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Friday, November 02, 2018

The Good, The Bad, And The Do Nothings

Image result for the stand book cover

So I'm rereading THE STAND again. Random observations:

I tried to read the original edition I have, the one before the bloating, that's set in 1980, where Harold eats Payday candy bars. But while I dislike the the uncut edition for a lot of reasons, still, there are a lot of places in it that, now that I know they're there, I want to re read when I re read THE STAND.

(Sadly, there are a lot of other places that I think are stinkerinos, like Fran's initial fight over her pregnancy with her psycho mother who is just going to die is one of these, most of the additional entries from Fran's journal, especially where King is trying to have her note 'new things' for the 1990 that the uncut version was set in, none of which happened -- like 'digs' becoming the new phrase for where you live, and people saying "I dig your digs" a lot. No, that would be 'crib', Steve).

Anyway, so I'm rereading the uncut STAND now (as with the last George R.R. Martin book, this thing is a monster that is actually uncomfortable to hold in your hands without support when you're trying to read it). And as always happens when I reread THE STAND, I'm noticing shit I never picked up on before.

My last big revelation is that the characters in THE STAND really have no agency. They do nothing of importance. They do not defeat the Dark Man. God defeats the Dark Man, or the Dark Man's own blinding incompetence in selecting a drooling, brain damaged sociopath with anger management issues as his chief weapons procurer defeats him. But Stu, Glen, Ralph, Franny, Larry, the Judge... all those guys are just background color, there to make the story interesting. They do, too... King was at the top of his game as far as characterization goes when he wrote this.

But they accomplish NOTHING in this book.

But I realized this the last time I reread this thing, which was maybe five years ago. This time, I realized that not only do the 'heroes' accomplish little or nothing in this huge bloated volume... but neither does the villain.

And I also realized that both the iconic Evil Guy, Randall Flagg, and the iconic Good Guy, Abigail Freemantle... are really not all that evil and good at all.

(Of course, we all know that Mother Abby is yet another in a long line of magical Negroes in pop culture fiction, especially that by Stephen King. But that's not what I'm talking about here.)

Let's look at Flagg first. King does a great job surrounding the Walkin' Dude with a dark and menacing aura. I mean, he SEEMS like a bad ass. Everything King tells us about this guy is wicked and awful -- he rides with radical black revolutionaries to kill cops, he rides with the KKK to lynch and rape blacks, he brainstormed with the SLA about kidnapping Patty Hearst and suggested they make her nuts instead of ransom her, he does all this nasty bad shit. King's poetry is on point here when he describes -

"He hammered along, arms swinging by his sides. He was known, well known, along the highways in hiding that are traveled by the poor and the mad, by the professional revolutionaries and by those who have been taught to hate so well that their hate shows on their faces like harelips and they are unwanted except by others like them, who welcome them to cheap rooms with slogans and posters on the walls, to basements where lengths of sawed-off pipe are held in padded vises while they are stuffed with high explosives, to back rooms where lunatic plans are laid: to kill a Cabinet member, to kidnap the child of a visiting dignitary,
or to break into a boardroom meeting of Standard Oil with grenades and machine guns and murder in the name of the people. He was known there, and even the maddest of them could only gaze upon his dark and grinning face at an oblique
angle. The women he took to bed with him, even if they reduced intercourse to something as casual as getting a snack from the refrigerator, accepted him with a stiffening of the body, a turning away of countenance. They took him the way
they might take a ram with golden eyes or a black dog-and when it was done they were cold, so cold, it seemed impossible they could ever be warm again. When he
walked into a meeting the hysterical babble ceased-the backbiting, recriminations, accusations, the ideological rhetoric. For a moment there would be dead silence and they would start to turn to him and then turn away, as if he
had come to them with some old and terrible engine of destruction cradled in his arms, something a thousand times worse than the plastic explosive made in the basement labs of renegade chemistry students or the black market arms obtained from some greedy army post supply sergeant. It seemed that he had come to them with a device gone rusty with blood and packed for centuries in the Cosmoline of
screams but now ready again, carried to their meeting like some infernal gift, a birthday cake with nitroglycerine candles. And when the talk began again it would be rational and disciplined-as rational and disciplined as madmen can make
it and things would be agreed upon. "

And yet, for all this build up, for all the palpable atmosphere of supernatural malevolence that King paints around Flagg every time the guy appears... what the hell does he ever actually do in the book? He magically opens a locked cell door with a key when that cell door doesn't open with a key. He levitates. He sends out this big red Mordor eye to spy on people (but it can't see Tom Cullen). He communicates with Harold and Nadine through a Ouija board. He smothers Kit Bradenton with his ass, and eats Bobby Terry alive. And, yes, I mean, these are bad things, and some of them are certainly supernatural -- he can, apparently, shapeshift, although King is coy about that.

