Pigeons, Portents, And Procrastinations

Happy American Thanksgiving, folks! But since I already gave my thanks last month, let me do the opposite here: and instead offer up a couple of things — ideas, rather, not “things” — that I’m getting kind of tired of.

1. Hypertime. Oh comics bloggers, listen: I like Grant Morrison just as much as you do, but there’s a very good reason Hypertime didn’t catch on, and that’s because it’s not good for much. Who needs Hypertime, when it’s perfectly possible to tell a story without even bothering to touch on features of shared-universe continuity at all? This is the truth of the matter, you know: good stories are flexible and robust critters, well-inclined to adaptation, and they don’t need perfect set-up conditions to do their job. Only when the story is about set-up conditions, when the plot in fact turns on the set-up conditions, is it necessary to control said set-up conditions. “Every story is true.” Well…fine…but who cares? More accurately: what reason is there to care? The set of stories that cannot be told without an unexplained contradiction-by-fiat of previous stories, and which need telling, is probably an empty set. Stories about universes may need vast reconciling cosmological structures to make them plausible — or not! — but stories about characters within universes never do, unless the universe the stories are to take place in is so wildly incoherent that nothing the writer does is capable of forcing enough sense upon it, even for a limited time, that the telling of any story is possible. What’s Hypertime good for, really? Explaining Hawkman’s origin?

Well, I’ll believe that when I see it. Which means: I will never believe it.

2. The Joker wins/loses in The Dark Knight. You know, I’ve thought it over, and I just don’t see that it’s necessary to draw conclusions such as this. Is the Joker’s worldview repudiated by the decisions of the passengers on the ferries? Not necessarily. Must Batman betray his own ethical code in order to defeat the chaos his enemy causes? I don’t think he does. Is it all about 9/11 and the Patriot Act and Osama Bin Laden? Well, sure, okay…but at the same time, I see no reason to think that just because a movie refers to current events, it must also be construed as having giftwrapped their meanings for the viewer. More likely, its aim will have been to use these references analogically, the better to explicate its own themes — and I submit a good way to test whether this is indeed the case, would be to analyze the topical elements in this light, and see if you don’t come up with something more interesting than if you hadn’t. Remember V For Vendetta‘s topical references to current events, and how they made otherwise-responsible reviewers race each other to the protestation that although they may have enjoyed the film they could not condone terrorism? I thought then, as I think now, that any review of V that includes this (easy, compliant) protestation is not worth reading — just as I thought all the reviews of Tim Burton’s remake of Planet Of The Apes, that insisted on painting its original as a sly and zeitgeist-tapping political allegory of its times solely for the purpose of pointing out how the Burton version was not, weren’t worth reading either. Some of these reviews seemed in such a rush to compare Charlton Heston’s excellent scenery-chewing with Roddy McDowell, to his excellent marching with Martin Luther King, that I actually cut them out of the newspapers and collected them in a little Scrapbook Of Stupid that I kept under my pillow in those days…until, that is, it got too big for me to sleep on it comfortably. I mean really — what review of Burton’s movie could possibly benefit from exploding the social importance of Heston’s up to the top of the skies like that, in ways unrelated to simple word-count? It became painfully obviously that these POTA-Classic panegyrics existed only to compensate for the fact that reviewers not only had nothing to say about Burton’s remake, but next-to-nothing to say about its source material either. “I remember my girlfriend and I were living near the docks, in a little dingy apartment with no hot water — such days! such dreams! — when the word came down that Planet Of The Apes had been released. Oh, those hot summer nights we stayed up on the roof debating its sociopolitical significance, until the dawn’s bright eye opened to behold us making love, as the city’s pigeons, like so many portents, fluttered up into the new day that was rising all around us…

Burton’s version has better special effects, but can they ever replace those heady, idealistic days of youth, and the feelings stirred by them? ‘You’re immortal, Tiger,’, the soughing breezes of possibility seemed to whisper to us then. ‘How does it taste?’

How it tasted, indeed…”

Seriously, I used to have a whole scrapbook full of tripe like that. Unconscionable.

But V gave it a run for its money, I think: “let me first make one thing perfectly clear: in this reviewer’s opinion, the ends do not justify the means, and in a free country it is our God-given right to say so.” Yikes, man, get down off those battlements, you might get shot! “No! It is the duty of the press to inform the citizenry about the pressing issues of the day…!”

