Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Splash Page: The Decline of Quality in 2009 (Part Two)

[The first part of our conversation can be read at Tim's blog...]

Chad Nevett: I agree. Something is missing. I don't know what. One thing that I think it may be, and this is just my personal feelings, is that I'm kind of sick of the weekly grind of comics. Every single week, there's more. There's always more. TV seasons aren't year-round every week affairs. Movies are always coming out, but whether or not there's one you want to see is debatable. As well, there isn't that constant need/pressure to keep up -- and, movies aren't serial. Seeing a new movie or two each week doesn't get stale, because it's always something new. With comics, it's the same thing over and over again. Going to the shop becomes a habit, not a joy. Some weeks, it is a joy because of a book or two that's special, but, for the most part, it's habit. I've actually been looking forward to the December 30th skip week, because it means there is one week out of the year where I don't have to care about comics. I love comics, but sometimes it feels a bit much. This ties to the event stuff, I'd argue, where companies have tried to make it more and more like everything they release is important and you must know right away and, as I said, Secret Invasion and Final Crisis both left people unsatisfied and killed that mood, made people less willing to buy that idea.

The quality of the books aside... I'm not sure the quality is less. I genuinely think Bendis and company did great jobs with the Dark Avengers annual and Siege: The Cabal (although my personal feelings towards the treatment of Noh-Varr were kept out of my review as much as possible since that's one of my big biases). Would they have gotten the same reviews a year ago? I can't say, but I think so. I know that it's a sliding scale and is very much of the moment, star ratings not being an exact science, but I think they would have got the same reviews from me.

You bring up Iron Fist, Captain Britain & MI:13, and Ghost Rider, and maybe those are missing: where are the critically acclaimed books that no one is buying except for us? Looking through my box of comics that I'm currently buying, there are the Vertigo books, the Marvel top-sellers, the two Bat-books, some mini-series, and... Secret Warriors. Is Secret Warriors all that's left of the cult books? I know people talk up Incredible Hercules, but I tried it and didn't love it... is what's missing the third-tier books that we point to when people say superhero books from the big two are crap to say "But they publish this!"? Or am I just missing out on these books somehow?

Tim Callahan: I stuck with Incredible Hercules for a while, but I've grown tired of that as well. The art started to become hammy sometime this year, and it's like hitting every joke with a rimshot, which is neither funny nor un-annoying. (Speaking of that, and I don't remember to exact review or message board post, but someone on the CBR forum complained about one of my reviews because I complained about the art tonally matching the comedy of some story, and the poster said something like, "oh my gosh, imagine the art matching the story!" But, yeah, it is stupid when the characters are exaggerated to add exclamation points to the comedy sometimes. Unless you think that the epitome of comedy is watching Jim Carrey ham it up, then you know that sometime -- usually -- it's funnier when the humor comes with the straight-faced delivery.)

Secret Warriors is good, true, though last issue was more of a connect-the-seemingly-unwoven-continuity-threads issue than a real Hickman romp. Speaking of Hickman, his Fantastic Four is damn good. So that's a glimmer of hope in the superhero landscape.

I don't think the weekly grind is the problem -- for me at least. I love looking forward to Wednesdays, still, after how ever many years. Let me calculate this. I've been a regular Wednesday comic shopper since at least 1986. That's 1,196 Wednesdays. I've missed a couple during that time, but I bet I've missed no more than a dozen total in all those years. But it is true that my normal Wednesday visits used to contain more diversity. Now it's pretty much all Marvel and DC, and I get the independent stuff in trades from Amazon or at conventions. Comics may have more diversity than ever right now, but you wouldn't know it from the Wednesday doses.

So, to answer your question about underappreciated third-tier books, the stuff that we can point to as highlights of superhero comics beyond the big-name stuff, well, there's...I don't know. Agents of Atlas is basically done, right? Looking at the stuff that's selling less than Secret Warriors just goes to show how much junk is being published right now. Teen Titans. New Mutants. Brave and the Bold. Magog. Power Girl looks great, but the stories are weak. X-Men Forever. War Machine. Black Panther 2.

The Outsiders. Good thing the dynamic duo of DiDio and Tan are coming in to save the day on that one.

Man, these are some bad comics. We should review more of these bottom-of-the-barrel just to see if they're as bad as they were last time I read them. Maybe they've improved?

CN: I'm always up for reviewing crap comics. Those are the fun reviews to write. But, it seems that a lot of the recently-launched series that aren't selling well aren't getting good reviews either, which is odd. Those books always exist, but there's usually a good mixture of very good comics thrown in for everyone to point to as examples, but recent launches like Magog, Doom Patrol, New Mutants... they've all gotten, what, three stars at best? Even a book like SWORD, which seems ripe for 'cult hit' status didn't really knock either of us over with its first issue. We went through a long period of rather good superhero books going all the way back to 1999 or so with the altered Wildstorm line of books and then right on through to Quesada/Jemas at Marvel and... well, the ride had to end at some point, right? Or maybe it's just a lull. A six months to a year where we all just take a breather before things pick up again. In the past year, Marvel switched their focus to a lot of mini-series (specially the Dark Reign variety) and only one or two of them have been anything more than decent; DC continues to flounder as books come out to sounds of silence as no one cares. I'm kind of curious to see what happens after both of their events are over. That could be the turning point...

I honestly don't know what the problem is. Of course, people will tell us that we're just reading the wrong comics or are wrong to not appreciate the brilliance of Magog, but, come on, this general sense of 'who gives a fuck' isn't isolated to us. The only time people seem to get excited is when it's time to trash a horrible comic like Cry for Justice. Otherwise, it's mostly 'Read some decent books, nothing to say about them really, what else is new?'

I don't know...

TC: I guess the only thing to do now is put out the Callahan/Nevett Creator Challenge, open to all comic book writers and artists. Here it is: "Make really great comics.You know you want to. Enough with the mediocre. We've been through that already."

Um, that's really the extent of the challenge. Winner gets our undying love. Losers get, well, I guess they just keep getting work.

CN: That challenge wasn't in effect already? Why the hell not?