The Rattling Skull – 5

I just realised it’s been over three weeks since I last posted one of these. That’s terrible, isn’t it? I’m sorry.

My life is still scattered around like the contents of a half emptied moving box, so I’m afraid coherent thought is still a little ways off. here’s a few recent musings, to tide you over, though…

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What does it say about our industry that Darwin Cook’s The Hunter sold out across the globe in literally a matter of hours, and all anyone can talk about is what a success story that is? Does it not occur to anyone how stark (pardon the pun) an illustration that is of the short-sightedness of our distribution system? I wanted that book. I had the money for it. I went out to buy it the day after it’s release, and I couldn’t get it. How many other people can tell the same story? And how many other people might have bought it on impulse, after picking it up while browsing the shelves, but now won’t get that chance?

How much money got left on the table? How much money did IDW, the retailers, and even Diamond lose out on, just because of the ridiculous Direct Market system that encourages under-ordering even when the shop-keeper KNOWS the book is a sure sell?

How much longer can this farce of a distribution system go on?

(And how many rhetorical questions can I string along in a row? Is it lots?)

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Have you ever been in a band? I have- several, in fact. There’s a certain kind of person that turns up in bands now and again- if you’ve ever been a musician, you’ll recognise this type.

They generally join existing bands, and immediately try to take over through dishonesty and manipulation. They’ll come to you and say “hey Dave, I’ve been talking with (let’s say) Bob, and we both think it would be great if we got a keyboard player”; and then they’ll go back to Bob and say “hey Bob, Dave’s had this really good idea- we should get a keyboard player!” and then, hey presto, they just happen to know a keyboard player. And pretty soon this poor hapless ivory tinkler is hearing all about how Bob and Dave think he should take his playing in a more jazz direction- meanwhile you and Bob are wondering why this bloody piano guy won’t cut out the jazz shit.

These people usually have ridiculously over the top and unachievable ideas as well- they’ll be printing out album covers with made up track listings on their PC before you’ve had your first rehearsal. I was once in a band with a guy like this who, no word of a lie, tried to book the London Astoria for our first gig.

I bet you’re wondering what the hell this all has to do with comics, aren’t you? Well, I can’t really go into too much detail, but let’s just say I recently discovered that this kind of person exists in comics, too.

And funnily enough they get just as hilariously petulant when called on their behaviour as their musical equivalent, too.

But, er, yeah. that’s enough of that.

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The 9-11 commemorations this week got me thinking about something. No, don’t worry, I’m not going to go off on a political rant- you can follow me on twitter if you want that. No, it got me thinking about the effect that the culture-wide emotional aftermath had on comics.

Watching footage of New York being decimated, people staggering the streets covered in dust and surrounded by rubble, I couldn’t help it- I kept thinking of The Authority and The Ultimates, and also an issue of X-Factor from when I was a kid (specifically #26, cover dated March 1988). As a comics fan, those images just seemed so eerily familiar.

Now, this is kind of a half-formed thought, but here it is:

Metropolitan devastation has always been a staple trope of super-hero comics, and a big part of the great deconstructionist movement of the eighties and nineties, from Watchmen on, was examinations of how such events would really impact on ordinary people. Don’t get me wrong- there were plenty of big, dumb action stories that used it too, and plenty of times when New York (or Gotham, or Metropolis) would be completely destroyed in one issue and totally back to normal the next; but those more cerebral pieces were still very prevalent.

After 9-11? Not so much. You get Ultimates, a big, wide-screen action movie with a carefully calculated lack of depth, or Civil War, where the parallels are played up for sensationalism and easy morals, but not elaborated upon. There’s nothing to even rival (the not terribly ambitious) No Man’s Land, a now pretty much forgotten Batman crossover from the late nineties, in which Gotham is destroyed by an earthquake.

I don’t know, maybe I’m not reading enough mainstream super hero stuff, but it seems like this is a subject that has all but gone away. I understand that creators and publishers are wary of tackling an idea that is so emotive, but surely that’s all the more reason why it should be explored?

The nearest thing I can I think of is Frank Miller’s hugely entertaining and masterfully crafted but narratively deeply flawed sequel to The Dark Knight Returns, The Dark Knight Strikes Again. But then, that was created by a Manhattanite, in Manhattan, at the time the attack took place. If you read the book with that in mind, the shift in tone and focus becomes obvious- what had been a crazy madcap romp suddenly morphs halfway through into a serious and politically charged allegorical fable, complete with flattened city, giant dust-cloud, and the DC universe’s symbol of innocence (the childlike Captain Marvel) crushed to death beneath the rubble.

Anyway; I’ve always felt that the superhero genre, like science fiction, is at it’s best when used as prism through which to tackle real life issues. The events of that day were and are a pretty massive issue to examine and process, and I think it’s a shame that we seem to be yet to try to do that.

Just a thought.

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And that’s yer lot for this instalment. I’ll be back sooner this time, though. See you then.

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