Sunday, February 10, 2008

2/6/08 Comics: How Much Do I Care?

In response to my enthusiasm over Brand New Day, local comic book reader and Danny Rand look-alike Marc Wrzesinski commented that he just doesn't "care about the 616 Peter Parker anymore." Which made me think, "I like Brand New Day, but I don't care about the 616 Peter Parker--did I ever care about him? Do I care about any comic book characters? Why do I buy comics if I don't care about the characters? Is there something wrong with me?"

The answer to that last question is clearly "yes," but I'm more interested in trying to figure out whether or not I DO care about some characters and not others, and why I buy the comics I buy.

So let's look at a selection of this past weeks' new releases, and figure out why I buy these things (by the way, some things I DIDN'T buy interest me, like Northlanders, but I've taught myself to start waiting for the trade when I can):

Jonah Hex #28: Do I care about the character of Jonah Hex? Nope. I buy this every month because I am interested in seeing how Palmiotti and Gray play with the conventions of the comic book Western, and I'm curious to see how they'll structure a single-issue story. I also like the tone of this series, usually, with its grim visions of redemption and vengeance. Plus, every once in a while the great European artists Jordi Bernet joins the fun, which is great to see.

The Boys #15: Do I care about any members of the cast of this comic? Nope. If any or all of them were killed in the next issue it wouldn't phase me one bit. I'd hope the series continued, but the characters are replaceable. I buy this every month because it pushes beyond the boundaries of good taste, it savages super-hero archetypes, and generally surprises me with the extremes to which it will go. I was profoundly influenced, as a younger comic book reader, by the Mills O'Neill Marshall Law, and The Boys treads similar territory.

Annihilation Conquest #4: I like the space opera genre. I like the war genre. I like the super-hero genre. I like them when they're mixed together well. I don't necessarily care about any of the characters in this story, but I do have a fondness for Star-Lord's new costume, and I like the new Adam Warlock as a concept. But I buy it for the Lensman-style action (as in the structure of the series in which bigger threats are revealed lurking behind what you thought were the biggest threats. The Phalanx is the big threat--no, wait, behind the Phalanx lies Ultron! Etc.). I buy it because it's a cosmic, plot-driven ride through Marvel's outer-space. Not for the characters.

Uncanny X-Men #495: I don't know WHY I buy this. It's certainly not for the characters, at least not how they're presented here. I do have a fondness for the X-Men, though. I like the characters when they are done well (i.e. by Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne, or Morrison, or Whedon), so I guess maybe I do buy this comic for the characters, hoping that the series will improve. I also buy it because Ed Brubaker is capable of writing excellent comic book stories. He hasn't done it on this series yet, but he still could. I'm also seriously considering dropping this one, even though it's the only comic on the list so far which has characters I kind of care about. Shows how little caring about the characters means when it comes to my comic buying choices.

Metal Men #6: I don't care about the Metal Men or Doc Magnus (although I find Magnus far more interesting than the title characters), but I buy this for Duncan Rouleau's art and for the sheer ambition of this series. This is a complex narrative, involving a vast array of characters, multiple time frames, and interwoven plot threads. I don't think it works at all as a monthly series (even a limited one), because of its complexity, but if you're willing to hold your breath and dive in, it's fun to immerse yourself in Rouleau's world. I can't wait until it's completed so I can read the whole story in one sitting and figure out what's actually going on.

Ms. Marvel #24: I do care about Carol Danvers a little, especially in this incarnation: she's a strong woman trying to be a better person. A flawed character who probably shouldn't be given the responsibility for leading a team, but she finds herself leading two of them. She has a military background but plenty of battle scars (more emotional than physical). I think she makes a wonderful lead character, and writer Brian Reed makes this book interesting each month. I buy it because of the writing, though, not for the art and not really for the character.

Scalped #14: I clearly buy this for the creative team. I'll buy anything Jason Aaron writes (he's getting me to buy Ghost Rider this Wednesday. Ghost. Rider.) and I'll probably buy anything R. M. Guera illustrates in the future. These two guys are top-notch creators. Do I care about Dashiell Bad Horse? I do. He's a character I do care about, because the creators have made me care. But that's a rarity, and it's certainly not the main thing I look for in a comic book. These guys just happen to be very good at making me care, AND at creating something which plays with narrative form and genre conventions. No wonder I like this comic so much.