Pathetic.

These are the same folks who reviewed Matrix: Reloaded, almost to a man, as being “okay I guess…except for that bit at the end with the Architect, I mean really that was rather unsophisticated, just Coles Notes for Philosophy 101, yawn…tonic for the malaria, gin for the boredom darling…”

I may paraphrase slightly. But you’ve got to ask, what crazy acid-soaked community college did these fuckers attend, where Phil 101 looked anything like Neo’s audience with the Architect? “Plato believed in a world of Forms,” a professor intones…and a classroom full of trenchcoated Keanus in dark glasses alternately laughing, crying, shouting “Fuck You!” back at him…one response for every possible universe…

Never was such a class, obviously. What it means is: they didn’t understand what the hell the Architect was saying on first viewing — he talks kinda crazy rapid-fire style — and then they didn’t bother watching it again. But you can’t very well write “I dunno what the hell exactly happened there at the end” in a film review! Duh. So you say it’s “Philosophy 101”. But of course it isn’t at all like Philosophy 101, and anyway when did Philosophy 101 get so easy to disparage?

You disparage it, in the normal course of events, only if you didn’t do well in it.

And if you didn’t do well in Phil 100 either, you probably try to make it absolutely clear that you don’t endorse V’s method of sparking social change…like anyone’s asking you, but if you didn’t say that, then you wouldn’t have much to say at all, unless by some freak chance you’d read the comic. Right?

So at that point you fall back on your ability to miscall things, and try to dissuade others from seeing any further, either.

Anyway, back to Dark Knight: me, I liked it a whole lot, but then I sort of took it to be a Batman story, albeit one with a little extra dastardly spice. Of course I haven’t watched it a second time, yet; when I do, I’ll review it.

But I won’t ask any rhetorical questions about whether the Joker “won”! Or lost. Because I don’t think that’s really what it was about. As the Sufis say: “many a test has been failed because it was too ingenious”…

Let’s all try to bear that in mind!

3. If you keep buying bad comics, companies have no incentive to stop making them. Actually, if you stop buying bad comics, you give companies more incentive to keep making them: that incentive is known as fear. “Oh no, where did that buyer go? What happened? Oh well, guess we better concentrate on serving it more efficiently to the diehards — maybe we can even come up with a way of getting each of them to pay more.” In other words, bad comics are more profitable than good ones, in the current climate — speaking generally, of course — so as far as communicating with the companies about your preference for good material over bad, dropping a bad book doesn’t get that job done. Rather, it encourages them to try and keep the buyers who are left, once those who prefer the good stuff have gone. Because these folks, as I lately mentioned over at Mindless Ones, are clinging to driftwood: if you take away one piece of driftwood, they’re only going to cling harder to the pieces that remain. I mean, I left off reading Marvel comics years ago…and it took a bankruptcy to motivate them into trying to get me back. Oh, and then they dumped me again just as soon as they could.

Not buying bad comics, like doing good deeds, is of course its own reward; nor should we think of it as anything else. Because, you know, it isn’t! A boycott doesn’t do anything but crash companies, if the companies don’t know who’s boycotting them and why, and cannot convince them all to guarantee they’ll come back into the happy family of supplier/consumer. But, there is a way to get companies to concentrate on the good stuff, and not on the bad stuff, and this is by realizing that it isn’t companies who make the good stuff or the bad stuff, but creators.

So, first off: you need to help secure creators more rights, more freedoms, more benefits, more equity in the workplace — more economic clout. More of a voice, more of a say, in what happens to their work. This means you must be willing to side with the interests of creators over those of companies.

Then: you need to encourage a climate of responsible, intelligent, and uncompromising criticism. Praise the good stuff, and damn the bad stuff, and make the praising and damning worth paying attention to, make it worthy of respect. Less criticism always means more crap; suppression or marginalization or evasion of criticism always means somebody’s trying to pull what they know is a fast one. Did a creator you otherwise like and respect blatantly hack something out for the money, and do a third-rate job? Hammer them for it. That kind of thing. Demand better. Many writers and artists of the past produced astonishingly high-quality work while essentially working in sweatshop conditions — so why should modern creators get a pass? They shouldn’t. Similarly, many writers and artists of today produce astonishingly good work while essentially working in total obscurity, ignored by or unknown to fans who say they want “better” — and this shouldn’t happen, either.

