Monday, May 15, 2006

Animal Man - mapping the creative

I received the second Animal Man trade on Friday. By Saturday evening I had finished reading it. I’m wondering why there simply aren’t more comics like this? It is bloody brilliant. It was so good I had to use English slang. You know something is good when I slip into English English.

I’m not lamenting a late great age of comics. I never took part in that late great time because this is the first time I’ve read Animal Man. I don’t think comics were any better or worse at any time period (although these Showcase collections make my brain hurt). There is just something about this collection that made me, well, pissed that there aren’t as many great books as there possibly could be. There is a lot I enjoy but I seem to be enjoying things for different reasons than I enjoyed this collection.

I enjoyed this collection mostly because it continued down the “meta” road that was started in the coyote story in the first volume. I love that stuff. I love it in any medium but best in anything that is comic or cartoon related because it works so much better than any other medium. C’mon, you all loved it when Homer was on the couch and tell Bart and Lisa that “Hey, it’s a cartoon. It doesn’t have to be 100% accurate.” While he is simultaneously walking by the window of the house.

I think, if anything, this collection is strengthening my idea that the end of the eighties was basically a high-water mark for comics. Think about all your favourite books. When were they created? How many hit the shelves in the eighties? I find it sort of freaky that during a decade that pushed commercialism and frivolity to new heights there were such ground breaking works created. Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns are the classic examples I’ll always go back to, but Animal Man was right up there with them.

Maybe someone who knows more about this time and the history of comics can clarify some points here? I’m sort of just typing unfiltered thought at the moment. But my undeveloped and unfounded theory is that in the eighties comics were simply free to do what they wanted because nobody was really paying attention to them. There was the residual aspect that comics where simply the stories we’re all reading in the Showcase collections. The companies weren’t printing money so they just said, fuck it, what have we got to lose? You want to kill them off, go ahead, they’re not selling anymore anyway. You want to write about cartoon coyotes and then make the characters become aware of their relationship to our world – knock yourself out. What did they have to lose?

Then the speculators market hit as the underground became less so, Boom, Bust, Echo. We’re still in the echo I think. The build up to the boom, just between the silence and the explosion is proving to be a phenomenal time period to me. Everything I’m getting from then seems to be pleasing me. I guess I’m the lucky one though. I’m older now and history has cut out the tripe for me so I can focus on the prime cuts. Hmm, I’ll try to avoid using meat references when talking about Animal Man from now on.

So yeah. Right now I see comics that can’t repeat the things that created the high water mark without seeming trite and pedestrian. So instead we get the whole recycling phenomenon hitting comics. Whereas new ground was broken in the mid to late eighties, now it’s about reducing, reusing and recycling. We’re in the post-environmental age of comics. We’ve seen “everything.” There is no more New Frontier. The only frontier left to explore is the history of the medium itself. I don’t think that’s the case, but it sure feels like that’s where things are going.

I see comics that are slightly playing with format and structure. They are cutting comics back to basics or printing a continuing story weekly instead of monthly or they’re dividing up the heroes over a present day issue. They’re saying, hey we’re aware of the world outside the medium whereas Animal Man actually looked at you and got spooked. Okay that issue isn’t in this collection but a lot of the characters are starting to interact with the audience. They aren’t written simply for the audience but with and by the audience and Morrison.

Superhero comics took risks, survived and improved the medium once. Where do they go from there? As much as I’m liking comics today I’m not seeing this same dedication to pushing a medium to the cutting edge. Yes, I like the new Batman and Superman and I’m even giving Civil War a shot, but going back to basics isn’t the same as progress. It’s good to remember where you came from but in the end, it’s where your going that determines whether or not these will be good stories. I guess I just like my comics that strive into unfamiliar territory instead of retracing the steps of an adventurer. The trouble is a lot of adventurers die horrible and untimely deaths, I suppose. Who'll finance that?

I’m left wondering though, where is the new territory now that the entire world is mapped?

I have to say the art is kind of dated though.

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