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The Modern Age(s)

Last year I set myself the task of trying to in some way explain or contextualize Hickman’s run on the Avengers. I struggled and failed to explain what I was feeling then, which was that Hickman’s Avengers—itself a continuation of his run on Fantastic Four—is in some way representative of a new way of thinking about superheroes. I put aside the topic as one I wasn’t ready to deal with. However, another year’s worth of comics and some recent conversations have helped shape and clarify my thinking. I’ve come to the conclusion that what I was perceiving was more than a single writer handling supers in a unique way. Rather, I believe we’ve entered into a new era in superhero comics—by my count the 6th.

I want to talk about why I feel that’s the case and what I see as the defining aspects of this new era. But I need to back up a little first and talk about the previous superhero eras to put these thoughts in context. I’ll address the first three very briefly because they are generally well understood, and then talk in a bit more depth about the second three—all of which have at various times been called “The Modern Age.” Continue Reading

A few weeks ago a link went past me to a page from an old issue of Captain America. It was a story in which a fake Captain America takes up Cap’s identity in order to support an organization called “The Committee to Restore America’s Values.” The Committee was a organization that had appeared previously in Captain America—a front for the sinister Secret Empire—and with the help of the fake Captain they were quickly converting the US into a fascist state. Continue Reading

In a recent episode of the podcast we spoke in passing about the “future of comics,” in the context of digital releases. In that conversation we touched on both motion comics and infinite comics, and I wanted to speak about both types of comics a little bit more and the future of digital comics in general, because I think we are in an important moment of transition right now in terms of the way that graphic narratives are presented.

Comics possess an entire visual language with its own particular lexicon and kind of grammar. Word balloons, for example, are a piece of visual grammar. They do not correspond to anything in reality, but they are a commonly understood element of the visual language of comics. By the same measure so are the breakdowns of panels and pages, as well as graphic elements such as motion lines, swirlies, anger fumes, and any number of other visual flourishes which artists employ to depict certain actions or emotions. There are even dialects, of sorts, within comics. Japanese comics depict rapid motion differently than western comics do. They also have their own visual language for depicting emotions like embarrassment or extreme anger, such as the enormous sweat drop.

But imagine for a moment a comic which could change to reflect where the reader is when it is read. Read it in one place, and it is set in New York City. Read it in another and the panels magically change and it is set in Seattle. Read a panel and watch a character actually blushing red, or hear the click as a gun is cocked. Instead of turning a page, tap on a panel and watch it expand to fill the screen as a whole new page. Continue Reading

Comic books have issues. Or perhaps I should say that I have issues with issues of comics? No that’s not right.

I have a problem with the way in which comic books are numbered. There it is.

If I haven’t mentioned it before (and I have), I’ve been reading comics for a long time—as I would suspect a fair number of you have as well. And as a long-time comic reader it’s sometimes easy to forget that comics—and I’m talking specifically about superhero comics here—can be incredibly intimidating to the uninitiated reader. Continue Reading

Cade’s Corner

Sometimes life sucks. Sometimes we all have depressing moments. Sometimes things seem as though they can’t get any worse. Sometimes you need some “outside” force to make things better.

Outside in this context is in air quotes, (or literal quotation marks in this case) because I wanted to talk about something that all of us have inside that can make things better. And I’m not talking about Faith (though if you are one who believes, do not allow me to sway you away from those beliefs). I am talking about Inner Strength. I am talking about the ability we all have to make things better than they are. I am talking about real change, and about being heroes to our own lives. Continue Reading

This year marks the 75th “birthday” of Batman, arguably one of the most popular comic book superheroes on the planet. While Bats has been in the public eye for years recently Batman has reached almost celebrity status.  It’s not hard to see why either.  He answers to no one, has unlimited gadgets and funds at his disposal, drives some of the best vehicles ever conceived of and, has his pick of beautiful women lining up to be with him.  Oh, and don’t forget that he can kick ass.  In fact, it’s that last quality that I believe has catapulted him to the superstar heights he currently exists at.  There is only one problem with all of that. It misses the point entirely. Continue Reading

In my last post I talked about about the nature of time in the context of superheroes, and I feel that there was one important point I didn’t hit upon that I still want to discuss. It has to do with the nature of change and growth within a fictional universe and why change is not just important, but necessary for the story to continue. First, however, I need to talk a bit about the nature of a fictional universe.

Fictional universes are a weird sort of thing. Reality has… well, reality. It’s filled with real places and real people who have a concrete existence independent of my observation of them. A fictional universe is, by definition, not real and it operates according to an entirely different set of operating principles: the rules of verisimilitude. Its existence is predicated only on the appearance of reality, and only those objects actively being observed by the audience have a determinate state. Continue Reading

This week on the podcast we’re reading Warren Ellis’s Planetary, which is one of my very favorite comic books. I highly recommend it to you if you’ve never read it, because I find that every time I read it I get a little bit more out of it, or that I notice some new additional nugget that I’d missed before. In particular I found a much deeper appreciation for it on this read through, having read and recorded long discussions about comics in the past year, and one panel stuck out to me in a way it never had before.

The protagonist of Planetary, Elijah Snow, is speaking to Sherlock Holmes circa 1920. Holmes is detailing to him the ideals—and failure of those ideals—of his generation of “the extraordinary.” The conversation ends with Holmes agreeing to instruct Snow in his methods, because “this is your century, and it needs you.”

This conversation stuck out to me because here we are in 2014—not quite a century from that fictional meeting, but close—and we are still largely dealing with the extraordinary of the 20th Century—its heroes and villains. They are characters with their own identities and lives, yes. But more than that they are fictional characters, designed and built as allegories for the woes of their time. Continue Reading

There are few characters in comics that are as misunderstood and dismissed as the one called The Man of Steel. So I figured we could have a little talk about Superman through the filter of pop culture. See, I have a few ideas about why Krypton’s last son is so derided. So I’ve decided to share these ideas because I believe that Superman is as dynamic and compelling as any other character.

Now before we start, I feel like I should say that I didn’t always have the love for Superman that I have now. In fact, despite the fact that I loved the Richard Donner movies well into my adulthood, I had written off Superman as a comic book hero by the time I had gotten back into comics as an adult. I found his relationship with Lois Lane to be more of a punch line than a statement. I found the idea of a godlike alien espousing the morality of Middle America to be corny and quaint. Damn. Just typing that out makes me want to yell at myself.

Now that I know Supes a bit better I’ve come to a different conclusion. Continue Reading

I spent my last post bashing on DC pretty hard, so this week I wanted to take a more positive tack and talk about one of the things I really like about superhero comics, at least as practiced by Marvel and DC. I mentioned in passing that I feel the shared universe is what gives superheroes a lot of their energy. But I think that there’s something more there.

For a long time I’ve felt that superhero comics are unique in contemporary fiction, insofar as the characters and the universe don’t belong to any one creator or authoritative voice. There is no George Lucas who is the chief architect and ultimate authority of the universe. Rob Liefeld created Deadpool, but his version of the character is no more definitive than Joe Kelly or Daniel Way’s. Denny O’Neil or Alan Moore’s voices have no greater weight than Grant Morrison’s when it comes to Batman. Each author lends their particular voice and narrative sense to a character or title for a time before eventually passing the torch on to another writer.

Now to be fair that’s true of a number of characters who have continued beyond the span of their author’s life. Sherlock Holmes, for example, has endured long beyond Arthur Conan Doyle’s life, reinvented for the modern day, thrown into the future, and even recast as a mouse. There are, however, two significant differences between this sort of reimagining and what we have in comics.

Continue Reading