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Friday, November 18, 2011 

Would-be dissenter with DC suddenly softens

If there's any allegedly conservative news writer purporting to be a comics fan I've often found a turnoff, it would be Jonathan V. Last of the Weekly Standard. I was simply full of disgust when I once found out he actually embraced Identity Crisis and would not recognize any of the one-sided depiction of the female cast, nor how it was basically a subtle blame-America metaphor, and he still hasn't changed. Thanks to that, any argument he's got that's more legit has been spoiled, for me anyway. IMHO, he's not a conservative, just a big phony.

Now, I discover that the very man who allegedly had a problem with DC's reboot, for example, is suddenly softening his stance, which is just what Dan DiDio, still lurking in the background at DC (he does seem to appear more in the news than Bob Harras, whose EIC position seems very symbolic), would doubtless want. Last begins by telling everybody:
I’ve been reasonably critical of DC’s company-wide relaunch, but three months in I’m softening slightly. For all the stuff DC has done wrong here, they’ve also done a few things right.
And then he goes on to list a few things he thinks are done right, including:
* The single smartest thing about the new DC universe is that it does not appear to be a coherent universe. So far as I can tell, there’s no character continuity. Not just in events, but even in how they’re written. The Batman of Justice League is tonally very different from the Batman of Detective Comics, who is almost a different character than the Batman in the plain-vanilla Batman title. A Darkseid invasion in one book does not seem to have bearing on stories in any of the other books.

What this does is free up the writers to simply tell stories. Detailed continuity has really crippled both Marvel and DC over the last couple decades–especially when it comes to the yearly event books, which then push their tendrils into the publishers’ full line, interrupting normal storytelling and forcing the entire company to deal with the same central topic.
Oh good grief. Even if a Darkseid story in one book doesn't have to have a bearing upon another, that doesn't excuse incoherency. And if the exact personality of Batman is inconsistent from book to book, that's actually a problem: in the mid-1990s, a major complaint was that Bruce Wayne was being depicted as a cold control freak with a poor grasp on what it means to be kindly and human towards his friends and fellow crimefighters, something that's dogged the characterization ever since, and if what he's telling here says something, it's that we can't expect all writers involved to agree on a better persona that will apply to all stories getting published now, and it wouldn't be surprising if they hadn't even tried at all.

In fact, what he's telling here - rather sugarcoatedly too, I think - it's that this might be little different from how Spider-Man and Wolverine were forced into the Avengers without regard for plausibility or continuity, the latter which Last must think is a problem. Ahem: it's not, it's just that when the whole comics universe is bearhugged together as they've been doing for the past decade, not allowing for any self-contained stories, that's what causes continuity to fail.

In fact, what Last fails to comprehend is that it's the very yearly events he cites that were - and still are - the problem, not detailed continuity in itself. Worse, he ignores some of the problems that are still prevalent, as if they don't matter. And at the end of his weakly written post, he says:
* At the end of the day, no matter now much I’ve complained about the New 52, the central fact is this: After three months, I’m following maybe a half-dozen DC books. In the three years prior to the relaunch, that number was a consistent zero.
Oh, so just do the kind of weak publicity stunt they pulled and all of a sudden, he's back on board, as though DiDio's and company's own continued presence is of no concern? I'm not impressed.

Update: I also see no reason to revise my opinion of Last if he's going to do something that even today, I'm still trying to refrain from: in this recent Weekly Standard article, the bulk of which can only be read via subscription, he says:
In January 1992, the [New York] Times pricked up its ears at the news that Marvel comics was unveiling the first openly gay superhero. The hero in question was Northstar, a fourth-rank Canadian crime-fighter to whom no one at the Times had previously paid any attention. Nevertheless, the paper pronounced the development “welcome news.” It wasn’t. Northstar was a lousy character before he was gay; he was lousy after.
Unless he brings up John Byrne's and Scott Lobdell's names later in the article, which I can't access, he's criticized the characters instead of how they're written, an approach I've been trying for several years now to avoid using, and if I do make that mistake, I try to correct it. If Northstar was "lousy" as he puts it, it was because Byrne, as the creator of Alpha Flight, failed to provide a decent personality for Jean-Paul Beaubier, and Lobdell wasn't making things any better with his heavy-handed "outing" of Northstar in a story where Jean-Paul kicked the hell out of Major Maple Leaf while letting him know what mindset he's got. I don't know if Last mentions it, but if there was anything worse than all the misuse of Northstar, it was probably the background shoved upon his twin sister Jeanne-Marie (Aurora), who grew up at a government-funded orphanage with an abusive nun in charge who led to her split-personality, which signaled a problem Byrne had at the time of writing up questionable depictions of women, a problem that came to a head with his rendition of Scarlet Witch in West Coast Avengers.

Main point is: if he's got a problem with how any fictional character like Northstar is depicted, he should cite the writers and editors in charge, and argue that this should be changed. I'm just as galled at how they handled that part of Alpha Flight all those years, but just saying that Northstar is a lousy character alone does not help one iota. Only an argument for better writing skills does.

Update: looks like the whole article is now accessible online, and it even includes this ambiguous bit:
Reporters were on the scene, however, when Batwoman was reinvented as a lesbian socialite. They took note when the mantle of Spider-Man was handed from Peter Parker (who was old, nerdy, and white) to Miles Morales (who was teenaged and—jackpot!—both black and Hispanic).
Curious how he doesn't mention this took place in the Ultimate line, though as of late 2012, Peter Parker was thrown out of the flagship MCU all in favor of putting Dr. Octopus into his body. Something I don't think Last took notice of, by contrast. How odd.

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It doesn't mention Lobdell or Byrne at all in the article. But yeah, I read your blog on a regular basis and agree you with in that these so-called comics fans in the mainstream media should criticize the way the characters are written, not the characters themselves.

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