And so if you're particularly partial to this type of entertainment, bail now. But if you're in a sporting mood, I'll attempt (and likely fail) to connect all these subjects as one. Be patient -- this rant is still in draft status.
From experience I've learned that to ever question anything to do with comics, superhero movies, or Comic-Con can shut down the typical genre enthusiast. Why? I'm daring to question their most cherished possession: the inner child. It's akin to the great wall and mote surrounding Disney, Pixar, Star Wars, and Harry Potter. That is how these topics all tie together.
For me to question inner child themed entertainment apparently reveals my lack of an inner child. When it comes to comics I'm also informed that my opinion is irrelevant because I've never read 'graphic novels'.
Ahem. You see that comic book on the left?
It was one of my first beloved comic series from the mid-70s. When I was merely a decade old my entire world was awaiting the next issue to arrive at newstands. Why? It featured the world's most legendary hero Superman -- only younger and closer to my age. The legion was made up almost entirely of teens, some clothing challenged ladies. And these action packed morality tales were set in a STAR TREK-like future. That's why.
The artist of this run was Mike Grell. Anything he touched at DC comics I adored. Because that's what being a fan is, after all: a kid with crazed eyes loving every aspect of something. I was a fan of DC Comics because most of their better books found a way to deliver visually fantastic tales with an admirable tone of nobility.
The last comic I read from this brief period of comic addiction was Grell's THE WARLORD, which arrived about a year later. It featured a dude from our present who found himself in the center of the Earth... in a more primitive world... where... oh who cares at this point? The pictures were pretty and the babes were delicious. Here's a nice clip of Grell's art --
Another decade passes. I'm in college and wandering Harvard Square in Cambridge. I notice the impossible: a corner store entirely devoted to comics. Not believing my eyes, I step in and sniff out the establishment. Floor to ceiling comics. Boxes of vintage comics. No other periodicals and therefore not a newstand.
I ask the nerdy clerk if Mike Grell was still drawing. I was directed towards a comic right beside me, and -- surprise surprise -- MIke Grell was alive and well. And his work had transitioned into something that would make George Takei say --
This was the exact moment that DC's WATCHMEN and THE DARK KNIGHT mini-series successfully redefined comics as graphic novels -- matching their content to my maturity. I soon found a handful of books which were better written than most of the Sci-Fried garbage I was reading. Not to mention these stories were better than most TV shows as well.
And so, again, I returned to my comic reading 'closet'. An English major reading comics in college? Couldn't let that cat-woman out of the bag. For a few years I had a blast with many titles, including Gaiman's SANDMAN and Morrison's DOOM PATROL. Comics even began to get a little respectable via the local chain NEWBURY COMICS. It was a blast having such quality comics coming out each week all over the city.
But then a funny thing happened on the way to comics finally becoming respectable: Marvel comics. You see they were telling sexier and more violent stories just like everybody else, but they were also still quite obsessed about fist fights.
Seemingly overnight, all of a sudden, artists like Seth McFarlane and Jim Lee institutionalized what I'll call teeth and fists. Teeth and fists. Teeth and fists. Teeth and fists.
So what, you ask?
The teeth and fists were a cancer to comics. It spread quickly across all comics short of ARCHIE. It was like that dreadful period in pop music when artists had to have a disco song if they wanted to sell any records. As a DC reader it was easy enough for me to avoid teeth and fists at first... until... one desperate DC hero after another fell victim to an enemy far worse than Lex Luthor or the Joker: teeth and fists. Nobility? Noschmility...
I had no choice but to stop reading comics again. If all books were turning into the same one stupid book, then once again: been there, done that. The comic industry was in the midst of a downward spiral anyway, since as good as many titles were... none seemed as amazing as WATCHMEN or DARK KNIGHT.
So I had finally escaped comic books? Nope. Unfortunately they started stalking me in the cinema.
Michael Keaton's BATMAN films were first. Followed by other features based on books I'd read like WATCHMEN. I must say that the movies were more exciting in anticipation than their typical execution. That I more enjoyed the familiar idea of these stories than much of anything else. I feel this is the trick of these movies that makes them popular: familiar. That instead of real fresh entertainment we instead settle for a visit from an old friend. Hi, I'm Night Owl. Remember me?
