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April 23, 2010

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Mike Rhode

Well, I'm sure that was more interesting to read than the comics could be. Still, you'll never completely get them out of your brain now, Charles.

And what is it w/ the necrophilia going on in American pop culture now? Vampires in fiction, zombies in comics...

Charles Hatfield

What can you say about a trope (vampirism) whose once-implicit subtext (an illicit sexuality) has been made explicit and driven home with monotonous regularity?

Bo-ring.

As for the Zombie Apocalypse, Romero's original "Night" is terrific, a kind of existentialist locked-room nightmare, but the more recent riffs on this formula, it seem to me, have to do with the nasty thrill of blowing the heads off of people who are your neighbors, but aren't.

Not bo-ring, exactly, but rapidly spiraling down the drain of repetition, self-consciousness and parody.

Claims for the satiric potential of this are overstated.

Rob Ullman

I don't know if these things used to be better...like maybe the strings weren't quite so evident...or maybe I was just a kid and hadn't seen it all a thousand times before. I dunno. It's almost impossible to see the creators cashing their paychecks with books like these...their existence as "product" and little else is so glaringly evident. It just seems like a colossal waste of everyone's time, and beneath you as a reviewer.

Couldn't agree more with the disgustingness of Identity Crisis, which I read not too long ago while loitering at B&N. Same goes for James Robinson's recent Cry for Justice, whose "big finish" was the death of a child, Speedy's daughter. The death of a child! In a friggin' comic book? Have these men no shame?

Marc

I always think of the explanation Grant Morrison offered in an issue of The Invisibles more than a decade ago: a culture whose thoughts have turned to death is a culture that knows it's dying.

Charles, you've clarified exactly why I haven't read Blackest Night or most of its predecessors: I don't have anybody to loan me the copies. I like keeping tabs too, but these aren't comics I want to buy, or own.

Charles Hatfield

There's an additional reason why continuity-driven comics keep graverobbing: there isn't incentive, in fact there's a positive disincentive, to develop fresh, original properties within the corporate-owned comic book universes. It's just not a smart thing for creators to do. So resuscitation and revamping take the place of coming up with new notions.

Zombie stories are reflexive in the sense that they acknowledge this tendency toward the exhumation or reanimation of "dead" things.

Groovyageofhorror.blogspot.com

Did you only read BLACKEST NIGHT, or the GREEN LANTERNs too (which Johns also wrote and interwove very tightly with the main event title)? GL is so closely tied in, it almost doesn't make sense to call it a tie-in; really, the crossover story pings between the two titles, and if you read one without the other, the gaps you mention are bound to seem many and enormous. Other tie-ins have some bearing on the main story, but GL is the one (and really the only one) that completes those dangling threads you complain of here.

Austin

Interesting view on "Blackest Night," and one that moved along the same lines as my reaction. I've been reading DC for probably ten years now, though I would not say I'm a "DC Reader." Green Lantern has been my favorite superhero since Kyle Rayner debuted (I grew up with him), and Geoff Johns' foray into the universe with "Green Lantern: Rebirth" was promising. At the time he was one of my favorite writers, but since has become a writer whose work only induces groans.

You made some good points, although I disagree that the layouts within "Blackest Night" are in some way indicative of readers with low to non-existent attention spans, something you allude to when you say, "These are comics made for readers accustomed to Wikipedia glosses and blogospheric chatter: occasions for networking and the accrual of insider knowledge rather than freestanding stories." You never blatantly indict the readers as being lazy, although your thinly veiled jibe becomes clearer when you have to clarify your statement by saying, "In other words, what we’ve got here is a highlights reel rather than a game: a flickering series of reminders that Something Important has been going on."

The end of Geoff Johns as a writer to watch came with "Blackest Night" navigating the path I knew it would: White Lantern arrival, characters being revived, goofy dialogue, etc. Although some amount of surprise came with Sinestro being revealed as the White Lantern, it doesn't make the obviousness of the plot point less hackneyed. Over in the main "Green Lantern" title Johns furthered the weak plot by giving each "emotion" a corresponding animal, achieving what I had feared when the initial reveal of the "emotional spectrum" came, that Green Lantern would seem far too similar to the Power Rangers.

Charles Hatfield

Austin, in no way did I intend to indict BN's readers for laziness. On the contrary, my point was that the comic's creators and publisher rely excessively on the dedication of their audiences.

"Lazy" readers wouldn't bother with "blogospheric chatter" and "Wikipedia glosses." Only dedicated readers would do this, so no accusation of laziness is intended.

My point was that the readers' dedication has to do with participation in a larger fandom and the fascination of accruing specialized knowledge, which is an interactive process that makes up to some degree for poor or abstruse storytelling. I think DC and Marvel both understand this, and lean on this understanding, to the detriment of the actual comics.

