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Five Things I Think I Know

Written by ElijahSnowFan on Monday, May 30 2011 and posted in Columns

A new column to the Outhouse! ElijahSnowFan introduces himself and presents his first set of Five Things I Think I Know!

Well, let's start with a looooooong preamble.

Comic books are a passion of mine, and have been for more than 30 years. If you've read even a few of my posts and threads and all, you already know I take them seriously but am still able to laugh at myself from time to time -- because at the end of the day, there is no Krypton, there is no Batcave, there is no Invisible Jet. So every once in a while, we all need to come down from the ledge, right?

It's not always fun when comics are taken too seriously. But before I start telling people "Five Things I Think I Know" each and every week, it might not be a bad idea to explain why I think the way I do about this industry. That makes sense, right? Everybody still with me? Settle in, then, because there's a lot of words coming your way...

I feel strongly that the heroic archetype, with a subset that I have learned to jokingly call "the modified American monomyth" (just Wikipedia "monomyth," for a basic primer of what the hell I'm rambling about), is a fundamental form of storytelling that existed long before any of us started reading books or comics or fables or the like, and will be here long after we're gone.

That's important to understand about me, because that shapes how I read comics. To me, the reason why comics matter isn't just because the pictures are pretty and the words are nice. Comics matter because they can be many different things for many different people. They may help some people learn to read. They certainly provide a form of entertainment, of escape, to others.

At their best, though, I would argue that mainstream comic books provide an outlet to dream. To wonder. To hope and cheer and believe in the hero's journey -- and in that regard, Superman's never-ending battle is the ultimate example.

See, a hero's journey will have adversity. There will be conflict. There will be moments where all will appear to be lost.

But you know what?

The myth says that the hero wins the vast, vast majority of the battles that matter -- and the reader can't EVER know that the hero will lose the war. That's why these stories are told and why it matters so much HOW they're told. Let's use Superman as an example. You can branch off from Superman and tell many, many stories about "Superman-like" characters, like an Apollo or a Mr. Majestic or a Sentry or whoever, and change the types of challenges the hero faces. And in that regard, you can alter the choices that the derivative hero makes. When you do that, readers can see the contrast between the baseline and the derivative. The derivative can then suffer entirely different outcomes such as final victory or sudden death or horrific defeat, etc., while the primary character maintains the baseline that you can still enjoy.

In other words, you can have Captain Atom and Doctor Manhattan, the Charlton characters and Watchmen. You can have the X-Men and the Age of Apocalypse. And when creators and companies do that, fans win. You get the best of both worlds. You get the dream, and for contrast's sake, you sometimes get the nightmare that reinforces why the dream is so much fun to read about.

But the one thing you can't mix the two. Especially when you get more of the nightmare than the dream.

So in the 1980s, when you got the Dark Knight Returns, readers got to see a Batman do all the things that you normally don't see Batman do. That's why that particular story is great. At the same time, in my opinion, that's why the overall influence was horrible for this industry. Because creators who aren't as talented as Frank Miller confuse that story with the baseline character.

Batman's simple. Bruce Wayne's parents are killed by a mugger in an alley when he's a kid. He pledges that no one will go through that again; trains himself to mental and physical perfection, and becomes Batman. His never-ending battle is to bring justice to a corrupt Gotham City. Batman will never win, because Gotham City will always be corrupt. What makes Batman a hero is that he tries and gains many, many victories along the way, under the backdrop that Gotham City itself cannot be beaten. Is it naive and simplistic that he doesn't know that? Certainly. But that's what makes it a comic book. Bruce Wayne's wears a bat symbol on his chest and pointy ears on his mask. Because, again, it's a comic book.

That's the baseline. And you have to leave that baseline intact. In mainstream comics, you can't pull back the curtain too far, and here's why: If you make "Mainstream Batman" crazy or bitter or ineffective, for a few examples, then you force readers to call into question how heroic he is. Then you force readers to ask the question of if Batman isn't heroic, then what is he? Then if you tell stories poorly enough, you make readers ask the question of why the police and other superheroes don't just bring him in if he isn't a hero, or why he isn't dead yet, and so forth.

