MacPherson just plain misses the points
The comic-book industry has gone through some rough times in the last few years, and it's universally accepted (or at least, it should be) that it's been suffering through a depression of its own design.It's been five years since MacPherson wrote this, and to be honest, I think that's all a matter of opinion. Because, what have we had in the time he wrote this? We've had five years of J. Michael Straczynski writing Amazing Spider-Man and not really accomplishing anything, and sinking deeper into mediocrity and downright angering, as was the case with "Sins Past", which did little more than to desecrate a the memory of Peter Parker's first true love, Gwen Stacy. And, there was also the degradation of Captain America, the not-so-impressive IMO run by Grant Morrison on X-Men (and Chuck Austen's run was just as crappy), which struck me as um...gross, and even the Avengers were exploited for politically motivated storylines with editorial interference glaringly apparent. Then, in 2004, they pulled Avengers: Disassembled on the audience, bouncing back to company wide crossovers and leading up to House of M, which seemed like an attempt to do something they'd actually been doing quite a bit in the past few years - alternate universes and allusions to their own What If...? anthology. And it may not even end there, what with Decimation now on the horizon.
In the early 1990s, there were big bucks to be made in comics thanks to the speculator boom. "Hot" artists -- McFarlane, Lee, Liefeld -- emerged, and people were snapping up their books. And not just one each. Two copies. Five. Twenty.
Their earlier work was hard to come by, and back-issue prices rose. For some reason, thousands of people were convinced their newer stuff -- with literally millions of copies available -- would be equally in demand in the long term.
We know they were wrong. The fallout was far more devastating than the speculator boom was advantageous. It saw reams of trash thrust onto the shelves of comic-book stores, and it took the industry years to bounce back creatively.
That's what Marvel did wrong. But lest we think DC is any better, in 2004 they proved they could stoop just as low, possibly worse, when they published Identity Crisis, and kept boomeranging back to company wide crossovers, with the nadir surely having to be the way they spread the "repercussions" from their overblown dud throughout quite a few books the following year, all this leading up to Infinite Crisis, and now, it seems that, with the publication of Infinite Crisis Aftermath, even that x-over may not end for who knows how long.
Bouncing back creatively my foot.
It's now 2001, and the past year has seen interest in comics slowly rise. Ultimate Spider-Man was selling for $20 within a couple of weeks of its initial release. Kevin Smith's Green Arrow has gone to a fourth printing. Retailers were pre-selling Wolverine: The Origin on eBay before it found its way into stores.Or perhaps more of the same? That miniseries of Wolverine ripped off the readers, who were hoping for a real presentation of Logan's origin. Instead, it just ended with the signal that Marvel wanted no more than to fleece the audience of more money with more miniseries (as of now, there seems to be another mini for Wolverine on the market. I doubt it'll be any better.
Are we seeing the beginnings of a new speculator boom?
...it's unlike the one we saw a decade ago. No one seems as obsessed with the artists emphasizing style over storytelling anymore. McFarlane is approving toy designs. Jim Lee is doing covers for one week of DC's Joker: The Last Laugh crossover event. Rob Liefeld is soliciting comics that rarely actually make their way to store shelves.Again, it's been five years since this journalist from Canada wrote this piece, and from the way that Bendis' books were bought, I'm skeptical of their being bought for the stories, any more than they are for the writer himself (and Bendis is the one who started the whole problem of padding out books for trade paperback publishing).
This time, people seem to be interested in writers. In stories. Bendis is the superstar now, not for his art, but for his scripts. With Grant Morrison on New X-Men, we see one of the industry's most experimental super-hero writers tackling Marvel's prize trophy, once closely guarded by editors with more influence on plot direction and characterization than those actually credited with the writing.
Comics are in the news more today as well. The telling of Wolverine's origin made headlines in papers throughout North America. Last year's announcement that Stan Lee would be writing for DC Comics turned up all over the mainstream media. By May 2002, Tobey Maguire will be known forever as "the kid in the Spider-Man movie."Yeah, right. Just because they're in the news, that's wonderful, bar none. Ahem. It takes more than just being in the news to be impressive. There has to be substance, and a genuine willingness to tell the audience in depth what the book is like, and if it's any good, plus offer enough details to allow the audience to determine if it's as good as it sounds. If they don't, nor have they any ability to distinguish between good and bad elements, then all they're doing is to imply loyalty unto the publishers, and not the audience.
