Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Short Manifesto

I'm tired of Watchmen. I'm tired of seeing it around and I'm tired of hearing people talk about it like it's the end-all-be-all of comics.

But mostly I'm tired of people trying to say that Watchmen is super-heroes "for adults" -- as though all of us reading Batman and Superman are mentally children or something.

More than anything it's this idea that has grown up in the greater culture that if you want to read something with colorful costumes it's got to be something that mocks them while it's doing it.

"Look at their stupid capes!"

That's the sentiment that seems to pervade most of popular culture. It's why newspapers can't get their facts about Batwoman in Detective right. And it's why after all these years they still start every article about comics with a "Bam" and a "Pow."

I guess this post isn't really about Watchmen. But then, I don't really have a beef with that series per se. My issue is the way the world looks at super-hero comics. The world seems willing to accept something like Watchmen because it's "adult." But it views your standard super-hero comics as though they are inherently flawed and must be changed from what they are to be made worthy for consumption.

How exactly do you reconcile this contradiction? After all, the general populace seems to like super-heroes perfectly well. The Dark Knight just broke $1 billion worldwide. But while Watchmen trade paperbacks are selling to the general population, how many sales of Batman comics did The Dark Knight bring about?

Not many, I'd imagine.

Why does it work this way? Why are people impressed when you talk about Watchmen but laugh when you talk about Aquaman? Why are "graphic novels" acceptable but "comics" for children? And why do people expect me to be ashamed that I read Action Comics monthly?

I'm not ashamed. Not even a little bit. Because despite what the big world and the creators of convetnional wisdom think, there's nothing wrong with reading super-hero comics. There's nothing wrong with reading what people deride as "corporate comics" either.

There's a reason these characters and concepts have survived in this form for so many decades. Super-hero comics are an institution. They are a form of entertainment that has survived longer than a heck of a lot of others. And just like people shouldn't be ashamed of their tastes in music or movies, there's no reason to be ashamed of one's tastes in comics.

So next time you hear people talking about comics, don't feel like you need to hide the fact that your favorite comic is Green Lantern rather than Preacher or Batman rather than Sandman. Share your love of super-heroes with the world. Don't confine it to your blog. Makes sure everybody knows that you believe a man can fly.

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At 12:19 AM, Blogger GL2814E said...


I've been feeling much the same, unfortunately I've lacked the capability to articulate myself or my love of Super Heroes.

Great Blog Diamondrock!

And oh yeah, I do believe a man can fly.

At 1:48 AM, Blogger Maverick said...

Thank you for voicing out something that has bugged me for a long time.

I'm sick and tired of people trying to act like they're experts in comic books just because they've read works by Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and Neil Gaiman. (although it's not the fault of these three writers that they attract so many "posers") I find it funny how they know the Watchmen while they don't know what a crisis event is or who is Jack Kirby.

I like super-heroes in flowing capes and who wear their underwear outside their pants while fighting mad scientists and weird aliens.

And I believe a man can fly.

At 11:17 AM, Anonymous Jeremy said...

Random note, but actually sales of certain Batman GNs have seen surge from TDK. Behind Watchmen, Batman: The Man Who Laughs, The Joker, and The Dark Knight Returns were the 2nd, 3rd, and 6th best-selling GNs this year.

At 11:18 AM, Anonymous Jeremy said...

Oh, excuse me; it was The Killing Joke that was the second biggest GN of the year, not The Man Who Laughs(which is a quality story, but not as good as the Killing Joke IMO).

At 12:03 PM, Blogger SallyP said...

Nicely said, my dear. I think that a great deal of our defensiveness when it comes to enjoying our books, is that for so long, they were derided as childish, and for a great deal of their history that was TRUE. Nowadays of course, comics are anything BUT something that a young kid picks up, but the stigma is still there. So there is the reason that we all point to Watchmen and Maus and other books to PROVE that they are well-written and have adult themes and...and stuff!

