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Friday, January 10, 2014 

Comic Book Bin thinks atrocities make the best of the 2000s

Comic Book Bin, a mostly Canadian-run website, wrote about their choices for best comics of the 2000s. But when they add Civil War and Identity Crisis to the list, that's when the whole list crashes to earth. First comes their fawning take on Civil War:
Andy: A well thought out and nuanced commentary on the War on Terror that ended with metaphoric death of the American Dream (as it was known) with the death of Steve Rogers. The dream would be reborn in the form of a new Captain America (Bucky Barnes), but the philosophical battle between Rogers and Stark would re-energize the old continuity (The Ultimate Universe was running away with the glory and attention just before Civil War).

Hervé: I included Civil War here because it was the typical company-wide crossover of the 2000s where all the resources of a publisher were used to propel one story. Both Marvel and DC Comics did it abundantly in the 2000s and before. But the main difference in the 2000s was the amount of changes and chaos that this created to the publishers’ entire lines. Instead of totally rebooting their universes or having major paradigm shifts every 20 years, in the 2000s, publishers would change everything year after year. House of M, Invasion Avengers Dissassembled were all part of that movement. However, with Civil War, it was not a story pitting the good guys versus the bad guys. It was the good guys figuring things out. Even the death of minor character with very few supporters like Black Goliath mattered. The series was a success and probably the best companywide crossover in the 2000s and ever since.
They must really enjoy saying that. Obviously, they can't be interested in good storytelling, nor do they think stories about heroes defeating villains are any good. I fully disagree that Civil War was one of the best crossovers, and find it galling how he elevates it to superstardom status. Now, here's where the latter of the pair babbles away about Identity Crisis like it were all some delicious strawberry milkshake, and makes my skin crawl:
Identity Crisis made it in this list because it changed DC Comics. Brad Meltzer’s story revived the old Bronze and Silver Age DC Comics history that had been stacked away by John Byrne after Crisis. Just like Brian Bendis over at Marvel Comics, Meltzer’s voice and tone influenced every other comics published by DC Comics since. His storytelling mannerisms were adopted by other writers like Geoff Johns and Mark Waid. Comics characters had spoken in the first person before and narrated their own stories but not to the same extent. What Meltzer exemplifies best is the death of the comic thought bubble. Inner monologue remained, but it became a lyrical self conscious part of the written elements of comics. It was no longer part of the active part of the comics, such as the speech bubble. What Meltzer did was to craft a story where the power of the writer really overpowered the artist. The relative preponderance of the writer versus the artist is a development from the 2000s that really differs from the 1990s where the artists, dominated comics storytelling. Visually, Identity Crisis was strong. Rags Morales, I have always claimed is one of the best costume designers in comics. Also, his facial expressions, while not comically engaged, like Kevin Maguire, are subtle enough to convey quite an interesting range of emotions. Identity Crisis was a caper, the likes of which reminded readers why DC Comics was originally called Detective Comics. It made sense of several characters and allowed the return and revitalization of older Silver Age characters such Barry Allen (Flash) and Hal Jordan (Green Lantern). It also told a story outside of the point of view of DC Comics’ imposed trinity of Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman. The second stringers had their last hurray in Identity Crisis.
It's not often websites specially dedicated to comic book reviews creep me out as terribly as this one did. His claim that Identity Crisis had strong visuals is a big lie. Morales, as I've concluded over the past decade, is one of the most mediocre artists in modern comics. I recall reading the Hawkman series he did with Geoff Johns (and James Robinson, who also stumbled in recent years), and in the stories where the Silver Age Atom (Ray Palmer) guest-starred, a problem turned up: the facial features looked awfully alike. Yet that's nothing compared to the stiffness in most of his art and facial expressions. And in Identity Crisis, there was a very grimy, almost revolting feeling to the art. Coupled with Morales' political opinions, I don't see why I should consider somebody that full of contempt someone to appreciate.

That aside, it's offensive how the reviewer celebrates the miniseries because it "changed" DC - and Bendis "changed" Marvel - when all it did was serve as a precursor to a lot more alienating violence and other prejudices, including - but not limited to - anti-American metaphors and reprehensible treatment of women. And how did it "revive" or "revitalize" the Silver Age or "make sense" of any cast members? That's bogus. It did nothing more than desecrate and bury it, to say nothing of make the heroes look ridiculous. But he's right that Johns and Waid did adopt some of the tactics. The former actually took up a couple before the miniseries came out, and the latter really went downhill since.

The claim the heroes - minor or otherwise - had a "hurray" in the abomination is also phony. It made virtually every superhero in the DCU out to look bad and unheroic. The Justice League was the biggest victim there. I find it telling the reviewer must have a low opinion of thought balloons too, because the increasing lack of them since 2000 and earlier has led to a lack of ability to get involved in supporting casts any more than the heroes themselves. And not surprisingly, the reviewer ignores the one-sided use of rape as a plot device in the story. What disgust.

There's also more unintelligent babble in the article about other books like Marvel's Ultimates:
Andy: The Ultimates and The Ultimate Universe by Mark Millar and various: Before Civil War re-invigorated the old Marvel U continuity, The Ultimate Universe was threatening to become THE Marvel U. Smart, adult oriented (much more edgy and adult than the host of Marvel Studio films that were directly influenced by The Ultimate Universe and the regular Marvel U continuity of the time), and highly realistic, The Ultimates mini-series not only laid the foundation for the Marvel Studios films that followed, but breathed new life into characters that were sorely losing ground to the more sophisticated takes on DC Comics' characters that were hitting the shelves, not to mention the then current downtrend in the comic book industry all together. The Ultimates were also highly influenced by the early post 9/11 years and would subtly comment on the state of world affairs that in many ways still exist today. Easily the most important comic books of the 00s, The Ultimates should also be required reading.