But, still. The society he sets up in Vegas isn't evil, just, kinda, vaguely cold and soulless. He isn't sending all the women to be raped over and over again in slave brothels that service his upper level managers. He isn't harvesting his weaker workers as food and using their skins for leather. He isn't working people to death, enslaving people, any of that good shit. All of that would be genuinely evil, totally dark. No. He's set up a tyranny, run by him, that works mostly because people are terrified of him. Yeah, that's not exactly a utopia. But there's law and order and the power works and people are safe in the streets. From the descriptions, Flagg's Vegas seems like a slightly better place to live than Soviet Russia.

And he's kind of clueless. He has no idea who he is, where he came from, where his powers come from, what the fuck he's doing. He's clearly a vicious, cruel person (if he is a person) who doesn't give a shit about anyone else and who actively enjoys other people's pain, and yeah, that' s pretty bad... but it's all stuff we are told. We hardly ever see him DOING anything.

Now let's move on to Mother Abigail.

This 'shufflin' old woman' gets the same treatment as Flagg, only in reverse. We are told over and over again that she radiates an aura of goodness and niceness, that she seems warm and sweet and kind and generous and loving. We're told this. But what does King show us?

Well, she can cook. That's nice. And in the uncut STAND, we find out that she 'loves being sexy with her man'. She strongly disapproves of birth control - between Mother Abigail and Franny's dad, in fact, there's a strong right to life undercurrent all through the Uncut version that isn't as noticeable in the original published version. (As with nearly all King's books, there also seems to be a subtle but definite sense of disapproval of kinky sex -- and anything beyond full on fucking with full on pregnancy risk seems to be kinky, in King's mind. Harold and Nadine's relationship clearly makes this point, but Larry getting 'gobbled' by the oral hygienist early on goes pretty badly for both of them, too. The scenes where Mother Abigail muses about her sex life in the uncut edition seem to pretty strongly indicate that she not only has never had a dick anywhere near her mouth in her life, but that she'd denounce any such suggestion as the rankest blasphemy. And there are NO non heterosexuals in THE STAND; the supeflu, sent down as a judgement from God, took off ALL those nasty queers, apparently... except for Dana, who is apparently 'bi now'. But don't worry about that, because the Dark Man is gonna sort her shit out, just like he sorted out faggy old Kit the homosexual poet and underground facilitator who was dying of the superflu anyway. Oh, yeah, and in both editions, the Trashcan Man gets involved in some homo shit with a fellow devotee of the Dark Man. In the original published edition, it's a skeevy old dude who gives Trashy a ride and who comes into his hotel room one night and fondles his junk. You just know that guy would be wearing a MAGA hat these days. He dies of a heart attack a little later on, because that's what fags get in a Stephen King book. In the Uncut edition, of course, Trash meets the crazy Kid, a character King seems absurdly proud of. The Kid sticks a gun barrel up Trashie's ass while forcing Trash to jack him off, and later on, he gets et by wolves. Again, guys getting with guys? Nuh uh. Don't do it in a King book. )

But back to Mother Abigail, God's chosen avatar of all that is good and right and Christian and decent and proper on the post-judgement Earth, the 108 year old magical Negro who radiates the aura of 'goodness' and 'niceness' and 'kindness'. What does King actually SHOW us about ol' Abby, instead of telling us?

Well. She thinks Democrats are stupid, especially the ones from New York State. And although pretty much the entire human race is dead, including all of her kin, the only thing that moves her to tears is... guess what? Thinking about how the government took a 'little whack here, a little whack there' of her family's property for back taxes, over the years. Yep. She just busts out bawlin' when she's telling Nick about that. She tells him about how she would go out every year and look at the piece of land that was no longer hers and just sob like a little girl, with tears running down her cheeks.

