In which the blogger continues his review of 2011, which was begun here and continued here. There's a brief recap of how the "best" and "worst" were chosen at the bottom of this page;
4. Problem The Fourth:- The Lack Of A Deliberate Ethical Purpose
There's no escaping politics. Pretending that they don't exist certainly doesn't work. Creators who might be concerned with nothing but the Sturm und Drang of a linewide event's flagship title can so easily end up producing a comic in which the sole character of colour speaks just the once, and then only from the background of a single panel. It happened this year, and it'll probably happen next year too. Audiences are alienated, prejudices perpetuated, storytelling opportunities unwittingly ignored. Even if a creator wants nothing at all to do with all that distasteful business of taking a stand, they're probably going to end up doing so anyway. Concentrating on nothing but the broadest and least contentious of ethical traditions can't prevent an unwary creator's work from unintentionally transmitting a mass of assumptions and opinions. And the presence of a cast of predominantly white, straight, classless blokes acting out the thinnest of themes - might makes right, bravery redeems sinners - can't protect a creator from the pitfalls of the political. Of course it can't. Who could possibly imagine that it could? After all, there's little more political than the portrayal of a world that's little else but white, male and straight. What about everybody else? Where are they all, and why aren't they good enough to join the club?
We know this. Of course we know this. And yet, it seems, we somehow don't.
In that, it's not, as has been suggested, the purposeful politics of a Chuck Dixon or a Frank Miller, of a Peter David or a Neil Gaiman or an Alan Moore, which undermines the appeal of the superhero comicbook with that apparently unnecessary thinking. Instead, it's the lack of purpose and urgency and feeling which regularly marks the sub-genre's too often ethically-apathetic pages. The very presence of a creator who's determined to explore a specific political agenda, no matter what it might be, charges the pages of the work and encourages open and robust challenges too. Yet the superhero comic is mired, for example, in product created by avowed liberals who continually - and apparently unknowingly - reinforce the Tea Party line in their stories, constantly presenting government as perpetually inept and hostile, while virtue stands revealed as a hardy non-conformist hero ready to take on any authority which challenges his own out-of-my-dead-hands values. Humanists who revel in cheesecake, equal opportunity supporters who rarely present a person of anything other than a whitebread, malestream background; it's not just that comics are so much duller for their lack of real-world engagement, it's also that they're constantly transmitting messages which their creators claim to abhor. Yes, attempting to control how any story might possibly be interpreted is an inevitably quixotic business. Yet it would at least be a process that was far more likely to result in distinct and interesting stories and debates than is the industry's perpetual drifting into thoughlessness and blandly reactionary thinking.
Few creators in the industry over this past year worked to so skillfully - so touchingly - shape the values represented in their work as did (7) Gail Simone, with her collaborators Jim Calafiore and Marcos Marz, on Secret Six, and (8) Keiron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie in Generation Hope # 9. Refusing to take the shortcuts and the cheap effects offered by the gross-oversimplifications of what was once known as comicbook relevancy, they framed their ethical debates in compelling and entertaining dramas which could captivate the least politically engaged of readers. Theirs was the tradition of storytelling informed by moral debate rather than that of the outraged polemic delivered from the pulpit on-high. As such, their work stands as examples of a damn-good-time-guaranteed-for-all which also serves to raise a series of fiercely-felt ethical debates too.
I almost hesitate to nominate Gail Simone as an outstanding example of a writer who knows exactly how to shape the values of her work without ever diminishing its dramatic potential. Because such is the paucity of her competition in the matter of delivering books which are as thoughtful and principled as they're kinetic and suspenseful, that her skills as an excellent writer of action/adventure stories are often unfairly ignored. It's easy to wonder, and with not a little anger too, whether she would have been so commonly, and so often unkindly, pigeonholed as a political writer by certain sections of the readership if she'd not been both a woman and such a formidable humanist. Yet her achievement with Secret Six is surely one of the most remarkable in the history of the superhero book. With a cast mostly composed of barely third-string draws, a premise guaranteed to have the project labelled 'niche' by more reactionary fanboys, and an absolute commitment to principle matched to a keenly-felt responsibility to entertain, Simone achieved the unlikely success of not just keeping Secret Six alive, but of ensuring its lasting popularity and merit too.
No other comicbook has ever focused more on those caught not just on the periphery of what society regards as acceptable, but of what it considers to be human too. Without ever turning her cast of disordered and opportunistic criminals into palid and comfortably amusing anti-heroes, Simone and her many artistic compatriots constantly pushed the boundaries of how the super-person book engaged with issues of difference and deviance, of compassion and psychoticism, of community and self-interest. That they succeeded in doing all of that while regularly producing stories which were so touching and indeed hilarious only marks out how untypical and beguiling the comic was. (Anti-social personality disorders have rarely been as funny, or as bleakly tragic either.) Secret Six was the book where folks who wanted to think and feel as well as be surprised and excited turned up every month, and the quality of Ms Simone's scripts remained uniformly high until the book's final issue in the late summer of this year. That Secret Six was cancelled to free up a berth for what was so often far lesser fare in the New 52 is one of the comicbook shames of the year.
