Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Comics: Dennis Hopeless as the Great White Hope

After one too many forced crossovers and marketing gimmicks (another death/resurrection?), I gave up on comic books about fifteen years ago. I know I sound like an irascible curmudgeon--and yes, get off my lawn, please--but I don't understand how video games have become so much better while comic books have declined. Have teenagers' tolerance for low quality products increased, or do they not realize how bad modern comic book writing is? 

We all remember Todd McFarlane's ill-advised switch to writing, and it stood out precisely because it was an unusual, one-off event. Today, comics routinely lack the subtle intellectualism I took for granted growing up. For example, Superman had a villain named Doomsday--as in a Doomsday device--in 1992, so young readers could contemplate difficult questions indirectly and sans black-and-white newspapers. Spiderman's Green Goblin could have been lifted straight from the military's secret experiments, while Tony Stark could be any major defense contractor CEO over the past 50 years (or, in an alternate universe, Elon Musk). Professor Xavier's Cerebro? The NSA's PRISM, of course. The "H" in S.H.I.E.L.D.? It stands for "Homeland." Even "lowbrow" publications like The Punisher provided insights into the mafia through the simply-named Kingpin. 

It wasn't just real-life crossovers that hooked me on comics. As an immigrant, I credit comics for teaching me colloquialisms I might never have learned otherwise. (Heck, I learned yesterday that "bakey" in "wakey wakey, eggs and bakey" means bacon--thanks, All-New X-Men: Inevitable!) 
You can imagine my surprise when I opened a Joker comic at Lee's Comics in Mountain View, California and saw the eponymous character bragging about committing a crime in front of disabled kids--expressly, right there in a speech bubble. The old Joker didn't need such crass dialogue. It was implied he'd try to provoke the Batman however he could. How such unnecessary bluntness--the kind that makes it impossible for readers to view villains as complex alter egos, like Magneto--made it past an editor, I'll never know. Nevertheless, its publication supports my thesis: the adults have left the asylum, and the inmates are in charge. 

Thankfully, I've finally discovered a writer I enjoy in the comics universe: Dennis Hopeless. He's just one man, but his presence gives me hope. I pray Marvel doesn't put him in an alternate universe, kill him, and then resurrect him in "limited run" editions with eighteen different covers. If it happens, though, I won't be surprised. Kids today don't know any other world, one where such gimmicks were isolated incidents rather than constant revenue generators, and where writing met minimum standards. Excelsior, indeed. 

P.S. Yes, I know about Ms. Marvel and Black Panther. It doesn't change my overall thesis: good comic book writing is declining, and a few new characters don't change the trend when so many "new" series are just mashups or rehashes of old characters. Look at the blurb for Rogue & Gambit? Are they trying to tick people off?

P.P.S. Long before school shootings became a regular occurrence in America, The Spectacular Spiderman #71 explored gun violence--in 1982. It was my first introduction to the 2nd Amendment and gun violence issues. 

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