Finally: create (if you can) a better and more educated fan community, that isn’t interested in bending over backwards to excuse the bad behaviour of companies, creators, or themselves either.

And then…maybe.

That’s if you care about, say, the average ongoing monthly being worth your three bucks.

But it isn’t “not buying bad books”. How wonderful it would be, if that’s all you had to do! But there’s only one reason not to buy a bad book, and that’s because it’s bad. And if that isn’t reason enough, then there’s already no hope for fixing Spider-Man or the Outsiders or whatever, and it’s time to move on.

4. I forget what 4. was.

If I remember, I’ll put it in the comments.

And now back to trying not to procrastinate!

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9 responses to “Pigeons, Portents, And Procrastinations

  1. It is surely Millar-time, plok. Surely now.

    I disagree on hypertime but as it’s 2am, I’ma have to get back to you on it. I might even have an idea for blogalogue, don’t get yr hopes up tho.

  2. Yes, it is…that was the last delay.

    My God, Beast, you sound like you’re exhausted! Get some sleep, I’ll try to have something for you in the morning. Um, morning my time, that is…

  3. A boycott doesn’t do anything but crash companies, if the companies don’t know who’s boycotting them and why

    Couldn’t agree more, but what I do about that is to write a letter, an actual paper letter, to the company in question, letting them know what I’m doing, or not doing, and why. And recommending on my blog that others do the same.

    And, you know, I wouldn’t be surprised if I had had an effect. Time will tell, but whatever ends up happening with the Legion of Super-Heroes shows some signs that it may have been influenced by a letter I wrote Paul Levitz, Dan DiDio and Mike Marts a couple of years ago. Maybe. I wouldn’t want to put any weight on it. But I am glad I wrote the letter.

    Be careful what you don’t ask for: you might not get it.

  4. 1. For me Hypertime marked the time when super-hero comics became less about the characters’ never-ending battle against evil and more about corporate machinations that position marketable heroic icons like pawns on a chess-board for an endless series of “world-shaking” events. And to be honest, I never understood why DC just couldn’t do continuity the old ’70s way: keep what works and ignore what doesn’t.

    2. I regarded Dark Knight as a Batman story with a bit more noir tossed into the mix than usual. (More like ’70s Englehart, where Batman brings down the corrupt political machine but loses the girl. His mission carries a price …)

    As far as the 9/11 parallels and commentaries on human nature, well .. those elements were there but not central in my book.

    3.I stopped buying Big Two comics because: 1. Too expensive; 2. Not enough bang for the buck; 3. Since I liked my old comics so much, decided I was better off just reading those and using my funds for works I found more challenging, like Criminal.

  5. Wise words, Matthew! I was actually going to cover letter-writing, but…as Beast knows, I just sort of squeezed that part of this post out of a much larger and more mean-spirited one I was going to write some months back, so I didn’t want to get too entangled with it again for fear it would take over. (It was to be called “The Myth Of Voting With Your Dollar”, by the way.) But yes: the method of communication with the folks making the comics is very important, and letters do make a difference. Right now (it seems to me) the Big Two couldn’t be as responsive to their readers’ needs as they once were even if they wanted to be, despite the comparatively huge number of comics bloggers out there, because the feedback isn’t as good as it was with a somewhat smaller number of regular letterhacks writing in: because to wring information out of one type of forum isn’t the same as wringing it from another, different type. You have to think that letter columns were once a very useful tool for DC and especially Marvel, in terms of maintaining a certain editorial flexibility…but for the comic blogosphere a different style of parsing that feedback is probably required. Once again it all comes down to the question of what technology is appropriate for the task at hand: a design problem, in other words.

    There are other ways of “saving comics” that I didn’t address, too, but you can probably guess at what they are. Anyway, letters: because they’re direct communications that come at a cost of effort and time, they can work wonders. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Paul et. al. hadn’t mulled over what you had to say.