I do not buy the cliched talk about comics readers, or young people in general, having "low attention spans." IMO comics fans tend to have high, albeit selective, attention spans, and can focus for long periods on things that uninitiated readers find puzzling. This is true, BTW, of many people diagnosed with ADHD, who really are capable of sustained attention but not necessarily under strictly regimented circumstances, e.g., in classrooms. I don't think anything in my BN review contributes to the idea of readers/fans having limited attention spans, and I certainly didn't intend any such jibe.

My point was that Johns et al. do a poor job of connecting the dots. Dedicated readers or not, I think the comics would be better if the creators paid at least some minimal attention to coherence and through-plotting. This is not necessarily an indictment of the readers (though I confess myself bemused by fans' appetite for things like BN) but a complaint about craft.

Charles Hatfield

@ Groovy, a.k.a. Curt:

I figured that BN and the current GL titles were tightly interlaced; obviously, the GL Corps is at the heart of the emotional spectrum concept. Out of stubbornness, I would not buy BN and certainly wouldn't buy the tie-ins, so inevitably I missed some of the connective tissue. Call my review an experiment in reading an event series without its attendant crossovers.

BTW, Curt, your blog is cool, thanks. BN and DC fans will want to read your own overview of BN at:

http://groovyageofhorror.blogspot.com/2010/04/blackest-night-concluding-overview-pt-1.html

I also really liked your "Can Comics Be Scary?" post and the discussion it engendered:

http://groovyageofhorror.blogspot.com/2010/04/can-comics-be-scary.html

Go check 'em out, folks!

Austin

Charles,

First, I agree with you that Johns and his luminaries do a bad job of connecting the dots, and overall his attempt at utilizing (see: fixing) convoluted continuity has failed. Plotting massive events such as "Blackest Night" might not be possible without certain failings craft-wise. Character betrayals, plot holes, entirely superfluous tie-ins (both "Blackest Night: Superman" and "Blackest Night: Batman") are the norm now for "big two" events. "Blackest Night" was guilty of all of these.

The only reason I felt you were making any kind of statement about readers' laziness/lacking attention span was the reference to Wikipedia, which has entire plots to novels, comics, movies, and TV shows readily available to read without actually having to commit to the original product. I also agree that the majority of readers are not lazy or unable to focus on complex narratives, whether in comics or other art forms, so I'm with you there.

I disagree that Marvel or DC "rely excessively on the dedication of their audiences." Both companies know these events are not written for casual readers, and are merely doing their part to receive the return (cash) on their investment. Also, "accruing specialized knowledge" has always been a part of the comics world, and has no more affect on "Blackest Night" than any other storyline. I doubt Johns wrote "Blackest Night" just to add more information to all of the character sheets involved; that is simply a side-effect which happens whenever a new story is created.

There is an argument to be made for blatant consumerism powering the sales behind "Blackest Night," though, as DC was offering plastic rings for each lantern available by purchasing certain books. The comic shop I work at sold a huge amount of each issue, most just so the customer could obtain the ring. Overall your review was good though. I think I probably forgot to say that.

Groovyageofhorror.blogspot.com

Thanks, Charles (and btw, I quite liked your remarks about FINAL CRISIS linked in this post)! Your dissection here is spot on, and if I don't arrive at the same damning judgment as you do, it's not because I disagree with anything you say, but because I found enough to like that on balance I can still come away from BN having enjoyed it to some extent. We've actually independently singled out a number of the same details for criticism--that Firestorm/Gen scene is truly execrable, as I mentioned in a review of that issue:

http://groovyageofhorror.blogspot.com/2009/09/blackest-night-3.html

And then again when dclebeau tore into the scene at read/RANT!, I felt even more inclined to agree in comments there:

http://readrant.wordpress.com/2009/09/18/rant-blackest-night-3/

Also, that spread you mention from the first issue with the black rings scattering through the cosmos seemed problematic to me, too, as I mention in a post about outer-space establishing shots in comics:

http://groovyageofhorror.blogspot.com/2009/09/blackest-night-great-darkness-saga-pt-7.html

Thanks again, Charles! Glad I found your blog, and looking forward to reading more from you!

Mikael

Lots of BIG words with very little in the way of examples to back it all up.

If you don't understand Blackest Night, then stop reading super-hero books. Cause clearly you're too stupid for them.

Charles Hatfield

@ Mikael:

Oh, I backed it up fine. Look again. My BIG words pull their weight.

But I'll remember that I'm too stupid for the subject matter when I get to teaching a seminar on superhero comics this fall. Having a fair sense of one's own stupidity is, after all, the Socratic definition of wisdom.

Drop in again when you have something worth saying.

Charles Hatfield

@ Austin:

You said,

"The only reason I felt you were making any kind of statement about readers' laziness/lacking attention span was the reference to Wikipedia, which has entire plots to novels, comics, movies, and TV shows readily available to read without actually having to commit to the original product."

