I’ve enjoyed a lot of it quite a bit. I still enjoy a lot of it. But a lot of it is also really different from what I read as a kid, and it’s not what I want to read any more.

The last several years, the Green Lantern comics have been focused on one central storyline involving the wars and relationships between the various colored lanterns representing different emotions. It’s an interesting story, and it’s well-written and drawn, but when I started reading Green Lantern comics, it was about a member of a space police force who defended the Earth against threats from within and without. A recurring theme was Hal Jordan’s struggle to maintain his own identity and individuality while still being part of something much larger than himself.

In the Batman comics, there’s actually two Batman characters running around. One, Dick Grayson (former Robin and Nightwing) fights crime in Gotham City while Bruce Wayne travels the world as Also-Batman, recruiting other superheroes to fight crime in their cities under the Batman brand. This is probably an interesting and logical extension of 70 years of the Batman mythos, but it’s not the Batman I know and want to read about. I want to read about Bruce Wayne as Batman in Gotham City fighting colorful criminals like the Joker and Penguin. I don’t want to read about him setting up the superhero equivalent of Subway franchises.

Part of the problem, I think, is that these transitions represent changes in the world at large. I remember when I first saw pictures of the Twin Towers falling on 9/11/01. Part of my brain, raised for years on comic book imagery, thought the destruction of skyscrapers in New York City looked frighteningly like something out of a Captain America comic book. And that’s the thing: comics need to be larger than life. So when real-life criminal organizations are toppling buildings, what good are Hydra or Kobra? If Osama Bin-Laden and his minions are killing real people by the thousands, what’s the point of the Red Skull?

So it’s no longer enough for superheroes to just fight supervillains, because that’s not fantasy any more. So now Green Lantern has to be this big epic fucking thing that never ends about wars between space armies. Batman needs to be about going global like a corporation. And that’s fine. I get that. I get why it’s necessary for things to have turned the way they have turned.

But the thing is, those are also the things that most upset me about today’s world. I hate that superheroes fighting supervillains trying to blow up buildings in New York isn’t fantastic enough, because it should be. It shouldn’t look commonplace. It shouldn’t look small. I don’t want to live in a world where that’s the case.

I recently got a collection of John Ostrander and Luke McDonnell’s Suicide Squad stories from the 80s. It was one of my favorite series, and one that fans keep requesting be brought back. A few years ago, DC did publish a Suicide Squad miniseries, written by John Ostrander, and I read it. And it didn’t do much for me. Thinking about that, looking at these original stories, I think I’ve finally realized why.

When the Suicide Squad was first published back in the 80s, it was something special and unique. It was a secret government black ops team, made up primarily of incarcerated supervillains who were only serving on the team to earn their freedom. At the time, it was groundbreaking. Today, black-ops teams doing some sort of government dirty work are a dime a dozen. Comics featuring villains (or characters who are so “edgy” and dark as to be near-as) are also nothing surprising.

Once again, the real world has caught up with us. It’s no big deal, having a team doing the government’s dirty work under the radar, because now we all assume that stuff is going on all the time. Heck, Cartoon Network’s Young Justice takes the sidekicks of the big superheroes and turns them into a black-ops team for the Justice League, doing the darker stuff Superman and Batman can’t be seen doing.

So I’m out. The Green Lantern comics are just fine, but they’re about to start a big story called War of the Green Lanterns. I don’t want to read about the Green Lanterns fighting each other. They’re supposed to be cops and heroes. I want to read about Hal Jordan fighting guys like Major Disaster and Doctor Polaris.

And it’s all good. There’s still plenty of other comics for me to read, and hopefully Marineman will be one for a long time to come.