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Saturday, December 16, 2023 

411Mania's awkward takes on Dark Knight Returns, and One More Day

Some writers at 411Mania did a debate on what they think of some past stories that were either significant or notorious. The answers given are awkward, though they do seem to realize some of what's wrong, if we consider that they categorize their commentary as either "fact", or "fiction". For example, around the beginning, it's noted:
These days we hear all sorts of rumors of why or why not comics sell. We could debate that till our dying breath but you can’t beat the fundamentals of story and art over big names on the cover of big titles.

Rob Stewart: FICTION – Would they sell MORE comics? Probably. But not substantially more, so I have to go FICTION here. The problem with comics is that anything and everything the Big Two do to increase sales only works as a short-term boon. So you would see relative increases for an issue or two, but after that, things would level back off. There is a pool of people who read comic books, and the entire industry to trying to go after that same pool. The layperson doesn’t care if Mark Waid is writing Amazing Spider-Man or Robert Kirkman is writing Wolverine. There are no new readers these days; not the way the industry is currently set up.

But as of now, no. Getting “big name” creators (being a big name comic creator is like being the sharpest spoon) on the biggest titles would only cannibalize the business as the existing readers move their money around from other books or, at absolute best, shell out another $5 per issue for a book for a bit. But it’s not bringing in enough new readers or selling enough books to really make a dent in the industry’s problems. Or else Hickman’s X-Men would have saved us all.
On this, some people just might care if Waid's the one writing, based on his recent boomerang back to making a scene of himself, and attacking Mark Millar because he sided with an aforementioned Massachussettes retailer who took issue with what the industry ruined itself with. We could also point out that loss of continuity coherence and self-contained storytelling to the mess that is universe-spanning crossovers is another reason for the Big Two's downfall. Waid's clearly an apologist for all this, and coupled with his increasingly arrogant attitude, why should anybody want to read a new comic with his name on it at this point? It's a shame, however, that there's still industrialists who'd work with Waid regardless of how damaging his behaviour is, even if it doesn't bring them long run sales anymore.

Now, here's what 411 says about Dark Knight Returns, which could easily be regarded as one of the most overrated comics by modern standards, though the real issue is how practically the whole industry used it as an excuse to darken the rest of their own content, without any consideration whether it'd hurt them in the long run:
Steve Gustafson: FICTION – The Dark Knight Returns is an absolute game changer when it comes to Batman and comic books. It opened the doors for new stories and injected new life and scope to the Batman character. At this point, Batman can work in any type of setting you put him in. Horror? Easy. Space adventure? Not a problem. Western? Get his Bat-lasso. The Dark Knight Returns really opened the gate for how Batman stories can be told. That being said, I’ll split the difference. While I can get behind The Dark Knight Returns being the best Batman book of all time, I can’t give it the nod for best comic book story ever. In fact, depending on what day you ask, I can make an argument for Year One getting the title of best Batman book but those top two spots are pretty close together.

Best comic book story though? Definitely Top 5. From Watchmen and Sandman to Kingdom Come and Marvels, I’d have to sit down and think long and hard on who would wear the crown for best comic book story ever. But it’s a fun list to debate!

Rob Stewart: FICTION – I can only answer this subjectively, but even OBJECTIVELY, I can’t imagine putting DKR over Watchmen or Maus on the Best Comic Story Ever front.

So for me, I absolutely don’t see it as the best story across the genre based on what I just said about those other two books. But if we limited it to JUST Batman? I personally prefer The Long Halloween and Year One. Long Halloween has a more fun, mystery-based story and better art. I’m not knocking Klaus Janson’s art; I just LOVE Tim Sale’s. Year One is a more grounded and relatable story that I think gets less bogged down in a weird Superman grudge match and mud-wrestling mutants. Again, those are both my own takes.

If you told me that YOU think DKR is the greatest Bat book ever, that’s great! Good for you, and I’m glad you like it! I’d never argue that you shouldn’t believe that. But for me, The Long Halloween is my go-to “You don’t think you’d like superhero comics? Read THIS” book. It’s worked on that front before!
I would note that I wouldn't put Watchmen over Maus either, because it wasn't all that different from DKR in terms of what Alan Moore set out to do. As for putting Batman in just about any setting, well gee, didn't that happen in the pre-Crisis era already? That is, there were sci-fi backdrops put to use in Brave and the Bold, when it became a team-up title for Batman and fill-in-the-blank in 1967, and I think there was a story or two where the Caped Crusader would appear in a western-style setting. But oddly enough, this kind of approach was less emphasized post-Crisis, as the writers seem to focus more on the urban settings the Masked Manhunter was mainly known for, and I can't recall any stories during the 1990s where Bruce Wayne travelled into parallel universes with flying saucers in the air. There may have continued to be a sense of humor put to use even then, yet if we consider another problem within that time frame, it's that nobody then wanted to do a Bat-tale emphasizing serious comedy. Apparently, the tongue-in-cheek tone of the Silver Age was too much for them. So what're they getting at? Denny O'Neil and Steve Englehart's takes on Batman from the 1970s weren't good enough? That's what these arguments seem to be saying, and obscuring what came before does nothing to improve where we've gotten since.