Comics are my favorite medium. I love many of them passionately. And it's nice when I connect emotionally with a character, but it's not why I read comics, and I don't care if Peter Parker gets stabbed in the eye or loses his job or can't get a date, Brand New Day is still resulting in good comics--comics that have better stories, better art, and better pacing than anything that's come out of the Spider-Man comics in years. One of the joys of ongoing comics is seeing how new creative teams reinterpret the traditions of the past, and if it helps you get over the loss of Mary Jane, think of Brand New Day as "All-Star Spider-Man." You'd probably read an "All-Star Spider-Man" comic with these creative teams, wouldn't you?


Chad Nevett said...

You don't care about Wee Hughie? There's totally something wrong with you.

Timothy Callahan said...

I enjoy watching him squirm. But I don't care what happens to him. Will I shed a tear if he gets horribly mangled in a super-hero incident gone wrong? No. Would you?

Chad Nevett said...

Maybe a figurative tear because I rarely cry. But, yeah, I care about him. One of the few characters I can say I genuinely care about in comics.

marcwrz said...

I Do read All-Star Spidey every month...its called Ultimate Spider-Man.

Your argument is valid Tim, I give it that but frankly, when MJ and Aunt May were both finally characters I liked reading about thanks to JMS...who had some pretty terrible stories as well, it is a slap in the face to see it all essentially wiped out.

Besides, not buying Spider-Man 3x a month means I can afford books like Casanova and Iron Fist.

And I know you won't argue with the Matt Fraction love. haha

Marc Caputo said...

Great question, Tim. My first, gut response was, "I'm a plot/concept/idea guy and a character guy second." But plots mean nothing if there aren't interesting characters to run them.

But on review, I have to care about characters to this degree: I don't care what happens to them as long as I can gauge that the writers care what happens to them. As long as I can say that what happens to them happens organically and for the sake of the story, then fine.

Look at Alan Rickman's Hans Gruber from the first Die Hard - I LOVE THAT CHARACTER! And I DID care what happened to him - I cared that he died horribly. And he did.

Now look at Vic Mackey from "The Shield". Over 6 seasons he's done a lot of bad stuff but a lot of good too. He can live or die - I don't care. Just make me believe. BUT - the show should end along the lines of him vs. Shane, because that's the way it's been headed.

In comics, it's pretty much the same - dowhatchulike, but I need to feel that it happened for the right narrative reasons.

Streebo said...

I loved JMS' first few years on Spiderman. He breathed new life and ideas into the characters and showed that a married adult Spiderman could be involved in great stories.

As others have said, this retcon has destroyed my vested interest in these characters. I do not care about BND - because how do I know that I won't read it for one year and all of a sudden Joe Q decides it's not working and switches back to Peter Parker and MJ in Hell? I learned my lesson reading X-books in the Nineties. Burn me once, shame on you, burn me twice, shame on you again, Marvel.

Timothy Callahan said...

Marc W.--I know what you mean about buying other stuff instead. I told myself I wasn't going to buy BND, because it's $9.00 a month I could spend on other comics, but I got sucked in by the creative team, and, as I said--I LOVE the three-times-a-month pace. The Spidey team is using the schedule well.

Marc C--Excellent point. If I trust the creators to do right by the characters, and not to do stuff out of spite or carelessness, then I'm along for the ride. Which explains the animosity others have toward BND. People don't trust Marvel to do right by Peter Parker, even if the creative teams have the best intentions. I can see that.

Streebo--Let's say a year from now, or two years, or whatever, Quesada decides to go back to the marriage and the BND stories never happened. Does that invalidate the quality of the BND stories? No. You still had an opportunity to enjoy them while they lasted (assuming you bought the issues). Possible future changes should never dampen your appreciation for the present. And I don't think the Mephisto stuff is a retcon. The marriage still happened, and all those stories still happened, and the reader still remembers them, which informs the reading of the new stuff. It adds layers of depth, and it doesn't invalidate your enjoyment of the JMS issues.