In which the blogger concludes his review of 2011, which was begun here, and continued here and here and here and even here. For anyone just popping in by chance, there's a brief recap of how the "best" and "worst" were chosen at the bottom of this page;
7. Problem The Seventh:- The Absence of Density, or What Value For Money?
Time and time again, we run into problems so obvious and so serious that it seems quite literally impossible that they're being largely ignored by the mainstream super-person book. Of these, perhaps the most inexplicable and suicidally harmful is the industry's inability to grasp what might pass for value for money. If there's one quality which characterises all of the comics which have been mentioned so far in this review of 2011, it's the presence of a density of story which rewards the reader's faith rather than seeming to snigger at their gullibility. Nothing - nothing - threatens the fantastical comicbook more than the fact that it's typically such a thin, shallow, and fundamentally stupid product. It's far too ofen a cheat, a con-job, a betrayal not just of the reader, but of the tradition of the Pop super-book itself. With almost three-quarters of a century's worth of comics having gone to press since Action Comics # 1, everybody involved should know what excellence is and how to aspire to achieve it. These things are not, if I might be excused the archaism, rocket science, and yet so many of 2011's comics managed to achieve, after the example of Spinal Tap, such a "selective appeal" that the industry as a whole deserves to share its very own Darwin Award. There are diamonds in the garbage, as Jim Starlin once had his Warlock declare in a damning comment on Marvel's late Seventies output, but it's the overwhelming mass of that garbage and not the few sparkling exceptions sprinkled throughout it which will sink the sub-genre as anything other than raw material for the likes of movies, games, and - presumably - ironic adult underwear.
It is, of course, perfectly possible to produce a densely rewarding comic in the "very-widescreen" tradition so apparently beloved of today's industry. Only an idiot would suggest anything else. But having largely moved from deconstructed to devolved - we are Devo - the Big Two appear, to a lesser or greater degree, to have largely abandoned the dream of breaking out into broader markets and appealing to less, shall we say, specialist audiences. And yet, despite the fact that it's plainly obvious that it's possible to make a very good living as a creator of restricted ambition if not ability in the modern day biz, there keep appearing these strangely stubborn and principled individuals who are apparently unable to convince themselves that a few "shocking" moments and a great deal of little else at all constitutes a story.
I'd love to be able discuss the point with reference to (13) Al Ewing and John Higgins's Judge Dredd: Choose Your Own Christmas, but it's a story that's so cleverly, so densely, constructed that I fear I'd only thoroughly spoil its pleasures. By that, I don't mean to suggest that it's a tale which relies upon a sub-O Henry twist, for it's a far more smart and complicated business than that. Framed in the form of a choose your own adventure tale, and concluding with one of those wonderful Ewing final panels which absolutely nails the political theme of what's gone before, it's an example of a story which doesn't just reward, but absolutely demand, a second and third reading. The polar opposite of the showy, thin egotism of a typical LOOK-AT-ME! Event Book, Choose Your Own Christmas carries more plot and story in its pages than many a "special" issue several times its length. Indeed, so focused and unshowy and effective is John Higgins's artwork that the reader might not notice until after the stories done quite how complex and bleak the tale has been
And I'd love to explain that point too, but if I start pulling at one thread of this story, it'll all unravel.
There's no better example of the value of density that (14) J. H. Williams and W. Haden Blackman's Batwoman. I've little time for the Batoverse these days, and I'm not going to pretend that the Batwoman's plots are, beyond their tender and admirable refusal to play to the homophobic gallery, particularly noteworthy. Yet the book is alive with imagination and aspiration, and it's proof that a comic's art can add such value to a perfectly serviceable script that even the uncommitted can't avoid being beguiled. The comic is so rich and sensuous a visual experience that it's impossible not to return to its pages for their own sake even after the various virtues of the story have been worked through. To be so experimental and yet so absolutely clear, to be so daring and yet always so very emotionally involving; Mr Williams's work simultaneously occupies two supposedly incompatible forms, the "art" and the "commercial" book, and it's so successful in both than my own tastes quite dissolve before it. To be able to annexe readers who are broadly unsympathetic to the material at hand, to turn doubters in proselytisers through sheer excellence; there really is something of the super-person Holy Grail about Batwoman.
