Some things never change…

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(Note: This is a sample pic and NOT the comic store I visited.)

I had some extra time the other day so I did something that I rarely do now… I went to a comic book store.

Now, keep in mind that not only was I a part owner of a comic store years ago (circa 1988) but there was a time when I would go to comic stores several times a week.  At one time, roughly around 1993 or so, there were about 12 comic books stores within quick driving distance from me in Rhode Island.  Now, I think there’s about 5 (and two of those are owned by the same person) so the economy hasn’t been the best for comic stores.

Anyway, I bitch and complain a lot (as anyone who has read these blog posts realize) about how there’s not much good worth reading for comics these days.  So, every so often, I make the trip and stop in at my LCS to see if I’m not just being a whiny old comic fart.

Sadly, I wasn’t.

During the 70s and 80s, I read EVERY Marvel and DC that came out… even the bad ones.  Yes, I read all of Marvel’s NEW UNIVERSE titles and even such illustrious DC fare as PREZ and BROTHER POWER, THE GEEK.  I knew all of the characters, all of the history, even all the obscure trivia.  This time, I looked over the selection of Marvel and DC comics and did not see ONE comic that interested me or made me want to pay the expensive price they demanded.

There were a few independent comics that looked interesting but, invariably, the store only had the 2nd or 3rd issue or it was the 14th issue and there was no way I could afford to pick up the 13 previous issues even if the store had them.   Clearly, stores could no longer afford to stock a lot of the independents either as the selection was spotty and a completist’s nightmare. And if stores don’t stock the titles, how will anyone discover them?

As I looked through the stacks, desperate to find SOMETHING to buy, longing for that same connection that had sustained me through my youth, I could hear the conversations taking place around me.  The speakers were young men, probably around early to mid 20’s, and they were standing around the cash register much as I spent time so long ago.  And I heard conversations that brought back memories and, at the same time, disturbed me.  They were discussing who was ‘hotter’: Black Cat or Scarlet Widow.  Some relatively racy dialogue was sprinkled through which I’ll spare you here.  Needless to say, if you’re a guy who grew up reading comic books, you’ve probably had this conversation yourself at one time as I’ve had.

That’s when it hit me: I was out of place.  I didn’t belong there anymore and that shocked me.

You see, comic stores were my domain when I was their age.  Other guys strutted through bars or gyms.  I strutted through comic stores.  That was where I had the most confidence I’d ever had and could talk to others who felt the same.  It was my Cheers, my Arnold’s, my Pop’s Chock-Lit Shoppe.  But somewhere, at some time, that had all changed.

I was the one thing that I thought I would never be in a comic store: the outsider.

I didn’t fit in.  They were discussing the NEW DC or Marvel’s AGE OF ULTRON and I was about as clueless with them as other kids had been around me in grade school.  I’d lost my mojo.  I’d become the “old man comic fan” who I’d seen in my own shop so many years ago.

Quickly, I made my retreat.  As I drove away, I realized that this was the same feeling that had come over me the last few times I’d been to major comic conventions.  I couldn’t relate to the comics or the people.  These were the new fans, the ones that all the comic companies are fighting to attract.  The comics were tailored to what they wanted to see with the mindset and attitudes they admired and emulated.  And they were not mine.

I haven’t been back to a comic store since then.  I probably will at some point but, in a way, I lost a little something that day.  Something that, barring a time machine, I may never feel again.

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Don’t Get Me Started! #1

jjjI used to love comic books.

For a long time, they were really one of the most important parts of my life.  I practically LIVED for each week’s new shipment of comics.

I have two brothers who are older than me (10 and 9 years older, respectively) and they were into comics so, when annoying little brother came along, it was inevitable that I’d get into comics too.  And I was voracious!

I read everything!  I read Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Thor, Flash, House of Mystery, Chamber of Chills even NIGHT NURSE!  If it was Marvel or DC, I read it.  And I read anything else I could get my hands on.  Comics from Charlton, Gold Key, Dell, Archie, Harvey, Tower, anything and everything.

Not only that, but I studied comics.  I wanted to know everything about them.  “Who was that character in Brave & the Bold last month?”  I could tell you.  Who created Superman and how and when?  I knew it.  I wanted to know everything about comics not just the stories and the characters but the people who created them.

That’s when, I think, things started to sour a bit.

For those who aren’t aware, comic books have an awful history.  I won’t even get into the allegations that the mob was behind much of the early days of comic books and their distribution.  Nor will I talk about the shady deals and the unfounded lawsuits.  I won’t even talk about the comic book censorship of the 1950s that essentially shut down EC comics and stripped comics of virtually all of their creativity and relevance.  But I could (and just might someday)!

In the 70s, there really wasn’t anything you could call a “comic news network”.  There were a few fanzines but nothing like it is today.  Most of what we did have was concentrated around the stories and characters with not a lot of creator background.