    And Keeper: of course I also neglected to mention that the Big Two do put out stuff that doesn’t need “saving” — their TPB model seems to be “republish everything, in a range of styles and prices, and let people have what they want”, and for me this works pretty darn well. I don’t need to “drop” anything, because I can be a collector and a reader without having to be any kind of subscriber or even regular purchaser. I don’t quite see Hypertime as you do — I see it as a fannish idea much like Roy Thomas’ “Marvel Time”, but unlike Marvel Time it’s hard to imagine how one might put it to consistent use…uh, not to mention that the gas went out of Marvel Time’s balloon quite a long time ago…because all it seems to be good for is saying all the stories happened, and frankly I am already quite comfortable with saying all the stories happened. You could use it to fix Hawkman, I guess…but after Animal Man, can anyone really be all that uncomfortable with a character having multiple origins existing in superposition? I guess my argument is, the Crisis (and Sandman) already provided all the metatextual superstructure that anyone could need…except even then we didn’t really need it, it was just an interesting secondary game we could play if we wanted to, while happily skipping between the tones and backgrounds of different books as we’d always been wont to do anyhow. What Hypertime really accomplishes that’s different from that I don’t know — and yet people seem to think it’s THE ANSWER. But what’s really the question?

    And, Sean: no, one thing the Big Two’s stories definitely are, is challenging. Haw!

  6. I’ll just say, though, I don’t have any problem with Morrison liking his Hypertime — if he wants to think of it that way, let him. Some of the run-up stories to Zero Hour were about as Hypertime-y as one could wish, it seems to me…and nothing is lost by saying “all stories are real”, in fact I prefer it that way myself. I don’t mind the postulation. I’m just perplexed at the almighty yearning for it as a lost opportunity, that I see out there in blogland. Like, I don’t buy that not having it is forcing writers to write crappier stories because they’re pinioned by the weight of continuity — I just don’t believe this. So for me, that’s one argument for Hypertime’s necessity gone right away. When Joe Rice pines for it, I get confused — what does Hypertime bring to The Monster Society Of Evil? It seems to me an inconsistency in Joe’s philosophy, shouldn’t he be saying “Hypertime Shmypertime, just write good comics”?

    All stuff I intend to get into in the (yes, honestly, it’s imminent) Millar post…but I hope you see my point. Why would Joe Rice care, if there was a comic-book physics rationale for publishing stories where the Flash runs fast because he was hit by a lightning bolt hey it’s comics, I mean isn’t longing for that rationale just longing for a way to “box out” people who insist on everything being relentlessly hemmed-up to everything else? And yet it seems to me that those of us who just like the stories need not get into that argument at all — people who are attracted to coherent continuity don’t get mad if you ignore it, they just get mad if you contradict it and don’t say why. And speaking for myself, I get mad not when some writers shits all over what a previous writer has done (because everything gets “fixed” by someone eventually, it’s not that hard to do), but when a writer scorches and salts the earth of another writer’s work, and tries to prevent anyone who ever liked it that way from restoring it later on. But, just telling the Green Lantern story you want to tell, I mean that’s smooth sailing if you’re prepared to make up something new for him to do, isn’t it? So I don’t know who these ardent continuiwank fans are supposed to be, I’ve never met any. Look at Englehart (and I know I keep saying this), he’s never trashed a previous writer’s work on his way to telling a story, he’s only used it…and maybe not always quite how they would’ve liked, but that’s comics for you. Anyway he doesn’t just plain uncreate things, and I think that’s an appropriate and respectful way to do the job. The conceptual space of superhero comics is large enough that you don’t have to find conflicts in it…and if you’re a person who doesn’t care at all about continuity, it doesn’t mean you have to argue with those who do, does it? That, it seems to me, is just embroiling yourself in stuff you should be happy to be set free from.

    So where in all this is Hypertime needed? If Morrison’s JLA didn’t need it, what does?

    Waid’s Flash, probably; because he just could not stop messing with the set-ups, and retconning the empty spaces to fullness everywhere he went. Isn’t that, really, what Hypertime’s meant to cure?

    But I still think “ignoring” is better than “curing”. Curing’s what got us into this mess…!

  7. Sean – OK … so maybe challenging isn’t the right word, or maybe it is. What I mean is that I find myself engaged with the story and wondering how I would act in similar circumstances. Would my morality be so compromised … or is it situational for just about anyone out there? Those weren’t the type of questions I asked when Spider-Man was faced with the personification of the devil ‘cuz … well, that whole set-up was just stupid.

  8. Ha! Well-put, Keeper!

    You know I am beginning to think we should have that Awesome Picture Clearing-House after all, because wouldn’t it be great to disagree on something that actually mattered?

    Images partake of the dimension of morality too, I figure. Images can be just as intellectual as words.

    …Okay, over this weekend I’m going to make this thing. Kind of excited. Got an idea.

    More later!

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