Vincent S. Moore Presents:
Thrown Under The Omnibus
As promised last week, here’s my review of the Captain America Omnibus by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, Mike Perkins, and others.
In truth, I find writing this review relatively easy after having read the bulk of this monstrous tome, collecting the first 25 issues of Brubaker’s run as writer (or as the cover has proudly emblazoned upon it, Eisner Award Winner for Best Writer), plus the 65th Anniversary Special and the Winter Soldier: Winter Kills special. It was reading all of those comics that proved to be the hard work.
Not because the stories or the overarching master story themselves were difficult-to-understand reading. For the most part, everything was laid out quite simply. The difficulty, for me, lay in continuing to read issue after issue when there didn’t seem to any real reason to do so provided by the stories.
In conversations with fellow comics readers and a few professionals, I mentioned almost endless how the current paradigm of the six-issue-for-the-trade approach has effectively ruined any reason for most people to pick up the individual issues of a superhero comic produced by Marvel these days. Many writers and editors no longer have the skills or knowledge to craft interesting, dramatic, satisfying single issues within the frame work of a larger story, in my opinion. Or more to the point, they no longer have the desire or need to do so. The trade paperback market is the growing market, is the money making market, and like any good business, Marvel has adapted its products to sell to that market. And for us poor souls who are still stuck (addicted to?) going to the local comics shop every week or two, that’s just our tough luck.
Just as it was my tough luck to have bought this rather large book a few months ago, after hearing so much praise for the work on other websites and from other readers.
I bought the book and waited to clear my plate to give myself the time to read it.
When I found the time to start the Cap Omnibus, coincidentally enough, I started reading it on the bus while heading to a meeting. I started and read the first issue and stopped. I shook my head and continued reading the second issue and stopped, shaking my head again at just how boring what I was reading was. I switched buses and started to read again, picking up with the third issue, and stopped for the last time, wondering exactly what was it the caused so much praise for this work on the Internets. Because I wasn’t seeing it in the opening chapters.
I put the book down for a time.
That’s not good for any book, particularly one where the buyer had been looking forward to reading it.
I eventually did pick up the Cap Omnibus again and did read it and did finish most of it, the important parts of it. But only because:
A) I had promised Marc I would share with you readers my thoughts on the book.
B) I had spent nearly $50 on the damned thing.
and C) I had more than a couple cups of coffee to keep my eyes open and brain focused on the book long enough to actually read it.
After having read the Cap Omnibus, I can state here as I’ve said in other venues before, that Ed Brubaker and the rest of his team on the book have figured out the perfect way to deliver the most boring superhero comics I have ever seen.
What an achievement: boring superhero comics.
Now I’m sure that some of you reading this already think that superhero comics are boring for one reason or another. What can I say? I still find reading about the crazy, cosmic, fantastic adventures of men and women who embody the daydreams of both Friedrich Nietzsche and Horatio Alger to be pleasurable. The perfect antidote for living in a modern world more obsessed with reality and what is real than a schizophrenic.
But I was surprised as to how boring these comics were, given that I haven’t been following the goings-on with Marvel for a couple of years.
I’m not surprised now, after reading the Cap Omnibus, but I was surprised when I started it.
I want to dig into the book itself, to try to find out exactly what it was that bored me about it. Maybe that will answer the question for me. Maybe I’ll just feel more upset about having bought the damn thing.
Overall, the production values on the book itself are very high. As an object, the Cap Omnibus is a pretty book to look at or thumb through. I do admit to liking the larger size for these thicker Marvel hardcovers. It serves the art usually and makes the reading of the comics feel more like stepping into them, like watching a movie as if it were a 3D hologram.
Past that is where the troubles begin.
Back when he was writing “Master Of The Obvious” for Comic Book Resources, Steven Grant wrote a column about the post-superhero movement. He opened by pointing out that the superhero genre was essentially built around the fight scene, the battle between the good guy(s) and the bad guy(s). I don’t know about any of you readers, but I initially disagreed with that assessment by Mr. Grant. Over the years, pulling back from my initial fanboy-based reaction and rereading some of my favorite older comics, I began to see just how right Grant’s analysis was.