It takes a certain amount of courage to wallow in your love of super heroes.

Oh, and of course, Green Lanterns ARE the best.

At 12:26 PM, Blogger Saranga said...

Very well said. I used to be embarrassed when I mentioned that I read superhero comics, now I'm open about it. I also make a point of calling them comics, not graphic novels. People still expect me to be shamed though, and seem puzzled when I'm not.

At 1:07 PM, Blogger Baal said...

And it doesn't help Watchmen's cause with me that Alan Moore's greatest successes have come only from altering other people's ideas. Watchmen is a retooled Charlton heroes, Swamp Thing was created by Len Wein, etc, etc...

At 3:55 PM, Blogger Will Emmons said...

FYI-- I just posted this to my facebook.

I like "high brow" superhero stuff (like say All Star Superman or I would argue Final Crisis or JLA One Million) but society's collective orgasmic response to Dark Knight Returns and the Watchmen piss me off. Here's why. They are stories meant to destroy and complicate the concept. That's fine but the "low brow" fall out from that--all them grim ultraviolence of Image comics and the like--makes me wanna vom.

Give me Geoff Johns and Grant Morrion over Frank Miller and Alan Moore.

At 10:03 PM, Anonymous Spectrum Bear said...

I have mixed feelings about this.

I love superheroes. And I believe superhero stories can be enjoyed by adults - certainly as much as mystery stories, fantasy, or any other genre.

But I'm unhappy with the fact that a lot of the superhero stories we actually GET don't make sense to the thinking mind. I don't mean "don't mean sense" in the form of "a man can fly," "a women can shrink to tiny size," or even "a person puts on a costume to fight crime." These are fine with me as essential aspects of the genre.

I mean "don't make sense" in the form of gaping plot holes, wildly inconsistent characterization, and wretched lack of continuity within fictional settings. I mean "don't make sense" in the form of "Granny Goodness captures Green Arrow, then uses Everyman in a bizarre, convoluted, unlikely scheme to fake GA's death instead of just killing GA, who she has no further use for."

(Mind you, I don't want Granny Goodness to kill Green Arrow. I want the story to explain why she doesn't. In other words, I want it to make sense. And, of course, a hundred other examples could be offered up easily.)

Many writers seem to think that the fact that they're writing stories in which "a man can fly" is an excuse to write stories in which plot, characterization, and continuity don't have to be thought out. They assume the readers are used to this, and they get lazy and apathetic. And, as readers, we accept it; we don't demand anything more.

And this, I'm afraid, does create comics that are less than adult - by which I don't mean gritty, or sexualized, or cynical, but just intelligent and thought through.

I can believe a man can fly, sure. I can also believe that a magic ring can turn a hobbit invisible. But, even when I'm reading stories that have a magic ring and a hobbit in them, I still evaluate them on the basis of plot, characterization, setting, etc. And on whether the author seems genuinely interested in the story he's writing, enough to actually work out the details.

And I think that, if we really want comics that thinking people can unreservedly enjoy, we ought to apply the same standards to comic-book stories.

At 11:53 PM, Blogger Diamondrock said...

Thanks for your thoughts, everybody. I really appreciate it when y'all comment here. Makes me feel less like I'm talking to nobody. :-) Still, there are too many comments for me to respond to each in turn, and since so many of you seem to agree with me anyway, I'm just going to hit a couple beats here...

Jeremy: My apologies for making that mistake. Like I said; I wasn't sure so if the sales on Batman stories had gone up. I gathered that they hadn't. I'm pleased that I was wrong.

Spectrum Bear: I agree with you wholeheartedly. I'm not advocating that *all* super-hero stories are inherently good because they're super-hero stories. I'm only trying to hit back against those who think that all super-hero stories are inherently *bad.*

At 10:55 AM, Blogger Scipio said...

"there's no reason to be ashamed of one's tastes in comics."

Unless you read Golddigger.


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