Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Prefix "Post" In Front of Anything Usually Makes Me Worry

More from Steven Grant, excerpted below:

"A few years back, I coined the term "post-superhero" to represent a sea change in American superhero comics underway at the time, mostly at the hands of British writers. It was the first real shift in paradigm since Stan Lee introduced the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man – then commonly labeled "anti-heroes" – forty years ago.

These were superhero comics stripped of many familiar trappings, from costumes and unexamined kneejerk morality to subplots, though few stripped out everything at once. They often focused more on mood and character than action. (It's likely no coincidence that many who produced "post-superhero" comics cut their teeth on Britain's 2000 AD and short-form strips like "Judge Dredd.") Some (Warren Ellis on THE AUTHORITY; Joe Casey on WILDCATS 3.0) operated out of boredom with the superhero concept, some (Alan Moore on the ABC books, Grant Morrison on JLA and NEW X-MEN) were genuinely fond of superheroes but wanted to restore a sense of wonder to the genre and make it speak better to modern audiences."

I'm not entirely sure you can lump both styles of writing under the same movement, really--Ellis and his ilk slash and burn without leaving anything interesting behind that might potentially inspire people who come after them to find something in the genre worth regenerating. Morrison seems more obsessed with finding new ways to look at the underlying concepts of superheroes, which, while occasionally deconstructive turns up so many new ways to look at familiar concepts within the genre that it opens more possibilities than it closes off.

Still, even if I don't agree with all of it, it's a rather fascinating read.


Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

And now, The Catch-Up Edition. :)

I tend to roll my eyes at anyone in the comics business who claims to have coined popular terms - "post-superhero" is so obvious and self-explanatory, it reads like Grant trying to trademark a concept to bolster his position. Which... is hardly necessary, is it? On a purely technical level, what he says about the "British Invasion" in the late '70s and '80s is true - and yes, it was certainly an improvement over the Adam West era. No need to reinforce his stance any further.

But as you pointed out, we really are dealing with two practically antithetical approaches to the genre: Ellis, Ennis and the like were all about contempt and deconstruction and dismissing the entire genre (though I still think of Ellis' "Authority" run as perhaps his last attempt to fix superheroes rather than blindly tear them down).

The common ground with Moore and Morrison is that they both focused on putting the pieces back together - but Moore did it on a genre-wide scale, whereas with Morrison it comes down to specific concepts within the existing milieu. I think that was a major driving force behind his X-Men run: not redefinition but reconfiguration, moving the pieces around so that the elements which worked best were in the foreground, and the things that didn't work were ignored.

Kazekage said...

Followed by my "hey, I can finally respond to comments!" edition . . .

Yeah, it's a good thing he had the presence of mind to notice what was going on anyway, huh?

I can't say as the evolution of the medium works in terms of one movement, so much as various multiple movements coming from different places and with different objectives, so I've never really bought the idea of a British Invasion as the one dominant movement in the 80's. It's just the one everyone remembers.

I have to admit, given some thought, I would say Ellis belongs to the same strain that gave us Marshal Law--inasmuch as they have any interest in superheroes at all it's to poke them in the eye with a sharp stick. He's been at it so long (RUINS seems more and more like a harbinger that should have been heeded more and more lately) that I'm to averse to reading his stuff to revisit AUTHORITY and see if you're right. :)

I always liken them to being able to look at multiple facets of a concept and see their potential the complete jewel simultaneously.

Morrison certainly did that with NEW X-MEN--I re-read those issues now and the concepts that have surrounded X-Men comic for ages seem . . .expanded, somehow.

The other thing he did was to aim for new readers, figuring (rightly) that the adults who should have let it go would read it anyway even if they hated it. :)

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

To his credit, many of his contemporaries fail in that area. :)

Not the only movement per se, but certainly the one with the most impact on how comics were written.

And that's what I've never understood about Ellis (nor Ennis to a far greater extent) - it's all well and good to reject the conventions of the superhero genre, especially if your reference points are somewhere in the '90s. But if that's the case, why would you spend so many years doing one mean-spirited superhero piss-take after another? Why not pursue whatever genre does interest you? Writing superheroes as immoral perverts might work once or twice, but after that you're just being repetitive.

Absolutely - what it comes down to, I think, is perspective. The best writers in comics were the ones who looked and thought ahead, who were able to both see their stories from a distance and get right into the heart of things.

And as it's one of Morrison's more grounded works, you can actually follow it without LSD. :)

That's something I always found gratifying about Morrison's run - it was, after all, the first X-Men book I'd read in eight years, but despite having no idea what had transpired since "Age of Apocalypse", I was able to just slide right into the story. No additional context required. And since, despite various retcons, his book did end up setting a certain agenda for the X-Men, everything that followed basically used Morrison as a launching point, which made it easier for me to pick and choose which series to follow. If I'd had to use X-MEN #1 from the early '90s as a reference point... well, I wouldn't have bothered.

Kazekage said...

Well, you'd imagine as many people in comics wear glasses we'd have slightly clearer perceptions of things but all too often . . .

The reason they do it so often is that they get away with it. No one wants fess up that they may be the butt of these kinds of piss takes, and the people who ardently follow it think it's a free pass to be Cooler Than Thou, because God knows, years after the gesture's lost all relevance, sticking you middle finger up at people is still SO EDGY.

Yeah. As someone who writes myself, you really need to do both frequently--as good and neccessary as it is to both study each individual part before assembly and occasionally step back and get a larger view. :)

But you might appreciate it a bit more on it.;) Certainly, the fill-ins won't bother you as much.

Well, even if that direction was to move completely away from what Morrison had done, I suppose things have. With any luck though, Morrison's lasting gift to the X-franchise was to expand the concept enough that individual titles can have their own identity and voice again while still being related by the concept. :)