Where the Joy Has Gone
Wow, someone certainly has been screaming in the shower. Despite that lead in, I actually agree with a lot of the points in Robert’s article. I do feel a bit worn out, but I am mostly a DC man, so I am worn out by DC. I have discovered some recent joy in my reading and have even, *gasp*, expanded beyond capes and Booster Gold. However, hoping for some mythic past where writers were better (re-read THE DARK PHOENIX SAGA and tell me that’s great dialogue) or for companies to do anything, but try and defend their bottom line and all you will get is frustration.
Instead, look for comics joy in other places. My support for DC continues, but I have grown tired of numerous and confusing Batman and Superman titles. They really aren’t geared toward beginners or new readers anyway. In my quest for new reading material and comics joy, I have gone down the independent path and selections from Marvel’s recent offerings. I was generally familiar with the Marvel titles, but the independents are original works without an encumbering 50-plus year history.
The Big 2 are going to let you down. It’s just in their nature. They want to sell massive amount of comics and to do so, the stories will be tropes or repeats (there are only so many stories you can tell anyway). The art will be inconsistent and at some point the style of comics will no longer be your preference (at this point, I would like to remind young people to stay off my lawn). While I am still reading DC, my list has definitely shrunk as I started to realize, I didn’t care about Superboy or Firestorm or Batwoman. For me, art complements writing and when the writing fails, I lose interest. Last winter, I decided to make an effort to expand my universe (see what I did there?) and put out a call to Earth’s Mightiest Facebook Group. The results took some work, but I found some real gems.
I have not been reading Marvel since the first AGE OF APOCALYPSE series. I just lost interest in all comics and only started reading again about five years ago. I had no idea what was going on in the books, but I was generally aware of major events like Civil War and whatever happened in Marvel Ultimate Alliance. I kept on hearing about this guy called Bendis and something called the Ultimate Universe. While I did start reading some Brian Michael Bendis Avengers trades, I never made it to the Ultimate Universe. I enjoyed some of the stories and I was never bothered by not knowing a lot of the characters’ backstories (I have the internet after all). However, I never quite got as pulled in by the Avengers as I did by Jon Hickman’s FANTASTIC FOUR(and FF) and AMAZING SPIDER-MAn starting with Dan Slott’s Big Time stories. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN is great, but I’m going to focus on other things. Feel free to ask Duy about Spider-Man, he loves him.
The one thing these books have in common is that they are generally pretty fun reads. It’s not some moral play or overhyped drama. Or, at least, I haven’t encountered that yet. Heck, Johnny Storm “died” and came back and he jokes about it and loses an election to guy who killed him (2-month old spoiler alert). You also get to see a Council of Reeds who try to solve the universe’s problems. FANTASTIC FOUR is, in a nutshell, completely insane and I love it. It goes completely against the idea that comics need to be grounded in the real world or believable. FF is similar in tone, but focuses on the Richards’ children and their classmates in what is basically super science school. Since it stars kids, the tone is usually lighter and you get to have fun, imaginative adventures. I’m still not sure why you need to focus of the comic to be children for that to be the case.
Once you get outside the Big 2, it is my belief that with perseverance you can find a comic that suits your every mood. I want to talk about 3 current comics I read whenever I doubt that there is still joy in the comics industry.
The first comic is LOCKE AND KEY from IDW. LOCKE AND KEY is a horror/suspense/thriller comic. I personally wouldn’t call it a horror comic since there are no zombies or ghouls. Ghosts and demons, yes, but also a shocking lack of werewolves. Keys are used in LOCKE AND KEY to unlock mysterious powers and danger throughout Keyhouse, located in Lovecraft, MA (I guess there are horror elements to it). Since I don’t want to ruin too much of the series for people, I will share one of my favorite moments from keeping up with the series. During one of the story arcs, an issue takes place during February and each panel or page represents what happened to the Locke family during one day that month. It is breathtaking to realize that:
- Someone thought to do this
- They plotted it out so it flows and makes sense and
- It wasn’t a fluke issue, everything that goes on in February stays true in other issues
That was my "Woah" moment with LOCKE AND KEY. It gives you a defined and real world, with characters who are dynamic and multidimensional, even the eight year olds.
Another comic I’m reading for the joy it brings is Red 5’s ATOMIC ROBO. The titular Atomic Robo is a sentient robot created in the 1920s by Nikola Tesla and has been an action scientist since the 1950s. The series jumps around in time, but is generally consistent during a story arc; it either sticks with a set time period (such as World War 2) or follows Robo through time as he practices action science on essentially the same problem (like crazy Nazi mad scientists). Atomic Robo is an action comedy series. He is a wisecracking robot and prefers to solve problems with punching and witty repartee. What more could you ask for in an escapist title? Robo in on a hiatus now, but you can pick up the Free Comic Book Day issues on their website.
Speaking of the Internet, my final source of comics joy is an online comic. It tells the story of a man who is not only a doctor, but also a ninja. Dr. McNinja operates out of the city of Cumberland, Maryland (it’s a real place and where the creator is from) and is written and drawn by Christopher Hastings (who has also worked on some Deadpool issues). Dr. McNinja has battled zombie Ben Franklin, space Dinosaurs and the dreaded Dr. McLucador. The stories are a combination of action, adventure, occasional mysticism, giant gorilla receptionists and pretty much thinly veiled insanity (I doubt there is even a veil). Again, it’s great escapist reading and the best part is you get 3 pages a week and have a long back catalogue to go through if you’re, I don’t know, bored from 9-5 several days a week.
Remember, whenever you find yourself doubting if comics can do anything right, take a deep breath, search out the core of what you love about comics. For me, it’s a good story and a creator who is obviously having fun with the medium. If I can’t find it in the Big 2, I know where I can turn to escape from events or seriousness.