(This, by the way, is nonsense. Mother Abigail has like a million grandkids, and some of them are doing very well financially, and devoted to her. They'd pay the fucking taxes on the property, not least of which because, property is always a good investment. Just leasing that property to some agribusiness that wanted to grow corn on it would pay those taxes.)

Well, there is one other thing she cries about -- having to leave that property and go die in Colorado. But she'll do it, because mean ol' God says she has to.

She's also a dynamo at shaking an old bag at a bunch of weasels and saying "This is MY chicken! Get lost!"

So, what are we left with here, as far as what King has actually demonstrated about the character through actual actions and behavior, not just told us? She likes to cook, play guitar, sing, and have sex with her husband as long as it's just straight up fucking with no contraception. She's contemptuous of those with differing political beliefs, she bitterly resents taxes, and she loves private property. Goddam, I think she might be wearing a MAGA hat, too. Or at the very least has her own show on the Food Network.

Every time I reread THE STAND, I come away admiring the book more and more for all the rules it manages to break and still be a very readable, thrilling, compelling story. Heroes that do nothing. Good guys who aren't very good, bad guys who aren't really all that bad. A huge sprawling narrative about the end of the world as we know it, in which basically, the only important actors are God and the Devil. It's a pretty astonishing thing, when you look at it... especially when you consider that this is one of the most successful novels ever published.


AUGH where the hell is the rest of the post GIVE IT TO ME NOW!

Monday, September 24, 2018

The ANT-i-christ

Image result for jesus for antsOne of the bigger scams, and one I most resented as a kid, and still feel some pretty significant echoes of that resentment nowadays when I think about it, is the public relations scam revolving around the phrases "Good News!" and "A special gift just for you!".

The fuckers never front load with the whole phrase, of course. It was always just the above - "There's Good News!" or "There's a special gift just for you!" This was to set the hook. This was to make your mouth water and your eyes light up, to get you interested.

And then they'd roll the whole wet and stinking turd out. "Good News -- Jesus died for your sins!"

"There's a special gift just for you -- salvation, redemption, and forgiveness! In Jesus' name, amen!"

As a 12 year old, I always wanted to say (but never did; my mom would have knocked me the fuck across the room) -- "Jesus' death isn't exactly 'new', good or not -- it happened two thousand years ago".

Similarly, I also never said "If there's a special gift just for me, I'd rather have a cassette tape recorder, please". I mean, seriously. Salvation, redemption and forgiveness? That shit was worse than the flannel shirts gramma always gave me for Christmas.

And it always got worse, too. Assuming for some insane reason you were living a life so pathetic and neuroses laden that salvation, redemption, and forgiveness sounded COOL to you, well, the owners & operators of Salvation, Redemption and Forgiveness Unlimited would always go on to explain -- you could have it! Easie-peasie! No cost at all!

You just had to 'accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior'. You had to 'let Jesus into your heart'.

And you had to do it sincerely. You had to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Because Jesus KNEW if you were a bullshitter. If you didn't really MEAN it, then you didn't get nothin'.

What did you have to do, to really 'welcome Jesus into your heart'? Well, there was a lot of specific stuff, but in general, you basically had to let Jesus -- or his local franchise rep, actually -- mind control your ass right, left, up, down, and sideways. You couldn't swear. You had to go to church and read your bible. You had to think clean thoughts. You had to stop whacking off and you better not even think about having sex before you got married and when you were married you better not even think about anything but the ol' in-out. Missionary position; no cowgirl, please.

You had to constantly, at all times, think about whether or not what you were doing was What Jesus Wanted You To Do. And, as this was all first laid on me back in the 70s, you had to hate fags quite intensely, too.

(Also, you had to put some money in the offering plate. That may have been the most important thing in the whole scam... at least, to the local Jesus franchise owners.)

All of this is just ridiculous. The idea that the Creator of the universe gives a flying fuck what bodily fluids come out of one hairless ape's appendages and which parts of another hairless ape's anatomy those bodily fluids might come into contact with, and what happens after that, is just laughable and ludicrous. It's like, I made myself an ant farm for a science project, and it's kind of a cool ant farm, and I like to look at it through the glass side of it sometimes, but, oh shit! Some of the workers are getting it on with other workers! Look, that drone over there is spreading some of its body fluids on a different drone! And those ones over there, they're carrying bread crumbs in a way that's different from most of the other ants! Holy crap, I'm going to bomb the living shit out of this ant farm! I'm getting out the gigantic magnifying glass and it's My Death Ray Will Destroy Antopolis, BWA HA HAAAAAA!

