Join 3,377 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Grim and gritty
March 12, 2010 11:19 AM   Subscribe

Superhero Tragedy Porn Is Bad For Comics
posted by Artw (80 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
What about just superhero porn? (warning ...porn)
posted by The Whelk at 11:24 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


...have been put through the narrative ringer...

It's a wringer. It wrings.
posted by gurple at 11:25 AM on March 12, 2010 [12 favorites]


I think this post might be put through the wringer.
posted by HumanComplex at 11:26 AM on March 12, 2010


Kryptonijuana is now a word I will use more often than I have any right to.
posted by shmegegge at 11:26 AM on March 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


I love the addition of a panel from Flex Mentallo at the end -- one of my favourite comics and a great antidote to all this Ultimatum marlarky.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 11:27 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


how can it not be seen that superhero comics in itself is considered erotica? who in their right minds would actually accept outrageously colored spandex wearing vigilantes to be saving their asses from muggers in a dark alleyway? no fucking shit superhero comics is all about porn and erotica.
posted by crystalsparks at 11:27 AM on March 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


by the way, i would LOVE to try kryptonijuana.
posted by crystalsparks at 11:28 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Haven't we already done "comic books are undermining our values"?

Is this a reboot of the franchise?
posted by Joe Beese at 11:29 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


MGK on the topic at hand, or part of it.
posted by shmegegge at 11:30 AM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


I agree with the premise, but it's pretty light post on it's own. Women in refrigerators does a better job taking this stuff down but has been in the blue multiple times.

FWIW, "Tragedy Porn Is Bad" would work too. Because if you've ever see TV cop/dramas this is a very common trope and it always feels so forced and lazy I'm surprised people put up with it.
posted by anti social order at 11:30 AM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


I am sorry.
posted by everichon at 11:31 AM on March 12, 2010


I love the addition of a panel from Flex Mentallo at the end -- one of my favourite comics and a great antidote to all this Ultimatum marlarky.

Grant Morrison is partially to blame of course. But he's actually good at this shit. You read his run on Animal Man and, wow, it's just amazing. He uses some really hard hitting stuff to great effect. But in it's wake... boy....

You have to wonder sometimes if he looks at what followed from that and shakes his head like Alan Moore does when he looks at Vertigo stuff based on what he calls a bad mood he was in during the 80s.
posted by Artw at 11:34 AM on March 12, 2010


I love the addition of a panel from Flex Mentallo at the end...

I think the last page of Flex Mentallo #4, considering the context, is the most beautiful thing in all of comicdom.
posted by griphus at 11:36 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Artw: "... like Alan Moore does when he looks at Vertigo stuff based on what he calls a bad mood he was in during the 80s."

It would be news to me if Alan Moore has ever not been in a bad mood.
posted by Joe Beese at 11:36 AM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


In other news, lazy writing is lazy.
posted by PMdixon at 11:37 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


kryptonijuana. makes Superman watch cartoons and listen to old 45s and go "you know what, maybe the Bank Robbery was supposed to happen." Then he calls up Batman who doesn;t want to talk, of course the big moody jerk, and then it's a lot of very confused by happy flying through a meadow.
posted by The Whelk at 11:37 AM on March 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


The only way to destroy Alan Moore's power to make him smile. Many brave men have been lost in this attempt.
posted by The Whelk at 11:38 AM on March 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


Great, now my work URL access logs have "tragedy porn" in them.

As usual though, TV Tropes has it covered already. [WARNING: TV TROPES LINK. Do not click if you have anything to do this afternoon.]
posted by The Lurkers Support Me in Email at 11:39 AM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


I read comics from the death of Jean Grey until Sandman. All of the genuinely great (to me) stories in superhero comics happened in that window and everything since has been very disturbingly bad to me. After reading Sandman (having lead up to it with the teen angst x-men and titans and watchmen), I couldn't bring myself to give money to those companies anymore. If you had the ability to make something as good as Sandman all along, why would you make so much of this horrible tragedy porn? (I just learned this term, but i'm retconning into my own, two-decades-gone decision).
posted by Fuka at 11:40 AM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


In its' defense, Jason Todd really needed a good crow-barring.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:43 AM on March 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


Ultimatum should not be taken seriously, at all. Ultimatum was Jeph Loeb being given free reign to completely destroy the Ultimate universe, which was pretty much the best thing Marvel had done in years.

No one knows why Jeph Loeb has this power. His comics are awful. Goddamn awful. Ultimatum was an answer to the unanswered question "How fucking crazy is this guy?"
posted by graventy at 11:46 AM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


I am sorry.

Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!
posted by cog_nate at 11:47 AM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also, I think it should be Kryptojuana. Same syllables as the original drug, flows off the tongue better. Tastes smooth. High lasts for weeks.
posted by graventy at 11:47 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wait what?
posted by cog_nate at 11:48 AM on March 12, 2010


If you had the ability to make something as good as Sandman all along, why would you make so much of this horrible tragedy porn?

You decision puzzles me. Would you give up on prose literature because while capable of creating Ulysses and [insert novel you enjoy here], they instead pump out Harlequin novel after Harlequin novel? You want the good stuff? You bust your ass finding it. That's my philosophy, at least.

(Meanwhile, if any comic I picked up after Sandman was remotely akin to Sandman I would have cast my love of the medium to the winds and devoted my life to Danielle Steel novels and poetic interpretations of Sharia law.)
posted by griphus at 11:48 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


It would be news to me if Alan Moore has ever not been in a bad mood.

"Soon there will be war. Millions will burn. Millions will perish in sickness and misery. Why does one death matter against so many? Because there is good and there is evil, and evil must be punished. Even in the face of Armageddon I shall not compromise in this."