Zak: The single most defining event of the 2000s was 9/11, hands down, and you can see the tragedy of that Tuesday morning seep into nearly every piece of media for the next nine years. There were plenty of attempts to think about superheroes in the context of 9/11, and the fallout events like the Patriot Act, but none came close to Mark Millar and Brian Hitch’s The Ultimates. Casting the Avengers as soldiers involved in the War on Terror, Millar and Hitch made them less heroes and more soldiers. Each represented a problem with the post-9/11 America: Captain America became the unnerving problems of patriotism, Iron Man the irresponsible war profiteer, and Bruce Banner the underside of the feelings of vulnerability and inadequacy that 9/11 gave most of the Western World. The Ultimates is both brilliant and filled with gung-ho action that scares and delights in equal measure.

Hervé: In my personal list, I had pegged The Ultimates as the #2 most important comics of the 2000s. It mattered in different ways for me. The series was always late. Every new issue was an event. Many comics in the 2000s had this problem to the extent that publishers had to deal with the issue in order to stop alienating readers and protect their sales. The Ultimates had such a following that it mattered that it was late. It also mattered that it was almost a movie adaptation of what an Avengers’ movie would be like. I would argue, that it would have been a better Avengers’ movie than the one we eventually did have. In any case, it foreshadowed the Marvel cinematic universe with its military and secret agency affiliation with S.H.I.E.L.D. The comics, of course modeled its main cast on real actors, such as Samuel L. Jackson in the role of Nick Fury. The comics also showed that changing the ethnicity of a character was not such a bad thing and often can be an improvement. No one ever complained about the Wasp being Asian and by now, having Nick Fury as a black guy seems like the new normal, even in the regular 616 Avengers’ universe.
Oh, what a snoozer. One of Millar's first ideas when he wrote the series was to remake 1981's Hank-Pym-as-wife-beater story, making the Wasp out to look worse in some ways than Ant-Man. And it's not often I get such a bad aftertaste from the left-wing POVs prevalent in this propaganda. But they got the part about negative views on the Patriot Act and patriotism right, as the New Republic clarified last year. Who would've thought Millar could be so deceptive?

The part about changing ethnicities is ambiguous. Don't they mean skin color? It's not like Nick Fury became Polish or Macedonian in the Ultimate universe. And while nobody complained about Wasp becoming Asian, they did about Millar's sleazy remake of the whole Hank-Pym-as-an-abuser story.

They also list several items that almost made their top 10, such as Green Lantern, and say:
Andy: To include everything from Rebirth through Brightest Day. Johns built up the Green Lantern franchise into something to rival the expansiveness of Star Wars. He revitalized not only Hal Jordan, but all of his supporting characters of the years, including the other lanterns John Stewart, Guy Gardner, Kyle Rayner, Kilowog, and a host of others. Johns' Sinestro Corps War was DC Comics' answer to the post 9/11 commentary that was Marvel's Civil War. Brilliant stuff.
Say, I do wonder if the Sinestro gang was indeed a metaphor for the United States? Could be, and I won't be surprised if there was an anti-war bias in there somewhere. They also say something similar about Grant Morrison's The Filth:
Zak: If The Ultimates shows us 9/11 through the strange metaphorical lens of some of our most popular heroes, The Filth is the best working through of the trauma of the event. A deeply personal and bizarre work from one of comics best writers, the twelve issue series is disorientating, sensational, and the very epitome of postmodern. Grant Morrison is obviously trying to come to grips with his utopian naivety that he left off with in his final issues of The Invisibles, and comes to a similar optimism by the end. A warning, this series is difficult and definitely weird, but it’s also one of Grant Morrison’s best pieces, and certainly deserving of more recognition than it earned.
Once again, we have a case of apologists for Morrison plying their trade. The Filth was nothing more than one of Morrison's dismal allusions to drugs, and would be better off if it remained more invisible than the Invisibles were.

While we're on the subject, I discovered that the writer of this piece lost a lot of his comics collection several months ago in a flood that affected much of the Calgary region. But when he tells he had the following in his collection:
...I continued collecting from 1999 to 2012. That would include practically almost every comics of significance published while I was at the Bin, like Identity Crisis, Civil War. This huge collection gave me so much perspective on comics when writing at ComicBookBin. For example, I could trace the exact influences Mark Waid had on Geoff Johns in the Flash. I could tell how much Brian Micheal Bendis had borrowed from Roy Thomas, Mark Gruenwald and Steve Englehart. [...]
That's when he loses me altogether. How can I feel sorry for someone who still thinks those miniseries are classic extravaganzas topping all others? Sure, I'll concur that it's terrible anything from the Silver Age got lost, along with any comics that haven't been collected in paperbacks. But if his copies of Identity Crisis and Civil War were lost in the flood, I'll shed no tears, period. I cannot and will not take pity on a propagandist who's giving comics readers a bad name by upholding prejudiced, foul-smelling glop laced with the worst ideas left-wing propagandists could come up with. Maybe this is what he gets for taking the kind of beliefs he has.

And how was Johns influenced by Waid, politics aside, or Bendis by Thomas, Gruenwald and Englehart? Even today, whatever influence they had was superficial at best, and didn't respect their past writing at all. At worst, Johns and Bendis embarrassed them.

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