That began to change in the late 70s and really gained speed in the 80s.  The first time I remember really taking notice of the way comic companies treated their creators was during the Siegel & Shuster incident.  As Warner Brothers was making the first SUPERMAN movie in 1978 (with Chris Reeve) and preparing for a massive PR campaign, I started hearing little news items.  It seemed that the original creators of Superman (Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster) were living in virtual poverty as a movie that would make millions was preparing to come out.

I was only 15 at this time and didn’t really know a lot about the behind-the-scenes life at comic companies despite having a brother who, by that time, was actually working in comics.  Long story short, the fan community (led, in part, by Neal Adams who was then a creator with a lot of clout with fans) revolted against DC and eventually Siegel & Shuster were awarded lifetime pensions and credit for their creation. (You can read more about this case online and a brief overview here.)

That day made me proud to be a fan.

And when Marvel Comics tried to keep from returning Jack Kirby’s artwork and the fans were there to support Kirby, I was proud again.

We fans had the creators backs and they, and the comic companies, knew it.

I’m not proud to be a fan anymore.

The reason is because, when issues like Kirby and Shuster come up now, the fans take to the internet and social media to express their anger and outrage.  But not against the comic companies.  They’re angry at the heirs of Kirby and Shuster for daring to not only ask for credit or compensation but for daring to risk the end to their beloved comics.

The vitriol I have seen expressed online is truly depressing.  And it’s not even just against heirs of deceased creators either.  Example: Ken Penders recently filed suit against Archie Comics for rights to characters he created for the SONIC comic book.  (You can read about the newest update on that case here.) Many comments on this case again side with the publishers.

There are many other cases like this happening where many of the fans are not on the side of the creators.  They appear, for all intents and purposes, like junkies worried that someone might shut off their supply.  Somewhere, somehow, comic companies have managed to win fans over to their side and I just can’t figure out when that happened.

There are a couple of reasons why I don’t buy and/or read new comic books from Marvel & DC anymore.  This is one of them.  I’ll talk about the other one, and why I feel guilty looking at my bookcase of high quality hardcover reprints, next time.

(“Don’t Get Me Started” is an editorial by Sam Gafford.  All views expressed are simply my own and do not reflect any other staffers here at the L.O.D.G.E.)

An Era Comes to an End at DC Comics

It was recently announced that Karen Berger, Executive Editor and Senior Vice President of the Vertigo brand at DC comics, is leaving.  The announcement is crouched in the most perfect of “newspeak” with Berger leaving to pursue “exciting new opportunities”.  You can read the report on this along with the official announcement here.

Before I go on to condemn DC comics for yet another boneheaded move designed to not only eliminate any creativity in their books but to also alienate their long-time fans, let me add my few words of praise for Karen Berger.

In my mind, Berger created virtually all that was good about DC Comics in the 1980s and 90s.  It was because of Berger’s vision that Alan Moore was hired to write SWAMP THING.  It was Berger who brought over many of Britain’s reigning comic talents and created a new era at DC Comics with such visionaries as Neil Gaiman.  Berger guided the creation of a completely new imprint at DC called “Vertigo” where creators would work free of the constraints of regular DC comics and produce work that was actually intelligent, mind-expanding and entertaining.

Those last three words are concepts which are not seen at DC Comics today.

The Vertigo imprint will soon no longer exist.  The titles and characters are being absorbed into the regular DC line like some disgusting flesh-eating bacteria.  The result will be a return to bland, unmotivated and mass-production comics that, all in all, will be forgotten soon after their publication.

Berger was the last hold out of an amazing period of creativity and imagination in DC comics.  She leaves an industry that will suffer greatly from her absence.  And the mindless, creativity bankrupt zombie that DC Comics has become shambles onward.

L.O.E.G=W.T.H.?

(Spoiler warning: This essay covers plot points of the recent L.O.E.G. storyline.)

Ok, can someone tell me just what the hell Alan Moore is doing??

The last few weeks saw the long awaited publication of LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: CENTURY #3: 2009.  I believe that this brings the series to a close although Moore has announced that he may do “hidden cases” stories.  After reading this issue, all I can do is think, “What?  Is that it?”

The series’ first began in 1999 with a six issue limited series published by America’s Best Comics and seemed to make some sort of sense back then.  The League was a group of characters from literature who were brought together to fight a threat to the world.  Featuring Mina Harker (from Dracula), Allan Quatermain (from H. Rider Haggard’s novels), Captain Nemo (from Verne’s novels), the Invisible Man (from H.G Wells’ novel of the same name) and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (from Stevenson’s short novel), the League was successful in saving the day despite their differences and past demons. There were hints about previous Leagues having existed through the centuries made up of other legendary literary characters.  For all of its idiosyncrasies, it was a pretty straight forward plot and relatively easy to follow.