No. No. I am a human being, I have more important shit to take care of than worrying about how ants entertain themselves in their spare time.

Here's the thing, though -- down in that ant farm, for all I know, some of the ants have tumbled to a racket that works well for them. They've realized I'm out here. And now, even though I don't talk to them any more than to any other ant, they've started telling all the other ants that they know what I want. Coincidentally, what i want is (a) for all the other ants to do what these special ants say and (b) for all the other ants to never do anything that annoys the special ants.



And I'll bet they start all their bullshit off with "Good News, fellow ant!" and/or "Fellow ant, there's a special gift just for you!"


AUGH where the hell is the rest of the post GIVE IT TO ME NOW!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Utopia

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, textThis isn't true at all.

The right wing idea of utopia is much more nuanced than this.

The poor miserable white fucks who support Trump, most of whom are elderly and infirm from a lifetime of working in low level dead end jobs while living really in really unhealthy ways, want to live in a world where everyone 'respects their years!' and they don't have to do shit. They'll settle for a comfortable trailer with all necessary amenities and a modest regular government draw check 'because they've earned it!'

The 'middle class' that supports Trump are small business owners. They want no regulations, plenty of 'small business incentives' (enough to complete offset whatever modest tax burdens their businesses would otherwise be expected to shoulder) and they especially want to be able to hire and fire anybody at any time for any reason. They want free or cheap background checking on applicants, free or cheap drug testing on same, they don't want to have to meet burdensome safety standards in their workplaces, they don't want a minimum wage, they don't want there to be any mandatory benefits they have to provide, they want a court system that simply throws out harassment and discrimination complaints. They want a free hand to make their business as profitable as they can, because "that's what we need to create jobs and make a decent living in today's America".

The wealthy upper class that supports Trump want all of the above, plus, they want tort reform that will keep poor people from ever having any standing to sue them for any reason, and criminal justice reform that will allow any crime to be punishable by fines in lieu of jailtime. They don't care how high the fines are. They don't want any kind of social safety net, they don't want what minimal taxes they pay to provide any kind of social services, they want the poor working slave class to be completely dependent on their largesse.

The poor who support Trump want to live in a world where no matter how far down the ladder they are, there is always somebody else -- a non white, usually -- that they can lord it over. They don't want non whites dead, they want them forced into socially and economically subservient positions forever. No matter how shitty a poor white's job is, they want to know that there are shittier jobs out there that the blacks and Mexicans have to do, for less money than the white guy makes.

The non poor want to live in that world, too, but they also want the less privileged and affluent classes, regardless of race, to have to defer and grovel to them and to have no recourse but starvation or being lynched.

The 'working class doing sixty hour work weeks in backbreaking jobs they hate' thing is a realistic portrayal of what will happen if the business owners get their way. But nobody really wants non whites dead. They just want them crushed back into subservience.


AUGH where the hell is the rest of the post GIVE IT TO ME NOW!

Friday, June 29, 2018

Decline and Fall

My buddy Bane (yes, that's his real name, and yes, he's nearly seven feet tall) claims that I don't like anything in comics from after 1976. Of course, he also admits that he's joking when he says this; he's aware that there are many comics published after '76 that I like, but he does feel that like everyone else, my opinion is mostly emotional and subjective and I just basically like whatever I read when I was 8 years old.

Well, I was 8 years old in 1970, and yes, comics were wonderful then. But superhero comics really did reach their zenith in the 70s, under Steve Englehart and Steve Gerber. And superhero comics started a long and so far irreversible downhill skid sometime in the late 70s, early 80s. It's hard to pin down, but Englehart and Gerber's respective, exceedingly brief runs on MR. MIRACLE seem to mark the end of the really great superhero comics of the Silver Age, and the beginning of the long decay into mediocrity, and worse.