He's a lovely joval bloke really. Very wry sense of humour. Just doesn't like to play silly games on behalf of Hollywood assholes. And there's definately a bunch of grim fatalism in his 80s work, the big graphic novels in particular, that he just doesn't do now - in fact actively rejects in the case fo some of his ABC work.
posted by Artw at 11:51 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Artw: "Grant Morrison is partially to blame of course. But he's actually good at this shit. You read his run on Animal Man and, wow, it's just amazing."

Animal Man is swoon, and it's what turned me into a rabid Morrisonite in the first place. And the way his recent work -- particularly Final Crisis and his current Batman stuff -- balances the grim!dark! stuff with the technicolour craziness of some 60s comics feels to me like his comment on the tragedy porn in itself. Although I'd be kind of interested to read his thoughts on the current (awful) Doom Patrol revival.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 11:53 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


THAT COMIC DOES NOT EXIST.
posted by Artw at 11:54 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Tastes smooth. High lasts for weeks

Oh man, I got a hand on some after interning at the Justice League. I thought I could fly and unlike most after-school specials, I actually could! It was amazing, although I don't remember much aside from lots of loops and constant giggling. I may have worn my underware on the outside, I don't know, it was a crazy few weeks.

Then I got the key to the city of Atlanta. I've never been to Atlanta.
posted by The Whelk at 11:55 AM on March 12, 2010


And there's definately a bunch of grim fatalism in his 80s work, the big graphic novels in particular, that he just doesn't do now - in fact actively rejects in the case fo some of his ABC work.

There's a point in Tom Strong where he walks through a wall made of Gold, and thinks to himself "I am walking through a wall made of solid Gold. Even for me, there is much in the universe to make one marvel." or something like that. It wasn't shakespeare, but I remember it to this day as something that warmed my heart.
posted by shmegegge at 11:55 AM on March 12, 2010


MY WARD IS A JUNKIE!!!
posted by Hammond Rye at 11:57 AM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


This may be a good opportunity that there are many MeFites who create comics (myself included), most of which are not superhero comics, most of which are rather good comics.
posted by Shepherd at 11:59 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is the natural end state when superheroes become less superheroic, which has been a slow-motion trend since at least the 1970s. There have been many, many classics among the deconstructionist trend, of course, and I think these explorations have been, on the whole, great.

But now, I think, we've reached the end state, where muddying the waters ends up only with mud.

Prediction: We'll start seeing bright lines drawn. For example, the Punisher will not ever interact with the rest of the Marvel Universe; he'll exist on his own imaginary island. Green Arrow will return to Robin Hood, derring-do; no more dismemberments and dead children.

In a way, this is how it always was. Superman flew across Metropolis, which stood in for the New York of the future, New York of mid-town Manhattan. Batman prowled Gotham City, which stood in for the other end of New York. They are both good stories. We don't need wacky team-ups any more.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:00 PM on March 12, 2010


Superhero comics are not porn. They are soap operas. Lawrence Watt-Evans wrote this many years ago in Comics Buyers' Guide, and I have never forgotten it.
posted by wittgenstein at 12:04 PM on March 12, 2010


But now, I think, we've reached the end state, where muddying the waters ends up only with mud.

Tom Strong, The entire run of the Dini Justice League, there is a lot of trends for more bright, straightfoward, good superheroics that are superheroic
posted by The Whelk at 12:05 PM on March 12, 2010


The Whelk: that image doesn't look like porn to me. It's just some harmless fraternity pranks!
posted by Saxon Kane at 12:06 PM on March 12, 2010


Superhero comics are not porn. They are soap operas.

Agreed! They're a special breed of soap opera, like pro wrestling, targeted toward men. I've said the same about pro sports, particularly football here in the United States. In that case it's not the individual games, but the story arcs about rogue coaches and team-hopping superstars and underdog teams taking on long-standing champions.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 12:10 PM on March 12, 2010


There's one thing that bothers me about Justice. Everyone acts as if Red Arrow's loss is a huge deal. The guy is a superhero, one of his best friends is a cyborg with less than half of his original body. The DC universe is filled to the brim with super-genius scientists that could create a cybernetic arm in an afternoon. Heck, most of them probably have prosthetic arms lying around, ready to go. Sure it hurt like heck, sure no one wants there arm ripped off for no reason, but sweet baby jiminy this is not the end of his carreer. This is not some insurmountable obstacle that will force him out of the hero business. DC has characters that are nothing but souls and robotics (at least five, the Red Tornado family of elementals and Metallo)
posted by oddman at 12:13 PM on March 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


Yes, they have become tragic books and not comic books because some people want to show how mature and serious they are as they read about grown men running around in their underwear, which makes me laugh...I only go for silliosity these days because laughter and light-heartedness is fun...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 12:13 PM on March 12, 2010


It would be news to me if Alan Moore has ever not been in a bad mood.

Watchmen's got jokes in it! Well, sort of...

Laurie Juspeczyk: Hey, you remember that guy? The one who pretended to be a supervillain so he could get beaten up?
Dan Dreiberg: Oh, You mean Captain Carnage. Ha ha ha! He was one for the books.
Laurie: You're telling me! I remember, I caught him coming out of this jeweller's. I didn't know what his racket was. I start hitting him and I think "Jeez! He's breathing funny! Does he have asthma?
Dan: Ha Ha Ha. He tried that with me, only I'd heard about him, so I just walked away. He follows me down the street… broad daylight, right? He's saying "PUNISH me!" I'm saying "No! Get lost!"
Laurie: Ha Ha Ha. What ever happened to him?
Dan: Well, he pulled it on Rorschach, and Rorschach dropped him down an elevator shaft.
Laurie: PHAAA HA HA HA! Oh, God, I'm sorry, that isn't funny, Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!
Dan: Ha Ha Ha! No, I guess it's not... It's a little funny...
Laurie:Ahuh. Ahuhuhuh...Jeez, y'know, that felt good. There don't seem to be that many laughs around these days.
Dan: Well, what do you expect? The Comedian is dead.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:17 PM on March 12, 2010


I'm wondering if Watchmen produced the grim years, is Lost Girls gonna inspire the wank years? Probably not...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:19 PM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


...is Lost Girls gonna inspire the wank years?

