Thursday, January 15, 2009

Addendum to Yesterday's Post

Steven Grant makes some interesting points re: the Bill Willingham thing I was on about yesterday.

I agree with some of his points, but the idea that "classic superheroes fell out of fashion because they stopped selling, period" I don't agree with. I think the people who'd buy classic superheroes stopped having the sold to them, at least in the realm of comics. Titles that serves as "gateway" books to the Big Two's respective universes were canceled, comics disappeared from supermarkets and newsstands (shady business practices and quibbling about profit aside, this was a definite nail in the coffin) and flowed exclusively to the direct market, which was an ideal petri dish for creating a culture of superhero comics written by and for the fans exclusively, which led us to the self-cannibalising, permanently down-and-in, masturbatory mess we're left with at the moment.


Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

I think there's something to the idea that the general audience's tastes shifted away from morally-guided characters to psychologically-motivated characters somewhere in the early '80s: Batman is arguably more popular than Superman today because Batman has pathos, and Superman does things that he knows are right (and the nature of the DCU is such that his actions will always be "right" no matter what they are). So in that sense, the whole Silver Age concept of heroes doing the right thing just because it's the right thing feels a bit shallow (though you can have characters choose to be moral, you just need to give an inkling of why they want to do the right thing).

Kazekage said...

I suppose--superheroes have been evolving really since the beginning, more or less.

Thing is, at the end of the day, superheroes still have to triumph, otherwise there's no catharsis for the audience and the whole enterprise is meaningless.

The world around them can get more complex and their relation to it can lead to better and more interesting stories, BUT . . .the stories have to have a payoff, a catharsis of some kind.

I mean, no matter how much he whines about Aunt May, Spider-Man DOES eventually lift the big heavy thing off him. :)

Ridiculous as the comparison may seem, as in pro wrestling, whatever roadblocks you throw in along the way, your face must defeat your heel eventually or the entire storyline collapses. People want to see the good guys win at the end of the day, and while you can make the outcome in doubt or muddy the waters a bit, at the end of the day, it's got to be paid off in keeping with the audience's expectation.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Or... I mean, you can have a story where superheroes lose. It can be done, you can get some great drama out of a Downer Ending provided it actually works (case in point: "Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow?", the "X-Statix" finale, etc.) But in order to do that, the defeat has to be final. It has to be an ending in the truest sense of the word. The Big Two don't have that, probably never will, so what you get are villains winning and heroes regrouping, only to fail and regroup yet again, and... well, then you just get this sort of neverending Vortex of Suck and it never gets any better, but the misery doesn't stop either.

Kazekage said...

You can have your heroes love, but as you said it's got to be the end. A defeat, usually is just the middle of the story, a way to make the inevitable payoff more cathartic.

Although "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow's" ending is a bit more upbeat, ultimately--Superman finds more fulfillment embracing the "man" rather than the "super." The X-Statix finale I've never read, but owing to it's no holds barrred reactionary parody, I can see how they'd go for the opposite of a cathartic ending.

Wasn't it called "Downbeat but strangely moving final issue" or something?

To further the pro wrestling metaphor again, at some point your feud has to be "blown off"--there has to be one match that settles things (if only for a while--usually a LONG while) and that's IT. If it goes on and on, you end up "killing the town"--the audience is so conditioned to an unfulfilling outcome that they stop caring, stop going, and stop paying.

It may not be hip, but unless you're scorching the earth, the Good Guys Must Win, even if it's at great cost or it's a Pyrrhic victory or whatever. On some level, that's what the audience ultimately needs.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

"X-Statix" was... you know, I loved it. It was about a bunch of opportunistic, morally ambivalent, self-serving fame whores and yet Milligan got me to care about them, so much so that I did find the last issue downbeat yet moving. (Which makes his later, sub-par work seem all the more mystifying by comparison.) It was pretty much a Rocks Fall Everyone Dies scenario, and that's rarely dramatically satisfying for me, but Milligan pulled it off.

*nod* I find the wrestling/superhero analogy quite appropriate - they both use broadly the same narrative structures, themes and constraints. And they're both viewed as fringe entertainment, with a certain childish mentality attached to them (which I confess I'm party to, at least where wrestling is concerned).

Kazekage said...

It's been so long since I read X-Statix I feel like I should go back and see if it still holds up now. As to his later work being sub-par, didn't he go on to a rather average X-men run after that? I think with Milligan you can tell very easily the stuff he's genuinely engaged with and the stuff he's just doing for the paycheque.

Well, in all honesty there's a certain justification for thinking of comics and pro wrestling as basically jivenile--considering the level of sophistication to which they can aspire to and still function successfully as a medium . . .well, if one wants more sophistication, one is expected to go a bit higher on the creative food chain than superhero comics and wrestling, aren't they?

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

I think it does hold up on the extradiegetic level - less so with regards to the Marvel Universe, because it's no longer a place that could tolerate the sort of self-parody Milligan played with; the book did originate, after all, as a satire of "X-Force" (complete with cameos by the original X-Force getting beaten up and discarded by the new team). I can't imagine what a send-up of the current blood-soaked I R SIRIUS KOMIK X-Force would look like.

Unfortunately, Milligan doesn't seem to be engaged as often as he used to - it's been a long time since he put out something on the level of "X-Statix" or "Enigma".

Theoretically, yes, except that "Watchmen" is technically a superhero comic. :)

Kazekage said...

I think it would be funny as hell and is probably exactly what Liefeld is backing into by putting Gun Totin' Barack Obama in Youngblood--a self-generating accidental parody.

Truly, a thermodynamic miracle. :)

What is Milligan doing these days? After his rather peculiar but somehow still very boring X-Men arc, he kind of fell of my radar.

Technically true, although one could make the argument the comic is about heroes in the presence of a superhero, but that's probably me splitting hairs.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Oh my GOD, Liefeld's Obama. How did the Secret Service not pick him up for that one?

I think Milligan's been writing Hellblazer lately...he might be working on a few other things as well, I honestly have no idea. Like you, I lost track of him after X-Men (which benefited from following Austen - we were all so busy breathing huge sighs of relief we didn't particularly care what Milligan was doing).

No, I think that's accurate: I suppose the question then becomes whether the vigilante-type street-level heroes should even be considered "superheroes" at all, ie: Batman and the like. Not superhuman, but generically I'm inclined to associate the two "types".

Kazekage said...

I'm going to say either the Secret Service was laughing too hard, or more likely the Secret Service knew it wasn't 1992 anymore and Liefeld was, at best, a harmless crank.

Well, Milligan gave us Black Gambit in X-Men, which was so damn funny I forgave so much else about that run. :) It wasn't meant to be, but really.

Well, used to be "superheroes" were the guys with powers, and "Mystery men" were the more street-level types, but as things got pulled into a more homogenous whole/shared universe, they were dragged closer to the "superhero" orbit, I think.