I would never try to claim that everything published in superhero comics in the Silver Age was awesome stuff. There was a great deal of mediocrity at both Marvel and DC in this era, even under the auspices of Lee and Kirby -- those Thing/Human Torch team ups were for the most part pretty fucking silly. And there was plenty of Larry Lieber horseshit kicking around in even the early Silver Age (underscoring the unpleasant reality that these comics, even the ones that we loved because they made our worlds bigger and better and transformed and impacted our lives in amazing ways, were still basically all about generating paychecks for a lot of people) and once Stan stopped writing comics, nearly everyone who took over after except maybe Archie Goodwin, Steve Englehart, and Steve Gerber were mediocre hacks (and Gerry Conway was just a horribly talentless, viciously venal asswipe who would, nearly single handedly, shut Marvel's last era of excellence down completely).

But what Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Gene Colan, Don Heck, and a few others did in the early Silver Age cannot be overstated. These were superhero comics the likes of which the world had never seen before, and never would again -- and in my opinion, their quality would only be exceeded, much less equalled, by the runs turned in by Englehart and Gerber, much later (and maybe, MAYBE, by the Goodwin/Simonson MANHUNTER. Maybe.)

I don't feel this is a subjective opinion. The Golden Age was the premier of superhero comics, but in the Silver Age, the foundations laid down by the Golden Age were expanded on and improved. The Silver Age did not destroy the Golden Age, it built on it. That, in and of itself, is enough to distinguish it from almost everything that came after the Silver Age.

I reread a lot of the stuff I loved as a kid now and I can't even get through it any more. Gerber's MAN THING is brilliant in spots but there are many issues that are just ambitious misfires. Starlin's CAPTAIN MARVEL still thrills me, but the stuff is strictly for adolescents -- as an adult, I can see the plot problems and the limited writing talent plastered over with the incredibly slick and exciting artwork. Nearly all the DC stuff I read back then (with the exception of the aforementioned MANHUNTER) is much harder to read now than it was, and that includes my beloved Cary Bates/Dave Cockrum LEGION stories. (I still love them. I will always love them. But they frequently make no sense at all.)

It's only the Englehart stuff, and Gerber's work on DEFENDERS, that I can still reread and feel "yeah, this is still the best that superhero comics will ever be". Englehart's HULK, his CAPTAIN AMERICA, DR. STRANGE, CAPTAIN MARVEL... these are all quite simply the best those characters have ever been or ever will be. His DEFENDERS and AVENGERS still hold up well -- the dialogue and captions still crackle and the characterizations are still every bit as riveting as they were when I first read them. (Plots... ehhh... Englehart did like him some warehouses that were actually secretly space ships from time to time, and the whole "Kang wants to marry the Celestial Madonna and through their son rule the Heavens" thing was... not very lucid, if really really unique and original, and Englehart did get obsessed with Mantis.) But even with these drawbacks, I reread Englehart's runs on these titles today and they still hold up. They're still the BEST superheroes have ever been.

Most of the Modern Age, in my opinion, has been fueled by deconstructionism. By a prolonged analysis of the tropes and themes established for superheroes throughout the Golden and Silver Age, aimed at pulling those tropes and memes apart into their most basic components, and then beating those components together until there was nothing left but dust. You can do some powerful stories that way -- "Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow?" may well be the finest Superman story ever told. But you can only do that shit once for each character and concept, and Alan Moore, arguably the finest Modern Age superhero comics writer ever, spent decades yanking shit apart and blowing up the bits. He inspired a lot of imitators, and none of them were remotely his equals.

I spoke to Bane about this recently and said that out of all the Modern Age, the only extended arc of comics I could think of that wasn't fueled by deconstruction, that actually built on the Silver Age, expanding it, making it better, was Neil Gaiman's run on SANDMAN. Neil Gaiman has flaws as a writer, too -- his limited attention span has unforgivably aborted some truly brilliant arcs that, allowed to run their course, would probably have been transcendent -- but fuck it, it can be argued that SANDMAN was transcendent enough, and if I really really really really REALLY wish he hadn't gotten bored and cut off "Brief Lives" much much too early, well, I seem to be the only one who feels that way.