My first experience with comics was reading Gen 13 in Jr. High. I could only afford to collect one book and that was it. I would buy it monthly and slowly purchase back-issues at the surprisingly well-stocked comics shop on the way home from school. I loved it. I didn't find the sexual content in any way spectacular and just enjoyed it for the superheroics and cool outfits and fights and stuff.

...imagine my surprise when a decade later I discover my favorite childhood comic book was considered a wank-book pretty much across the industry.
posted by griphus at 12:25 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Grant Morrison is partially to blame of course. But he's actually good at this shit. You read his run on Animal Man and, wow, it's just amazing.

The other great thing about his run on Animal Man is that at the end of it, he basically says, "Whoops, I was writing badly. Sorry, let's pretend that didn't happen. Sorry, Animal Man." But I've already gone into how much I love that issue.
posted by Greg Nog at 12:27 PM on March 12, 2010



Bart Simpson: Alan Moore! You wrote my favorite Radioactive Man comics.
Alan Moore: Oh, really? You liked how I made your favorite superhero a heroin-addicted jazz critic who's not radioactive?
Bart Simpson: I don't read the words, I just like it when he punches people.

posted by 445supermag at 12:31 PM on March 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


Are articles about comic books the porn of io9.com? I hate the sophomoric habit among many internet writers of comparing every trope or cliche in a genre or medium to porn. Porn is sensory and libidinal by definition. It implicates very base feelings of power and weakness.

Pornography is the reduction of sex to a meaningless act.

It's is true that the treatment of some subjects using certain kinds of imagery can be thought of as pornographic. The coverage of wars in America media, focus on the weapons, the bombs, the explosions, etc. is used to captivate some people by appealing to many of the same basic impulses as pornography, but though non-sexual imagery of dominance and violence. But this coverage renders meaningless the human and political conflict that lies at the center of war.

Similarly, the excessive and pointless abuse, gore and viscera in many horror films, divorced from any of the storytelling devices of suspense, foreboding, anxiety, and neurosis plays to exactly those same instincts. Furthermore the the dominance and exploitation through violence is very similar to pornography. But the violence itself (specifically the loss of innocence, the creation of a victim, and the lunacy of the violator) is made meaningless in these films. The point of these films is to make violence meaningless.

But not every hackneyed symbol or plot line is pornographic. Tragedy cannot be porn. Tragedy is intellectual and emotional. It is one of the very few fundamental types of stories. Tragedy cannot be divorced from story, because it is the story, and without the story there is nothing. More importantly, porn has the characteristic of being disposable. It is devoid of any content but that which is superficially present. Tragic events are often defining events in the lives of characters. They are the opposite of the meaningless of pornography.

What the author is actually complaining about is the use of traditional storylines to transform the medium into something more than it is. To wit:

Superhero tragedy porn operates similarly. Tragedy rockets into our heroes' lives without warning. The horrible event is often written simply to elicit shock or give the issue narrative significance. The misfortune usually falls on a little-known or underused character, so as not to derail the main plot about whatever space carnivore or phantom globule or cyborg zygote that the heroes happen to be fighting that issue. It is contextless, disposable dolor that drives sales and keeps the interminable comic serial from becoming stale.

Consider how perverse this is: the Joker routinely kills people, but none of those murders are considered "tragic" by this author. What would qualify as tragic (and, in the author's eyes, undesirable 'porn') is if the story dwelled on the death of this character and linked it somehow to the hero. It would be porn if the violence was 'too real" or at least more real than the endless flow of meaningless violence and anonymous victims that saturate the page of every comic book under normal circumstances. The author is really objecting to the use of realistic storylines (or what passes for realistic in the medium) to interrupt the actual "comic book" violence which is the medium's cliche.

Death and other such nastiness are part and parcel of the superhero gig. I'm not disputing that. But whereas with regular porn is a solitary, onanistic pursuit, superhero tragedy porn fucks us all. We get jaded and lose faith in these flying men and women with resplendent hosiery.

What is more "onanistic" (if we have to use that term) than perusing page after page of muscle-bound superheroes smashing buildings or shooting energy beams? Specifically, what does the author think the reader is experiencing when they look over the more conventional comic book images?

The reason that "Death and other such nastiness are part and parcel" of comic books, is precisely because that violence is meaningless. The violence is an escape from meaning. How many people has the Joker killed? Thousands, but the author is okay with that. But when he breaks Batgirl's back and we dwell on her misery over a few issues, that's 'porn'? The author finds it unacceptable to read even the semblance of a realistic treatment of the effects of violence in the pages of comic book, because the reason they started reading it was for the purpose of getting meaningless violence.

The author's logic is totally backwards. If we are going to draw the analogy to porn, then it is more accurate to say that comics are always pornographic except when they aspire to stories of greater import to the characters that the typical "death and other such nastiness."

If, as the author implies in the article's opening sentence, that Watchmen was the ne plus ultra of the comics medium, then the medium is doomed. Compare that pinnacle of the comic book form with its counterparts in novels, music, or films. Those have the ability to change the way we live our lives, and interpret our memories. These are works of art whose density and power of meaning can take a lifetime to fathom.

Comics are the opposite. Yes, occasionally a work of deeper significance manages to sneak its way onto the racks disguised as something conventional. But most of the time, what passes for good comic is the wholly conventional. And we can see from this article that publishers and writers aren't to blame for the comic book ghetto. It's the audience.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:37 PM on March 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


imagine my surprise when a decade later I discover my favorite childhood comic book was considered a wank-book pretty much across the industry.

