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The Indisputable Matt Maxwell Presents:


Sometimes you just can’t think about what you should be writing about.

It happens. I mean, what are we talking about here? We’re talking about comic books. Comic books. Something you toss a quarter down for and roll up in your back pocket. Ultimately, these are disposable things, filled with disposable ideas based in the struggle to fill another twenty-odd pages of material this month. Granted, this was much more the case in the sliver age, right? Back then it was all bullpens filled with guys (and the odd woman or two, perhaps more, mostly in production) all sweating out next month so the goddamn artists could get to work on the goddamn pages and the newsstands would have plenty of material with the right indicia to make sure that the guys upstairs got paid.

What did that get us? That got us a whole lotta crazy. That got us a whole lot of blissfully fevered imagination and who the hell cares how nuts this last issue is because you’re going to have to do it all over again next month. In that regard, comics were pretty much like sitcoms, with the status quo resetting at the end of every episode (not unlike say, THE SIMPSONS, which used to make an art out of the process – not sure if they do it still, since I haven’t watched the show in years). And yes, I’m talking about comics where the main character reappeared every month, and not any of the myriad of short story or anthology comics that used to have a steady readership. SUPERMAN stayed pretty much the same, with Clark’s dual identities, the impossibility of real romance with Lois, Jimmy being the intrepid (and subject to various and sundry transformations or time-spanning adventures) cub reporter and Perry being gruff yet loveable. There was an invisible cosmic reset button. And man, did that thing get a workout.

Entire worlds were disposable back then? You want dramatic effect? Blow up a planet or two (heck, that trick still works). Dinosaurs invade? It’ll be forgotten next issue. New York atomized bit by bit by microscopic warriors from the future who have come to destroy the past and remake history the way they wanted it? Water under the bridge, my friends. It’ll all be forgotten and the world will be made anew to face another dire threat. Every single month. Nevermind that any one of those happening would have destroyed the collective psyche of the humans involved.

But you know what the great thing was? Nobody cared. It was far more likely that the world would be destroyed and recreated ten times over than it would that Superman and Lois would actually have a marriage that wasn’t imaginary or dreamed or nullified by some obscure law or didn’t take place on Sadie Hawkins day. And if you want to see this taken to the nth degree, even before the Silver Age, go check out I SHALL DESTROY ALL THE CIVILIZED PLANETS, which is so chock full of that sort of thing as to defy rational description. And I take it as my persona mission to mention that book as many times as I can so that everyone, everyone will share in the joy and wonder of it.

When you have an elastic world like that, anything is possible. It’s utterly unlike the world we live in, which is terrifically inflexible at times (yet capable of disarming surprises). Those books, in a word, were fantasy. I like fantasy. I get a healthy dose of reality every single day when I turn on the radio or look at the headlines online (no, I don’t get a daily paper anymore; reading TIME or THE ECONOMIST [talk about your contrasts] is about as close to it as I get now.) I read superhero or genre adventure stuff (when I read it—not as much as I used to) to get away from that. See, I’m one of those guys who thinks that superheroes do a real good job of addressing mythic themes, and even personal themes, but when it comes to addressing generally political themes, they fall short except in the rarest of circumstances. Mixing real world events and guys in tights who punch each other out generally does a disservice to one of those sides. And it’s not usually the guys in tights.

As with every rule, there’s exceptions. Oddly enough, one of these is CIVIL WAR, which I don’t really care for the execution of at all, but the concepts behind it are ones that would realistically play themselves out in a superhero-driven-reality. Yes, these themes have been at the periphery of the world of Marvel comics for some time now, everything from the plight of mutants to the Avengers-hatin’ Agent Gyrich. But making them explicit seems like a natural outgrowth for Marvel, even if, as I said, the results aren’t really readable for me. It was handled better, frankly, in THE WATCHMEN, but WATCHMEN was able to handle it better because it was an intellectual property backwater (until Alan Moore revived it) and a self-contained story where the world could be broken without destroying a host of other franchises in the process. This sort of thing does hamstring Marvel in comparison. But then CIVIL WAR will be undone in a couple years, so…

These things are stories. Stories, by their very nature, are not real. And praise Cthulhu for that. If stories were bound by the same laws that reality was, we’d be insane. I mean more insane than we are now. Stories are allowed to make sense when there is so much in life that is fundamentally sense-less. And if you’re not seeing that, you’re not opening your eyes very far when you get up in the morning. This is quite likely the basis for my impatience for story-less stories or where absurd and non-comical things happen because “That’s how it happens in life” or when Dr. Doom sheds a tear for the victims of 9/11. I mean, if you think about it, it is absurd for Victor von Doom to be touched by the deaths of all those who should rightly be his subjects, but not absurd in the right way.

So yeah, disposable fantasy? Yeah, there are times that I can use some of that. Superhero comics that admit (and maybe even relish) the baseline goofiness of the very concept of a man in tights who cares and can punch out evil, yeah, I can get behind that. When it’s done well. When it’s done badly, well, there’s not much worse out there, is there?

Matt Maxwell

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