Monday 13 July 2009

Dark X-Men: The Beginning #1

See, this is exactly what I'm talking about. Right here: this is the problem with comics. The three stories in Dark X-Men: The Beginning #1 all subscribe to the prevailing orthodoxy, to a greater or lesser degree. It's the the default storytelling setting for American superhero comics in 2009, and we shall call it The New Boring.

None of the stories herein are particularly bad. They're competent, Paul Cornell's lead story being probably the most competent. But they all, like many, many current comics, bear the hallmarks of decompression, a style of storytelling that has tightened its grip on the imaginations of comics writers until they can no longer conceive of any other way of telling a story.

Now, decompression is no bad thing in and of itself. It was entirely useful when Warren Ellis rolled it out in The Authority (although in truth the style had been in use selectively for some time already), a way of getting past the torpor of the 1990s. And in the hands of a writers' writers like Ed Brubaker, it's been blended with other cinematic tropes – voiceovers for example, in the form of captions – to create a pseudo-realistic hybrid that strives for character depth and allows stories to wander where the protagonists take them.

And that's fine. I like those kinds of comics, when they're done well. But let's not lose focus here: this is superhero comics we're talking about. And fascinating as Matt Murdock's relationship woes and Bucky's identity issues are, if every comic is going to be as sedately paced and voiceover-heavy as Daredevil and Captain America I think I might stab myself in the fucking eyes.

A conversation between Norman Osborn and Namor does not have to last ten pages; you could get it done in two pages (maybe even two panels) and free the rest of the story up for, I dunno, Norman slipping Namor a mickey that sends the Sub-Mariner batshit and climaxes in a frenzy of fish-fucking. This is superhero comics. Let's see something insane happening every few panels, mad shit raining down on every page, a brain-busting "WTF?" cliffhanger at the end of every story. It doesn't all have to be so bloody pedestrian!

And while we're on this subject, can we not ever have a comic open ever again with a mugger or muggers menacing a generic man/woman followed swiftly by the hero leaping in to break legs/arms/noses/toes, etc. IT'S REALLY, REALLY TEDIOUS. I mean, come on: is that all you have in your head, Mr. Writer? Is that honestly the best you can do, Mr. Editor? Is that truly the kind of comic you want to publish, Mr., er, Publisher?

(Admittedly there is no such scene in Dark X-Men: The Beginning #1, but IT'S THE PRINCIPLE OF THE THING.)

Grant Morrison recently made a stab at a more compressed style of storytelling in Final Crisis, particularly the Superman Beyond segment, although crucially he forgot to include the connective tissue stuff that would've made the thing actually make some kind of sense to anyone other than Grant Morrison. But still, he gave it a go. Fair play.

And now I'm slightly losing the will to live with this post, so let's leave it at this: Dark X-Men: The Beginning #1 isn't the worst comic ever made. It's not even the most ordinary comic ever made. But it is symptomatic of a wider malaise, and I for one would like to read some more comics that fire me up a little and don't just leave me thinking, Huh. That's all I'm asking.

1 comment:

  1. I see where you're 'coming' from...
    Although i must say, reading old John Byrne FFs and old Squadron Supreme - jesus, they do plod... A bit tiresome...
    At least the writing these days is fairly well paced... involving...
    But in general, comics: must do better.