Even the second series seemed to make some sort of sense with the same team now taking on the Martians from H.G. Well’s War of the Worlds.  There was the usual amount of ‘in-jokes’ featuring other characters and concepts from literature but these didn’t get in the way of the story.  You could still enjoy the comic even if you didn’t know who everyone lurking in the panels was supposed to be.

That all changed with the third series, The Black Dossier.  Rather than a straight-forward story, Moore presents a sort of ‘sourcebook’ for the series which attempts to encapsulate previous events as well as taking the lead characters of Mina and Allan into the 1950’s.  The major shift came with the introduction of Moore’s version of the “The Blazing World”.

Originally conceived by Margaret Cavendish, the Duchess of Newcastle, in her 1666 novel, the Blazing World was a utopian kingdom in another world reachable through the North Pole.  In Moore, typically, it becomes much more and is overseen by Shakespeare’s wizard, Prospero from The Tempest.

Reading The Black Dossier is like drinking a Pan-Galactic Gargle-Blaster or “…like having your brain smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick”.  Simply said, other than the framing storyline with Mina and Allan, it just doesn’t make a whole lotta sense particularly if you haven’t grown up in England in the 40s and 50s.

Which is where everything starts to go wrong.

By the time that LOEG CENTURY #1: 1910 rolls around, this aspect takes over the series.  So much so that you can’t read it without having an atlas open next to you.  Supposedly, this first issue sets up the plot for the entire CENTURY series in that a wizard, Oliver Haddo (Moore’s equivalent to Aleister Crowley borrowed from W. Somerset Maugham’s novel, The Magician), is conspiring to bring forth a ‘Moonchild’ who will usher in an eon of unending terror.  The problem is that the first issue is a disjointed mess with characters who seem to have no idea what they’re doing and then several of them breaking into song while they’re doing it.

In CENTURY #2: 1969, ol’ Haddo is still trying to bring forth the Moonchild (after jumping through several bodies) and the League is still ineffectively trying to stop him.  Set in the backdrop of the psychedelic 60s, the characters run through a series of incidents that seem designed primarily for Moore to make commentaries than for any plot to be developed.  Other than Mina’s disappearance at the end, I don’t see much point to this issue at all.

Finally, in CENTURY #3: 2009, the Moonchild is revealed and there’s a big fight and then it’s all over leaving me, as a reader, wondering, “Why’d I bother with this?”

(Spoiler Alert)

After the end of the second Century volume, it comes as no surprise that the Moonchild is Moore’s warped version of Harry Potter.  I’m not a huge fan of the Potter franchise but, obviously, Moore is less so as his version ends up leaving a nasty taste in one’s mouth and I can’t help but think that Moore has an axe to grind here and does so with a measure of vindictiveness.  Not content to make Potter the villain, Moore has him wipe out virtually everything in the Potter-verse.  To make matters worse, Mina and Orlando (the only remaining members of the League) are sent by Prospero to stop the Moonchild.  (Allen shows up just in time to get barbequed.)  As they are fighting the giant Moonchild (why is he a giant?  Well, why not?), a shadowy figure emerges from the Blazing World and pretty much defeats the Moonchild all by herself.  The figure is a stand in for Mary Poppins who wields so much power that one wonders why Prospero didn’t just sent Mary in the first place.  The victory does not belong to the League or to the reader but to the seemingly endless horde who are delighted by the game of trying to figure out “who’s who in that panel”?

Which leads me back to my original question; “What the hell is Alan Moore doing?”

I’ve always felt that Moore’s weakest points are his endings.  He tends to build tension and drama up to such an extreme that the endings are more of a letdown than anything else.  I have to wonder if Moore loses interest halfway through and just slogs on until it’s over.  And, with the overwhelming abundance of “in-jokes” and “cameo appearances”, they become the primary focus rather than the plot.  Without them, Moore could have probably told the same story in about 100 pages rather the 250+ pages these three volumes constitute.

I cannot help but wonder if Moore has fallen victim to the “Stephen King Paradox”.  This is the concept that someone like Stephen King becomes so powerful in their field that they are no longer edited.  Few would argue that many King books would have been improved by a more aggressive editor and I feel the same happening here.  Moore is still a god among comic readers who can pretty much get away with whatever they feel like doing and that is the main problem with the LOEG series.

It is self-indulgent.  It is Alan Moore showing off about how clever he is and all the great things he’s read and rammed into the story.  He’s forgotten that the primary focus is to entertain and LOEG no longer does that.

In many ways, I feel that Moore is doing to the readers what the Moonchild does to Allan Quatermain in the first panel on page 58.  (If you’ve read the book, you know what I mean.)

–Sam Gafford

(All opinions expressed are simply those of the author.  If you disagree, I’d love to hear why.  I’m sure that many readers will feel that I simply don’t get it.  To which I reply, “There’s a difference between not getting it and not liking it.”)

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