Gaiman did a lot of deconstruction, and, like Moore, he was often 'inspired by' other sources (the pretty much direct swipe of the 'search all the demons' bit in early SANDMAN issues from Heinlein's MAGIC INC was so blatant I couldn't believe it when I first read it) and he's also a lazy writer who has a strong preference for characters with wildly undefined abilities so he can get himself out of any corners he might inadvertently plot himself into. (This is a flaw shared by Chris Claremont, but Chris Claremont is much much worse at it, and Claremont's plotting, dialogue, characterizatons, and narrative are all much, much worse than Gaiman's too.)

But, despite all of these limitations (and certainly Gerber and Englehart had limitations as well), Gaiman's SANDMAN is still a treasure.

But for all that, it's not as good as the Englehart and Gerber stuff. (As far as that goes, SANDMAN probably isn't even supehero comics.)

I told all this to Bane and he just smirked at me and said "What about the Geoff Johns JUSTICE SOCIETY and GREEN LANTERN stuff?"

And I was floored, because, yes... the Geoff Johns JSA and GREEN LANTERN stuff is, indeed, great and brilliant stuff, and while Johns did write a lot of deconstructive material (TEEN TITANS, FINAL CRISIS, among others) JSA and GL built on what came before, expanding and improving on the work of previous authors.

And yet, and yet... was Johns' work on GREEN LANTERN as good as Englehart's brief run leading up to the first CRISIS? I'm not talking about that GREEN LANTERN CORP shit show he put on after CRISIS with Arisia's power ring making her physically older and all that fucking Ch'p nonsense. I'm talking about the issues where he resolved the whole Predator/Star Sapphire dealio and got Hal back into the Corps and all that cool stuff.

Me, I'd have to say 'no'... but... I'll admit, THAT is a subjective opinion.

But has anything Johns has ever written been as good as Engelhart's work at Marvel?

No. Johns' stuff is brilliant. Gail Simone's stuff is great, too. But... as good as Englehart's work on DR. STRANGE and CAPTAIN AMERICA?

Uh... no.

More than this, though, and more even than the fact that most of the Modern Age has been fueled by scavenging and ripping off and destroying the work of the Golden and Silver Ages, there's the fact that comics storytelling itself has substantially devolved throughout the Modern Age.

All medias have their own strengths and weaknesses in terms of conveying information and telling stories. Pure text is very controllable, has a potential depth and flexibility unmatched by any other medium. You can introduce characters, move forwards and backwards in time, change voices, show a characters' innermost intellectual and emotional processes, do nuance, create texture and atmosphere, set down backdrop, build worlds, all of it with an ease and at a depth all but impossible in other mediums. And your audience has maximum control of how they consume your narrative -- they can page back if they need to, they can look forward if they're assholes.

But you don't have pictures and you don't have sound. All you have is what the writer can lead you to imagine. As a writer you are confined by the intellectual capacities and the imagination of your audience, and these days, few people have much imagination.

Purely auditory narrative, as with radio drama, doesn't have the potential depth of text, can't move back and forth in its own narrative as easily, doesn't afford its audience as much narrative control, and, obviously, it doesn't have graphics, so it too is limited by the intellect and imagination of its audience.

Comics have graphics but the graphics are stationary on the page. They don't have sound. They don't have motion. These things have to be simulated, and great artists like Jack Kirby and Milt Caniff created an entire visual vocabulary with which to simulate motion and pull the eye seamlessly from one panel to another across the page, and great letterers like Artie Simek and Tom Orzechowski did wonders to simulate sounds on the page.

Movies (and television, and video games) have graphics that move and make noise. These mediums come the closest to presenting us with something that our brains will perceive as 'real'. This is what we all want, we don't want fantasy, we want 'reality'. We want our entertainment to seem real to us. This is, at base and bottom, the reason why George R.R. Martin's A GAME OF THRONES is so wildly popular; it's why Howard's CONAN and Tolkien's LORD OF THE RINGS were so insanely popular in their time, and why they continue to be popular now -- those characters and their settings seem real to us, through the power of the undeniable talent of their authors. And this is why the HBO GAME OF THRONES is the most wildly popular show in the history of television -- the material seems real to us on paper, so how much more real does it seem adapted (even atrociously) to moving pictures with sound?

Movies don't have the potential depth of any other medium, they can't as easily move forward and backward in their own narrative (although movies like THE PRESTIGE try really hard to overcome this) and it's very difficult for a movie watching audience to access the internal intellectual and emotional processes of the characters on screen.