In the end, Ms Simone succeeded in in presenting the book's audience with a cast of characters who were patently unwell, often untrustworthy, regularly unpredictable, and catastrophically dangerous, and yet she managed to make us care for them too. As if they weren't the dregs of another entirely different and utterly inferior species, but rather, the shadows and shades of what we might all have been, had we arrived at the wrong place and the wrong time, and made most if not all of the wrong decisions. Not so much the Other as ourselves.
Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie's "Zeeshan", from Generation Hope # 1, is a perfect little magic bullet of a tale, targetting the twin issues of homophobia and atomisation without ever allowing the narrative drive of events to be either slowed or diminished by self-indulgence or worthiness. It's an exceedingly angry comicbook, and yet its creators have made sure that their story's unmarked by vengeancefulness or a dehumanising contempt for its cast of torturers and bystanders. Similarly, it's the saddest of tales, and yet the emotion of the piece is constrained with such an effective delicacy that there's no need for the superheroic tropes of uncontrollable tears, fists shaking at the sky, or bowed silhouettes gathered around an open graveside as the rains fall. Indeed, it's notable that there's no attempt at all by Gillen and McKelvie to do anything more than identify the barest bones of the issues that Zeeshan is so concerned with.
A twenty page comic is no place, Mr Gillen knows, to attempt to dissect the contemporary and entirely regrettable phenomena of young gay suicides. Instead, the pages of Generation Hope # 9 are put to use to discuss in the most unsensationalist way possible a process of labelling, dehumanisation, social alienation, persecution, and despair, so that a tale concerned with one specific example of bigotry can stand as an example which speaks for a range of similar and equally despicable social problems. It's a comic in which the good supergals and guys arrive too late, and in which the society they've raced to save from disorder is revealed to be so fractured and rudderless that no easy, heroic solution can be brought to bear.
Matched with the restraint, compassion and decency of Gillen's script is the beautifully compassionate artwork of Jamie McKelvie, in which not a line is wasted on anything other than the emotional truths of the situation. His characters are to a degree idealised, but never objectified, and they all could, to a lesser or greater degree, be folks who might be found standing before us in a check-out queue or sitting beside us on the bus. In placing his characters, whether they're superheroes or not, into an immediately prosaic and everyday world, McKelvie ensures that we're never distracted by the great flying super-jets or the rescue team of super-people.In fact, the contradiction between the mutant's power and their inability to help poor Zeeshan serves to intensify the sense of loss and helplessness which saturates the first three-quarters of the tale. In the end, Generation Hope # 9 was a despairing and yet pragmatically hopeful story of a society in which some folk's lives simply aren't considered to be all important at all, and of how the solution to any such an anomic moral universe can't ever be found in the physical release of revenge.
That it was Wolverine himself who was called upon to deliver the book's closing message of restraint and respect only made the compassion and cleverness of Zeeshan all the more admirable.
TooBusyThinking Offers Its Sincere Thanks To The Following Creators For Their Having Made 2011 A Better Place To Live In;
in no order of preference, since all involved are entirely splendid;
(1) Robbie Morrison & Simon Fraser for Nikolai Dante: Bad Blood (2000ad # 1732-1736)
(2) Roger Langride & Chris Samnee for Thor The Mighty Avenger
(3) Rob Williams & D'Israeli for Low Life: The Deal (2000ad #1750-1761)
(4) Damon Lindelof & Ryan Sook for Life Support (Action Comics # 900)
(5) Mark Waid & Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin for Daredevil
(6) Paul Cornell & Jimmy Broxton for Knight And Squire
(7) Gail Simone, Jim Calafiore & Marcos Marz for Secret Six
(8) Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie for Generation Hope # 9
Numbers 9 to 13 - or is it actually 14? - are, of course, still to come, as well as the last 4 - boo - problems ...
A Brief Recap Of What's Going On Here
If you've not read either of the first two parts of this piece - and why should you? - then here's a quick recap of how this
best-and-worst-of-2011 has been put together;
"I've tried to make what follows a relatively brief summary of a year's
worth of blogging. There's 8 sections to come, each of which in turn
deals with a series of problems which seem to be commonly afflicting
most of today's comics. At the end of each section, I've mentioned one
or more of my favourite comics from the past twelve months, each a
notable and much-appreciated exception to whatever rule it is that I'm
trying to establish. Most of the comics which I mention favourably could
have been used to contradict any of the general criticisms I've made,
and I've shared them around more with a desire to break up the moaning
than to suggest that each of them is characterised by just a single and
specific virtue. Nothing could be further from my mind."