Huh, I had no idea. I don't even remember it being that sexual.
posted by delmoi at 12:51 PM on March 12, 2010


You know, considering the lack of actual (on-panel) sex, I think "sexual" was the wrong word. "Unrepentant cheesecake" is closer.
posted by griphus at 12:59 PM on March 12, 2010


And moments after writing the above comment, I checked out some other posts on io9.com. Here's one I filed in the Thanks-For-Making-My-Point-for-Me category:

The character Red Skull is hand-picked by the Führer to be the face of Nazi terror, and wear a super-scary mask. He's so good at being terrifying that the US puts Captain America on his tail, and the two fight — a lot.

The Nazis are the closest thing to a comic book villain that real life has ever produced. Historically, the Nazis did not occupy a grey area. Nobody ever said "Nazism works in theory," or "things were different back then." They wore black leather coats and had skull-and-crossbones on their official hats. Their leaders were interested in the occult. They held midnight rallies by torchlight.

And yet comic books felt compelled to create an absurd villain in The Red Skull to stand in for the Nazis. Why? Would Captain America putting Goebbels through a brick wall be considered unrealistic? No, not unrealistic. Too real. They can't do anything in the book that might remind readers that the Nazis were real bad people who weren't defeated by superheroes with magical powers, but by a staggering number of average joes sacrificing their lives.

So rather then engage the real drama/tragedy of history, they created a bad guy with a red skull in a Nazi uniform and a cigarette holder in the corner of his mouth to represent the evil nazis? Does he calmly address his enemy as "My dear Captain America." Does he grow tired of various peoples' "insolence." Does he have a managerial probation policy for incompetent underlings which beings when "you've failed me for the last time?"
posted by Pastabagel at 1:05 PM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Even though it's been said before, it needs to be repeated often and hard.

Yes, the Women in Refrigerators phenomenon is not new, and yes, sometimes you need to do bad things to good characters as part of the plot, and yes, lots of these characters have already been through the ringer; when Roy Harper lost his arm, my initial reaction was, well, it wasn't the arm that he shot up into, so he could always go back to that. But.

But.

But what I'm seeing lately is that the people who are creating these comics are cynically admitting that they're throwing these characters under the bus, as fast as they can grab them and find a bus, purely for the sake of selling books. They're doing this more than a decade after Alan Moore had parodied himself in the book Supreme (and I know that other people have mentioned this, but seriously, Joe Beese, if you think that Moore's all dark, all the time, you need to be better acquainted with his back catalog). And they're failing badly; when Marvel started its "Brand New Day" storyline in the Spider-Man books, in which Peter Parker's marriage to Mary-Jane Watson was retconned away by a literal deal with the devil, writer Dan Slott taunted fans by saying that they'd buy multiple copies anyway. Hey, guess what? Not so much. Maybe because it's that the retcon merry-go-round is quite obviously spinning even faster, that is, that characters are killed off with the knowledge that they'll be brought back in the very near future (both Captain America and Batman have taken rides on it recently), and maybe it's because it's hard to get into a book when you know that, even if the writer of the moment shows respect for the character(s), their editors probably don't.

And, ultimately, you lose respect for the creators involved. I used to think that Slott was brilliant; now I don't even bother to flip through a book just because his name's on the cover. I didn't know or care about Brad Meltzer, the writer of Identity Crisis, in which Sue Dibny, wife of the Elongated Man (with which she had had a sort of Nick and Nora Charles relationship) was brutally raped by Doctor Light (a supervillain that had been retconned into a vicious psychopath) and then murdered, but when Joss Whedon wrote a flattering foreward to the collection of the miniseries, my estimation of him dropped severely. Jeph Loeb had formerly been respected as a comic writer, and gotten a lot of sympathy for the tragic death of his son, but that fell off after he started churning out crap like Ultimatum, from whence comes the panel in the io9 post of Ultimate Blob chowing down on Ultimate Wasp's guts. And so on.

The best thing I can say about stuff like this is that I am saving a lot of money these days that used to go toward comics.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:15 PM on March 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Wait... green kryptonijuana? Or red kryptonijuana?
posted by steef at 1:19 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


If, as the author implies in the article's opening sentence, that Watchmen was the ne plus ultra of the comics medium, then the medium is doomed.

I read no such implication in the sentence:
In our post-Watchmen era, superhero writers often turn to dark'n'gritty plots to give their comics greater narrative heft.
They're talking about the superhero genre, not the medium of comics, which encompasses a lot more than that. And, even as far as the genre is concerned, Alan Moore's ABC line of comics was designed specifically and explicitly to show that there was way, way more that could be done with the genre than to try rewriting Watchmen over and over again.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:23 PM on March 12, 2010


A lot of that is soap opera. But most of it I think is just lazy writing. It seems like a lot of writers think taking a character in a new direction means explicitly harming the character.
Which, perhaps, is a polar reaction to liking a character and wanting them to have good things, which is also harmful.
I remember hearing about someone who wrote some books on Philip Marlowe after Chandler died. Bit apprehensive. The best thing about Chandler's work is Chandler. But ok, I at least read the description. Marlowe is married to a wealthy heiress, happy, and .... nope, forget it. I know it's tripe before even looking at the style. In what world is Marlowe not hangdog?

Same deal with some of this but in reverse. Tragedy to imbue the character with some kind of pathos. And it falls on its ass. Because there's no truth there.

I never liked Superman until I read Miller's Dark Knight Returns. It did a lot for Batman, yes. He was pretty ridiculous before that. But Superman as well - far too powerful, far too silly, far to melodramatic.
So Miller wrote him like an 'earthbound God' in terms of power. But what worked was getting into his head. Dead center of that was Superman trying to hold back the nuclear missile and thinking to himself "Twenty million die by fire, if I am weak."
And that's completely Superman. The rest falls into place. The whole 'adopted son' solar hero thing granted rebirth by the earth mother (yeah yeah, it's sun power, but Miller draw from a number of myths there). And you see how much of an outsider he is and how much that pains him (son of a bitch, I know who killed him).
That put both those icons through some changes without, say, ripping their arms off. Or having them die and come back endlessly (Miller even flirts with that).
One doesn't have to appreciate Miller's work to understand what he's doing is different in form from this one note tragedy porn schtick.

