Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at all the comics and other stuff we’ve been reading lately. Our special guests today are Brendan Tobin and Pedro Delgado, who run the March MODOK Madness site. And with this being March, the madness is in full swing, so head over there to check out a lot of fun art featuring everyone’s favorite big-headed villain.
To see what Brendan, Pedro and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.
This post is about world-building. Ideally (and at the risk of being too cute), world-building would be what you made of it. The notion of a shared superhero universe implies a certain level of consistency, which at best offers a rich, textured backdrop and at worst becomes a tangled thicket of details. Naturally, each reader’s level of involvement will vary, and these days readers have quite a few options. Today I’m trying to sketch a general picture of how those options affect the stories themselves, and vice versa.
* * *
Over the years — over the decades, really — it has been suggested that I read too many comic books. These concerns are not insignificant, and over the decades I have tried to deal with them appropriately.
However, while talking about DC’s Big Events with a friend on the way to the movies, I got a new perspective on the way these stories are received. Basically, my friend had seen Identity Crisis on a list of all-time worst comics and wanted my thoughts, because he had enjoyed it. Similarly, he liked Blackest Night not so much for the nonstop carnage, but for the sense that there were consequences.
Last week I asked why the Silver Age is so pervasive in DC lore. Even though that’s something of a rhetorical question, I felt like it was left largely unanswered. The short answer is that the Silver Age represents the modern DC Universe’s origin story, so you’re never going to get rid of it entirely, regardless of reboots, relaunches, and/or legacy characters. However, in terms of style and tone, things are naturally more complicated.
It’s hard for me to talk about the Silver Age without relating it to the subsequent Bronze Age, mostly because I grew up with the comics of the mid-1970s. I see the Silver Age as an era of wild ideas, told in standalone stories which were light on consequences, whereas the Bronze took those stories and ideas and extrapolated a more “realistic” status quo from them. This is not to say that the Bronze Age was some vast improvement, since realism in superhero comics is a tricky prospect at best.
However, to me that point of compartmentalization, at which a previous creative team’s run goes from an ongoing concern to a finished body of work, is highly significant. That’s when the rules governing a feature are established (or amended), and therefore that’s when the people in charge of that feature decide how (and how much) it can grow. The same applies in the aggregate to the universe those features share.
* * *
I really, really enjoy Grant Morrison interviews, even if they tend to arrive in bunches, with one entertaining Q&A sometimes indistinguishable from the next. He’s immensely quotable, peppering his comments with humor, observations of the holy-cow-I’ve-never-thought-of-it-that-way variety and occasionally surprising honesty.
This new interview with Rolling Stone is little different, with the writer discussing Supergods, the Action Comics relaunch, Alan Moore, Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis, and his strained relationship with former protege Mark Millar. While it may feel like we’ve read some of Morrison’s remarks before, others feel fresh, and even a bit brutal. Some highlights:
On his chances of encountering Millar in Glasgow: “There’s a very good chance of running into him, and I hope I’m going 100 miles an hour when it happens.”
On Meltzer’s divisive Identity Crisis: “He’s a nice guy. I have a lot of interesting conversations with him so I tried to focus on what I thought was good about it and there was actually quite a lot when I read it again. The first time I read it I was kind of outraged. I thought this was just … why? What the fuck is this, really? It wasn’t even normal. It was outrageous. It was preposterous because of the Elongated Man with his arms wrapped several times around the corpse of his wife. I thought something is broken. Something has gone so wrong in this image. [...] It’s hard for me to believe that a shy bespectacled college graduate like Brad Meltzer who’s a novelist and a father is a really setting out to be weirdly misogynistic. But unfortunately when you’re looking at this beloved character who’s obviously been ass-raped on the Justice League satellite, even saying it kind of takes you to that dot dot dot where you don’t know what else to say.”
On sexism in DC Comics: “There’s been lots of things, the sexism in DC because it’s mostly men who work in these places. Nobody should be trying to say we’re taking up a specifically anti-woman stance. I think it would be ignorance or stupidity or some God knows what. I was reading some Alan Moore Marvelman for some reason today. I found one in the back there and I couldn’t believe. I pick it up and there are fucking two rapes in it and I suddenly think how many times has somebody been raped in an Alan Moore story? And I couldn’t find a single one where someone wasn’t raped except for Tom Strong, which I believe was a pastiche. We know Alan Moore isn’t a misogynist but fuck, he’s obsessed with rape. I managed to do thirty years in comics without any rape!”