Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Grim-and-gritty is officially old and boring

This had started out as a longer, probably much more convoluted post about Mark Millar, the cult of personality that seems to have sprung up around certain comic book writers, and the apparent addiction to gore and ultra-violence that both Marvel and DC have been guilty of, but instead I'll boil it down to a simple question that I put to you, my Internet Pals:

Are people finally getting tired of it all?

I ask because I've been sensing some push-back recently, and I'm not sure if I'm actually detecting a ripple in the Force or if it's just wishful thinking. In either case, here are some things to consider:

Kick-Ass, which was hyped so hard people back in the 1920s have probably heard about it, just kind of petered out this weekend when it opened nationally. Sure, it was No. 1, but by just barely bringing in $19.8 million compared to How to Train Your Dragon's $19.6 mil. (a kid's movie that was already in its fourth week).

No doubt the hardcore Millar fans were lined up, but what about the rest of the geek chorus? Did they reject the movie the way some have been rejecting it and the comic online lately? Or is just a matter of little name-recognition and mainstream audiences being gun-shy (heh) about a movie riding mostly on its more interesting supporting character, an 11-year-old girl who curses a lot and is a ninja?

The other thing that caught my attention was the first few pages of Brightest Day #0, the kick-off to what DC promises is a shiny and new direction spanning the publisher's superhero line. A direction apparently best expressed by showing a baby bird falling from a tree, bloodily cracking itself open on a headstone and then laying crumpled on the ground, dead.

Marvel is also trumpeting the launch of the very similar Heroic Age event, noise that sounds tinny considering Millar, Brian Michael Bendis and Jeph Loeb have spent years upping the body count for the publisher while sealing it in a slick veneer of "coolz." (I feel I have to point out, as so many have before, that Loeb was responsible for the "Blob cannibalizing Wasp, like, RIGHT THERE" scene in his Ultimatum series.)

Both companies say they're paving the way to a lighter tone in their books and moving away from the grim-and-gritty aesthetic that keeps getting grimmer and grittier. And I have to wonder — are the Big Two full of shit?

Because I don't see it. And I'm curious whether other people are missing it, too, and if there is some kind of grit-fatigue setting in, like a comic book readers' version of Seasonal Affective Disorder. It bothers me because it's gotten ... stupid. And distracting. And, worst of all, boring. Bo-ring. Both publishers has created a system and style that encourages big, flashy set pieces tied together with the flimsiest of dialogue and piecemeal plot points at the expense of, y'know, a story.

(I know this isn't true of every single title either company puts out — both produce comics I love, but let's stick to generalities for the sake of this discussion.)

Now that the Big Two are promising to do things differently, how will readers react if they don't? It wouldn't be the first time either one has promised more than they delivered, but I wonder if there's more at stake this time. I kind of doubt it — fanboys have short memories and a limitless ability to gripe-and-forgive. But, man, I'd sure like to believe it.

As corny as it sounds, maybe it's time for Marvel and DC to have a little less shock and awe, and a little more aw, shucks in their comics.


Scott said...

I really am expecting the "Heroic Age" and "Brightest Day" to very quickly devolve back into random bloodletting, cheap and easy character death/resurrection, and general sociopathy.

I hope that readers will react unhappily -- getting sold a bill of sale and picking up something that's completely different isn't a good way to keep business healthy in most industries -- but I don't know that the readers will actually react that way.

The reason we get comics that read like they were written by sociopaths is pretty much that we've got sociopaths writing comics and sociopaths running the comics companies. If Mark Millar could convince Joe Quesada that he could sell a series that featured Spider-Man raping a baby, he'd approve the series in a hot minute.

I'd like to think the readers are better than that, but I suspect it's not true. The "Kick-Ass" comic sold awfully damn well, and it wasn't just Quesada and Millar buying extra copies...

Chad Carter said...


Here's where I went off on Millar recently, and his work. You're right on track, though, because the Big Two is full of people who have cut their teeth on being grotesque in their interpretations of these iconic characters. I think it involves an urge for Geoff Johns' Disgusting Comics and the House of Other People's Ideas to further alienate superheroes from their original intended audience: kids, young people, like we were once. Imaginations were stimulated by the stories once presented in comics, before the bullies and the corporate boy-toys sneered and made kids afraid to read comics. You know, because kids aren't cool enough for comics.

Dom said...

To be honest, I don't mind which direction Marvel or DC go in because I like both directions.

The grit works well when a writer like Brubaker can create books with timely issues such as the current "Two Americas" arch in Captain America. But then you have books like Grant Morrison's All Star Superman that give you that "aw shucks" you were talking about.

I know you wanted to stick to the "in general" idea, but with so many titles by the big 2 on the racks the "in general" idea doesn't really apply anymore...and I'm okay with that.

Also...I loved Kick-Ass.

Brandon@AustinBooks said...

So, I loved Kick-Ass. The first issue had a dude getting his face punched in on the cover. The buyer should pretty much know what they're getting there. Don't like violence? Don't buy the comic. Millar is perfect for big, explodey, fierce action. He writes it intelligently AND viscerally.