I may have misled you, sorry. I intended to criticize DC's (and Marvel's) emphasis on comics that encourage the amassing of information in the form of databases, wikis, etc. I didn't mean to suggest that readers who have recourse to such things are lazy. I imagine that a lot of superhero comics readers find those kinds of resources enjoyable and even like contributing to them. As you can probably tell from my post about DC's Who's Who

( http://www.thoughtballoonists.com/2010/04/the-spinner-rack-that-forgot-time.html ),

I don't dig that kind of thing so much, though when I was younger I enjoyed glossaries, maps, and other such materials about high fantasy worlds, which I think is a similar itch. Nowadays I'm more about the style of delivery.

You're right that accruing specialized knowledge has long been a part of the comics world, and I would never claim to be outside that. I just don't like comics that are so continuity-driven that the individual comics become hollowed out and only function in terms of the system. I guess what I don't like is the aggrandizement of the editor's role over those of individual writers and artists, and, concomitantly, the sense that even eager writers like Johns are losing their grip on story because they are engaged in pushing toy battleships around on great big maps.

Charles Hatfield

@ Curt (Groovyage):

Thanks for your comments, again!

I shouldn't be too hard on BLACKEST NIGHT. I suppose it's better than IDENTITY CRISIS, INFINITE CRISIS, 52, and COUNTDOWN, based on my admittedly limited sampling of those titles.

Not as miserable as IDENTITY CRISIS, not as decentered and shapeless as INFINITE CRISIS (though I didn't get far with that one), not as boring as 52 (of which I read, what, eight or nine issues?), and not as stupid as COUNTDOWN (though my sampling there was very small, admittedly).

I read a couple of issues of Marvel's CIVIL WAR and felt very similarly about them as I did about BN.

I think I prefer FINAL CRISIS by just a hair, because of Grant Morrison's conceptual chutzpah. Though BN has more, er, consistent artwork.

Thanks again for the links. I enjoyed that post about "establishing shots" in space opera-like books.

Joseph Thomas

Charles: re-vamping. Heh heh. Get it? Vampires?

I wonder if this summer, while I'm away in VA, I might write something to/with you about Morrison, as I actually liked Crisis (as I've said in past comments).

Oh, and I'm reading Irredeemable, as Craig suggested (I think?) you should. I'm not finding it as fresh as I hoped it would be (hope in the face of the fear it wouldn't be fresh at all, actually). In fact, I'm finding Ellis's SuperGod series much more satisfying. Especially after reading his No Hero and Black Something (Friday?), the first two of his trio of super-hero musings (or "deconstruction"? As in "making radically undecidable"--you know, actual deconstruction).

I had a great class today. The Silverstein class is really paying off. And the students seem to love it. Having a great time talking about his art. Thought about you, and mentioned you, today; something along the lines of: I wish my buddy Charlie Hatfield were here. He'd have some interesting things to say about this art. Unlike me." That got a laugh, as we had just finished a 30 minute in-depth discussion of a single panel of one of Shel's cartoons.

Anyhoo, We should chat soon. Miss you, pal.

Mikael Bergkvist

Interesting and well thought out. Thanks

ryan

The saddest part is alone, BN is weak, and thus, the HC/TPB/GN will be weak because instead of printing them in order ala Sinestro Corps War, they aren't doing Blackest Night with all the middle parts (GL/GLC a little) between each issue. Ideally it should have been a 3 volume series or one pretty huge HC.

Charles Hatfield

@ Ryan:

Wouldn't you say that a huge HC collection would falsify the experience of BN by implying that it is one coherent, monumental work, rather than the opportunistic series of tie-in products that it really is?

We fans crave the monumentality, legitimacy, and durability that a big HC seems to confer, but, really, the whole point of something like BN is being strung along for months and going with the flow and seeing what kinds of surprises the experience has in store for us. As a collected work, a series like BN simply doesn't have the coherence that would justify a massive HC omnibus edition.

I would think that keeping BN issues in a long box would be a better memento of the experience than buying some oversized book collection. I just don't see the narrative and aesthetic coherence that would make a $50 "Blackest Night" HC worthwhile.

It's like this need that so many of us have now to own all successive episodes of a TV series in DVD form. A few series warrant this, sure, but, come on, do we need every episode of a sitcom just because we enjoyed tuning in week after week when it was first on TV?

Thechannelocho.blogspot.com

rev sully of the channel OCHO blog here...

I guess I liked it and categorized what I bought. I posted it here so give it a spin if you wanna.

http://thechannelocho.blogspot.com/2010_04_01_archive.html#6343617086743117123

I'm going to post this column as a really insightful & great foil to my extolling of the Blackest Night. I believe in fair & balanced and I really like your argument. I still like it...

crea shaakti,
Rev Sully

Eric O'Sullivan
Boston, MA USA

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