8. Problem The Eighth And Last:- The Lack Of Purposeful Hybrisation
One of things that has tended to be overlooked where (15) Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: 1969 is concerned is that it's quite obviously a super-person book. It doesn't matter how ironic, how playful, the book is where the fantastical is concerned, it's still focused on its surface with little but supernaturally able individuals making their way in a patently absurd world. Anyone who'd argue that the fantastical comicbook can't break out into mainstream audiences clearly hasn't been paying attention to the commercial as well as the artistic success of the League, which has been selling in its truckloads as individual chapters and which will be matching and improving on that when it's finally completed and collected. The high summer of the mid-Eighties wasn't the only break-out moment for the super-person sub-genre, although far too many folks are willing to believe that it was. 2011 was as good as any.
The super-person book is, as we've discussed over the past twelve months, a fragile and often impenetrable sub-genre unlikely to win over a mainstream audience if presented in the terms of nothing but its own traditions. Yet so many of the most ambitious of mainstream comics endeavours are concerned with little but the business of cape'n'chest-insignia meta, clever, knowledgeable and ambitious, and yet, inevitably, uninteresting to all but the already profoundly converted. At best, the fantastical comicbook tends to opt for the most obvious of genre fusions in order to expand its concerns and its achievements; the futuristic or supernatural western, the SiFi war story, and so on. But 1969 is so impossibly ambitious in its mash-up of a host of inspirations that it leaves most if not quite all of its challengers standing in the also-ran lane. There are undoubtedly learned treaties being written at this very moment which seek to describe in analistic detail all of the complexities of the hybridisation process which underlies 1969's narrative structure. But the comic's glory lies in significant part in the fact that nobody need know anything of the backstory and genre and inter-textuality of it all to thoroughly enjoy the book, although the pleasures of noting those very aspects are undoubtedly considerable.
There are times when I think that we've learnt to take Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's tale-telling almost for granted. Another year or so, another comicbook of distinction, ho-hum. Yet, as with all the comics which I've tried to discuss in these best-of features, their achievement is such that, one day, we'll all turn to a friend and reminisce about the comics wonderland of 2011, when work as fine as 1969 appeared on the shelves and its exceptional quality was so predictable that no-one walked before its creators in the streets scattering rose petals and humming hymns of gratitude.
And we'll probably feel that twisting ache of nostalgia and pontificate on the matter of the comics of the distant future, and of how they're just not as good as they used to be ...
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's Nikolai Dante: Bad Blood (2000ad # 1732-1736)
(2) Roger Langride & Chris Samnee's Thor The Mighty Avenger
(3) Rob Williams & D'Israeli's Low Life: The Deal (2000ad #1750-1761)
(4) Damon Lindelof & Ryan Sook's Life Support (Action Comics # 900)
(5) Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera & Marcos Martin's Daredevil
(6) Paul Cornell & Jimmy Broxton's Knight And Squire
(7) Gail Simone, Jim Calafiore & Marcos Marz's Secret Six
(8) Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie's Generation Hope # 9
(9) Al Ewing & Leigh Gallagher's Judge Dredd:The Family Man (Judge Dredd Megazine # 312/3)
(10) Kieron Gillen & Richard Elson's Journey Into Mystery # 630
(11) Warren Ellis, Jamie McKelvie & Kev Walker's Secret Avengers # 16/17
(12) Gail Simone & Horacio Domingues's Welcome To Tranquility: One Foot In The Grave
(13) Al Ewing & John Higgins's Judge Dredd: Choose Your Own Christmas (2000ad Prog 2012)
(14) J. H. Williams and W. Haden Blackman's Batwoman
(15) Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: 1969
For what little it's worth; THANK YOU!
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."