And I agree with Fuka, there's a difference between making decisions to produce quality work or making decisions to just milk the public and hand the reins to someone who's essentially doing a marketing hack.
It's not about the diversity in work. There's a market for trashy romance novels. And those things are what they are and folks buy them for that.
But it's precisely the case that they market something as "Ulysses" and it turns out to be Danielle Steel. The problem is not that Steel sucks (not to my taste, but it's not worthless material), but rather that it's a bait and switch.

What's even more irritating about this kind of drek - these kinds of things happen to people every day. Some guy, just today, somewhere in the world, is going to lose an arm working at some machine. Someone's going to die in a car crash. Someone's going to slip and fall. People die in thousands of banal ways and suffer myriad tragedies.

But somehow these are worse happening to some goof in a colorful outfit with a bow?
There's nothing interesting taking the 'super' gas out of superheroes. What's interesting is taking a normal person and putting them into extraordinary circumstances. That's why loads of superheroes have a 'secret' identity as a regular person. Why it's transgressive when those two worlds collide.
And precisely why it's no real tragedy for a super or super associated person to lose an arm or something. Because, as mentioned, plenty of cyber tech around. Genetic stuff to regrow it. It's going to be back one way or another eventually.
Some regular guy loses an arm, he doesn't have access to all that. That's a tragedy, not a matter of logistics and a bit of pain and loss for a time. Oooh, they have to show resilience and determination. They're superheroes. Of course they will. It's their metier. It's not at all surprising for them to overcome. It can be interesting. Well written. A good story. But it's not transgressive. (Also why you never see regular folks taking care of their own problems. Lex Luthor wouldn't last 5 minutes as president the way he was written at certain times. - Mostly quite good, he constantly kept his alter ego bad guy persona as well hidden as superheroes keep their identities. But some things, yeah, treason involving other planets, possible eradication of mankind, I'm going to say someone would have taken the initiative to make him have an accident.)

But the 'regular people' in comics don't matter much because they do what they do to survive. Heroes on the other hand come built in with their own tragedies. As F. Scott Fitzgerald said (apart from 'action is character') - 'Show me a hero and I'll write you a tragedy'

Like Superman, you want to show a real tragedy, hit 'em where he lives. Show how he can't connect. How he's an alien. How words and misunderstanding and condemnation and self-reprisal hurt him far more than kryptonite or the most powerful blows. These characters are intense and driven and are supposed to be vibrant and exaggerated in human traits. As such they suffer under violent and strict constraints.
Antigone f'rinstance. That there's a tragedy. (Marvel was working on the civil war deal on the state control vs. individualism theme. Not bad, meh in some execution). And it works because of the rigidity involved in contrast to the magnified passions (and stakes). Hell, look at 'The Incredibles.' Same thing. Plenty of dramatic moments there. Flirts with the "what could happen?" idea. And Mr. Incredible doesn't kill 'even when you have nothing to lose.' That's why it's tragic and dramatic. If he changed, he wouldn't be a superhero anymore. Who expects someone not to flip out if someone kills their family? Superheroes don't. Or if they do, something restrains them - their moral code, their powers, other super people, something.
And so you have tension. Which is, y'know, dramatic.
Unlike just laying the big salami out there.

So it's possible to write it. I'm just some goof and I know how (execution is another thing, but I make no pretense that I'm Joe Writer. I'm good at what I do, do tho. Someone who picks up a pen, probably should have the same thing going behind them).
Of course, doing that would take time and effort and might cut into the profit margin. So when it's good work - how interested are comics companies, or any media, in producing it?
posted by Smedleyman at 1:26 PM on March 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


I agree with the premise, but it's pretty light post on it's own.

Yeah, the author kinda gets started in the right direction, and then just stops. The explanation of why tragedy porn is bad just isn't there.

The violence is an escape from meaning. How many people has the Joker killed? Thousands, but the author is okay with that. But when he breaks Batgirl's back and we dwell on her misery over a few issues, that's 'porn'?

Yeah, I think that's the point the author is trying to make. In a regular movie, the characters have sex/make love in mostly blurs and cuts or in off-screen action; in pornography, you can see close-up intercourse, and that's the whole point.

If I interpret the author correctly, tragedy porn occurs when the motivation and setup for the tragedy doesn't exist, i.e the reader is thrown into a tragic situation with no explanation or context. The writers are killing/torturing characters just for the sake of cheap emotion. I still don't get the negative long-term effect on comics. There will always be shitty writers.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:31 PM on March 12, 2010


Huh, I had no idea. I don't even remember it being that sexual.

I didn't read the book after the first issue, but I do recall the first issue ending with Caitlin Fairchild basically spontaneously morphing into a taller, bustier version of herself so rapidly that her clothes - in hulk fashion - were shredded and the last page was a full page panel of her standing there spread eagle with just the barest shreds of cloth covering her nipples and groin while a male teammate lay stunned on the ground saying something like "damn, did you just get hot all of a sudden?"

Even the teenage hormone fueled shmegegge was like "seriously?"
posted by shmegegge at 1:31 PM on March 12, 2010


My Gen13 phase was right on the cusp of holycrapgirls. So the only thing I got was all "oh man that was awesome!" Because that transformation was preceded by pre-morphed Caitlin getting hit by a train and the train exploding. Amazing what a difference on memory a few years makes!
posted by griphus at 1:36 PM on March 12, 2010


Like Superman, you want to show a real tragedy, hit 'em where he lives. Show how he can't connect. How he's an alien. How words and misunderstanding and condemnation and self-reprisal hurt him far more than kryptonite or the most powerful blows.