Still, we are organisms evolved with our eyes and our ears as our primary perceptual organs, our main ways of gathering sensory data. Movies and TV have the potential to present things in as close to lifelike form as we have available. Some day full immersion 5S Virtual Reality will come along and knock movies out of the box, but until then, movies and TV (and really, the only difference there is screen size an budget) and video games will be the most popularly appealing method of telling stories.

And I typed all that to make and illustrate my point -- every medium has its strengths and weaknesses. When you're working in one medium, and trying to produce something that will be, as much as possible, like something done in another medium, you are creating an end product that will have the weaknesses of both media and the strengths of neither.

This is what the Modern Age of Comics has been about -- taking serial graphics storytelling and making it look as much as possible like movies or TV shows.

I mentioned above the weaknesses of comics -- no movement, no sound. I did not mention the strengths -- two techniques that no other media has -- the narrative caption paired with visuals, which has unequalled potential for creating atmosphere and controlling pace. And, most important and unique of all -- the thought balloon.

For the last thirty years, superhero comics has more and move abandoned the narrative caption and the thought balloon. It has been left entirely to the artist to establish setting and atmosphere and provide pacing and since we want everything to be a movie or a TV show, comics stories are now presented as unfolding as much as possible in real time. Which means there is very little plot in every issue, but more importantly, comics has given up its ability to show what a character is thinking and feeling, to establish backdrop and setting and atmosphere, in favor of looking as photorealistic as possible. But no matter how well Alex Ross paints, it's still a static picture on a page, and none of Alex Ross' imitators can imitate him very well, and creating lifelike static pictures on pages is no way to effectively tell a sequential story in graphics. It requires the abandonment of almost the entire array of visual vocabulary created by people like Jack Kirby. And it requires that we no longer have any real idea what our characters are thinking or feeling.

Imagine if someone tried to make a movie that looked like a comic book. Not just the nifty opening sequences of every Marvel superhero movie, but THE ENTIRE THING. An entire movie done as one still picture after another, with word balloons and graphic sound effects instead of spoken dialogue and sound. Would people like it? No. They'd be outraged and upset.

My buddy Bane cogently asked me when I got this far in my rant what the difference was, between thought balloons and those little captions some writers do, where there are different colors and little symbols telling you that Superman's thoughts are in this caption and Batman's are in this one, etc, etc. And the answer is, it's more confusing, and harder to read, and clutters up the panel more, and takes you out of the story in a way that the naturalness of the thought balloon never did.

And there's one last factor:

Heroes used to be heroic. They used to be larger than life. They used to be something we could look up to, to aspire to be like. They used to be inspirational, something to admire, something to want to emulate. They used to be examples.

Now they are 'nuanced', which means, generally, they are assholes, just like us.

Villains are more realistic, too. Villains kill now, often with gleeful abandon. They torture and they rape, as well. This is more realistic, absolutely. I'm just not sure this level of realism makes comics better. I'm not sure Dr. Light raping Sue Dibney improved the Justice League canon in any way.

I am very sure that making Superman a whiner and a cheater, making Hawkman a former drug addict and murderer, making Green Lantern a one time drunk, making Batman a straight up psychotic... all these things that DC did to their characters after the first CRISIS did not improve the characters or make comic books as a whole any better.

These factors combined together make me say that the Modern Age has never been, and can never be, as good as or better than the Silver Age of superhero comics. These factors make me state unequivocally that this is more than just a subjective opinion, more than simply me loving the comics that were published when I was 8 years old more than any other comics, like everyone else.

But Bane made me think, as he always does, and he pointed out that I'd overlooked some Modern Age stuff, and was therefore wrong. So he's about the only person in the world who could get me to read something I haven't read yet by Grant Morrison.

So I'm reading ALL STAR SUPERMAN, because Bane said it was brilliant, and... um... no. No. Not so much.

Let me just say this -- everything Alan Moore did on SUPREME has pretty much made this kind of "let's make the Golden and Silver Age Superman continuity more credible" completely obsolete.

Beyond that, I hate Morrison's Lois Lane. I just hate her.

I hate these Samson and Atlas guys, too.

So I'm reading it. But so far, it's pretty much garbage.

Sorry, Bane.


AUGH where the hell is the rest of the post GIVE IT TO ME NOW!