May 18, 2016

All My DC Books Are Closing

All My DC Books Are Closing
Travis Hedge Coke

Constantine: The Hellblazer. Starfire. Batgirl of Burnside. DC’s ending all my loves of their current line. And, I’m good with it.

(Doyle, Tynion IV, Rosso, Del Rey, Donovan, Fitzpatrick, Placencia, Visions, et al)

The beauty in Ming Doyle and James Tynion IV’s Constantine: The Hellblazer is, for me, not in the ghosts and ghouls and succubi, though they’re good at that, or the involving layouts and moody art handled by Doyle and others, including Riley Rossimo, but in the existential freakout that being a sexual being can get you, if you’re honest about it. The first run to really dive feet first and up over the hairline into John’s otherwise longstanding bisexuality, they really hit on something that rings right into my brain. I suppose for some bisexuals, there’s a frisson of I can sex up anyone!, but for me, and John, it’s more along the lines of “I can make a complete mess of things with women and men! So awesome.” That a fear I can indulge in for awhile, comic in hand. That, and frustration with death and failure (and a conflation of the two), which is more familiar Hellblazer territory.

John falls into a relationship with a genuinely excellent man over the course of the twelve issues, and he’s pretty crap to him in one way or another from the very first moments. The first thing he does, actually, is to shout in his general direction, angrily. Then he cuts out while the guy is asking him out, to have inane sex with an old friend who he knows is using him. I’m not that guy, but I know that anxiety. The path of least resistance and the path to self-condemnation are suspiciously very similar in appearance.

And, if your heart doesn’t break as it becomes slowly apparent that Georgina Snow, the Heckblazer deeply loved a woman John may have ruined unto death being reckless and careless and dumb, maybe it will crack a little once you come to to terms with something Georgina won’t let herself acknowledge; she’s as bad as John and hurt people, including said woman, just as much and just as horribly.

So, why do I want to read a comic about two bisexuals who very much dislike each other, screwing up the lives of anyone they become to close to? Shouldn’t I be offended by this grotesque dankness? This doomed perspective of a perfectly respectable sexuality?

It’s a horror comic. Even if John’s boyfriend didn’t slot in as the good rep, if we’re not ballooning up the anxieties, if we’re not playing with razorblades, then what’s the point? Horror is not about how bad life is, it’s about seeing how bad it can get in a fictional setting. What I want from horror is not a sociological mirror or a true crime wiki. I want to feel hopeful, anxious, then stupid for being hopeful, silly for being anxious instead of resolved. I don’t want a moral lesson, but an inoculation. Biological sex horror is easy, makes anyone an easy mark, but it’s too easy for it to become silly, too. That third V/H/S movie and its cartoon evil genitals aren’t scary, they’re just as stupid as anyone actually afraid of vagina dentata. Social sexuality horror, though, psychological attraction and fetish horror, that’s got some meat and bile that could turn your stomach or tighten it up.

And, this will make a perfect package at twelve issues, too. “Will they live…?” its acceptable horror, but it’s not great. “You’ve always been here,” that’s great. I’m not opposed to good-the-first-time horror, where you are mostly concerned about who will survive and how, but this is going to sting more with rereads, because I can see what the characters can’t yet. I’ll know, reading, that it’s not important who survives, because everyone’s going to be fucked up. Everyone already is.

Song I Listed to Reading the Last Issue: Pansy Division’s Bad Boyfriend

(Conner, Palmiotti, Lupacchino, Charretier, et al)

The Starfire fans seem to despise Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti’s Starfire series, both the fans of Scott Lobdell’s Red Hood and the Outlaws fans and the New Teen Titans crowd. A lot of fans of previous takes dislike the writing, they dislike the Lupacchino and Charretier art, the tone, the style, the fact it exists. A lot of people who aren’t really fans of those earlier versions, either, but who have a clear vision in their head of what Starfire should be in comics they won’t read or tv shows they wouldn’t be watching anyway.

I’ve seen this series derided so many times as “like a fucking cartoon,” which, really, it probably should be since the cartoon version of Starfire is by far the most successful. But, it’s not really like either of the cartoon series. And, I’ve seen it called a kid’s book, a baby book, a children’s… which, again, it probably could’ve done well being, but given the serial murderer, the adult situations, and the joke visual of Starfire literally up someone’s giant butt, not hugely parent-friendly, even if a kid might enjoy it. None of us who grew up on Claremont X-Men have any idea what kid-appropriate is, anyway. Let’s just admit that.