I agree ... and Alan Moore, of all people, had a great take on that -- For the Man Who Has Everything, which is, IMO, both a masterpiece and a perfect example of what I mentioned above, about character divergence. This is a Superman story, existing on a high-level, intellectual plane. It's not a grim-and-gritty Batman story, although that character appears in the book.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:40 PM on March 12, 2010


“But when he breaks Batgirl's back and we dwell on her misery over a few issues, that's 'porn'?”

I couldn’t disagree more. That was an excellent piece of tragedy and if nothing else, the proof of it is how long the effects of that have lasted. Whereas many characters ‘die’ and come back routinely.

And there have been excellent and chilling deaths caused by the Joker. The GN ‘Joker’ alone – every death and bit of violence is exactly as menacing and horrifying as it should be.

That was genuinely grim and gritty. What’s being criticized is the pretense to grim and grittiness and genuine tragedy. In much the same way some porn actors or industry people pretend there’s some eros in porn.

The violence in many places might be cartoonish, but that’s typically because it’s merely a struggle metaphor and the stories themselves are supposed to be of greater import.
And the Watchmen compares very nicely to some masterful pieces of music in terms of execution (reiterating themes visually instead of melodically represented – similar to Bach’s fugues). And it reflects on a number of real events and comments on them (RR in 88 – Robert Redford as a contrast to Ronald Reagan)

I would argue there is no fictional form that can embrace reality in totality if they’re aiming to reflect it.

Inglorious Basterds for example, is not about nazis and WWII. It’s not participatory in that way. It’s more a study in violence. As such you have Hitler being killed with the whole of the nazi high command.
Well, that never happened. So there’s an unreality there. But an acceptable one since there’s some admission this is a kind of alternate reality and the story(s) themselves aren’t so much about the events of WWII but only use that as a backdrop.

Same deal. The Red Skull, et.al. villains are as representational as the heroes who oppose them.
Indeed, the series Martial Law is a metacommentary on how representational heroism would go down in reality (an obviously altered reality, because, again, what would ‘actually’ happen concerning genuine events isn’t the issue).

Again, the criticism seems to be aimed at pointless violence laid out in a banal manner. In a way similar to the mere sensation pornography drives at without any genuine eros or actual erotic elements.
There is in fact 'erotica' which is sexually arousing and is not pornography despite being explicit. And for the same reasons one kind of violence in comic books, such as the crippling of Barbara Gordon, is genuinely tragic and meaningful and another kind of violence is blatant and artless.
More generally, there's something to be said for how the medium is used and mass production all that. But television is subject to the same criticisms and to a greater depth. Not even looking at the capacity t.v. has beyond what's been done, or even for nifty educational purposes (most of the 'science' shows now seem to be 'lookit this stuff blowed up!'), but concerning regular serial dramas - shows like the Sopranos or the Wire.

Some serious depth there that just isn't being produced as much as it could be. And typically in favor of 'reality' t.v.
Which, much like the criticism here on comics, has really nothing to do with reality despite the pretense and the marketing.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:55 PM on March 12, 2010


Dude... spoilers.
posted by Artw at 2:12 PM on March 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Prediction: We'll start seeing bright lines drawn. For example, the Punisher will not ever interact with the rest of the Marvel Universe; he'll exist on his own imaginary island.

Probably because they haven't gotten over that whole Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe thing. That's the kind of behavior that gets you a pretty serious doesn't-play-well-with-others time out.
posted by quin at 2:42 PM on March 12, 2010


It would be news to me if Alan Moore has ever not been in a bad mood.

Alan Moore's Supreme and, even more so, Tom Strong, are some of the most fun superhero comics of the last decade. His Supreme is a love letter to the Silver Age Superman, simultaneously parodying and celebrating. It's like kidding on the square in a positive way. And Tom Strong is just really fun adventure stories, with a little tongue-in-cheek and a little modern sensibility, but still squarely in the traditional non-angsty superhero genre.
posted by straight at 2:51 PM on March 12, 2010


[Frank Miller's Dark Night Returns] put both those icons through some changes without, say, ripping their arms off. Or having them die and come back endlessly

Just a nitpick that doesn't really change your point, but it's strongly implied that Superman had ripped Green Arrow's arm off. And Batman and Superman both die and come back.
posted by straight at 3:01 PM on March 12, 2010


So rather then engage the real drama/tragedy of history, they created a bad guy with a red skull in a Nazi uniform and a cigarette holder in the corner of his mouth to represent the evil nazis? Does he calmly address his enemy as "My dear Captain America." Does he grow tired of various peoples' "insolence." Does he have a managerial probation policy for incompetent underlings which beings when "you've failed me for the last time?"

Red Skull came into being during WWII. He was not created as a retrospective pastiche of Nazis - he was created to represent everything bad about the Nazis for Captain America, who was everything great about America, to fight. So yeah, the Skull is a stereotype, but he also existed before 90% of every other Nazi villain stereotype.

And as for putting Goebbels through a brick wall, Captain America's debut was punching out Hitler.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:08 PM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Smedleyman: "I couldn’t disagree more. That was an excellent piece of tragedy and if nothing else, the proof of it is how long the effects of that have lasted. Whereas many characters ‘die’ and come back routinely."

This is the crux of the problem, I think. It's not tragedy porn if it's something permanent, it's simple tragedy. But it's never permanent any more.

This is pretty well encapsulated in DC's latest travesty of a maxi-series, Blackest Night. Every Blackest Night miniseries has some superhero coming back evil, and killing a bunch of friends, or getting brutally murdered again. Every one has some 'dead' superhero emotionally abusing former friends/allies/lovers. It's brutal, for no damn purpose at all.

