Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Distinguished Competition

I like the Beatles more than the Stones. Mostly, I think, 'cause I grew up on them more, but also 'cause, like Rev. Norb once said, "Oh, sure, the Stones are bad boys, but the Beatles were better because they were funnier and smarter." These kinds of simple distinctions are kinda annoying when people lob them at you--Beatles or Stones, Raw or Delirious, Joel or Mike--but that doesn't change the fact that they're true sometimes.

I grew up on Marvel way more than DC. But for a while there, when I came back into collecting full force again after my little on-leave a while ago, DC piqued my interest a lot more than it ever had. Maybe it was 'cause I didn't really have a history with those characters. Like, after not reading any books steadily for about five years, I couldn't enjoy a Marvel book because I was just too anxious worrying about all the continuity I'd missed or (even worse) forgotten. But right around when 52 ended, my interest in DC all but waned entirely, while Bendis has pretty much insured that I'll buy every major Marvel crossover until it actually is 2099.

That being said, I'd like to talk about some of the things DC does right, stuff that Marvel never seems to be able to do. For openers, DC's current weekly Wednesday Comics. If you haven't seen these, do yourself a favor and go grab 'em up. I believe the fifth issue should just be hitting the stands as I write this. Just buy one so you have something nice to look at. What these books are, see, are over-sized newsprint comics, the format of the old Sunday funnies where comics got their start back in the Golden '30s. Unless you're gung-ho, the creators' names won't mean much to you, but heavy hitters like Azzarello & Risso and Kyle Baker were enough to get me to pre-order them. The format is kinda awkward (don't try to read them in the park on a breezy day), but I'll tell you, and not to sound cornball, but they are simply beautiful works of art. Big, lavish splash pages; intricate sequential plotting; it's enough to make my mouth water just thinking about it. And they're on actual newsprint! I don't care what a cranky old man I normally sound like, I'm not nearly old enough to be nostalgic for the radio days, but newsprint was used for comics almost exclusively up until the mid to late '90s, when everybody started using that higher stock paper that's still just way too slick, especially for my punk-rock sensibilities. So hop on down to the shop and grab these up.

The western is a genre on a whole that DC has all over Marvel, always has and always will. I've raved about Jonah Hex in these pages before, but that's really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the vast and colorful western back-catalog DC has. El Diablo, the Jekyll-and-Hyde of the Old West. Bat Lash, the pretty-boy ladies' man who can blow your guns out of your belt at fifty paces. Scalphunter, the baddest redskin to ever wield a tomahawk and, now that I think about, at least a distant relative to Scalped's Dashiell Badhorse. What does Marvel have? The Rawhide Kid? Hey, I love Kirby as much as the next guy, but c'mon. Plus, Marvel had to go and try to make that character more relevant recently by making him gay, and we all know how well attempts like that work out (Northstar, anyone?). Sure, it was done tongue-in-cheek (ahem), and the book was still worth it for the Severin art, but I dunno. Just kinda gay, you ask me. Who else? Two-Gun Kid? Kid Colt? I dunno, these characters are to DC's stable as the corny oaters of the old days are to the spaghetti westerns of the '60s. Two-Gun Kid and Kid Colt are like Gene Autry: boring in their stark morality, that bullshit "good guys always win" routine. Jonah Hex is Clint Eastwood; there ain't no morals in them thar hills, and it ain't always the best man who wins. Usually the opposite, in fact. When you wanna a good western, go to DC.

And finally, there's Gail Simone. It's rare that I follow the works of any women writers. I say this just as a statement of fact, not to further any kinda misogynist agenda (I can do that later, if you want). But there it is, and this is not just in comics, but in pretty much all other media I enjoy. Why that is, I don't really know, or at least I don't have a really good reason. But when it comes to writers like Gail Simone, then I notice how much I could be missing by having my comic collection be such a sausage-fest. I'd seen her name around a bunch and I'm sure I must have read a thing or two by her, but the first thing I remember really grabbing me was her opening run on the current Atom series. I began picking that book up originally because Grant Morrison had had much to do with it editorially, kinda setting the book up and then letting Simone run with it. But after a while, you could really see how much was his and how much was hers and how grateful I was for it. Normally, that kinda disjunction would be really off-putting, but in this case, it was really nice to see the story come into its own on its own, and pretty much under Simone's own power.
If I wasn't so lazy, I could go dig those out, re-read them and let you know where exactly that happens, but there you go. You oughtta just go down to the comic shop and pick up the first couple trades of that series, and also her Secret Six, also on DC. And as far as I know, she's never done anything for Marvel, not anything of as much significance anyways. Maybe she will at some point; I mean, hell, it's not like the old days when you had to sign a loyalty oath or anything. But until then, Gail Simone is another feather in DC's cap, one that Marvel is sorely lacking.

Of course, there's Vertigo, which is still DC's strongest asset, and WildStorm puts out some good stuff, but I still think of that as Jim Lee's company, I don't care where the money's coming from now. Marvel doesn't really have much in the way of direct competition there in the way of (for lack of a better phrase) smaller press-type stuff, although what they do have is pretty significant: Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' Criminal and Incognito, and of course, Garth Ennis' pure-genius run on The Punisher. The strength of those three books alone is almost enough to fairly well eclipse DC. Still and all, Vertigo has alone put out some of the most important comics of the last couple decades, and WildStorm continues to open doors for a lotta unknown guys (notably here, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips). So that's technically another win in their column.

But DC still sucks. Their characters have been around a whole lot longer than Marvel's and therefore are way more overused, even compared to how overused characters like Spider-Man and Wolverine are. Both companies have pretty equally painfully embarrassing eras, but Marvel still manages to come off as the younger, hipper publisher, the Pepsi to DC's Coke. I mean, to any non-collector, a passing glance at books from either company from any era would look about the same, so an argument like this is mostly intellectual (so to speak). But then, internally, within the comics industry, I think DC has fucked up way worse and way more often than Marvel. We can all agree Quesada's pretty much a putz, and Stan Lee's high visibility these past few years has been more embarrassing than the Invisible Girl's costume from the '90s. But! DC has thoroughly angered Alan Moore and his giant snake-god, and that's just not cool. WildStorm sent Ennis and Robertson's The Boys packing, which is incredibly short-sighted and immature of them and definitely Dynamite's major gain. They killed Vic Sage, but that's more of a personal complaint, since The Question was actually one of the very, very first comics I read that really grabbed me. Need I mention the Tim Burton Batman movies? Oh, and the current logo from since about '05 is still lame.

So I'm still a Marvel zombie, through and through (ironic, since I think Marvel Zombies is one of the lamest books out there right now). But that doesn't mean I can't tip my hat when the Distinguished Competition comes along and shows me a great comic book. And maybe if they keep it up...

Well, let's not lose our heads here.