By Matt D. Wilson
Each week, Matt Wilson, co-host of the War Rocket Ajax podcast and author of The Supervillain Handbook, examines at a major comic news item and picks a few winners and one loser among the week’s comic book releases.
Notice I didn’t say that 2013 is Superman’s 75th birthday, though a lot of people have been putting it that way. The trouble is that Superman isn’t an actual person. He’s a character creators have been reinventing for decades. Every few years, Superman is reborn, sent to Earth again and picked up by the Kents. He grows up and moves to Metropolis. He becomes that hero all over again. Superman has, by now, probably 30 birthdays. Maybe more. He’ll have another when “Man of Steel” comes out June 14.
What turns 75 this year isn’t a person, or even a character. It’s an idea. That idea didn’t spring, fully formed, into the pages of “Action Comics” one afternoon. Two guys worked together to construct it.
Perhaps my saying that seems a tad didactic. Of course Superman was the work of creators. Who would say otherwise? But too often we forget it. Too often we think about the characters we see in the comics we read or the TV we watch or the movies we go to see as these independent entites, devoid of context, and separate from the people who brought them to us.
When I was in college, I wrote a paper — one of those very collegey papers in which students try to shoehorn their interests into whatever they’re studying — about how comic-book superheroes are the modern equivalent of ancient gods; a content analysis thing. It was anything but an original observation, and upon reflection, I’d probably go back and tell myself not to write it.
Here’s why: Myths were part of an oral tradition, a set of stories shared by an entire culture for their enrichment. No one owned them. No one could claim them.
Superhero comics, on the other hand, are products. Not to say the stories within them don’t enrich us somehow, but they’re commodities companies have been producing for years, in hopes that they’ll make a buck on them. The stories themselves have often been an afterthought, at least for the parent companies. We share the stories as a culture to a degree, but, in the end, someone owns those characters, and someone owns everything that those characters did.
This isn’t some screed against capitalism. We live in a different society than the ancient mythmakers did, and I can safely say I prefer copyright protection to the prospect of being slaughtered by vandals. My point is that it isn’t our duty as fans of a creation to honor the companies that produce the works those characters appear in. Their connection to those works are tenuous at best.
But we also know who’s responsible for the stories. Who really did care.
The people we should really be honoring are the ones who offered up so much of themselves and their lives to make these characters so well-realized that we often think of them as entities that exist of their own volition.
We love a medium that’s based on the powerful sticking up for the little guy. It’d benefit us to apply it to our own lives sometimes.
And now this week’s comics!
(Marvel Comics, by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee)
Mark Waid has spent the last few issues of his run on “Daredevil” disabusing fans of this notion that this version of the book, which still has something of a brighter tone than previous iterations, is less complex than those stories. Matt Murdock’s life is still quite operatic, and this plus-sized issue feels like the ending of the second act, where masterminds are revealed and big connections are made. Everything ties together really well, and Matt Murdock/Daredevil’s palpable panic, not something we see too often from the character, is brought to stunning life by Samnee’s art. This is in the running for my issue of the year.
“Sub-Atomic Party Girls” #1
(Monkeybrain Comics, by Chris Sims, Chad Bowers and Erika Henderson)
Full disclosure: Chris Sims is a friend of mine, so you might want to take this review with a grain of salt, but I thought the first issue of this comic he co-wrote with writing partner Chad Bowers was a barrel of fun. There’s an alien who worships Bob Seeger in it. It’s really Henderson who brings everything to life, though, and her depiction of the first-ever girl group rocking the deep recesses of space is really something to behold.
“Young Avengers” #5
(Marvel Comics, by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie and Mike Norton)
I’m not the biggest fan of team books that take five or six issues to finally get their entire teams together, but it’s hard to deny the impact when it finally does happen in this issue of the revamped “YA.” The creative team has a real handle on all these characters, particularly young Loki, whose many facets are explored here, and the final pages of this issue really do feel like a pivotal moment. If nothing else, this is an incredibly well-designed comic that can really sweep you up in its style. Luckily, the story is ratcheting up to something really interesting, too.
“Batman Incorporated” #11
(DC Comics, by Chris Burnham and Jorge Lucas)
Is this a filler issue? Absolutely. But Burnham and Lucas at least took things in the right direction. Rather than trying to shoehorn something into the ongoing story — which ended on a big cliffhanger in #10 — the action moves halfway around the world where the team explores the day-to-day crime fighting life of the Batman of Japan. The whole thing reads as a little old-fashioned, and a bit stilted in places, but that seems to be the point. It’s “Batman” ’66 through a filter of “Power Rangers,” manga and soap opera. If you’re in on the joke, it’s a fun time.
“The Green Team” #1
(DC Comics, by Art Baltazar, Franco and Ig Guara)
I was hestitant to make this issue this week’s loser — nothing I read completely fit the bill, really — but in the end, I had to come down on the side of putting it here. It’s a shame, too, because this is a comic that’s full of potential. I came into it expecting to instantly hate all the entitled, one-percenter characters, but they actually won me over with the dialogue about how they don’t want to be like their parents and would prefer to help people. That’s the good part. The bad part is that this is an issue that eats up the lion’s share of its pages depicting its characters walking through a warehouse, attending an impromptu exposition (which, appropriately, is full of exposition). I’m sure it’s all building to something, but a first issue’s really got to grab you in its first few pages. This one doesn’t. And, again, it’s a shame, because once the thing actually does get around to pushing toward an overarching concept for the book, I think it’s pretty interesting.