Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Aware of the Dark

The conversation on comics is still ongoing, but it has still mostly focused on one issue. Superhero Comics have no sense of hope, wonder, or a greater vision.

Heroes aren't heroes, and villains are pathetic, and it will all be rebooted so you can read the same schlock again over and over. This is well agreed upon.

But there is something else I wanted to focus on today. Few people have brought up tone. Now I'm not taking about how comics are colored these days, but about the story.

The current Captain America comics are grimdark slogs that go against character type and feature no hope to be found for anyone. It is slick, cold, and empty.

But there is an opposite problem.

That would be "self-aware" storytelling. Yes, Deadpool, I know you can hear me, and I'm talking about you. Self-aware storytelling is not as blatant a problem as the preaching comics, but it is just as hopeless and murky as stories like the current Captain America run.

For a better grasp on this issue, listen to this NSFW rant by youtuber Razorfist. Pay special attention to 2:18-3:32

Now, I'm a big fan of Batman: The Brave & The Bold, but I have to admit that the first eight or so episodes are hard to watch for the reason Razorfist states. The writers do not feel like they legitimately love the era they're writing in, but are more interested in pointing out how absurd the Silver Age is and how much smarter their audience is than the material. But it changes. This tapers off quick when the writers stop feeling self-conscious and embrace the style they're going for which allows the audience to become invested in what they're doing. A handful of episodes aside, Batman: The Brave & The Bold turned out to be a great tribute to the older era of Batman without succumbing fully to this issue, series finale aside. But the "self-aware" comics never really learned.

As I've aged, I've found I have a higher tolerance of grimdark when it is done right, such as in the Nolan Batman movies or the Netflix Daredevil, than I do for self-aware storytelling. There are a few reasons for this.

For one, grimdark stories are honest with what they are. They either don't believe in hope or salvation, or they believe they are struggles to achieve. They don't hide what they are.

Self-aware storytelling doesn't believe in anything. It doesn't even believe in itself.

It doesn't believe in the audience, constantly winking to them and assuring them that they are too smart for this silly story. It doesn't believe in heroes by constantly undermining their struggles. It doesn't believe in hope since nothing that occurs matters as we are reliably informed by the characters themselves. It is, as Razorfist stated, aimless, trite, and unmotivated, storytelling. It exists to stroke egos and nothing else.

So yes, the biggest problem with modern comic book storytelling is that it doesn't believe in heroes, hope, or general goodness. But stories like these don't believe in the audience, either. It believes in itself, for the sake of itself, and for nothing else.

By wary next time you buy a comic with a bright cover and smiling characters on it. What you get might be even more poisonous than the worst Alan Moore comic. They just try a bit harder to hide it behind a shiny wrapper.

So you must try a bit harder, and ask for better. Poison is still poison, even if it's poured in a fancy champagne glass.

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