When you gaze into the Abyss...Ah, I just can't stop pissing off Modern Age fans.
Over at The Absorbascon, in the comment threads to this post, I seem to have inadvertently kicked off a minor little debate that strikes me as being a pretty good microcosm for the entire dichotomy between the Silver Age and the Modern Age.
See, Ragnell started the whole thing by chiding me -- "Highlander -- That's silly. Not all of any one age is crap the same as not all of any one age is good. I love Johns as a writer because he recognizes that and plays the mix and match game. Keeping Kyle and Hal, for instance."
Ragnell -- sometimes I exaggerate to prove a point. No one here would understand that, of course. ;)
However, as to whether or not an entire age can 'suck', it depends on how you define ages. I've written several articles on exactly how I feel the essential difference between the Silver and the Modern Ages should be defined. To me, it comes down to one fundamental principle -- the Silver Age ended and the Modern Age began when the suits and the bean counters took over, and writers and artists were no longer allowed to primarily treat the characters and their worlds as 'real'.
The Modern Age is all about treating us as target markets and the characters, and the world they live in, as commodities and commercial properties. Got a Green Lantern who isn't pulling in the audience share your advertisers want? No problem... do a big crossover event to get rid of him, and stick in a new Green Lantern with jazzy new visual accoutrements, plenty of 'tude, and hair like that guy in the BUFFY spin off. The kids will like that, right?
Comics have, to one extent or another, always been a business and they have always been about sales, but prior to the Modern Age, the commercial aspects still had some room in them for love. The Silver Age creators weren't just working for a paycheck; they pretty clearly loved the characters, and the joy of reading the early Silver Age Marvel Universe is that the characters, and their world, seem real.
It's more complex than that, of course... there's also the simple fact that yes, audience taste has largely changed over the last thirty years (since GIANT SIZE X-MEN #1) and the young audience that comics try to cater to now wants different things than the young audience did when I was among them, and I pretty much despise all the things that lazy, simple minded non-writers preprogram into superhero comics nowadays to get the attention of that same young audience. Superhero comics have become much much more mean spirited, with adult heroes being largely seen as killjoys, and young 'heroes', on whom the focus always seems to be, seemingly always depicted as cool, irreverant, wiseass slackers.
I do admire the fact that Johns will try hard to keep elements of both ages around, but when he does that, he invariably has to (by my standards) vastly improve the characterization depiction of the Modern Age characters in question. Kyle, Conner, Bart, all the Infinitors he's scripted... under Johns' hands, these characters have all matured enormously and become far more interesting and admirable than they ever were.
Hell, if Johns wrote Damage for a while, I'd probably like him, too.
What I find notable -- and this may not be typical, I can't tell yet -- is that on many of the blogs and in many of the threads, I encounter a very real resentment from younger fans, or early 20s fans who grew up with these characters behaving in a certain extremely irresponsible manner, against what Johns has done to them.
To me, he's made the characters more interesting by showing them, to at least a slight extent, as undergoing growth. But to the people who grew up with Conner and Bart, et al, as brats with 'tude, this is a betrayal. They wanted those characters to remain snarling, smirking adolescents forever... and in a medium where Franklin Richards has been 8 years old for forty years or so, they see no reason they shouldn't have that. ("Good writing" never seems to carry much currency with such folks as a reason.)
Are there good Modern Age comics? Sure. Moore, Gaiman, Busiek, Kirkman, Nicieza, Stern, and now, of course, Johns and Rucka and Simone... all these people have done good superhero comics in the Modern Age (although it should be noted that all of them except for perhaps Gaiman and Johns have also done very BAD superhero comics in the Modern Age, too; that's the price of being prolific, and even Gaiman had his creative misfires on SANDMAN). But, still, the fact remains... overall, the Modern Age has largely been loathsome, because it has largely simply been one circulation stunt after another, with good, solid character driven fiction being given consistent short shrift at both Marvel and DC for decades now.
Would companies that honestly cared about their characters have ever given us either the Ultimates or the All Stars? Please.
If I seem harsh, well, that's how I will seem to you. I am a relic of another, better age. Looking around me at the ruins of that age, well, I am often bitter. I have heard that the best comics ever will always be those comics you read when you were 9 years old. I was 9 years old in 1970 and 1971; the comics of that era WERE the best superhero comics ever done. It's a tough act to follow.
Johns is picking up the mantle admirably, though.
A lot of pretty heavy points made there, I think.
Here's the response I've gotten so far:
Kalinara says: "*shrug* I liked Damage a lot more than Atom Smasher. That's all I know. :-) I'd like to see him return sometime."
And some twit calling himself Diamondrock opines: "Your opinion does not costitute objective fact."
That seems to sum it up. On the Silver Age side, we have cogent, well reasoned, in depth analysis, at considerable length, and it's all, as far as I can see, spelled correctly, too.
Rebuttal from the Modern Age can be boiled down to an inarticulate gesture of apathy, a statement of unwillingness to think deeply on the subject, and an additional statement as to my opinion being subjective that is so obvious as to be either Zen in its transcendent wisdom or just straight up clueless... and judging from the fact that its author apparently cannot spell, you can guess which side I'm coming down on.
That's the Modern Age for you -- Three parts self indulgence, five parts mental laziness, and two parts restating the obvious, all of it in the shortest sentences possible because the target demographic has no attention span... and can't spell, either.