Lumping Bendis in with Loeb is a crime. Bendis has certainly killed off heroes, but it has never been gratuitous (except Vision getting ripped in half, maybe). And he's just as likely to write a very thought-provoking issue where Spidey talks Jessica Jones into returning to her life as a superhero. Loeb... is garbage. I don't know what happened to him, because I liked his older stuff. It just seems when he tries to write shocking, he goes too far with it. The guy is the definition of gratuitous.

The dead bird thing on page 1 of Brightest Day made me roll my eyes. No one wants to see that. But you didn't mention what happened to that bird later in the story. Didn't it soften the blow? I'm certainly not an apologist for Johns, but it kinda felt like an indication that we're going from a year of death death death to a little rebirth. Finally. Now the stuff that's happening to Arsenal.. jeez.

Chad Carter said...

I still can't figure how there can't seem to be a "general" ie accessible for new readers type superhero comic with a recognizable, Continuity-"free" Batman and Robin, or Spider-Man, or Superman. You stick to the formula of the tried/true basics, with stories anyone can read all in one issue, just like back before Continuity ruined comics' ability to freely entertain without ghetto-izing the medium itself.

Then, if the companies have a desire to pander to the older, adult audience, they can tell "alternative" stories in their own Continuity harking back thirty or more years. OR, the companies can create more "adult" fare, such as The Goon, BPRD, CRIMINAL, IRREDEEMABLE, and so on. Because, for me, I don't need to read Superboy and Black Adam going all Ed Gein in comic books. I know Geoff Johns needs that, because he's a bit of a sick f*ck. And I'm sorry to say that, since he's proven he can be a good writer when he isn't indulging his anal expulsive tendancies in superhero comics.

Sito Negron said...

I thought Kick-Ass was too violent. I used to collect, but never considered myself a "comix nerd." I thought comix were cool! I stopped years ago, mostly for financial reasons, but also because I lost interest in these type of stories. It's fantasy for young adults. I'm not young. So I still buy, but prefer the titles I used to collect -- Hate, Love and Rockets, etc. Dunno if there's a word for that (snob, old man)?

There potentially was a nice story in Kick-Ass, but it stopped short in favor of, shall I say, comic-book violence and dialogue. There's a reason for that cliche. But since I had not seen the book before the movie, I expected more, and was disappointed to find myself only ankle-deep in story and neck deep in violence.

rob! said...

Kick-Ass, which was hyped so hard people back in the 1920s have probably heard about it

That made me laugh.

And, yeah, for what its worth, that bird splattering its head open ON THE VERY FIRST PAGE made me have a sad.

Vic DiGital said...

Agreed on all your points. Grim and Gritty was awesome when it was the novelty and the contrast to everything else. Now it's...

There's no better example of your point than All-Star Superman. I picked it up mostly because it sort of promised it would be the DC equivalent of the Ultimate universe, but became mesmerized by it from the first panel. It was PURE JOY. No darkness, no grimness. Just fun storytelling hearkening back to the glory days of silly comics.

I surprised myself by how much I enjoyed it, and how much I realized that I was so fatigued by dark and grim. I had thought I was too mature to really ever want to read a fun, non-'realistic' comic book ever again. But I was wrong. I want more of it. To some extent, that's what Invincible is (in spite of the bright gore every other issue.

As to continuity overload, I'm reading rumbles that DC might be getting ready to cordon off it's 'families' to some extent, letting each hero's world be somewhat independent of the others, and if that's the case, I'd be all for that.

Of course, I don't really read ANY of the mainstream comics from either publisher anymore, although I do skim them and keep up with the general storylines. I occasionally pick up a trade with a story I've heard good things about, like "Long Halloween", or some of the recent Marvel Cosmic stuff (which is itself a cordoned off part of the Marvel universe not requiring me to read or have read other corners of the Marvel U. And also not coincidentally, Marvel Comsic is a fun romp.

Let the comic creators just tell good stories and don't lock them into continuity. Maybe it'll happen in our lifetime.

Vic DiGital said...

Forgot to add another vote for this being a great line:

"Kick-Ass, which was hyped so hard people back in the 1920s have probably heard about it."

Anonymous said...

First off, I'd like to thank Chad Carter for pointing out the Mark Millar article on http://earthboundburlyman.blogspot.com. I only thumbed through some of the issues of Old Man Logan and even I felt disgusted by this mess. Not just the over-the-top ultra-violence but the lack of continuity (Mysterio's illusions fooled Wolverine?! You $#!*in' me!?) and inability to adhere to certain rules in comics.

I honestly wish that the "new direction" Marvel and DC are taking are on the up and up. But when you still have guys like Bendis and Millar working at these companies, I see no change in sight.

It's completely ridiculous that both sides cannot make the main titles of their books more accessible to all ages. Not just adults, but to teens, pre-teens, and little ones too. The young ones are a bit sharper than we give them credit for, but I don't wanna had them a copy of Kick-Ass (why would I want to unless the bathroom is out of T-paper) and say "good luck".

I like reading the Essential Marvel tpb's to get back to the old school story telling. Despite their "dated material", these books appealed to both sides. Today, we basically stick young readers at the kiddie pool of comic books and new readers have to adapt to the "sink or swim" method of getting into these titles.

If there is ever going to be change in these companies, action must be taken. Not just talking about it, ACTION! We need to tell them DIRECTLY that we want something better. Time to retire "Doom & Gloom" and bring in the light.

Mr. Q