Thursday, 21 May 2009

Why are big American comics such arse?

I like comics, why shouldn't I? I'm an emotionally stunted white male in his early twenties, who enjoys graphic violence and craves escape from his almost unbearable life but is too afraid to take the mans way out. Comics are the perfect medium for me. However, my love of comics, through kindled in early childhood with plentiful Beanos and Dandys, took a while to develop, mainly because of one simple factor: Marvel and DC are both pretty much utter wank. With the exception of a few decent Batman graphic novels not under Vertigo, they may in fact be total wank. Why am I saying this? Well, partly for hilarious angry comments, and partly because it's true.

Let me explain my position.

My favourite publishers of comics, and my favourite comic (in the sense of something that come out weekly or biweekly and costs far too much) is 2000AD. What is the difference between, say, Marvel, and 2000AD. Let's take a look at some of their more popular creations. For example, Marvel have Spiderman, an emotionally crippled geek who shoots epoxy resin out of his wrists. 2000AD have Judge Dredd.

You see where I'm coming from?

You see, the thing about superheroes, is that they are, for want of a better word, retarded. Firstly, the costumes. Really, if you were an alien superbeing who could fly, shoot lasers out his eyes and bend steel with his bare hands (along with fuck knows what else) would you really wear your gold spandex y-fronts on the outside of blue spandex tights? Maybe it's a good way of starting fights? Has Superman ever fought interstellar fashion police? Okay, yeah, so, he's an alien and he can play snooker by headbutting the moons of Jupiter. But what about, to pick a random example, Captain America? As far as I understand it, Captain America was a frail man who was transformed into the ultimate soldier with drugs to fight the Nazis. This is an American soldier in world war two:
And this is Captain America:
The urge at this juncture to say something that could be construed as homophobic in the wrong light is almost devastating. It also brings me on to suspension of disbelief. Now, both Marvel and DC comics, I believe, take place in alternative universes, so that's not my particular gripe. It's more about internal self-consistency and just having things make SOME sort of sense. I mean, in one early Strontium Dog story, Johnny Alpha and Wulf go back in time to arrest Hitler. This is arguably much more insane (and bold) than anything ever attempted in mainstream American publications, but it does make sense. Johnny Alpha is a time-travelling, dimension hopping bounty hunter, and it's not even the most bizarre thing he does (he goes to hell at one point, and kills the devil*). This is more remarkable because Johnny Alpha exists in the same timeline as us, since 2000AD's universe is consistently portrayed as our future**. Yet all the Marvel and DC superheroes, despite living in worlds which seem to have definitely had Hitlers, did sweet fuck all. OK, fine, it wouldn't have been politic to have superheroes defeating Hitler back in the actual forties, but it's all been retconned to fuck now anyway. Yet these superheroes seem to make bugger-all real impact on the world around them, not in the way you might actually expect at least. To be honest, I am kinda covering dead territory here, as everything I've just said is one of the subtexts of Watchmen, expressed with infinitely more crudity. The truth is, I'm kind of in danger of shooting myself in the foot. It's not like I'm an expert on this shit. I was going to go into the political aspect. Political and social content within American comics, apart from obvious exceptions such as the 'insert minority here' undercurrent of the X-Men, seems generally right wing. Apart from the most blatant examples (Frank Miller's Batman), just the basic idea that all someone needs is to dispense justice with not just deadly but often apocalyptic force is a spandex suit and a laser powered orifice or two is somewhat suspect. Then we have that recent 'fighting against superhero registration' plot in Marvel. I wonder what superheros stand for there? I'll give you a clue: they're both good at killing people quickly, but Charlton Heston only liked to fondle one of them (as far as we know). Then there's all those 'very special comics', in which social commentary is obtained by having Captain America teach a diverse group of children that drugs are bad (despite, you know). And I've had people actually tell me they don't like Judge Dredd because it's 'Fascist'. Way to miss the point.

Anyway, what was I saying? Ah yes, American comics are full of dull people in tights, British comics are full of magnificent bastards in black leather who kill a lot. I should have done a degree in Media Studies.

*It's much more complex than this, but no spoilers.

**To be fair, Hitler is only nabbed after he has faked his suicide.

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