Simply put: If you stop believing that Batman and Commissioner Gordon aren't on great terms, or that Batman won't get shot when he charges a guy holding a machine gun, then you are no longer reading a good Batman story. If you think the Riddler is smarter than Batman, or that the Joker can kill and kill and kill and kill and kill and kill and kill and kill, then Batman isn't effective, and the baseline is ruptured. That's a bad thing for readers who've paid $2.99 or more, right?

That's why some readers have a love/hate relationship with comic books right now -- in far too many cases, the heroes lose so much, you almost can't bear to read the stories.

For example: Yes, the hero's journey means that Roy Harper will face adversity. It means there will be conflict and loss.

But when you make him an addict...and a womanizer...who had a kid with a supervillain...who is shot in the chest and nearly killed...then duped by Deathstroke into thinking he's Batman so, in reality, Deathstroke is the one giving missions to the Outsiders...and then kill the kid...and he loses an arm...and then he joins a villain team...well, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that you've ruptured the baseline for Roy Harper as a heroic character.

Simple question: Does anybody remember the last time Roy Harper...won? And it mattered?

That's why fans of Roy Harper would be, and should be, upset. Because there's no growth there. There's no journey there. There's only bad stories that keep getting worse.

So, with that in mind, as far as how I view and read comic's the first installment of my weekly ramblings. I always welcomed comments before, and hopefully we'll have some lively debate in here about various things! As always, my request always is that we try to be nice to each other, OK? It's OK to disagree!

5 Things I Think I Know

5. I remain amazed at how Marvel and DC continue to not understand what a large segment of readers want to see: A) Finite stories, B) featuring characters we all know, C) that have no continuity, D) where the heroes win. In other words, why on God's Green Earth, when Alex Ross and Jim Krueger's "Justice" and Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's "All-Star Superman" sold so well, aren't readers being given more of those -- and less of "Titans: Villains for Hire?" Seriously, DC/Marvel? Which do you truly believe people want to read more? Twelve issues of "Justice," featuring Superman/Batman/Wonder Woman/etc., or however many issues of "Titans: Villains for Hire," featuring Cheshire and Deathstroke and the Tattooed Man? The fact that I even have to ask that question says a lot more about mainstream comics' publishing schedule than you realize...

4. The image of "Barry Allen/Flash Running as a Skeleton" has now surpassed "Superman Crying" and "Crazy Smile Hal Jordan" as the comic book art I most never want to see again

3. The Ultimate Universe is in no better shape than the Wildstorm Universe was when DC decided to pull the plug. Marvel can continue to pump talented creators into the line itself, but until they realize that what made the Ultimate Universe successful in the first place was talented creators telling continuity-free stories with the baseline characters, they're going to keep rebooting and rebooting and rebooting -- this is the third one in six years, right? For instance, I'd strongly consider reading a Jonathan Hickman-written Ultimate All-New, All-Different X-Men, sure. Maybe Hickman would do some stellar stuff with Banshee or Thunderbird, for instance. But my interest drops to zero for a post-Ultimatum, post "Death of Spider-Man" Ultimate X-Men book...

2. I like Gail Simone, and I've certainly read all the stories that went into the formation of the Secret Six, as well as a good portion of the series itself. And she truly writes one hell of a Deadshot. But for me, Deadshot is a much, much better character when he is a sanctioned government assassin. A Deadshot who isn't on the run but is still killing people, like during John Ostrander's Suicide Squad run, is a better character than any other format

1. I give Brian Bendis a lot of credit for elevating the character of The Hood, and because he did so, I think The Hood is an awesome character to fight Spider-Man or Daredevil, maybe a Black Panther or Moon Knight or Power Man/Iron Fist. I would pay money to see The Hood as a primary villain for any of those characters. But I simply do not buy the character taking on the Avengers. Because, at the end of the day, he's The Hood. Not Thanos. There's definitely room for both characters in the Marvel Universe, but only one should be taking consistently taking on the Avengers

Written or Contributed by: ElijahSnowFan

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About the Author - Christian

Christian is the exasperated Abbott to the Outhouse's Costello. When he's not yelling at the Newsroom for upsetting readers or complaining to his wife about why the Internet is stupid, he sits in his dingy business office trying to find new ways to make the site earn money. Christian is also the only person in history stupid enough to moderate two comic book forums at once.


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