The cartoon version of this character is my preferred version. I’m not a huge fan of when she shows up in a comic and by panel three someone, usually a male between the ages of twelve to twenty-four has commented on her breasts or tried to get a photograph of them. That’s a joke that should have died a long time ago, but it will probably get reused next year. And, I’m not huge on insipid, unsure, smart, talented, super-powerful, beautiful Kory who doesn’t know she’s those things because she’s unsure and implausibly naive and needs a strong man, probably Dick Grayson, to hold onto. I check out.

I like the cartoon version. I like this one. I like that they gave her pupils and a sensible range of emotions. That they gave her agenda instead of just a default setting. A cast to revolve around her. Even in ensemble things, that never really happens. She’s always an attachment. An appendage. Even at the best of times.

This, for me, did not feel watered down or whatever some other fans were afraid of. It’s been smart, heightened achievement. Fun. It’s a fun comic, bright and raring to go, yes, but with real risks and serious compassion. The fights have been excellent. The smiles, genuine. The drama is soapy without being maudlin, the heroism real without being cornball. Starfire has been twelve issues of no-enjoying-this-ironically and I’ve loved every step of the way.

Song I Listened To Reading the Last Issue: Suzi Quatro’s Can the Can

(Stewart, Fletcher, Tarr, LaPointe, Doyle, et al)

Technically, Batgirl has one more issue on this run, but issue 50 was it. This is a transitional something, and it’s not a bad two-parter at all, but it’s not the run. The run is over. It’s not just the shift in artist, it’s a shift in… tectonics, maybe. Something dramatic and planetary that’s hard to put your finger on firmly.

Batgirl of Burnside flipped my switches when it was announced. Cameron Stewart? Bas Tarr? Brenden Fletcher? A guy I love and remember fondly from the old Barbelith board, joined by some equally ace talents, on a character who probably means far more to me than she should. I’m in. And, Stella Chu did cosplay of the sparkly gold costume, which amused me. For some reason, seeing even the cover image, I kind of suspected that was a dude in bat-drag. Maybe it’s the eyebrows, like when Morrison sketches Lord Fanny and she looks like him in a wig in a big way. Maybe I want everybody to be dudes in bat-drag, but this time I was right.

And, there we had our first falling hard during the run. Batgirl, realizing Dagger Type is a dude (Dagger Type does not seem to be trans at all, and I’m not going to try to explain to angry people that there is a difference), kind of freaks about it, for a second. That’s dumb. It’s even dumber, because they’d kept her trans roommate from the previous run in the mix of characters, so it’s not as if Babs has never dealt with gender or clothing issues of a similar nature. Even as a case of her being caught off guard, it just seems unlikely to me.

But, the talent apologized, and everything bounced back and bounced even to new heights. This book climbed high. It rocked on all the levels it could. It was charming and smart and scary and goofy and hard and fast and cute and weird. Serious cheese. An elegant stumble. It was her makeshift costume in narrative and multi-character form.

The Albuquerque cover is the second fall, if there was one, and yeah, I don’t like that cover. It’s not a hero cover, and Batgirl is a hero. Parodies using Robin, using Superman show how absurdly unheroic and awkwardly gendered it is. But, Albuquerque, himself, asked for the cover to not be used, and he’s both a talented artist and seems like a good guy, so I wish him the best on his upcoming run on this same title.

So, how far can a cover that doesn’t grace the comic actually pull you down? Not very far. If anything, it was pulling on a rubber band so you can ssssssppooooooooing it across the room and bounce it off a wall. This comic just kept rocking on, villain to villain as the big bad became more apparent, evermore unavoidable and maybe undefeatable, except that, natch, this isn not the kind of comic where a villain can’t be defeated.

Spoiler: the heroes win.

Song I Listened To Reading the Last Issue: Taylor Swift’s Teardrops on my Gui… no, it was Monster Magnet’s CNN War Theme (and then the Taylor Swift song)

So, Constantine ends on a cliffhanger, Starfire promises new adventures, and Batgirl will keep serializing, with new writers, new artists. The tail end of Starfire’s last issue is a note from the talent that closes, “Your support has meant the world to us… and remember, in comics, nothing goes away forever.” With fandoms in a constant state of frenzy and readerships who feel, consistently, like anything they love will be snatched away or changed out of all recognizability, this is something we need to remember. All of these characters and scenarios can and will return some day, and if DC is too slow for you in bringing them back, you can always revisit what you love right in these same pages we’re discussing. These comics aren’t going away. DC’s not going to raid your house or delete them off your tablet. If you don’t own them now, you can buy them in six months, or two years from now. Cancelation does not take the comic out of your hands, and nobody can take them out of your heart.

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