I caught some of the Marvel hit movies and felt like they weren't anything so hot either. All of these movies exploded onto the screen with stunning CGI -- and have only improved year after year. But the stories? They can't seem to imagine their way past origin stories. This was a problem with the comics too. Few books could come up with much to say or do once they told you the origin of the lead character, and even these origin stories start to blend into each other with sameness.
And none of the these films were half as good as the original Reeves SUPERMAN movie from the mid-70s, a movie I ironically skipped upon release but have become enamored with once it hit HBO. It's downright sacrilege to STAR WARS types to suggest the SUPERMAN score is John William's best, but it is to me. Yet even these classic movies quickly went downhill once the origin of Kal-el and Clark Kent was completed... which was accomplished in the first feature.
What I'm trying to say is that I had been there and done that twice and I guess I was finally cured of comics.
So now that I've demonstrated the absolute existence of my inner comics child, I feel both qualified and privileged to make the following statement: I don't get it. I don't get why -- all of a sudden -- comic book heroes like THE AVENGERS are utterly mainstream. That is: now I've left my secret comic reading closet for good -- the entire world loves superheros?
Did I miss something? I haven't seen a human being read a comic book/graphic novel in public for decades. Comic book stores are ghost towns these days. Are newbie 'comic' fans born of TV and feature films -- where the bright colors and fast fists have finally caught the attention of the masses? Was I accidentally decades ahead of the curve?
Since when have grown adults become this cozy with childish entertainment? Is PIXAR to blame? Disney them parks? HARRY POTTER? How else can I explain countless grown adults paying good money to dress up as Spiderman and roam amongst their like at Comic-cons? Did Bill Gates legitimize hero themed costume balls? I'm not being facetious.
It's as if overnight it became okay to pick your friends, pick your nose, and pick your friend's nose.
Am I breaking ranks to ask such questions? Could I simply be resentful that I had to read comics in closets, but that now -- the very type of people who would have frowned my way as I read SUPERBOY AND THE LEGION OF SUPERHEROES -- are free to dress up like Harry Potter and Dr. Who and roam the carpeted byways of some forgotten suburban Hilton?
My problem is how Hollywood and Comic-Con are becoming one -- just as disco and pop music merged. That Hollywood is doing whatever it can to steal the cool hard cash from these inner children -- to the death of otherwise quality cinema.
You think I'm over-reacting? You do recall that the Academy Of Motion Pictures added additional best picture nominee slots to please the Comic-Con types, right? To give the likes of THE DARK KNIGHT a shot at an Oscar nomination it wouldn't otherwise deserve? Back in the 70's there were actually so many great movies coming out each year it would have been a perfect time to add those slots, but they didn't. So Hollywood does it now in fears of the Academy becoming irrelevant?
Comic-Con is cinematic cancer.
That's Harrison Ford having to weather asinine questions at the recent Comic-Con. "Gee, Harrison, do you think Indiana Jones could take Han Solo in a fight?"
Look at those eyes. Trapped in his Temple Of Doom-Con.
Harrison Ford was fantastic in movies like WITNESS and the underrated FRANTIC. Unfortunately neither film featured a lot of teeth and fists, and so both films are nearly forgotten at this point.
The irony is that being of fan of both somehow puts me back in that closet. That it's not okay to say I actually like quality dramas out loud in this age of costumed 3-Diarrhea.
So now you think I've never attended a Comic-Con and so I can't judge.
I attended a Trek conference once in Vegas. I was there on business to contact Rod Roddenberry. Gene had already passed away but his wife Majel and son Rod were in attendance. To me they are Trek royalty. When they hit the stage of the massive auditorium, half the 'fans' walked. I was in shock. Majel was not only a member of the original cast but sat shotgun to the show's creator Gene Roddenberry for decades. Didn't matter. People left to... pick their friends' noses.
One fan said words to this effect, "There will never be anything like the original Star Trek. I loved those shows and movies and wonder if you guys would get back together and do some more movies maybe?" Scattered APPLAUSE.
