I’m not going to get to super-villains yet. Matter of fact, I haven’t gone to my comic book stacks to go and find any particular villains; although it would be kind of pointless to do so, since the vast majority of my comic books come from a very dark era in Marvel Comics’ history, and I don’t mean ‘dark’ in a Frank Miller kind of way.
I’ve been reading a fair number of these comic books in the past couple of weeks, and I realized –damn- I had really bad taste in reading material back then. Just two days ago, I was reading an issue of Uncanny X-Men, which featured the first appearance of (the bane of my comic book existence) Gambit. Now, what the fuck a Cajun was doing in Cairo, Illinois is completely beyond me, but all the fanboys instantly fell madly in love with him, thus leading the lot to question their own sexuality. I think the artists realized this and tried to swing these fanboys back into the realm of heterosexuality by increasing the breast-size of all of the superheroines by at least two cup sizes, or maybe the artists had simply never seen a naked woman outside of a strip-club, which isn’t the best place to get an idea for the female form.
But I digress. Actually, that’s a good jumping-off point: Right around the era of Uncanny X-Men number… 267 or so and New Mutants #87, you had these new artists (actually, Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld, respectively, though not respectfully) who drew with a new kind of style that was completely unseen before. It was like an offshoot of the kind of style guys like Todd McFarlane and Erik Larsen brought to the Spider-Man books, but these guys brought it to the mutant-books, which was what I primarily read. So, it was a new kind of artwork, and I was like, “Wow, I’ll read anything as long as these guys draw it!” Well, what ended up happening was the artists ended up taking up primary roles in plotting the direction of the comic books, seemingly so they could create their own characters and use them willy-nilly. This, everyone, is how Cable got invented.
So, over the next couple of years, these guys basically drove perfectly good franchises into the ground by coming up with silly plot ideas that had to be extended upon by the following authors, if solely for the sake of continuity. Great, thanks to you, Rob Liefeld, now Cannonball is an immortal. No, wait, he’s an “External,” which I think is the silliest fucking name in the history of silly comic book names. “Externals” is the Pussy Galore of comic book names. I mean, “External” is already a fucking word that means, “On the outside of,” but I guess dumbass Liefeld decided that if you add an X to any word, it’s just a given that it has something to do with mutants. This managed to confuse the shit out of me about a year later when the X-Games premiered and I’m like, “What the fuck does snowboarding have to do with mutants?”
By the way, can I just say this: Anyone who abbreviates the word Extreme down to the letter X should be shot. X is for Xylophone. Always has been, always will be. Extreme starts with an E, folks.
So then these artists who seemingly had the power to triple the sales of their books at Marvel… well, they all jumped ship and started their own comic book company, Image, and created some truly horrible comics. Okay, actually, I’m leaving McFarlane and Larsen out of that group, because Spawn and the Savage Dragon (respectively and respectfully) are pretty good books. But Liefeld started out with a book called Youngblood, which was about a group of superheroes with really tiny feet, tiny heads and shoulders that were about eight feet wide. Might I add that the book sucked ass. Then he created books like Brigade and Bloodstrike, which were drawn by guys who draw exactly like Liefeld, and the books sucked ass. And then there was Prophet. And it sucked. Jim Lee, to my recollection, only did one book called WildC.A.T.S., which was an abbreviation for something I’ve completely forgotten, but it simply wouldn’t have been cool if there wasn’t an abbreviation to explain why these people were doing what they did, even if it didn’t explain why the book was really pretty, but the plot blew.
Ugly women were not allowed in the Image universe. In fact, average women were barred from it, too. The only women allowed in Image comic books were C-cup or better and had to have a fan the size of my house blowing on them, so as to make their long, amazingly-conditioned hair do interesting things. That’s right, these were the years of the Marvel Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and the Image Swimsuit Spectacular: The perfect thing for fanboys to look at and get completely and totally depressed by what they’ll find in the real world when they finally crawl out of their caves and into the post-adolescent light of day.
