DeFlip Side #59: Comics Relief

DS59.mp3

Welcome everyone. I’m Christopher DeFilippis and this is DeFlip Side.

We’ve all heard Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. By this reckoning, comic book fans are quite certainly insane.

Week after week, month in, month out, we file into our comic shops and pick up our books and, for the most part, lament at how terrible they are. Either the writing sucks or the art sucks or both. Yet we keep coming back. Well I say no more. I choose to stop the insanity. I’m done with comics.

My decision comes with the culmination of DC’s mega-long, mega-pointless and mega-disappointing Infinite Crisis storyline, in which the publisher proved that it has no real interest in cultivating and retaining new readers. Instead the industry seems obsessed with gnawing endlessly on the bones of its own Golden and Silver Ages in order to appeal to readers who have succumb to what I like to call Stepford Fanboy Syndrome.

These are the comic book buyers most cherished by comic book publishers: the long-time collectors (often life-long) for whom the most important thing about collecting comics has become the act of collecting itself, and ensuring that they maintain a complete collection. Story and character, while still important, are nonetheless secondary concerns in the face of things like print runs and issue numbers and variant covers. These are the guys you see dropping a hundred bucks a week on stacks and stacks of books that they haven’t read in years. And when they do read them, it’s chiefly for fodder that will enable them to bitch about continuity errors and how much better things were in the good old days when Superman fought the Nazis and streetcar fares were only a nickel. But still they buy the books, mainly because they’ve always bought these books, and it has become unthinkable not to.

It may sound like gravy, but it puts DC and other publishers in an untenable position, because whenever they try something new, they open themselves up to the incessant and vitriolic whining of the Stepford readers. And then they overcompensate with universe-shattering sagas like Infinite Crisis, which will leave relatively new readers like me cold because I don’t have fifty years of DC Universe minutia floating around in my head to help me sort it all out.

But the real problem with comics is their cyclical nature, which all but guarantees disappointment in the long run. My experiences with Green Lantern serve as the perfect case in point.

I started reading the book on a whim shortly after the demise of Silver Age Green Lantern Hal Jordan, and the introduction of Kyle Rayner by writer Ron Marz and artist Darryl Banks. Having almost no comics background, I had no Hal Jordan bias to color my view of Kyle as Green Lantern, and I found myself building a genuine affinity for the character.

Once the Judd Winick/Dale Eaglesham run of the book began, there was no looking back. I loved everything about it. Eaglesham’s art was beautiful, and Winick really took Kyle out of his rookie phase and made him into a hero in his own right. Not only that, but he was asking the all the same questions that I was about the nature and potential extent of the Green Lantern’s powers.

All of this culminated with Kyle transforming himself into a new and nearly omnipotent superhero named Ion. But he eventually gave up most of this power to revive the Green Lantern Corps. The caliber of the book was an unexpected and terrific surprise to the fledgling comics reader I was then, and it showed me that comics, when done right, could be as satisfying as a novel.

But then something terrible happened. DC, mostly because of the Stepford fan contingent, decided that it wanted to bring back Hal Jordan. And so began the demise of not only Green Lantern, but my faith in comics. Winick and Eaglesham were off the book, and the quality plunged. DC drove the final nail in the coffin by bringing Ron Marz back to write Kyle’s final issues.

It seemed like a nice idea, ending Kyle’s run with the writer who had created him. The only problem was that Marz had apparently never read any of Winick’s stories. So he was once again writing Kyle as if he were a rookie with no confidence in his powers. It was like a slap in the face and I suddenly had an inkling of how Hal Jordan fans must have felt when they pushed Hal out to make room for Kyle.

This is just the most prominent example of my disillusionment with comics. It happened in varying degrees with other titles like JLA and The Flash, and other characters I like such as Plastic Man and Blue Beetle. And it doesn’t end with DC Comics.

I was also a huge fan of many books launched by CrossGen Publishing a few years ago, which featured superior writing and art. But CrossGen failed nonetheless, helping support my theory that the hardcore comics community does not want anything new. Why would they when they could be reading yet another Batman title? I think DC is currently up to something like 11 bat books. If that doesn’t say it all, I don’t know what does.

Incidentally, DC has brought the Kyle Rayner character back as Ion in a 12-issue mini-series that will most likely mark the end of the character. While I have it on good authority that they don’t kill him, it is nonetheless a denouement for Kyle, which they’ve all but written off now that Hal is back as the Emerald Warrior. The Ion series is only three issues in, but the writing is iffy and the art sucks.

The saddest part is that I just can’t manage to care any longer. The only constant I’ve come to know in my limited comic book experiences is that in the end, it all turns to crap. And I’m no longer content to sit around and buy and buy and wait for it to get better, because therein lies the path toward Stepford Fanboy thralldom. And there are just too many good things I could be reading instead.

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