Confessions of a Comic Book Guy is a weekly column by retailer Steve Bennett of Mary Alice Wilson's Dark Star Comics in
I've said it before but every once in a while it really does seem like someone publishes a comic book just for me. Like the Dr. 13 series by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang which served as the back-up in the otherwise lackluster recent revival of Tales of the Unexpected. But I'm glad to say other people did 'get it,' like the young woman who came into Dark Star last week who said she stumbled across it by accident, loved it and wondered if DC had any plans to collect it. Happily I was able to tell her the August Diamond Previews featured a solicitation for the trade paperback version: Dr. 13: Architecture & Mortality.
There are plenty of reasons* why you should order copies of it for your store; for starters there's the art. 'Pretty' artwork is common enough but Chiang is remarkably adept at capturing the emotions of its diverse cast of characters (which includes Genius Jones, Anthro, Captain Fear and Andrew Bennett from I, Vampire). Plus the expert coloring gives the pages a remarkable depth of field.
Though Azzarello's plot never rises above an existential shaggy dog story points must be bestowed upon him for trying something so unquestionably unlike anything else being published these days by either DC or Marvel. Still, come to think of it, in one of those weird apparently unintentional Marvel/DC parallels (i.e., DC creates a new Atom and within months Marvel inexplicably gives us a new Ant-Man). Dr. 13's plot does revolve around a group of forgotten b-list comic book characters who band together. This isn't all that different from Marvel's Agents of Atlas -- another title that I, naturally, adored.
In short it was a lot of fun -- and we certainly can't have that, not in a comic book if we're to believe DC's Dan Didio's dictum 'fun comics don't sell.' And now we also have to take into evidence comments writer Mark Waid made during an interview posted on the Comic Book Resources Website. Sales of his new Brave & Bold comic aren't what they might be and he suggests it could be the fault of an online critic who called his comic 'fun.'
Now I'm not going to argue that fun books do sell, because as I retailer I've got plenty of evidence in our back stock that proves otherwise. But also because (as I learned in college oh so many years ago) before anything can be discussed first you must define your terms. And since neither Didio nor Waid were gracious enough to characterize what they meant by 'fun,' I guess I'll have to use Justice Stewart's definition of pornography; you know it when you see it.
And in spite of the fact we all know what happens when we assume anything, I think it's pretty obvious by 'fun' they meant the sort of frivolous, insignificant by design, plot-driven time wasters that used to fill the pages of titles like Brave and the Bold and Marvel Team-Up. In short, these sort of cozy, innocuous page turners represented everything that was wrong with American comic books.
And make no mistake -- they were pretty bad. For Free Comic Book Day our staff turned over 10,000 comic books from our back stock into quarter comics and everyone came across quite a few contenders for the title of 'worst comic ever.' Even disavowing stuff from the worst of the go-go 90s I repeatedly came across 'professionally' written and drawn titles that looked like they'd been done by raccoons with opposable thumbs.
Yet, let long after FCBD we continue to sell a goodly number of them. Maybe it's because we're finally charging people what they're actually worth, or maybe it's because they are fun.
There's no question about it; the quality of comics today have never been better; but it's hard to ignore 'grim and gritty' has been replaced by sour and dour. Ordinarily I'd be happy to lay the blame at the feet of fans who take their super-hero comics entirely too seriously and publishers who covet mainstream acceptance by creating what Entertainment Weekly likes to call 'grown-up comics.'
I'd like to, but take a look at the Network Fall TV schedules and you'll find precious few conventional sitcoms; instead the grids are full of programs with dark edged science fiction, fantasy or supernatural themes. Or as the headline from a May 21st New York Times piece on the subject by Stuart Elliott put it 'In a Time of Anxiety a Sedative of the Occult.'
We still need to laugh but there's so much free floating apprehension about the future we find it hard to do it on a national level. In the article there's a quote from a Shari Anne Brill that states 'The real world has become such a horrendous place that people are looking for magic to avoid the tragic.'
As much as I hate to admit it when Marvel and DC replace childlike wonder and wish fulfillment with a more acerbic take on people with powers they're just doing what they've always done; reflecting what's going on in the real world.
It's probably the smart thing to do. But that doesn't mean I've got to like it.
* The least of them clearly being if the trade paperback is a success it may bring me one step closer to DC greenlighting my pitch to renovate the House of Secrets into a duplex unhappily shared by Mark Merlin and Prince Ra-Man, a pair of middle aged has-been psychic detectives (they keep the back-up feature Automan locked up in the Garage of Secrets).
The opinions expressed in this column is solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.