Next, here's what 411's contributors say about Spider-Man's One More/Brand New Day, and the embarrassment it's built up ever since. While they do seem to recognize the problems resulting from Joe Quesada's editorial mandates, something that's very objectionable turns up, and it's not the part about aging or lack thereof, though that too is petty:
Rob Stewart: FICTION – There are two things about modern cape books I hate: Status Quo Is God, and the idea that the characters must be stuck in time forever and never age. So for me, this is massive FICTION. I hate that Peter has been 30 for the last 40 years; it doesn’t make any sende. He has stories about The War On Drugs, 9/11, and the Obama Presidency, and he somehow didn’t age through any of them. What sense does that make? There are multiple other “legacy” Spider heroes out there, but Peter is barely old enough to have created a legacy! It makes the book hard to wrap your head around every time they mention real-world goings-on.

And from that, we have the asinine idea that he also must be a swingin’ bachelor, or else he won’t be relatable. Hogwash! Most comic fans are middle aged; many of them are married and/or have kids of their own. The trials and tribulations of an aging, married, fatherhood Spider-Man is as relatable to the people buying comics as anything else. Also, it makes it more reasonable why there would be legacy characters out there. Let Peter get married and spend time with his family, damn it!

But let’s not ignore the biggest problem: since dissolving the marriage, the Spider-books STILL can’t stop spending time focusing on Peter and MJ. Instead of their marriage, we’ve basically just gotten fifteen-to-twenty years of “Will They / Won’t They Get Back Together” with the two of them, and it’s been beyond tedious. I’m at the point where if they just killed MJ and promised never to bring her back, I’d be 100% on board, because I just don’t have the bandwidth to care about her as a character to anymore. She’s been dragged through the mud, character assassinated, and turned into a shrew just to keep up what Brand New Day wrought. This used to be the arguably the single most powerful female character (not powers-wise, but strength-of-character wise) in all of comics. Now she sucks, and I’m tired of seeing her.

Thanks, Brand New Day!
Ugh! What's the big idea here? Not only are they condoning one of the most offensive cliches that became a sad staple of mainstream superhero fare for many years, what the guy's telling he'd be okay with would NOT solve the problem either, period. All killing MJ would do is make Spider-fans even angrier, with very valid reason. (And to say fictional MJ "sucks" rather than the script and characterization once more obscures the logical issues.) At least the other debater avoids that egregious error, though even this isn't satisfying:
Steve Gustafson: FICTION – Sorry, while I’ve kept tabs on the adventures of Spider-Man over the years, I can point to the status quo-altering “One More Day” storyline as the start of my disinterest in the character. Along those lines, Brand New Day sticks out, to me, as a misfire in the Spidey legacy. It doesn’t read well as a Peter Parker/Spider-Man story and derailed the Spider-Man character a little bit. Full disclosure, I get the “why” of doing it but it was such a jarring twist, that I didn’t stick around to appreciate all the details. Now the Spidey Universe is a convoluted roller coaster that has hits and misses, completely moving away from the simple origins of the character. Seriously, how many Spider variants do we have these days? That’s what you get when you’re dealing with a character created in 1962. But sometimes more isn’t better. Back to the question, while Spider-Man has overcome One More Day, my gut says it drove a number of fans away who’ve never come back. While Brand New Day was the “fix”, I don’t think the execution matched the intent.
Sorry, but Spidey has not overcome One More Day, or even Brand New Day, for that matter. After all, shortly after a brief reunion between Peter and MJ, they boomeranged back on the whole will-they-or-won't-they frustration, dangling the carrot ad nauseum, and no matter how poor sales become, they won't undo One More Day, and even if they do, far-leftist ideologies could still litter Spidey's world to such a degree nobody sensible will want to read it anyway. It's a sad situation that can only be fixed if Marvel were under a different ownership with more responsibility.

As for aging, gee, I guess it was wrong for the Peanuts gang to stay little kids too, huh? No doubt, somebody who can't appreciate the surreal side of the MCU wrote such a trivial complaint. Considering Stan Lee obviously didn't have an issue with his creations aging little to none, this puts the 411 columnist's fandom under a question mark. Besides, he's clearly oblivious to how politicized the 9-11 issue of Spidey was under J. Michael Straczynski's pen, and doesn't seem dismayed it was written through special mandate by Quesada. Much as the cashing-in on Obama's election in the pages of Spidey was too.

Someday, some people will see just how unnecessary all these politicized stories truly were, ditto DKR. Though of course, I realize it wasn't truly DKR that ruined Batman, but rather, busloads of self-important editors who took advantage of Miller's miniseries to justify their mandates in the 1990s, and what if it turns out sales for DKR weren't as sky high as they'd like us all to believe? One more reason why the most gruesome directions that came after Miller's mini were unnecessary.

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