Quote of the Week 12/24/10

The war was much on my mind in those days, and it was almost entirely the one being fought on movie screens and in the pulp pages of "funny books," known as comic books in other parts of the country. Both names were misleading for the kind I liked, the ones featuring costumed vigilantes who made violent swoops on spy rings and gang hideouts, with no Miranda palaver. Along with Superman and Batman, there were many others, now largely forgotten, such as Bulletman, Plastic Man, The Sandman, Doll Man (a fighting homunculus about six inches tall, in a red cape), The Human Torch, Daredevil, Blue Beetle, Captain Marvel, Captain Midnight, and Captain America. Under any name the books were quite a bargain early on, at sixty-four pages in color for a dime. Or a kind of color. The palette was limited; Superman had blue hair. I never tired of the repetitive stories or the familiar scenes that were enacted over and over again.
Charles Portis, author of True Grit, for The Atlantic in 1999.

(As an aside, the Coen Brothers True Grit came out on Wednesday and it's pretty good. Not great, much better for Jeff Bridges' acting as Rooster Cogburn, but still very good. Worth going to see, anyway, even if it won't rock your world or anything.)

Portis, probably without realizing it, has articulated precisely the problem with the Modern Age of comics. Comics readers, on the whole, never tire of those familiar scenes, the ones enacted over and over again. In fact, far from tiring of them, comics readers on the whole beg to see the same scenes reenacted repeatedly, and continuously.

Actually, I'm wrong. This is the behavior of comics fans.

I think I've mentioned before that I am ill content with the label of "fan." One of my professors never fails to remind us that "fan" is short for "fanatic," and, as much as I sometimes bristle at his insistence, he's right. I'm not a Captain America fanatic, nor an Iron Fist fanatic, nor even a comics fanatic. I like these things. It may be that I even love these things, but I am not fanatical about these things. There are no characters or stories that I love so much that they are sacrosanct, no notions, no costumes, no thing about comics that is so important to me that I would prefer to preserve it than to see it change for the sake of a good story.

There is nothing wrong with that way of looking at things. In point of fact, most readers of mainstream comics are "fans" and far be it from me to tell them that they're doing it wrong: it's just not the way that I want to do it. I would much rather see writers and artists do what they do well than see Captain America live forever.

Heed the warning that Planetary left us with a little over a year ago: there are so many places to go. Rather than keep re-reading the past, why don't we ride right on into the future?

Here's to what's interesting, ladies and gentlemen, here's to what's new.

Have a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

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