I know, I shouldn't read event comics, but I have a strange awful addiction.
posted by graventy at 3:09 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think the i09 guy is kinda overselling it with the "tragedy porn" label. I think basically what you have here is a case of an essentially whimsical concept taking itself much too seriously. I say "concept" and not "genre" because -- while I think the superhero genre is essentially whimsical, too -- the real issue here is taking the concept of the DC Universe (or, for that matter, the Marvel Universe) too seriously.

Old school "grim n' gritty" superhero books worked as well as they did in some part because they existed in tension with mainstream superhero comics, and in another part because they were generally walled-off stories that took place in their own continuities. Watchmen doesn't work half as well if it has to be part of a larger scheme to sell a fleet of related comics to slavish devotees once a month for the rest of their lives; The Dark Knight Returns probably doesn't work at all if there's no reason to think (this version of) Batman may die at the end.

One of the reasons these books work is that they offer the closure of traditional literature. What most audiences really want to see is a journey that, however long it may prove to be, has a beginning, a middle and an end, one over the course of which characters grow and change and learn and perhaps die. Television figured this out at roughly the same time mainstream comic book companies did -- but those comics companies created a divide between their self-contained (generally creator-owned, and generally not superheroic) comics and their "universe" titles, the latter of which kept on keepin' on much as they had always done.

The economics of this are pretty plain -- are you really going to cancel Spider-Man? -- but it creates a problem: Dramatically, the "universe" books just cannot keep pace with the books that are completely self-contained. Those books have often tended to be "dark," and so "dark" is the quality the universe books shoot for in hopes of catching up to their betters. It could be that the companies think "dark" is the reason why those better books work. They are, of course, very wrong. The reason those books skew "dark" is because -- again -- of their existence in tension with mainstream superhero comic books. Some creators of "dark" self-contained books were probably reacting directly to a bland sameness they perceived in the superhero-dominated marketplace. Others may just have wanted to do things that they thought would be impossible in a mainstream superhero comic. In either case, though, I think what drew readers in was (a) quality, (b) novelty, and (c) the appeal of stories with complete A-to-Z beginnings and endings.

Without point C, you can't pull off real drama. I'm sorry, but you just can't. There is no way to tell a story that will go toe-to-toe with real literature about characters who do not age or die like real people. You can't have an Ultimate Great Gatsby or an All-Star Scarlet Letter. You can't just perpetually keep Holden seventeen for sixty years of perpetual monthly publication. It doesn't work like that. I mean, don't get me wrong, you can have your occasional Fantasia, but Mickey Mouse will just never be a great literary character. In some crazy world where Disney's copyright eventually ever ran out, a version of Mickey could be folded into some bizarre experimental novel and that might be a great literary character (albeit a derivative one). You can't have a perpetual merchandising machine that is also an ongoing work of sustained narrative that one is expected to take that seriously. The seams show too much.

Plus, there's a lot more meat on the bones of whimsy than there is on the beast we'll call "dark." A few dark books will sell, maybe even sell big, in an ocean of brightly colored pop comics. Misconstrue that into thinking that dark = profit! and you get a whole lot of pop bands suddenly wearing eyeliner and sounding like Coldplay, and being taken as seriously as they deserve, which is to say, not very. A big cloud of misguided misery that no one wants, probably including most of the creators themselves, who are just trying to move units.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:50 PM on March 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


crystalsparks: "by the way, i would LOVE to try kryptonijuana."

Then get yourself to British Columbia, good sir.
posted by bwg at 5:14 PM on March 12, 2010


“Just a nitpick that doesn't really change your point, but it's strongly implied that Superman had ripped Green Arrow's arm off. And Batman and Superman both die and come back.”

Yeah. But not within the work itself. (And there was a scene in Green Arrow #100-101 sort of covered that. Not that it’s exactly what happened, but seems plausible – and fits with the “It's a standard Boy Scout's knot. --- And in one sentence I can both love and hate the man” dynamic the two have)

I think that augments my point tho. We don’t see the arm getting ripped off. It’s alluded to. And I think Miller’s successful in getting you to care when he says “it still hurts when it’s cold.” So it’s not milked. It just is. And it matters.
Not that I’m all about Miller. Plenty in Dark Knight that works that he totally screws up in DK2 and other sequelish stuff (all star batman, etc).
(Of course, there’s only one way (for me) to view the Batman-Robin relationship (it’s not the father son or oedipal or teh gay thing). And all other POVs are simply wrong. It’s never been brought up tho. – so perhaps I have some bias)

“Without point C, you can't pull off real drama. I'm sorry, but you just can't. There is no way to tell a story that will go toe-to-toe with real literature about characters who do not age or die like real people.”
Strictly speaking, stories are still told about Odysseus and off the cuff, by Joyce fairly recently for as old as that is.

Many stories and plays concern returning gods and supernatural beings or undead.

I take your point on the lack of ending. I think that’s more catharsis than ending. And yes, 'porn' certainly lacks that (despite climax. There was something on Mefi recently about the trend in serialized films where the arc is constantly trending up and falling and there's no actual climax - forgot where/when)
But that form aside it's possible to -not- do that I think. There are plenty of serial or serialized characters who never die but do have 'endings' to their tales/adventures, Don Quixote. Sherlock Holmes. Etc. and their stories were continued as long as there was interest.

I think you can put characters through changes without making them permanent and still have drama and effect (although I take, and agree with your point that something is missing if it's not there and I'll agree that it's even often not there. Pairs with the criticism here I think. Can be done, but isn't being done)
The flip side of that is, f’rinstance, for Barb Gordon – life goes on and she’s still a superhero. Nothing’s really changed. Except it has. So you can lend new perspectives to a character. Who might need a fresh look.