Superhero comics, wish fulfillment power fantasies that they are, are primarily structured around some kind of physical conflict or combat between different forces. One can try to place deeper meanings to these fights, as the old saw by Walt Simonson put it where the outer fight seen by the audience was a metaphor for some inner conflict between the opponents. Fights between the X-Men and Magneto are perfect examples of this, as the two sides are representing the two different and differing philosophies of what place mutants are to have in the world. Or fights between Superman and Lex Luthor are cases of brawn versus brains. Or with Batman and the Joker, determination versus insanity.
Lester Dent, writer of many Doc Savage novels, crystallized this story structure in his Master Fiction Plot, where each act or part of the ideal tale ended with some kind of physical conflict between the hero and his foe or his foe’s henchmen.
The superhero works best when he or she is in action.
And this is where the Cap stories by Ed Brubaker go wrong.
Because Brubaker, like many of the writers working at Marvel these days, is much more interested in depicting superheroes in conversation than action.
I imagine this would be fascinating if one were watching a play or a film. But when one is reading this in a comic, it fails to fascinate fully. I found myself wondering when the story was going to get started. I kept wondering right up until I finished Cap #25. I’m still wondering as I write this.
Particularly since writers like Mark Waid and Chris Claremont can make scenes of characters simply talking terribly interesting. One of the best I’ve ever read was Mage The Hero Discovered #14 by Matt Wagner; he knew just how to make the conversation between Kevin Matchstick and Mirth endlessly fascinating and entertaining. A skill that Brubaker doesn’t have, no matter who was talking.
The lack of action is aided by the stiff art of Steve Epting and Mike Perkins for the bulk of the book. Their pages look more like storyboards than comics at times, the work within the panels is static and rigid. In many ways, this too is the new standard in comics art. The rise of artists like Alex Ross and John Cassaday brought a new desire for realistic rendering of figures and objects to many artists. The fundamental problem with that desire is the best comics combine the real with the dynamic. Neal Adams’ work is often hailed as being powerfully realistic. When looking at an Adams drawing, one is notices how it moves on the page even when the image of something still. The kind of realism now being upheld as the gold standard is too photorealistic, too static. It makes for poor comics, especially if compared to masters like Kirby, Hogarth, Kubert, Buscema, and Colan. Those artists knew how to make their work sing and dance on the page. The primary artists on the issues covered in the Cap Omni--Epting and Perkins--do not or have forgotten how.
The murky, gloomy coloring by Frank D’Armata put the final nail in the coffin for the Cap Omni. On many pages I found myself straining to see just what was going on in certain panels. The choice of palette for the issues (most of the 65th Anniversary Special being the only exception) may have fit the overall mood of the stories but did little to help the storytelling.
And I think that was the point of the whole series of Cap stories that make up the Omnibus.
The twenty five issues plus specials contained with the pages of the Captain America Omnibus show us a Captain America about to face, facing, and being destroyed by the new aesthetic and editorial focus at Marvel. It shows us a Captain America slowly dividing within himself just as he’s about to deal with the divisions brought by Civil War. It shows us a Cap moving into a more “realistic” world, whatever the fuck that means in a place where people can fly, shoot rays out of their eyes or hands, and the technology can be decades to millennia past what exists depending on where one goes and with whom one deals.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that last issue printed in the book (well, not really the last issue but issue #10 doesn’t count as it’s a House Of M crossover issue only included for completion of the run), is the issue where Captain America dies, part one of “The Death of The Dream.” It’s not a coincidence because I think the whole block of issues covering the first two plus years of Ed Brubaker’s run is about the death of a dream. Not merely the dreams of being a superhero, righting wrongs in a black and white world. But the death of even aspiring to higher values than safety and security, honor and service.
It is the death of the world of wonder Marvel once represented, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and others. A world that was both outside our windows and beyond the horizon.
And that is a dangerous thing.
For without role models who are more than we are, how do we reach beyond ourselves to grow? When our heroes are just like ourselves, why should we strive to be better than what we are?
That’s it for this time, faithful readers.
As mentioned last week, there will be a three week hiatus for the Comics Waiting Room. So the Omnium Gatherum will return in the new year of 2008.
May whatever holidays you celebrate out there in Internetland be joyful ones.
Copyright 2006- 2010 Marc Mason/Comics Waiting Room. All rights reserved