Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Comic Books

I had a brief, intense love affair with DCs new 52 when they relaunched. By 'intense' I mean I spent a few hundred dollars on comics over the course of several months, and by 'brief' I mean I still haven't read all of them.

I've been reading webcomics since 2005 or so, and those are a different experience completely: they update usually at least once a week, instead of once a month, most are not quite so sweepingly epic as superhero comics, and most have a specific end-point that they will eventually reach. All of these things, and the fact that they are free, make the emotional investment in the story easier for me.

But movies aren't made about webcomics (usually, Piled Higher and Deeper being the only exception I know of), and most won't recognize a Halloween costume as Kano from Kagerou (though more people should: it is an excellent comic, and fully as epic as any superhero comic). It felt like an important cultural thing that I was missing out on, so when the new 52 made everything fresh and accessible to a new reader, I went straight for it.

The week they launched, I was in Florida on vacation, and I and the person I was with scooped up all of the ones that had come out and spent the afternoon reading. It was really cool, seeing the different ways paneling was done and the various distinct art styles. So when I came back, I went to a couple of the local comic shops until I found one that I really liked - Legends on Johnson St - and asked them about setting up a pull list (so that they would set aside issues of all of the comics I wanted to read as they came out). I also started reading Fables and Batwoman, starting with the compilation Batwoman: Elegy.

They were amazing. I have a weakness for fairy tales, and Fables is done amazingly well. Batwoman: Elegy had amazing art and a complete storyline in one book and an admirable hero with no superpowers. Then everything else started coming out. Aquaman was neat in the way he was so incredibly grumpy and no one took him seriously in-world. All Star Western had horror and gore and Western stuff and lots of whores in can-can dresses. Wonder Woman had takes on myths that were interesting in their own right, as well as the superhero aspect.

But then, across the board, the whores in can-can dresses proved to be some of the most conservatively dressed female characters. I have no problems with fanservice (otherwise I'd have objected to the gratuitously shirtless scene Chris Hemsworth had in Thor), but it seemed that most shots with female characters were about fanservice. Many more socially aware people than I have talked about the issues with that, like Escher Girls. I didn't have explicit problems with that at the start, just the kind of instinctive 'meh' that I also get around video games where the high-level armour for female characters would get someone arrested for public indecency. Batwoman and Wonder Woman were the exceptions to that, but Wonder Woman didn't grab me as much as Batwoman, in part I think because I'm not as familiar with Greek myth as I ought to be.

It was also that the stories didn't go anywhere. Sure, they killed or avoided killing bad guys and there were conspiracies and things blew up, but there was no real character growth or change in the world, and I'm aware enough of comics to know that before the reboot, they'd gone a good 50 years without sitting back and going 'okay, this is done now.' The prospect of nothing ending was one of the major factors in my disengaging, I think. I want my reading, whether it takes three hours or twenty, to eventually yield a conclusion and let me walk away. If it's well done it'll haunt me and I'll want to revisit it or hunt down other things the creator has made or wish desperately for just one more sequel, but it's done. Comics don't give you that very often.

I have that issue with book series, too, like Animorphs or the Aurora Teagarden books. If I can't see some manner of wrap-up looming on the horizon, I lose interest. Given the popularity of long-running series, I am not necessarily part of any kind of overwhelming majority there.

That's a rough summary of my love affair with comics. I'm glad I had it, as I have more context to be excited now when superhero movies come out, and I understand a bit of the culture around it. I also have most of the components of a fantastic Batwoman costume.

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