Especially Batman. Hell, it got so bad and Batman was so over the top hokey, you had Dr. Who (Pertwee) making fun of him. That’s pretty geeked out right there.
Everything else (except for that bit) I agree with tho. So, also nitpicking there myself.
(I don't sleep much so I take in a LOT of media. Got to do something to kill the night, otherwise it's always 3 a.m.)
posted by Smedleyman at 6:17 PM on March 12, 2010


I expected more porn.
posted by P.o.B. at 6:37 PM on March 12, 2010


“Without point C, you can't pull off real drama. I'm sorry, but you just can't. There is no way to tell a story that will go toe-to-toe with real literature about characters who do not age or die like real people.”
Strictly speaking, stories are still told about Odysseus and off the cuff, by Joyce fairly recently for as old as that is.

Many stories and plays concern returning gods and supernatural beings or undead.


Well, no offense, but I think you're being kinda literal here: I'm not saying that Dracula can't be a great character, I'm saying that characters that aren't ostensibly immortal (Spider-Man, Batman, Avocado-Man) but are granted immortality via editorial mandate that they never visibly age past thirty and that their date of origin is retroactively bumped up to the last seven-to-ten years at all times, those characters are not characters in the sense that the enduring characters of real literature are characters. Like I said, you can recontextualize those characters (if their copyright owners allow it) and make them the stuff of real literature for the duration of a novel or a story (or, in the case of Batman, at least for the duration of DKR), but otherwise they're larger-than-life myth figures that have the advantage of eternally being in the position to move some merch, and the disadvantage of not really being characters that imitate life in the way that the best art does. I'm not sure how better to put it.

Personally, I find something vaguely offensive about these characters that never shuffle off the stage with dignity, but keep botoxing and getting this week's haircut and mangling kid lingo year after year after year; there's something very unseemly and Jay Leno about it all. That's neither here nor there, of course.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:59 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Mtafilter: This is fast-food calamity.
posted by warbaby at 8:14 PM on March 12, 2010


And as for putting Goebbels through a brick wall, Captain America's debut was punching out Hitler.

It's also worth noting that Captain America was in the Nazi-punchin' business almost a year before America was, starting in March 1941.
posted by Strange Interlude at 8:55 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I dunno; my entire take on that article was "Cry for Justice and Ultimatum? Really? Those two data points do not a thesis make." Those two books are arguably the lowest-hanging fruit on the tree planted by Moore and watered by Miller, with Identity Crisis coming close.

And then I realized I was beanplating a Gawker blog's idea of expository writing and got better, at least for a few minutes, until I saw this thread.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 12:29 AM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


There is no way to tell a story that will go toe-to-toe with real literature about characters who do not age or die like real people.

I kind of wanted to make this point. Even back in Homer, the gods were not the central characters. They were more like comic relief. Gods can't be tragic. They can't die.

The Norse gods might be an exception, because they know they are doomed.

Plus, comics are just too much a commercial endeavour to really be taken very seriously. This is true of all popular culture.

It's an idea from Neil Postman that in these sorts of frivolities, they are at their worst when they try most to be good.
posted by Trochanter at 6:33 AM on March 13, 2010


Hmmm. Given that comics are, at their heart, often teen-age power fantasies, it follows that any version of tragedy is going to turn into graphic melodrama.

The Comics Code almost guarantees this. They can't actually show real adult superheroes behaving like adults do.

So, unless you are reading a truly "adult" comic written by someone with a deft hand like Bendis, I'm not sure we should expect much more.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:49 AM on March 13, 2010


“Without point C, you can't pull off real drama. I'm sorry, but you just can't. There is no way to tell a story that will go toe-to-toe with real literature about characters who do not age or die like real people.”
Strictly speaking, stories are still told about Odysseus and off the cuff, by Joyce fairly recently for as old as that is.


I don't think people tell new stories about Odysseus - rather, they retell stories drawn from the Odyssey and other ancient accounts, or they create new stories with sophisticated allusions to the Odyssey. Leopold Bloom is not Odysseus.

If you want to prove that stories don't need to provide closure, the Odyssey is a bad example anyway. That epic is very much about both the end of the heroic age and the end of its own epic tradition. Richard Martin has a well-known article which touches on this.
posted by dd42 at 7:14 AM on March 13, 2010


You can tell stories about eternal unchanging characters but they are different stories. Holmes don't die* but the story isn't about his peril but whether he'll solve the crime.

*well he did, but that ended in tears...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:49 AM on March 13, 2010


The Comics Code Authority really doesn't have any relevance anymore.
As of 2007, DC Comics and Archie Comics are the only major publishers submitting comics for Code approval; DC only submits comics from their Johnny DC and DC Universe superhero lines, but DC Universe titles are sometimes published without Code approval.
Comics always break my heart.

There are these little islands where comics seem to have gotten over Alan Moore's bad mood. Priest's Black Panther. Warren's Gen-13. Winick and Bedard's eXiles. Busiek's Avengers. Waid's Flash. Morrison's JLA. Slott's She-Hulk.

And then some idiot comes along thinking that all superhero comics need to be exciting and relevant is sexual assault and gory murder, and retcons away everything I loved.
posted by Zed at 2:42 PM on March 15, 2010


Apparently it's actually nostalgia porn that is killing comics. And Kurt Busiek.
posted by Artw at 4:20 PM on March 29, 2010


There are these little islands where comics seem to have gotten over Alan Moore's bad mood.

As people have pointed out several times in this thread, Alan Moore himself is definitely one of those islands. His Tom Strong and Supreme series are delightful fun that celebrate, modernize, and gently poke fun at traditional superheroics.
posted by straight at 9:37 AM on March 31, 2010


I love his Supreme and the whole America's Best Comics line. And I love Watchmen. I'm not actually blaming Moore, just alluding to his cranky description of the situation.
posted by Zed at 11:12 AM on March 31, 2010


Morrison x Urasawa: Mining the Past Without Strip-Mining It
posted by Artw at 4:14 PM on April 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


« Older The winners of the Independent Game Festival Award...  |  Christoph Niemann makes clever... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments