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.
In my previous post I talked about the idea of conceptual space and how fictional works that bend or defy genre classification can reveal new and interesting creative dimensions. I wanted to continue on with that line of thought a bit and discuss how it relates to my problems with the New-52 era at DC Comics.
If you’ve been listening to the podcast, I think we’ve been very clear about many of our issues with DC. There are any number of criticisms that can be leveled against DC, from their ongoing problems with the depiction of female characters, to the general undercutting of creators, to the way in which they’ve actively sought to undermine (or outright eliminate) any sort of character growth that has occurred in the DC Universe over the past 30 years. These are all issues we’ve touched on that I consider problematic. But I also feel that they are all symptoms—or at least byproducts—of a greater and more pernicious problem: DC is intentionally trying to strangle the life out of the DCU. Continue Reading
In conceiving View from the Gutters, one thing we agreed about early on was that we didn’t want to just do another review show where we yacked about which issues we’d picked up new that week. We wanted to engage in a conversation; not just amongst ourselves but with the whole comics reading community. To discuss stories—both new and old—and to learn more about the medium we love by experiencing comics we wouldn’t normally read on our own.
That conversation, however, extends beyond what we can meaningfully discuss in our weekly book club format. I—perhaps more than the other hosts—have on occasion steered us away from getting lost in conversations too far afield from what is ostensibly our topic for the week. However, those are important conversations to have, and as our club matures we intend to delve into those topics more deeply.
One way we’ll be doing this is in special bonus episodes devoted to topics we feel to be important to comics both as a medium and a community, rather than discussing a specific comic work. Another is through a regular series of blog posts in which one member of our group or another will attempt to speak on a particular subject important to them. We invite our listeners to comment on these posts, as with all of our content, and add your own voice to the discussion.
In this, the first such blog post, I wanted to talk a bit both about a comic which is near and dear to my heart and more broadly about genre, setting, and the idea of “conceptual space” as it relates to comics. The particular comic I want to discuss is one I’ve pitched on the show, but as of the date of this writing we have not yet discussed: Elfquest. Continue Reading