Rod aimed a pained grimace downward. Confused Majel had to remind this buffoon that actors DeForrest Kelley (McCoy) and James Doohan (Scotty) were dead, the remainder of the cast was too old to reprise their roles, and that 'Nurse Chapel' herself was clearly in a wheelchair on living on borrowed time.
This wasn't a child asking the question. It was an adult my age who was too lost in the aura of fandom to give her question a moment of thought or sensitivity. I feared she was seconds away from asking why Majel's late husband wasn't attending.
Later I watched feeble Majel signing stacks of photos. To please some vendor. It could have been for a charity, or maybe she liked doing it, but when you stood there and actually watched her thin weak hands signing like a machine -- I quickly became aware of the twisted entitlement of convention fans. That the Harrison Fords of this world must attend and address the dumbest of questions over and over again -- or fear the Wrath Of Con fans.
This must stop. Hollywood should make movies and answer only to the quality of their films. Admitting, these days most films are so sad I can understand why they compensate by making appearances to help ticket buyers feel like VIP types.
Remember above where I said every comic book back in the day was starting to feature teeth and fists? Well it now seems that every movie must be superhero epic of suffer the box office consequences. Even STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS suffered at the box office for not being... you know... AVENGERS enough. Red Alert, Hollywood.
I've heard more than one grown adult say AVENGERS was the best movie of that year. Eyesroll. I don't care if they said it was their personal favorite of that year, for in doing so, they're confessing to their superhero cotton eye candy bias.
AVENGERS was a children's movie. The faster we can admit this the more sense my remaining words will make.
I was asking what had changed earlier. I know this has. The ability for people to publicly discern between childish drivel and quality entertainment. Of HARRY POTTER I've heard people my age confess it's a family entertainment. That's the excuse, people. POTTER and LOTRs are really socially acceptable ways to maintain your inner child via your kids.
Maybe I'm not making myself clear. We all need to have fun with our children as well as our inner child. But when grown adults simply move into Comic-Con and away from adult subject matter -- there's something bad here. If CGI, 3-D, and only the most familiar of concepts are all that we can culturally rehash -- we need to step away from the Comic-Con.
My only glimmer of hope here is that the mass movie audience will reach the same conclusion I did years ago. That Hollywood is going through a teeth and fists cycle of its own. That thanks to THE AVENGERS and Comic-Con, 'epic' superhero movies are becoming too similar and over exposed.
That like disco, these movies will die for simply being ubiquitous. If you're not convinced, look at this image from the recent MAN OF STEEL. Look at all those teeth. That rage. I'm sure I could find fists to go with them if I felt like it.
Aren't all plots the same at this point? Some mad man shows up to enact vengeance upon our hero -- to city leveling Obama Bid Laden lengths? Have we all been there and done that enough times by now? Or do we really need to give Hollywood even more money to re-open that wound twelve times a summer? Isn't there something twisted about all this?
Do you think I'm an old snobby dude who's over good hero stories? That I'm missing how epic this all is? Try again.
I'm all about CW's ARROW. It's the first show my wife and I have I've tried from that network and I can't get over how solid the stories are. Yeah, sure, it's an origin story too I guess. But so far they've spent a year unraveling what a feature might do in 40 minutes, and they've done so in such superior emotive human detail. I actually care about many of these people.
Okay, yes, the characters sometimes grit their teeth. And yes the show features engaging fist fights -- but thankfully they keep the Marvel lame quips to a minimum. ARROW is more Batman than any of the six or so features.
I watch ARROW for the humanity that permeates nearly every minute of this DC comic reboot -- which is basically ABC's REVENGE with bows and arrows. And girls that kick a lot. My wife loves that part.
I love the attempt at nobility in an age of epic inner childishness.
So maybe over saturating the cinema with identical hero movies while ARROW provides a weekly example of quality superheroics will -- together -- kill the Comic-Con cancer. Or perhaps TV is about to get buried in ARROW copies.
Until we find out the answer to these questions I'll end this where I began -- with one last piece of work from Mike Grell.