Though there are still a lot of subpar comics out there today, the industry has reached a creative high point, and there's no sign that it's going to stop anytime soon. The timing of this winter's The Dark Knight Strikes Back mini-series from DC couldn't be better, as there's a better chance that those who loved The Dark Knight Returns but drifted away from comics might actually learn of its existence.And beyond that, what might they have thought? Not only was it late in going to press, but it wasn't all that good either. MacPherson was really going a long way in assuming things.
And when he says the following at the end...
No, this potential boom won't be like the one before. This time, there's a chance that outsiders drawn into comics might actually read the stories. This time, there's a chance comics might actually retain some of those outside readers who peek in....it only gives tells that he misses the point of what comics like what Rogue appears in were meant for to begin with, even if X-Treme was mediocre: entertainment and fun. Not to mention that it's always possible to write up comics that don't put a big emphasis on what MacPherson seems to despise, but we shouldn't have to force this view upon comics where nobody thought it wrong to feature T&A to begin with. Besides, Marvel and DC have long had that kind of stuff for many years, and noone complained, because that's what they read 'em for.
If that's to happen, though, we need to put our best foot forward. Rogue can't be thrusting her hips or breasts on the cover of X-Treme X-Men. Retailers need to direct buyers to Judd Winick's Barry Ween, not his Green Lantern. The notion of graphic novels has to include Morning Dragons, Couscous Express and A Complete Lowlife, not just trade-paperback reprints of Sandman.
The main problem with the viewpoint MacPherson is espousing here is that: comics should be dead serious in order to be taken seriously. And by serious, one would have to wonder if what he means is vile little roaches like Identity Crisis #2, which he pretty much gushed over. In other words, they should be distastefully violent, make sex look revolting, and make the heroes out to look bad. And in his review of IC #3, he insulted my intelligence by making it seem as if misogyny was excusable:
If the murder that served as the catalyst for this story irked you and struck you as misogynist, then the last few pages of this third issue are going to drive you nuts. I have to admit, though, that it seems odd that Meltzer didn't opt to target a different sort of character.Uh oh. When looking at this more closely, it sounds more to me like he was downplaying the fact that misogyny is wrong, or dismissing it entirely. To say the least, it's the part where he says, "I have to admit though..." that puts a frown of suspicion upon my face. I could be mistaken, but, there's something about that part I just don't like. Creepy.
I guess I shouldn't be too surprised by all this though. There are quite a few people of MacPherson's journalism-influenced standing who don't seem to have any idea what they stand for, nor do they seem to realize what kind of damage they risk inflicting on the entertainment value of comic books. And which is one more reason why people of his standing just aren't fit to be reviewing - because they don't seem to understand that these industry emperors wear no clothes.
Update: while we're on the subject of the 4th Rail: while Randy Lander of the same site once panned the "Identity Crisis" miniseries and even "Avengers: Disassembled," it would've been much easier to appreciate had it not been for his needless attack on the war in Iraq about two years ago:
"The Iraqis did not destroy the World Trade Center. Most of the hijackers were Saudi. This runs contrary to what 70% of the people in my country believe, according to some polls. I am boggled at the stupidity of my countrymen and women, and saddened at how easily they have been led by a manipulative regime and a corporate-controlled media."Oh dear. While he's certainly entitled to an opinion, he is not going about things the right way by saying that his countrymen and women are stupid. And does one need to point out that the "corporate-controlled media" he speaks of is not necassarily under the control of the government, but rather, the PC-advocating establishment?
Lander's argument obscures more than a considerable amount here, including that last year, signs of WMDs being concealed that included even sarin and mustard gas began to turn up, though of course, did the opposition to the war in Iraq even care? Nope. Either way, I personally find it hard to comprehend why he'd take offense at something like IC and AD when the former comic book certainly takes a position that he for one might also happen to harbor, which is none other than an arbitrary anti-war stance.