And reading these comics really made me realize, “Fuck, did I have bad taste,” back then. I should’ve been reading Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” or anything I could get my hands on by Frank Miller. Or Matt Wagner’s “Mage,” or any number of other books where the writing was significantly more important than the pencils. To equate it to movies, I’m ashamed that there was an era where I’d go see a movie because it was directed by Michael Bay, rather than going to see a movie that was written by Scott Frank or Lawrence Kasdan (the movie Dreamcatcher, notwithstanding). As close as I actually got to good writing was Captain America, because the late Mark Gruenwald wrote it to expose its readers to some of society’s ills, and I don’t specifically mean the ones that wear colorful tights and rob banks. The six-issue Streets of Poison series of Captain America raised some good points about drug-use and actually got Captain America to dump the Super Soldier Serum for good. It was a funny exchange that made him do it, too, as he was berating one of the Avengers’ staff for taking drugs, and the staff member retorted, “What do you think the Super Soldier Serum is? Kool-Aid?”
It was funny at the time, anyway.
So, coming back to comic books ten years later, it’s kind of a culture-shock, and I want to read some good books, but I don’t know where to start. Actually, I do, but I’ll save that for a moment from now. The nice thing about comics these days is that the female form seems to be getting back to a more normal proportion, since I don’t think the fanboys should be set up for such an enormous disappointment forty years from now when they finally get it together enough to talk to an actual woman who doesn’t charge sixty-nine cents a minute for the privilege of talking to her. Second, the writers are finally getting top-billing and top-recognition. Granted, there’s still one or two artists out there that I’d pick up a book just because of their art (Alex Ross, for example), but it seems like the books have gotten more mature on an across-the-board kind of level. In the early Nineties, the comic books were –except for the sexually suggestive artwork- generally the same as they had been in the Eighties. Today, they read like… well, they read like today, and I love it.
So, what I’ve gotten over the course of the last six months is a pretty fair amount of Brian Michael Bendis’ writing; notably the fantastic graphic novels, Jinx, Goldfish, and Torso, plus two trade-paperback collections of his Image book Powers. While looking around the comic book store today, I considered what to get next, and I came to an impasse: Do I get Fire (his other graphic novel), one of the two remaining Powers books, one of three Daredevil trades, Ultimate Daredevil & Elektra, or one of the Ultimate Spider-Man books? Basically, I had my choice of almost a dozen books and I was just walking around the trade-paperback section for an hour trying to convince myself, “Dude, just go back to reading Cerebus. Just get the Cerebus books, because the series only has four issues left.” And then I saw what I bought today and immediately snapped it up:
I bought Fray, which is a trade-paperback version of the eight-issue miniseries by Joss Whedon. Yes, Joss Whedon wrote a comic book, and not just any comic book: A comic book that takes place in a future-version of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer universe. I read it in about an hour and a half and I think it’s great. It’s a good, fun book. It’s not the kind of book that’s ever really emotionally affecting in the way I get when I read some of Bendis’ stuff… okay, actually, at one point it is. Nevertheless, it’s really fantastically … Joss. See, Joss Whedon has a way of writing that you can tell which episodes of Buffy or Angel are written by him. It’s getting a little tougher to see his direction, since it’s really changed a lot over the last seven years, but his writing is still largely the same (Alien Resurrection notwithstanding), and it’s got a certain tone that really seems to shine in this book. Sure, it would be easy to go and make a Twenty-Third Century Buffy-clone, but the girl in this book is fundamentally different, on the sort of level that Faith is a different character than Buffy.
Anyway, I’ve been up for twenty hours now, the last ninety minutes of which have been spent rambling about comic books, when this site’s supposed to be about movies. Oh fucking well. If and when anything ever gets done in Hollywood with Fray, then you can look back on this and go, “It all makes sense now.” Until then, it’s a project that might well languish for a good amount of time in Development Hellmouth. … That’s a joke, and I know I heard one of you Buffy-watchers laugh.
I’ve also been playing a lot of video games lately, and maybe next time (if I don’t actually get around to compiling that list of shitty villains for comic-book film-adaptations) I’ll talk about what insanely addictive games I’ve been playing. Until then, let me just say that Final Fantasy X-2 is by far the girliest game I’ve ever played. Maybe it’s tied with DOA Beach Volleyball, but lacks DOA’s cartoonishly-enormous breasts and the physics engine that makes them bounce like a Superball. What can I say? The fanboys just move from one medium to the next.
Before I go to bed, though, I’m going to finish reading an unused draft of the X-Men script that was co-written by Whedon. If you’re curious, just go Googling for it, and you ought to find it fairly easily. And, if you can’t, then that means you didn’t want it enough.